Amsterdam, Van der Valk and a “Lost Weekend”

Ever since I got back from my trip to Amsterdam last week I have been meaning to write a short post about it all – Problem is, I’ve struggled to come up with anything particularly “Dutch” to include as a featured song. Tonight however, as I made my way home from my regular Friday night rendezvous with my mum at her retirement complex (the fun just never ends around here!), I switched on the radio to partake in a bit of Friday Night Is Music Night. I do love the affable Ken Bruce, and he does a great job of hosting this show, which is apparently the longest-running live orchestral music programme in the world. In terms of the particular inspiration for each show, you just never know what you’re going to get and this week it was Espionage, so a night of great spy theme music got underway. The programme included music from The Ipcress File, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, The Third Man, The Avengers and, of course, 007 himself James Bond.

Listening to some of those great TV Theme tunes reminded me of the wonderful Van der Valk, that ’70s television series produced by Thames Television. It starred Barry Foster as Dutch detective Commissaris Piet van der Valk. The stories were mostly based in and around Amsterdam, where Commissaris van der Valk was a “cynical yet intuitive detective”.

Watching this very old piece of footage (wasn’t the colour poor in those days) reminded me of the very locations where I spent time last week, as in a city of canals the street pattern of central Amsterdam hasn’t changed much in about 400 years. The best thing about the show Van der Valk however was its very memorable theme tune, Eye Level, composed by Jack Trombey and played by the Simon Park Orchestra. Unbelievably, it even reached the UK Chart’s No. 1 spot back in 1973. I’m pretty sure that just couldn’t happen today but I still remember them well appearing on ToTP, as those were the days when I religiously taped the show on my little cassette recorder and carefully entered all the chart positions, in my “Chart Positions Notebook”!

thBut what did we get up to last week? The big irony of course was that despite the fact that Mr WIAA and I were also celebrating our Silver Wedding Anniversary, off I went gallivanting with one of my best female friends. It had all been booked a long time ago and the bad timing was down to that old chestnut, the annual leave window. Of course I am no longer even in the job that I couldn’t get leave from at any other time, but no matter, Mr WIAA was more than happy to hold down the fort and is now promised a trip of his own sometime soon.

Day 1: Headed down to Dam Square where an enormous Ferris Wheel was in operation – Great to get a view of the whole city I thought not realising that my poor friend has a massive fear of such things. She did it though and yes, we did get a great view of the whole city.

Day 2: The obligatory boat trip around the canal system. No room for any more house boats though as all the berths now taken. Also paid a visit to the Museum of Bags and Purses (it’s a thing) and the infamous Red Light District, De Wallen. Learnt a lot in the Museum of Prostitution (yes, it’s also a thing).

Day 3: Visited the Rijksmuseum where you could seriously get lost for a whole day – Pondered over probably some of the most valuable paintings in the world (Rembrandt’s The Night Watch?) and enjoyed glasses of mint tea – Maybe I’m just unsophisticated but up here in Scotland our tea doesn’t come with a bunch of mint leaves and a small pot of honey but very, very nice.

Day 4: Our last day so spent time in the harbour area where our hotel, which used to be the accommodation for Naval Officers, was based. A fantastic table with artwork depicting the harbour took pride of place in the dining room. Oh and it had its own brewery – Bonus.

Although I did say that I couldn’t really think of any songs with a Dutch theme, it was inevitable that this 1985 recording of Lost Weekend by Lloyd Cole and the Commotions would form a bit of an earworm whilst I was away. The lyrics however were not particularly appropriate for our trip as: a) we didn’t catch pneumonia b) the price of the medicine therefore wasn’t an issue and c) we came home before the weekend, so not really a lost one. Great excuse to include a song however that I have always really liked and I’ve now worked out why a band from Glasgow just didn’t sound very Scottish. Turns out Lloyd was from Derbyshire and formed the band whilst studying Philosophy and English at the University of Glasgow. Every day’s a school day.

Lost Weekend by Lloyd Cole and the Commotions:

Until next time….

