Bothy Ballads, Gaberlunzie and The Best Fun I Had All Week, Was in a Care Home!

During the darkest days of the pandemic, I often started my posts with the words, ‘How are we all doing?’. It was a stressful time for most of us what with all the uncertainty about how things would pan out. How soon we forget however, and once the vaccines became freely available, we thought life would get back to normal. In 2022 however, every ‘crisis’ imaginable seems to have hit us at the same time. My pandemic question again feels quite pertinent:

How are we all doing?

I’m not ashamed to admit that I sometimes feel overwhelmed by all that is going on in the world, and closer to home, and I am not the same relaxed person I was in 2016 when I started this blog. I should change my name to Anxious Alyson, someone who finds it quite hard to write entertaining and light-hearted posts at the moment, so apologies for that.

The modern-day care home – quite swish really

A most welcome relief from all the anxiety came in the unlikely form of a visit to a care home yesterday. Regulars around here will remember that four years ago we had to find a care home place for my mum, after a stay in hospital made it impossible for her to return to her retirement flat. It all started well but after only 15 months, due to the pandemic, the home closed to nearly all visitors and any non-essential personnel, like entertainers. For two and a half years it proved very difficult to visit at all what with tests being required, masks, much form-filling and social distancing. In the last month however all that has changed, and things have returned to how they used to be when she first took up residence. Sadly, those residents like my mum who have dementia, have deteriorated quite markedly because of the social isolation of the pandemic years. Yes, they were being ‘kept safe’ from the virus, as directed by our government, but time was not on their side, and many passed away during that period. My mum did make it through, but she no longer knows who I am, which makes my visits quite tricky at times, although you do learn how make them work.

Yesterday they had an accordionist in to entertain, a chap who came regularly prior to the pandemic and who is now being invited back again. I joined them all in the big lounge where he had set up shop, and what a joyous afternoon it turned out to be. One of the most bizarre aspects of dementia, and Alzheimer’s especially, is that you have no short-term memory at all, and you can’t remember anything about your previous life, but you do remember all the words to all the songs you grew up listening to. (Come the day, god forbid we music-bloggers end up in such a situation, we’ll be able to quote chapter and verse all the lyrics to all the songs mentioned in our blogs.)

Phil Cunningham, another well-known Scottish accordionist

It being Scotland, one of the most popular portable instruments for playing traditional music is the accordion, and Duncan, its very dextrous operator (just so many keys and buttons), has a lovely way of connecting with the home’s residents. The songs he plays are the ones I would have been mortified listening to as a teenager, as not the kind of fodder to ever pop up on ToTP or on prime-time telly (The White Heather Club being the embarrassing exception), but they are the songs that would have been played at my granny and grandad’s house on the radio, or via shellac 78s, so all very familiar. My mum, it’s safe to say, knew all the words to even the most obscure and forgotten-about traditional Scottish songs, and we had great fun singing along to them. The best bit was that the staff encouraged dancing, and after working out that if I held on to her at all times for support, my mum and I could entertain the troops with our waltzes, Gay Gordons (a Scottish country dance) and freestyle jigs. Every now and again I asked her if she needed a break but that was apparently not an option so we both had a great afternoon of song and dance. Bet she slept well last night.

I can’t believe I’m nearly seven years into this blog without sharing any of the Scottish songs of my youth but they’re definitely not for everyone and very niche. One of yesterday’s songs was a bothy ballad, called The Barnyards of Delgaty. A bothy is a very spartan farm outbuilding, where in the early years of the 1900s farm labourers in the North-East of Scotland would sleep after having been hired at the ‘feeing market’. Both my grandfathers worked as farm labourers in their youth and would have stayed in such places. My mum’s dad, whose songs I would have listened to as a child, himself worked at the farm called The Barnyards of Delgaty so I always think of him when I hear it. With no internet or large screen television sets for entertainment in the evening, bothy ballads were sung. Being a very male environment some of these songs were bawdy indeed, but this one is a story song really about how you could be deceived by the promise of a fine healthy horse to work with, only to find it was skin and bone when you got to the farm.

The Barnyards of Delgaty by Gaberlunzie:


Another song we sang along to yesterday was this one, The Bonnie Lass O’ Fyvie which is all about the unrequited love of a captain of Irish dragoons for a beautiful Scottish girl. The place names are all so familiar as from our neck of the woods, so another one my mum really enjoyed. Both these songs are performed by the Scots folk duo Gaberlunzie who started out in the late ’60s and were still touring in 2018. Turns out their name is from the medieval Scots word for a licensed beggar.


Duncan the accordionist finished off with The Northern Lights of Old Aberdeen, a bit of a shmaltzy one this time, which all these years later still makes me homesick for my old stomping ground. I have such fond memories of living in Aberdeen during my late teens and twenties and of course I had my flat reunion there back in the summer (link here). My mum loves this song, so we did a little waltz, and I have to admit it all got a bit emotional for a myriad of reasons, but I quickly pulled myself together by the end. There are worse ways to spend a wet Thursday afternoon in November. Interestingly the first comment attached to this clip on the video-sharing website is very relevant to this post. It comes from kem10:

In my old job I used to help at a coffee morning which was run to help older adults who were socially isolated – in particular individuals with dementia. We would always play music and it was great to see folk light up and join in. This song was a particular favourite that EVERYONE got involved in and still knew all the words to.

‘It was great to see folk light up and join in.’ Exactly that.

The Northern Lights of Old Aberdeen by the Mill Weavers:


So, ‘What’s It All About?’ – The power of music, eh? If the worst comes to the worst, my generation will be listening to a very different set of tunes in the care home, but they will bring us much joy and we will no longer worry about the really big issues of the day as they will be for the next generation to sort out. We will of course be blamed for having caused them in the first place, and they’ll have a point. People often avoid going to visit relatives with dementia as it can be quite distressing, but it can also be great fun as I found this week. Use music as a tool to connect with them.

Folk music comes and goes in popularity, but it has always been around as it tells the story of our cultural and regional identity, as is the case with bothy ballads. I’ve only shared songs here from the North-East of Scotland but such songs are attached to all parts of the country. Do you have any local favourites you might not have warmed to as a youngster at all, but have come round to as you’ve ‘matured’?

The music of folk duo Simon & Garfunkel has appeared often around here, so I’m going to end with their version of the bothy ballad Pretty Peggy-O. Soldiers from Highland regiments often ended up in bothies, and encounters between soldiers and ‘innocent maids’ were commonplace, thus songs were written about them. The Peggy in this song taken from the Bonnie Lass ‘O Fyvie lyrics and the tune not dissimilar to the Barnyards song either. Lovely stuff.


Until next time…

The Barnyards O’ Delgaty Lyrics
(Song by Unknown – Traditional)

As I came in by Turra Market
Turra Market for to fee,
I fell in wi’ a wealthy farmer,
From the Barnyards O’ Delgaty.

Linten adie toorin adie,
Linten adie toorin ee,
Linten lowrin, lowrin, lowrin
The Barnyards O’ Delgaty

He promised me the two best horses
Ever I set my eyes upon;
When I got home to the Barnyards
There was nothing there but skin and bone.

When I go to the church on Sunday,
Many’s the bonnie lass I see,
Sitting by her faither’s side
And winking ower the pews at me.

Well I can drink and not be drunk
And I can fight and not be slain.
I can lie wi’ anothers man’s lass
And aye be welcome to my ain.

