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David Pearce Music Reviews

My Musical History Part 4

My Musical History Part 4

1975 – Marking Time

Looking back on 1975, it was a year where things finally settled down after a lot of upheaval in the UK. That said, the same problems were still there but just less obviously than before. Harold Wilson was the Prime Minister and most people seemed to like the avuncular Northerner whatever their politics. I liked him but mainly, I think, because of Mike Yarwood’s impression of him. Yarwood was one of the biggest stars of the time, and politicians like Ted Heath and Denis Healey were his stock in trade. His Saturday night show rivalled Morecambe and Wise in popularity, and his affectionate send ups of the major politicians of the day were something of a contrast to the far more satirical treatments of politicians in the 80s.

Cricket captures my imagination

 Outside of politics 1975 was the first Ashes series I had ever seen, and I was instantly captivated. I had been a big fan of the 40 over Sunday League cricket that was shown every week on BBC2. These days most of the cricketers from the England team and pretty much every county cricketer in the country could walk past with no one recognising them. Back in 1975 I could have identified Brian Brain, Bradley Dredge, John Dye, Geoff Humpage and Eifion Jones, along with many other county stalwarts, instantly. That summer two England players captured my imagination. The tall, immensely talented and charismatic Tony Greig, one of the few all rounders to also captain England successfully, was my sporting hero of the time and remains so to this day. The BBC Sports Personality of the Year for that year, however, was a bespectacled, prematurely grey batsman from Northamptonshire called David Steele. I had never seen anyone with more determination than him. He kept the Aussies at bay far better than other, supposedly, more talented batsmen and my admiration for him knew no bounds. I clearly wasn’t the only person who took to him, and by the end of the summer he was a national hero despite England’s narrow loss to Australia.  

TV Programmes for children – or perhaps not!

There were still only three channels in those days, although in some families I knew that effectively went down to two as the parents refused to watch ITV! As a latchkey kid I was able to choose for myself. Children’s TV at the time was dominated by the BBC, but I still had some favourite ITV series. One of them that I watched avidly was The Tomorrow People, about a group of young people with special powers, which had the creepiest title sequence in children’s TV at the time. It was groundbreaking in its treatment of ‘minority’ groups, and in Series 3 along with the talented Elizabeth Adare as Elizabeth M’Bondo, a rare black character on children’s TV, they added Dean Lawrence as gypsy character Tyso Boswell. This wasn’t done in a tokenistic way, and it was explained that The Tomorrow People, or Homo Superior were likely to come from either gender and any racial or cultural background. It was years ahead of its time, socially and culturally and is well worth checking out as long as you can allow for the 70s style ‘special effects’! As well as this programme, I loved the supernatural series Shadows, with an episode called ‘The Waiting Room’ with Jenny Agutter being a particular standout.

I was allowed to stay up one night a week until 10pm to watch a series that became my introduction to TV cop shows. It arrived without fanfare on January 2 1975 and quickly became a huge favourite across the UK. The Sweeney with John Thaw and Dennis Waterman was absolutely unlike anything else I had ever seen, and I loved it. The theme tune was exciting, the stories were fast moving for the time and the acting was top notch. A lot of the themes, perhaps fortunately, went over my head (!) but for the time it was impossibly exciting, and I loved the rough and ready humour of the two leads, even if my dad in particular laughed at comments that didn’t seem funny! Later in 1975, the BBC started a new series called Angels which starred Julie Dawn Cole, who I had a crush on when she played Veruca Salt in Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. My crush intensified when she appeared as student nurse Jo Longhurst and she became the first picture on my bedroom wall and every article I could find about her was cut out of the paper or the Radio Times as soon as it was allowed! I was a huge fan of Angels until she left at the end of Series 3, at which point my obsession with it mysteriously vanished!

Here come the Rollers!

Music and TV were brought together in Children’s TV by the single series of Shang-A-Lang which took its name from a single the previous year by the hosts the Bay City Rollers. It showcased two tracks a week from the Rollers themselves and a huge number of guest stars, who had singles to showcase, appeared on the show over the 20 week run. A spot on Shang-A-Lang was a guarantee of a new entry or a rise in the charts and everyone from Cliff Richard and The Scots Guards to Slade and Marc Bolan appeared on the show. The fact that I was a boy meant I had to keep my love for the Bay City Rollers secret, but it was one show I was determined not to miss. They had had 4 Top 10 singles in 1974, but 1975 was when Roller mania was everywhere. Two Number Ones and a further Top 3 entry were the tip of the iceberg as concerts became massive events and their albums sold in their hundreds of thousands. Tartan was all the rage and virtually every girl I knew was obsessed by them. Bye Bye Baby was Number 1 for six weeks and the biggest selling single of the year, but my favourite track of theirs was their other chart topper of 1975, Give a Little Love. It featured Les McKeown’s finest vocal performance, and it also had a tune that, to my 10 year old self, was as good as anything I had heard up to that point. The combination of that with the heartfelt lyrics made it a song that I stopped to listen to every time it was played on radio or TV. Their success couldn’t have carried on at the same height as it was in 1975, but it was still a shock when they virtually disappeared from the mainstream less than 12 months later.

