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.
My daughter Courtney surprised me on Father’s Day with tickets to see Kula Shaker in Manchester, at a venue I’ve seen them before. And, as lead singer Crispian Mills pointed out on the night, this time round it was quite an appropriate venue.
Their latest album release (a double album) is a bit of a concept album. Titled 1st Congregational Church Of Love And Free Hugs, Mills explains:
“It is set against a theatrical backdrop, a small church in a semi—fictitious English village called Little Sodbury. I just liked the mental imagery of the small church with a rickety, leaky roof and a great storm raging in heaven, with all these tiny people huddled together to tell stories and sing songs and make it through the dark night.”
The concert took place in the Albert Hall, which was built as a Methodist Hall in 1908.
There are also connections with Manchester for the group: Mills told the audience that Manchester was a special place for them, we Northerners accepting the group when the ‘villains’ of London said “no.” It was after a gig in this city that they were signed by a record company.
The band made a nod to Manchester’s musical heritage during their performance of their popular song Tattva, breaking into the native Happy Monday’s Hallelujah.
My daughter, familiarising herself with their better known hits during the preceding days, asked me how old they were. On telling her that I didn’t know the age of every member of the group but I did know that the lead singer was born in ‘73 (with me checking in in ‘71) I think she was expecting four frail old men to take the stage.
But they blew her away. With Mills as energetic as ever and the other three in sync, they were only halfway through the opening number when she remarked to me “They’re great live!” Which came as a relief to a veteran like me.
And when Mills threw his guitar into the air, catching it on the spin before throwing himself down, horizontal, onto the wooden boards without missing a note, she exclaimed “My God!”
Not for the first time that that phrase would have been uttered in these surroundings. But what was definitely a first for Courtney, who already has a number of concerts under her belt, came during the encore: singing along to a song entirely in Sanskrit! (Govinda)
You may have seen something of the celebrations taking place around the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee weekend. (Some people have referred to this as ‘Platty Joobs ’ but personally I think anyone heard to utter this travesty of a term should be imprisoned by Her Majesty in the Tower. Or taken straight to Tower Hill to have their head served up on a silver platty. Platter! Damn it! I meant platter!)
Naturally a lot of the focus was down south on our Nation’s Capital, but what about locally?
Well, in my town, it was advertised that a beacon, one of more than 1,500 throughout the Commonwealth, would be lit at 9.30pm in the aptly named Jubilee Park.
In theory, such an historic occasion sounded like something worth attending, but it didn’t quite pan out that way.
Although it was advertised to take place in Jubilee Park the beacon was actually on the park’s edge, just below the wall of St.Leonard’s church. This meant that the majority of people, gathered high inside the church grounds, were unable to view what had actually attracted them there like, yes, moths to a flame, in the first place. And also they were unable to hear the rehearsed speeches as the microphone, working in the two test runs, didn’t work for the real thing.
The best laid plans of mice and men and all that.
But still, the beacon was lit, let the records show, as Middleton took its place in the symbolic line of celebratory fire.
Earlier in the week (and less of an anti-climax), there was another celebration as Manchester’s own Liam Gallagher made a triumphant homecoming return to the Etihad Stadium, home of his (and my) football team Manchester City, as the warm-up gig to his upcoming Knebworth show.
A friend of mine was attending. We’d both previously seen the singer perform at the Etihad before as part of his group Oasis, as well as at the Reebok in Bolton. The first time we’d seen them live was at Maine Road (City’s previous ground) a jaw-dropping twenty-six years ago. 1996. Though we didn’t know it at the time, the group had peaked musically but there was still some good music to come and there was some great music then. My abiding memory of that might is sitting on the shoulders of another friend as the sky darkened, the moon rising over the stadium, as the band launched into Champagne Supernova.
(For any music aficionados reading this, there were two great support acts that day: Ocean Colour Scene and Manic Street Preachers.)
1996, though. Twenty-six years-how time flies!
This time around my friend had gone to the gig with his daughter-how time’s change!
Good music survives through generations, with the older influencing the younger, and there they both were connected to it, and each other, in that incredible middle ground.
By all accounts it was a fantastic gig and he took this equally fantastic photograph.
The news came right out of the blue. It says a lot about the world we live in when, on hearing about the death of a middle-aged male, your immediate thoughts turn to mental health and did he take his own life? Even when there was no reason to suspect so.
It seems that those initial fears were well-founded, though. Well-founded regardless of our last spontaneous meeting the week before, unable as I was to see beyond the handshake greeting and the same old laughs. If only our vision could see beyond those superficial things.