Lost Weekend Lyrics
(Song by Lawrence Donegan/Lloyd Cole/Neil Clark)

It took a lost weekend in a hotel in Amsterdam
And double pneumonia in a single room
And the sickest joke was the price of the medicine
Are you laughing at me now may I please laugh along with you

This morning I woke up from a deep unquiet sleep
With ashtray clothes and miss lonely heart’s pen
With which I wrote for you a lovesong in tattoo
Upon my palm ’twas stolen from me when Jesus took my hand

You see I, I wouldn’t say it if I didn’t mean it
Drop me and I’ll fall to pieces too easily

I was a king bee with a head full of attitude
Wore my heart on my sleeve like a stained
My aim was to taboo you
Could we meet in the marketplace
Did I ever hey please did you wound my knees

You see I, I wouldn’t say it if I didn’t mean it
Drop me and I’ll fall to pieces

Yes it’s too easy and there’s nobody else to blame
Will I hang my head in a crying shame
There is nobody else to blame nobody else except my sweet self

Again it took a lost weekend in a hotel in Amsterdam
Twenty four gone years to conclude in tears
That the sickest joke was the price of the medicine
Are you laughing at me now
May I please laugh along

I was a king bee with a head full of attitude
And ashtray heart on my sleeve wounded knees
And my one love song was a tattoo upon my palm
You wrote upon me when you took my hand

You see I, I wouldn’t say it if I didn’t mean it
Drop me and I’ll fall to pieces too easily

Postscript:

Apologies for the quality of these pictures – Not up to my usual standard but when on a short trip like this we just didn’t want to spend lots of time fiddling with our camera equipment, so done on the hop on our phones. Sometimes the best way to go.

Orange Juice, Altered Images and Gregory’s Girl

Last time I perhaps foolishly put out a request asking for song suggestions – My previous post (link here) had featured two songs from the Gamble & Huff stable in Philadelphia, Year Of Decision by The Three Degrees and Back Stabbers by the O’Jays. As ever you didn’t disappoint and there were quite a few Should I Stay Or Should I Go suggestions but that Clash song featured here last year (link here), as part of my “pre-EU Referendum going-to-the-polls” post (we all did one let’s face it and I’m just glad that over a year on, everything is progressing so well on that front, with negotiations going swimmingly!). Other suggestions were mainly for songs I didn’t really know or for another song by the same artist so I decided to plump for this one, Rip It Up by Orange Juice (that suggestion from Rol over at My Top Ten).

Rip It Up By Orange Juice:

Every now and again a particular city seems to be at the epicentre of things, musically speaking, and in the early 1980s that city seemed to be Glasgow. The independent Postcard Records, started in a tenement flat bedroom, spawned many fine acts, two of which were Edwyn Collins’ Orange Juice and Roddy Frame’s Aztec Camera. Postcard Records didn’t last long but both of these bands were soon signed by bigger labels and started making headway in the charts. In 1983 the single Rip It Up made it to No. 8 in the UK Singles Chart which was their only top 40 success which surprises me. This single was less post-punk than their earlier material and they used synthesisers to create a more disco-oriented sound. Edwyn went on to become a solo artist and had a worldwide hit in 1994 with A Girl Like You. There also can’t be many people who don’t know that Edwyn suffered two cerebral haemorrhages in 2005 which resulted in a long period of rehabilitation – A documentary film on his recovery, titled The Possibilities Are Endless, was released in 2014. He now lives on the old family croft in Sutherland, north of where I am, and has his own recording studio up there. His speech is still affected but when he sings it all magically comes together – The power of music.

RipItUpOrangeJuice

I did try to put together a list of all those bands that came out of Glasgow in the late ’70s/early ’80s but just too many to mention and if you’re here already, you probably know who I’m talking about anyway – Suffice to say there were many. I always remembered Claire Grogan from the band Altered Images saying in an interview that when they travelled south to London in those days to record ToTP, it was a bit of a home from home, as half the dressing rooms were filled with bands they knew well from their home city. Altered Images also fitted into that post-punk genre when they started out, although like Orange Juice soon started making headway in the charts reaching No. 7 in 1983 with this fine song, Don’t Talk To Me About Love. The “pop pixie” Claire only needed a big baggy top, a pair of dangly earrings, a quick blow-dry at the hairdressers and a bit of gold eyeshadow to make us all fall in love with her back then. So much more demure than the pop princesses of today and for me, much sexier – Just sayin’ girls!