Months Of The Year In Song: Orange October

Welcome to this second instalment of my new series, where I plan to share songs relating to all 12 months of the year. I didn’t start in January but that’s ok as the months just keep rolling by in a continual loop, or so I thought until last month’s discovery that the calendar year used to have 10 months with a gap for an “unorganised winter”, which is why October is confusingly named after the Latin word for eight. In time that got sorted out and we now have the calendar we are familiar with where October is the 10th month, and what a month it is for those of us who live in the Northern Hemisphere. I don’t know about you but over the last couple of weeks I have been privileged to witness the leaves changing colour all around my neighbourhood and what a treat it’s been.

Last month in the comments boxes there was a bit of debate about September being the first month of autumn, as although meteorologically it is, it still feels like the tail end of summer (again I’m referring to those of us who live in the Northern Hemisphere – sorry if I’m alienating my Southern Hemisphere followers). But October is ‘proper autumn’ and what with the colour of the leaves, our warm woollen clothes back on rotation and Halloween making its presence felt at the end of the month, a very orange one indeed in terms of the hues.

But this is a music blog so where are the songs? Last month it became obvious that September songs are quite nostalgic and melancholy, but mainly because the month’s name rhymes with the word ‘remember’. October doesn’t rhyme with much so by default there are less songs that mention it. No matter, some great suggestions were put forward in the comments boxes last time, so I still have plenty of material.

First of all, both Lynchie and The Swede came up with this song for inclusion, October Song by the Incredible String Band. It wasn’t until I watched a recent documentary about the history of popular music in Scotland that I discovered this band. All the usual suspects were included, from Lulu to the Proclaimers but the Incredible String Band were new to me as from a bit before my time and not the kind of band that would have ever popped up on prime time telly when I was growing up. But despite sounding as if they had San Francisco origins, they actually hailed from Edinburgh, and were really successful during the period 1966 to 1974. As you will hear, they were pioneers of psychedelic folk and by fusing a wide variety of traditional music styles and instruments, helped develop world music. October Song was from their first album released in 1966 and it certainly is full of the imagery of autumn. Beautiful in its way but maybe not my thing.

The fallen leaves that jewel the ground
They know the art of dying
And leave with joy their glad gold hearts
In the scarlet shadows lying


Another suggestion came in from Rol who offered up October Swimmer by JJ72. The period that gets mentioned least around here is the turn of the millennium, as I think I was just so busy working, and being a mum to a small child. This could explain how I have absolutely no memory of this song or band at all despite the fact they did really well with it in 2000 and appeared on ToTP. No imagery of autumn this time just quite bleak lyrics, so thanks, but again not really my thing. The band was from Dublin and lead singer and songwriter Mark Greaney (he of the somewhat unusual voice) for a time lived next door to Phil Lynott of Thin Lizzy. Wonder if the young Mark had been inspired to get into music by Phil?

The splash of October swimmers
The cheers of Helsinki winners
My barbed bones of futility
Leaking marrow of ability


Another new discovery in this next clip and this time it came from Darcy. Here are his own words:

“Regarding October songs the only one that immediately comes to mind is Outubro by Azymuth. The album’s title track is very relaxing and fits the northern hemisphere September and early October vibe very well. There are no words, which you may want, and Azymuth are a Southern Hemisphere band which may mean they are going for a Spring feel, but I think it works for us Northerners too.”

Going a bit left field with this one, and an instrumental, but it follows on nicely from my last post which featured Sérgio Mendes & Brasil ’66. Azymuth are also from Brazil and are a jazz-funk trio that formed in 1973. Outubro is Portuguese for October, and as this series of songs relates to months of the year, not seasons, quite appropriate to include it. Very mellow and pretty like the theme music to many a ’70s television drama.


The final suggestion I’m going to include came from C of Sun-Dried Sparrows fame. She had done a bit of research and found something by Amy Winehouse called October Song. I too found that one but hard to work out if it has any connection to the month. Here’s what C came up with:

Amy Winehouse had a track called October Song which was apparently written in memory of her pet canary… or was it about her use of marijuana? … both have been suggested!”

Sadly, we will now never know, and it can be hard to watch clips of the supremely talented Amy looking so healthy when we now know she only lived another seven years after this was filmed. Tragic, but like watching something in slo-mo, we could almost see it coming.


To be honest I’m not entirely sold on any of the above, but they do fit the remit of this series so happy to include them. Something that doesn’t fit the remit at all is this song by Bobby (Boris) Pickett and the Crypt-Kickers but as Halloween is almost upon us, time for a little Monster Mash I feel. This is the kind of song that popped up on Ed (Stewpot) Stewart’s Junior Choice when I was growing up and actually reached the No. 3 spot on the UK Singles Chart in 1973. Bobby Pickett co-wrote Monster Mash with Leonard Capizzi in May 1962. The song was a spoof on the dance crazes popular at the time, including the Twist and the Mashed Potato, which inspired the title. The song also featured Bobby’s impersonations of veteran horror stars Boris Karloff and Bela Lugosi. This must be one of the few novelty records I haven’t tired of as I still find it quite good fun. Maybe just me though?

Monster Mash by Bobby (Boris) Pickett and the Crypt-Kickers:


So, ‘What’s It All About?’ – October is not it seems a month that lends itself to the writing of songs. There were plenty to choose from for September but kind of all over the place this time, what with psychedelic folk, alternative rock and jazz-funk putting in an appearance. Not all the lyrics even mention the month and only one song mentions nature and the falling of leaves.

For me, October is all about the falling leaves and the spectacular colour show natures gives us, but I suppose if you are a city dweller, the month might not conjure up those images. For some, October is all about Halloween, which isn’t a big deal for us nowadays but at DD’s abode she still likes to put up spooky decorations and invite friends over for a themed party. Why I decided to include that old favourite of a song.


Hopefully November will turn out to be a bit more inspirational when it comes to the writing of songs. As ever, your suggestions will be invaluable and gratefully received.

Until next time…

Monster Mash Lyrics
(Song by Bobby Pickett/Leonard Capizzi)

I was working in the lab, late one night
When my eyes beheld an eerie sight
For my monster from his slab, began to rise
And suddenly to my surprise

He did the mash, he did the monster mash
The monster mash, it was a graveyard smash
He did the mash, it caught on in a flash
He did the mash, he did the monster mash

From my laboratory in the castle east
To the master bedroom where the vampires feast
The ghouls all came from their humble abodes
To get a jolt from my electrodes

They did the mash, they did the monster mash
The monster mash, it was a graveyard smash
They did the mash, it caught on in a flash
They did the mash, they did the monster mash

The zombies were having fun
The party had just begun
The guests included Wolfman
Dracula, and his son

The scene was rockin’, all were digging the sounds
Igor on chains, backed by his baying hounds
The coffin-bangers were about to arrive
With their vocal group, ‘The Crypt-Kicker Five’

They played the mash, they played the monster mash
The monster mash, it was a graveyard smash
They played the mash, it caught on in a flash
They played the mash, they played the monster mash

Out from his coffin, Drac’s voice did ring
Seems he was troubled by just one thing
Opened the lid and shook his fist and said
“Whatever happened to my Transylvania Twist?”

It’s now the mash, it’s now the monster mash
The monster mash, and it’s a graveyard smash
It’s now the mash, it caught on in a flash
It’s now the mash, it’s now the monster mash

Now everything’s cool, Drac’s a part of the band
And my Monster Mash is the hit of the land
For you, the living, this mash was meant too
When you get to my door, tell them Boris sent you

Then you can mash, then you can monster mash
The monster mash, and do my graveyard smash
Then you can mash, you will catch on in a flash
Then you can mash, then you can monster mash

Wah-ooh, argh, monster mash, wah-ooh
Easy, Igor, you impetuous young boy
Argh, mash good, mm, argh
Monster mash, wah-ooh, monster mash, wah-ooh

That Revolving Door, A Return to the ‘60s and ‘Fool On The Hill’

WIAA: Alyson, oh Alyson…?

