Everybody talk about Pop Muzik

I’ve always had an odd taste in music. I was pretty much ‘down wiv da kids’ all the way up until the early 80s, but then The Jam broke up, punk was long gone, and the ska and reggae revivals had pretty much had their day. So I started going back in time to discover sounds new to my ears, but old hat to everyone else.

I can probably trace this first spark of curiosity to when I first saw the John Landis movie The Blues Brothers. I was captivated by the music of all these people I’d vaguely heard of but never actually heard nor seen: “Ah, so that’s what James Brown looks like ? He’s the man !” ” Jesus – I now see what all the fuss about Aretha Franklin‘s all about.” “Do love that John Lee Hooker. What a cool dude.” ” WHAT THE FUCK IS THAT ????  “Oh- that’s a Cab Calloway. Wonderful stuff.”

It was but a few short steps from hearing that stuff for the first time to discovering Buddy Holly, Frank Sinatra, Elvis Presley (and any other old popular acts which will boost me up the Google rankings).

I was in my element and I loved it. For the next 20-odd years all I ever did was listen to old stuff (ok, ok, of course I kept tabs on Status Quo and Chas n Dave, but a man’s gotta keep up with the times, ain’t he ?). I was experimenting with music in the way young kids in the 60s dabbled in The Doors, The Rolling Stones and hallucinogenic drugs. It was the same music for me, just 15 years later and with tea & peanut M&Ms.

In the early 21st century I left my shaded safe haven of Leonard Cohen, Johnny Cash, Janis Joplin, Bob Dylan and Joni Mitchell albums, into bright new world of singer-songwriters like Nora Jones, William Elliott Whitmore, Diana Krall, Jack Johnson and the like. You know, the singers that sound exactly like  Joplin, Dylan, Cash and Mitchell. At least I was consistent. Like a Japanese soldier, I emerged into the light, not asking “Is the war over yet?” more like “has Kurt Cobain stopped wailing shite yet?”.

And as luck would have it, he had.

In this way I (thankfully) missed New Romantics, Rap, Housey Housey, Hiphop, Britpop or anything else masquerading as entertainment.  When most were listening to the Gallagher Brothers, I was more than likely listening to the Everly Brothers or even the Doobies. When the naive easily-led young fools of the world were discovering The Smiths, I was genning up on The Temptations. I didn’t think anything could be as abhorrent or sounds as bad as Soft Cell or Morrissey – until I accidentally overheard Oasis and Eminem.

So (and this is where we get to the bit where I disclose why I’ve been wasting your time with all this self-opinionated rubbish) it was with some surprise that I stumbled across this (by way of a Viz magazine tweet) today and found myself wondering: why the hell haven seen this before ? I have never listened to Depeche Mode back-to-back before, but I sure had at least one second-take at this one. If I’d had known back in 1982 that this existed I’m sure I would have hit paue on my tape deck on which Songs for Swinging Lovers was playing (or was that 12 Gold Bars ?)

So in case you missed it (and, as I say, I could have saved us all a lot of time) I give you: Deepche Mode. Performing (miming to) See You.   Holding chickens.

I dunno what the hell they were thinking, but from being a song I couldn’t stand to hear, this video is now strangely alluring.    Chickens.

True Grit ? Not Much !

Now that’s a proper movie trailer ! You can’t beat a good western. 40 years ago every Bank Holiday you could be sure one of the three tv stations would show The Magnificent 7 or High Noon. Alias Smith and Jones was the most popular tv show in our house (mainly cos my mum fancied Pete Duel) and The High Chaparral was high in the ratings, even though my dad reckoned it was a poor man’s Bonanza . “Saturday Morning Pictures” at the local cinema always showed Champion the Wonder Horse. It was fantastic.

As a spotty herbert growing up in south east London, me and my equally spotty mates would mosey on down to the Ponderosa, armed to the teeth with cap guns and plastic bowie knives, pretending to be Gary Cooper, Clint Eastwood or even Alan Ladd (the cowboy of choice for the shorter 6 yr old). Cum Christmas time everyone asked for a cowboy outfit, long before that phrase became synonymous with Virgin Media or the FA.

But few parents shied away in buying their offspring fake Smith & Wessons, dads happily made their sons bows n arrows and no one thought for one minute that they were nurturing little Johnny into the next mass murderer or serial killer. At the time of writing I have never shot, stabbed or scalped a single person who didn’t deserve it, even though as a kid I had every weapon the local toy shop could offer, (I regularly watched Tom & Jerry too).

