Take Three Songs… on Blackpool

Keyboards extraordinare

I recently returned from a thoroughly enjoyable though characteristically wet week in Blackpool so I thought I’d Take Three Songs about the northern seaside town.


She Sold Blackpool Rock 

Performed by Honeybus
Written & lead vocal by Ray Cane
Produced by Ivor Raymonde
Deram A-Side, May 1969


Pier Rock colour boost

Ivor Raymonde’s string quartet is too overly refined to evoke Blackpool but that scarcely matters, the precise seaside setting is incidental though Blackpool sounds and feels right in a way that Brighton or Bangor would not.

Ray Cane was a Londoner; whether he ever visited Blackpool I have no idea.  She Sold Blackpool Rock is less about the place, more about a bitter-sweet memory of a summer seaside girl who ‘sold Blackpool rock in a funny hat’.

I loved this song on first listening and love it still, so much so I’d hesitate if asked to name I Can’t Let Maggie Go or She Sold Blackpool Rock as my favourite Honeybus single which surprises me.  Maggie is imbued Blackpool Rock bylinewith Pete Dello’s finely spun, almost scholastic Englishness whereas Ray Cane’s Blackpool Rock, though baroque pop by any other name, sits squarely centre stage just crying out to be a huge hit.  And yet somehow it wasn’t.

Sweet memory

How that simple melody effortlessly finds its way into your head…   The string quartet (sweetness of the memory flooding back?) contrasts perfectly with Colin Hare’s jangly guitar, Pete Kircher’s tasty drums and some very late 60s tambourine.  Jim Kelly supplies occasional, understated countryish licks, the chorus breakout harmonies are, of course, loveliness incarnate and we get the hoped for ‘aah!’ leadoff.

Yet despite such impeccable late 60s pop credentials, it is Cane’s thoughtful, subtle touches as a songwriter which really make the song special.

Goes right through

The letters in the rock have different meanings as the story progresses. They are the secret between him and the girl which begins as a playful encounter (his opening chat-up line, perhaps) then becoming fleeting intimacy ‘(the games we played’) and, years later, a rediscovered memory (‘I remember her, How could I forget?’).

And he cleverly uses that tell tale lyric

Then she told me that she knew,
How they make the letters go right through

to form a conceit running through the entire song both musically and lyrically; the lines make up the vocal counterpoint underpinning the build to the second chorus, (‘Then she told me that she knew…’)IMG_2243 and then they return as the wistful afterthought drifting beneath the leadoff (‘…how they make the letters go right through.’)

Magic bus

Pete Dello left Honeybus in the wake of Maggie’s big chart success.  He may have been a huge loss to the band but no more than here, Ray Cane shows he could step up to the breach as chief songwriter.  His gently yearning voice on Blackpool Rock is just right too.

This glance back to a treasured sunny seaside day from the standpoint of winter gathers extra poignancy by being Honeybus’ last single of the 60s making the splendid last minute Beatlesque slow fade like a long, slow sunset across the Irish Sea.


Up the ‘Pool

Performed by Jethro Tull
Written and produced by Ian Anderson
Life Is a Long Song EP, Chrysalis, September 1971
Available on Living in the Past, double album, June 1972


Blackpool view from pier

Despite being Scottish born (and a resident of Scotland still), Ian Anderson spent his teenage years in Blackpool.  His abiding affection for the place is obvious in this postcard portrait shot through with an endearing down-to-earthness hinting at the bawdy.  Anderson never stints on the warts and all, unpretentious, working-class nature of the place with its bingo, tea swigging, ‘old vests, braces dangling down’.

Go north

Presumably written during the period of Tull’s early successs, Up the ‘Pool describes a return trip for Anderson as he travels ‘from down the smoke below.’  By 1971, Jethro Tull had toured with Hendrix and Blackpool Up the Pool bylinehad Top of the Pops appearances under their belts but Anderson still longs to ‘taste me mum’s jam sarnies and to see our Aunty Flo’.  I’m guessing he travelled up on British Rail as Preston platform is name-checked on the cynical Cheap Day Return also from 1971.

Up the ‘Pool’s, swipe at politicians ‘who’ve come to take the air’ is more good humoured but I grimace every time I hear that awful ‘blame the mess on Edward Bear’ rhyme (does he mean Edward Heath?).

An early take (available on Aqualung 40th Anniversary box set) has piano and is crucially far less developed rhythmically and consequently less dramatic than the finished version.  Thank goodness this smoothness was roughed up by some lively, jolly, syncopated rhythms.  The guitar work, with occasional string inflections, is just right.