Steps to chart success

One of the groups who appeared on the show were Showaddywaddy who were in the Top 5 in June with their remake of the Eddie Cochran number Three Steps to Heaven. It was a superb remake with a fantastic vocal performance from Dave Bartram and the booming tones of drummer Romeo Challenger calling out the ‘Steps’. Another remake, Heartbeat, also made it to the Top 10 in September. This proved to be a double edged sword for Leicester’s finest as their self-penned tracks around this time struggled to make an impact and the record company proclaimed that cover versions were the way to go. Given that December 1974 saw Hey Mr Christmas creep up to Number 13, to become their highest charting self-written song since their debut hit Hey Rock ‘n’ Roll reached Number 2, the record company had a point. However, they were savvy enough to write all of their B sides which guaranteed them 50% of the royalties on the sales! Unusually, the Showaddywaddy tracks were credited individually to every member of the band which meant an 8 way split and none of the issues caused by having songwriters in the band who were getting far richer than the musicians.

The Wombles continue to expand my horizons

The Wombles were still very high up in my affections in 1975, and the tape of Keep on Wombling was already having to be tightened up using an HB pencil to keep it from distorting! It is fair to say, however, that in terms of the singles they didn’t have the impact they deserved. Wombling White Tie and Tails, a tribute to Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers was a song I adored that didn’t make it into the Top 20. Lyrically it was superb, introducing me to the word ‘syncopation’ for instance, but the music could have been fitted in to the score of Top Hat and no one would have noticed the difference. SuperWomble just crept into the Top 20 whilst their final track of the year Let’s Womble to the Party Tonight was released in December and combined Big Band style verses with a Showaddywaddy style chorus, but bafflingly barely entered the Top 40 before it dropped out again. Yet again, this little snapshot of the music of The Wombles shows the dazzling array of styles that children were being introduced to by one of this country’s best and most underrated music artists. Mike Batt had far more success with his infectiously brilliant theme tune for 1975’s new Saturday night variety show Seaside Special. Summertime City became one of the songs of that summer and reached Number 4 in August.

Story Songs

I will finish this year with a roll call of songs that reintroduced me to the story based music I had first come across in 1972 through Don McLean. First of all was Streets of London by Ralph McTell, a Number 2 hit in January. It is a song that contrasts beautiful music and despairing lyrics in order to look at the plight of the homeless. Each verse is a vignette that created a flesh and blood character that you could see in your mind. It touched my heart and opened my eyes to the way that people could find themselves in a position like that, and even at the age of 9 I thought that something was wrong with a city that could see a situation like that on its streets. Nearly 50 years later I still do.

Then in the summer came The Last Farewell by Roger Whittaker, a singer-songwriter who had previously had a chart hit with Durham Town. The Last Farewell was the lament of a sailor who was going off to sea and was telling his wife how much he loved her. It immediately conjoured up the picture in my mind of a sailor in Drake’s Navy going off to fight the Spanish Armada. Why? I don’t really know, but I do know that the scene was vivid and unforgettable. It was a song that was popular around the world and is in a very exclusive list of around 50 singles that have sold 10 million physical copies worldwide!

1975 ended with Queen at Number 1 with Bohemian Rhapsody, a song I would grow to love years later. At the time? Let’s just say I was very unhappy that Laurel and Hardy failed to reach Number 1 with The Trail of the Lonesome Pine!! Childhood memories are a funny thing occasionally.

Next time, it’s the long hot summer of 1976!   

New Tricks: Last Man Standing

Series 12 starts with a two part story of real quality that is a fitting swansong for the great Gerry Standing (Dennis Waterman). It is a story that takes us back to 1983 and Gerry’s early days with the Met. In 2015, a body has been dug up in the basement of a house. Danny (Nicholas Lyndhurst) and Gerry head over there. There is little to identify the body, but Danny notices Gerry’s strange reaction to a signet ring that was found next to the body. He doesn’t remark on it then, but he recalls it later. The body is identified as DCI Martin Ackroyd who disappeared in unusual circumstances.

The Background

We find out that around that time Gerry had been transferred to DCI Martin Ackroyd’s team. The Gerry we meet then, a brilliant performance by Samuel Oatley, who channels the Waterman of The Sweeney down to the brown jacket, is a young pup not an old dog, cockier than his older counterpart has become but just as instinctive. His starry eyed recruit to CID gets a very rude awakening. Ackroyd tells two Sergeants, Bryant and McCabe, to show Gerry the ropes. He quickly realises they are on the payroll of local gangster Dominic Chapman and he is determined not to join them. His nickname of Last Man Standing came from this determination not to take bribes even when everyone else was. He reports it to Ackroyd who advises him to take the money anyway and then report back to him with times, dates and places. Gerry does this, leaving the money untouched in a shoebox even though he could really do with it as a young husband and father. Gerry becomes friends with another local gangster, Tommy Naylor, a far less psychotic individual than Dominic Chapman, but still a clearly unwise choice of friend for a young policeman. This friendship comes to the attention of some very dangerous people and places Gerry in a situation that will take all of his cunning to get out of.  

