Saturday 26 January 2019

The first singles you ever loved

It was just a little box of second-hand singles, but I reckon that’s where it all began, the moment that music took on a lifelong meaning.  I can’t even recall quite how they came into our possession - something to do with my teenage sister; she’d either bought them for a few pence, been given them or swapped them, I think.  But I do remember that there was much excitement about their addition to the family’s music collection.

I would’ve been about 8 or 9 I think.  My personal record collection at that point comprised a 7” EP of children’s songs on yellow vinyl (‘How Much Is That Doggy In The Window’ being my fave track), some Pinky & Perky, something from the Nutcracker Suite, and a concerto by Handel, or was it Mozart, on 45 in a shiny picture sleeve.  I wasn’t able to discern between Pinky & Perky and Mozart - but how free you are at that age, totally lacking any self-consciousness about genre; as far as I was concerned each had their own merits.

Downstairs in the very modern Danish style G Plan cabinet where the hi-fi, books and my mum's pottery were housed there were a few other records, but nothing that was of much interest to me: some jazz, opera and classical, one or two Reader’s Digest freebie flexi-discs, Glen Miller I think.   So this box of singles made quite a statement; they were pop records.

Childhood memories are funny – the things that can seem quite unremarkable to an adult can be so vibrantly sensual to a child and imbued with the most vivid associations and feelings.  Those old singles do just that to me.  I can clearly remember the ones I really liked, their B-sides too.  They were about more than just the tunes, they were about the weight and the shine of the vinyl, the touch of the creased paper sleeves, and about the room and the rugs and the cats and the curtains.   Their labels are indelibly imprinted in my psyche too - the colours, the logos, the type style.  My mind drifts now to the way this is so perfectly expressed in the words to 'Over The Border' by St Etienne: 

 “…. green and yellow harvests, pink pies, silver bells…”   

We know what they mean!

In this particular box the pies/Pyes were blue, and a faithful terrier listening to an old wind-up  gramophone was silver on black.

Within this small collection was one of my favourite songs of all-time – one of my bestest, most favouritest songs ever ever in fact - so it deserves a post of its own some day but I can’t write about the rest without mentioning it here.  I was totally hooked on this song and still am.  I could play it over and over and never tire of it (and I did, probably driving my parents and sister mad). I wonder what it is that makes it so special and enduring, and what was it about it that appealed to me so much, even as a child?

The Kinks: Days
(eternal perfection)

But the others in the box all had their own unique appeal, here's what they were:

I loved the catchy soulfulness of ‘Build Me Up Buttercup’ by the Foundations and was intrigued, and slightly unnerved by its contrasting B Side, ‘New Direction’ - a strangely doomy, jazzy/psychy number.

The Foundations: New Direction

'Do Wah Diddy Diddy' by Manfred Mann had obvious singalong appeal to a child of my age.  ‘What You Gonna Do?’ on the B-side was far less commercial – a classic example of raw ‘60s R’n’B.

Manfred Mann: What You Gonna Do?

'I’ll Be There' by the  Jackson Five - well,  a little later I had some pictures of the Jackson Five on my wall (next to the Osmonds), of course I liked it!

'Love Child' by Diana Ross & The Supremes - a song I still hear in my head with pops and crackles.  What a fine example of classy soul, not that I would have understood that word then.  

There were a couple of singles I was less keen on, one of them was '(If Paradise Is) Half As Nice' by  Amen Corner – I didn’t like the voice, I still don't.

And then there was also 'I Can’t Let Maggie Go' by the Honeybus – famous for its use in the Nimble advert and anyone as old as me will remember the girl in the balloon who "flew like a bird in the sky".  However, I much preferred the fabulous B side, ‘Tender Are The Ashes’ and I still really love this song with its uptempo groovy Northern Soul vibe.

The Honeybus: Tender Are The Ashes

Finally there was a record that always sounded a bit more grown-up to me.  I think it was because of the harmonica combined with the fact that it was an instrumental - it was 'Groovin’ With Mr Bloe' by Mr Bloe.  You know it, of course you do!