Singalong

An inherent singalong quality at last finds voice on the final verse with the band piping up.  I can’t quite make out some of the ragged ribaldry but who cares?

I like the way the obvious touch of an organ is introduced only briefly as background colour over the closing cries of ‘Oh Blackpool!’ A lesser band would surely have plastered it over the whole song.

If you’ve windows wound down driving up the M6 or are hanging around on eternally drafty Preston Station and need a singalong to get you in the mood for going up the ‘pool, this is it.


Blackpool

Written and performed by Roy Harper
Produced by Peter Richards
Available on Sophisticated Beggar, Strike, 1967


Blackpool mystique

My third song should rightfully be George Formby’s immortal, innuendo laden With My Little Stick of Blackpool Rock, a seaside postcard set to ukulele: ‘With my little stick of Blackpool Rock, along the promenade I stroll.  It may be sticky but I never complain, it’s nice to have a nibble at it now and again.’  This, the ultimate Blackpool song bar none, was recorded as long ago as 1937 and is frightfully well known.

So I’ve opted for something poles apart from that and indeed from songs one and two.

As a child, Roy Harper lived in Blackpool’s respectable neighbour, St Anne’s on Sea, a place he described as ‘like a cemetery with bus stops’.  Blackpool would have been but a short bus ride away.

The remarkable thing about this piece is that it is about Blackpool at all.  Only the title tells us so.  For a name which carries so much baggage (see Up the’ Pool for the lowdown) there is none of that here.

No baggage

Blackpool may be synonymous with communal human pleasure yet Harper finds solace in the midst of quiet beauty.  In fact, I feel he’s a little outside the town alone (literally and metaphorically), watching.  The crowds have departed or perhaps it’s winter.  Laughter comes from the sea itself, coldly indifferent to humanity yet to Harper’s eyes, beautiful.

The five minute piece is all but an acoustic guitar instrumental until 4.14.  The briefest of lyrics (probably a poem set to music) simply say:

The rain falls like diamonds
Pinpricks the still waters
And spreadeagles its laughter
Across the green sheet of the sleeping sea.

Fingerflurrying

Harper’s fingers flurry across the strings lending the piece a loose, impressionistic feel like wind whipping across water.  It’s virtuoso without being showy.

I find it lovely to hear the purity and fragility of his early voice, qualities not associated with Roy Harper.  This comes from his debut album recorded in 1966.

 

Pier hut

To Blackpool from London with love


More Take Three Songs

Take Three Songs… by David Bowie
Take Three Songs… by Cilla Black
Take Three Songs… or early 60s instrumentals

Take Three Songs… Lynsey de Paul – No Honestly!
Take Three Songs… on Suburbia

 

Take Three 60s Songs … by David Bowie

Overlooking – if that’s possible – Space Oddity (my favourite song of his from the 60s and very probably from any other decade) here are simply three more David Bowie favourites from the 60s, starting with the earliest.

 


I Can’t Help Thinking About Me

Written by David Bowie
Performed by David Bowie with The Lower Third
Produced by Tony Hatch
Pye A-side, January 1966


 

A boy, on the run from his home town can’t see that his wretchedness stems as much from his relentless self-spiralling thoughts as it does the narrowness of his surroundings.

Almost from the very start, David Bowie was dealing in an outsider’s sense of claustrophobia.   He later described this piece as a ‘‘beautiful piece of solipsism”.  I Can’t Help Thinking About Me may be more straightforwardly autobiographical than we would later come to expect of him but the emotion is near universal.  Countless suburban teenagers hearing this on pirate radio would ecstatically endorse the sentiment.

Inner charge

The song gains much of its power because of its inevitability – the boy has started something he doesn’t know how to finish or return from.   He’s unleashed an inner charge which is catapulting him out of his home town, it’s beyond choice now, it’s become so much bigger than he is.  Characters from his life swim into view and then out again like fragments already disappearing into the past.  But he can’t think about them.  Only about me.

I like the slightly subdued verse giving way to the despairing howl of the pre-chorus and then the compulsive, repetitive refrain.

There’s a Kinks-like feel and Graham ‘Death’ Rivens’s busy bass contributes greatly to the restless pace.  It’s curious listening to this knowing that, along with production duties and piano, Tony Hatch also adds backing vocals.

In 2015’s Lazarus, Bowie asks ‘Ain’t that just like me?’ as if he’s looking back at this younger self.