Don’t Talk To Me About Love by Altered Images:

But of course for people of my generation, and specifically Scottish people I imagine, Claire Grogan is best remembered for playing Susan in Bill Forsyth’s wonderful coming-of-age romantic comedy Gregory’s Girl. If like me you went to a straight down the middle, semi-modern state secondary school (usually called an academy), this film will resonate in so many ways. All the stereotypes were present – The gangly and awkward Gregory (played by John Gordon Sinclair), his socially inept friends (think the Inbetweeners 40 years ago), the football obsessed PE teacher, the more mature and business-savvy Steve who offers dating advice, the confident and sporty Dorothy and the slightly quirky but impossibly cute Susan.

This film was made in 1980 and I left school in the summer of 1978 but little had changed and when I went to see it all those fond memories came flooding back. I realise now in later life that I was one of the lucky ones as my schooldays were charmed, full of fun, friends and laughter (and hard work of course). Like in the film, the machinations that took place between girls in order to contrive an evening date “up the country park” (heady stuff), were something to behold. Also what was it with Scottish schools and football? – At our one, all other sports were pretty much side-lined as the focus of attention was on getting as many boys as possible into the prestigious North of Scotland Select – Our school was so focussed on this goal (no pun intended) that we had five boys at one point in that team and when school-boyfriend scored the winning goal in a grudge match with the South of Scotland, he huffed for a week when I wasn’t suitably impressed!

I still really enjoy watching this film today and never tire of it – The music by Colin Tully recorded for the title sequence was just perfect and I can’t listen to the sound of that wonderful saxophone without having a massive pang of nostalgia for my schooldays – I know it doesn’t happen this way for everyone but my schooldays really were the best days of my life, yet I didn’t realise that at the time, which is sad. (I’m not saying of course that it’s all been rubbish since, but as an adult there are always pesky responsibilities and worries that detract from that feeling of pure happiness – As you get older and your kids get older the worries sadly don’t seem to ease, they just change!)

But before I go, it just occurred to me that in the picture recently posted from my final year at school, there was a strong similarity to the “look” sported by Dorothy, Gregory’s love interest in the film – It was from about three years earlier but what with the cream V-neck waistcoat and the carefully “curling-tonged” hair, it was obviously one of the looks of choice back then. Of course I don’t think Dee Hepburn who played Dorothy had used quite as much Sun-In hair “brightener” in the build up to the making of the movie, as my hair does have a distinct orange tinge to it which was what tended to happen with overuse. Nowadays I spend a pretty penny on getting the locks looking just the right colour but back then all that was needed was 39p and a bottle of Sun-In – Not much wonder I was happy. Were you a Susan or a Dorothy, or neither? As it says at the top of the comments boxes, I’d love to hear from you!

Until next time….

Rip It Up Lyrics
(Song by Edwyn Collins)

When I first saw you
Something stirred within me
You were standing sultry in the rain
If I could’ve held you
I would’ve held you
Rip it up and start again

Rip it up and start again
Rip it up and start again
I hope to God you’re not as dumb as you make out
I hope to God
I hope to God
And I hope to God I’m not as numb as you make out
I hope to God
I hope to God

And when I next saw you
My heart reached out for you
But my arms stuck like glue to my sides
If I could’ve held you
I would’ve held you
But I’d choke rather than swallow my pride
Rip it up and start again

Rip it up and start again
Rip it up and start again
I hope to God you’re not as dumb as you make out
I hope to God
I hope to God
And I hope to God I’m not as numb as you make out
I hope to God
I hope to God

And there was times I’d take my pen
And feel obliged to start again
I do profess
That there are things in life
That one can’t quite express
You know me I’m acting dumb-dumb
You know this scene is very humdrum
And my favourite song’s entitled ‘boredom’

Rip it up and start again
I said rip it up and start again
I said rip it up and rip it up and rip it up and rip it up and rip it up and start again

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.

th0HA57ZTG
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.

