Rubbish, piffle, tommyrot, drivel and utter bilge

Thursday, January 28, 2010


So all the looking at old books and photos got me to thinking about one place... Butlin's Bognor Regis. From 1973 to 1982, once a year, and very occasionally twice, my family would make the 80-odd mile journey to this magical wonderland for a week's holiday. We usually went either the first or last week of the season because those were the least expensive weeks to go. This meant that sometimes I missed a week of school in early May or late September. I wasn't unhappy about that necessarily. It did mean, though, that one time I came back from hols to discover that during my absence I had been nominated to participate in the school's Sports Day, and I had been put into the obstacle race. The obstacle race was basically all the other events combined. Run a bit, then pick up a jump-rope, untie it, jump-rope a few yards, then go under a tarp a few yards, then bob for an apple in a pan of water, run a bit, bob for candy in a pan of flour, with a wet face, thereby getting a floury face, then run to the finish. I think they incorporated egg & spoon in there somewhere too. I was ticked off. I was the least athletic person in the entire county. I wanted to know which of my classmates were responsible for such a travesty. But no matter. It's all water under the bridge, isn't it? Suffice it to say I came dead last. But I digress.

We (and by we I mean myself, my sister, Nan & Grandad, and usually Mum. Dad didn't participate. Not sure why) all would pile into Grandad's car and head for Bognor.

Butlin's in the 70s was a fantastic place. There were two kinds of accommodation, or 'chalets' as they were called. Self-catering on one side of the camp had kitchenettes in each room, and 'full board', which we were, were just rooms with bunk beds or twin beds, some had doubles, and adjoining bathroom. I guess these days the conditions would be considered somewhat spartan, but to us kids, who'd never known any different, this was great fun. However primitive the facilities were, at least we weren't camping in the open air and peeing in latrines!

We were full board as I mentioned before and so we ate in a huge dining room called the 'Kent' dining room. We were given our table assignments when we checked in, so we ate at the same table all week, for breakfast and dinner. As there were four or five of us, and the tables were tables of 8, that meant that we ate with strangers, all week. Some were pleasant. Some not so much. Some were downright loony. Once you were all seated the food would come round. You'd get a pot of tea, and breakfast would usually be something like eggs and bacon. The servers would bring it to your table with these great big plate racks holding 8 or 10 plates of hot food. Occasionally one of these would get dropped with an almighty crash and the dining room would erupt in a big cheer, swiftly followed by the appearance of a little Asian man with a dustpan and broom. The cheer was a Butlin's tradition. Great fun.

There were attractions all over the camp -amusement arcades, gift shops, places to eat, swimming pools, boating lake, games room, fun fair, and theatres. The Games Room was great - lots of ping-pong tables, snooker tables, you could even play indoor bowls or badminton. All you had to do was give the guy your room key and you'd get all the equipment. When you were done, you got your key back. There were places to sunbathe, putting green, a big field where you could play frisbee or kick a ball about, and this field was also used for other things such as the obligatory Donkey Derby, and once, The Royal Marines (I think?) set up an assault course you could try. If this wasn't enough, you could leave the camp and go into Bognor and see the shops, stroll along the seafront... there was more than enough to take up a week. And of course, in the evenings, after dinner... the theatre!

During the week we got a bunch of variety shows, sometimes with fairly big names. I remember seeing Gary Wilmot before he was popular, and we saw him up in the bar at the Princes Ballroom later and got his autograph. The first year we went, Tommy Trinder was the guest compere of all the variety shows. He was up there rattling off some old chestnut or another, my Grandad in the third row yelling "I heard that one in the Palladium in 1945!". At the end of the week was the Redcoat show. Redcoats was the name given to the entertainment staff. They wore red blazers and white pants or skirts. They were always around running all the competitions and helping people out, and at the end of the week they got to perform skits and songs of their own in the Redcoat Show. This was usually the best show of the week.