Kids played in the streets for hours and hours, filling the air with “piow, piow” sounds and “woo woo woo woo” noises as the cowboys chased the injuns around the houses, up the avenues and down the alleyways until our mums called us all in for our tea. If you walked down my road during any school holiday you couldn’t escape the smell of sulphur from the hundreds of cap gun shots fired that day. You’d probably find the the odd sucker-tipped arrow in your garden, next to the empty Jubbly cartons and Jamboree Bags (cowboys and injuns ate on the go).

I remember one afternoon me and my mate Alan Martin were hiding behind Mrs Baker’s garden wall, waiting to ambush some redskins who were creeping up the road, baying for white man’s blood, using the Unigate Dairies’ milk float as cover. These braves lived in the block of flats at the top of the road and we knew they’d soon be off home to watch Pinky n Perky and Mrs Baker’s garden was the perfect spot to cut them off at the pass. I checked my holster string was tight around my thigh, I pulled my neckerchief (my mum’s paisley scarf) up over my nose and mouth and checked I had a full reel of caps in my gun.

As I did so a warm feeling overcame me. Alan must have had one Jubbly too many that day cos in the excitement he decided to relieve himself down the back of my leg. The unmistakable sensation of someone else’s tepid urine saturating my jeans caused me to leap out of my hidey-hole and my cover was blown. I turned to remonstrate with my once partner, probably should have pistol-whipped him, but chose to burst into tears instead. As the woo woo woos started up and the arrows rained down on on us, Alan ran away and I stood there in a puddle of piss, not caring if the injuns scalped me, skinned me or strung me up by my nipples. I squelched home, ignoring the cries of “you’re dead, Bealing, you’re dead !”. I was steaming. Literally.

Things were never the same after that. I went off being a cowboy and took up cricket instead, though I always refused to go into bat if Alan was wicket keeping. When I eventually got to see True Grit a couple of years later I absolutely loved it. Never having been a huge fan of “Da Duke”, this was the best thing I’d ever seen him in. He was funny, he was horrible and for once wasn’t taking himself too seriously. I wanted to go out and buy myself an eye-patch, and if it wasn’t for the spector of my mate’s weak bladder I probably would have.

Westerns were changing. The old white hat/black hat world of Gary Cooper was over. Even Clint, who was slick and sleek in Rawhide, was still the goody but was now unshaven, mean and moody. I wasn’t allowed to watch most of these nasty, bloodthirsty movies, and I had to wait some time before I could find out for myself if there was indeed any spaghetti in them.

Then for years the genre (yes, I used it) went missing. They went out of favour, certainly in Hollywood, with just the odd European oddity making it to cult status. The late 70’s and 80’s were littered with cheesey cobblers like The Long Riders or Young Guns. But when Lonesome Dove came along in 1989 there was some hope that somewhere, someone was thinking along the right lines. Dances with Wolves quickly followed, then came The Unforgiven, many people’s favourite “cowboy” of all time. Things were really warming up. Wyatt Earp, Tombstone, and Ned Kelly were all thoroughly enjoyable romps and Brokeback Mountain evoked memories of the time when men were men and other men were glad of their company.

But when No Country for Old Men was released in 2007, closely followed by The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford I could have happily have died with my boots on there and then. Surely it couldn’t get any better than this ? They looked beautiful and felt good. These were adult movies like they started making in the 60’s and the 70’s before they forgot how to. We were back to Little Big Man, The Wild Bunch and A Man Called Horse. That’s worth a Yee-Harr in anyone’s language.

Now, just when I was thinking it couldn’t get any better, look what they’ve gone and done. Jeff Bridges as Rooster Cogburn and Matt Damon as, er, Glen Campbell. I’m in heaven ! I don’t need my old mate any more – I’m nearly wetting myself with excitement, waiting for the movie to open early next year. As I should have said to Alan on that fateful, moist afternoon: “Fill Your Hands, You Son of a Bitch”.

Old Country for Bald Men

Back when I was a kid growing up at home, our family were serenaded, often against our will, by a neighbour who fancied himself as a bit of a country & western singer. He would sit in his garden, strumming the chords of some Charlie Rich song, and sing the words to a Hank Williams number, usually at the same time, much to the amusement of small children and large dogs in the area. He was persistent but rarely pitch-perfect. I guess I have to thank him for my life-long appreciation of Johnny Cash, and for my father buying me a clarinet in an attempt to get his own back.

I only mention this because a friend just sent me yet another list of The Best of the Worst Country and Western Song Titles. We’ve all seen these before, but it’s worth going though them again, if only for old times’ sake.

