40 Years Ago Today, Elvis “Left the Building” for the Last Time – Part 1

Yesterday was the day Scottish kids went back to school but 40 years ago we went back to school on today’s date, the 16th August. I remember it well as it was my senior year and we took a picture of me in my Prefect’s uniform (see postscript). I also remember it because it was the day Elvis died.

I have written about Elvis a fair bit since starting this blog as I used to be a massive fan of both him and those films he starred in between the late ’50s and early ’60s. I had a friend who felt the same way and as teenagers, whilst our peers were heading off out at night with their boyfriends, we could often be found at the local fleapit, watching oft repeated showings of old Elvis movies.

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Crowds at the gates of Graceland following the death of Elvis

I’m afraid I’m copying this picture idea from The Swede, whose excellent Unthought of, though, somehow blog is one I visit often, but Elvis is also special to me because “Elvis Sings Flaming Star” was the very first album I purchased with my own money. I wrote about it last year (link here) and some of you may have read that post already, but an appropriate day to re-share it I feel.

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The humble author today, 16/8/17, with her first album

It wasn’t until after I finished that “first album” post however that I did a little more digging and the story of how I came to acquire it, all started to make a bit more sense. We didn’t actually get to see the now legendary ’68 Comeback Special on television in the UK until about a year and a half later. I could only have been about 9 or 10 when it aired but I still remember that evening clearly. I had been asked to go down to our local village shop, which stayed open late on a Friday – All the ladies at the counters were really excited about going home to watch Elvis later on that evening and were asking all the customers if they would be tuning in. I must have mentioned this to my family when I got home and thankfully we did watch this piece of television history. Elvis was clad in black leather, was looking good, singing well and turned in an amazing performance as only he could. He resurrected his career after years of being holed up in Hollywood, churning out what were often thought of as lacklustre movies and dubious soundtrack albums.

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Elvis clad in black leather for the ’68 Comeback Special

The sponsor of the NBC television special was the Singer Sewing Machine Company (yes really) and the company had put together an album called “Singer Presents Elvis Singing Flaming Star and Others” (all very confusing) as a promotional tie-in for retail outlets that sold their machines. In March 1969, after the success of the special, it was re-issued internationally for normal retail outlets as “Elvis Sings Flaming Star”, which is when I must have come across it. Wouldn’t have known any of this back story at the time but just goes to show how fascinating rock and pop trivia can be.

So, nearly fifty years on from the infamous Comeback Special and exactly forty years on from his death, which song should I feature from his vast back catalogue? It occurred to me that only last week I had mentioned the song An American Trilogy as part of my Glen Campbell tribute post. Elvis Presley recorded the song in 1972 and it became a bit of a showstopper for him when performed during the massive event that was “Elvis—Aloha from Hawaii” broadcast in 1973. Three 19th century folk songs had been melded together and given the full jumpsuited-Elvis treatment and even today I can’t think of anyone better suited (no pun intended) for the song. His poverty-stricken southern roots, his close affinity with black music and his subsequent elevation to all-American global superstar.

An American Trilogy by Elvis Presley:

This was a more mature Elvis, now in his late thirties, but sadly this would be one of the last times we would see him turn in a performance like this. Later on that year his divorce from Priscilla would become final and he started to become increasingly unwell, his addiction to prescription drugs really starting to take their toll. 

In some ways I am glad Elvis didn’t make it to old age – He would have been exactly the same age as my mum and although the life she leads in her retirement complex suits her well, I cannot contemplate an octogenarian Elvis being suited to a similar life (with all the issues it can throw up). Best to remember the man as he was, the “star” of Flaming Star, the leather clad Comeback King and the jumpsuited maestro of those Global Event concerts broadcast around the world.

RIP Elvis, RIP The King.

An American Trilogy Lyrics
(Song by Mickey Newbury)

Oh, I wish, I was in the land of cotton
Old times there are not forgotten
Look away, look away, look away Dixieland

Oh, I wish, I was in Dixie, away, away
In Dixieland I take my stand to live and die in Dixie
For Dixieland, that’s where I was born
Early Lord one frosty morn
Look away, look away, look away Dixieland

Glory, glory, Hallelujah
Glory, glory, Hallelujah
Glory, glory, Hallelujah
His truth is marching on

So hush little baby, don’t you cry
You know your daddy’s bound to die
But all my trials, Lord will soon be over

Glory, glory, Hallelujah
His truth is marching on
His truth is marching on

Postscript:

Yes, being a bit of a hoarder I still have that picture although we weren’t very good at keeping shadows out of the shot back then it seems – Good try though Dad.

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The author on 16/8/77 – The day Elvis died

Alyson’s Archive #1 – Eddie and the Hot Rods, Radio Stars and Squeeze

Welcome to this occasional series where I will very embarrassingly, share the contents of my archive box of teenage memorabilia. I always knew these random bits and pieces would come in handy some day, but little did I think back in the 1970s that they would find their way onto such a thing as a “blog” thanks to Sir Tim Berners-Lee and his little invention, the world wide web! 