 


The London Boys

Written and performed by David Bowie
Produced by Mike Vernon
Deram UK B-side [France A-side], December 1966


Following on from I Can’t Help Thinking About Me, the boy has reached the ‘bright lights, Soho, Wardour Street’, where disillusionment and triumphalism seem mingled into one.  A realisation of, not just a new life but a new identity arises; the song ends with swollen pride though still tinged with uncertainty.

Mark Almond covered The London Boys but tries too hard to inject drama.  For Bowie, the drama is already there.  I love the way he David Bowie bylinesings ‘Someone cares about you’ – where the drop away – a very learned, theatrical one – exposes uncertainty, vulnerability.

Think of how a band such as the Small Faces might have done a song on a similar theme with all the unfettered passion of the ‘real thing’.  Bowie plays a part even when he is as apparently intimate as here but it’s still touching.

The accompaniment is all the better for being sparse – woodwind, tremulous organ; peeling brass London ‘bells’ towards the close allows a brief few moments of assurance.

Unfolding drama

‘The London Boys’ reaches a climax in a similar manner to When I Live My Dream.  It feels as if a whole new drama is about to unfold after that closing chord.

Remade for the Toy album, it’s inevitably moving to hear the 50-something Bowie meeting his former self, but the arrangement is disappointing mainstream rock lumbered with a heavy, steady drum.  If only we had heard more of the closing moments’ muted trumpet, woodwind and organ.

 


There Is a Happy Land

Written and performed by David Bowie
Produced by Mike Vernon
Album David Bowie Deram, June 1967


 

Themes of children and childhood run throughout several tracks on Bowie’s debut album but this is the strongest.  Although incredibly evocative, the song avoids sentiment because behind its carefree, nostalgic tableau there is always the child’s stare, instructing us, ‘Mr Grown Up’,  to ‘Go away sir’.  Such a secret, esoteric world was still effortlessly accessible to a just-out-of-his teens David Bowie.

There Is a Happy Land sets about its evocations with joyful ease, showing children as a different race, entirely set apart from adults and their concerns.  The roll-call of (all boys’) names and playful activities – Charlie Brown’s kite, Tommy lighting a fire, Tiny Tim and his prayers and hymns  – is four parts Ken Loach to one part Enid Blyton.  Despite the vividness of these images, taken collectively they remain deeply mysterious, like esoteric rites.

Esoteric rites

The mode of address shifts.  Sometimes the voice is definitely that of a child, sometimes that of a kind of universal story teller and sometimes not quite one or the other.  The only slightly clunky moment is the shoe-horned rhyme ‘…burned the field away’/ ‘…put the blame on me and Ray’.

The arrangement, especially that languid thirty-nine second introduction, is David Bowie’s best.  There is almost a cool sophistication about it which is surprisingly not at all incongruous.  I love those deliberately blurred dissonances, the open sevenths sounded on two trumpets.   The ending seems to descend entirely into a child’s world with jangling, clanging sounds and a scat-nonsense vocal.

When I’m Five is a kind of up-close follow-up.  Ostensibly cute through and through, it takes bravery to risk being so childlike but astuteness to be able to pull off the trick in a song.

David Bowie: 8th January 1947 – 10th January 2016.


More Take Three Songs

Take Three Songs… by Cilla Black
Take Three Songs… or early 60s instrumentals

Take Three Songs… Lynsey de Paul – No Honestly!
Take Three Songs… on Suburbia

Take Three Songs … by Cilla Black

 

Cilla Black said she wanted to be remembered for her music.  Yet amidst all the accolades and plaudits following her untimely death last Sunday, when it comes to Cilla’s music, I sense a little reluctance, maybe even embarrassment on the part of the obituarists to acknowledge anything beyond how her cheeky Scouse persona translated into incredible chart success.

We have a little snatch of her signature Liverpool Lullaby here, a strain of Anyone Who Had a Heart there and then there’s the historic black-and-white wonder of those alleged twenty-nine takes of Alfie with Burt Bacharach, a 48 piece orchestra, George Martin and The Breakaways at Abbey Road.

But no one actually wants to commit to the non-commercial, intrinsically musical value of what she created, let alone suggest a musical legacy.  That would probably involve mentioning the word ‘artistic’ which tends not to be placed in the same sentence as the words ‘Cilla Black.’

So that’s what I’d like to do here by choosing three songs – not necessarily the best songs she recorded or even my favourites (though the first one is, actually) – but three songs which showcase what Cilla Black brought to pop music: her vocal power, range, warmth, genuineness and yes, at times, even subtlety.