The Princes Ballroom was above the Pig & Whistle bar, with a stage, dance floor, rows of theatre style seating, a big bar, a snack bar on the other side, an arcade, a mini dance floor on one side used for kids etc., and a bunch of armchairs and coffee tables by the windows so the old'uns could relax with a nice cup o'tea and a biscuit and watch the waves. Many a happy evening was spent alternately boogieing, snacking, and playing pinball and penny cascade and Space Invaders. The other high points of the evnings were the competitions. Miss Lovely Legs was a particular favorite of mine, as were the female Redcoats who were mostly in their early 20s and usually pretty. My word! The other contests were things like the Knobbly Knees Contest, and the Happy Family Contest, which was I think the only contest I and my sis were ever involved in. During the day up  in the Princes was things like horseracing, where you could bet on these filmed American horseraces that came sealed so they wouldn't know the winners beforehand. The horses were just numbered, not named, to avoid anyone knowing any US horseracing results and spoiling it for all the rest. They also had things like the Glamorous Grandma Competition, and a very bubbly jolly lady would do a Keep Fit session one morning. Over in the Regency building you had another ballroom where they had ballroom dancing lessons and a troupe of semi-pro wrestlers would come in one day a week to put on a wrestling show. There was another bar, another snack bar, and the most bizarre thing of all - windows into the indoor pool which was upstairs. You could sit with your burgers and chips and cups of tea and watch people swimming in the pool. It was surreal. Of course, sometimes you'd get an amorous couple in the deep end who didn't know about the windows and gave everyone a show. Mothers would gasp in horror and place their palms over their kids' eyes and quickly hustle them out of the building! Ah, great memories.

Across the road from the rear entrance of the camp was Hotham Park Zoo. A great place with some half decent animals and some amusements. You could buy a bag of peanuts a feed the llamas and zebras and occasionally a penguin would waddle close by. Good fun.

There are too many funny memories to write down here, so I will bid you adieu.

100 Records That Shook The World, #85

Smokestack Lightnin'

Howlin' Wolf
"No one could match [Howlin' Wolf] for the singular ability to rock the house down to the foundation while simultaneously scaring its patrons out of its wits." -- Cub Koda

Standing 6 feet 6 inches tall and close to 300 pounds, the Wolf was a looming, imposing presence. A voice that has been compared to heavy machinery on a gravel road, a blues song with no riff and one chord - this doesn't sound like the stuff from which hits are made. But one listen to "Smokestack Lightnin'" and all bets are off. The musical accompaniment sounds slightly scary by dint of its almost ramshackle quality. And then, that big voice moans and howls the blues so good you'd swear a freight train is passing by your window.

Chester Arthur Burnett, a.k.a. Howlin' Wolf, was a devotee of Delta bluesman Charley Patton in the 1930's. He befriended Patton after a show and Patton taught him guitar. Wolf also was inspired by other bluesmen such as Blind Lemon Jefferson and Lonnie Johnson (see Rock Island Line), as well as country singer Jimmie Rodgers. Trying to emulate Rodgers' yodel, Wolf said in Rolling Stone, "I couldn't do no yodelin', so I turned to howlin'. And it's done me just fine."

Burnett moved in 1948 to West Memphis, Arkansas and formed a band. They performed regularly on the radio and in 1951 he auditioned for Sam Phillips, founder of Sun Records. Said Phillips, "When I heard Howlin' Wolf, I said, 'This is for me. This is where the soul of man never dies.' "

In 1956 Smokestack Lightnin'  was recorded and released on Chess Records and reached #8 on the national Billboard R&B chart. It has been inducted into the Blues Hall of Fame's "Classics of Blues Recordings" category, was given #285 on Rolling Stone's 500 Greatest Songs Of All Time, and the Rock and Roll Hall Of Fame's "500 Records That Shaped Rock and Roll" also included it. In 1999 the Grammy Hall Of Fame gave the record an award honoring its lasting historical significance.

You owe it to yourself to hear this track. 

Monday, January 25, 2010

Every Man's Memory...

... is his private literature. Aldous Huxley said that, and how true it is.

I've been in the UK ten days, and in the bedroom where I sleep sits a bookcase crammed two deep with all sorts of books - my Mum's collection of James Bond novels, for example. She has lots of books she's kept for ever. A lot of Hammond Innes, Alistair MacLean, John Creasey. Some Nevil Shute and Dennis Wheatley. A few Colemanballs. On the bottom shelf there are several books which were of particular interest to myself. Along with all my sister's old LPs (Madness - 7, Specials - Specials, Haircut 100 - Pelican West, etc.) there sit some books my sister and I owned as children. The other night I grabbed a few off the shelf and started thumbing through. Two in particular that I had forgotten I had were The HOW Annual 1973 and Look-In's HOW Annual which hasn't got a year in the title but was printed in 1973 so it was probably the '74 edition.