Back in 1978 I used to keep a journal. Here is the extract from Friday, March the 3rd, the day I’d gone in to Aberdeen with the school boyfriend (s bf) to watch Eddie and the Hot Rods at the Capitol Theatre. The Capitol was used as a cinema most of the time but between the mid ’70s and mid ’80s I went to see an awful lot of bands and artists perform there. Eddie and the Hot Rods were the only band on the bill that night who’d had much chart success to date, having got to No. 9 in the UK Singles Chart with Do Anything You Wanna Do in August, 1977. The two support acts were Radio Stars and an unheard of, fledgling band called Squeeze.

If you can read the extract below you will see that I was a very “proper” and not very “cool” teenager (who also didn’t have brilliant writing skills it seems) but hey, I was wearing my new-fangled straight-legged trousers and was still flushed with the success of having won the prize for “Best Pogoing” at our local Community Centre (documented here) so despite my misgivings about punk concerts, it turned out to be a good night. Interesting also to note that the ticket cost only £2.50 but looking back that was what I earned from my Saturday job, working a whole day in a shop – It’s all relative.

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The strange thing is that in later life we seem to develop a selective memory based on subsequent events and I had always thought that the standout act that night was Squeeze – Looking back at my journal entry, the verdict was that “they weren’t bad”. How bizarre as down the line they became one of my favourite bands and Up The Junction is still one of my all-time favourite songs.

Eddie and the Hot Rods were apparently “very good” and we had “no qualms about jumping up and down pogoing”, although it was “an exhausting occupation” (it’s all just so embarrassing). I don’t really think that in the annals of punk, Eddie and the Hot Rods will be remembered as one of that movement’s biggest movers and shakers – They were more of a pub rock band from Canvey Island but I suppose back in 1977, they did fit that whole “new wavey” mould quite well.

It seems that the band I most enjoyed that night were the Radio Stars and looking at the picture of them now, I still remember the showmanship of their lead singer, Andy Ellison. He had bleached blond hair and certainly knew how to work the crowd – I remember how he effortlessly meandered through the audience, niftily navigating his way across the back of the seats in the stalls. Their minor hit record Nervous Wreck also went down well that night and funny how my memories of that night are so at odds with how the respective careers of each of these bands evolved. I don’t know if it’s just me but looking at him now, does he have a hint of the Joe Brown about him?

But I can’t leave it there, for although it seems I didn’t think that much of Squeeze that particular night, they went on to become one of the UK’s best-loved bands. The vast majority of their songs were written by Chris Difford and Glenn Tilbrook, but of course the band Squeeze also spawned one Jools Holland, who seems to have become a bit of a National Treasure and whose annual New Year’s Eve Hootenanny is watched by millions. During the height of their popularity in the late ’70s/early ’80s they had hits with such classics as Cool for Cats, Slap and Tickle, Another Nail in My Heart, Pulling Mussels (from the Shell), Tempted, Labelled with Love, Black Coffee in Bed and Hourglass, as well as the aforementioned Up The Junction.

It was with great joy therefore, whilst watching live footage from Glastonbury this year, that I managed to catch Chris and Glenn pop up as guests in the outdoorsy green room area where Mark Radcliffe and (my other girl crush) Jo Whiley usually reside. They performed a very alternative version of Up The Junction complete with a band of kazoo players – This clip has appeared in my little corner of the blogosphere before but well worth another outing I feel.

Up The Junction (original version) by Squeeze:

So, “What’s It All About?” – Funny how we have a selective memory when it comes to reminiscing about the music of our youth. Just as Fred Astaire’s first audition went badly and notes were made to the effect, “Can’t act, can’t sing, slightly bald, can dance a little”, my diary entry from March ’78 was less than complimentary about Squeeze. Fortunately I soon saw the light and became a big fan down the line – I must have just been far too dazzled on the night by the energetic antics of Joe Brown lookalike Andy Ellison, to really concentrate on the talents of Messrs Difford and Tilbrook. That of course and all the pogoing – “An exhausting occupation”!

Up The Junction Lyrics
(Song by Chris Difford/Glenn Tilbrook)

I never thought it would happen
With me and the girl from Clapham
Out on the windy common
That night I ain’t forgotten
When she dealt out the rations
With some or other passions
I said “you are a lady”
“Perhaps” she said. “I may be”

We moved in to a basement
With thoughts of our engagement
We stayed in by the telly
Although the room was smelly
We spent our time just kissing
The Railway Arms we’re missing
But love had got us hooked up
And all our time it took up

I got a job with Stanley
He said I’d come in handy
And started me on Monday
So I had a bath on Sunday
I worked eleven hours
And bought the girl some flowers
She said she’d seen a doctor
And nothing now could stop her

I worked all through the winter
The weather brass and bitter
I put away a tenner
Each week to make her better
And when the time was ready
We had to sell the telly
Late evenings by the fire
With little kicks inside her

This morning at four fifty
I took her rather nifty
Down to an incubator
Where thirty minutes later
She gave birth to a daughter
Within a year a walker
She looked just like her mother
If there could be another