I’ve Been Wrong Before

Performed by Cilla Black
Written by Randy Newman
Produced by George Martin
Parlophone A-Side, April 1965


 

Cilla fully inhabits this tremulous Randy Newman song, perfectly capturing the ambivalence of love in a private moment of angst.  She looks back to past hurt and speculates on the possibility of its unwelcome return.  Last time – almost certainly her first – she fell naively and wholeheartedly in love and was hurt when love ended.  It mustn’t be like that this time.

Dusty Springfield also recorded I’ve Been Wrong Before but Randy Newman has said Cilla’s is the best version.  This is perhaps the only occasion on which Cilla trounced Dusty Springfield but I do believe Cilla’s version to be the better one.

Dusty trounced 

Taken at a slightly faster pace (2.24 to Cilla’s 2.12), Dusty offers elongated phrasing and greater sophistication and there is a dreamlike quality too.  With Cilla both piano Cillaand voice are that much sharper as if to highlight the very starkness of the situation.

Dusty evokes vulnerability with a softness in her voice whereas with Cilla we hear a youthful, heartfelt quality which wants to fully embrace her new suitor and yet pulls back from doing so.  It’s this unadorned quality, the heartfeltness always wanting to break through but tempered by learning which gives Cilla’s version so much power.

On the blurred cusp

Listen to how differently each singer handles the most important part of the song, the apex at the end of the final bridge – ‘Then he left me and a-broke my heart in two’ – going into the bequietened start of the final verse – ‘I see your face…’   This change from bridge to verse marks a sharp turnaround between a memory of past hurt and the seductiveness of the present moment.  It’s crucial to the song.  With Dusty, the cusp is blurred because of clever but disorientating changes of phrasing whereas Cilla switches from fervent cry to whispered intimacy in a trice.

And hear how she sings ‘I’ve…’ each time (against that austere D minor 7th chord).  There is a real edge there.

‘I’ve Been Wrong Before’ only made No 17.


If I Thought You’d Ever Change Your Mind 

Performed by Cilla Black
Written by John Cameron
Produced by George Martin
Parlophone A-Side, November 1969


Cilla

This attractive, literate, quasi-classical chamber piece is perhaps the closest Cilla gets to baroque pop.

Sometimes criticised for her foghorn voice, If I Thought You’d Ever Change Your Mind is proof that Cilla could, when required, tone down her natural exuberance and express tenderness as effectively as she does fervour and excitement.  During the 70s, her softer side was to dominate across a series of sometimes bland albums.  But here, married to Mike Vickers’ suitably intricate, intimate late 60s arrangement (harpsichord, cello, woodwind) it shines.

Little girl voice

Employing a lyric of feminine, miniaturist abundance, Cilla maintains a little girl voice throughout, offering up not only ‘sweet perfumes and columbine’ but also one of her most restrained 60s performances.

Even at the song’s imploring climax she holds back as if not daring to wish that hope might defeat despair – or is it that she feels compelled to hide the true intensity of her feelings behind an air of girlish charm, remaining in the role of supplicant if she is to win back her love?

The song seeks to escape from its depressed verses so that Cilla greets each hopeful chorus with breathlessness only to be delivered back again into the next verse’s melancholy litany.  And so to end.

Diffidence – or submissiveness? 

I was surprised when Agnetha Falskog covered If I Thought You’d Ever Change Your Mind as recently as 2004 as I had long assumed that, to a modern audience, the song’s female diffidence might be mistaken for submissiveness.  Unfortunately, whilst aiming for Cilla’s innocence and understatement, Falkskog achieves only flatness and the song is finally stifled by the predictability of its arrangement and curious airlessness of its production.

Marianne Faithfull might have brought out a darker side beneath the pleasing boudoir floweriness.  But I suspect it will remain Cilla’s version – beseeching, slightly coquettish, imploring but sympathetically so – which lives on to define the song.

Cilla’s quieter side can also be heard on the then children’s standard but now semi-forgotten I Can Sing a Rainbow from her 1966 album Cilla Sings a Rainbow.  Trees and Loneliness (from 1967 EP Time for Cilla) is another less winsome example, just pipped to the post by If I Thought You’d Ever …  as the second of our three songs here.

Photo Credit: Stenycotte via Compfight cc


Love of the Loved 

Performed by Cilla Black
Written by Lennon-McCartney
Produced by George Martin
Parlophone A-Side, September 1963 


 

Here we are right back at the start of Cilla’s recording career.

