Mythical Kings and Iguanas

The other day I turned on the kitchen radio and after a slight pause heard the opening notes of Mythical Kings and Iguanas, the title track to Dory Previn’s 1971 album.  It was as if I had just pressed play on my CD player:

I have flown to star-stained heights
On bend and battered wings
In search of mythical kings
Mythical kings

Sure that everything of worth
Is in the sky and not the earth
And I never learned to make my way
Down, down, down where the iguanas play

I’ve not heard Mythical Kings and Iguanas – the song nor the album – in perhaps twenty-five years though scraps have played in my head from time to time and I still have the vinyl LP.

I first heard it around 1987 or 1988 in my early 20s.  Last week it was as if it was playing to me for the first time:

Singing scraps of angel song
High is right and low is wrong
And I never taught myself to give
Down, down, down where the iguanas live

Stopped in my tracks, I put down my plate and my tea-towel, pulled up a chair to listen and for the first time found I understood.

Without any effort on my part, the words arose from the speakers and made utter sense as if they simply couldn’t help themselves.  I realised that, like it or not, I have lived enough to know what the song means instinctively.

 


Dory Previn

 

Lying with iguanas

Mythical Kings and Iguanas is about embracing the often despised ‘lower’ aspects of being and not losing oneself in fruitless flights of wishful fancy towards unobtainable heights.  Fundamentally it’s about gaining self-acceptance, becoming embodied.

In my 20s maybe I simply liked the sounds the words made, the overall sense of philosophical musing which, in a way, is what she is railing against:

Curse the mind that mounts the clouds
In search of mythical kings
And only mystical things
Mystical things

Buried treasure

In 1987 or 1988, without realising it, I laid a trail between then and now.  Rediscovery in 2017 meant connecting with my younger self and gaining awareness of a kind of unknowing, a certain confusion perhaps, which I couldn’t perceive at the time.

I think there’s real value in this kind of experience which goes way beyond nostalgia.  The feeling of connecting across time, is vivid and poignant, the sense of unlocking meaning without even trying, so powerful.

Had I heard the song for the first time last week, I would have ‘got’ it, been a little moved by it.  But there wouldn’t have been the discovery of buried treasure and finding it richer than I could ever have imagined.  And of feeling a kindness towards the moment of acquiring it so many years ago and someone I once was.

Cry for the soul that will not face
The body as an equal place
And I never learned to touch for real
Or feel the things, iguanas feel
Down, down, down

Where they play

The seeds that you once planted

This epiphany is a little akin to experiences of religion as a child and which organised religion possibly exploits for its own effectiveness.

The words of The Lord’s Prayer or of a particular hymn are planted in young minds at a time when they can be barely understood.  A seed of meaning is sewn with the potential to bear fruit many years later, when an old idea is revisited and subsequently accepted, modified or rejected.

At that point there may be the strong sense of time, growth, a journey, change and impermanence an awareness of being caught in life’s unstoppable flow.  And of a kind of learning which is natural, uncontrived, inevitable.

Could it even be wisdom?

Teach me, teach me
Teach me, reach me.

 

 

Birdwatching in the 1970s

birds-in-your-garden-1971Were garden birds so different back in the 60s and  70s?  A blackbird in 2017 seems pretty much the same as a blackbird in 1977 (or my memory of one) though an ornithologist may well beg to differ.

Take The Birds In Your Garden, an RSPB booklet from 1971.  Forty-six years on and it still does what it says on the cover, forming a perfectly usable guide for identifying and attracting garden birds.

Yet times have changed…
birds-in-your-garden-bird-boxes-edit

This photo suggests the RSPB wanted to appeal specifically to suburban bird-watchers (I don’t think they were called twitchers then).

Our ideals of human habitation are clearly not what they were in 1971 though bird boxes cannot be so very subject to changing architectural styles.  I do recall some pretentious ‘heritage’ boxes in the 80s complete with pinnacles and turrets, suitable for the upwardly-mobile blue-tit perhaps.  The boxes above are perfectly in keeping with the pared down, dwelling-unit feel of the houses.

