I was intending to do a post tonight about the death that I heard about yesterday, of a musical figure from my childhood, when suddenly news broke of yet another such figure.
The first one was Judith Durham. One of my first musical memories is of my Mum singing the song Morningtown Ride by her group (The Seekers) to us when we were children. I’d be coming up to four then, so it would be around 1975.
Decades later I could recall some lines of the song but not its title or its singer, so with the help of Google one day when on a nostalgia trip (I take these trips often, I’m that kinda guy) I typed up the words and was immediately transported back to the house that we lived in until 1977. And that song led to others, each anchoring me further for a while in a place and time now gone.
Isn’t it wonderful how music can do that to you?
And now there’s more breaking news, but my memories are much clearer this time and so the sadness more acute.
Olivia Newton-John had passed away this morning. I guess she finally succumbed to her decades-long fight against cancer. I love her Jeff Lynne-penned hit Xanadu but my favourite of hers is Magic. And of course there was Grease when we were kids.
I don’t watch a lot of musicals but I’ve always had time to watch that one during the holidays.
You’re The One That I Want. What a finale.
‘Finale: the close or termination of something.’
That’s what the dictionary tells me. The close or termination of something. Some things survive, though. Somethings can be relived. Music and memories.
Well, we almost never made it. Not to fifty, I mean, for you just can’t pause time, but to the tour itself.
I’d booked my fourteen-year-old daughter, Millie, and myself onto the Cavern Club’s Magical Mystery Tour, as part of my rearranged plans (rearranged because of Covid, surprise surprise), to mark my fiftieth birthday. A Beatles tour for us both in Liverpool followed by a few nights in Edinburgh on my lonesome.
I’m notoriously hopeless at finding my way around (not a good asset for a one-time postman) and I thought I’d given us enough time to allow for the odd wrong turning. The tour was set to start at 1.00pm, with no option to roll over onto a later tour, and so it was a now-or-never situation we’d stumbled into.
After a train journey from Manchester and then walking for a while in the general direction, we had ten minutes to find the office where we were to pick up our tickets. I’d already stopped for two sets of directions from locals, and a puffing Millie was asking me to slow down as I kept glancing at the time. I knew we were near, being close to the docks, but it didn’t help that my Google Maps was insisting that we were currently in the middle of the Mersey! Yellow Submarine, anyone? Talk about your magical mystery tours
Technology was proving no help at all and I was just beginning to accept the fact that we weren’t going to make it when we turned the next, oblique corner and a wave of relief set in.
Our chariot was awaiting in all its gaudy colour.
We boarded the coach bang on 1.00pm, playing it casual while Millie wiped her brow. Only a little familiar with Beatles music (yes, I feel have been failing as a father), she was worried that she might be asked questions along the way that would expose her. I told her that she might just be asked what her favourite song was.
“What will you say?” I asked.
With no sense of irony: “Help!”
And so we were off into Beatleland. Or rather Ringoland, to begin with, for we were first to encounter a few places within a stone’s throw of each other that are related to the Beatles drummer. There was his primary school, his first home and, within sight of this, his second home, and also a pub that was to feature on the cover of his first solo album, Sentimental Journey. This was to be the first indication of a Beatle member’s Sense of Nostalgia.
As you look at the cream painted window sills on this photograph, count down five houses. You’ll see that that particular house has no window sill because this was the house where Ringo was born and fans have chipped it away to take as souvenirs!
Next up was another birthplace, this one belonging to one George Harrison. Situated on a small cul-de-sac, he was born in this house in 1943, living there until 1950. His early years passed behind that upstairs window which was his bedroom.
You could picture him as a young lad, coming and going through that doorway, little knowing what lay in store for him.
A man named Ernie has lived next door to this house since right back in the sixties, and can remember fans gathering outside. He would often go out talking to them. One evening, long after The Beatles had split, he looked out and who should he see through his net curtains but George Harrison himself, stood in the road, looking up at his former home. (Sense of Nostalgia #2.) And so he went outside and spoke with him too, over a cigarette.
The place must have retained a place in George’s heart, for in years to come whenever he checked into a hotel he did so under the pseudonym of Mr Arnold Grove.
By this point Millie had been drawn in and was thoroughly enjoying the tour, having her photograph taken in front of these landmarks. Me? I may have had a few taken . . .
The young tour guide made things entertaining, and asked if it was anyone’s birthday as, if so, that person would hold the honour of choosing their favourite song to be played to everybody on the coach. Mine was in four days time but I kept quiet, deferring to a lad in his twenties whose birthday was on that very day. He picked A Day In The Life. I would have gone with Hey Bulldog.