An American Odyssey in Song: Maine – Roger Miller and “King of the Road”

Welcome to this series where I am going to attempt a virtual journey around the 50 States of America in song – Suggestions for the next leg always welcome!

First of all thanks to everyone who helped out with suggestions for getting this trip started. It may not happen in real life now (although never say never and all that), but I’m going to try and make sure it happens on these pages. I have planned a route map that means we take in all 50 states but never enter and leave the same one more than once. I won’t share the map with you until the end however as best to retain an element of surprise as to where we are going to end up next (although sometimes of course there will be only one contender).

After a bit of thought I have decided to start in Maine and end up in Florida as opposed to doing it the other way round. North to South makes more sense from a geographical point of view and we will build up to all those great songs from the Southern States gradually.

maine 3

So, we have just flown across the Atlantic from Scotland and are about to explore the State of Maine. This is not going to be a travelogue style series of posts so I will just include a few pictures and links, but suffice to say, Maine is the most northernmost state in New England, it has an awful lot of forests and coastline, its climate is warm and humid in summer but cold and snowy in winter, and it’s famous for its seafood cuisine, especially lobster and clams. The musical Carousel is set in Maine (songs from which I have written about twice on these pages here and here) and of course a certain amateur lady detective also resides there, in the fictitious Cabot Cove (the American equivalent of our Midsomer it seems). The prolific author Stephen King comes from Maine and many of his books, in turn made into films, are set in that State (Carrie, The Shawshank Redemption and the film that forever gave clowns a bad rap, It).

When I first considered this series, I was a bit troubled that I might sometimes get stuck, and be unable to find songs that I could write about for certain states, but of course you didn’t let me down. A fair few suggestions came in from Marie, CC, Lynchie, Rol, Neil and Chris (links to their blogs on my sidebar) but the song I hadn’t realised even mentioned Maine before, was King Of The Road by Roger Miller (credit for that one goes to both Lynchie and Rol). This song is all about the day-to-day life of a hobo, who, despite being poor (a man of means by no means) revels in his freedom, describing himself as the “king of the road”. The first line in the second verse goes as follows, “Third boxcar, midnight train, destination, Bangor, Maine” which is why it becomes my first featured song in this series.

Roger himself of course didn’t come from Maine but from Texas. He wrote mainly country songs, and was very successful at doing so, but King Of The Road was a major crossover hit into mainstream pop and was No.1 in the UK Singles Chart in 1965.

King Of The Road by Roger Miller:

As is often the case I would be lying if I said that I remembered this song from first time around, but someone who would have done, was my Uncle Keith. This is where it gets a bit personal as is often wont to happen on these pages. Keith was a lad who grew up in our village in Scotland and followed the usual path for young men in those days – Went to school, completed an apprenticeship, met a girl, got married and had a family. The opportunity came along for him to move to the city and start driving lorries long distances. With a large family to support he took it on. Soon he was travelling all over the UK and the Continent, gone from home for long periods at a time. He loved it and whenever anyone was going on holiday by car, he could always be relied upon to come with the best route.

(Uncle Keith is the tall dark-haired one)

This life on the road was not of course conducive to family life and in due course his marriage failed and we didn’t see much of him for long stretches of time. Every now and again he would turn up at my grandparents house in a massive articulated lorry, stay the night, then head off again. He was very unlike my own very stable, home-loving dad and was a bit of a mythical creature as I was growing up. As I got older I was busy getting on with my own life so didn’t see him often at all, but a few years ago now we heard he was ill, so my mum headed off to see him in his little flat. It wasn’t good and he died soon after at the age of 76 with, ironically, his ex-wife and his children at his bedside – He may not have been a great family man but they had stayed close over the years and loved him to the end.