1973’s RSPB booklet, The Birds From Your Window was a rather more elaborate affair with a groovy font to boot:

birds-from-your-window-1973

The illustrations, fine for identification purposes, are not a patch on those by Charles Tunnicliffe for his Wild Birds in Britain 50-card series for Brooke Bond in 1965:
brooke-bond-bird-cards-tunnicliffe-1965

Brooke Bond birds: Waxwing, Long-eared owl, Long-tailed tit, Woodcock

The Birds From Your Window has pages on birds spotted by various well known people in their own gardens.  The choice of contributors – Humphrey Lyttelton, Joyce Grenfell, Robert Dougall and Peter Cushing – makes no concession to a younger audience though I was familiar with three out of four as a nine year old in 1973.  Peter Cushing proffers an elegantly written piece:

birds-from-your-window-peter-cushing-page

birds-in-autumn-winter-1975On to 1975, and Birds in Autumn & Winter is graced with a Tunnicliffe illustrated cover albeit without the decorative background detail which makes the BB cards so lustrous.

Fledgling tweets

I was only ever a casual bird-watcher through windows and on walks in the countryside around Guildford.  The birds were always so damned elusive though my Auntie Wyn was able to identify stray hoots and treetop twitters with casual ease.

My parents tried to interest me in a Surrey Bird Club membership as a Christmas present in 1973.  I didn’t make it to any of the club events but do remember leafing through their unillustrated magazine with its blue and green card covers.  Within, members crowed excitedly over rare sightings of exotic Scandinavian visitors or the occasional bird of prey in Cheam.

Winging it

I also recall a windswept trip to Pagham Harbour in Sussex in May 1978 with a Christian youth group.  This came just after the then Labour government’s introduction of the May Bank Holiday which fell on the coldest, wettest May day for several decades if not centuries.  Pagham too was cold and desolate.  We maybe heard the occasional screech across the mudflats but I don’t actually recall seeing a single bird despite long hours spent clutching binoculars in numb fingers.  A thermos of Heinz oxtail soup and white bread fish paste sandwiches (no crumbs for our feathered friends) helped sustain us through a long, grey day.

I think I went partly out of some misplaced duty to my parents.  As I shunned the numerous sporty events at least I could show I was relatively ‘normal’ by going on a bird-watching trip which was supported by a total of three boys out of over a hundred and fifty.  Well at least it was an outdoor activity…

The spirit of 1970s’ bird-watching is best captured by Martin Parr’s marvellous photos (again, Surrey Bird Club).  These are studies in English eccentricity where the camera is turned back on the middle-classes, patiently at leisure in the home counties.

birds-in-your-garden-bird-watchingFrom ‘The Birds in Your Garden’, RSPB 1971

How Can You Mend a Broken Heart?

By Barry & Robin Gibb
Lead Vocal: Robin & Barry
Album Trafalgar 1971


“I can think of younger days”

I draw a line between If I Only Had My Mind on Something Else and How Can You Mend a Broken Heart?  Both are unusually long song titles.  Both open their respective albums.  Both deal with the aftermath of heartbreak (nothing too unusual there admittedly).  Both are slow ballads deploying diminished 7ths (the latter far more liberally).  Both represent a move away from the Bee Gees’ 60s template towards a greater reliance on ballads written in a soul idiom.  I see Main Chance on the horizon at this point.  The psychedelic Bee Gees, if indeed they ever existed, are dead.

How Can You Mend… picks up the tendencies of its predecessor and walks with them a few steps into the future.  Where If I Only… is how-can-you-mend-bylinewistful and self-questioning, How Can You Mend… is despairing, imploring, gospel raw, certainly in Al Green’s hands.

Supple soulfulness

I like the emotional changes the song articulates, the wistful, stuttering phrasing/meter of the verses – ‘I can think of younger days…’ – followed by the sudden slow down reckoning and deliberation of the ‘I could never see tomorrow’ pre-chorus.  And then the pained delicacy of the chorus opening giving way to full-blooded passion and finally – ‘let me live again’ – a sigh of longing which again recalls If I Only Had My Mind on Something Else.