I don’t know what happened to them in the end - they weren't mine! -  but I continued to dig them out and play them in the interim years and even after I started buying my own brand new singles.  By the time Abba, then Buzzcocks, etc. each arrived on the scene for me, records from the previous 10 years seemed bloody ancient.  But there was something about this small selection that made them immune to my teenage prejudice against the past and all things out-of-date. The feelings, those first far-reaching feelings, endured.  I think it must simply be because that’s where my love of music all began.

How about you?

Pinky & Perky
(and a very scary duck)

Sunday 13 January 2019

Pretty pretty vacant

A cringe moment:

I was Johnny Rotten.
Singing 'Pretty Vacant'.
On an open air stage.
In front of a hundred people...
...Maybe more.
Without a mic.

I wasn't alone - my friend accompanied me.
Pretending to be Sid Vicious.
With curly hair.
And no bass.

We snarled and swaggered and posed our way through our chosen song and won third prize in the Miming Competition.  Maybe there were only three acts.  I think we got away with it; we must have been pretty... convincing?

Despite being a bit drunk.
And fourteen.
And, you know...


Thank god there was no YouTube in '78. No camera-phones. It must have been horrendous.  But perhaps that's why we were so uninhibited too?  It was a moment in time, spontaneous, never to be recorded or viewed again. A moment, that's all.  Here today, gone tomorrow.  Whatever happened to that?!

So, how it was is this: my friend and I had tipsily convinced ourselves we could enter a competition (part of a free live music event in a local park)  just as it was happening, with no real forethought and certainly no preparation.  Oh, the bravado!  I would never do something like that in all the years since. I suppose it was like a forerunner to Karaoke (we're talking 40+ years ago, after all) although without the live vocals, just the posturing.  I do remember standing there and not really being able to see the crowd, just looking out in a cider-induced daze, imagining myself as Johnny - a silly, inebriated, normally shy schoolgirl doing her best to mimic a fully-grown man.  There are two key things about that which I was just never going to pull off:  fully-grown and man (if you'll please excuse the double entendre).  And glancing across at my dear mate, who was doing the same. I think we 'won' some record tokens.

When we came off the stage we were both immediately chatted up by a pair of young lads who perhaps saw our bluster as a sign that we were a couple of goers. I don't remember a lot about what happened next but suffice it to say I became vaguely acquainted with a skinhead boy who told me he was on holiday (?!) from Borstal.  Class!  Actually I seem to recall he was quite nice but I only got to see him in the dark so who can say?

Pretty vacant sums it all up....

Aren't you glad sometimes that, like me, you're all grown-up and sensible now?!

Wednesday 9 January 2019

Vermicular love

They excite me so much, I can’t resist telling people.  Anyone who’ll listen: my hairdresser, the neighbours, the guy who works down the chip shop (swears he’s Elvis), you….   

I’m generally met with a look of complete indifference and the feeling that nobody really cares.   I understand.  Maybe it’s hard to get how anyone can be this excited by worms.  But I have fallen head-over-heels in love with my little herd ( to use the correct term) of Tiger Worms and European Nightcrawlers  - as introduced here.

They’re tucked away in the shed for the Winter now, their Wormery home wrapped in paper and bubble wrap to keep them warm, and every day I trudge down there first thing, before I’ve even had a wash or a cup of tea, to check on them.  Lift the lid and have a little peek, careful not to expose them to prolonged bright light, as their skin is ultra-sensitive to it and too much will cause them harm.  Check the thermometer on the wall and if it’s below 10 degrees, tuck them up again.

There’s something incredibly soothing about checking out your worms - it should be prescribed as a form of therapy.  Unlike the common earthworm which likes to burrow deep, composting worms spend more time on the surface so it’s possible to see them just by lifting their bedding.  Watch them slowly eating their way through their food, or occasionally one may climb up the inside of the worm bin for a little wander and a change of scene, especially if they sense it’s raining outside, which they can  - even from inside a bin, inside a shed.  Who knows what else they know that we can't even begin to understand?

Occasionally I’ll find a pair mating – side by side, pressed up to each other tightly for a couple of hours (!), hermaphrodites with multiple hearts (three more than a Time Lord!) - am I selling them to you yet?