And now she’s two years older
Her mother’s with a soldier
She left me when my drinking
Became a proper stinging
The devil came and took me
From bar to street to bookie
No more nights by the telly
No more nights nappies smelling

Alone here in the kitchen
I feel there’s something missing
I’d beg for some forgiveness
But begging’s not my business
And she won’t write a letter
Although I always tell her
And so it’s my assumption
I’m really up the junction

Tartan Heart Festivals, Hippies and the Summer Of Love

Exactly 50 years ago, in 1967, the “hippies” of North America (and other parts of the world) converged on Haight-Ashbury, San Francisco, wearing flowers in their hair. It was the infamous Summer Of Love which has cropped up on these pages often as although I was only aged seven that year, it seems to be a year I have a great fondness for when it comes to revisiting the “tracks of my years”. All sorts of reasons for this which have already been covered but one that hadn’t really occurred to me until recently was that children of six and under generally have a very early bedtime (I know I did), so any opportunity to watch music shows of any kind on telly would have been an impossibility. Looking back now I have a pretty good memory for music from 1967 onwards as that would have been the year it would have been deemed reasonable for me to stay up “late” to watch shows such as Top of the Pops, an absolute must for kids of my generation.

Many songs were written that year referring to this mass migration of up to 100,000 young people to Haight-Ashbury, the most obvious being Scott McKenzie’s San Francisco. I don’t however seem to have that one in my digital library but I do have Let’s Go To San Francisco by British band The Flower Pot Men. As ever I have learnt something new, as I had always taken it forgranted that they were American – The song, a one-hit wonder, very much imitated the style of Brian Wilson, and could easily have been mistaken for a Beach Boys one.

Let’s Go To San Francisco by The Flower Pot Men:

As I’ve also mentioned many times, the Summer of Love never came to my small Scottish village, and if it had, my dad and his fellow civic-minded friends would probably have had something to say about it. It did however, infiltrate the student body of Aberdeen, a city we drove to every other Saturday so that my dad could watch his beloved Aberdeen FC and my mum could do some shopping (with me in tow – grrr). The car park we used was very near the University and right across the street was the building that housed the Students’ Union. It was the social hub of University life where there were bars, dining halls, venues for concerts and little shops selling supplies that are probably no longer needed for the modern-day student, such as pads of foolscap paper, pencils, pocket files and even, books.

This building had a steady stream of “hippies” leave and enter as we passed by and to me they looked just like the singers and groups I loved to watch on Top of the Pops. They had long hair, little round glasses, guitars, even Afghan coats – One day I thought to myself, I want to be just like them, although I definitely kept that plan to myself as my parents used to make it quite clear that come the hour, they wouldn’t want to see me stumble out of that door on Schoolhill a bit worse for the wear and high on plant life. As it turned out I did stumble out of that door frequently over a decade later but the hippie era was long gone by then and new wave had taken its place. Fortunately my parents didn’t see me however, as the black lipstick (it makes your teeth look awful by the way) and nail varnish, complete with leopard spot garments would not have gone down well. Don’t get me wrong, my parents were wonderful and I had a charmed childhood, but they were not what you would have called “open-minded”.

So, where is all this going I hear you ask? – Next weekend a mini Glastonbury (about a tenth of the size in terms of numbers) will be held just a few miles west of where we live and they have a Summer of Love theme going on this year. Darling daughter and her friends have all acquired “flowers for their hair” and are heading along for the whole camping experience. Mr WIAA and I on the other hand will watch on telly, BBC Alba to be precise, which means the presenters are Gaelic speakers and we won’t even understand what they are saying, but the music will still be great. I do feel a bit aggrieved in that I missed the whole Summer of Love experience first time around because I was too young, and just as there was a resurgence of interest in staging festivals, I was kind of too old and had responsibilities. I really don’t think my middle-aged bones and Mr WIAA’s bladder could cope with the whole camping experience now, especially if it rains, but we do enjoy experiencing it vicariously via the young people.

Our mini Glastonbury is called the Belladrum Tartan Heart Festival and looking at the line-up, the band that jumps out at me first is the Pretenders. That would be because they appeared at our aforementioned Students’ Union in 1979, the week they were at No.1 in the UK Singles Chart with Brass In Pocket. A fortuitous booking had obviously been made some time before by the incumbent Union President – Oh yes, that would have been Sky News reporter Glen Oglaza. Back then however (and I really wish I could find a picture but I can’t) he looked just like Frank Zappa. It was 1979 but he was still sporting the look of a Summer of Love hippie. What happened to the hair Glen?

My friend Stuart worked on the student newspaper, The Gaudie, which is the oldest in the UK apparently and got the sought after gig of interviewing Ms Hynde before she went on stage. Chrissie Hynde is one of those timeless looking ladies, a rock chick whose style has changed very little over the decades. Sadly that evening she had decided to cut her trademark long fringe and it had all gone horribly wrong – She was not in the best of moods and the interview was not quite as exciting for the interviewer, as it should have been. A lesson was obviously learnt that night as I don’t remember ever seeing her with anything other the style shown below – She found her look early on and stuck with it.