The song’s supple soulfulness clearly offered opportunities for a vocalist of expressive dexterity to make it his own and Al Green’s cover remains, perhaps, the definitive version.  A comparison with Andy Williams would have been fascinating had he not turned the song down.

Bee Gees’ Home Page

Dr Who at Christmas: the 1970s Christmas omnibuses: Part 2

Ken Dodd’s ‘We Want to Sing’, those slightly grim visits to children’s hospital wards fronted by Leslie Crowther… Christmas television wasn’t all a bundle of fun for a child of the early 70s.  

But the Dr Who Omnibuses certainly were.  From 1971-75, these glorified adventures became a fixture of my childhood TV Christmas as much as (well, rather more than) the Blue Peter Christmas appeal, Disney Time and All Star Record Breakers. 

Part 1 gave an overview of the tradition.  Here I’m recalling the stories which made up Christmas omnibuses for 1971- The Dæmons, 1972 – The Sea Devils and 1973 – The Green Death.


1971: Dr Who and the Dæmons
Tuesday 28th December,
4.20-5.50pm 

1.10 Grandstand – introduced by Frank Bough
3.55 Here’s Lucy
4.20 Dr Who and the Dæmons
5.50 National News: weatherman Jack Scott
6.00 Tom and Jerry

‘For the first time a complete adventure in one programme starring Jon Pertwee as Dr Who’  – Radio Times billing.

radio-times-christmas-1971

Spotting The Dæmons in Radio Times so completely unexpectedly just before Christmas excited me tremendously.  The anticipation of an hour and a half of my favourite story from my favourite TV programme totally out of the blue was a thrill almost beyond belief.  There was something amazing about Dr Who brightening a mere Tuesday too.

Even better, I’d missed episode two back in the Spring as it had coincided with our Whitson (rain and mumps) break at Lyme Regis in a bungalow which needless to say had no television.

Feature length fun

Note how the Radio Times billing, (which was accompanied by a Frank Bellamy illustration depicting the Master and the Doctor) highlights the omnibus’s feature film feel, encouraging the sense that it is a post-Christmas afternoon matinee treat for all the family to gather around and enjoy.

The 4.20pm start time (earliest ever for Doctor Who to date) meant I watched it with my parents almost throughout; in 1971, Christmas deamons-bylinewas still no more than a two day break from work for many people but this year Monday 27th and Tuesday 28th were Bank Holidays.

When it came to Dr Who, my father was fully signed up to The Daily Sketch’s maxim, ‘the children’s own programme which adults adore,’ dissenting only if it got ‘a bit too silly’ (Alpha Centauri was a bugbear).  He enjoyed and even admired the programme when he got the chance to see it and the relaxed schedule of Christmas offered an opportunity to really sit back and soak it all up.  My mother flitted in and out to prepare turkey sandwiches (well it was still the 70s) and slice Christmas cake as Azal ruminated on whether or not to sacrifice the Earth.

“A pleasing terror”

As drama dealing in the supernatural, Doctor Who relates to Christmas’ associations with darkness and magic.  This is especially true of The Dæmons.

The supernatural was a popular theme in film and television in the early 70s.  December 1970 had brought the unsettling Play for Today Robin Redbreast and it’s not insignificant that regular Christmas dramatisations of M.R.James ghost stories began in 1971.  Derek Johnston’s Haunted Seasons: Television Ghost Stories for Christmas and Horror for Halloween is an excellent account of this broadcast tradition.

Undoctored

The Dæmons had been the indisuputable highlight of Season Eight, or at least it was certainly seen that way at the time.  An expensive, location feel resembled British horror and supernatural films of the early 70s, meaning the serial lent itself extremely well to feature film format.

A reprise would remind audiences of the Master’s capture at the tale’s end, a storyline which would be followed up with the Doctor and Jo visiting an imprisoned Master in the following season’s The Sea Devils.

As a five parter, once titles and cliffhanger reprises were omitted, The Dæmons came in at just under two hours long, still a trifle longer than the average film.  Perhaps it was this, or the requirements of the schedule, which dictated a trim.

