Voltarol - related music

Tuesday, 3 June 2008

Pop and me

I've always had a very uneasy relationship with Pop (and I'm not talking about my late father here - that relationship was a bloody sight more than just uneasy!). The schmalzy confections that infested the late forties and early fifties were not really aimed at my age group anyway, although I was vaguely aware of them - 'Shrimp Boats is a Comin'', 'There's a Pawn Shop on the Corner in Pittsburgh Pennsylvania', 'Hey Up, Pat him on the BoBo', 'Where Will the Baby's Dimple Be?' and similar stuff. The official version of the invention of the 'Teenager' and the evolution of the youth-orientated music industry says that it was all pretty dire until Rock and Roll came along, and I would agree with that up to a point. It was all pretty dire. Unfortunately I felt the same way about Rock and Roll (I still do. I can now see its importance and relevance in the scheme of things but I still don't actually like it).

I had heard stuff on the radio - 'Rock Around the Clock' and so forth, but had remained unimpressed, then one day we went to visit relatives and I found myself in the company of my cousin Michael and his record player. "Right" he said, "you've got to listen to this!". 'This' was "Tutti Frutti" by Little Richard. I have read so many Rock biographies in which the writers describe that seminal moment when they heard Rock and Roll for the first time and it totally changed their lives. Often it is the words (if you can call them that) - "A Wop Bop a Lubop, A Wop Bamboo" - that are cited as the great eye-opener. They certainly were in my case. I knew then for certain that if I never heard this drivel again it would be too soon for me.

The first record I ever bought was 'Rebel Rouser' by Duane Eddy. I was fascinated by the guitar and thought that maybe I had found a route into pop through instrumentals (I still had that instinct to be like my peers and they were nearly all into 'teenage' music by now). The next record I bought was an EP (see Wonderful round, black, shiny things.) of Mendelssohn Overtures, with 'Fingal's Cave' on one Side and 'Ruy Blas' on the other. 50 years later I still have a recording of those works (in fact I still have my original EP but it's pretty unplayable now), but I had wrung all the juice out of Duane Eddy within six weeks. I did have another flirtation with the charts when I bought 'Hoots Mon (there's a moose loose aboot this hoose)' by Lord Rockingham's Eleven, but this was another six-week wonder. (Incidentally, the recently reformed Bonzo Dog Band have recorded a version of this on their new CD, under the title 'Hawkeye the Gnu')

The next pop act to grab my attention wasn't really a pop act at all. It was The Temperance Seven, whose unlikely appearance in the charts with 'You're Driving Me Crazy' was a part of a singularly anachronistic hiccup in the English pop world that saw 'Trad' jazz become the great teenage thing for a brief period. (I'll undoubtedly return to this theme later.) I was much taken with this band and went several times to see them play. Curiously, I was to end up in a band with some one who, to this day, still plays with them. When 'Fingers' Bartram left the Jugular Vein, he was replaced by Mike Deighan, whose connection with 'The Temps' opened several doors for the J.V. (but that, again, is another story). Many years later I also recorded a more contemporary instrumental version of 'You're Driving Me Crazy' with my own band.

The Beatles, initially at any rate, received a somewhat lukewarm reception from me and it wasn't until 'A Hard Day's Night' that they began to get my full attention, although by this time they were already becoming much more than just pop. I was initially more excited by 'The Who', and purchased 'Substitute', whose opening riff was an object of interest for the then aspiring guitarist in me. There was then a gap of about four years and I bought 'America' by The Nice, then another gap of nearly ten years and I bought 'Sex and Drugs and Rock and Roll' by Ian Dury and the Blockheads - and that was it for me and pop singles. I bought many albums by people who had chart success - The Beatles, The Band, Paul Simon, Stevie Wonder, Earth, Wind and Fire, Steely Dan, Manhattan Transfer and Kirsty MacColl - but they , like most of my supposedly pop choices all transcended the genre and their music was far and away removed from the ephemeral nature of purely commercial 'product'.

I think that for most people, the pop of their time is not just about the music. it's about relating to a time and a place, style, clothes and rituals, their peer group - their tribe. I've never felt that sort of sense of identity. Yes - I can wax nostalgic about the music of my youth, but there's an awful lot of it and there's a great deal of variety to it. My tribe was a very small one that consisted mostly of people with similarly catholic tastes to my own. I'm still in regular contact with most of them -and still arguing about music