Voltarol - related music

Thursday, 15 May 2008

Wonderful round, black, shiny things

I think that the first piece of music that ever grabbed my attention was 'The Teddy Bear's Picnic' when I was about six years old. I'm told that I would get very excited when it was played on the radio and very tearful when it stopped. Children's Hour was the next influence - I enjoyed the programmes but was particularly taken with some of the music used for the serials. To this day I still have a fondness for English Light Music, a genre which featured heavily on BBC radio in the late forties and early fifties. I can also remember asking my parents if I could have piano lessons and being given a very firm 'No'. To be fair, we didn't actually own a piano.

We were not a particularly musical household and indeed it was not until the late fifties that the family actually acquired a record player. By this time my father was running a shop and one or two of his customers worked at the E.M.I. record pressing plant in nearby Hayes. The old man was very straight and hadn't bought a gramophone record since - as he would have put it - "the night old Leather Arse died", so it did not seem particularly strange to him to be offered a random bundle of sleeveless LPs for a modest sum. This - as it turns out - fortuitous selection of discs materialised one night in the front room, along with an enticing-looking, rectangular box that had a hinged lid and was finished in a sort of pink and cream, diagonally candy-striped vinyl fabric. This was our new Bush record player. It was a mono, single-play model without auto changer and had three knobs located inside. These were an on/off/volume control, a tone control and a three position speed selector which gave you a choice of 78rpm, 45rpm or 33⅓rpm.

I think that the first record played was probably the original soundtrack recording of Roger's and Hammerstein's 'Oklahoma'. The other records included 'At the Drop of a Hat' by Michael Flanders and Donald Swan, the soundtrack recordings of 'Carousel', 'The Wizard of Oz', 'The Pajama Game' and 'Damn Yankees', a Jackie Gleason instrumental album and Frank Sinatra's 'Where are You?'. This collection was to leave me with a life-long affection for 'Oklahoma', a love of good comic songs, a great respect for Frank Sinatra's musicianship and a deep loathing of wallpaper music and Judy Garland (not necessarily in that order). But the most evocative thing to sink into my subconscious was the smell of hot vinyl. The record player's amplifier was powered by valves and as they heated up, so did the vinyl covering. I would recognise that odour anywhere. I associate it with my earliest moments of musical joy.

Soon I would start buying my own records, as well as enjoying my older brother's burgeoning classical collection. There would be second hand shop expeditions with my friend Barry, in pursuit of anything old and weird in the way of "sennyeights". There would be the discovery - in the company of Barry, Dave and 'Mole' - of modern jazz, courtesy of Mole's big brother's record collection. There would be the treasure trove of Pete Seeger, The Kingston Trio, Tom Lehrer and Victor Borge on my friend Paul's father's reel to reel tape recorder, but nothing fills me with quite so much nostalgic affection as that first experience with a pack of knocked-off LPs.