Approximately thirty-five minutes are lost to give an omnibus running time of ninety minutes.  So (forgetting cliffhangers and reprises) about a fifth of The Dæmons actual storyline has hit the cutting room floor.  I don’t think it has ever been revealed who decided what should be cut but Barry Letts must have had the final say.

The omnibus drew a very respectable audience of 10.5 million viewers, more than the average of 8.3 million who viewed the original showing.

ITV were showing a number of mostly children’s programmes in opposition.  As Thames viewers, we would have had The Charlie Brown Show, the always to be avoided Junior Showtime and radio-times-dr-who-daleks-jan-1972Magpie, none of which were competition for The Dæmons.

I still remember the sense of anticlimax when the final end credit of The Dæmons – ‘Directed by Christopher Barry’ – faded from the screen along with the ‘Dddrrrrrrrrrwwwrr!!!’

Still it was only four days to go before a brand new story began and in the meantime there was a Radio Times Frank Bellamy cover to study, depicting these strange ‘Daleks’ which, curiously, my parents were already familiar with.


1972: Dr Who and the Sea Devils
Wed 27th December, 3.05-4.45pm 

1.05 Grandstand – Introduced by Frank Bough
2.35 Screen Test
3.10 Dr Who and the Sea Devils
4.35 Thursday’s Child – 1/6 adaptation
5.05 A Collection of Goodies
5.30 National News
5.40 Tom and Jerry
5.45 Fifty Years of Music – or They Don’ Write ‘Em Like That Any More

‘The complete adventure in one programme starring Jon Pertwee as Dr Who’… ‘Now you can see again the whole of the Doctor’s struggle against the Master and the strange creatures from the bottom of the sea’ – Radio Times billing.

radio-times-christmas-1972Thump!  The Radio Times Christmas number lands on our doormat and I turn straight to the after Christmas listings and – yes!  As I had hoped, The Sea Devils is there.  At this point, my expectation of a tradition was established.

The billing is accompanied by a Frank Bellamy illustration and a caption bearing all the hallmarks of an enthusiastic but not very knowledgeable Radio Times staffer: ‘Time warp time – the Doc takes on the Master and the Sea Devils’.

No turkey  

Again, the choice of story is fervently the right one.  As Season Nine finale, The Time Monster was something of a damp squib: studio bound, experimental, too cerebral at times and a bit of a mess much of the time.

The Sea Devils was expansive, exciting, glossy, stylish, all round cracking entertainment.  With its flashy seafaring escapades, the most fondly remembered story of the 1972 Season ideally lent itself to feature film format.  And then there was that splendid swashbuckling swordfight between the Doctor and The Master.  Could that be a turkey sandwich Jon Pertwee is munching?sea-devils-byline

8.7 million viewers watched The Sea Devils in December, compared to an average of a little over eight million for the original Spring broadcast.

Meanwhile, Thames opted for an afternoon lineup of Looks Familiar (30s/40s nostalgia panel show) at 3pm, The Saint at 3.30, and at 4.25 Lift Off With Ayshea (Roger Whittaker, Olivia Newton John, 10C.C., and Frankie Stevens).

As a six-parter, an unedited transmission of The Sea Devils would have a running time of 2:30.  The omnibus clocks in at 1.40, representing a loss of approximately 50 minutes.

The Sea Devils omnibus was repeated again at 10.50am on Thursday 23rd August 1973 and again on Bank Holiday Monday 27th May 1974 in place of a cricket match making it the most exposed Pertwee story within his tenure.

Who on standby

In other repeats, Day of the Daleks appeared in a one hour slot on Monday 3rd September 1973 in place of the European Athletics Championships.radio-times-dr-who-three-doctors-jan-1973

It seemed as if Dr Who was becoming a reliable schedule filler.  As a child with no interest in sport, these totally ‘out of the blue’ reappearances had a magic of their own though why I was on hand to have seen them all, I cannot say.  It was almost as if, even in the middle of a summer morning, by wishing Dr Who were on, I made it happen.