Some might say this song is a prime example of Cilla’s ‘foghorn voice’.   Somewhat more kindly and far more accurately, George Martin refers to Cilla singing Love of the Loved in her ‘corncrake voice.’  And – given strident competition from blaring brass – that’s just what the song demands.

‘Love of the Loved’ marks Cilla’s transition from Cavern Club cloakroom girl and Cilla Love of the Lovedpart-time performer to 60s hitmaker and star.  You can easily picture her belting this out on the tiny stage at The Cavern but it also became her first hit, a UK No 35.  Unlike most of Cilla’s future singles, its beat origins can be clearly heard and, if anything, are actually emphasised by George Martin’s brassy blasts.

Go to it Cilla!

Love of the Loved brims with early 60s confidence, optimism and above all, excitement.  The rawness of those Cavern days can be heard in every groove and the carefree exuberance of the song (‘So let it rain, What do I care?’) is perfect for Cilla’s unpolished, full blown voice.

I wonder would a soft voiced songstress have been heard at all above the bustle and noise of a smoke-filled Cavern?  It was all about giving it what you’ve got and showing the boys what you’re made of and this is exactly what Cilla does here.

I like the fact that Love of the Loved was written by Lennon and McCartney (and also performed by the Fab Four), as a reminder not just of Cilla’s Liverpudlian roots and close association with the Beatles, but her hipness in those early days.

Oh, I didn’t get round to commenting on Cilla’s vocal range but for that try the unusual jazz flavoured Follow the Path to the Stars where she indulges in a little upper register scat singing!

Cilla Black: 27th May 1943 – 1st August 2015

Cilla – lightspots review of ITV biopic

Take Three Songs… or early 60s instrumentals
Take Three Songs… Lynsey de Paul – No Honestly!
Take Three Songs… on Suburbia

 

Take Three Songs … or early 60s instrumentals

Well, not actually three songs in this case but rather a trio of instrumentals which made it to the peak or near peak of the UK hit parade in that curious lull between 50s rock ‘n’ roll and the Merseybeat invasion, a window during which instrumentals flourished in the charts.

The three I have chosen, although very obvious candidates, are key pointers of fundamental cultural change.  Perhaps instrumentals, being that much more removed from the pop song mainstream’s blatantly adolescent concerns, were sometimes better placed to pinpoint this.  The cultural changes embodied here were only just stirring but in time they would sweep away much of the old world of deference and hierarchy.

I’m writing about these three singles in chronological order because each one advances the cause, moving away from a yawning, consensual togetherness and towards a new, dynamic, technocratic modernism.


Stranger on the Shore

Performed by Mr. Acker Bilk (clarinet) with the Leon Young String Chorale
Written by Acker Bilk
Columbia A-Side, October 1961


 

I posted at length on Stranger on the Shore and its particular evocations back in November, soon after Acker Bilk died.

I cannot think of many more hit instrumentals for which the description ‘pleasant’ applies so strongly.  Stranger on the Shore’s huge success – a US No. 1 and UK No. 2, the biggest selling single of 1962 and incredibly the biggest selling instrumental single of all time – must be due to more than the easy appeal of a hummable tune.

Much of its retrospective resonance, I think, comes from its positioning in that pre-Beatles period which almost required an inoffensively enjoyable, easy listening piece for families to gather around one last time.  An instrumental carries no words to object to, no anchoring in teen angst to alienate older listeners.  The melody is played on a clarinet, an instrument which carries absolutely no connotations of rebelliousness or subversion.

Stranger on the Shore could equally well have been a hit a year or two earlier.  But if released even two years later, it would surely have been trampled amidst the clamour for the new, the exciting and the overtly youthful.

Curiously, just as the new youth culture advocated a kind of classlessness, Stranger is itself curiously classless not by declaim but by default.  Look for any of the faultlines which defined 60s cultural change – faultlines of age, class, ideological allegiance – and you will find not so much as a crack.  Stranger on the Shore is an evenly sliced teatime cake of one nation togetherness soon to be seized by eager young hands.

It’s the curious melancholy beneath the milkman hummability which makes Stranger on the Shore so poignant, as if it is aware of its own fate.  Nothing better evokes for me the sleepiness of a 1961 suburban English Sunday afternoon.

 


Wonderful Land

Performed by The Shadows
Written by Jerry Lordan
Columbia A-Side, February 1962


 

Apache, Man of Mystery, The Frightened City, Kon-Tiki , The Savage – even the titles of The Shadows’ 1960/61 hits evoke exotica and male, western heroism tinged with melancholy.