There are the lovely relationship songs, with such beautiful titles as “I’m so Miserable Without you, it’s like Having you Here”; “Get your Tongue outta my Mouth ’cause I’m Kissing you Goodbye”; “How can I Miss you if you Won’t go Away?” and the mournful “I keep Forgettin’ I Forgot about you”

There’re the funny ones, such as “You Can’t Have Your Kate And Edith Too”; “You’re The Reason Our Kids Are So Ugly”; “If The Phone Doesn’t Ring, It’s Me” and of course “You Done Tore Out My Heart And Stomped That Sucker Flat”

And then there’s downright bizarre titles such as “I Don’t Know Whether To Kill Myself Or Go Bowling”; “I Wanna Whip Your Cow”; “Mama Get The Hammer (There’s A Fly On Papa’s Head)” and the ever popular “I’ve Got Hair Oil On My Ears And My Glasses Are Slipping Down, But Baby I Can See Through You”. All timeless classics.

These lists never seem to come with any info as to who sang what and when, and I’ve always been suspicious of their authenticity. But the web being the web, you can find out all sorts of things if you really want to, and have the odd six weeks on your hands.

I have managed to find out that three of these numbers were recorded by a guy called Bobby Bare. Dear old Bobby is (or was) a country singer born in Ohio in 1935, and is the father of the imaginatively named Bobby Bare Jnr. In his time he was known as “The Springsteen of Country Music”, but I now know him as the artist who recorded such gems as “Look who I’m cheatin’ on tonight”; “I’ve never gone to bed with an ugly women (But I’ve sure woke up with a few.)” and the immortal “Drop kick me Jesus through the goalposts of life”.

No other genre of music has the capacity or feels the need to deliver such wonderful song titles, and take so much stick for doing so. Me ? I love it, and as I enter my dotage I find myself downloading more and more. It’s probably an age thing, but I find the lyrics mean more to me than they ever did when I sat as a kid on the back step, with my hands over my ears, trying to drown out the sound the bloke next door. I wish I’d listen to more then, but thanks to Youtube and Itunes I’m gradually rediscovering all those long lost favourites.

And it’s not just me. I have friends who’d leave a bar and walk for miles across muddy fields just to listen to great music. So for Dave, Kevin, Rita, and music lovers everywhere, this one’s for you.


Another Unpleasant Valley Sunday

Well, I woke up Sunday morning
With no way to hold my head that didn’t hurt.
And the beer I had for breakfast wasn’t bad,
So I had one more for dessert.
Then I fumbled in my closet through my clothes
And found my cleanest dirty shirt.
Then I washed my face and combed my hair
And stumbled down the stairs to meet the day.

Kris Kristofferson (who liked a slurp)

There’s no nicer weekend than the weekend when the clocks go forward. It’s the recognised start of Spring, the end of those long, cold dark nights and those short, cold dark days. Makes a man feels good. Unless, of course you caught the BBC weather forecast that says it’s going to snow heavily on Thursday. Snow. In April. Someone’s having a laugh and, as usual, it’s not me.
Adding to my woes this fine Sunday morning was the fact I had to go to work. So let’s get this straight. I get a one-day weekend AND I lose an hour in bed because of the clocks going forward ? Spiffing! Oh, and I’ll be in my duffel coat again by mid-week. Lovely.

To most, the switch to British Summer Time means they get up at 10am on a Sunday, rather than 9. For the insomniacs among us, who have the added privilege of sleeping on a bed of nails, it means waking up at six o’clock as opposed to the usual five. Christ, I’m tired. I’m definitely gonna change that sodding mattress this month. The springs poking out of it are giving my back the pattern of a Maori’s bicep.

I trudge wearily downstairs to put the kettle on. The birds in the garden had been up for a while and were in full, happy chorus. They’d all remembered to put their clocks forward, smug bastards. Tea in hand I switch on the tv and am greeted by the build-up to the Melbourne Grand Prix. It’s raining in Melbourne. Good. I only went there once and it was pissing down when I arrived. Looked like Croydon to me, not this sunny playground the Strines carp on about all the time. So it’s sunny in London and grey and wet in Melbourne? Good. I drank my tea then I went back to bed. It was still only 7.15.

I doze fitfully for an hour-or-so, but eventually have to concede that I am indeed off to work. The bathroom takes a battering as I off-load and de-clagg. More tea, a bowl of cereal , I pause to listen to Lewis Hamilton moan about his team’s strategy. They’d made him come into the pits and change tyres, thus scuppering his chances of winning. He was sulking like a seven year old boy stopped by his mum from having a kick-about in the street. I suspect that, now that Hamilton has sacked his dad from the management team, he wasn’t expecting anyone else to tell him to stop playing and come in to change.