After that breathtaking Christmas Sea Devils omnibus there would be only three days to wait for the new season.  My appetite had been whetted by the charismatic threesome adorning the New Year Radio Times cover.


1973: Dr Who: The Green Death
Thursday  27th December, 4.00-5.30pm 

1.00 Racing
2.30 The World of Jimmy Young
3.15 Penguin City – narrated by Peter Scott
4.00 Dr Who: The Green Death
5.30 National News
5.40 Tom and Jerry
5.45 Top of the Pops – Ten Years of Pop Music, 1964-74 with Jimmy Saville

‘A complete adventure in one programme starring Jon Pertwee as Dr. Who.  Deep in an abandoned coalmine the Doctor faces the hideous result of industrial pollution.  Now you can see once more the whole story of the terrible threat of the giant maggots’ – Radio Times billing.

radio-times-christmas-19731973 was the Christmas of The Goodies and the Beanstalk shown at 5.15pm on Christmas Eve on BBC-2.  But even The Goodies at their best was trumped by a repeat of my favourite Dr Who story to date.

Yes, the one with the maggots.  What lovely Christmas viewing to accompany a nation collectively munching on cold turkey sandwiches.

Radio Times this time features a two panel photo-strip to accompany the billing which shows Pertwee in close-up declaring: “The maggots are all over the place!” whilst in the second panel Jo and Cliff, clambering over rocks within sight of a giant maggot, exclaim: “…come on let’s get out of here!’

BBC-1 New Season!

The 1974 season of Dr Who began not on the first Saturday of the New Year (as had been the case on 3rd January 1970, 2nd January 1971 and 1st January 1972) but two weeks before that on 15th December 1973 meaning that The Green Death omnibus fell, somewhat inconveniently, between episodes 2 and 3 of The Time Warrior.

This inauspicious timing removed some of the impetus behind a repeat as curtain-raiser to a new season, especially as Jo Grant was now a Season Ten throwback having left at the end of The Green Death.  

Green Christmas 

The Green Death was by far my favourite story of Season Ten and my favourite Dr Who story to date.  I was thrilled that it, not, as I had feared The Three Doctors, was picked as the Christmas omnibus.  The 10th anniversary story featuring William Hartnell and Patrick green-death-bylineTroughton was of course a major landmark and had a pantomime whimsicality which lent itself well to Christmas.  But no, there’s nothing like a Welsh coal mine full of giant green maggots to brighten a Yuletide afternoon.  I suspect Barry Letts would have been especially keen to push for The Green Death as the serial aired many of his environmental concerns.

For all its high revulsion factor and ecological proselytising, The Green Death also had an unusually emotional storyline: the developing romance between Jo Grant and the young Professor Jones.  At the end of episode six, Jo accepts Cliff’s proposal of marriage, leaving the Doctor to drive off alone into the sunset.  This affecting side to the story and its tear jerking culmination makes for an appropriately heart-warming story for Christmas.

Galloping home

I vividly recall being so excited seeing The Green Death again that I could hardly tear myself away to go to the toilet (though you’ll be pleased to know I did).  I can remember galloping downstairs three steps at a time to get back to the sofa.

As a six-parter, The Green Death would have been 2.30 in episode format, so, approximately 60 minutes have been lost, unfortunately a more major incision than The Sea Devils’.

The audience was a healthy 10.4 million viewers, substantially more than the average of 7.7 million who viewed the original broadcast.

Thames gave us at 4.20pm Children of Eskdale, a re-showing of Barry Cockcroft’s acclaimed documentary and at 5.20pm Lift Off With Ayshea (Slade, New World and The All Night Rock Show sing ’20 Fantastic Sounds’).

The start of the new Dr Who season had still been marked by a Radio radio-times-pertwee-et-al-dec-1973Times cover (the pre-Christmas edition) which was perhaps not the best but at least Pertwee was centre stage.  So it seemed as if the Radio Times tradition was confidently continuing along with the omnibuses.  More than that, there was November’s brilliant Radio Times Dr Who 10th Anniversary Special to enjoy and the 1974 Dr Who Annual courtesy of Father Christmas.