ALYSON: Yes, I am here WIAA, it’s just that I don’t even know how to start with this one. As I treat you as my web-diary as well as a place to share some of my favourite songs, I feel duty bound to pass comment on some of the political upheaval we’ve been faced with as a country over the last few weeks, but I’m sure everyone’s sick and tired of it by now.

WIAA: I have no idea what you’re talking about Alyson.

ALYSON: Ah, that would be because you’re a page on a blogging platform and as long as I can afford to keep paying your subscription fees, you needn’t worry your pretty little head over political infighting, leadership contests and the ‘crashing’ of the economy.


WIAA: It all sounds a bit worrying Alyson.

ALYSON: It’s more than that WIAA, it proves that the ‘systems’ we have in place are no longer fit for purpose and the new Prime Minister who will be in post by this time next week is quite possibly not going to make any better a fist of it than the previous four, yes four, we’ve had over the last six years. It’s all going horribly wrong WIAA, all over the world, and there are some REALLY big issues that need dealt with, but that involves REALLY big change which seems to be impossible to bring about.

WIAA: What about sharing a calming song, Alyson?

ALYSON: Good idea WIAA. Back when I was researching Sérgio Mendes for a previous post, I stumbled upon this cover from 1968. If you’re feeling a bit stressed and anxious by what’s going on in the world just listen to this, Fool on the Hill by Sérgio Mendes & Brasil ’66. I think I need to add it to my sidebar category ‘Balm For The Soul’, as it certainly acts as a balm for me. I just love the girls in this clip, their dresses, their hair, the way they carry themselves and that soft, understated style of delivery they have. Reminds me of the soundtracks to many a late ’60s film, such as The Graduate or Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.

Fool on the Hill by Sérgio Mendes & Brasil ’66:

But of course, we all know that Fool on the Hill is a Lennon & MacCartney composition and just to be clear I didn’t choose the song because I was alluding to any particular ‘fool’ of today. I’m not that clever. It was a Paul song, and it probably related to a character such as the Beatles’ meditation teacher, Maharishi Mahesh Yogi – a solitary figure who was not understood by others but was actually quite wise, apparently. Let’s compare and contrast.

Fool on the Hill by the Beatles:

I seem to have shared more Beatles’ songs this year than in any other year since starting this blog. The Get Back documentary series that aired earlier this year made me fall in love with them all over again, after a good few years of deciding their music had become a bit over-familiar to my ears.

As for Sérgio’s sound, there is nothing like listening to Mas Que Nada on a cold and dreich Scottish Saturday (like today) to raise the mood. His version of Fool on the Hill is not so much a mood-raiser but a mood-calmer. Either way I have become a bit of a fan of the Brazilian maestro who is apparently still with us, so good for him. He is a contemporary of the Beatles but had a very different start in music, first training as a classical pianist at his local ‘conservatoire’. The Cavern Club and its ilk were not for him, but by 1968 here he was covering songs written by these Liverpool lads.

For any of my followers from outside the UK, no need to worry about what’s going on in our country. It’s all good, we know what we’re doing, and a new PM will be in place by this time next weekend sorting everything out. Britain is open for business and it’s all going to be grand. Yes… (big gulp), it’s all going to be grand.

Until next time…

The Fool On The Hill Lyrics
(Song by John Lennon/Paul McCartney)

Day after day, alone on a hill
The man with the foolish grin is keeping perfectly still
But nobody wants to know him
They can see that he’s just a fool
And he never gives an answer

But the fool on the hill
Sees the sun going down
And the eyes in his head
See the world spinning ’round

Well on the way, head in a cloud
The man of a thousand voices talking perfectly loud
But nobody ever hears him
Or the sound he appears to make
And he never seems to notice

But the fool on the hill
Sees the sun going down
And the eyes in his head
See the world spinning ’round

And nobody seems to like him
They can tell what he wants to do
And he never shows his feelings

But the fool on the hill
Sees the sun going down
And the eyes in his head
See the world spinning ’round

He never listens to them
He knows that they’re the fools
They don’t like him

The fool on the hill
Sees the sun going down
And the eyes in his head
See the world spinning ’round

Thoughts of the Week, The Dark Island and Highland Cathedral

I have been music blogging long enough by now to know which subject matters are best avoided – generally football, weddings and the Royal Family. I can’t however ignore the momentous news that our monarch of 70 years died last Thursday at her beloved home in Aberdeenshire, a place very close to my own heart. It came as a bit of a shock in the end, as only two days earlier she had carried out a very important piece of constitutional business, inviting the new leader of the Conservative Party to form a government. That has almost been forgotten about now.

Balmoral Castle in Aberdeenshire

Whatever your thoughts on the place of the monarchy in our national life, someone who was probably the most famous and recognised person in the world has left us, and news channels around the world are covering every step of what happens in the aftermath of such an event.

I seem to be alone in my little corner of the blogosphere, but I have been deeply affected by this massive change in the status quo. Prime Ministers come and go, recessions come and go, wars come and go, but throughout my lifetime the Queen has always been there, on the stamps, the money, giving Christmas broadcasts… . It’s a lot to take in that she is gone for good.

As someone who is a bit of a ‘quitter’ when the going gets tough, who found it hard to juggle work and motherhood, and who has not always kept her own counsel when it would have been wise to do so, I have always admired the many qualities the Queen had in spades. To have suddenly found herself thrust into the ‘big job’ at the tender age of 25 must have been frightening, especially as she was a mother to two young children at the time, but few can question her dedication and work ethic over the 70 years of her reign. There will never be another like her and I suspect things will change quite significantly, both at home and around the Commonwealth, now that she has gone.

The Queen’s coffin leaves Balmoral

Another reason why Mr WIAA and myself have been quite deeply affected by the Queen’s passing, is because we both also lost a parent quite suddenly, and have been reliving the raw emotion that came with it. My mother-in-law was abroad on holiday when she died, and my own dad went into hospital for a routine operation but didn’t ever wake up. They were both 25 years younger than the Queen was when they died – far too young. As for my own mum who now lives in a local care home, but who no longer recognises me, she is of the same generation as the Queen and all through the decades looked just like her. Because of the fashions of the day many of us probably say that about our mothers, but no, my mum always looked just like her. Not many of that wartime generation left now.

Because we have been reliving sad moments over the last few days, I am going to share the two pieces of music used at our own parents’ funerals. The first is called The Dark Island and it was the theme tune to a 1962 television series of the same name set in the Outer Hebrides. Mr WIAA’s parents were from different corners of England but they met whilst on holiday on the Isle of Skye in the 1950s and after watching this TV drama, once married with children, they decided to move to the Highlands of Scotland permanently. The second piece of music is called Highland Cathedral and is often heard at Scottish cultural events. We used it for my dad’s funeral but I hadn’t reckoned on choking up every time I now hear it, which is often.

The Dark Island by Leigh Garden:

Highland Cathedral:


So, ‘What’s It All About?’ – I don’t quite know why everyone has chosen to make no mention of the fact the Queen has died, and I might be committing ‘sidebar suicide’ by doing so, but this place is also my web-diary so it would be weird for me not to.

My place of birth has been showcased in all its glory over the last few days, and I hope others will appreciate why the Aberdeenshire countryside held such a special place in the Queen’s affections. Likewise, Scotland’s capital city, where we had a wonderful Blogger’s Summit earlier in the year, has never looked better. After today the focus will turn to London and all that that entails, but if it was her time, I think the Queen would have been content that she ended her days quietly in Scotland, the only Queen Elizabeth we ever had.