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Chrissie Hynde with her trademark long fringe

As for darling daughter’s pick for the weekend, she is most looking forward to Twin Atlantic – Not so much psychedelic rock but alternative rock, of the Glaswegian variety. I was introduced to them by her this week and have to say, I am mighty impressed. Last year we had The Proclaimers at Belladrum, those heavily accented twin brothers from Auchtermuchty. This year we are going to have the heavily accented Twin Atlantic – Perfect. Their most successful chart hit so far has been Heart and Soul from 2014 and I look forward to watching them perform it from the comfort of my sofa next weekend!

So, What’s it all about? – One of these days I will have to bite the bullet and head along to Belladrum, just so that I can tick it off the bucket list. I may well need that bucket along with me however as it does have a history of being quite a rain-soaked festival. I could collect water in it to make tea and to wash my hair. It could also be handy for Mr WIAA’s middle-aged bladder (although not all at the same time of course).

I doubt if many of the young people know much at all about the Summer of Love of fifty years ago but no matter, they are young and need to experience everything for the first time, their way. Mobile phones feature heavily at festivals nowadays which would have been inconceivable 50 years ago – No selfies with Frank, Janis, Jimi or Grace back in the day but who knows, maybe Glen Oglaza did get a picture taken with Chrissie Hynde in 1979, before she cut her fringe. Wonder if they keep in touch!

Let’s Go To San Francisco (Belladrum?) Lyrics
(Song by John Carter/Ken Lewis)

Let’s go (let’s go) to San Francisco (let’s go to San Francisco)
Where the flowers grow (flowers grow)
So very high (so high)
Sunshine (sunshine) in San Francisco
(Sunshine in San Francisco)
Makes your mind grow up to the sky.

Lots of sunny (lots of) sunny people
Walking hand in hand(walking hand in hand)
Then a (then a) funny people (funny people)
They have found (they have found) their land.

Let’s go (let’s go) to San Francisco (let’s go to San Francisco)
Where the flowers grow (flowers grow)
So very high (so high)
Sunshine (sunshine) in San Francisco
(Sunshine in San Francisco)
Makes your mind grow up to the sky.

Lots of sunny (lots of) sunny people
Walking hand in hand(walking hand in hand)
Then a (then a) funny people (funny people)
They have found (they have found) their land.

 

LOVE, Young People and Don’t Look Back In Anger

Well, I had fully intended to return to my American Odyssey in Song today, or perhaps write about a couple of the songs that have formed earworms over the past few days, but no, even music blogs can’t avoid mentioning what has gone on in our country this week, and yet again, what a week.

Shortly after I pressed the “publish” button last Saturday, there was another terrorist attack, this time right in the centre of London. Again, in the face of such senseless violence, the police, the emergency services and some heroic members of the public performed some amazing acts of bravery (no-one messes with a Millwall supporter). Some innocent weekend socialisers lost their lives, and others are still critically ill in hospital, but yet again no-one who was there has come out and said they will change their behaviour in any way. We are all getting a bit sick of saying it I know, but “life must go on”.

one love.jpgThe One Love Manchester benefit concert was all set to take place on the Sunday, which to some did seem a bit too soon after the atrocity that took place there less than a fortnight earlier, but despite this even more recent atrocity it did go ahead as planned and in retrospect I am really glad. Like many, I didn’t really know much about Ariana Grande until two weeks ago, but of her own accord she really wanted to do something for the people of Manchester and for the fans who had been at the earlier ill-fated concert. For many of these fans, to attend must have been a tough call, but this time Old Trafford (the Cricket Ground) was the venue and that open air Sunday night concert provided much joy, a lot of tears and an awful lot of LOVE.

I watched the concert with DD and it was like being back in her world again after a few years away. She was of the generation that grew up watching Miley Cyrus play the teenage sitcom character Hannah Montana and here was Miley all grown up and being supportive of Ariana, planning to link up with her in making such a thing a regular event. Mr Bieber was there as was Niall Horan of One Direction and girl group Little Mix. Having a 21-year-old in the house is a constant reminder of how things have changed in a generation. Young people are very demonstrative nowadays compared with how things used to be back in the rural Scotland of my youth. Whenever they meet up, they hug and kiss each other, they LOVE each other frequently on social media, in texts and in speech. When they all hang out together, often in our back garden, there is indeed much LOVE in the air (of a spiritual nature I hasten to add) and it sometimes feels as if we have returned to the summer of 1967 when young people wanted to change the world. Although we get cynical as we get older and such idealism can give way to practical reality, the young people I know give me hope for the future.