In the present day, the team start to investigate Ackroyd’s death and Gerry’s behaviour starts to ring a few alarm bells. They want to know what he is hiding, but he becomes more and more evasive, determined to sort out the case on his own. However, he has come to the attention of Bryant, McCabe and Chapman who have set an ever tighter trap for him which turns out to have been 30 years in the planning. His colleagues have to consider the possibility that the Gerry they have known for so long might have been involved with Ackroyd’s murder especially as the evidence is all pointing in one direction. Can they help to prove his innocence, or will their investigations end up proving his guilt? It is a race against time and for Gerry it could literally be a matter of life and death.

Highlights

Sasha (Tamzin Outhwaite) gets the fright of her life when she discovers Strickland (Anthony Calf) not only in her office but in her chair! He apologises but admits he came to the office as it was the only place he could escape from the crying of his new baby. At that point, Gerry brings his grandson into the office for Steve and Danny to look after and when the baby starts crying Strickland genuinely believes he has lost his mind!

Gerry enquires after Ethan, Sasha’s prospective boyfriend, who we met in the last episode of Series 11. Danny tells him that what happens in Barcelona stays in Barcelona, as did Ethan with a 25 year old occupational therapist!

Gerry’s younger self has a chat with an attractive young WPC and tries to get her to go on a date with him. Ackroyd warns him off, telling him not to go near her as she’s Mr Pullman’s daughter! Clearly Sandra’s reputation as someone not to mess with precedes her!

When Gerry is trying to get baby Caitlin off to sleep, he starts crooning ‘It’s alright, it’s OK’!!

Samuel Oatley shows a dangerous side to Gerry and shows that the lines between cops and criminals may have been unacceptably blurred by Gerry himself, but only in the cause of justice.

The 1983 reconstruction is superb throughout with all the younger characters matching their older counterparts perfectly. The attention to detail with mannerisms and speech patterns really brings the whole story together as there are no jarring inconsistencies to take you out of the story. Oatley is Waterman and there really should have been thought given to a Last Man Standing series, because it would have been every bit as good as Ashes to Ashes was.

When Steve (Denis Lawson) is asked to go on a stakeout after Danny refuses he tells Sasha it will cost her time and a half. She asks where his civic responsibility is and he tells her his civic responsibility costs 50% more after 6pm!

At the end of Part 1, a clearly rattled Gerry refuses to go back to UCOS with Sasha to answer her questions. To everyone’s shock she proceeds to place him under arrest for involvement in the murder of DCI Ackroyd! Tamzin Outhwaite is absolutely not to be messed with and this scene crackles with energy and tension.

At the beginning of Part 2, Strickland’s increasing involvement with the team comes to the fore as he gives Gerry the chance to go off grid to clear his name, before telling Danny to go home because he looks ‘a little unwell’ and not to contact him until the morning! It has become clear to me throughout this rewatch, that Anthony Calf never got the credit that he deserved for his subtle loosening up of the character. You saw how tied he was by his position but here, as on a number of occasions in the later series, he shows he is totally in UCOS’s corner.

Steve, Sasha and Strickland ask Forensic Anthropologist Dr Fiona Kennedy, played magnificently by Tracy-Ann Oberman with a perpetual twinkle in her eye, to rush through analysis of a bloodstained shirt that could clear Gerry, but her answer shocks them to the core. It really plants the seeds of doubt in the audience’s mind.  

As ever, Danny’s past in the Diplomatic Service is enquired about, but in this episode it becomes far more part of the plot as Danny tries to keep Gerry alive as the net closes around him. We even find out that he was called ‘The Gardener’, although that may not be entirely accurate!  

When Danny and Gerry ask Tommy Naylor to look at a photo of policemen in the upper ranks at the time of Ackroyd’s murder and point out the ones they can trust, his answer is shocking. It does, however, lead them to Ted Case, played by the marvellous Larry Lamb, whose clear headed approach and eye for detail might prove very useful for UCOS in the future!

The Verdict

Gerry, as the last original Old Dog gets a fitting send off in a double episode that just stacks the cards against him and then asks him how much he’s prepared to gamble to see his opponent. The team around him are absolutely magnificent throughout and it shows how important Gerry’s new colleagues have become to him. Part 2 starts with a brilliant set-up which the ending then nails perfectly. Of all the final stories in the series, this one is the best. Dennis Waterman just reminds us what a brilliantly gritty actor he is with a powerhouse performance full of strength, menace and tenderness. Farewell Gerry and farewell Dennis, you were far more than alright and OK!    