Next week, I’ll conclude with a look back to the omnibuses of 1974 and 1975, Planet of the Spiders and Genesis of the Daleks, and speculate as to why the tradition ended there.


Dr Who 1970s’ Christmas Omnibuses Part 1
Dr Who 1970s’ Christmas Omnibuses Part 3

Dr Who at Christmas: the 1970s Christmas omnibuses: Part 1

I’ve stayed shy of posting on Dr Who as it’s such a giant universe unto itself. But as Christmas grows closer, this is the first of three posts on a particular Whovian manifestation and one with a strongly seasonal flavour – the Dr Who Christmas Omnibuses of the 1970s.


christmas-1976-radio-timesDecember 1976… on this day, or thereabouts, forty years ago I got a nasty shock.

The Christmas double-issue Radio Times arrived through our letter box that morning with a reassuring thud, an event which, each year, I anticipated with much excitement.  I turned straight to the BBC-1 listings for 27th December to check the start time for the omnibus Dr Who: The Seeds of Doom only to find… there was none.

Instead of pods, compost crushers and obscene vegetable matter, the afternoon was dominated, with a camp surrealism, by Walt Disney’s Babes in Toyland and sportsfest Superstars.  A quick flick through to 28th and 26th December, just in case, then a scour through the entire magazine showed The Seeds of Doom was nowhere to be found.

To say I felt disappointed or even cheated was an understatement.  Gutted would be more accurate.

On the third day of Christmas…

Doctor Who omnibuses had been a fixture of my Christmas since 1971 when I was seven.  Always scheduled on the afternoons of 27th or 28th December, this Yuletide treat extended Christmas Day and Boxing Day festivities into a third day.

As an only child, Christmas Day and Boxing Day were spent in entirely adult company with my parents and their friends, Vivien and Earnest.  Although this might sound like a hardship to some, I thoroughly enjoyed our Christmases (we played games too!) but it did mean both days were lead by adults whereas 27th December felt like my day.

With the house festooned with decorations and Christmas tree lights deeply glowing as the day darkened, feature-length Dr Who was the perfect afternoon accompaniment to Christmas cake and Yuletide log.

Forty years on, I’m reviving that tradition by revisiting those omnibuses across three posts.  Here I’ll look at why the early 70s offered fertile ground for the omnibuses and at their appeal to an avid, young Dr Who fan.  Then across two further posts, I’ll review the the stories shown each year and my memories of seeing them.

Box of delights 

 

I got an immense thrill in the days and hours leading up to these feature-length Whos, counting down the minutes to the start.  The thrill was no less than the anticipation of a brand new Dr Who episode on a Saturday at 5.15, different, yes, but just as intense, like reliving an exciting experience knowing just how amazing it was going to be, also knowing that the excitement would last four times as long.  I couldn’t wait for it to start and when it did, I couldn’t bear for it to end.  I’d count down the minutes towards the closing titles too as if in dread anticipation of my disappointment.

A repeat meant marvelling once more at extraordinary sights like the devil appearing in a village church threatening to destroy the world or the Sea Devils rising from beneath the waves.

It also allowed christmas-dr-who-1opportunities to spot elements of story or setting which had passed me by the first time as well as checking those bits which didn’t reappear.

And the timing made it feel so incredibly special, the perfect Christmas present delivered by the BBC, every year.

Like so many aspects of childhood, this one felt as if it would go on forever.  But it was not to be.  I didn’t know it at the time but the Dr Who Christmas Omnibus tradition had ended with Genesis of the Daleks in 1975.

Repeating itself

Doctor Who repeats were rare indeed.

In the 60s, Evil of the Daleks was the only complete serial to be shown again in June 1967.

Summer 1971 brought a highly unexpected Friday teatime episodic repeat of Jon Pertwee’s debut, Spearhead from Space, perhaps partly as a schedule-filler, partly as an acknowledgement of the series’ rising profile.

Then came Dr Who and the Dæmons, ‘for the first time a complete adventure’, on Monday 28th December 1971.

What may have prompted this first Christmas repeat in a new format?