Wonderful Land, a UK No 1 written by Jerry Lordan, who also wrote Apache and several other Shadows instrumentals, maintains this quality and adds a widescreen feel, as if riding out into an optimistic future of freedoms barely dreamed of, a new egalitarianism which would have been inconceivable a generation ago – a ‘Wonderful Land’ indeed.   The crisp modernism of the piece captures the spirit of the early 60s before the proto-metal guitar riff of You Really Got Me (and all in its wake) offered a much rawer, more aggressively rebellious take on freedom.

With its lovely melody, sparkling precision playing and Norrie Paramor’s just-right application of upturned strings and horns, Wonderful Land is, for me, the strongest of The Shadows hit singles (my favourite non hit single of theirs would have to be 1967’s twisty-turny Tomorrow’s Cancelled).

‘Wonderful Land’ was originally recorded by Bert Weedon – has anyone heard his version? – but Lordan didn’t like it.  Just as well, perhaps.  It suits The Shadows – and 1962 – to perfection.

 


Telstar

Performed by The Tornados
Written & Produced by Joe Meek
Parlophone A-Side, August 1962


 

Even today, The Tornados’ ‘Telstar’ maintains an almost mythological mystique both in its otherworldly sound and in the circumstances of its creation, despite those circumstances having become well known: named after the communications satellite launched into orbit in July 1962, Telstar was produced by Joe Meek in his cramped home studio flat above a shop on north London’s Holloway Road.

If Stranger on the Shore was the snoozing contentment of the ‘old’ world and Wonderful Land a glimpse of the new, Telstar is the very essence of futurism itself – affluence,  leisure, freedom, offering a specifically home produced brand of modernity which couldn’t be further from 80s clinical sleekness.  The whole piece sounds as if it is the product of some kind of retro-futurist machine, a space age Wurlitzer spinning into view, dazzling onlookers and then disappearing into a starry sky.

For a composition which celebrates the untold benefits of technology, Telstar is also imbued with a childlike quality and it is this sense of wonder which gives the record much of its enchanting power.  That nasal clavioline sound – primitive yet bright – recalls wide-eyed children enthralled to the anticipation of fairground rides, only here the children are all of us, yes, the wonderstruck vocalists who join in with their consenting “aahs!” on the final verse.  There is nothing sinister or cynical on offer here – the awe inspired are not duped by commercial forces nor pawns in statist plans but rather willing participants in a shared mass experiment in democratisation and, above all, in progress and a belief in progress.  The dreams spun by Telstar are their own, or our own, if we would allow them to be.

It is hard to think of a record which is more resolutely forward looking.  Telstar turns away from Harold Macmillan and towards Harold Wilson, almost like a pop premonition of his 1964 ‘white heat of technology’ speech.  Famously, and incongruously, it was also one of Margaret Thatcher’s choices on Desert Island Discs.

Britain may not have participated directly in the 60s space race but Telstar – along with the equally eccentric, boffinish Doctor Who which began the following year – were perhaps our contributions.  Telstar was English, spectral space age music, otherworldly then, irretrievably so now.

Kenny Hollywood produced a vocal version which inevitably lacks the magic of the instrumental original transforming it into a conventional starry-eyed romance.

Telstar – a UK and US Number 1 and England’s spliced-up, hand held, analogue space age miracle.

Stranger on the Shore and Sleepy Suburbia
That Acker Bilk Again

Take Three Songs… by Cilla Black
Take Three Songs… Lynsey de Paul – No Honestly!
Take Three Songs… on Suburbia

Lynsey De Paul – No Honestly!

 

Singer-songwriter Lynsey De Paul died yesterday at the age of 64.

She was one of those early-mid 70s figures who always seemed to be ‘around’ whether as a Whodunnit panellist (I got her muddled with Anouska Hempel) or as a Top of the Pops regular and, I would imagine, the musical interlude in countless comedy and variety series, introduced as ‘And now, adding a little glamour to proceedings, it’s the lovely – Lynsey De Paul!’.  But that is how it was for many women in the 70s, set to play second fiddle to the men.

