Madness, “Night Boat To Cairo” and The Nutty Boys, Forty Years On

Three years ago, back in the early days of this blog, I wrote a light-hearted post about the band Madness and the whole 2 Tone movement (link here). It coincided with Glastonbury (where they had just performed), and was supposed to form a bit of respite ahead of all the political upheaval about to come our way after the divisive disaster that was the EU Referendum result. I don’t even think the word Brexit had even been coined yet, and there is nothing I hate more than a stupid-sounding new word created from two other words. In linguistics it’s called a portmanteau, which ironically has a French etymology. Oh how the French must be loving us now!

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But here we are a full three years and more on from that post, and the political upheaval is still with us and has ramped up to a whole new level. Talking of new words, I have just discovered one that has apparently been around forever, but for good reason has never before entered our personal vernacular – Prorogation. Yep, that’s the latest trick up the government’s sleeve, so The Madness continues. Getting back to Madness the band, last Friday they came to our town, and down to a bit of luck I managed to see them.

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Madness – Promotional pic for the 2019 tour

I’ve now hosted 25 sets of guests since acquiring the holiday hideaway so it’s been a busy old summer, and the downside is I haven’t really been able to commit to much, as I’m either greeting people or getting ready for the next set of people. We did have a free evening last Friday however so I persuaded Mr WIAA to head into town with me for a bite to eat. On the way home we swung by our very central Highland Games stadium (yes, we have one), as I knew Madness were going to be playing there that very night. As luck would have it, there were tickets left, so it was a no-brainer we would join all the other locals of a certain age who fancied a trip down memory lane.

Night Boat To Cairo by Madness:

What a great night we had – It was dark, but warm and dry, and Suggs and the boys were in tip-top form, closing the show with a very rousing performance of Night Boat To Cairo (complete with tea towel). If you owned the album “One Step Beyond” back in the day, and played it on repeat as I did, you will always remember Night Boat as being the third track on Side One after the Title Track and My Girl. We just don’t consume our music in that way nowadays so Sides and Track Numbers are largely irrelevant. Bit of trivia, the term Night Boat has passed into cockney rhyming slang as a term for a giro, or unemployment benefit cheque but you’d have to be British to get that one I imagine.

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Last week I wrote nostalgically about the year 1978, but this week it’s all about 1979, as that was the year I discovered Madness. The thing I enjoyed most about the concert however was the comforting thought that despite the political upheaval, and all the changes to how we live over the last 40 years, one constant has been those Nutty Boys from Camden Town. They look older close up, but the songs are the same, the band members are the same (although they are now missing Chas Smash), the clothes are the same, and the saxophone solos are the same. Suggs, aka Graham McPherson, still has that very unique, staccato-style way of speaking, … and moving. Yes, somehow all very comforting, and at the moment I think I would rather have the Nutty Boys run the country than BoJo (another portmanteau?) and Walter from The Dandy.

Until next time….

Night Boat To Cairo Lyrics
(Song by Mike Barson/Graham McPherson)

It’s just gone noon
Half past monsoon
On the banks of the river Nile
Here comes the boat
Only half-afloat
Oarsman grins a toothless smile
Only just one more
To this desolate shore
Last boat along the river Nile
Doesn’t seem to care
No more wind in his hair
As he reaches his last half mile
The oar snaps in his hand
Before he reaches dry land
But the sound doesn’t deafen his smile
Just pokes at wet sand
With an oar in his hand
Floats off down the river Nile
Floats off down the river Nile

(All aboard, night boat to Cairo!)

(Night boat to Cairo!)

The Band, “The Weight” and a Bit of a Puzzler.

A while back I featured this song by Abba in one of my posts, and it led to a new discovery for me. I wouldn’t have spotted it myself, but in the comments boxes at the time, The Swede pointed out that one of the albums Agnetha was sadly storing away, post-divorce in her new abode, was Music From Big Pink recorded in 1968 by The Band (all happens very quickly at 0:58).

Back in 1968 I definitely wouldn’t have known about The Band and to be honest even in 1981 when the Abba video came out, all I knew of them was that they used to play with Bob Dylan and made a documentary movie called The Last Waltz.