For those who either can't remember, were too young or didn't live in the UK, HOW was a brilliant TV show, with a brilliant if none too politically correct theme tune, produced by Southern Television. Probably a bit boring for today's kids in the era of iPhones and HDTV, but I loved it. There were four presenters - Fred Dinenage (pronounced 'DIE - nidge'), who was one of Southern's sports presenters, Bunty James, the obligatory woman on the show, Jon Miller who was a science whiz, always making gadgets that had no useful purpose other than demonstrating some scientific principle, and last but by no means least, Jack Hargreaves, who was always showing something to do with the countryside, be it some archaic farm tool or something to do with fishing. Jack was a friend of the family, specifically, my Grandfather Len Dann who had been on several fishing trips with Jack. On a couple of occasions they were accompanied by Jack's cameraman Stanley Brehaut (pronounced Brew-it) and the resulting footage would show up on Jack's other show, Out Of Town. The two HOW books in question are both autographed by Jack. Talk about a trip back in time. I met Jack once, when I was very small, probably about 4 or 5, and the only thing I remember is sitting on his knee and him teaching my sister and I how to click our tongues to make a horse's hoof sound.

Another book in the pile was from 1978 - The Multi-Coloured Swap Shop Book. Again, for all the young'uns and those in the Colonies, Swap Shop was a very successful Saturday morning TV show, hosted by Radio 1 DJ and Top Of The Pops host Noel Edmonds, featuring kids' newscaster John Craven, a very young Keith Chegwin, and later, Maggie Philbin, who went on to marry the cheeky Cheggers. The idea behind the show was that people who had stuff they didn't want could call or write in and offer it as a 'swap' and state what they would like to swap it for. Hence the title. Interspersed with all of this were celebrity guests, news items, cartoons and the like. It was a very watchable show and I was quite sad when it disappeared. They replaced it with Saturday Superstore which had a similar format but without the swaps. Keith was always dispatched to some strange location for the live 'Swaporama' and the location was only revealed as the show was being broadcast so you had to be watching it to know. It always seemed to be some football stadium in the rain, for some reason. They revealed the location so if you were in the area you could get your 'swaps' and take them down there. The show also had a mascot - a purple dinosaur (no, not Barney) called 'Posh Paws' which is Swap Shop spelt backwards - sort of.

Another couple of books off the shelf were More More More Tell Me Why by Arkady Leokum and 1,000 Great Lives by Plantagenet Somerset Fry, which, as well as being very informative to my enquiring mind (and probably the reason I have such a great knowledge of utter trivia), and being written by two people with strange names - were given to me by Uncle Gordon. He wasn't my real uncle, but a friend of the family. He never forgot our birthdays or Christmas or Easter, bless that man. He would always give us books, and always made sure to give us the same books for birthdays and Christmas so there would be no arguments. Easter would always find him on our doorstep with a pair of matching Easter eggs, too. If it hadn't been for Uncle Gordon I probably wouldn't have been so well-read. He's still around, so if you're reading this, Uncle Gordon, thank you ever so.

Nostalgia is a funny thing. It's amazing how a few old books can bring so many memories pouring back. I must admit, I got misty looking at all those books. Now, I wonder what tonight's reading will do for me? I see a What's So Important About...? on the shelf.

Friday, January 22, 2010

100 Records That Shook The World, #86

Please Please Please

James Brown
Soul Brother Number One, Mr. Dynamite, Minister of The New New Super Heavy Funk,The Hardest Working Man in Show Business, The Amazing Mr. Please Please Himself...

From the King of Rock 'n' roll to the Godfather of Soul. James Brown was a pivotal force in music. A profilic songwriter, singer, bandleader and dancer, he began his music career in 1955 when he was performing in a band known as The Gospel Starlighters, along with Sarah, the sister of Bobby Byrd. Brown joined Byrd's group The Avons and the musical direction changed from gospel to secular R&B. The group's name was changed to The Flames and began touring the Southern chitlin' circuit, when they were signed by Cincinnati's Federal Records. Their first release was Please Please Please, with the label crediting James Brown with The Famous Flames.

Even though it did not sell well to mainstream audiences, it peaked at number 6 on the R&B chart, and eventually went on to sell well over a million copies. It became his signature song in his live shows, and part of the cape routine, whereby Brown, feigning exhaustion, would get on his knees while singing the refrain "please, please, please" into the mike. The MC would come on and drape a cape over Brown's shoulders and escort him off stage while the backup singers kept crooning, "Baby please don't go-oh." Brown would then return, sing the refrain some more, collapse again, be draped with a different cape, get escorted off again, and the whole thing would continue, sometimes as many as six or seven times. It can be seen in the closing credits of the 1998 film, Blues Brothers 2000. The Alan Parker film The Commitments features the would-be Dublin soul musicians watching the act on video for inspiration.
On Rolling Stone's All-Time Top 500, Please Please Please ranks at #142. If it hadn't been for JB, we would never have had soul, funk, or hip-hop. Think about that, and digest, while listening to Soul Brother Number One, Mr. Superbad, James Brown and The Famous Flames....