Like many young males at the time, I was probably a little in love with Lynsey De Paul.  As well as glamour, she had a cheekiness and a slight air of mystique as if willingly trapped in the femme fatale role she often chose for herself.   She was looking to be rescued by a knight in shining armour.  There was a definite coy sexuality at play too as some of her record sleeves show (1974 album Taste Me, Don’t Waste Me and 1975’s frankly tacky Love Bomb though chart success was proving a little more elusive by this time).  Her music often had a 20s/30s feel which wasn’t uncommon in the early 70s.  It was the way to go if you were pure pop rather than glam or prog.

Three Sugars

Today I’ve listened to the three songs of Lynsey De Paul’s which I remember best:  Sugar Me [1972], Won’t Somebody Dance With Me [1973] and No Honestly [1974].  It’s probably the first time I’ve heard all three in nearly forty years.

I’m quite surprised that Sugar Me was her breakthrough single as it doesn’t really seem to do a lot beyond that cutely, boppy feel. It comes and goes without leaving much of a trace, well maybe a sweet aftertaste.

Won’t Somebody Dance With Me (why never a question mark at the end?) took the period mood to greater lengths and appropriately perhaps, won an Ivor Novello Award.  Inspired by Gilbert O’Sullivan’s pre-pop style, it’s coyly enticing with a pretty melody sung in Lynsey’s demurely sultry voice and is easily the best of these three songs.  It also forms my most personal associations of Lynsey De Paul and a memory of a particular weekday afternoon around late 1973.  A friend of mine, Richard, had bought the single and wanted to play it to me after school one day.  He was hugely excited about it.  So we sat on the floor beside his sister’s record player, he put the needle on the record and the music played.  He was clearly in love with Lynsey and, I think, with the song’s air of fatalistic romance.

No Honestly was the theme to the London Weekend sitcom of the same name and is still insanely castanet-catchy.  I used to tune in just to hear the theme at the start and was disappointed when the ‘No’ became ‘Yes’ and a new, hugely forgettable theme, Yes Honestly, replaced Lynsey’s.

It’s been said that she wrote a song for the 1983 Conservative Election Campaign, or was it the Party Conference?  I’m hugely relieved to find there is no trace of it.

So these three De Paul songs will suffice for me though I’d swap ‘Sugar Me’ for Storm In a Teacup (which she co-wrote) if it could be The Fortunes‘ version.

There are a couple of 2CD compilations if you want the full Lynsey.

Lynsey de Paul – 11th June 1958 – 1st October 2014

Take Three Songs… by Cilla Black
Take Three Songs… or early 60s instrumentals
Take Three Songs… on Suburbia

Take Three Songs … on Suburbia

The first in what I hope will become an occasional series bringing together songs sharing a common theme, starting with… suburbia.


(Something About) Suburbia

Vocal by Tim Andrews
Written by Rod Thomas
Parlophone B-Side, April 1968
Available: Something About Suburbia: The Sixties Sounds of Tim Andrews RPM 2013


 

A bright and breezy standout on 1980s’ vinyl compilation Sixties Lost and Found, (Something About) Suburbia is a jaunty music hall-style escapade complete with banjo, brass, tambourine, teasing hi-hat and Tim Andrews’ unabashed vocal – all of which is just as much fun as it sounds.

Tim Andrews was born and bred in Battersea.  He played The Artful Dodger in Oliver for several years and there’s an endearing cheekiness to many of his vocals, Suburbia, in particular.  Cy Payne supplies a joyfully strutting accompaniment.

Suburbia was originally the flip to Your Tea is Strong but was better liked than the A-side so DJs wisely played it in preference.  It wasn’t a hit but surely deserved to be.

A few years ago, I was fortunate to exchange emails with Suburbia’s writer Rod Thomas.  Rod confirms that although the song had a huge amount of air play “they couldn’t get any TV because they’d used up their contacts on Tim’s previous record which also had not lived up to expectations”.

Unusually for the ‘60s, here the suburbs are regarded as a treasured place of familiar comforts and even care-free abandon, always there for you when the big city lets you down.  Rod Thomas:  “When the song was about to be released (however), the record company got cold feet. They thought the idea of going home to suburbia was ‘uncool’ and that kids would rather have been leaving it for the bright lights of the city”.

Rod wrote the song as a young man working in a steel works in Cardiff while living some eight miles away in a quiet village –  my suburbia.  Ironically almost at the time of writing it, 1968, it began to change and is now almost a suburb of Cardiff”.

Suburbia has a habit of cropping up in some unexpected places.  1968 children’s serial The Tyrant King (Thames Television’s soundtrack-rich kaleidoscopic tour of swinging London) features an ice-skating scene in which Suburbia plays across the loudspeakers.   It brought a smile to my face hearing that.