Since having their great album cover pointed out to me however, I have been bombarded with references to it, especially after asking for song suggestions for the state of Pennsylvania for my American Odyssey series. Turns out their song The Weight, written by Band member Robbie Robertson, is about a traveller’s experiences arriving, visiting, and departing a town called Nazareth, Pennsylvania. Robbie chose this town  because it was the home of Martin Guitars, and he had written the guitar parts for Music From Big Pink on a 1951 Martin D-28. The Weight has been named as one of the best songs of the ’60s and is named as one of the 500 Songs that Shaped Rock and Roll.

The Weight by The Band:

The song was also featured the other week over at Rich Kamerman’s place, his Satur-debut post having been dedicated to Music From Big Pink. I of course had to point out my discovery that the album puts in an appearance in that 1981 Abba video, but after checking the exact location (0:58 as it turns out), I noticed that Agnetha places a second album on the shelf straight afterwards. For the last fortnight or so I have been driving myself mad trying to work out what it is, so if anyone can help me out I would be most grateful? At one point I thought it was Boz Scaggs Silk Degrees, but on closer inspection, definitely not. A bench it seems, and people in white clothing, but other than that I’m stumped. It has to be from earlier than 1981 otherwise we would be having a weird wibbly wobbly timey wimey kind of thing going on, but as I say, any help in identifying it would be much appreciated.

As for the title of the album Music From Big Pink, I have now discovered it’s because the music was composed partly in “Big Pink”, the house shared by several of the band members in West Saugerties, New York. The cover artwork is a painting by Bob Dylan. I am no art expert, so it could either be a work of genius or the daubs of a child, but whatever it is considered to be, it certainly does make for memorable cover art.

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Big Pink with its pastel siding

So, “What’s It All About?” – So many songs make reference to other songs in their lyrics but it also seems that reference is made to other albums in videos. Makes sense as in the giant oak that is rock and pop’s family tree, everyone is influenced by someone else. Where did it all begin? Who knows, but like human life itself, I suspect it all came Out of Africa.

Bit of a heavy ending there so going to add some footage from the Martin Scorsese film The Last Waltz, the song this time being The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down. The Last Waltz was originally the name of a concert held on Thanksgiving Day 1976, at the Winterland Ballroom in San Francisco. It was advertised as The Band’s “farewell concert appearance”, and they were joined by more than a dozen special guests, including Eric Clapton, Ringo Starr, Bob Dylan, Ronnie Wood, Muddy Waters, Neil Young, Neil Diamond, Van Morrison, Dr. John, Emmylou Harris, Joni Mitchell, and The Staple Singers. The event was filmed and made into a documentary of the same title, released in 1978.

Before next time, I hope someone can help me out with the puzzler?

The Weight Lyrics
(Song by Robbie Robertson)

I pulled into Nazareth, was feelin’ about half past dead
I just need some place where I can lay my head
“Hey, mister, can you tell me where a man might find a bed?”
He just grinned and shook my hand, “no” was all he said

Take a load off, Annie
Take a load for free
Take a load off, Annie
And (and, and) you put the load right on me
(You put the load right on me)

I picked up my bag, I went lookin’ for a place to hide
When I saw Carmen and the Devil walkin’ side by side
I said, “Hey, Carmen, come on let’s go downtown.”
She said, “I gotta go but my friend can stick around.”

Take a load off, Annie
Take a load for free
Take a load off, Annie
And (and, and) you put the load right on me
(You put the load right on me)

Go down, Miss Moses, there’s nothin’ you can say
It’s just old Luke and Luke’s waitin’ on the Judgment Day
“Well, Luke, my friend, what about young Anna Lee?”
He said, “Do me a favor, son, won’t you stay and keep Anna Lee company?”

Take a load off, Annie
Take a load for free
Take a load off, Annie
And (and, and) you put the load right on me
(You put the load right on me)

Crazy Chester followed me and he caught me in the fog
He said, “I will fix your rack if you take Jack, my dog.”
I said, “Wait a minute, Chester, you know I’m a peaceful man.”
He said, “That’s OK, boy, won’t you feed him when you can?”