When it came to organising the funeral it turned out he wanted to be buried along with his parents (my grandparents) in the village where he had grown up. A bit of a surprise but it made sense. The important thing was that he wanted King Of The Road to be played as his coffin was carried out of the church. My mum (his sister), who finds it very important to always “do the right thing”, was a bit concerned – In her experience people always chose very sombre hymns – What would people think? But no, his family stood firm and King Of The Road it was. When the time came there wasn’t a dry eye in the church and even my mum had to admit it was the right choice.

thBAXMCE2D

Before I go, it might be an idea to include the version by those very Scottish Proclaimers from 1990. If he was still driving lorries at that time maybe Uncle Keith liked that one too. Whatever, I am pretty sure if the chance had come up, he would have loved driving across the highways and byways of America in one of those very large trucks, maybe even up as far as Maine. This post therefore is for him. (Look out for The Proclaimers’ homage to Roger Miller at 2:20)

“What’s It All About?” – I have often seen talk on the blogosphere of the music people would like to have played at their funeral (morbid I know but true) and I too have chosen my particular song. We may not be there in person but we will be leaving a little bit of ourselves behind in our choices. Those left will feel a surge of emotion, but it will be much appreciated, as was the case with Uncle Keith.

So, we have now visited Maine in song (very tenuously I know but I think that’s how it will often go) and the next state we will cross into is New Hampshire. I will always have a standby song but would very much appreciate some more suggestions that I have no doubt (if this post is anything to go by), will be better than mine. You know where the comments boxes are.

Until next time….

King Of The Road Lyrics
(Song by Roger Miller)

Trailer for sale or rent, rooms to let, fifty cents.
No phone, no pool, no pets, I ain’t got no cigarettes
Ah, but, two hours of pushin’ broom
Buys an eight by twelve four-bit room
I’m a man of means by no means, king of the road.

Third boxcar, midnight train, destination, Bangor, Maine.
Old worn out clothes and shoes,
I don’t pay no union dues,
I smoke old stogies I have found short, but not too big around
I’m a man of means by no means, king of the road.

I know every engineer on every train
All of their children, and all of their names
And every handout in every town
And every lock that ain’t locked, when no one’s around.

I sing, trailers for sale or rent, rooms to let, fifty cents
No phone, no pool, no pets, I ain’t got no cigarettes
Ah, but, two hours of pushin’ broom
Buys an eight by twelve four-bit room
I’m a man of means by no means, king of the road.

Trailers for sale or rent, rooms to let, fifty cents
No phone, no pool, no pets, I ain’t got no cigarettes
Ah, but, two hours of pushin’ broom
Buys an eight by twelve four-bit room
I’m a man of means by no means, king of the road.

The Proclaimers, “Letter From America” and Sunshine on Leith (the movie)

Last night we watched the film of the stage show Sunshine on Leith on DVD – Not as good as when viewed at the cinema but still really enjoyed all that great music from The Proclaimers. I think the popularity of the jukebox musical really hit new heights when Mama Mia!, featuring the songs of Abba hit the West End stage in 1999 so it was inevitable that such productions would become a staple of theatreland. The music of many an artist has now been set to scripts capable of stringing together, in an entertaining fashion, the various back catalogues.

Sunshine on Leith was originally written for Dundee Rep in 2007 and I remember going to see it when it came to the Highlands soon after. Unlike Mama Mia!, it was not set in a sunny location but in an often wet and drizzly Edinburgh. The film didn’t have A-list Hollywood stars in it either but it did have heart, and some very acceptable singing voices. One of the main stars of the film was actually Edinburgh itself and they managed to cram in as many great locations as possible. (If you know the city well you do ask yourself, “Why would they use that particular route to get from Leith to Waverley” but of course it was obvious why.)

I have mentioned Sunshine on Leith before in the blog when I wrote about the song of the same name (can be found here) and how it has been adopted by Hibs fans as their anthem. Having possibly heard that song just once too often now, the one that made more of an impact when watching the film last night, was Letter From America.