A Christmas celebration  

Following declining ratings, in 1970 Dr Who was given a chance to prove itself with a new actor, Jon Pertwee, in the title role.  The 1970 season was judged an artistic and commercial success so the series’ future, for now, was secured.

By 1971, with a second season of improved ratings and audience appreciation under its belt, Dr Who merited additional exposure as a further boost to its rising profile.

Evidence that the BBC wanted to get behind the series came in the form of the New Year Radio Times covers which graced the start of all five Jon Pertwee seasons.  Radio Times was very pro-Doctor Who during Pertwee’s tenure.

Throughout the 60s, Doctor Who was shown almost all year round.  But from 1970, seasons were 25 or 26 weeks long only running roughly January-June, meaning the show was off the air throughout the summer and autumn months.  So a Christmas repeat of a story from that year’s January-June run would serve as a curtain raiser for the new season.

deamons-titlesThe story goes that, following original transmission in May, Episode One of The Deamons was discussed by BBC1 controller Paul Fox and Richard Levin, head of television design. Both men commended the quality of the story’s script and production and it was perhaps Paul Fox’s support which producer Barry Letts was then able to leverage to bring about the Christmas omnibus in December 1971.

Could there have been a 1970 omnibus?  Obviously, yes, in theory but three out of four Season Seven stories were exceptionally long seven-parters and probably Barry Letts hadn’t been long enough in the job to propose the idea.  An Inferno omnibus would have been quite something though.

Which story to tell?

What of the choice of stories across Christmases 1971-75?  Each selection surely had to be the story judged ‘best’ from the previous season, whether in terms of ratings, audience appreciation or some other vaguer sense of impact.

An obvious candidate would be the climactic story.  A reprise would remind viewers where they had left Dr Who series six months earlier and create momentum into the start of the new season beginning in christmas-dr-who-1bjust a few days time.  Three out of five stories chosen over 1971-75 were series finales, the exceptions (quite rightly) being The Sea Devils and Genesis of the Daleks.

Despite the much heard criticism that six part stories are too long, all stories given the omnibus treatment were six-parters (The Dæmons is an honorary six parter) perhaps because they tended to be the more expensive, more expansive, higher profile adventures, resembling the blockbuster feel of a one-off feature film.

Yet the BBC could simply have opted for four parters – The Claws of Axos, Day of the Daleks, The Three Doctors, Destiny of the Daleks and Revenge of the Cybermen – and saved themselves the trouble of making cuts.  I’m so glad they didn’t.

Or, worse still, they could have chosen the wrong six-parters – Colony in Space, The Mutants, Frontier in Space, Monster of Peladon.  What a post-Christmas comedown that would have been (it is specifically the non-Earth six-parters which are to blame for the genre’s overlong, overpadded reputation).

Happily the stories selected, presumably by Barry Letts, were the right ones every time.

I hope you’ll join me for two more posts in the leadup to Christmas when I’ll look at each of these stories in turn, starting next week with 1971-73: The Dæmons, The Sea Devils and The Green Death.

christmas-tree-glowing

Photo Credit: buddymedbery Flickr via Compfight cc


Dr Who 1970s’ Christmas Omnibuses Part 2

 

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

Casuals’ Classics: ten of the best by The Casuals

Following my series of posts on the band here is my Casuals Top 10 in reverse order:


#10  Weather Vane 
Album track, Hour World  Decca 1969


‘Though you point from east to west, you point just one way…’

Of the two new, quiet ballads on Hour World, John Tebb’s Weather Vane, surprisingly outshines Manston- ‘Jesamine’-Gellar’s Sunflower Eyes.

‘Weather Vane’ is simple in melody and conception but it’s graced by John Tebb vocals.


#9  Jennifer Brown 
A-side Italy, Joker 1966


If you think The Casuals just weren’t cool enough, bend an ear to this early chilled Italian mood piece.

Moody organ, piano out of nowhere, mysterious vibes and mellow trumpet, it’s truly the lost gem of The Casuals’ crown.