There were also a fair few acts on the bill that were more familiar to me, namely Take That, Pharrell Williams and the Black Eyed Peas but it was Chris Martin from Coldplay who performed the song which has been used by the people of Manchester in remembrance of the victims, and to show the city’s spirit. Don’t Look Back In Anger is of course a song by the Manchester band Oasis, and was released in 1996 as the fourth single from their album, “(What’s the Story) Morning Glory?”. It was the first Oasis single with lead vocals by Noel Gallagher instead of by his brother Liam, but sadly those two have had a parting of the ways so it was Mr Martin instead who stepped up to the plate. Despite the fact I was a bit disparaging about his singing earlier in the year after his less than perfect rendition at the BRITs (I thought) of George Michael’s song A Different Corner, this time I think it all worked out quite well.

Don’t Look Back In Anger by Oasis:

So, the concert was a success and they will have raised, and will continue to raise (link to site above), lots of money for those who have suffered as a consequence. A lot to take in already for one week you might think but of course this was also the week we went to the polls again, as our incumbent Prime Minister had wanted to secure a larger majority in the House ahead of the Brexit negotiations. Oops!

Turns out she is not very good at campaigning and time and time again she was found wanting in terms of the details of her manifesto, her appearance at debates (she abstained) and her all round ability to engage as a human being instead of the Maybot she became. On the other hand her opponent Mr Corbyn has become the hero of the hour who can quite rightly claim to have, in a way, won the election. Who would have thought that turnaround could have been possible a few months ago. Lord knows he has had a hard time over the last couple of years and the smear campaigns have been brutal but he has definitely engaged with the young people of the country in a way the Maybot would never have been able to do. Again hooray for young people – At long last they have become engaged in politics and it took a jam-making, allotment tending politician whose life has been dedicated to making the world a better place, for that to happen. (He is also much, much better at social media than his opponent and quite rightly took to it with gusto.)

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This time last year I would most definitely not have written a post like this as politics, religion and other controversial topics are usually cited as something to be avoided if you want to broaden your readership and not cause offence. As it turns out, a year on and I have yet to find any other bloggers who do not share my opinions so no problem there then – Where are all these Tory voters I wonder? Certainly not in any corner of the blogosphere I’ve visited that’s for sure.

So, “What’s It All About?” – It’s all about the Young People who are finally becoming energised about politics. They are full of LOVE for each other and I for one have a bit of a spring in my step today because of the outcome of the election – The battle has been lost but with a nation of smart young people coming up behind us we are on track to win the war.

Until next time….

Don’t Look Back In Anger Lyrics
(Song by Noel Gallagher)

Slip inside the eye of your mind
Don’t you know you might find
A better place to play?
You said that you’d never been
But all the things that you’ve seen
They slowly fade away

So I’ll start a revolution from my bed
Cause you said the brains I had went to my head
Step outside, summertime’s in bloom
Stand up beside the fireplace
Take that look from off your face
You ain’t ever gonna burn my heart out

And so, Sally can wait
She knows it’s too late as we’re walking on by
Her soul slides away
But don’t look back in anger
I heard you say

Take me to the place where you go
Where nobody knows if it’s night or day
But please don’t put your life in the hands
Of a Rock ‘n’ Roll band
Who’ll throw it all away

 

An Open Letter to George Michael RIP, Part 2 – The Solo Years

Dear George

Well old friend, it’s been a very sad but oddly uplifting few days. I wrote my first letter to you back on Tuesday when the news of your death was still raw. Since then I have pulled together all the old vinyl and CDs (from both the Wham! and solo years) and had a good wallow through your back catalogue. There is much there to give joy but also material there that now breaks my heart – I don’t know about the Cowboys but I hope you are now with the Angels. A cringey thing to say I know, but I had to include that song somewhere as although not a massive commercial success in its own right, it is still my favourite from your album “Listen Without Prejudice Vol 1” (there never was a Vol 2 but that of course is another story).

Cowboys and Angels by George Michael:

When I say it has also been an oddly uplifting few days, that is because we have now heard about some of your (hitherto anonymous) amazing acts of generosity. You were always at the forefront whenever a charity concert or single was in being put together but most of us had no idea just how many random acts of kindness you were responsible for over the years. You helped out at homeless shelters and always stood up for the downtrodden – A prince among men.

But I have jumped ahead. In my last letter to you I did a fair bit of reminiscing about all that went on in both of our lives during the Wham! years of the early ’80s but what happened after that? – I think we both kind of grew up. You carved out a successful career as a very credible solo artist and I stopped being a flibbertigibbet, moved to a new town and took up a responsible job. Ok, so I still was a bit of a flibbertigibbet, but I now lived on my own and had to travel long distances to meet up with my old friends – When I did, it was just like old times.

In 1987 you released your first solo album “Faith” and during one of our reunion weekends that year it was played constantly – The girls were mightily taken with your new “look” and we found it quite amusing that so many young men were trying to recreate that look, what with the designer stubble, the leather jacket, the shades and even the glove – Looked great on you but on anyone else it just kind of looked silly. One of my friends had actually been given a video of the single I Want Your Sex by her boyfriend, as a present for her birthday – A few raised eyebrows about that one as how could one ever compete with “Gorgeous George” in the bedroom department!