100 Records That Shook The World, #87

Heartbreak Hotel
Elvis Presley

About time, wouldn't ya say? Finally the King gets to be on our countdown. The story behind El's first single for his new label, RCA, is a strange one. His legendary manager, Colonel Tom Parker, was the manager at the time of Hank Snow. A publicist for Snow, whose name was Mae Boren Axton, was also a teacher in Jacksonville, Florida. In 1955 she and songwriter Tommy Durden, a steel guitarist, wrote Heartbreak Hotel together in thirty minutes, so the story goes. They were sure they had a hit on their hands. How right they were. Durden evidently had been inspired to write the lyrics by the story of a young man who had committed suicide and left a note containing the line 'I walk a lonely street'.

In November 1955 they met Presley and asked him to record it as his first RCA single, so sure were they of the song's hit potential. They agreed to give him a third of the writing credit. He first performed it a month later, proclaiming it as his 'first hit'. He recorded it in January, and, well, you know the rest. In less than two months after its February release, it had reached #1 on both the Billboard Pop and C&W chart. Not bad for a country hick from Tupelo, Mississippi.

Here's the King.

Strange Days

So today marks the one week point. I arrived at Heathrow exactly one week ago today. In that week I have done many things. I got my library card. Applied for "Job Seeker's Allowance". Applied for three jobs. Picked up multivarious forms for applying for housing, driver's licence and such, been to see my grandad, been up the town a time or four, seen all the new shops in town where the old ones used to be, been to Waitrose a bunch of times, Tesco a bunch of times, Jempson's once. Been to Boots the chemist as well, several times (This old granny goes to the chemist to buy a bedpan. The clerk says, "We don't have any in stock. Have you tried Boots?" She says, "Yes, but it comes through the lace holes."). Got a cellphone. Went to Santander to see if my old Abbey account was still on file (It wasn't, but it only had 69p in it after all. That's about 85 cents.). Even had a cup of chai at Mr. Bean's Coffee House. I feel like I'm slowly getting all my gear together. There are a bunch of jobs I'm going to send my CV (resume) to as well in the Wealden Ad. So things are looking up.

So I went to Ashford today. Ashford used to be a bit crap. We were driving along where the Saturday market used to be and I went, "eh up! What the bloody 'ell is all this?" Because it's all semi-pedestrianised, like in the mall parking lot back home
and you have to watch out for people just randomly crossing the road. There's a dirty great Debenhams where there was previously just some crap shops. Later on we drove up to the junction of the M20 on the way to Willesborough. My sis had to go to the Nissan dealership where she bought her Nissan Note (what?) because her Bluetooth was playing up. Turns out it was her phone that was playing up, the Bluetooth was fine. There's also a model in the showroom called a
Qashqai. I can't pronounce that. But we're driving around that area and there's a Mickey D's with a (gasp) drive-thru! Americana at its finest! With a 99p menu, no less. We didn't go in, but I was curious.

In Tesco we shopped for a few odds and ends for the weekend, sis has some people coming to stay so a few choice frozen ready-to-serve meals was on the agenda. "Otherwise, " she opined, "I'll have to spend all bloody weekend in the kitchen." Sis, it must be mentioned, had a car wreck in '08 which left her with only partial use of her right arm. So practicality was the order of the day.
As we gassed up the Nissan, or should I say, put some petrol in the tank, she returned from the cashier with a new confection I had not seen in the States. A Cadbury's Creme Egg Twisted bar. This is basically the same as a Creme Egg but in bar form. Delicioso!

Anyway, that's about all for right now. See ya later.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

100 Records That Shook The World, #88

Rock Island Line
Lonnie Donegan

Now comes the second Englishman in our countdown, Lonnie Donegan. He was born Anthony James Donegan in 1931 in Glasgow, the son of a professional violinist. When he was two they moved to East Ham, then still part of Essex. In WW2 he was evacuated, like many city kids, to Cheshire. He started listening to swing, jazz, blues and country-western records on the radio, and after the war began playing with Chris Barber's jazz band. When he was called up for National Service in 1949 and shipped out to Vienna he came into contact with American GI's who gave him access to lots of records as well as the Armed Forces Network radio station.

After his stint in the military, he formed the Tony Donegan Jazzband, and on one occasion opened for the blues artist Lonnie Johnson. Donegan was a big fan and took the name Lonnie as a tribute.