#8  Hello It’s Me
Album track, Hour World  Decca 1969


… for its combination of almost courtly though slightly ironic beseechment  (‘You’re really too kind…’), cutely cooing falsetto backing vocals and air of youthful heartache (the singer longs for communication yet struggles to say what he really means).

Most of all it’s just the sheer niceness of the thing.


#7  Adios Amor (Goodbye My Love) 
A-side, Decca 1968


The Casuals favoured elegant Italianate ballads in their earlier days and Adios Amor is perhaps their finest.


#6  Seven Times Seven 
A-side, Decca 1969


A giddy take-off over choppy piano riffs, brilliant brass and an unexpected subtly blues based melody all collide into a high octane chorus overseen by an edge of excitement and anticipation…

This is the most confident and driven of The Casuals’ singles.  John Tebb’s voice almost shifts into rock mode as he urges us to hedge our bets.

And then there’s that very Joey Levine ‘Hey!’ – or is it an ‘Oh!’ ? – sandwiched between the intro and main vocal, surely one of the most bubblegum vocal moments in pop.


#5  Toy 
A-side, Decca 1968


As Toy was the impossible follow-up single to Jesamine, inevitably I skated over its delights in my 1968/69 singles post.

‘Toy’ may be fluffy (as well as catchy) but it’s an early hint at The Casuals’ toytown leanings and the song is treated to a rousing arrangement.

Chris Andrews successfully updates his stood up love dramas from real-life monochrome suburban streets to imagined technicolour toy bandstand.


#4  Letter Every Month 
B-side, Decca 1971


 

Tucked away like a winsome afterthought on the B-side of what I always think of as The Casuals’ final single Someday Rock ‘n’ Roll Lady (for all their bluster Tara Tiger Girl and The Witch are little more than prodding producer induced rigor mortis twitches), this marks Howard Newcomb’s virtual debut as composer.

There is a boyishly forlorn mood, a deft touch to the lyrics and an occasional nice use of imagery (‘the staircase turns to stone’).

It’s a shame Howard and John didn’t try their hand at writing more or was it that their contributions were simply sidelined?


#3  Toyland 
Album track, Hour World  Decca 1969


‘Let’s all go and blow our mind… in Toyland … ‘ – a hint of psychedelia in the everyday setting of a child’s bedroom, animated by the dare-to-dream magic of make-believe.

Written by Jess Roden and Tony Catchpole, Toyland was first produced by their band, The Alan Bown Set but from its ‘Alouette’ opening fanfare to those mumblings over an energetic (toy?) trumpet lead-off, it’s The Casuals who have the honey and buttercups scene sewn up, bringing the song – and the toys – to life.


#2  Never My Love 
Album track, Hour World  Decca 1969


This humble, elegant classic from the Addrisi brothers is one of the most covered songs of all time.  I may not have heard all the versions but I can definitely say I like The Casuals’ better even than The Association’s and I’d expect theirs to be the gold standard.

Arthur Greenslade picks up the reins as Musical Director for this song only, applying a light touch to allow the blissed out backing vocals to soar and shine… and shine they do, suggesting that the group might have made it as a full blown sunshine pop outfit.

The song’s melodic sensibility and earnest romantic assurances suit John Tebb’s voice as if it were created for him.


#1  Jesamine 
A-side and album track, Hour World 1969


 

 

Sometimes the most predictable choice is fervently the right one.

If ever a record was made to waft gently out of summer windows, it was Jesamine – especially in 1968 but anytime will do.

At heart, Jesamine is a fragile delectation inhabiting a song built with solid craft and the persuasive power of a lovely melody.  It’s a textbook case of the right voice, arrangement, song, group at the right time…  everything coming together to create a timeless classic which just goes on spreading delight.

And having halted at No 2 in ’68, it’s a pleasure to make ‘Jesamine’ my No 1.


Coming soon:  ‘Not a Casual Affair’ summing up the band’s appeal.


Previous posts on The Casuals

The Casuals: beyond Jesamine
The Casuals: before Jesamine: 1961- mid 1968
Jesamine Part 1

Jesamine Part 2
When Jesamine Goes: Singles 1968/69

Hour World 1969
With Jesamine Gone 1970-76