My Musical History Part 3

Political Turmoil and two elections

1974 was an interesting year socially and politically. First of all, Ted Heath the Conservative Prime Minister, who just a year before had finally led us into the EEC held an election to sort out once and for all who was in charge of the country, him, or the miners. Judging by the incredibly close result, with Heath’s Conservative Party getting 37.9% of the vote for 297 seats and Harold Wilson’s Labour Party getting 37.2% of the vote for 301 seats, the country was none too sure! The balance of power was held by Jeremy Thorpe’s Liberal Party who increased their size of the vote from 7.5% and 11 seats in 1970 to 19.3% and … 14 seats in February 1974! Despite the first past the post system not properly reflecting their huge increase in support they were able to end Heath’s tenure as Prime Minister by refusing to support him in a coalition. In the end, Wilson was able to return to Number 10 as head of a minority government with tacit support from both the Liberals and the SNP on certain issues. In October Wilson went to the country again, and this time managed to gain a wafer thin majority of 3 seats due to a 2% increase in the Labour vote and a 2.1% fall in the Conservative vote. The Liberal vote held up well with a small drop to 18.3% and the loss of one of their 14 seats and the SNP gained four seats to sit on 11. These two smaller parties would become incredibly influential given their size in the years before the 1979 election.

So the future that Noddy Holder had told us to look to at Christmas 1973 looked even more confused and precarious by the time Merry Christmas Everybody finally fell out of the charts in February! The three day week had started to conserve dwindling coal stocks and the generation of school children at the time would for ever be able to bore their children and grandchildren with stories of doing homework by candlelight! The three day week ended in March when Wilson reached an agreement with the miners, but that was a rare economic and industrial bright spot for the year. By the end of 1974, inflation which was super charged by the Barber Boom of 1972/3 reached 17% and the wage rises to cope with this were reaching astronomical levels. 1975 would see worse to come, but that’s another blog post!

The Wombles Batt away the doubters

The first children’s supergroup was undoubtedly The Wombles. The characters were created by Elisabeth Beresford in a series of books in the 1960s. They were a group of small furry creatures who tidied up Wimbledon Common in London and used the items they tidied to make various items for their burrow. They first appeared on television in February 1973 in the 5 minute slot developed by BBC1 to bring Children’s TV to an end. The magical narration of the great Bernard Cribbins made this a must see for adults and children alike and it became a programme that your Dad would laugh along with before getting down to the serious business of real life. This slot, before the BBC News at Six, introduced viewers of all ages to Magic Roundabout, Hector’s House, Roobarb and Ivor the Engine amongst many others. However, only The Wombles went on to chart success, a success entirely due to the songwriting genius of Mike Batt.

The theme tune, known as The Wombling Song was released in 1973 but it was not until late February 1974 that it reached a peak of Number 4 in the charts. The follow up was a stomping call and response number in the vein of glam rock songs like ‘Cum On Feel the Noize’ by Slade and hit Number 3 in May 1974. Another Top 10 hit, Banana Rock followed in July, before one of the best Christmas singles of all time ‘Wombling Merry Christmas’ which just missed out on the top spot in the Christmas charts, peaking at Number 2. Alongside that, Mike Batt had further success with the fantastic ‘Keep on Wombling’ which featured a Prog style concept album on Side 1 and across 11 songs took covered styles as diverse as pop, classical and country and western. For a young boy it was an amazing introduction to what the world of music could offer and that Christmas I played the album endlessly on my new cassette recorder. Along with Tom and Jerry and Looney Tunes, The Wombles opened up my musical horizons while Bagpuss, which started in 1974 introduced me to traditional English folk music. As an adult I can listen to it now and marvel at Batt’s skill in writing across so many genres whilst never resorting to lazy pastiche. Suffice to say, any primary school child of the time would have had a place in their heart for the rubbish clearing denizens of Wimbledon Common.

Glam Rock continues to dominate

The biggest selling single of 1974 was released at the beginning of the year and made it to Number 1 at the end of January. ‘Tiger Feet’ by Mud was a raucous shout out of a song that featured a ‘roadies dance’ on Top of the Pops that became famous and was easy to copy together with a Shadows style walk that was popular in school playgrounds for many months afterwards. Vocalist Les Gray had a rock n roll style voice that, combined with the crowd pleasing quality of Chinn and Chapman’s lyrics made them irresistible. Chinn and Chapman had an unerring ability to spot a group and then write them songs that produced hit after hit. In 1973 and 1974 alone they were responsible for 19 chart entries, most of them Top 10s. They wrote and produced Number Ones for Mud, Sweet, Suzi Quatro and in the 1980s a US Number 1 for Toni Basil with the cheerleader style ‘Mickey’!

Mud guitarist Rob Davis, who wrote a lot of album tracks that were overlooked as singles, stopped playing when Mud disbanded and became a very successful and respected club and dance songwriter in his own right. In 2000 and 2001 he wrote ‘Groovejet (If this ain’t love), the 8th highest selling single of the year and then the massive ‘Can’t Get you Out of my Head’ which he wrote with Cathy Dennis and was the song with the highest amount of airplay worldwide during the 2000s.

Along with Mud, who had a total of four Top 10s in 1974, Sweet continued to have significant chart success in 1974 with two more Top 10 hits. Alongside them, the leather clad Alvin Stardust, a persona invented by Shane Fenton to fit into the glam rock era, had four Top 10 hits in 1974 with his moody appearance, rock style vocals and catchy songs like My Coo Ca Choo and Jealous Mind. Slade and Gary Glitter racked up another four Top 10s each and The Glitter Band were responsible for three more. However, the relative lack of Number Ones pointed to the slow decline of glam which would gather pace the following year.

