It’s probably a sign of advancing senility but I regularly wake at 5.30am with the Scissor Sisters “I Don’t Feel Like Dancing” running through my head. It’s impossible to go back to sleep when this unrelentingly catchy tune kicks open the door of consciousness so I get up, put on my dressing gown, make coffee and go and sit in my shed at the bottom of the garden.
You have probably guessed that my knowledge of contemporary pop music is zero and that the last time I knowingly listened to Radio One was when Housewives Choice was the breakfast show and it was on the Light Programme. You may then be asking yourselves how did I get infected with this little bit of 21st century Pop. The answer is downloads. I bought my daughter an Ipod in the duty free at Toronto Airport and while helping her download to some truly awful pap we came across the Scissor Sisters and the excellent KT Tunstall. At this point I thought “this is interesting. Can I download anything? Can I download my entire 1969 record collection?” So I set the search to “I’ll do what you want me to do” by the splendidly named Arizona Dranes, a 1920/30s gospel singer. And up it came, as catchy a tune as anything the Scissor Sisters have ever done. Up came Charles Lloyd’s hippy-jazz album “Forest Flower” Up came Country Joe & the Fish’s “Flying High”, and then the final test. Would I-tunes carry Jacki Byard’s “Live at Lenny’s on the Turnpike”, the best jazz album that I have ever heard. Sadly not, so if anyone out there knows where I can get a copy please get in touch.
Esoteric stuff you may think. Where did a nice middle class boy from Surrey get such rash musical tastes? It all comes from a chance encounter under the bedclothes in the dormitory of one England’s lesser public schools, a public school that made the one portrayed in Lindsay Anderson’s film “If” look like a holiday camp. This encounter was not a “youthful homosexual dalliance” (as advertised by Michael Portillo) but an encounter via a tiny transistor radio with “The Voice of America Jazz Hour”. I was retuning between Helen Schapiro on Radio Luxemburg and Book at Bedtime on the Home Service when I came across a deep Mid-Western drawl introducing Elmore James’s “It Hurts Me Too”. A revelation! A Road to Damascus moment! Why had no one ever told me that music like this existed? I became a VOA Jazz Hour addict. I saved my pocket money, I stole the small change from my mother’s coat pockets, I sold my beloved Airfix Lancaster bomber to my best friend and went to the local record shop, where I had never bought anything racier than Duane, “The Twangs the Thang”, Eddy’s “Rebel Rouser”. “Elmore James? Never ‘eard of ‘im” said the gloomy proprietor. But I persisted and we ploughed through catalogues together until bingo. The LP took 6 weeks to come from America. It was a start of a love affair with the Blues that was to last me until my first divorce.
In my late teens I accumulated a huge Blues collection. Robert Johnson. Lonnie Johnson, Blind Willie Johnson and other members of the Johnson family, many of whom were missing body parts. In these days of improved health and welfare Blues singers tend not to be quite so maimed. We have the allergenically challenged “Sneezin’ Sam McPhlegm”, “Irritable Bowel Bob and his Colonic Stompers” and “Uninsured Uriah and his Ukulele Underwriters”.
From the real ‘Blues’ I moved on to the ersatz UK variety. My best friend (who had tired of the Lancaster by then) and I pursued our guitar heroes round the Home Counties in his Morris Minor. I’m pretty sure we saw Clapton playing with John Mayall at the Wooden Bridge Hotel in Guildford. I was a regular at the Cambridge Red Cow’s ‘Blues Night’, where I spilled beer over Christine Perfect. Then came the Summer of Love and I think I saw Captain Beefheart at Middle Earth but I rather overdid the pharmaceuticals that night and not even a hazy memory remains. Finally I joined the ‘Theatre’ and went on tour for nearly 15 years and the record collection somehow evaporated.
So early on a frosty morning, think of me, as I sit in my shed brooding on life’s unfairness, brooding on West Ham’s inconsistent form and listening with disbelief to The Incredible String Band. Did I really used to enjoy this rubbish?