I’m not sure now if I’ve got our order of stops in the correct order, but anyway I’m sure most people will recognise these iconic gates, festooned with a Christmas touch.
These gates held no significance for the young John Lennon because he was a trespasser. He’d climb over the walls to gain access to the grounds, most probably to the rear of here as that was closer to his home. He’d go in and climb trees, and when writing the song that immortalised this place he would refer to his long-held idea that he was somehow different to other people, although he didn’t know if he was a genius or insane:
No-one I think is in my tree/ I mean, it must be high or low
As a Beatles nut I thought I knew the stories behind most of the Beatles song lyrics, but I learned something new here. When John’s Aunt Mimi used to chide him for going into Strawberry Field, saying he’d get into trouble if he was caught, he’d reply that they wouldn’t hang him for it. Hence the line:
And nothing to get hung about
I missed out on a couple of photographs of places when we didn’t disembark the coach, due to my technical incompetence. One, alas, was a place of great significance, considered as the birthplace of the Beatles: St.Peter’s Church hall, in Woolton where, on the 6th of July, 1957, following a performance by Lennon’s skiffle group The Quarrymen, mutual friend Ivan Vaughan introduced John Lennon to Paul McCartney. This is where it all began.
But now, more graffiti!
We travelled along Penny Lane, and as we did so we listened to the song. We saw the barber’s shop:
We also saw the bank (and cocked up the photograph 🙈)
On the corner is a banker with a motorcar . . .
I knew that Paul had been writing about this place that he knew well, but I thought that he’d taken a little creative license as I didn’t think that there was actually a
. . . shelter in the middle of a roundabout
(Yes, I lost that photograph too!)
But it’s still there. Paul used to wait for his next bus behind that shelter, watching the pretty nurse
. . . selling poppies from a tray
He was just writing about the things that he saw on his journey along the way. Ordinary, everyday things that he would make special. I don’t think I’ll ever listen to the song in the same way again.
The graffiti bit I mentioned?
As we travelled along, our guide gave an almost casual “See thatwhite house on your left ?”
And then another:
This last stop was my favourite.
This was the home where he lost his mother. This was the home where John used to call around to write songs with his mate, sitting toe-to-toe, encouraged by Paul’s music loving father. Behind that window above the door, magic was created. One After 909; She Loves You; When I’m 64; She Was Just Seventeen. The list goes on.
Sense Of Nostalgia #3:
You may have seen that aforementioned Carpool Karaoke episode where Paul and Corden returned to Forthlin Road, but I preferred this story that we were told: One day Paul had returned with his son, James, showing him the places where he’d grown up as a child. Sat in the back of a car at the end of the street, windows blacked out to preserve the musician’s anonymity, they were disturbed by a knock on the window. Seeing it was just a young boy on his own, Paul wound down the window.
“If you give me a pound I’ll show you the house where Paul McCartney used to live.”
A laughing Paul handed all the coins that he had on him over to the bemused young entrepreneur.
From this house we can follow Paul’s journey, as explained in A Day In The Life:
He would come out of this house, out of this gate, to turn left and head down the street to the bus stop at the end.
This is where he’d get the number 86 bus to Penny Lane. That place with the shelter on the roundabout.
I wonder who that person who spoke was, but we do know that one day, on one of those countless bus journeys, he saw another lad in school uniform, carrying a guitar: George Harrison.
I will leave this post here, as it’s longer than the usual posts that I write in Jackdaw, but I wanted to share some of this journey with you guys while also preserving it for myself. I’ll speak of our visit to The Cavern in my next post.
If I took one thing away from this day it was this: these were just four ordinary working class kids, writing about their average daily lives.
They each created songs and images about their day-to-day life, places of trespass where they spent their childhood; things that they saw from the upper deck of a bus. Local scenes that one day would be experienced by the rest of the world.
I think Millie took something from that, too. She wants to go again.
John Lennon would have been eighty today. Can you imagine that? The founder of The Beatles being an octogenarian. He’s now been dead for the same number of years that he lived, and there’s always a sadness in that. It’s hard to consider the life without the tragic end. But we must try.
The other morning I downloaded this and listened to it over a coffee in McDonald’s.
A two-parter, it features both Sean and Julian Lennon for the first time speaking publicly about their father. Sean also interviews his Godfather, Elton John, and also Lennon’s songwriting partner Paul McCartney.