DJ Mike Read picked up on Suburbia on his late ‘80s Radio 1 show along with other Sixties Lost and Found gems like David McWilliams’s ‘The Days of Pearly Spencer’.   The song’s themes probably chimed with Read’s fondness for the poetry of John Betjeman.  His intention was to write a musical based around these but I don’t know if one ever emerged.

(Something About) Suburbia lends its name to last year’s Tim Andrews compilation (I’ll be reviewing this next week).  The Tyrant King is available on DVD and in glorious colour too.  Well worth seeking out.

With many thanks to Rod Thomas.

The Occasional Songwriters  Official Website of Rod Thomas and Jeremy Thomas
Tim Andrews CD review

 


The Town I Live In

Vocal by Jackie Lee
Written by Geoff Stephens
Columbia A-side November 1966
Available on Am I Dreaming? Dream Babes Vol  1, RPM 1999


Harlow New Town, 1960

For a long time, hearing Malvina Reynolds’ 1967-recorded folk-protest staple Little Boxes made me think of Milton Keynes.  I blame a mid ‘70s ‘Nationwide’ report which has lodged in my mind ever since.  A safari-suited Bob Wellings is crouching amidst the regulation gardens of alleged ‘ticky-tacky houses’ like a sort of suburban David Attenborough or a more benevolent Jeremy Beadle.   ‘Little Boxes’ was the unflattering soundtrack.

It was a predictable choice but then ‘Nationwide’ was a quintessentially suburban programme, a one nation conservatism palliative for a distressed decade before much of what remained of ‘60s utopianism was swept away.  Unlike the tower blocks, the ticky-tacky boxes mostly weren’t swept away.  But they did begin to grow English vernacular porches and Victorian conservatories.

I prefer to think of them in their pristine ‘60s heyday, as they are in The Town I Live In.  I don’t know if Milton Keynes has twenty seven churches or ‘avenues lined with silver birches.’  This slice of social satire could just as well be about any number of new towns with ‘lots of houses spick and span, lots of little people too’.  Jackie Lee’s large lunged cri de coeur positively echoes across the municipal flagstones.

There’s a brisk, flicked-back stylishness to the song even from the word go – that elegant woodwind and tom-tom pattern in the introduction, for example.   Later, bass piano, resounding percussion and tubular bells (twenty-seven of them?) add to the air of classiness.

And just listen to that sign off:   “There’s several hundred brand new houses and lots of brand new primary schools etc etc etc etc la la la la la…”   Just where was Geoff Stephens living in 1966?

Funny thing about the silver birches is that they’ve become a symbol of urban cool – Tate Modern is a case in point.  I doubt the debt has ever been acknowledged though.

 


Semi-Detached Suburban Mr James

Performed by Manfred Mann
Written by Geoff Stephens and John Carter
Fontana A-side, October 1966
Available on any self-respecting d’Abo-era ‘Manfred Mann Greatest Hits’


 

It’s that Geoff Stephens again!   Despite its sing-along breeziness this Manfred Mann hit is actually quite a cutting song when you pick apart the lyrics.

Written by Geoff and John Carter (during his brief socially relevant period – White Collar Worker, Time and Motion Man), Semi-Detached Suburban Mr James sees a spurned lover taking a swipe at his ex-girlfriend’s choice of bride-to-be by condemning the suburban life the couple will lead, with its rituals of ‘buttering the toast,’ ‘taking doggie for a walk’ and ‘hanging clothes upon the line.’  I wonder what kind of life she might have led with him, though?

It feels as if there is a bit of history between these three characters.   The song might be sung by a Terry (Likely Lads)-like chap  – a little sour, dismissive of upward social mobility – ‘so you’ve finally made the grade’.  The bride-groom would be aspirational Bob.  It doesn’t work in the context of the series but I hope you get my drift.

This wonderfully engaging song boasts a great melody (what else would you expect from John Carter?), tasty mellotron, those Manfred harmonies and some lovely touches like the sudden name change to ‘Mr Most’ to rhyme with ‘toast’, a potentially disastrous move which is so well placed within the song as to inject just the right grain of humour.  I also like the slightly grinding slow-down and then faster lead-off to repeated mocking chants of ‘Semi-detached Suburban Mr…’

Probably their best single.


Mighty Garvey by Manfred Mann

Stranger on the Shore and sleepy suburbia

Take Three Songs… by Cilla Black
Take Three songs… or early 60s instrumentals
Take Three Songs… Lynsey de Paul – No Honestly!