Letter From America by The Proclaimers:

Any regulars to this blog will know that we have a close family member far from home at the moment, in the great state of Illinois, birthplace of Abe Lincoln but also Ferris Beuller and Wayne from Wayne’s World! A very relevant song therefore, but as it turns out, letters are more likely to be substituted by Facetime (a lot of Facetime) nowadays so compared with the Scots in the song, the America we travel to now doesn’t seem nearly as far away. The scriptwriters for the show manage to (tenuously) incorporate the song by having one of the main characters, a nurse, get a job in a Miami hospital via an online recruitment site.

emigration

Very different to the stories that led the folks in the song to America, and quite rightly it is very hard “to imagine the way they felt the day they sailed from Wester Ross to Nova Scotia” as for many, they would probably never see home again. Even in my own family, emigration to America at the turn of the 20th century was prolific. My grandfather was brought up by his grandparents as his father went across first (a result of a lack of employment in the area) and then his mother joined him later. I would imagine the plan was to come back for my grandfather at some point, but possibly for economic reasons that didn’t happen, and they never saw each other again – Seems sad nowadays considering how small the world can be for us now but I cannot emphasise enough how it would not have seemed that way in the late 1800s. My grandfather didn’t ever make the big journey across the pond but had a fine life in rural Scotland as part of a large family and had the distinction of driving/handling/operating (not sure what you call it) the first combine harvester in the North-East. Yes the crowds came out in droves that day to see it in action, and now in the local archives.

proclaimers

As for The Proclaimers, they were actually “discovered” by one of hubby’s boyhood friends, as they used to travel north to play in a local bar. The friend, already in the music business himself, wrote (no Facetime in those days) to The Housemartins suggesting they use them as the support act for their 1986 tour – They did, and the rest as they say is history. I actually saw them on that tour, and although we had predominantly gone along to see The Housemartins, we were pretty much bowled over by the very distinctive, bespectacled Reid twins from Auchtermuchty.

As for me, after watching the film again last night I have added “be part of a flash mob” to my bucket list. Not managed so far but that massed “mob” dance, right in the centre of Edinburgh’s Princes Street, looked like great fun – Wish I’d been on the top deck of the No. 17 bus the day they were filming that one!

Letter From America Lyrics
(Song by Craig Reid/Charlie Reid)

When you go will you send back
A letter from America?
Take a look up the railtrack
From Miami to Canada
Broke off from my work the other day
I spent the evening thinking about
All the blood that flowed away
Across the ocean to the second chance
I wonder how it got on when it reached the promised land?

When you go will you send back
A letter from America?
Take a look up the railtrack
From Miami to Canada

I’ve looked at the ocean
Tried hard to imagine
The way you felt the day you sailed
From Wester Ross to Nova Scotia
We should have held you
We should have told you
But you know our sense of timing
We always wait too long

When you go will you send back
A letter from America?
Take a look up the railtrack
From Miami to Canada

Lochaber no more
Sutherland no more
Lewis no more
Skye no more

I wonder my blood
Will you ever return
To help us kick the life back
To a dying mutual friend
Do we not love her?
I think we all claim we love her
Do we have to roam the world
To prove how much it hurts?

When you go will you send back
A letter from America?
Take a look up the railtrack
From Miami to Canada

Bathgate no more
Linwood no more
Methil no more
Irvine no more

Bathgate no more
Linwood no more
Methil no more
Lochaber no more

Postscript:

Some people inherit money and some inherit good genes.  After my dad’s death I inherited begonia corms! These corms have passed down the generations and can’t be purchased in garden centres nowadays but continually reproduce every year. I have about ten tubs of beautiful red flowers in my garden every summer and I would like to think that all across America there may be similar gardens, as my forefathers may have taken with them a small knobbly corm, as a reminder of home.

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Hue and Cry, “Labour of Love” and Yet More Late ’80s Scottish Bands

Getting back to my theme of great Scottish bands from the late 1980s, I can’t omit that duo from Coatbridge, brothers Pat and Greg Kane from Hue and Cry. Their second single release was Labour of Love which reached No. 6 in the UK Singles Chart in June 1987. Like Danny Wilson whom I wrote about the other day, their music was of a sophisti-pop persuasion but as anyone reading this blog will have come to realise, these labels baffle me and as a non-musician myself, my relationship with the songs I write about is quite simple – Do I like what I hear, how do they make me feel and would I like to listen to more? With Labour of Love the answers were quite straightforward – Yes I liked what I heard, I felt perhaps “energised” by it and yes I definitely wanted to hear more from them.