Yeah, take a load off, Annie
Take a load for free
Take a load off, Annie
And (and, and) you put the load right on me
(You put the load right on me)

Catch a cannon ball now to take me down the line
My bag is sinkin’ low and I do believe it’s time
To get back to Miss Annie, you know she’s the only one
Who sent me here with her regards for everyone

Take a load off, Annie
Take a load for free
Take a load off, Annie
And (and, and) you put the load right on me
(You put the load right on me)

Live Aid, Freddie Mercury and “Radio Ga Ga”

Well, my stats are booming and all because of this particular post, written right at the start of my blogging career. Regular visitors will know I’ve had a bit of a cinema-fest going on of late before life starts to get really busy again, and this week I managed to catch the Freddie Mercury biopic, Bohemian Rhapsody.

It hasn’t received universally fantastic reviews, but for those of us who enjoy rock and pop folklore, it is I feel, a must-see film. Rami Malek played Freddie brilliantly I thought and having to act with those teeth must have been a challenge in itself. (Freddie was apparently born with an extra 4 incisors but forewent the intervention of a dentist in case it affected his voice.) We got a great insight into the early days of Queen and the background to the making of those epic records. The film ends with footage of the Live Aid concert where they pretty much stole the show (and formed the basis for this post). The best way to go I think. We leave the cinema with a smile on our faces, remembering Farrokh Bulsara at his prime, just as he would have wanted.

What's It All About?

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 most people my age will remember as being one of the finest ever to take place however, was when Queen arrived on 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…

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Denise Marsa, “Lucky Stars” and Life As A Student (Second Time Around)

Going to pop my head above the parapet for a wee while as this blog is in effect my web diary, and lots to write about since last weekend. Over the last few months I have hinted that I might soon become one of the Highland’s newest intake of students. I jumped through all the hoops and back in June, much to my delight, was offered a place on my chosen course. It all kicked off this week but after only 4 days, because of my mum’s deteriorating health, I have had to withdraw. Very disappointed. On the upside, I have been able to reapply as a part-time student who can pick off one module at a time. Hopefully much more manageable.

Exactly 40 years ago I was preparing to head off to study at a University founded in 1495. The college I now plan to attend only opened in 2015. So much change in the intervening half millennium (bit of an understatement), but it seems that we humans still have a yearning for learning, and fortunately nowadays, much more accessible to all.

And here is where a strange coincidence has come about. Back in my early days of blogging I wrote a post about the song Lucky Stars by Dean Friedman (link here). As I said at the time, whenever I hear it I am reminded of autumn 1978, when I first left home to sample the delights of University life. It was given blanket airplay at the time and got to No. 3 in the UK Singles Chart. That post has become one of this blog’s most frequently visited, so I am obviously not alone in having fond memories of the song.

Lucky Stars by Dean Friedman and Denise Marsa:

The wonderful thing about revisiting songs all these decades later, is that it’s possible to find out so much more of the backstory. In 1978 we knew Dean duetted with a female vocalist on Lucky Stars, but as she wasn’t credited, she became known as the “mystery singer”. In 2016, I discovered she was a singer/songwriter called Denise Marsa, who like Dean, also came from New Jersey. I made sure that in my blog post at any rate, she got full credit for having been part of this great Broadway-esque “musical discussion”. Lo and behold, a few weeks later she found my post and a few emails were exchanged – The wonders of blogging. (If you watch the above clip to the end, at 3:30 you will see Dean and Denise as they are today, having reunited for a special one-off performance.)

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The strange coincidence is that 40 years on, just as I prepare to embark on life as a student for the second time, who should pop up in my life again but Denise Marsa. Back in 1978, her voice was the soundtrack to my early weeks as a nervous young student and here in 2018, she was appearing again. It seems her one-woman show is being staged at the Playground Theatre in London from the 20th September, and she wanted me to spread the word via my blog. Sure thing Denise (extract from her email below).

Hi Alyson

I remember we had a brief encounter via email when you first wrote about Dean Friedman’s LUCKY STARS. Just a quick mention, I am premiering my show THE PASS in London this fall at a new theater, The Playground Theatre. Maybe you could share this news with your readers? Here’s a link to the theater website as well as some recent press.