1953 saw Donegan back playing banjo and guitar for Chris Barber's band. Cornet player Ken Colyer joined and changed the name to Ken Colyer's Jazzmen, and Donegan and two other members of the band would play guitar, washboard and tea-chest bass during the intervals while the others took a break. They would perform popular folk songs by artists such as Woody Guthrie and Leadbelly, and one such song, Leadbelly's 'Rock Island Line' proved so popular with audiences that in July 1954 he went into the studio and recorded it, along with 'John Henry' on the B-side. It wasn't released until mid - 1955, however, but it signalled the start of the UK 'skiffle' craze and was the first debut record to go gold on the British charts. However, as it was recorded as part of a Chris Barber Jazz Band session, Donegan only received the session fee and received no royalties until many years later.

The skiffle style, with its notion that anyone could get up and play with only the most basic of instruments, inspired a generation, including one John Winston Lennon, who formed his first group, The Quarrymen, after hearing Donegan perform. So just think - if Donegan hadn't recorded 'Rock Island Line', we wouldn't have had The Beatles, maybe. Music would possibly be vastly different. Here's Lonnie. Enjoy.

Footnote: Although Leadbelly is purportedly the first person to have recorded the song, he apparently heard it from a convict on an Arkansas prison work gang. There has been much argument over whether Donegan should have gotten credit for the composition (his was a somewhat different arrangement to Leadbelly's) or Leadbelly, or someone completely different.

1976 - My First LP

So I told you a while back in Rockin' in '73  about my first 45's. But what was my first LP? Again, that depends on whether you mean first I owned or first I bought.

The first I owned was in 1976, bought for me by my grandparents for my birthday, my 11th. So think about it... I liked good lively music. I was 11 and interested in girls - actually, I always have been, as far back as I can remember. Even at infants' school, aged almost 5, I had the biggest crush on Karina Tidy. Her rosy cheeks and bee-stung lips, not to mention her bushy light brown hair, had quite an effect on me even though I was years from pubescence. So by the age of 11, you can imagine how much into the opposite sex I was.

So, musically speaking, I wanted to rock a bit and see some females. Therefore, Agnetha and Annifrid from ABBA were totally my scene. Gorgeous tall Swedish babes who could sing in tight white stretchy suits, and one of them a blonde, no less? And of course the musical genius of Benny Andersson and Bjorn Ulvaeus was not hurting, either. So it should not surprise you, then, that the album Arrival was my first.

And what an album it was. Classic tracks, from the opener, Dancing Queen, through the brilliant Knowing Me Knowing You, to lesser known belters such as Dum Dum Diddle, When I Kissed The Teacher, and Tiger. As far as I'm concerned, this is the foursome's finest.

However, the first album I bought for myself was a result of my being given some money for Christmas '77. The previous summer, if you can recall, was the summer of the Olympic Games in Montreal. As you may recall further, the theme of the Olympics was Aaron Copland's "Fanfare For The Common Man" as performed by Emerson, Lake and Palmer. I loved that track. I bought it on 45. Played it to death. And the video that accompanied it was of ELP playing it in a giant empty Olympic stadium with snow on the ground. It was awesome. Majestic. Brilliant. In March of '77 ELP released Works, Vol. 1 & 2. Vol.1 was a double album: Side 1 was Keith Emerson's first piano concerto. Side 2, Greg Lake's solo songs. Side 3, Carl Palmer's forays into different forms of percussion. Side 4 was two 15-minute tracks, the brilliant 'Pirates': "'Who'll make his mark' the captain said, "to the devil drink a toast, we'll glut the hold with cups of gold, and we'll fill the sea with ghosts..." And the other track was the extended version of 'Fanfare' which absolutely blew my 11-year old mind. But I had to wait from March until Christmas, as that was when the money rolled in. That November, for my birthday, Nan & Grandad did, however, buy me Vol. 2, a single album, with such classics on it as 'Brain Salad Surgery', 'Maple Leaf Rag', and 'Tiger In A Spotlight'. To me, though, the standouts were 'Barrelhouse Shakedown' , a cover of a Meade 'Lux' Lewis tune done with a full orchestra and Keith's wonderful boogie-woogie piano, and 'Bullfrog', Carl Palmer doing jungle music.  They also bought me 'Spiral' by Vangelis, a scorcher of an album, with only 5 tracks on it, but oh! what tracks! But it was that extended modal solo on the keyboards on 'Fanfare For the Common Man' that really tickled my fancy. So much so that I went out and bought a 'best of' ELP album, a copy of Tarkus on cassette (all the younguns are now scratching their heads and saying "whassa cassette?") and later, a 1974 live album Welcome Back, My Friends, To The Show That Never Ends. I also at one point had a huge ELP badge. I mean huge, about 5" in diameter. Monstrous. Anyway, let's give you a little of both, ABBA and ELP. Why not? Call it a twofer.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