Speaking to the latter, Sean mentioned how Love Me Do was written before The Beatles existed as the group we all know, and asked if there were other such early songs? Paul confirmed that there were, for example One After 909 and I Saw Her Standing There. Commenting that they were such strong songs that still stand today, Sean asked did they ever write any bad songs or did they always strike gold straight away?
When Paul replied that there were bad ones, the reaction was along the lines of Oh, thank Christ for that!
I guess that gives hope to we mere mortals, scribbling along in the sand.
Sean also asked about Paul’s first meeting with his father, which I guess every fan knows took place on the 6th July 1957, when John’s skiffle band The Quarry Men were performing at a church fete.
What I didn’t know was that Paul had seen John around a few times before this, but that he didn’t know him. A couple of times he’d caught Paul’s eye when on the same bus, when John would have been travelling to see his mother. Paul had thought that Lennon had looked cool, sporting the rebellious, Teddy Boy look of the time. Then another time he saw him in the queue at a chippy, thinking hey, that’s the guy from the bus. But at this point they’d still never spoke to each other.
That all changed when mutual friend Ivan Vaughan took Paul so see John playing at the fete, and the penny dropped that his friend’s friend was the same guy he’d been noticing around the neighbourhood.
This is artist Eric Cash’s conception of John and Paul’s introductory meeting in the church hall after the performance.
Sometimes in life it seems like the paths of certain individuals keep crossing. The universe has a way of bringing together people who are meant to meet.
Just this morning I saw this image posted, announcing the birth of a young son to Julia and Alfred Lennon.
Who could have had any idea at the time, when skimming the announcements in the local newspaper, the impact that that boy would have on the world?
I wonder about those other babies, too, for example the Looney daughter stated immediately below the Lennon son. What life did she go on to lead? Did she ever know the brief illustrious company that she once shared in her origin? Did she go on to impact the world in some other, less celebrated way?
Eighty years on, I was draining the last of my coffee as Sean finished the show with:
Here’s wishing a Happy Birthday to my Dad. People may grow old, but great music never does.
And that’s true. All art is nailed at the time in a form that lasts forever, untouched by shifting context and the changing mores.
Waking up it was just another day: drop my son off at school, nip into Manchester to pick a few things up, have a coffee before making it back for home-time. But, on cutting through the Northern Quarter, I found my city transformed: the taxis were now an unfamiliar colour,
and our news was being brought to us by hitherto unread newspapers
Bemused, confused, years of watching sci-fi movies threw all sorts of implausible theories up. The only thing apparently clear was that I had woken up this morning as a citizen of an American city.
Last night must have been some night.
But no, despite being rather excited at the prospect of having undergone some kind of spontaneous relocation, I soon discovered that I had wandered onto the setting of a new movie, the Spider-Man spin-off Morbius. Apparently it is cheaper for Hollywood to film New York in our Manchester than it is to film New York in New York!
Forgive my ignorance, but when I heard whispers that Jared Leto had been spotted in a nearby street I thought that maybe he was one of those bloggers that my kids spluttered their cornflakes out about over breakfast, maybe after publicising his latest meet and greet.
So, oblivious to it all, off I went, leaving the bystanders behind, to have a leisurely coffee in my favourite coffee place. It’s my favourite because it is smack-bang in the middle of a heritage site where many generations, and many branches, of my ancestors lived, worked and died in old Ancoats, the world’s first industrial suburb. I love nothing more than to sit with a book in what is a charming, historic mill, making those personal connections that makes the history, well, more personal.
Except not today. For scenes were being filmed there, scenes that totally disrupted my quest for nostalgic feels. And so I set off again, trudging along those same streets that my ancestors once walked, streets that were far removed from the glamour of Hollywood.
Damn those Americans, coming over here and dominating our converted cotton mills. I found another place to drink, somewhere a bit more modern, and ordered an Americano. Americano! Was that them too?
Or was that the Italians? This used to be our Little Italy, after all.
I recently finished reading a biography about possibly my country’s greatest actress: Vivien Leigh. Triumphant and tragic, always lovely, ever fragile, her most difficult part was that of her own life.
My post on an old movies site on Facebook provoked a conversation about her being England’s greatest actress. I was asked what it was about her that made me of this opinion, and how she faired in comparison to the likes of Dame Judi Dench and Dame Helen Mirren. (The question was asked in all innocence, purely out of curiosity, as it was posed by a fan of Vivien’s who was curious as to why I hold her in such similar esteem.)
I replied that both Judi Dench and Helen Mirren are fine actresses, (Elizabeth Taylor too), but to me there seems a certain gravitas in both Leigh’s performances and in her attitude towards her craft. Most of her…