My upbringing was secular, just as my life is now; we didn’t have a bible in the house and nobody went to church. That isn’t to say that God was never mentioned, his name did come up occasionally as a useful way to explain those incidents that are difficult for very young children to understand. For instance, when it thundered my mum would say, “God is moving his furniture around” and I was happy with that rationalisation. (I think I've mentioned that before here... sorry!) Also, because we were taught about Christianity at primary school my young and open mind was quite content to accept that there was some higher being in charge of all the important things like growing trees and making clouds. He even answered my prayer once after I’d joined the Brownies. I was just settling into my team, the Imps, when Brown Owl said there were going to be some changes and I would have to move to another team, the Elves. I really didn’t want to be an Elf (the little Imp on the sew-on patch was perky looking and yellow - far preferable to that dull blue Elf) so I did something I’d never done before: I prayed for help. I prayed really hard and I may even have knelt by my bed like the people I’d seen in cosy picture books. The following week Brown Owl said that I could stay an Imp after all. I put it all down to God and thanked him profusely that night for making time for me in his busy schedule.
Whatever your religious bent may be (and you know I accept / respect you whichever way!) I hope you’ll understand why it seemed to me that the early ‘70s were a good time for Jesus. Being into Jesus was almost akin to being into some kind of musical cult as far as I could tell. Long hair, sandals, singing, wearing big crucifixes, talking about love and peace… it all stacked up. Religion seemed quite trendy for a while. My sister got in (very briefly) with a crowd of Baptist hippies and there was some churchy youth club place where they hung out to play music, tap tom-toms and get off with each other. It was a happy place and it appeared kinda cool.
And then there was Jesus Christ, Superstar. The album, in all its yellow, (deep) purple and red laminated cover gatefold glory, was in the family record collection, alongside Holst’s Planet Suite, 2001 A Space Odyssey, and some Erik Satie. That was how classy it seemed. It had Ian Gillan* on it, whom my sister fancied; I remember the lovely picture of him on the inside, he was just as I liked to imagine the Jesus they talked about at school. And there was a sweet photo of Yvonne Elliman, who I wanted to look like. I recall overhearing a conversation between my sister and my mum about her character, Mary Magdalene. “Apparently she was a prostitute…” my mum had said. It sounded a very important, serious, grown-up word and I really couldn’t understand why she wouldn’t explain to me what it meant when I asked.
I played that album a lot and then one day it was decided that we’d go and see the live show of it in London for my sister’s birthday treat. We had a meal in the city too, at a Berni Inn if I remember rightly (everything was dark brown). I had an omelette and a banana split. I’d never had a banana split before and I loved it. Then we went off to the theatre and watched the performance, which I thought was great although it didn’t have Ian Gillan or Yvonne Elliman in it. But whoever the stars were that night, they were attractive, long-haired and cool. Just like those hippies I’d occasionally see around my home-town in their cheesecloth shirts and maxi skirts.
I was reminded of the show some years ago when I was working in a large office and one of my colleagues started telling me about the time she went to see it. She’d got hold of some tickets through work and when she settled herself in to her seat she realised she recognised the man next to her. She was racking her brains to think why she knew him and then it dawned on her, of course – he must have bought a ticket through work too, that’s where she knew him from. During the interval she smiled and introduced herself, “I know you, don’t I?” she asked, “You work at C.R.!” The man looked a bit puzzled, then laughed. “No – but you might recognise me anyway,” he replied. “I’m Paul Nicholas”…
I don’t think it was Paul Nicholas in the ‘70s production that I went to, but I enjoyed it immensely at the time and then when I saw the posters for ‘Hair’ I was really into the idea of going along to see that too, especially if I could have another banana split in a Berni Inn as part of the deal. I never did understand why I wasn’t allowed to go, at least not until I was a bit older and after I’d learned a few other things too (like the meaning of the word ‘prostitute’).
Now, I don’t have a religious bone in my body, I can’t stand Andrew Lloyd Webber, and I couldn’t listen to it now for any other reason than for a brief blast of nostalgia, but I still have a fond memory of playing that double album all the way through as a kid and thinking that at least that hippie Jesus guy seemed to be a very nice man. He couldn’t half sing well on ‘Child In Time’ too.
* I didn’t realise at the time that other contributors to this album included Mike D’Abo, Chris Spedding, Murray Head and Lesley Duncan….