100 Records That Shook The World, #89

Tutti Frutti
Little Richard

"More than any other performer - save, perhaps,Elvis Presley, Little Richard blew the lid off the Fifties, laying the foundation for rock and roll with his explosive music and charismatic persona. On record, he made spine-tingling rock and roll. His frantically charged piano playing and raspy, shouted vocals on such classics as "Tutti Frutti", "Long Tall Sally" and "Good Golly, Miss Molly" defined the dynamic sound of rock and roll." -- Rock and Roll Hall Of Fame website

Little Richard Penniman had been recording since 1951 but had had no chart success so far. In '55 he sent some demos to the Specialty  record label, at the suggestion of Lloyd Price ("Stagger Lee"). A session was arranged in September with Fats Domino's backing group. Apparently the longer the session wore on the more apparent it became that Richard's wild and crazy performance style was not being adequately captured on tape. During a break in recording, Little Richard, frustrated, started pounding out a rather saucy song that was part of his live act. The producer, Robert 'Bumps' Blackwell, knew the song had promise but the lyrics about "If it don't fit, don't force it" and "You can grease it, make it easy" would have to be changed. He hired a local songwriter to clean up the lyrics and it was recorded in three takes. It rose to #2 on the Billboard R & B chart early in '56 and also got to #17 on the national chart. A legend was born. A-wop-bop-a-loo-bop-A-lop-bam-boom!

Here, from the 1956 film Don't Knock The Rock, is "Tutti Frutti".

A trip back in time

Well, folks, I'm finally here, and after a day or so I'm ready to blog again. Oh, the relief! I hear you cry. Yes, I'm here but not quite over the jetlag, as it's past midnight here but to me it's only 7:15 at night so I'm still ready to rock & roll. My mother and Chris (my stepdad) are already snug-a-bed and have been for a while, so I have been perusing the UK satellite channels, and I'm still working out which ones they have and which they haven't. I was quite happy to see that various American channels are available: Bravo, Discovery, MTV, Animal Planet, Turner Classic Movies and the like, but this morning when I got up I came down and found VH-1 which was embroiled in a show dedicated to the '80s. Yay! I get to watch videos for brekky time! It was like being a teenager again. Without the zits.

Later, Mum and I went 'up the town' and parked behind Waitrose supermarket,and as we got out of the car we were hailed by my sister who was just leaving the car park. We talked with her for a minute and then she handed me a phone. It's a prepaid phone from T-Mobile. So now I have a phone. First day and I have a phone. All I need to do is put some airtime on it. We then cut through The Cellars. The Cellars is a bunch of shops that occupy the old building that used to house a well-known pub called, not surprisingly, Ye Olde Cellars. The pub closed in the '80s and the off-licence that was part of the building was called Thresher Wine Merchants. This is where I worked for the 6 years immediately prior to my emigration to the States. To see all the different shops in there was odd, I mean, they had started putting shops in there when I was working at Thresher, but now there's more, and (gasp) Thresher itself is no more. It's a completely different shop now, called CookFood. Sells ready-to cook meals that are sort of gourmet stuff. Looks nice but pricey. I had to go in because it was my old workplace. Completely different on the interior now. I spoke to the guy who was the manager, and it turned out he's from freakin' Illinois! They had a job opening so he gave me an application form - that's when I found out he was from Illinois because he asked me to 'fill out' the form. Americans fill out forms. English people fill in forms. So I said, do I detect an accent? and the rest you already know. I said ooh, my friend Marissa lives in Kankakee!

We then popped across the street using the Pelican crossing, and for all non-Brits, and a few Brits maybe, I'd better explain. Prepare yourself for another trip into...
Mine Of Useless Information!

A Pelican crossing is just a regular crosswalk. You push the button, wait for the little green man, and cross the road. But its name derives from PEdestrian LIght CONtrol. Yes I know that's pelicon but who cares about one tiny letter,eh?