Two very different crushes!

At the start of 1974 two solo female artists were in the forefront of my thoughts and they really couldn’t have been more different. The first was Marie Osmond, the sole girl in the family, whose first hit ‘Paper Roses’ reached Number 2 in December 1973 where it was overshadowed by the first real battle for Christmas Number 1. It was a country music single that would have made little impact on me if it wasn’t for her all-American beauty. She got to Number 2 again later on in the year in a duet with brother Donny called ‘I’m Leaving it all up to you’, another country song that showed the quality of their voices and led to them having success in America as hosts of their own show.

At the same time as Marie Osmond was displaying her wholesomeness and talent, another female artist appeared on my radar. Superficially at least, she couldn’t have been more different. In a leather jumpsuit, the guitar playing, hard rocking and massively charismatic Suzi Quatro was increasing the pulse rates of many young men! If Marie was the girl you could take home to meet your parents, Suzi was the girl you would sneak out of the house to be near! Although she had already hit the top with ‘Can the Can’ the previous year, her best known track was Number 1 in January and it was called ‘Devil Gate Drive’. The call and response were present and correct, and the chorus was incredibly catchy. Although on the surface another Chinn and Chapman protégé, she was determinedly in charge of her own career and utilised their songwriting because it suited her so well as an artist.  As her worldwide career sales of 50 million records and her continuing popularity as a live act demonstrate there was always more to her than the leather clad glam rock image. She set the template that many other female rock singers have followed in the decades since.  

New Faces and Future Greats

In the early 70s, a new talent show came along called New Faces, which was a precursor to Britain’s Got Talent in many ways. Singers, groups, ventriloquists, and novelty acts all jostled for recognition. The roll call of future stars from the show was impressive to say the least, largely helped by a panel of judges like Tony Hatch and Mickie Most who had huge experience in showbusiness and an unerring eye for talent. Amongst others, comedians Lenny Henry, Victoria Wood, Les Dennis, and The Chuckle Brothers all got their big breaks on the show. Music wise the success stories were slightly patchier with Marti Caine and Sweet Sensation building reasonably strong careers but few others really breaking through into the mainstream. However, one act built a long lasting and very successful career after appearing on the show. An eight piece band from Leicester who had over 200 weeks in the charts during a 10 year period of success, a Number 1 single and 9 other Top 10 hits, Showaddywaddy became one of my enduring musical loves. Their appearances on New Faces led them to the 1973 All Winners Show where they were runners up to the completely forgotten Tom Waite. In April 1974 they released the self-penned ‘Hey Rock ‘n’ Roll’ with it’s stomping chorus and I was instantly hooked. They reached Number 2 with this classic song, only kept off the top by fellow revivalists The Rubettes with their track, the falsetto filled ‘Sugar Baby Love’. To say I was annoyed that my new favourite group had lost out on a debut Number 1 was an understatement, but at the age of 9 you do tend to get very invested in the charts! Two more minor hits followed that year, but Showaddywaddy’s time would come later in the 70s.

Love songs, story songs and my favourite summer hit

Away from the glam rock groups this year saw the rise of the Bay City Rollers who were taking over from The Osmonds as the teen heartthrobs of choice. More of them next time as I reach 1975.

One song soundtracked my first crush which developed into the full blown Puppy Love that Donny had sung about the year before. Seasons in the Sun by Terry Jacks was a huge Number 1 hit that namechecked Michele, coincidentally the object of my affections. As a result it became the song I identified with most in 1974. It was only when I got older that I realised it was a song about death, which was probably just as well!

After the previous year’s ‘Part of the Union’, my social history of the working class gained more perspective with Alan Price’s ‘Jarrow Song’ about the Jarrow Crusade, a 280 mile march by two hundred unemployed men from the Jarrow region of Newcastle. They walked to Westminster to draw attention to their plight and to plead their case to parliament, but in a sign that nothing ever changes, the politicians completely ignored them! Without knowing it, my sympathy for those men when I found out about their plight would set the tone for my fascination with social history that endures to this day. The opening verse tells of the desperation and anger felt by so many at the time.

‘My name is Geordie Mcintyre, An’ the Bairns don’t even have a fire
So the wife says “Geordie, go to London Town!”
And if they don’t give us half a chance, Don’t even give us a second glance
Then Geordie, with my blessings, burn them down.’

This year was the highpoint for a band called Paper Lace whose biggest hit, a Number 1 single called ‘Billy Don’t Be a Hero’ was based around the American Civil War, as were the uniforms they wore on Top of the Pops. It was a song about a young lad called Billy who was engaged to be married, and whose fiancée was reluctant to let him go. She told him,

‘Billy, don’t be a hero, don’t be a fool with your life.
Billy, don’t be a hero, come back and make me your wife.
And as he started to go she said, ‘Billy, keep your pretty head low
Billy, don’t be a hero, come back to me.’