Oh well, off to work. With the sun trying it’s damnedest to elbow it’s way though the clouds, a fine morning greets me. The daffodils on my front lawn are up and out and, ignoring the obvious Welsh connotations, look beautiful. In fact, the patterns they make on my lawn, along with the odd bluebell and the fox and cat shit, really is a design classic. Brer Fox and Brer Cat are heading arse-first into a goolie-kicking session, if I ever catch them. The words Ebay and Spud-gun enter my head.

So, with a spring (or rather a winter) in my step, I leave Railway Cuttings and stride up the deserted street (deserted as every other fucker is in bed, sleeping through the lost hour). At the end of the road I stroll into the station car park. It’s 9.20 and the Farmer’s Market is setting up at the far end of the lot. This is one of the Blackheath success stories. I may have mentioned before that there’s little more to the village than 6 curry houses, 7 pubs (sic) 8 hairdressers and 93 estate agents. If you want to rent a flat, have your highlights done and scoff Nepalese food, you’re in luck. There is a heel bar (Cobblers to the Pope), the world’s most expensive electrical store, a video store (closing down) and some kind of weird, gothic, travel agents which I’ve never seen anyone go into or come out of. Think of the fancy dress shop from Mr Benn and you’re nearly there.

There’s a Londis or a Happy Shopper, or something along those lines at the top of the hill (and, if it indeed is a Happy Shopper, they should be closed under the Trades Descriptions Act: no happy shoppers nor shopkeepers are to be found therein), plus a couple of little not-very-convenience stores in the valley of the village. But there’s nowhere you can buy a decent joint (meat, that is, not what the sell in the pub toilets round here), fresh veg, a good selection of dairy products (blessed indeed are those cheesemakers) and suchlike.

So with 10 minutes until my train was due (so therefore 17 minutes before it actually did) I afford myself a stroll around the now-familiar market stalls. Most were either setting up, or had done so and were waiting for the 10 o’clock start bell. There’s a fella who does a mean line in bacon butties and many of his fellow stallholders were chomping on his wares. The smell was torture. My previously-devoured bowl of Special K was having a hard time justifying itself as a proper breakfast. Top of the shop, nearest the station, is the vegetable stall. It’s one of three veg stalls in the market but is always the most popular, with the longest queues. The reason escapes me. Perhaps it’s cheaper than the others? though everything is relative, of course.

Nothing in this market is cheap. Keeps out the riff-raff, love. It’s selection of carrots and turnips, many of which have grown into rude and amusing shapes, will set you back a few quid more than the Tesco/Sainsburg “Washed-and-Scrubbed Winter Veg Selection (only 89p)” yet there’s always a long line of new-age yuppies, blue-rinse tories and the Barbour Brigade willing to through their hard-inherited sovereigns at these puveyors of fine-and-still-muddy produce. If you don’t believe queuing for a cauliflower could start Class War, come along with me next Sunday. You’ll be amazed by what and who winds me up.

Nextdoor we see a table, and a cash-till atop next to a pile of pears and a mound of apples. Now I know you’re imagining Cocker-ney yelps of “Ooo want’s yer Apples ‘n’ Pears-ah?” eminating from behind the table. No such luck, I’m afraid. This stall is selling organic apple cordial and organic pear squash. No, I never have! And judging by the lack of customers, nor has anyone else, since you’re asking.

One bloke I do hand over the Helen Reddies to is the Crazy Cheese Guy. Now I don’t know from where this aimiable, smiley man comes from , but I bet it ain’t South London. South Minsk would be a closer guess. Our conversation follows the same pattern each week:

“Wuld you like sum chiz, sur?” he asks
“Yuz pliz” I reply
“Crizy chiz?” he offers
“Crizy Chiz pliz” I confirm. Well, it keeps me happy for a few minutes.

Where the aforementioned Crazy Cheese is made, and from what I know not. But my little East European friend may as well leave all his other stock behind in the cow, sheep or goat from whence it came. It really is superb stuff. If you like the roof of your mouth being ripped off when you bite into a crusty cheese sandwich, then Crazy Cheese is the cheese for you. Go buy some. Pliz.