As we were preparing to cross I looked at the parade of shops opposite. Almost all had changed.
The classic line-up when I was a kid was: Norris's the greengrocer, where Aunty Jilly worked; then John Manson's the butcher's shop, Bowkett's the bakers where my Grandma Elsie worked for years, and Boots the Chemist. Well, Boots is still there, but it's now expanded into where Bowketts was; and Master Cutters, which was in the Bowketts building for a while when I was friends with Justin and he and I formed RePerCussion, but it's now where Norris's was; and I forget what's in the Manson's place but it's sure as heck not a butcher. On either side, no change - Lloyds Bank is still there although it's called Lloyds TSB now, and on the other end you have Norman Holmes the jeweller which has always been there. Knights hairdresser next to them has gone and is now County Clothes, and on and on. I used to be able to walk down the street and bump into at least a couple people I knew. I didn't recognise a soul today.

Later Mum and I drove to Rolvenden to see Grandad Eric, whom I hadn't seen since I last came over in late '94/early '95 for my other Grandad's funeral. We popped round to his house and visited for an hour or so, then it started to get dark and so we returned home to the wonderful smell of a beef-and-veg casserole, which Mum had popped in the oven before we left. After a grand dinner and a bit of Facebook-and-Skype time we settled down and pored over some photo albums full of pics from when I was a kid. I'm going to have to try to scan a few and post them to my Facebook page. The Green Mile was on telly and so we watched that for a while, then Chris and Mum retired to bed and here I am.

Well, I know this was a rambling post somewhat, but it was that kind of day. I shall now treat you to the first video I saw on VH-1 this a.m. Kind of a powerful one to start the day off right.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

All Good Things, etc...

Well, folks....

I hate to be the bringer of bad news but The World Of Jeff! - Random Mutterings of a rotund Brit in the Good Ole U.S. of A. from here on out is going to have a title change. Yes, yes, I know it's a shock. Try to calm yourselves. Actually, the title will remain much the same apart from the "in the Good Ole U.S. of A." bit.

After 18 years and 3 months, I am leaving the Colonies and making the return trip back to Dear Old Blighty. It's been a long hard road, and I am going to miss all my old  US buddies. I have my reasons for leaving and if you want any more detail than that, you'll have to email me. As for my UK friends and family, stick the kettle on and get the choccy bickies out, I'm coming soon and let's meet up for a cuppa and a good natter.

All that being said, the blog will continue on. We're only partway into "100 Records That Shook The World" and I have more plans for future posts in the works. So put on your fur-lined chinstrap, gird your loins and be ready. I may be gone from the States, but I'll still be with you in digital form. You'll still have your regular dose of Jeffness, just coming from a different computer, that's all.

Pip-pip, cheerio and all that rot, what?

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Twelfth Night

I try to write a little something most days. I read once that to be a writer you must discipline yourself to writing at least a thousand words a day. Heck, I sometimes don't even say a thousand words in a day. So when inspiration is hiding from me, and I know it's been a day or two since my last post, and I don't want to take the easy way out and write about music, I have to just force myself to write something and hope that the action of writing will coax something readable from my fingers. So what to write? Well, I will say that it is the 5th and the decorations and tree are down, just in the nick of time. January 5th is supposedly the traditional day to take down all the Christmas decor. Why? Because January 5th is Twelfth Night. What is Twelfth Night, you say? Isn't it some Shakespeare play? Well, yes, it is that, but why's that called Twelfth Night?

Twelfth Night is a festival on the Christian calendar marking the conclusion of the Twelve Days Of Christmas. And you thought that was just some goofy Christmas song about a guy giving his girlfriend a bunch of strange stuff for presents? Turns out that despite some modern folklore that the song was written as a 'catechism song'  to help young Catholics learn their faith, at a time when practicing Catholicism was discouraged in England (1558 until 1829), the song is indeed just a goofy song.
The festival, however, marks the beginning of Epiphany. The belief that it is unlucky to leave the decorations from Christmas up past the 5th of  January comes from the festival of Candlemas on February 2.

The play, Twelfth Night, Or What You Will  is believed to have been written by Bill The Shake around 1600-01 with the express purpose of being entertainment for the close of the Christmas season. Its earliest known performance was on Candlemas 1602. 
I remember reading Twelfth Night in English class in my 3rd year of secondary school, in Geoff Reed's class. I've written about Geoff before, in the post Poetry Corner. As usual he lent his lovely West Country brogue to the reading of this play. As is usual, though, along with most of what I read in school, I retained very little of it. Pretty much all I remember of Twelfth Night is the opening lines:

"If music be the food of love, play on;
Give me excess of it, that, surfeiting,
The appetite may sicken, and so die.
That strain again! it had a dying fall:
O, it came o'er my ear like the sweet sound
That breathes upon a bank of violets,
Stealing and giving odour!"