I also hope you can attend, would like the chance to meet you! Hope you are well!

My best, Denise

Sadly with all that’s going on in my life at the moment I’m not going to be able to head down for the show and potentially meet with Denise (wouldn’t that have really been something), but in the event some Dean and Denise fans visit this post, they will at least have been alerted to the fact she is in the country, and performing live.

All this of course, got me thinking about what the young students of today will be listening to as they embark on their chosen studies. Turns out, all these years later, the idea of featuring a female singer in a song produced by a man is still alive and well. The difference nowadays is that the female gets full credit for lending their vocals to the recording. In the Top 40 at the moment we have songs featuring Anne-Marie, Dua Lipa, Demi Lovato, Cardi B, Camila Cabella, and many more I am unfamiliar with (so could embarrass myself by getting their gender wrong). I do however have a feeling my fellow students will probably follow a whole other set of artists, but it’ll be interesting for the blog getting to know who they are.

Good grief, they’re all clones of each other!

As regular followers know, this year has seen me becoming the very squeezed filling in a generational sandwich, trying to cope with a mum who has health issues just not able to be addressed by the social care system and a daughter who has still not quite flown the nest. My mum is now in hospital, as her fall the other week seems to have caused a (previously undetected) fractured pelvis – Not easy to get over at any age, but at least she is being cared for. DD has started her course at college and seems to be getting on fine so perhaps, just perhaps, I might be able to have some “me-time” and find my feet as a mature student. Who knows, but one thing’s for sure, life is never dull around here.

Hopefully, my new friend Denise Marsa will have a successful run of her one-woman show. Strange to think she first came into my life 40 years ago as I embarked on life as a student, and here she is popping up again, second time around. We couldn’t have predicted back then just how much our lives would change because of this tool we all use daily called The Internet. A force for good (connecting us with old friends, enabling the making of new friends, giving us access to vast amounts of information and services) but also a force for bad (no need to spell it out).

Who knows how things will have evolved in another 40 years but I have a sneaking suspicion that the song Lucky Stars will still occasionally pop up on the musical airwaves of the future. I might not be around to hear it, but hopefully DD will, and she will no doubt have fond memories of her mum and dad “murdering” the song which had become their party-piece of choice. She will also remember how we always forgot the words, despite having listened to it hundreds of times, and she will smile.

Until next time….

Lucky Stars

(Song by Dean Friedman)

What are you crazy? How in the hell can you say what you just said?

I was talking to myself. Shut the door and come to bed.

By the way, I forgot to say, your endearing mother called today.

Did you see Lisa?

Yes I saw Lisa.

Is that why you’re angry?

I wasn’t angry.

Maybe a little.

Not even maybe.

Must be the weather.

Now don’t be a baby.

We’ll how am I supposed to feel with all the things you don’t reveal and

You can thank your lucky stars that we’re not as smart as we’d like to think we are.

Would you like to talk about it?

There’s not much to say.

We had lunch this afternoon. Her life’s in disarray.

She still goes around as if she is always stumbling off a cliff.

Do you still want her?

What are you saying?

Do you still want her?

Baby stop playing.

Really, I mean it. Can you forget her?

Baby, now stop it. You should know better.

I know this is hard to do. but, there’s no one for me but you and

You can thank your lucky stars that we’re not as smart as we’d like to think we are.

Baby, I’m sorry, I was wrong, I have no alibis.

I was acting like a fool and I apologize.

Listen, hon’, I know you’re dumb, but that’s ok, you don’t have to look so glum.

Do you still love me?

Yes, I still love you.

You mean, you’re not just being nice.

No, I’m not just being nice.

Do you feel sleepy.

Aw, you’re so sincere. Yes, I feel sleepy.

Well, slide over here ’cause I may not be all that bright, but I know how to hold you tight and

You can thank your lucky stars that we’re not as smart as we’d like to think we are and

You can thank your lucky stars that we’re not as smart as we’d like to think we are and

We can thank our lucky stars that we’re not as smart as we’d like to think we are.