If not, just one more thing....   It struck me as I was walking yesterday that worms truly are the gentlest and worthiest of creatures.  They don’t fight or kill each other or any other being over food, territory, or mates. They co-exist harmoniously with other species and are undemanding of each other.  If there’s not enough food for them all in one place, older worms will move on to seek it elsewhere to let the younger ones feed more easily.  And they self-regulate their population – too many baby worms starting to hatch in a confined space? – they’ll simply stop breeding until their numbers level out again. Maybe we could learn a thing or two from them.

I ♥ my worms

Sunday 6 January 2019

Mystery lovechild 3: the results

I know, I know!  I put out a quiz and then take over a week to post the answers, terrible.  My excuse is that I've been distracted and frazzled by a work project which has had me labouring on through to late evening all week followed by some sleepless nights worrying about it.  This morning I finally decided it just wasn't worth it and have made the choice to pull out before it gets too far down the line to be salvaged.  The first time I've ever had to do that and to walk away from the biggest fee I've ever been offered, so it feels pretty bad, but I know I just can't risk making myself ill over illustrating a children's book...  Decision made and (a very carefully worded) email sent, now it's like a weight's been lifted and I can get back to more important things for a while... like the Mystery Lovechild results!

So - without further ado...

Firstly, thanks so much to all who had a go at these.  It's a complicated business trying to add up points (well it is for me), let alone giving an individual breakdown, so I'll see what I can work out later, but in the meantime here's the evidence of the guilty parties responsible for our freaky hybrids.


Kate Bush and Barry Manilow produced someone who is "strangely alluring" (to quote Rol, who guessed correctly).  Surprisingly she turned out less Hammer Horror and more Mandy.  It was just Barry's eyes, brows and nose here.


Yes, it's BeyoncĂ© and Kanye West.  Eagle-eyed Yve warns me that "their other 'alves will not be 'appy" so we won't linger too long, but Kanye's distinctive nose and jaw make all the difference to BeyoncĂ© here.  Well, she did sing 'If I Were A Boy'...



The name Dolly Dylan has such a ring to it; I just wish she didn't look quite so much like someone I used to work with.  Indeed, it's Dolly Parton's eyes and hair, with the bottom half of Bob Dylan's face.  No matter how much he might protest with his "It Ain't Me Babe" line, it clearly is...


I was quite shocked at how easily these two blended.  The eyebrows are pretty much interchangeable, their noses and mouths and placement of features very similar. It's only Paul McCartney's eyes and nose (and his right eyebrow) but I think they're still pretty recognisable on Sinead O'Connor's head, as did Yve and Chris


Recognising the 'big-nosed bard from Barking' here proved quite tricky (it's only his mouth, big nose and chin) but Alyson correctly identified Billy Bragg with a little hint!  Alison Moyet is more obvious - well, that hair of course...


Ian Brown meets Miki Berenyi and the result is a single girl who may wanna be adored.   Definitely one for Swiss Adam who quickly spotted Ian, and I think Miki was on the tip of his tongue...


Possibly the result of too much dancing in the dark, this bearded beauty is the progeny of Bruce Springsteen and Cher.  As you all knew.  Bet she wishes she could turn back time.


So it seems Rod Stewart's genes were easy to spot (but he doesn't want to talk about it). Less obvious was Stevie Nicks, who only contributed her eyes, nose and fringe.


This year's model is the result of endless love between Mariah Carey and Elvis Costello...


Perhaps the last one was hardest of all.   A blend of Art Garfunkel (hair, mouth, face shape) with Dusty Springfield (eyes, brows, fringe and nose). Yve correctly spotted them after some clues, but I can see where Chris was coming from with his suggestion of Taylor Swift.  

And that's the lot.  The clear winner was Yve, with a massive 17 points out of a possible 20, and then she was kind enough to create some wonderful mystery love children of her own (if you see what I mean) so that I could play along too, which was great fun for me.  Do go and have a look!  As we are both artists we have concluded that there is definitely something about the way we view people that helps us. But beware if you ever find yourself travelling on the same train as either of us, you may notice us drawing you with our eyes (not just staring in a scary, stalkery way, honest...)

Big thanks to Chris, Rol, Alyson and Swiss Adam for their answers too - lots of correct suggestions there and every mystery solved, pretty quickly too.  Far more quickly than I could get around to posting this, that's for sure.

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