These lines are delivered by Count Orsino, not the protagonist of the play, but certainly an important character. In the 1996 Trevor Nunn version, these are not the opening lines. Nunn puts in a whole scene of the shipwreck, so that those who have never read or seen the play before will know how Viola came to be shipwrecked on the shores of Illyria.
Here's that production, starring such luminaries as Imogen Stubbs, Nigel Hawthorne (The Madness Of King George), Ben Kingsley (Gandhi), Helena Bonham-Carter and the awesome Mel Smith in a wonderful turn as Sir Toby Belch.

See, I told you if I make myself write, something readable happens.

Monday, January 4, 2010

100 Records That Shook The World, #90

Bo Diddley

Bo Diddley

Born Ellas Otha Bates in 1928, Bo Diddley was a talented vocalist and multi-instrumentalist who did the whole music world a favour when he recorded "Bo Diddley" along with its B-side "I'm A Man" in late 1954. "Bo Diddley" was based lyrically on the children's rhyme "Hush Little Baby" and used a traditional African 'patted juba' beat, similar to another children's tune "Hambone". Driving guitar, accompanied by maracas and drums to unify the beat, it helped bridge the gap between blues and rock, influencing a flock of notables including Hendrix, Clapton, The Stones, Buddy Holly and a whole host of others. In fact, Diddley became known as "The Originator" for his key role in the transition from R'n'B to Rock'n'Roll and his introduction of more insistent, driving rhythms, new guitar techniques, and that innovative rectangular guitar of his. But it is the Bo Diddley beat that had the most far-reaching influence, and a look at just a few of the tracks that use the beat shows that:

U2 - Desire
Buddy Holly - Not Fade Away
George Michael - Faith
The Police - Deathwish
David Bowie - Panic In Detroit
The Smiths - How Soon Is Now?
KT Tunstall - Black Horse and The Cherry Tree
The Who - Magic Bus
Bow Wow Wow - I Want Candy

and hundreds of others.

When Diddley died in 2008, his deathbed was surrounded by 35 family members singing gospel hymns. He apparently gave them a thumbs-up and said "I'm going to heaven". His funeral was a 4-hour 'homecoming' service, and Tom Petty and Jerry Lee Lewis, among others, sent flowers. A concert took place following the service, with performances including Eric Burdon of The Animals. In the days that followed, messages of sympathy were received from George W. Bush, Elvis Costello, Mick Jagger, Robert Plant, B. B. King, and Bonnie Raitt, among others. Bo's name lives on still, even being used as the name of the current White House dog, who was named Bo as a tribute.

Please enjoy the original "Bo Diddley".

Friday, January 1, 2010

Burning With Optimism's Flames

It's New Year's Eve. Like most holidays and occasions of note, I always anticipate NYE with unbridled optimism. That's my problem, really - I am doomed to be the eternal optimist, and therefore doomed to an inevitable anticlimax. I never see it coming. In the case of NYE, I always envision it as the big happy party with the countdown and the big kiss at midnight with the pretty woman while streamers descend in their myriad colors around our heads, and yet come midnight I'm sat watching a DVD while everyone around me sleeps, all having conked out at about 9:45.
Same goes for Christmas - I always approach it with that childlike giddiness and then right after the presents are opened it becomes more like the Bataan death march through tons of cooking and cleanup and trash removal and everyone sitting around watching bloody football on MY bloody TV and sleeping. Again with the sleeping. And not leaving, either. Just sitting around waiting for the next lot of grub to come up. And don't even get me started on Easter, 4th of July, Labor Day, Arbor Day, Whit Sunday etc.

I am inexplicably optimistic about the coming year. 2010 is going to be my year! Heck yeah! I rule!... whatever. We'll see. I'm a Sagittarius, which is generally supposed to be the most optimistic sign, if you believe in horriblescopes. Whatever the reason for my unparalleled inclination to put the most favorable construction upon actions and events or to anticipate the best possible outcome, let's not get mired in pop psychology and mysticism, and instead, do what we do best. Seek out a song whose message is somewhat apropos. I have selected the very wonderful XTC's "Burning With Optimism's Flames". I love XTC, not least because of Andy Partridge's lyrical genius. In this particular song, listen for the lines "I can't stop this grinning/So assume I'm winning/Threw pessimism in the air, it's spinning/Crashing to the floor and nevermore will it lure me away/With sweets and shiny things just like a magpie". 
Well, it's seven minutes to the big moment when Ryan Seacrest's balls drop -I mean, the ball drops in Times Square on Ryan Seacrest's New Year's Rockin' Eve, so whaddya say we post this puppy to the Web, the last one of 2009. *sniff* Oh, I'm getting all misty. Happy New Year! It will be the best ever!

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...