Alyson’s Archive #6 – “Rollermania” and Me

Welcome to this occasional series where I 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”, courtesy of that as yet unthought of invention, the world wide web!

I’ve been threatening to write this post for a while, and it seems the time is right, coming at the end of a trilogy of posts inspired by my recent trip to Edinburgh. On our last day there we met some friends in an area of the city called The Meadows, a large green space near the Old Town. Bordering the Meadows is a large building which I discovered was Edinburgh’s Royal Infirmary, however in days gone by it was called Simpson’s Hospital. And why did that sound familiar? Because it’s where most baby boomers from that city were born, including those five lads who for a brief period of time went on to be the world’s biggest boy band – Yes, I’m talking about Les, Eric, Woody, Derek and Alan: The Bay City Rollers.

Simpsons Hospital where the Rollers were born

“It’s a teenage dream, to be seventeen”, sang Les McKeown back in 1975. But no, I beg to differ Les. Back in 1975 it was a teenage dream to be fourteen, and have pictures of you and the rest of the boys staring down at me from my bedroom wall. Had I been a year or two older, or a year or two younger, it just wouldn’t have happened but I was the perfect demographic for these “tartan teen sensations from Edinburgh”. My generation had missed out on Beatlemania, and Osmondmania was on the wane, it was time for something new and luckily for me the band that inspired this latest mania came from Scotland.

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The humble author’s teenage collection of Bay City Roller pinups!

(I have shared a display like this once before, of David Cassidy pinups. I would just like to reiterate that I honestly don’t spend my evenings pouring over such teen-dream fodder, because that truly would be weird, it’s just that if you’ve ever had to clear out your parents loft when they downsize, it kind of becomes redistributed to your own loft, which fortunately for this blog is where it remains today.)

Anyway, getting back to the Rollers, the band’s founder members were brothers Alan and Derek Longmuir but after a few changes along the way, in late 1973 the classic line-up fell into place, consisting of guitarists Eric Faulkner and Stuart “Woody” Wood, singer Les McKeown, bassist Alan and drummer Derek. Tam Paton, their (highly controlling) manager was the man in charge, they got a record deal with Bell, and they came up with a unique “look” which consisted of cropped trousers, skimpy V-neck sweaters and plenty of tartan – What could go wrong?

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That’s me on the left in brown corduroy!

All through the year 1974 they were never far from the UK Singles Chart and when we heard the band were coming to the Capitol Theatre in Aberdeen, of course my friends and I (aged only 13) went to see them. This tour was to promote the album “Rollin'” where most of the songs were written by those champions of the short and catchy pop song, Phil Coulter and Bill Martin. First of all we had Remember (Sha-La-La-La), then we had Shang-A-Lang, Summerlove Sensation and finally All Of Me Loves All Of You. The album went to No. 1 in the Album Chart – The boys were adored by hordes of teeny-bopper fans and were well and truly on their way.

And here are a few personal memories of that time. I don’t know about elsewhere in the country but here in Scotland, back in the 1970s, many young lads left school at 16 after (half-heartedly for many of them) sitting their “O” Grades. They all had apprenticeships lined up and work was plentiful, so why not? There was however the technicality that if you turned 16 later on in the calendar year, you couldn’t leave school until Christmas. As a group they were called “The Christmas Leavers”. They didn’t want to be there and the concept of abiding by strict school uniform rules went out the window. One by one, in 1974, they started to adopt Bay City Roller style clothing wearing trousers with tartan down the side, the cropped jumpers and the short-sleeved shirts. They had Les, Eric and Woody style haircuts and of course had similar accents – For girls like us in the lower grades they became our big crushes. We all had our favourite Roller (mine was Les, quite the showman back in the day) and there were definitely boys in our school who started to look like him – Unlike the clean-cut Osmonds, who kind of came from an alien planet as far as we were concerned, the Rollers were the “boys next door”.

By 1975, Rollermania had really taken hold, and after putting together their second album “Once Upon A Star”, another tour was announced. Again my friends and I persuaded one of the mums to take us into Aberdeen to see them. Their cover of the old Four Seasons song Bye Bye Baby was at No. 1 in the Singles Chart and ended up being the biggest selling record of the year.

