Marriage In The Summer of ’69

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This weekend sees my parents celebrating 45 years of marriage, an achievement for any generation, an almost incomprehensible concept to grasp for a significant number of my own generation. I wholeheartedly include myself in this statement, having only ever endured a paltry five years of marriage (which was probably 1,824 days too long!).

To commemorate this occasion, I wanted to write something about their life together, which is two thirds of their lifetimes. Imagine, being with someone for twice as long as the time you spent from birth to the end of singledom – scary! However, both my parents are very private people, and would hate for me to write anything more specific than I have. So, I will mark their anniversary with a song which has made me think of them, since it was first released in June, 1985. Here, especially for Mum and Dad, is Bryan Adams with “Summer of ’69” (watch out for a very young Lysette Anthony in the video).

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This Girl Loves The Sun

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The high temperatures we are currently experiencing have been, at times, almost unbearable for me. They have left me feeling exhausted and tetchy, a sheer delight to be around, I am sure! Nothing unusual in that you may think, given that most of the population has been seeking solace from the searing heat recently. Except that for me, it is usually a case of the hotter the better, as far as the weather is concerned.

I am, by nature, a sun-worshipper. The concept of a “hard-earned tan” does not exist in my world. How can the hours spent building up the bronze be considered a chore, when the process of doing so is filled with such pleasure? The ritual slapping-on of suntan lotion, the smell of which immediately transports you to some far-flung destination, even when you are only sat in your own back garden; the feel of muscles relaxing as any tension dissipates in the warmth of the sun on your skin. I have always thought that David Austin’s 1984 release, “This Boy Loves The Sun” could have been written for me (with the obvious gender adjustment!).

Since my teenage years, if the sun was shining, I would be doing everything I could to be outside in its company. Summer school days were spent coercing teachers into holding lessons outside the classroom. One fifth form English lesson, in which we studied the War Poets, whilst sat under a large willow tree, as the sun filtered through its foliage, remains a firm fixture in my mind. As does the art class, which I persuaded our teacher to hold in the orchards of our school grounds, as it would enable us to give more realism to our life drawings!

Even revising for exams became less traumatic if I could do it in the sun. During my ‘O’ levels, in the summer of 1987, I perfected a technique which saw me studying indoors in the evening and early morning. Then around 10am, I would be in the garden on a sun lounger, catching some rays, as my mum tested me on quotes from Siegfried Sassoon’s poetry, or on dates from the History of Medicine. This routine not only had me feeling better, but enabled me to incorporate into it a little beauty regime too. These were the days of lemon juice through the hair (or “Sun-In” spray, if I hadn’t blown all my money on vinyl), and baby oil on the skin. Although I have now dropped both these practices, one because I came to realise that frying in the sun was actually putting my life at risk, and the other because it turned my hair to straw, there is no denying that I still feel and look better with a tan.

I may have changed my mind in ten years’ time, when my skin resembles an old, leather handbag, but for now, I can’t get enough of those feelgood, energy-giving rays. Now, you can understand my distress at being unable to cope in the high temperatures we are currently experiencing. I am hoping it is just a blip, and I will soon be back outdoors where I belong, not only sunbathing but doing everything else that I possibly can outside. Whether it is gardening, which I never even contemplate in cold weather but perform with a ferocity in the sun, reading, writing or ironing, if it can be done in the sun, I am usually there. In the meantime, I shall continue to moan in the style Victor Meldrew, annoying all those around me with my attempts to cool down. Now, where did I put the Magicool?

Well, I’ll Be Damned!

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As a huge fan of the Eighties, it is fair to say that my familiarity with music from that decade can sometimes border on the obsessive. From stellar writers and performers such as Elvis Costello and Paul Weller, to the cheesey tracks that drove us all crazy (St. Winifred’s School Choir’s “There’s No One Quite Like Grandma” immediately springs to mind!), if it relates to the 1980s, chances are I know some weird and wonderful fact about it. My brain is crammed full of 80’s trivia I’m often not even aware I possess, until it sneaks out in the guise of “interesting fact” or a quoted lyric I feel to be pertinent to the conversation (some, nay most, friends may disagree with my interpretation of pertinent!). If the discussion happens to actually be about music, rather than one I am attempting to steer that way, as is my habit, then so much the better.