Until next time…


The Dark Island Lyrics
(Song by David Silver/Iain McLachlan)

Away to the westward, I’m longing to be
Where the beauties of heaven unfold by the sea
Where the sweet purple heather blooms fragrant and free
On a hill-top, high above the Dark Island


Oh Isle of my childhood I’m dreaming of thee
As the steamer leaves Oban, and passes Tiree
Soon I’ll capture the magic, that lingers for me
When I’m back, once more upon, the Dark Island

So gentle the sea breeze that ripples the bay
Where the stream joins the ocean, and young children play
On a strand of pure silver, I’ll welcome each day
And I’ll roam forever more, the Dark Island

True gem of the Hebrides, bathed in the light
Like a midsummer dawning, that follows the night
How I long for the cry, of the seagulls in flight
As they circle high above the Dark Island

Carole King and The Brill Building: Another Special Place In Time

We are nearing the end of summer, always a sad time of year for me. I’m a great fan of daylight and soon there will be more hours of darkness in any 24 hour period. All those activities best suited to the great outdoors will be on hold for another year, and we’ll be tucked up inside keeping cosy. Oh no, that’s right, this winter we’ll struggle to keep cosy as the thermostats will be firmly turned down, but hey, that’s another post for another day.

I’ve run quite a few ‘series’ since starting this place but I’m all out of workable ideas at the moment, which is a bit annoying, because I don’t have anything to return to and augment. As we are nearing the start of September I thought a series of posts about months of the year could be something to focus on (September seems to pop up often in a song title), but it turns out some of the other months have not been as inspirational for songwriters. Inevitably, one of the first songs I stumbled upon was this one by a very young Carole King, It Might as Well Rain Until September from 1962.

It Might as Well Rain Until September by Carole King:


I’ve always liked the song, although it’s not really about the month of September at all, but about how the world is no longer a beautiful place because the singer’s love interest is not around. As far as they are concerned the fine weather of the summer might as well be replaced with grey, rainy days. Thinking back I was often of the same opinion when I was a teenager (and this song was definitely aimed at teenagers), as the routines of term-time were often replaced with lots of time spent on your own, as your friends were either off on holiday with their families, or scattered around the country, the new academic year not starting again until September. If you’d found romance during term-time, the summer break was often not your friend.

But of course the Carole King that wrote this song with her husband Gerry Goffin, is not the same Carole King that has appeared on these pages before. That would be the Carole who by the early ’70s had moved to Laurel Canyon, Los Angeles, and had massive success with her 1971 album Tapestry. No indeed, this Carole was the girl from Brooklyn who was a bit of a musical genius and at age 16 had turned up at the Brill Building in Manhattan with a bunch of songs oven-ready for the teen market.


I have often heard of the Brill Building as back in the early ’60s, after Elvis had enlisted (and they thought rock ‘n’ roll was over) but before the British Invasion had begun, it was the place where songwriting teams flourished, producing hit after hit record. The ground floor of the building was home to the Brill family clothing store, but the upper floors were rented out to people in the music industry. Music publishers like Don Kirshner were based there and offices were kitted out with cubicles, each containing a piano, a bench and a chair where songwriters could partner up, one person writing the lyrics and the other coming up with the music. This was songwriting to order, but the songs were aimed at the lucrative new teen market and they were given to some of the many girl groups that had formed in New York City at that time (the Shirelles, the Shangri-Las, the Ronettes and the Chiffons) and also to many of the up-and-coming teen idols (Bobby Darin, Bobby Vee and Gene Pitney).

 The Brill Building is located at 1619 Broadway on 49th Street, in the NYC borough of Manhattan

Before starting this blog, I was often unaware of who had written a particular song as I had always been more interested in the artist who performed it. As time went by however the same names kept popping up, and many of those names were songwriting partnerships who first got together in the Brill Building:

Burt Bacharach and Hal David
Neil Sedaka and Howard Greenfield
Ellie Greenwich and Jeff Barry
Gerry Goffin and Carole King
Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil
Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller
Doc Pomus and Mort Shuman

A lot of famous faces in that montage above and impossible to name them all individually. To finish off I’ll add another couple of clips of songs that came to life in the Brill Building. I know I was bemoaning the end of summer in the opening paragraph, but today has indeed been a very fine, sunny day here in the North of Scotland. I don’t think that’s the kind of fine day The Chiffons were singing about in 1963 but a perfect example of the kind of songs Goffin and King were writing for the girl groups of the Brill Building.

One Fine Day by The Chiffons:


As this post has predominantly focussed on Carole King, it would seem silly not to end with the song Neil Sedaka wrote about her. They had both gone to the same high school in Brooklyn and had briefly dated (when she was still a Carol without the ‘e’). Oh! Carol was Neil’s first big domestic hit and the song also reached the No. 3 spot in the UK Singles Chart in 1959.

Oh! Carol by Neil Sedaka:


Yet again I’ve kind of gone way off piste on this one but once I’d listened to Carole’s September song I decided to find out more about that place in NYC which was a veritable music factory in the late ’50s/early ’60s. Most of us of a certain age have grown up listening to songs that we may or may not have known started life in The Brill Building. I like these posts where I actually take the time to find out geographically where these special places were/still are located. Right there in Midtown Manhattan it seems, just along from Tin Pan Alley where the sheet music of an earlier era had started life.

As for my series about songs referring to months of the year, I’ve not abandoned the idea yet, so if you do have any September songs you’d like me to write about, do let me know. For the record, the Earth, Wind and Fire one has popped up around here a couple of times before, but there will be others I’m sure.

Until next time…

It Might As Well Rain Until September Lyrics
(Song by Carole King/Gerry Goffin)

What shall I write?
What can I say?
How can I tell you how much I miss you?

The weather here has been as nice as it can be
Although it doesn’t really matter much to me
For all the fun I’ll have while you’re so far away
It might as well rain until September

I don’t need sunny skies for thing I have to do
‘Cause I stay home the whole day long and think of you
As far as I’m concerned each day’s a rainy day
So It might as well rain until September

My friends look forward to their picnics on the beach
Yes everybody loves the summertime
But you know darling while your arms are out of reach
The summer isn’t any friend of mine

It doesn’t matter whether skies are grey or blue
It’s raining in my heart ’cause I can’t be with you
I’m only living for the day you’re home to stay
So It might as well rain until September
September, September, oh
It might as well rain until September

Austin Butler, Elvis (The Movie) and ‘Suspicious Minds’

In the early days of this blog there were a fair few Elvis Presley posts – in fact there is a category on my sidebar dedicated to him (link here) – but it’s not been added to for a long time, perhaps because everything I had to say about him has already been said. Until now.

It nearly didn’t happen, as the friend I was supposed to go and see the new Baz Luhrmann film Elvis with last week was struck down with covid. Last night was the last time it was showing at our local arts centre however, and she was still testing positive, so I persuaded Mr WIAA (he’s not a fan of Elvis so it was tough going), to come with me. Elvis was one of my first musical heroes so it was unthinkable that I might miss out on seeing this film on the big screen.

As it turned out we had a really sociable evening even before heading into the cinema. The deal struck was that I would drive, and Mr WIAA would enjoy a large glass of red wine in the bar ahead of the film starting. Once there, we both met old work colleagues and in Mr WIAA’s case, old friends from as far back as school days, one of whom is now DD’s boss. They were very complimentary about her abilities which is always nice to hear as a parent and of course a lot of catching up to be done. Ahead of the film starting we said our farewells, only of course to find ourselves sitting next to each other once inside. Typical.