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The Rollin’ Tour programme and Once Upon A Star, complete with pull-out pics

Unlike the previous year when we went to see them, this was a far more hysterical concert with girls screaming constantly throughout – I probably went hoarse myself, shouting LES at the top of my voice every time he came near the front of the stage. But strangely, my most vivid memory of that night is of a particular member of security staff, who for one night only had been given free rein to manhandle young girls. This is not a #MeToo confession but I did come home with a whiplash that night, as suddenly, out of nowhere, a pair of hands had grabbed my shoulders and firmly shoved me back down into my seat. Everyone in the entire theatre was standing, but for some reason this one “bouncer” had decided he would go up and down all the rows forcing us back into our seats – I took some time out to watch him, and even at that young age, could tell he was enjoying hurting us. Of course I didn’t tell my parents, as we didn’t in those days, but this was a new concept for me and one I have obviously never forgotten.

But back to the Rollers – In 1976 they were kind of lost to us as they secured a record deal with Arista and were heavily promoted in America. They appeared on Saturday Night Live and ended up at the top of the Billboard Chart with a song that had been a flop in the UK but obviously hit the spot in the US. Saturday Night started off with a chant that also struck a cord with New York band the Ramones – It is no coincidence that their record Blitskrieg Bop starts in the same way. They had watched the Rollers on telly and decided to copy their winning formula of a catchy three minute song, a “uniform” and a football-style chant. Hard to believe I know, but part of rock and pop folklore.

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Most of us by this time had moved on to “real boys”, so we were happy to forget about the Rollers and leave them to their success in other parts of the world such as North America, and strangely enough Japan, where they still have a following today. I have never had any inclination to see them perform as part of a reunion tour, as for me, they were very much of their time. I do however feel very sorry for them sometimes, as it is well known that despite their global success they ended up with none of the money – 300 million albums sold worldwide (in an era where the revenue came from such sales) and no spondulicks. Tam Paton was of course blamed, and he went to his grave taking the secret of where the money went with him. The Rollers were not highly educated and they came from families that were ill-equipped to deal with their fame, so became one of the many financial casualties of that era.

Give A Little Love by the Bay City Rollers:

I am going to end this post with some extracts from what has turned out to be the most interesting part of rifling through old teenage memorabilia – The words that were on the back of the pinups. Prior to being in a band, Alan used to get the horses ready for the local dairy’s milk round (yes really). Eric and Derek (has a nice ring to it) were apprentice joiners and Woody and Les were only 16 when they found fame – Not the best backgrounds from which to go on and “take care of business”. Despite it all falling apart in the late ’70s, it sounds as if the Rollers still have happy memories of their heyday, their time in the sun. The Beatles had a mania, and so did these five boys from Edinburgh – Who would have ever thought it possible?

The Rollers’ Story Part 1
The Rollers’ Story Part 2

Until next time….

Give A Little Love Lyrics
(Song by Phil Wainman/John Goodison)

It’s a teenage dream to be seventeen
And to find you’re all wrapped up in lo-o-ove
And I found that you made a dream come true
Now I do believe in what they say-ay-at

You’ve got to give a little love, take a little love
Be prepared to forsake a little love
And when the sun comes shining through
We’ll know what to do-oo

Give a little love, take a little love
Be prepared to forsake a little love
And when the sun comes shining through
We’ll know what to do

When I walk with you there is just we two
And the world goes by and I just don’t care-are
And I know one day I will find a way
To be safe and sound within your hear-eart

So until I do, gonna give a little love, take a little love
Be prepared to forsake a little love
And when the sun comes shining through
We’ll know what to do-oo

Give a little love, take a little love
Be prepared to forsake a little love
And when the sun comes shining through
We’ll know what to do

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

Scottish kids went back to school yesterday after the long summer holidays, but 40 years ago we went back to school on today’s date, the 16th August. I still remember it well, as it was my senior year, and we took a picture of me in my new Prefect’s uniform. 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 during 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

Elvis is also special to me however 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.

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

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 (sbf) 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 acts 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