Labour of Love by Hue and Cry:

As it turned out with Hue and Cry, the chance came quite soon to see them live. In 1988 they embarked on a tour that included, wait for it, the small Ross-shire town of Dingwall. Now back in those days, the Highlands of Scotland hadn’t quite caught up with the rest of the country when it came to venues for socialising. Although the big cities had vast nightclubs with sophisticated sound/lighting systems and those dancefloors with the flashing squares (as showcased by John Travolta in Saturday Night Fever), in the Highlands we had revamped hotel function suites, cinemas and dance halls. To be honest this was a bit of a godsend for me when I came to live here as if a particular record made me want to dance, that is exactly what I did and the gentrified nightclubs of the big cities did not provide enough space for my kind of dancing. (Yes many a night out was ruined for my friends as I apparently “put boys off” wanting to dance with us!)

Dance hall

And so it came to pass that Jings (seriously) nightclub in Dingwall, which had been a cinema back in the day, became quite the venue for bands touring the country. With a stage, a vast area for fans to watch from, and a small bar at the far end it was very definitely part of the circuit. I loved my night of watching Hue and Cry perform there and by 1988 they had quite a repertoire of familiar songs to entertain us with.

hue and cry

A bit of trivia about the song – In 1987 they were asked to perform it at short notice on TOTP when the American band Los Lobos had a mix-up with their visa applications. As anyone who remembers that era will know, a slot on TOTP practically guaranteed chart success and indeed it was fortuitous that the song “La Bamba” didn’t make it onto the show that Thursday.

Of course at the time I hadn’t realised that the lyrics of the song were written from the perspective of a working-class Tory voter of the mid-1980s who had tried to believe in Margaret Thatcher’s new Britain but was now realising that there was “too much pain for too little gain” in doing so. Not surprised that the lyrics were of a political persuasion however as Pat Kane himself has gone on to be a political commentator and makes frequent appearances on Scottish current affairs television programmes. He now writes for the The National and The Guardian and was one of the founding editors of the Sunday Herald. Like many of his generation, and like my own dear husband, he is also now bald as a coot so I had to do a bit of a double-take when I saw him on television recently. In my head I still see him as that young man on stage in Ross-shire in the late ’80s, but then again I think we are all still in our twenties in our heads, it’s just when you catch yourself in a shop window, see yourself in a photograph or try to replicate old dance moves that reality kicks in.

Anyway, three Scottish bands showcased in five days so definitely time to move onto a new thread and I’ll have a think about that one over the next few days. Barring another shock death in this, the year of obituaries, inspiration could come from absolutely anywhere…..

Labour of Love Lyrics
(Song by Pat Kane/Greg Kane)

You said, you recall about seven years ago now
You said, that you we’re so tough
And I loved it, oh
Loved you for putting me down in a totally new way
Down with, the bad old, sad old days
(Get away now)
But now, too much pain for too little gain
And I feel like I’m gonna strike back right now

Gonna withdraw my labour of love
Gonna strike for the right to get into your heart, yeah
Withdraw my labour of love
Gonna strike for the right to get into your cold heart
Ain’t gonna work for you no more
Ain’t gonna work, for you no more

Ha, easy, I noticed you said it never was gonna be easy
But not this hard
You’re so cold, so cold
The romance goes when the promises break
My mistake was to love you a little too much

Gonna withdraw my labour of love
Gonna strike for the right to get into your heart, yeah
Withdraw my labour of love
Gonna strike for the right to get into your heart, baby now
Withdraw my labour of love

I can’t stand it, I said I just don’t want it
Never gonna need it, anyway yeah
I can’t stand it, I said I just don’t want it
Never gonna need it, anyway
I don’t want you, I don’t need you
I don’t need your tricks and treats
I don’t need your ministration, your bad determination
I’ve had enough of you, and your super-bad crew
I don’t need your, I don’t need your
Pseudo-satisfaction baby
I can’t stand it, I said I just don’t want it
Never gonna need it, anyway yeah
I can’t stand it, I don’t want it
I don’t need your pseudo-satisfaction baby