But back to the film, I thought it was pretty fabulous actually. There is always a worry that the actor playing such an important role will not be believable, but Austin Butler was blisteringly perfect for it. Such a beautiful man too, just as the young Elvis was a beautiful, beautiful man. I use that word deliberately. I recently shared extracts from Caitlin Moran’s essay on what it takes to achieve the massive success bands like the Beatles found so quickly, and yes, it involves girls. Both the Beatles and Elvis, Frank Sinatra before them, and all those boys since have experienced the following:

They know there is a power they will never attain until they have stood in the white-noise of a theatre of devotion and seen the girls down the front collapse in ecstatic tears. (CM)

To experience that devotion you have to love girls, be on the side of girls, dress in dandy clothes like a girl, and most important of all, look beautiful like a girl. I was transfixed by Austin Butler’s cupid’s bow lips. For the duration of the film he had me convinced he was Elvis.

Sigh… those high cheekbones and the cupid’s bow lips

The storyline very much reflected the relationship between Elvis and his long time manager ‘Colonel’ Tom Parker. Tom Hanks, with his prosthetically enhanced nose and chin, did a fine job of playing the Colonel and acted as narrator throughout. I think most of us know the story by now of how the former carnival huckster wormed his way into his boy’s life and took total control, but watching the film it is understandable how the young Elvis and his parents were convinced he was the right man for the job. Every now and again it looked as if Elvis was going to stand up to him and make the break, only to be thwarted by some convincing talk from the Colonel that he knew best. Fortunately Elvis did stand his ground when it came to the ’68 Comeback Special, which was a triumph after his years of making lacklustre films in Hollywood. I still have the DVD of that show and unbelievably still have something to play it on, so will be seeking it out this weekend.

Throughout the film there were some incredible performances of many of the songs we associate with Elvis. I think Austin did some of the singing on the early ones but got a lot of help from the original recordings for the later years. All an absolute joy to watch however and I know I had a big smile on my face right the way through (also my right leg just wouldn’t stay still, shaking at breakneck speed in time to the music). Many of his songs have been shared around here before, but not this one. Most of us who were fans of Elvis prefer to forget about the latter years of his life (just too sad), but on the back of the ’68 Special, the Colonel arranged a six-week residency for him at the new International Hotel in Last Vegas. Elvis was fired up for it, was slim, dressed in a comfortable white jumpsuit and gave us some electrifying performances, especially this one which goes down in history I think as one of the most remarkable ever to have taken place. Elvis didn’t just sing songs, he became the song, and although not mathematically possible, he gave us 110%, every single time. (Gets really energetic in this clip from 2:45 onward.)

Suspicious Minds by Elvis Presley:


Suspicious Minds was a No. 1 hit for Elvis on the Billboard Chart and reached the No. 2 position in the UK in November 1969. It kickstarted things for him again and he followed it up with many other hit singles and albums. Although the song is about a dysfunctional relationship, during the film you couldn’t help but think the first lines of the lyric reflected Elvis’s life at the time. The Colonel effectively trapped him in Las Vegas, the residencies lasting for years as opposed to the six weeks originally planned. Elvis had wanted to tour the world, something he had never done before, but because of a deal struck on a napkin with the hotel owner early on, he couldn’t walk out.


So, ‘What’s It All About? – I would thoroughly recommend the film to everyone, even those who have never been Elvis fans. Ever since the success of the Freddie Mercury biopic Bohemian Rhapsody, many more have been made about other artists, of differing quality, so it’s all becoming a bit boring now. I deliberately chose not to use that term for the Baz Luhrmann film however as it’s more about the journey these two men went on together, sadly culminating in a tragic ending for Elvis. Being a Baz movie, it is also of course lavishly colourful and opulent, so a feast for the eyes too.

I am always fascinated by novels where there is a dual narrative, of paths taken or not taken, and how they can either lead to a totally different outcome for the character or arrive at the same destination via another route. There is no doubt that had the Colonel not taken Elvis under his wing in those early days, he would still have become a big star. He had the looks, the voice, the moves and the stage charisma. To become such a big star at such a young age does not always bode well however for the artist, especially back in those days, so had the Colonel not insisted on the Hollywood route for his boy, things might still have gone awry. He was from a poor southern family, ill-equipped to deal with his sudden success and wealth, and was also a good-looking ‘dandy’ who loved that he was adored by women. An intoxicating mix for a young man. We will of course never know how it could have turned out, but he certainly has left an enduring legacy as the ‘King of Rock and Roll’.

Until next time… RIP Elvis Aaron Presley.

Suspicious Minds Lyrics
(Song by Mark James)

We’re caught in a trap
I can’t walk out
Because I love you too much baby

Why can’t you see
What you’re doing to me
When you don’t believe a word I say?

We can’t go on together
With suspicious minds
And we can’t build our dreams
On suspicious minds

So, if an old friend I know
Stops by to say hello
Would I still see suspicion in your eyes?

Here we go again
Asking where I’ve been
You can’t see these tears are real
I’m crying
(Yes, I’m crying)

We can’t go on together
With suspicious minds
And we can’t build our dreams
On suspicious minds

Oh let our love survive
I’ll dry the tears from your eyes
Let’s don’t let a good thing die
When honey, you know I’ve never lied to you

Mmm yeah, yeah

We’re caught in a trap
I can’t walk out
Because I love you too much baby

Why can’t you see
What you’re doing to me
When you don’t believe a word I say?

Oh, don’t you know
I’m caught in a trap
I can’t walk out
Because I love you too much baby

Oh, don’t you know
I’m caught in a trap
I can’t walk out
Because I love you too much baby

Oh, don’t you know
I’m caught in a trap

Glastonbury 2022, No Need to Feel Nervous for Sir Paul and ‘Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite!’

I did say I wasn’t going to write any more Beatles-related posts for a while – as there have been many around here of late – but after watching the headline act perform at Glastonbury last weekend (on telly), it can’t be avoided. I don’t know how well-known the Glastonbury Festival is outwith the UK but I’m guessing most people who visit this place will have heard of it. It’s a massive event in the British cultural calendar and it all began in 1970, inspired by the hippie movement and the counterculture of the 1960s. Michael Eavis, a dairy-farmer from Pilton, Somerset, came up with the idea of the first festival, and since then it has become a behemoth of an event where between two and three hundred thousand people have been known to attend. After the last two years’ planned festivals had to be cancelled due to the pandemic, it seems this year’s festival-goers were really up for it, and I dipped into much of the excellent BBC coverage over the course of last weekend.


The ‘big one’ however is the act who will perform on the Pyramid Stage on the Saturday night and this year it was to be none other than Sir Paul McCartney. He was supposed to headline back in 2020, and then last year, but eventually things got back on track and he got his time on that most famous of stages. It aired an hour later on telly, starting at 10.30pm, but I was really curious as to how it would go and of course I was also a bit nervous for him. He had turned 80 only the week before – could he still cut it? In the end I stayed up late, watching his entire set (link here to BBC iPlayer) until just after 1am and I think most of us would agree, yes he could.

With such a back catalogue of songs to choose from he was spoilt for choice, but he trod a nice balance, covering early Beatles, late Beatles, Wings and solo material, in no particular chronological order. Made it a nice surprise to find out what would pop up next. The vocals at times were less than perfect, and there were some sound issues, but his band have been with him a long time and are the consummate professionals. The crowd didn’t seem to notice any of the sound issues at all and were just happy to witness one of the world’s first pop superstars in action. Mr WIAA went to bed about half way through, which is a shame I think, because it wasn’t until the second half that the truly memorable bits happened. Lovely stills on the big screen behind him of George Harrison, and of course there was the duet with John Lennon using footage from Peter Jackson’s recent Get Back documentary series. There were also the ‘surprise’ guest appearances by Dave Grohl and Bruce Springsteen which meant at one point we had two of the three richest people in music on stage at the same time (sorry Dave, it wasn’t you), not that their wealth would have mattered a jot to them at that precise moment.