It was during one such chat about music, that I recently discovered a gaping hole in my knowledge of the era’s sounds. When a friend stated that his favourite band of all time was The Damned, I was at a bit of a loss how to respond. Of course, I remembered their 1986 hit “Eloise”, and then managed to dredge “Grimly Fiendish” and “Is It A Dream?” (both single releases from the 1985 album, “Phantasmagoria”) from the recesses of my mind, but that was all I had. So, when he offered to educate me in the melodies of Mr. Vanian and Co., I jumped at the chance.

As the CD I had been given began to play in my car stereo, I wasn’t quite sure what to expect. My recollections of The Damned were of a band that was almost a parody of Gothic culture. I needn’t have worried, as any preconceptions I may have had quickly evaporated, shortly after the first track had begun. What I should have been worried about, was the fact that a band like The Damned had previously bypassed me! As the hauntingly exquisite “Sanctum Sanctorum” resounded throughout my little Suzuki, I found myself on an emotional rollercoaster of angst and elation, the intensity of which I had not experienced since my teenage years. Seeing as I went on to play the song on repeat for half a dozen times, and have been loath to stop playing it since, it also appears to have made me revert to teenage behaviour (let’s hope the acne and door-slamming tantrums don’t return too!).

My reaction to “Sanctum Sanctorum” is similar to the first time I heard Ultravox’s “Visions In Blue”, on their “Quartet” album, thirty years ago. I will always be able to recall exactly where I was the first time I heard both songs, so profound has their effect on me been. The whole of “Quartet” was played excessively during my youth, but “Visions In Blue” was played so much, the vinyl on that track eventually became unplayable. That one song led me to become a big fan of Ultravox, and resulted in me owning every album and single they released. I can feel myself going the same way with The Damned, and have already begun to negotiate my way around their wonderfully diverse back catalogue.

Whether it is the theatrical drama, comparable to a contemporary Rachmaninov composition, of “Beauty of The Beast” (from the 2001 “Grave Disorder” album) or the student band charm of the lyrically questionable  “Shallow Diamonds” (from the 2008 “So, Who’s Paranoid?” album), with lines such as “compressed carbon is what they are, no more use than a candy bar”, I am having a lot of fun discovering this “new” band. The excitement I feel when listening to some of The Damned’s tracks is something I thought had deserted me at the end of the Eighties, and with more material for me still to uncover, there is plenty to look forward to. Although I have a sneaking suspicion that, as is often the case with the first exposure to any band, nothing will be able to surpass “Phantasmagoria” for me.

So, it is only right that I should end this piece by saying a huge “Thank You” to my friend, for bringing The Damned into my life. Not only have you led me to discover a new musical passion, you have made me feel like a teenager again, and that is no mean feat!

 

Arthur Kitchener – An Original Talent

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When I arrived to interview Arthur Kitchener, it was with a view to discussing his time as the front man for Arthur Kay & The Originals. Legendary amongst Ska aficionados for tracks such as “Ska Wars” and “Limehouse Lady” (although I was soon to learn that the latter as never released as a single), Arthur was someone I was eager to quiz about the Ska scene. So, you can imagine my disconcertion when his first remark about Ska was “I done it for a bit of a laugh really.” Feeling the need for my well-researched questions slip through my fingers, I asked him to elaborate.

“I like the early Ska, but I mean the 1960s. Where I grew up [Streatham/Brixton area of Lambeth], it was impossible to go down the street without hearing it.” However, Arthur goes on to reveal that his passion for music lies with Rock and Roll, “All my CD collection is rock and roll. I’ve probably only bought a few Ska CDs in my life. When I did “Ska Wars”… it was when they had a bit of a Mod revival. It kinda took off a bit. When I done “Ska Wars”, I’d never heard of The Specials or Madness. We had to create an image. As an old rocker doing the scooter thing, it was a bit strange.” Trying hard to hide my disillusionment that he didn’t live and breathe Ska, I asked Arthur how “an old rocker” was able to write such authentic songs for a genre so far removed from his own tastes.

“The difference between our band and other Ska bands was our influences. My influence is Rock and Roll…Dion, Fats Domino, all them sort of guys. Later on, Bruce Springsteen. So the Originals was more a cross between the East Street Band and The Specials. It had all that power with the Hammond organ. My Ska albums are not three cord tricks. They’re engineered in their arrangements.”

