In the 50s, as a lad growing up in the inner suburbs of south-east London in a typical suburban semi-detached house, I had a fairly typical suburban life. Having worn glasses from the age of seven, I was a good, but shy, boy. As I was supposedly blind without my owl like National Health Service specs, I generally avoided playground scrapes. I did join the wolf cubs, and have a chipped tooth as a reminder of those strange days of dybbing and dobbing and learning the difference between reef and granny knots. (Write to me if you really want to know what I’m on about, or what I was on.)
If it wasn’t for my father’s somewhat, for then, eclectic tastes, my musical memories of those times, a time of radio censorship, would remain in the realms of trite lyrics of songs such as How Much Is That Doggy In The Window? and the following which has haunted me ever since.
Go together like a horse and carriage.
One of the favourite records of my schooldays was Stan Freberg’s ‘John and Marsha’, a 1951 novelty number featuring dreamy music and just the words ‘John’ and ‘Marsha’. It was played week after week on Jack Jackson’s Sunday night record show until someone twigged that the piece followed the course of coitus from pre to post.
I never knew that one and it was to be another decade before it had a personal resonance. Or relevance come to think of it. But there were a few songs which I can still reproduce around a drunken campfire, about knowing old ladies who swallowed a horse – she’s dead, of course, and about needing hands – to stop your arms from fraying. But these were safe songs, for a world made dangerous because of the Bomb. At 11 or 12, I was too young to note the birth of protest songs as the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament launched the Aldermaston Marches.
To be honest, I’ve never been fond of in-yer-face kind of music and rarely thought of lyrics as being of earth shattering, or building, import. A song sung by an angry singer is an angry song, and songs which offered ‘Ashes to ashes and dust to dust/ If the bomb doesn’t get you then the fallout must …’ were off my aural and spiritual radar.
I was also too young to Rock ‘n’ Roll. Bill Haley and Eddie Cochrane, along with the teddy boys with their quiffed and pomaded hairdos, came and passed me by, although in the case of Eddie Cochran he also passed on. But they left their mark with others. It was the beginning of a new-ish phenomenon – rebellious teenagers.
One obvious manifestation was the renaming by Larry Parnes of several youths who could hold a guitar and whose head could support a quiff. Thus Tommy Steele (né Hicks), Dickie Pride (Richard Knellar), Duffy Power (Ray Howard), Johnny Gentle (John Askew) – backed by The Silver Beatles in 1960, Terry Dene (Terence Williams), Vince Eager (Roy Taylor), Billy Fury (Ronald William Wycherley), Georgie Fame (Clive Powell) and Reg Smith who jilted my Sunday School teacher after his name was changed to Marty Wilde, and went on to sire Kim (who had more hits than her dad).
Following the austerity of the post war years, there was, we were told, a new found wealth. We’d never had it so good apparently, although there was the Suez crisis, a near terminal meltdown at Calder Hall atomic power plant in Cumbria. And in 1958, Elvis joined the army.
Not that any of this really bothered me because I started, and started to hate, my grammar school. Having fought the war for the likes of me, few of my school masters had much sympathy for a delicate lad like me, someone who couldn’t do a forward roll, let alone vault a horse. To this day, I’ve no idea why anyone should want to.
I wanted to avoid trouble, but even then I seemed to have mastered the quick quip and the bolshie attitude which has served me since, through both good times and bad.
My musical choice for this post is from the one consistent performer through all my music buying life, albeit not from my school days – Clive Powell. I’d choose his 1966 album, Sound Venture with the Harry South Big Band, partly because I did see them in concert, at the Brighton Dome where I’d seen Errol Garner, and also because of the sheer musicianship of the then cream of British jazz musicians. I also saw him in concert with the truly atomic Count Basie Orchestra but, to the best of my knowledge, no recording exists of that magic night.