Paul on the Pyramid stage

But what meant more to me than the joy of listening to all those songs I know and love, was that it could happen at all. In my current life I find it hard to feel positive about the aging process. My mum has had dementia since before she turned 80 and is now in a care home, along with a lot of other people who also have dementia or who are just too physically infirm to look after themselves. Many of them are much younger than 80. Watching Glastonbury on Saturday night made me realise it’s not a given that this will happen to all of us. If we are lucky, and look after ourselves, there is a lot to be positive about as the years roll by. Paul was looking pretty good and very youthful for a man of his vintage I thought, and to have played and sang for over two and a half hours in such a setting was no mean feat. I’m sure he’s had a bit of ‘help’ along the way but he always was the baby-faced one amongst the Beatles and it seems to be holding him in good stead – that and being a serial monogamist and family man possibly?

I have added his setlist from Saturday night in the Postscript below, but which of all the many songs that were performed have resonated with me most since? I can’t believe I’m even admitting to this, as a very unlikely pick, but for the last five days I’ve had Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite! going round and round in my head. It’s not even a Paul song but one written by John Lennon after he bought an old 19th century circus poster in an antiques shop in 1967. The song’s lyrics detail the entire evening’s program and of course it ended up on the Sgt. Pepper album, also made in 1967. How weird that it’s stayed with me all week but maybe because it’s one of the songs that hasn’t become over-familiar and I did enjoy how on the night, his drummer flamboyantly waved his arms around in a circular fashion, in the style of a circus performer. Quite a performance.


I can’t find YouTube footage of this song from his Glastonbury set, but here it is from earlier in the month performed elsewhere. See what I mean about the drummer, Abe Laboriel Jr., at 1:05 and 2:05? Below it you will find an audio clip of the original Beatles song recorded for Sgt. Pepper.

Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite! by the Beatles:


So, ‘What’s It All About?’ – Lots of enjoyment to be had from watching the reinstated festival this year, even if it was vicariously via the telly. I was nervous for Sir Paul, but I shouldn’t have been, as everyone accepted his vocals can’t quite be what they were back in the day and they were happy just to have this legend on the Pyramid Stage at last. His band was fantastic and what with his ‘surprise’ guests, and the audience participation towards the end, he must have been really pleased by how it went down. I might have quite a few poorly and infirm 80-year olds in my life, but some of these rock and pop heroes from the 1960s make me realise it doesn’t have to be that way. If you keep on working on new things and feel passionate about what you do, there is no reason to slow down or stop doing it.

As for those who were actually there, I am a tad jealous. Many of us have been home-based for an awful long time now, and post-covid, some of us will continue to live that way. Watching the crowd scenes at Glastonbury, of all those people who came together for a festival, it reminded me that we humans are by nature social animals and should live in communities, not alone, interacting with a computer screen. Last time I wrote about my get-together in Edinburgh with my blogging pals. It was a wonderful few days and it harked back to how I used to live, always surrounded by people, having a chat, having a bit of a laugh. Now, not so much. Will have to do better going forward.

To end I had better show a clip from the actual night itself, so how about this bit of amateur footage. As I said, very jealous. A celebration of 60 years of popular music, my era of popular music, and I wasn’t even there. Thank goodness for the BBC.


Until next time…

Being For The Benefit Of Mr. Kite! Lyrics
(Song by John Lennon/Paul McCartney)

For the benefit of Mr. Kite,
There will be a show tonight
On trampoline
.

The Hendersons will all be there.
Late of Pablo Fanque’s Fair.
What a scene!

Over men and horses, hoops and garters,
Lastly through a hogshead of real fire!
In this way
Mr. K.
Will challenge the world!

The celebrated Mr. K.
Performs his feat on Saturday
At Bishopsgate.

The Hendersons will dance and sing
As Mr. Kite flies through the ring.
Don’t be late!

Messrs. K. and H. assure the public
Their production will be second to none.
And of course
Henry The Horse
Dances the waltz!

The band begins at ten to six,
When Mr. K. performs his tricks
Without a sound.

And Mr. H. will demonstrate
Ten summersets he’ll undertake
On solid ground.

Having been some days in preparation,
A splendid time is guaranteed for all.
And tonight
Mr. Kite
Is topping the bill!


Postscript:

Paul McCartney’s Glastonbury setlist of 39 songs

  • Can’t Buy Me Love (The Beatles song)
  • Junior’s Farm (Wings song)
  • Letting Go (Wings song)
  • Got to Get You Into My Life (The Beatles song)
  • Come On to Me
  • Let Me Roll It (Wings song) (with “Foxy Lady” outro jam)
  • Getting Better (The Beatles song)
  • Let ‘Em In (Wings song)apparently many people only know this song from the Postcode Lottery advert and were bemused by how it turned up on his setlist!
  • My Valentine
  • Nineteen Hundred and Eighty-Five (Wings song)
  • Maybe I’m Amazed
  • I’ve Just Seen a Face (The Beatles song)
  • In Spite of All the Danger (The Quarrymen song)
  • Love Me Do (The Beatles song)
  • Dance Tonight
  • Blackbird (The Beatles song)
  • Here Today
  • New
  • Lady Madonna (The Beatles song)
  • Fuh You
  • Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite! (The Beatles song)
  • Something (The Beatles song
  • Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da (The Beatles song)
  • You Never Give Me Your Money (The Beatles song)
  • She Came in Through the Bathroom Window (The Beatles song)
  • Get Back (The Beatles song)
  • I Saw Her Standing There (The Beatles song with Dave Grohl)
  • Band on the Run (Wings song with Dave Grohl)
  • Glory Days (Bruce Springsteen cover with Bruce Springsteen)
  • I Wanna Be Your Man (The Beatles song with Bruce Springsteen)
  • Let It Be (The Beatles song)
  • Live and Let Die (Wings song)
  • Hey Jude (The Beatles song)
  • Encore:
  • I’ve Got a Feeling (The Beatles song, virtual duet with John Lennon)
  • Helter Skelter (The Beatles song)
  • Golden Slumbers (The Beatles song)
  • Carry That Weight (The Beatles song)
  • The End (The Beatles song with Dave Grohl and Bruce Springsteen)

Yet More Beatles, ‘I Feel Fine’ and Words of Wisdom from Caitlin Moran

This blog has been a bit Beatles-heavy of late as after watching Peter Jackson’s The Beatles: Get Back mini-series on Disney+, I went on to watch some of the many other documentaries made about them, and kind of fell in love with them all over again. I admit to having been a bit too young for ‘Beatlemania’, but of course I knew of them, and in the early ’70s their films were often shown on telly during the school holidays. When the Red and Blue compilation albums were released in 1973, I somehow acquired them and loved pouring over the lyrics on the inner sleeves – what a songwriting journey between Love Me Do and The Long and Winding Road. (When I say I somehow acquired them, that’s because albums like this were really expensive in relation to what we received as pocket money back then, so I can only imagine there must have been a build up of birthday and Christmas money in my piggy bank.)

How great they were able to recreate the original picture all those years later. The EMI building now long since gone.

I mention the above because I am going to write one more Beatles-themed post before giving them (and you) a bit of a break. I have been making excuses of late as to why my blogging output has been falling short of normal – all valid excuses – but how to kick start things again once you’ve lost momentum? I decided to revert to one of the ideas I had when I first set up this place, simply pick a song at random, then challenge myself to write about it. When I opened the music app on this device the other night and pressed play, the song that burst forth was this one – I Feel Fine, a non-album single by the Beatles from 1964 (Paul goes over his ankle at 0:09 in this clip!).