There are fishermen from Essex (“luvverly bit a Dover Sole, my sahn”); the milk and yoghurt woman, who sells lovely milk, but which keeps fesh for about three hours, then turns into yoghurt; and the roly-poly butcher with the complexion of one of his un-cooked cumberland sausage. At first meet, he seems a jolly enough chap (as us fatties tend to seem, at first meet), but after a while I’ve gotten the feeling that he actually thinks he’s doing me a favour by selling me 6 lamb n mint bangers and a leg of pork for 28 quid. No wonder he’s jolly. Fat cnt.

Finally there’s the bread guy: The Pointy Guy. Now he may-or-not be related to Mr Crizy Chiz, but it’s a fair bet that when he was growing up he was expecting for be fighting Chechen rebels before he got too much older. But whatever his upbringing in the Motherland, his bill of fare is sensational. Rosemary bread; walnut and raisin bread; olive bread; soda bread; bread bread; ciabatta; focaccia (which I believe is the BNP’s battle cry); baguettes and croissants. All of this, of course, is news to the Pointy Guy. He doesn’t know what he’s got.
You might go and say “A small ciabatta and a rosemary bread, my fine fellow”. He will give you a blank stare, then point to any loaf at random, raising both eyebrows and ask “Thiz wun?”
“That wun. And that wun” you reply (I can’t help myself).

I put it to you that, Farmers Market or not, the last time our Pointy Guy was on a farm he was wielding a shovel on the Russian Steppes rather than swinging a scythe in the Weald of Kent. And as for being a baker? Do me a favour. I reckon you might find him and his mate, 7 am every Sunday morning, on a street corner in Orpington waiting for a lift from a bloke called Dave (who makes bread and cheese in his garage). Dave drops these two blokes off in Blackheath, unloads the van of produce, leaving our two heroes to sell this stuff, completely unaware of what they’re purveying. Dave then buggers off home to have a bit of Sunday morning humpty with his (or someone else’s) missus. Hope she put her clock forward this morning. He might come too early.

Oh, and after all that, I missed my train to work. Arse.


Brothers in Arms

A couple of years ago I spent several great nights in a fantastic bar. And not just any old fantastic bar, but Robert’s Western World in Nashville, Tennessee, probably one of the great bars anywhere. On the face of it, there’s nothing remarkable about it: It’s a small, glass-fronted boozer, with the bar running down the length of one side, shelves full of cowboy boots running down the other and the beers pretty dire (we are in the State’s after all). But there’s enough whisky (sipping or otherwise), stetsons, dancing, good ol’ boys and sensational live bands to keep anyone happy for oh, about 12 hours a night, I reckon.

I’d been recommended this bar by my old mate and former colleague Jim Frederick (that’s him above, left , trying to keep the author upright, in front of the stage in Robert’s). Jim knew that me and my pal Shaun would be in Nashville and arranged to meet us there.

He had left the UK to return home to the States to write a book of the true story of some US soldiers who go into a spot of bother in Iraq. In fact they got into a lot of bother. A lot of his research took Jim to Kentucky and Tennessee and the Army posts and barracks thereabouts.

The three of us settled in for a long night of chat and booze, country music playing and boots stamping all around us. As the three of us drank and jawed our way though the evening, Jim had Shaun and I spellbound by his story, a sad, occasionally horrific, always gripping tale of boys plucked from the suburbs, given a gun, shouted at and sent abroad to fight. What happened to them created headlines all around the world and is an astounding yarn of the effects and the stresses of battle on our fighting forces. I demanded a copy of the book when it came out.

A night or two later (or it may have been that same night, my memory isn’t what it was) into this maelstrom of Johnny Cash tribute bands, blue-grass guitars, hoopings-and-a-hollerings, and yee-haws, walked a young lad and his family. The relatives had come into town for a drink and to toast this young man and wish him good luck. He was off overseas to fight in one of the wars in which America was involved.
He was in his number 1’s, USMC mess uniform, immaculately turned out, tightly cropped blonde hair and looked about 17 years old.

And he looked absolutely terrified.

Then a very strange thing happened to me: I stood up as he walked by and I shook his hand, wishing him good luck. Dunno why I did that. Have never considered myself a war-monger, and am no great patriot (even in my own country, let alone theirs) but yet I felt this was the correct thing to do. I guess it was because I could see the fear in this lads eyes, and got angry at the madness and folly of sending our youth to the slaughter, leaving the politicians thousands of miles behind at home to spin their corrupt webs.

I’ve never been that close to a Marine before or since (during our stay, everywhere was swarming with young soldiers on their way to, or returning from some conflict-or-other). It’s not something you see very often back home, thank god. But without getting too daft about it, I will remember that boy’s face for a very, very long time.

Anyway, the book’s out now, and I’m about to order it. So should you.

And you can buy it on Amazon here