Sadly, he ignores her advice and is killed after volunteering for a dangerous mission. The final verse is biting in its anger and it really cemented the song in my head’

‘I heard his fiancee got a letter
That told how Billy died that day
The letter said that he was a hero
She should be proud he died that way
I heard she threw that letter away’

The final song in this trawl through my memories is my favourite ever summer song. It was a song that got a lot of airplay, but bafflingly only made it to Number 13 in the charts. ‘Beach Baby’ by First Class was a smooth updating of the California sound written by English husband and wife team, John Carter and Gillian Shakespeare. From the first notes it just tapped into something that few songs had up until that point. There was a real excitement that I felt in my chest, and a feeling that this song was one that I would always love. Now, every time I play the song, I get the same feeling and every time I hear it, I am 9 years old again. Perhaps it was the first time I really understood the power of music, however imperfectly.  

As ever, feel free to watch some or all of these songs on You Tube

See you in 1975!

New Tricks : The Queen’s Speech

The final episode of Series 11 sees the team investigating the murder of a girl, Amy Taskerland, during her school disco in 1983. she had buried a tape in a time capsule which the gardening club had accidentally dug up and when listening to it Sasha (Tamzin Outhwaite) hears Amy talking about Alec who she surmises is a boyfriend. On listening to Side B of the tape Danny (Nicholas Lyndhurst) recognises it as the speech the Queen would have given in the event of a nuclear attack. ( If you’re interested the full speech is here https://slate.com/human-interest/2013/08/queen-elizabeth-speech-written-for-her-to-give-in-case-of-nuclear-war.html ) The trouble is that the speech was only declassified under the 30 year rule in 2013, so how could a 16 year old schoolgirl know about it? What secret is the headmaster hiding that means he is reluctant to have the crime reinvestigated? What about Amy’s father, an apparently distant man who walked away from Amy that night to her obvious distress? As the team dig deeper, the truth becomes ever more difficult to get hold of, but Wham! could end up holding the key! Finally, will the team frighten off Sasha’s potential boyfriend and why does DAC Strickland suddenly want to go out for a drink with them?

The Background

This episode is based on a genuinely unsettling real life premise. In 1983 the NATO forces held exercises in Western Europe that the Russians were convinced, briefly, were the precursor to a full scale attack. For two days, there was a real chance of the world being plunged into nuclear war. In the event that it became imminent, 600 people from various walks of life were to head to 12 regional headquarters where they would stay for two years or until the country was deemed safe enough to reinhabit above ground. Everyone else was being told to ‘Protect and Survive’ inside their homes, or as Danny noted prepare their own coffins! If you were a teenager in that time, there was a fair chance, as far as you were concerned, of never making it to adulthood. The songs around that time by Nik Kershaw, Ultravox, Frankie Goes to Hollywood and Nena were testament to that fear. Well, if you couldn’t affect it you may as well dance to it!

Highlights

When the team go to Amy’s old school (which bears a strange resemblance to Harrow!) Danny and Gerry (Dennis Waterman) are playing basketball. Sasha tells them to come with her and Danny throws a huge three pointer from wide out on the court. Nicholas Lyndhurst’s nonchalance is just superb, but I would love to know how many takes there were for that basket!

Anthony Calf, has played Strickland superbly well throughout the 11 seasons as he has gone from being suspicious and unbending to become steadily more supportive of the team and much more prepared to turn a blind eye to their sometimes unorthodox methods. In this episode he asks to go out for a drink with them which leads to the awkward silence that anyone who has ever socialised with their boss will recognise immediately. Things warm up when Sasha’s new boyfriend Ethan (Alun Raglan) turns up to try to persuade Sasha to go to Barcelona with him. When Danny finds out that Ethan owns a record shop he is immediately interested. To Sasha’s huge embarrassment the discussion moves from vinyl records to a ‘euphemistic’ chat about how you treat vinyl which runs the full gamut from treating it gently to putting the needle in the groove! The scene is hilarious and played with beautifully straight faces by all concerned.

Gerry isn’t at the pub because he has been forced to go to the stag night of his future son-in-law Robin, who is marrying Gerry’s daughter Caitlin. In an attempt to bond with Gerry it takes place in a venue where the guests can try their hands at being butchers, the trade that Gerry’s family had followed for generations, but Gerry isn’t going to play along. The awkward stag do goes from bad to worse as first Gerry finds out that the Best Man hasn’t booked a stripper or even planned to tie Robin to a lamp post. Finally he finds out that Robin has already got Caitlin in the family way! Gerry’s suspicion of a future son-in-law who comes from very different circumstances is clear, but it turns out all is not yet lost.

Steve (Denis Lawson) is not to the fore in this episode although he does make a breakthrough when he goes off piste with Danny investigating the bunker. He also manages to fit in the inevitable, ‘What exactly did you do in the diplomatic service?’ question!

This is definitely Danny’s episode though, and the image that stuck in my mind from the very first time I saw it was the sight of him striding through the school, across the football pitch and up to the steps where Amy was killed, carrying a huge ghetto blaster on his shoulder that is playing ‘Club Tropicana’ (the 12 minute remix version) at full volume! It is just a fantastic moment of physical comedy that Nicholas Lyndhurst has specialised in throughout his career.