I Feel Fine by the Beatles:


Most of us will already be really familiar with this simple but effective love song, but what made it a bit different, and a bit experimental, was that it starts with a single feedback note. It was apparently produced by accident when Paul plucked the A string on his bass, and John’s guitar, which was leaning against Paul’s bass amp, picked up feedback. The band loved that ‘Nnnnnnwahhhhh’ sound and asked George Martin if it could be edited onto the front of the record. It could, and the rest as they say, is history.

In the promotional clip for the song, made for a Top of the Pops round-up of the year’s biggest hits, the band are shown interacting with various items of gym equipment. George sang into a punch-ball whilst Ringo pedalled on an exercise bike. I recently shared a trailer for their film A Hard Day’s Night and although filmed just a year and a half later, the clip for I Feel Fine shows a band that is starting to morph into something else – the hair is longer, the clothes more casual and the attitude a bit more irreverent. Interestingly the Beatles only appeared on the live TOTP show once, which is really unusual for a British band from the ’60s, but then they were rarely available, and could it be that they got so big, so fast, that such a weekly chart show was a bit beneath them? Not sure, but few of the really big stars of music ever appeared, which led to the show becoming a bit MTV-ish for a time, especially in its final years.

But the main reason I was happy to have a song by the Beatles pop up as a random pick, was because I have been wanting to share an extract for some time from one of my favourite books, by one of my favourite authors. I don’t have many books by my bedside with little sticky tabs inserted to remind me of important passages, but two of them are by Caitlin Moran, whose writing I love. In her novel How To Be Famous, an entire chapter is dedicated to a letter, written by the main character to her friend John, who has suddenly become a big star in the world of music. The chapter/letter is too long to share in full, but here are what I think are the best bits, that sum up what she is trying to tell her friend:

There is one terrible weakness you can have if you amusedly and self-deprecatingly describe yourself as an artist, and become famous. One let-down if you become loved by millions, and your work is meaningful work. And that is if some of the millions who know, and love you, are teenage girls (…) the love of teenage girls is not merely substandard, or worthless – it is an active mortification to an artist. Oh you take those girls’ money and become elevated on their devotion, and enjoy them putting you at Number One – but you do not respect those girls.

Things that boys love are cooler than things girls love. That is a simple fact. Boys love clever things, cleverly. Girls love foolish things, foolishly. How awful it would be to love things like teenage girls do. How awful it would be to be the wrong kind of fan – a girl. A dumb, hysterical, screaming girl.

But bands need to be screamed at. In their hearts they know that. They know there is a power they will never attain until they have stood in the white-noise of a theatre of devotion and seen the girls down the front collapse in ecstatic tears. And this is true even when it’s the biggest scream in the world, even when the mythology is that the screaming was what killed your band.

The Beatles at Shea Stadium

Why did girls love the Beatles so much? Because the Beatles loved girls. They were saturated in girl culture – they loved black American girl groups; they had dandy outfits and uncomfortable pointy shoes, like girls. They went out of their way to write about girls in their songs – ‘She Loves You’ is the Beatles siding with a girl in love… acting as her sexy envoys. They grew their hair long, like girls: an act of alliance in a time when femininity was implicitly inferior.

How can you be as extraordinary as the Beatles? How can you change so much, in such a short space of time, with seemingly nothing – no capital, no contacts no education – on your side? By tapping into the cultural capital of humanity: girls. To be on the side of girls. To look girls in the eye, and declare yourself on our team. To copy girls, to acknowledge girls, to learn from girls.

The great pity of my lifetime is that still no one notices this is what happens. Girls are invisible. The power source goes unacknowledged. But not to other girls. I see you girls. I see you in history. And all anyone has to do – to have our impossible energy and love, given willingly, forever – is to say, ‘I see you too.’

Well said Caitlin.

The wonderful Caitlin Moran

Until next time…

I Feel Fine Lyrics
(Song by John Lennon/Paul McCartney)

Baby’s good to me, you know
She’s happy as can be, you know
She said so
I’m in love with her and I feel fine

Baby says she’s mine, you know
She tells me all the time, you know
She said so
I’m in love with her and I feel fine

I’m so glad that she’s my little girl
She’s so glad, she’s telling all the world

That her baby buys her things, you know
He buys her diamond rings, you know
She said so
She’s in love with me and I feel fine, mmm

Baby says she’s mine, you know
She tells me all the time, you know
She said so
I’m in love with her and I feel fine

I’m so glad that she’s my little girl
She’s so glad, she’s telling all the world

That her baby buys her things, you know
He buys her diamond rings, you know
She said so
She’s in love with me and I feel fine
She’s in love with me and I feel fine, mmm, mmm

The Beatles, A Hard Day’s Night and ‘If I Fell’

Last time I mentioned that the hard graft part of my college course is now over, so to reward myself I indulged in a bit of a wallow in the distant past, revisiting old footage of the Beatles at the height of Beatlemania. This came about because I’d recently re-read my Christmas stocking book, Nothing Is Real: The Beatles Were Underrated And Other Sweeping Statements About Pop, by David Hepworth. A bit of non-fiction was needed as a foil to the very literary books I’ve had to dissect of late and there is nothing I enjoy more than a rock and pop anthology. The first section of the book contained essays on the Beatles, and yet again (I’ve mentioned some of David’s other books around here before), I learnt so much that was new to me.


I knew the Beatles had been in existence for some time before their breakthrough year 1963, but it wasn’t until Ringo Starr was recruited in September 1962 that they truly became a group (they weren’t called bands in those days). He was the best drummer in Liverpool at the time and the rest of the lads liked him, so once it was decided that Pete Best had to go, in those days before house telephones, Brian Epstein turned up at his family home in one of the less salubrious parts of that city to ask if he wanted to join the group. The rest as they say is history. Ringo was more than happy to change his slicked back hair to mop-top style, and wear the smart suits Brian had insisted the lads adopt. His unique style of drumming was pivotal in creating the Beatles’ sound and a lot of that was down to the fact he was born left-handed, but his superstitious grandmother wouldn’t let him use his left hand so he learned to play on a right-handed kit. It meant his route round the drum kit was a bit different to that of other drummers which is why other bands found it so hard to copy their sound exactly.


Anyway, I had enjoyed reading all these snippets in David’s book so much, I decided to search for moving images of the Beatles on some of the many avenues available to us on our tellies nowadays. It didn’t take long for me to find their 1964 film A Hard Day’s Night (on Amazon Prime), and what a joy it was to watch it again straight after reading the book, as there was so much more to look out for now that I knew more of the Fab Four backstories.

Within the first 10 seconds, both George and Ringo have fallen over!

The film has a plot of sorts, but it was essentially about Beatlemania and was a vehicle to showcase some of the songs written especially for the soundtrack. It was early reality television, where we saw the lads lark around in between rehearsals, exhibiting their individual personalities, but best of all they sang those simple (but not simple) love songs that were aimed at their young teenage market. Every time I watch the film I warm most to this song, If I Fell, possibly because it’s not one of the ones that’s become overfamiliar but also because we get to see them ‘at work’ interacting with each other whilst they rehearse for the show. I hadn’t noticed before but I also like how the beat to the song comes from Ringo simply tapping the metal side of the snare drum with his drumstick (0:32) – Maybe this is ‘a thing’ in the world of drumming, but I’d never taken heed of it before.