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George Michael – Faith

But you were exhausted after all the hoopla that came with the promotion of “Faith” George, and to be honest so was I – Living in The Highlands of Scotland but spending every weekend travelling around the country was also exhausting and I started to make friends locally and even got myself a boyfriend who was to become Mr WIAA – Hurrah I hear you say (after getting bored with my stories of the on-off nature of my relationship with boyfriend no. 1 during the Wham! years).

In 1990 you released a much more contemplative album called “Listen Without Prejudice Vol 1” and the first single from it Praying for Time had lyrics that concerned social ills and injustice – We were starting to realise what kind of man you really were. This album was a very different affair and it alluded to your struggle with your artistic identity. Vol 2 never did appear and shortly after, you ended your record contract with Sony.

One good thing that came out of your dispute with the record company is that you had a fair bit of “gardening leave” and threw yourself into appearing at benefit concerts and such like. The one that has gone down in history, is when you took part in the Freddie Mercury Tribute Concert in 1992 along with Queen, Lisa Stansfield, Seal, David Bowie and many others. For some reason I can’t remember watching this concert live on telly at the time (put it down to getting engaged, married and buying and selling a property in a four month period) but it was obviously repeated in 1993 ahead of the Five Live EP where five tracks from the concert were released on a single EP, with all proceeds going to the Mercury Trust. This time we did see it, and my goodness it gave me goosebumps. You know when you witness something truly exceptional and your version of Somebody To Love with the other members of Queen really was exceptional (check out that note at 1:16).

Somebody To Love by George Michael and Queen:

Around this time I always had a blank tape in the VCR (remember those) and if something special came on telly I would quickly press “record”. This performance of Somebody To Love was revisited many times over the next few months – To see you, giving it your all George, in your gorgeous coral-coloured jacket (a great choice by the way) and blousy gold earring, was joy personified.

And here is where you feature in a really important moment in my life, and that of my daughter’s as it turns out. A couple of years later I found myself “with child” (blame the I Want Your Sex video) and it was suggested that we take a few cassette tapes with us to the labour suite come the hour. It all gets a bit frantic when everything starts to happen so we quickly grabbed the bag and two tapes to take with us – One was by Dina Carroll (not thought of her in ages) and the other was the Five Live EP. Despite the rush to get there things did not end up happening very quickly at all and we spent all evening, all night and then part of the next morning awaiting darling daughter’s arrival – All to the sounds of you George, plus those of Lisa Stansfield, Queen and occasionally Dina Carroll. Very apt really, and excuse the schmaltz, but she truly has been “somebody to love”.

I will admit that once you have a family, music has to take a back seat, especially if you are the mum I think, and I am sorry George but my attention to you was a tad neglected over the next few years but I did appreciate your “Older” album when it came out in 1996 and of course I had to buy “The Best of Wham!” in 1997, and then “Ladies and Gentlemen” in 1998. Funnily enough, by this time darling daughter was becoming a little character in her own right and one of our favourite things to do of an afternoon was to dance to your songs. One of the best for this was Club Tropicana where we re-enacted the long pre-amble with the sound of the car pulling up, the footsteps, the cicadas and then the opening of the doors to “Club Tropicana” – Fun times and needless to say she did become a bit of an aficionado of musical theatre and at one point we thought that a life on stage might be for her.

Oh George, here I am running out of words again and I’ve only got to 1998 but of course that was also the year that you kind of let yourself down a bit. None of us who were fans cared whether you were gay or not but you did “out” yourself in a very public way by getting arrested in LA – You say it was a subconsciously deliberate act, which it probably was, and it did give us the very entertaining Outside later on that year. Didn’t endear yourself to the LAPD with that one though, did you?

I can see, as fellow Chain-Ganger George (coincidental name) suggested last time, that this will have to be a game of three thirds as opposed to two halves, so until next time, thank you again Georgios Kyriacos for all the great music I have had the privilege to revisit this week due to your very untimely demise. I would much rather it had been under very different circumstances, but there we are.

Until next time, RIP to the Cowboy and the Angel who tried very hard to find “somebody to love”.

Cowboys and Angels Lyrics
(Song by George Michael)

When your heart’s in someone else’s hands
Monkey see and monkey do 
Their wish is your command
Not to blame
Everyone’s the same

All you do is love and love is all you do
I should know by now the way I fought for you
You’re not to blame, everyone’s the same

I know you think that you’re safe
Mister
Harmless deception
That keeps love at bay
It’s the ones who resist that we most want to kiss
Wouldn’t you say?