The Verdict

This is without doubt one of the top 5 episodes of the entire run with a fantastic mix of comedy and drama. Once you have finished watching AC-12 you really should catch up with UCOS and this episode in particular.

My Musical History Part 2

It’s 1973!

1973 was a year where the exuberance of the charts was in direct contrast to the increasingly depressed state of UK politics and certain sectors of society. It is an overplayed, and largely inaccurate, argument that the 70s were a grim decade, but they certainly had their share of difficulties.

Understanding the world around me

The troubles in Northern Ireland and the strikes in UK industries became common knowledge for a set of young people like me, for whom John Craven’s Newsround, first shown in 1972, was a window on to the world. It is actually impossible to overstate how groundbreaking it was at the time. We were trusted to understand ‘adult’ news, but it was presented to us in language we could grasp. John Craven, who was instrumental in bringing it to the screen, was perhaps the only person who could have made us feel safe despite the sometimes unpleasant nature of what he was telling us. It gave me a lifelong interest in politics and current affairs and the fact that it’s still going on the BBC website and as a morning edition is just a marvellous testament to an idea that’s almost 50 years old.

Glam hits the charts!

For those of you who might not know I suppose I should give you an idea of what Glam Rock was. In essence, Glam Rock was music that was played by groups who favoured outrageous costumes, make-up, especially glitter, which for some musicians, such as Dave Hill of Slade, Steve Priest of Sweet and Rob Davis of Mud became a dei facto competition to see who could take it to the extreme, large hair and platform shoes. The music itself was an antidote to the more serious approach of certain artists in the prog rock genre and the proliferation of acts that would now be described as middle of the road. It favoured the themes and approaches of 60s pop married with heavy guitar riffs and a ‘wall of sound’ that just seemed impossibly exciting at the time. Even at the time there were arguments about which groups were part of Glam Rock, and some actively disliked the label, so this is just my take on it.

The first new Number 1 of the year was one of my favourite glam rock singles, and still a favourite of mine many years later, Blockbuster by The Sweet. It showed the heavy edge that a lot of Glam favoured and had an introduction with a crunching blues guitar riff, influenced by Bo Didley, that was immediately recognisable. The song itself had a chorus that was chiefly memorable for the contrast between lead singer Brian Connolly’s powerful delivery and bassist Steve Priest’s simpering ‘We just haven’t got a clue what to do’. Priest got into trouble for his Top of the Pops appearance with a swastika armband. Not having a clue what it meant I also got into trouble for drawing one on my hat at the time! Music was clearly already a huge influence for good or for bad!!

A Striking Single!

Just after that made Number 1, a very different song entered my consciousness and my increasing repertoire of, probably off key, songs that I knew virtually every word to. The Strawbs were definitely not Glam Rock, and in fact were a branch of Prog Rock, having Rick Wakeman on keyboards for a while, before settling on a harder edged sound that gave them their only big hit ‘Part of the Union’. It was a song unashamedly in support of the Trade Union movement and it became the unofficial song for many a strike around the time. The lyrics for the second verse give an insight into the politics of the song.

‘When we meet in the local hall
I’ll be voting with them all
With a hell of a shout, it’s “Out brothers, out!”
And the rise of the factory’s fall.’

It was a real singalong with a tune that deliberately reflected the union band style of the time and it resonated with children and picket line protesters alike.

He Who Must Not Be Named

In 1973 a colossus of the music scene of the 70s had four hit singles, two settling at Number 2 and the other two making Number 1. He had eleven Top 10 singles in a row from his debut hit ‘Rock ‘n’ Roll Parts 1 & 2’, influenced artists from Mark E. Smith of The Fall and Sisters of Mercy to Joan Jett and the Blackhearts and Ce Lo Green. His backing band had seven Top 20 hits of their own. He was known as ‘The Leader’ and for nearly three years was an integral part of Glam Rock. If you were around at the time, you will know exactly who I am talking about, but if you have not delved into the history of the music scene in the early 70s you will probably not have heard of him, so completely has he been airbrushed from history. I am talking about the tin foil clad elephant in the room, Gary Glitter. His crimes, which I will leave you to Google should you wish to, made him a pariah and his appearances on many of the Top of the Pops shows at the time have meant that they can no longer be broadcast. This is quite understandable and entirely justifiable. However, for many of us he was part of the soundtrack to our childhood, and it would be ridiculous not to acknowledge that. His songs of that year are instantly recognisable, especially his two Number 1 records ‘I’m the Leader of the Gang (I am)’ and ‘I Love You Love Me Love’. The former was a stomping statement of intent with a catchy tune and lyrics that were just made to be chanted. The latter was a smoother tune with more overtly romantic lyrics and became his most successful single selling over a million copies. If anyone else had recorded it, it would be a staple of the nostalgia radio stations because it was an excellent piece of music and many a young boy would sing it thinking of that crush they had on that girl in their class – or perhaps that was just me!

You’ve Been Slade!