If I Fell by the Beatles:


It’s an accident of birth of course, but had I been born ten years earlier I would have been just the right demographic for Beatlemania, but I wasn’t, I only had Rollermania which was a pale imitation. What I noticed most about watching the film this week however, was just how much joy exuded from the screen. The Fab Four were still finding their feet as a band experiencing something that had never occurred before in the UK. Their fans adored them and they thought they were the luckiest guys in the world.

I knew if I looked hard enough I would find them, and I did. Here are seven of a series of 60 trading cards issued by A&BC, with chewing gum, back in 1964. I thought they might be worth something, but once I visited the ‘well-known online auction site’ I realised there are still many of them out there. I’m pretty sure they weren’t bought by me as there is no way my mum allowed me to have chewing gum at age four (‘if you swallow it it’ll stick to the inside of your tummy’), so I reckon they probably came via my older cousins who often came to stay in the summer holidays. Nice little bit of memorabilia though, and perfect for my wallow in all things Beatles-related this last week.

Trading cards from a set issued by A&BC in 1964


Until next time…

If I Fell
(Song by John Lennon/Paul McCartney)

If I fell in love with you
Would you promise to be true
And help me understand
Cause I’ve been in love before
And I found that love was more
Than just holding hands

If I give my heart to you
I must be sure
From the very start
That you would love me more than her

If I trust in you oh please
Don’t run and hide
If I love you too oh please

Don’t hurt my pride like her
Cause I couldn’t stand the pain
And I would be sad if our new love was in vain

So I hope you see that I
Would love to love you
And that she will cry

When she learns we are two
Cause I couldn’t stand the pain
And I would be sad if our new love was in vain

So I hope you see that I
Would love to love you
And that she will cry
When she learns we are two
If I fell in love with you

Reading Lists, Sammy Davis Jr. (Jr.) and ‘Mr. Bojangles’

I’m going to dip my toe back into the world of blogging, just to reassure those of you who are kind enough to follow these pages that I’m still around. My college course has been taking up most of my spare time of late as we analyse and discuss a different novel every week. By the time I’ve finished reading whatever the current ‘novel of the week’ is, and taken notes, there’s just enough time left for me to prepare for our Monday morning discussion. Then we start all over again for the following week, with a new novel. Yesterday we discussed Flann O’Brien’s At Swim-Two-Birds and it was definitely the most challenging read so far, as it’s an epic work of metafiction. Some of us loved it and some of us, well, didn’t love it, but that’s ok as there are no right or wrong answers on my course.

For the record, the other novels we’ve studied this term are:
The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy
The House on Half Moon Street by Alex Reeve
The Wasp Factory by Iain Banks
and finally,
Everything Is Illuminated by Jonathan Safran Foer

This reading list has been in place for a few years but we reached Everything Is Illuminated, which is set in Ukraine, just at the time of the Russian invasion. As well as reading the novel, I discovered the story had also been made into a film starring Elijah Wood, so I watched that too. What a beautiful country. The most fertile farmland in Eastern Europe punctuated by some of the world’s most beautiful cities, which are now being razed to the ground – So, so sad.

Elijah’s foil in the film is the very likeable character Alex played by Ukrainian actor/musician Eugene Hütz. Alex was Elijah’s tour guide for the duration of his visit to Ukraine and he regales our hero with stories about his life, and his passion for American pop culture. He has a unique command of the English language and although we always understand what he means, the words he uses are often very literal which leads to some very amusing exchanges between the characters, which lightened the otherwise heavy subject matter pertaining to another very hard time in Ukraine’s history. Alex’s grandfather is their driver, and he brings along with him his slightly deranged dog, Sammy Davis Jr. Jr. named in honour of his favourite Rat Packer. What could possibly go wrong?

Sammy Davis Jr. Jr. hogging the boot

But this is a music blog so where’s the song? Well, I imagine you can guess where I’m going with this one. It occurred to me after watching the film that Sammy Davis Jr. has never appeared on these pages despite the fact I often return to the 1960s around here, a period during which he was very successful. Sammy Davis Sr., his father, was also in ‘the business’ and Sammy first joined the family trio on stage at the very young age of three. He certainly was multi-talented becoming a singer, dancer, actor, comedian, author, film producer and television director. His journey through the decades wasn’t always easy, although his popularity did help break down the race barrier in the American entertainment industry.

My memories of Sammy Davis Jr. are mainly from seeing him pop up on mainstream light entertainment television shows of the ’60s and ’70s but of course he also appeared in film musicals, one of which being 1969’s Sweet Charity, which I have always loved. The Rhythm of Life sequence, where Charity and Oscar find themselves in an alternative church presided over by a preacher called Big Daddy (played by Sammy), is one of the best in the movie. A good few years ago now DD was part of a local musical theatre group and at their annual show they performed The Rhythm of Life for the finale. I had helped her rehearse at home and of course we both ended up learning the very fast-paced lyrics. On the night, when they all sang in harmony, it gave the audience goose-bumps. Possibly explains how I thought of it today.

Sadly my digital library has let me down as I don’t seem to have a copy of Sammy’s version of The Rhythm of Life from Sweet Charity, and not easy to find amongst all the other versions available to purchase online either. What I do have however is a copy of Mr. Bojangles, which became a bit of a signature song for Sammy. Ironically the song was written about a homeless, tap-dancing white man who had found himself in a prison cell, and who called himself Mr Bojangles, that name taken from Bill “Bojangles” Robinson the highest paid African-American entertainer in the United States during the first half of the 20th century. A song that really tugs at the heartstrings.

Mr. Bojangles by Sammy Davis Jr.


I often sit down not knowing how a blog post is going to turn out and this one is a case in point. My college reading list led me to a film, which in turn led me to one of the Rat Pack. Didn’t see that coming when I got up this morning but I’ve enjoyed rewatching that scene from Sweet Charity as well as Sammy’s performance of Mr. Bojangles.

Has anyone read any, or all, of the books on my reading list? If you have, I’d be interested to hear your thoughts. I have an essay to write on one of them and I’m still not sure which I’m going to choose (although I know it won’t be Flann O’Brien’s book as just far too complex for my feeble mind).

As for the beautiful cities of Ukraine, we have all seen images on the news which are heart-breaking. Eugene Hütz who plays Alex in the EIL film is part of an American punk rock band called Gogol Bordello formed in 1999 by musicians from all over the world. Following the Russian invasion, Hutz released a video on social media condemning what had happened. The band have organised a benefit concert and are currently planning a benefit tour.

Until next time…

Mr. Bojangles Lyrics
(Song by Jerry Jeff Walker)

I knew a man
Bojangles
And he’d dance for you
In worn out shoes
With silver hair
A ragged shirt
And baggy pants
He would do the old soft shoe
He could jump so high
Jump so high
And then he’d lightly touch down

I met him in a cell
In New Orleans, I was
Down and out
He looked to me to be the very eyes of age
As the smoke ran out
Talked of life, lord that man talked of life
Laughed, clicked his heels and stepped

He said his name was “Bojangles”
And he danced a lick
Right across the cell
He grabbed his pants
Took a bitter stance
Jumped up high
That’s when he
Clicked his heels
Then he let go a laugh
Lord, he’d let go a laugh
Shook back his clothes all around

Mr. Bojangles
Mr. Bojangles

Mr. Bojangles
Dance

He told me of the times
He worked with minstrel shows
Throughout the south
He spoke with tears
Of fifteen years
How his dog and he
They travel all about
The dog up and died
Dog up and died
And after twenty years he still grieved

He said “I dance
Now and every chance a
Honkey-tonk
For drinks and tips
But most of the time
I spend behind these country bars
You see son, I drinks a bit”
He shook his head
As he shook his head
I heard someone
Say please, please, please

A-Mr. Bojangles
Mr. Bojangles

Mr. Bojangles
Dance