Cowboys and angels
They all have the time for you
Why should I imagine that I’d be a find for you
Why should I imagine
That I’d have something to say

But that scar on your face
That beautiful face of yours
In your heart there’s a trace
Of someone before

When your heart’s in someone else’s plans
Things you say and things you do
That they don’t understand
You’re not to blame
Always ends the same

You can call it love but I don’t think it’s true
You should know by now
I’m not the boy for you
You’re not to blame
Always ends the same

I know you think that you’re safe
Sister
Harmless affection that keeps things this way
It’s the ones who persist for the sake of a kiss
Who will pay and pay
Cowboys and angels
They all have the time for you
Why should I imagine that I was designed for you
Why should I believe
That you would stay

But that scar on your face
That beautiful face of yours
Don’t you think that I’d know
They’ve hurt you, before

Take this man to your place
Maybe his hands can help you forget
Please be stronger than your past
The future may still give you a chance
The future, the future, not the past

That scar on your face
That beautiful face of yours
Don’t you think that I know
They hurt you before

The Prince, Madness and The 2 Tone Label

A joyful evening in the midst of all the political upheaval, as the band Madness have just been performing at this year’s Glastonbury Festival and I am reminded of how much I enjoyed them in the late ’70s when the 2 Tone label suddenly flooded the charts with great ska music, updated for a new generation. In those pre-internet days, pretty much the first and only time you would ever see a band perform would be on Thursday night’s Top Of The Pops. If you liked pop music it was a must-watch show and even in the sterile atmosphere of that little studio at television centre, with an often-bored looking audience being marshalled from stage to stage, you could really tell that these young lads were just a little bit special. Of course I didn’t realise at the time that The Prince they were singing about was in fact an early sixties Jamaican ska artist called Prince Buster, and that they had taken their name from one of his songs from that period.

The Prince by Madness:

As was wont to happen in those days, a new cultural movement emerged overnight and suddenly the soft rock and disco records that we were used to listening to seemed ridiculous and irrelevant, especially to young urban males. The 2 Tone label was set up in Coventry by Jerry Dammers of the Specials and very quickly ska/reggae/punk influenced records were being released by The Specials, Madness, The Beat and The Selector. The artwork for  the record sleeves was of course two tone, featuring a black and white checkerboard and a man wearing the ska uniform of black suit, white shirt, black tie, white socks, black loafers and of course, the very necessary pork pie hat.

220px-Specials_Message_to_You_Rudy_single_cover

As for me, I was a student at the time and when we discovered that the 2 Tone Tour (has a nice ring to it) of late 1979 was coming to our city it was a no-brainer that we should go and see all these great acts live. It was going to be held in one of the big night-clubs usually frequented by weekend John/Joan Travoltas and this is where I made my first mistake – Because of the venue I wore one of my “disco-dancing” outfits (wasn’t called clubbing in those days) complete with footless tights and shocking pink sparkly accessories. I don’t know how they managed it, but 99 percent of the audience that night were dressed in full “rude-boy” uniform complete with pork pie hat. This was Scotland for goodness sake but all the charity shops within a 50 mile radius must have been totally sold out of vintage clothing, and who knew that so many pork-pie hats could still have been in circulation! Yes, the shocking pink accessories stood out amongst all the black and white so in order to feel less conspicuous we quickly moved up to one of the balcony areas, to witness the phenomemon that was 2 Tone, from there.

The night started off with The Selector and frontwoman Pauline Black turned in an energetic performance culminating with their hit record On My Radio. Next up was Madness and of course we were treated to The Prince but the difference here was that they had Chas Smash whose role in the band was pretty much solely, dancer. Looking back at the clip now, this is exactly how he performed right through the set. He and Suggs made a great double act, a couple of likely lads from Camden Town doing something that was totally different.

chas smash

I was sad to see that Chas Smash was not with the band at Glastonbury as he is “off doing solo projects” at the moment (they’ve had a falling out then). Something I have just got to the bottom of however is this – During the 1979 concert Chas at one point got down into the audience and it was hard to work out what he was doing. It looked as if he was in a fight, but then again the punches looked as if they were choreographed and part of his style of dancing. Turns out that it was commonplace for a skinhead element to come to the concerts somehow thinking that because of the style of clothing and haircuts, these bands had a similar mentality. Of course this could not have been further from the truth and if certain racist remarks were made, some of the band members got down into the audience to deal with it themselves – Young men and lots of testosterone.

The final band to perform that night were Coventry-based, 2 Tone founders, The Specials.  Not so much “nutty boys” but more politically informed which came through in their lyrics. Terry Hall, their lead singer, always had a bit of the Herman Munster look about him I felt which was probably intentional. Not possible to sing about the really serious issues of the day (Ghost Town) if you look like a teen-idol. We definitely witnessed something from music history that night however as the whole 2 Tone concept was short-lived and quickly morphed into something else.

As for Madness they are still out there doing their thing and although the dancing is no longer quite as energetic, they still make me smile. Aged only 18 in the clip, Suggs is now 55 and he got his grandchildren up on stage at Glastonbury at the end of their set to view the ocean of festival-goers. Could he have envisaged doing that back in 1979 when they were surrepticiously beating up unsavoury audience members? I doubt it very much, but I am very glad he did.