It soon becomes apparent that Arthur is happiest when discussing his song writing, regardless of its musical style. Not one to be pigeon-holed, he is currently working on a number of projects, including the “Hobo Manifesto”, his tribute album to Woody Guthrie. He is also one third of The Lords of Lonesome, a band he describes as a “three piece rock and roll band”. Having listened to their self-titled album, I have to say that Arthur’s description falls short of accurately conveying the content of an album that is as diverse as it is entertaining. Along with shades of AC/DC on “Running With The Pack”, The Clash on “Graduation Day”, and early Billy Idol on “Let Me Hear It [For The Bad Guy]”, there is more than a hint of the Billy Bragg-esque protest songs of the ’80s. Despite Arthur’s own protestations that he has left Ska behind, there is even a track that is so heavily Ska-based that I thought the opening bars were The Beat’s version of “Tears of a Clown”. Listen to “Had It Your Own Way Too Long”, and you will know exactly what I mean. Add the tongue-in-cheek humour of the Country & Western styled “Bad Day At Black Rock”, with lyrics such as “We love that Country sound, but we don’t know our a**holes from a hole in the ground”, and you begin to appreciate the extent of Arthur’s talent not only as a writer, but as a lyricist (he wrote every track on the album except “Marlon Brando”).

It is therefore unsurprising that he has been recently taken on board as a writer and rhythm guitarist by Sixties’ rock group The Wild Angels. A big fan of the group – “It’s a great honour to be part of them” – Arthur first heard The Wild Angels play in the Nightingale Café, Biggin Hill in 1968, whilst a member of the band The Next Collection. A hangout for Hell’s Angels, band members had warned Arthur against going to the café, but “the more they dissed it, the more I was intrigued about it,” remembers Arthur, who went on to become a regular visitor there.  His affection for the café is reflected in his The Lords of Lonesome album track “Spirit of The Nightingale”, an undeniably rock recollection of a time when Arthur rode a BSA 650 Gold Flash motorbike.

A crash on said bike resulted in Arthur ending up in Mayday Hospital, Croydon with a broken collarbone. Whilst he was in hospital,The Next Collection went on to finish the album they had all been working on, without Arthur. Having cut him out, The Next Collection went on to become progressive rock band, Second Hand. Never a fan of progressive rock, “You’ve got to have a degree in music to get into it,” Arthur believes that the “people who are into that kind of music all come from middle class backgrounds”, which is why it was so popular amongst university students at that time.

Referring to The Originals, he continues “Ours was a bit more working class, if you like.” He feels it was also raw, and made an impact, the same way that Punk did. Although, “The Punk scene never had any of the impact that original Rock and Roll had in the 1950s. All that music was underground. You had to tune into American [radio] stations.” Arthur goes on to explain how music was part of your identity then, but now music is “like porridge”. He goes on, “everyone dresses the same. The thought of dressing like my parents…” Arthur rolls his eyes and sighs with despair, “but that’s what it’s like now. That’s the way it is.”

Back to talking about the present day, I seize the chance to ask him whether, with the enduring popularity of Ska music, he can see himself ever performing with The Originals again.

“Arthur Kay and the Originals went for nearly thirty odd years on and off. At our height, we were Judge Dread’s backing group. Unfortunately, I think the band died with Judge Dread, to be honest.”

So, has he written off ever performing Ska again?

“I think it’s written off me!”

I try to convince him otherwise, but Arthur is having none of it, and why should he? His tracks for The Lords of Lonesome have shown it would be foolish for him to restrict his writing to one particular kind of music. I look forward to hearing his acoustic set, which promises another musical divergence, when he plays The Horsebridge Centre, Whitstable on 27th July. In time, we will also get to hear the rock and roll songs he produces for The Wild Angels. Let’s hope that somewhere down the line, we will have a chance to hear again the Ska sounds so many of us associate with him, but about which, as I have discovered, he is so much more. I may have arrived to interview a Ska legend, but I left having been enlightened and impressed by a music master. It was both a pleasure and an education.

More info on Arthur Kitchener can be found at: http://www.arthurkitchener.co.uk/