The only Glam Rock act of the year who outdid Gary Glitter were Slade, four lads from Wolverhampton, who took the genre to new heights and set chart records in an era when competition was as fierce as it has probably ever been. During that year Slade had three Number 1 singles, which was impressive enough, but all three of them went straight in at Number 1, a feat unheard of since the heyday of The Beatles. Even if they had been Slade’s only Number 1 singles, Cum On Feel the Noise, Skweeze Me, Pleese Me and Merry Xmas Everybody would have cemented their reputation as all time greats. The misspellings which caused great irritation to English teachers in particular were actually transliterations of their Wolverhampton speech patterns and as such give an interesting insight into the mindset of a group who were fiercely proud of where they came from.

Cum on Feel the Noize exploded into my consciousness with the opening shout of lead singer Noddy Holder, ‘Baby, Baby, Baby!’ in February 1973. This introduction was never supposed to be on the song. It was just a microphone test for the recording session, but Holder realised that it was actually a brilliant hook. The original title was Cum on Hear the Noize, and it was supposed to reflect their live performances, but Holder remembered that during the concerts it was in fact a sound that he could feel in his chest as it came in waves from the audience. Maybe a minor point, but it gave the song a different vibe that I don’t think the original title would quite have managed. It was not a hit in the US, but ten years later, US Heavy Metal band Quiet Riot went Top 5 with their version, much to the irritation of Jim Lea, Holder’s songwriting partner. Although Oasis also found success with their version more than 20 years after its initial release, Slade have otherwise resisted pretty much all requests from artists wishing to cover their original songs. That is, with one seasonal exception!

Merry Xmas Everybody was a deliberate attempt to cheer the country up after a pretty miserable year of strikes and unrest. Noddy Holder even put in the line, ‘Look to the future now, we’ve only just begun’ to encourage people to face 1974 with more optimism.

Lea and Holder wrote it on the request of their manager Chas Chandler but were originally very reluctant to do so. Lea remembered the tune Buy Me a Rocking Chair written by Holder from their earlier incarnation as the N’Betweens. The original was a psychedelic number that had very little success and, indeed, was not rated by Holder himself. Lea beefed it up and asked Holder if he could do something with it. The result was a pop and Christmas classic for the ages that nearly 50 years on still brings in £500,000 a year for the two writers! Apparently, the point at which they knew they had something special was when Holder set down the lyrics,

‘Does your granny always tell ya that the old songs are the best?
Then she’s up and rock ‘n’ rollin’ with the rest!’

It was recorded in New York in a heatwave in July, but the original recording was deemed to not have enough of an echo on the chorus in particular, and it was shelved. After a lot of argument with disbelieving sound engineers who were used to bands requiring the tighter sound of the studio, Slade were allowed to record the chorus in the corridor outside with the equipment set up to capture the required echo. As ever, Slade’s understanding of what would be a hit was unerring – or was it? In fact, only Jim Lea was convinced by the song before the recording. The other three, even Holder himself who loved his lyrics, thought that they were setting themselves up for a fall!   

Even now, love it or hate it, it’s impossible to imagine Christmas without it!

A Prisoner and a Detective

My final two songs from this year could barely be more different from the excesses of Glam Rock. Tony Orlando and Dawn were an American group who seemed to specialise in over complicated ways for people to express their affection! Their previous hit asked the object of Orlando’s affection to

‘Knock three times on the ceiling if you love me. Twice on the pipes means you don’t want to know’!

Quite why she couldn’t say yes or no directly to his face remains a mystery!

There was, however, more logic to ‘Tie a Yellow Ribbon Round the Old Oak Tree’ as a prisoner returning home after a three year sentence for an unspecified crime wanted his love to perform that duty if she still wanted him. It was a song that was ubiquitous throughout 1973 and the first time I heard it I remember getting very involved with the story and how it was going to end. The final lines are a euphoric rush of relief that was mirrored by my younger self! It demonstrated that the charts still had room for a huge variety of songs, a fact that was amply reinforced by the Number 1 that sold a million copies despite being intended a piece of library music. Library music is recorded by a production company that then license that music to TV and film producers whilst keeping all the copyright.

In 1973, a new detective series set in Amsterdam called Van Der Valk, needed a theme tune. London Weekend Television used a piece of library music called Eye Level by the Simon Park Orchestra as the theme, probably expecting it to be incidental to the success of the show. In fact it completely dwarfed the cultural impact of the show itself, which very few people remember these days, and got to Number 1 for four weeks, selling over a million copies! It was a piece of music that was based on a Dutch nursery rhyme which gave it the sound the TV company were looking for, but the orchestration was lush and the string section with a memorable harp just lifted the song out of the ordinary even in a golden age for TV theme tunes.

Coming up in Part 3

That then is 1973 and I ended up writing way more than I expected (!) so I’ll stop there and leave 1974, with Showaddywaddy and The Wombles amongst others to part 3 of this musical journey. Once again, many of the tunes mentioned will appear on my You Tube playlist

https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLYNHCBtlxb88oIwiPOwre4aE1OnmyD24T

See you next time!