It’s a cliché, but the next day, when opening the curtains, the world outside was going on as normal. It was just that he’d fallen away. Fallen from those familiar streets that we’d shared since our childhood of the Seventies. I walked them today, carrying him around with me. Along with his daughter’s words that struck like a dagger on social media:
Dad, I’ll miss you forever. I know we will meet up again someday, just not here
Here. The place of our roots, this housing estate where he was a well-know, popular figure, where we got taller and the world got larger. It’s a poorer place for his absence.
As well as our beginnings I think of our shared interests. He was a huge Lennon/Beatles/Oasis/City fan. Music loomed large in our conversations. He was in a band and I used to listen to his music while he used to read my writing. He once asked me to provide lyrics for something he’d done around a riff he’d come up with. To the best of my knowledge he never got to record it, and the lyrics found a home in my second poetry collection.
On the evening I found out I had a beer in the back garden while listening to his stuff on Soundcloud, along with a couple of demos he’d sent me. They provided the soundtrack while I read through our convos on text and WhatsApp. There was me, informing him of a new John Lennon exhibition in Liverpool. There was he, exhorting me to go to those early Beatle stomping grounds he’d visited in Hamburg.
I live next door to my Mum – my childhood home. I looked to the wall at the rear of the ginnel that we shared. When my son was younger I used to use my friend’s name as a warning for him when he was trying to climb onto it. “There’s a guy called *** *** and in 1982, when he was a kid, he fell off that wall and split his head open!” He’d had a crew cut back then and you could see the blood on his scalp. He still bore the scar in adulthood.
Right up until that middle-age cut off point.
The air began to turn chilly. There’s only seven tracks on his Soundcloud page, the vast majority of his creativity remains uncaptured. I put them on repeat. It’s easier to picture him playing that bass than to think of that room and speculate about his final thoughts.
Wherever he now was, I raised a glass to him.
just not here
I drained my beer as the sun went down on this old town of ours. It will outlive us all.
Coincidence. Serendipity. I’ve been speaking a lot about that kind of thing recently. From a reader posting comments on City Jackdaw about places from her childhood that also hold connections for me, to a fellow blogger describing serendipity playing out in her own life.
Along with what’s the chances of that happening in the face-to-face world that we operate in, too.
Highlighting them seems to be attracting more of the same, eavesdropping universe that this is.
This post is an example of a string of coincidences that recently played out over the last few days.
It began when I messaged my cousin to see if he wanted to go to a local Non-League football game. He replied that, along with his family, he’d gone to Glastonbury for a few days, a place I know that they love.
In answering his text I told him to “Enjoy Avalon”, referring to the link that the place has to Arthurian legend.
Later that day, while absently scrolling through Facebook, a video surfaced that was first posted in January by the group Kula Shaker. It featured them spending some time on top of Glastonbury Tor, at either sun-up or sundown, with some music and chanting featuring in the background.
So of course I sent this video on to my cousin as I was sure he’d appreciate it. He did.
Then, speaking of Avalon, in a local charity shop I came across a book that I’d been meaning to read since I was a child:
I snapped up a bargain and was able to start it, a few decades down the line from those first youthful intentions.
Now, back to Kula Shaker again:
They are a band that seem to be marmite to people, but I like them. I first encountered them in 1996 when I worked for a short time in a warehouse (predictive text changed that to whorehouse 🙈) on Stakehill Industrial Site.
Driving an electric pallet truck, I passed the radio, perched on a bottom stair, that was playing what sounded like a slice of 60’s psychedelia, which I love.
After first catching my ear, it seemed that, as I made many circuits around the warehouse throughout the next few days, whenever I passed the radio that same song would be coming from it (coincidence again?). This regular amount of airplay demonstrated that whatever it was, it must be new music, and eventually I stopped my truck and hung around long enough to get the name of the track:
Tattva, by a new group named Kula Shaker.
I went straight out and bought their debut album ‘K’ which featured that song, and have been a fan ever since.
Now, fast-forward back to today.
Kula Shaker’s last album had come out in 2016 (K 2.0) but they had been posting/tweeting/crowing for a few weeks about some new music and a tour that was imminent.
Then we got a countdown promising . . . something.
First there was a cryptic smiley drum thing.
Then the countdown became more specific.
And then D-Day, a video was posted showcasing the first music from this pending new album. The title of the song?
What’s the odds? I’ve stopped asking that question.
Glastonbury/Avalon/The Once And Future King
Don’t be surprised if the group play Glastonbury this year. This thing is going to run and run.
I will follow their lights/And I will follow their star.