The Prince Lyrics
(Song by Lee Thompson)

Buster, he sold the heat with a rock-steady beat

An earthquake is erupting, but not in Orange street
A ghost-dance is preparing, You got to help us with your feet
If you’re not in the mood to dance, step back, grab yourself a seat
This may not be uptown Jamaica, but we promise you a treat

Buster, bowl me over with your bogus dance, shuffle me off my feet
Even if I keep on runnin’, I’ll never get to Orange street

So I’ll say there’s nothin’ left to say, for the man who set the beat
So I’ll leave it up to you out there, to get him back on his feet

Buster, bowl me over with your bogus dance, shuffle me off my feet
Even if I’ll keep on runnin’, I’ll never get to Orange Street

Bring back the
Who is the
We want the

Live Aid, Freddie Mercury and Radio Ga Ga

I wrote yesterday about the Celtic rock band Runrig and how their rousing live performances induce mass participation, especially when at home in Scotland.

The performance that most people my age will remember as being one of the finest ever to take place however, was when Queen arrived on the stage for their segment of the Live Aid Concert, held on July the 13th, 1985. I still remember that day well and who knew before the concert began that this would be a seminal performance. To see and hear all 72,000 people in Wembley Stadium sing along with Freddie Mercury to Radio Ga Ga was a landmark moment in pop history. His a cappella section at the end of the song, featuring his amazing vocal range and ability to work the crowd, came to be known as “The Note Heard Round the World”.

Radio Ga Ga by Queen:

There had been quite a build up to Live Aid day but mostly what we had been hearing about was the sheer logistical nightmare of having so many artists performing on one stage on one day. On top of that there was to be a parallel concert in the U.S. in Philadelphia with Phil Collins jetting between the two venues. Harvey Goldsmith, the promoter behind the staging of the Wembley show, was a man under pressure to deliver. Bob Geldof, who with Midge Ure had first come up with the idea of raising money for the Ethiopian famine crisis by making a charity single (Do They Know It’s Christmas?), was now the main driving force behind the event. A man renowned for his dishevelled appearance, Bob was now looking even more so than ever, but there could be no denying that his passion for the cause was immense and who could forget his impatience with the presenters when they just weren’t taking the business of pledging money seriously enough –  “F**k the address, let’s get the number”, “Don’t go to the pub tonight, stay in and give us the money”, “There are people dying NOW so give me the money” and so it went on……

live aid

But back to Radio Ga Ga – It was actually written by Queen’s drummer Roger Taylor and the silly sounding song title belies the fact it has some very serious lyrics about the state of the music industry in 1984. The emergence of MTV and the pop video in the early ’80s led a lot of artists to think that visuals were going to take over from radio and the aural-only music experience. Ironic really as Queen had been one of the first bands to make a film to accompany their 1975 masterpiece, the triumph that was Bohemian Rhapsody. They needn’t have worried however as all these years later people are still making records and although the visuals can be really impressive, they have never taken over, yet.

It has become a cliché, too often used by talent show judges, but it is fair to say that Freddie “owned the stage” that hot summer’s day in 1985. He was in control, and had the crowd in the palm of his hand. I think the band did have the advantage over a lot of the younger artists that day in that they had experience on their side, both in terms of age  (Freddie was nearly 40 – hard to believe looking at the footage now and also hard to believe that he was dead six years later) and in playing in front of these large crowds. I think they knew the impact the concert would have on the careers of those taking part that day, so they had hired a large theatre to practice in during the build up to the concert.

freddie

Having written about a few extrovert artists now who have this ability to create such magic on stage, there is a common personality trait amongst them all – They are generally very shy people. Surprising to those of us who are not that way inclined but I think that is where the balance lies – If you are a shy person you need to create an alter-ego as an outlet. David Bowie in the ’70s was very shy thus his Ziggy Stardust creation. Elvis Presley and Michael Jackson were both very shy and Freddie notoriously gave few interviews due to his shyness. All I can say is thank goodness we were given the privilege of watching them perform and although sadly all of the above have now passed away, we are lucky to still have amazing footage of them in action. In Radio Ga Ga Roger Taylor was worried about the visuals taking over but I say thank goodness for them, as now we can share them with the generations to come.

RIP Freddie.

Radio Ga Ga Lyrics
(Song by Roger Taylor)

I’d sit alone and watch your light
My only friend through teenage nights
And everything I had to know
I heard it on my radio

You gave them all those old time stars
Through wars of worlds invaded by Mars
You made ’em laugh, you made ’em cry
You made us feel like we could fly.
Radio.

So don’t become some background noise
A backdrop for the girls and boys
Who just don’t know or just don’t care
And just complain when you’re not there

You had your time, you had the power
You’ve yet to have your finest hour
Radio, Radio.

All we hear is Radio ga ga
Radio goo goo
Radio ga ga
All we hear is Radio ga ga
Radio blah blah
Radio, what’s new?
Radio, someone still loves you!

We watch the shows, we watch the stars
On videos for hours and hours
We hardly need to use our ears
How music changes through the years.

Let’s hope you never leave old friend
Like all good things on you we depend
So stick around ’cause we might miss you
When we grow tired of all this visual

Postscript:

Just in case you haven’t ever seen Bob in full flow on Live Aid Day, a record was made sampling his now infamous lines. Just shows what you can do nowadays with a clever bit of technology – Love it.