Danny Wilson, “Mary’s Prayer” and More Late ’80s Scottish Bands

Following on from my post yesterday about Deacon Blue and how the late ’80s were a very fertile period for bands hailing from north of the border, today’s featured song is one of my all-time favourites – Mary’s Prayer by Danny Wilson which reached No.3 in the UK Singles Chart in 1988. Like Ricky Ross of Deacon Blue, the band Danny Wilson were from the great city of Dundee (famed for Jam, Jute and J…. Jackie Magazine!). Ironically this record might not have come about at all if not for the fact that founder member Gary Clark decided to return home to Dundee from London, after quite sensibly noticing that bands from his neck of the woods were really starting to get noticed by talent scouts and journalists.

Mary’s Prayer by Danny Wilson:

Apparently their brand of pop music is a sub-genre, called sophisti-pop, which includes highly polished arrangements, makes use of keyboards & synthesizers and is influenced by soul and jazz. Whatever it is (and I am truly becoming troubled by the myriad of sub-genres out there), it was fantastic to listen to and I ended up buying their first album called “Meet Danny Wilson”. On it were some very localised songs telling tales of happenings in the places I had lived, and knew so well. I am pretty sure Gary Clark’s brother and fellow band mate Kit was with me at University, but as is wont to happen, it is difficult in later life to remember what they were like back then.

danny wilson

So, I had come to live in the Highlands and suddenly all these great bands were emerging from Scotland. Fortunately for us they were more than happy to tour the north of the country, even the Highlands, so we got to see quite a few live in concert. This is a terrible admission as I pride myself on having a good memory for happenings back in the day but unlike the fine detail I remember from the early ’70s when I was a young teenager, in the late ’80s I was in my twenties and perhaps because alcohol now played a part in my social life, I cannot quite remember which of these bands I did see live. I have racked my brain however and am pretty sure I saw Deacon Blue perform at our local ice centre where the rink used to be covered with temporary flooring for events such as concerts. Still very troubling for the tootsies though if you hadn’t worn the appropriate footwear.

Sadly I never did see Danny Wilson perform live and they had quite a short lifespan as a band before calling it a day and going on to other things. Gary Clark went on to be a prolific writer of songs for some of the biggest artists of the ’90s but after living in London and Los Angeles for some time he has recently returned home to Dundee. Ged Grimes, the third member of the band, is currently the bass player with Simple Minds but has also in the past, played with Deacon Blue.

Before I finish, a little bit of trivia about the band name – They were just about to release their first album under the name Spencer Tracy when there was an objection from the late film star’s estate. To avoid any unpleasant legal wrangling they had to quickly think of another name and that turned out to be from the title of a Frank Sinatra film called Meet Danny Wilson. (Stuck with the film theme though and also the slightly confusing singular name, whereas in reality a band of three people.)

Danny Wilson film

This was supposed to be a week where I revisited my favourite tracks from that great late ’80s era but already on day two I have doubled back to Deacon Blue again via Danny Wilson – Plenty of material to choose from however, that’s for sure, so will find another thread but always open to suggestions?

Mary’s Prayer Lyrics
(Song by Gary Clark)

Everything is wonderful,
Being here is heavenly
Every single day she sends,
Everything is free
I used to be so careless,
As if I couldn’t care less
Did I have to make mistakes,
When I was Mary’s prayer?

Suddenly the heavens rolled,
Suddenly the rain came down
Suddenly was washed away,
The Mary that I knew
So when you find somebody you keep,
Think of me and celebrate
I made such a big mistake,
When I was Mary’s Prayer

So if I say, save me, save me,
Be the light in my eyes
And if I say, ten Hail Mary’s,
Leave a light on in heaven for me

Blessed is the one who shares,
Your power and your beauty, Mary
Blessed is the millionaire,
Who shares your wedding day
So when you find somebody you keep,
Think of me and celebrate
I made such a big mistake,
When I was Mary’s Prayer