Of Mice and Men, Monarchs And Music

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.

I got the moon. He got the fireworks.

We both got the memories.

On The Death Of A Friend

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.

An Incidence Of Coincidence

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.

The Sands Of Inspiration

This was the sight that greeted me the other night, and what a beautiful sight it was too. As dusk fell the sky turned a fiery orange. A final moment of glory, blazing into blackness.

And of course, I had to get a photograph of it, although I’m sure you guys would have believed me without one.

It was reported that some Britons were puzzled by a yellow sky, some by a red sky, while where I was it was definitely an orange sky. But whatever tint you got, it turned out that the cause was a Saharan dust cloud that had made its way over here. Crossing borders with neither a visa or a passport.

This just goes to show how things happening elsewhere can have an affect on us here (wherever the ‘us here’ is, as the application is universal for you, dear reader, too).

The butterfly affect, six degrees of separation and all that. Nothing happens in a vacuum, there’s always a knock on effect.

The alarming conflict going on in Eastern Europe further illustrates this, as the ramifications spread across the globe like an unsettling web that we are all getting caught up in.

But it doesn’t have to be just negative things.

A fellow blogger (and honorary Manc) living over the Pond produced the latest of her musical ventures there which also had an affect right here.

This was her CD that recently arrived, and early one morning this corner of Northern England became transformed into the desert setting of New Mexico, the setting which, along with a family of rescue goats, inspired the music to be found on here. Something born there found new life here.

From New Mexico to Manchester.

I never checked, but maybe while I was sat inside listening to Laura’s music the sky outside was orange again.

*Laura’s blog can be found here:

https://laurabrunolilly.com/blog/

Ode To Freedom

These are difficult times; awful times.

Amidst the uncertainties tonight I found myself returning to this song, the closing track of ABBA’s long-awaited comeback album.

An understated anthem with a touch of the Tchaikovskys about it.

I would like to think that freedom is
More than just a word

Hope this post finds you at peace wherever you are.

Celebrating The Big Five-O #2: The Cavern

“Let’s see a show of hands,” the tour guide said. “Put your hand up if Ringo is your favourite Beatle.”

No hands. He nodded, both sagely and sympathetically.

“George?” There was one hand. “You know what? It’s always the George fans that come up with really deep snippets of information that nobody else knows.”

“Paul?” Five hands went up which, as there were only thirteen people on this midday tour, meant that for “John?” seven hands went up.

So Lennon nicked it, but, as Millie voted for him and is only just on the start of her journey, things can change. You don’t have to have favourites (though of course everybody does) as the group truly was the sum of its parts.

I watched an interview last night from 1988 when George and Ringo were on a chat show together. The drummer explained their following (when the group was still active) as thus: “I got all the mums. And the kids. George got the mystics, John got the intellectuals and Paul got the teens.”

Our tour finished and Millie and I headed for the place that this selective following first started.

Matthew Street, dark and grainy in the old sixties film footage, was now neon bright but empty as the pre-Christmas afternoon crowds sought the bars and restaurants as refuge from the cold.

You can see from this photo that the place is a bit more swish now.

Our tour gave us free entry to the legendary Cavern. It’s not exactly the same, but it’s mostly the same. John’s murder marked the beginning of Beatles-based tourism, but the original Matthew Street buildings above ground had been demolished. But of course below ground buildings aren’t demolished but filled in.

In 1982 it was excavated and the above ground section rebuilt using the original bricks. I once wrote a Jackdaw post called If Walls Could Talk, Concrete Confess, about a pub that used to be run by ancestors of mine, a pub long gone but holding ‘that which is valued in meaning’.

I like to think that those Cavern bricks have somehow soaked up to hold every note that has ever been played there. Not just by the Fab Four but also all of the other legendary performers that have graced the place too.

Imagine one day having the ability, along the lines of our DNA technology, to extract that trapped sound and being able to replay it again. Wouldn’t that be cool? Doing it in this same place – The Beatles playing the Cavern all over again.

Today the Cavern occupies 70% of its original space, and as far as I was concerned, when my daughter and I descended those steps, we were following in the footsteps of The Beatles and all.

It’s The Cavern, guys!

There was the enclosed space; there was live music; there was a performer recounting his time when he once met Paul McCartney; there were other artists waiting in a line that stretched back decades.

And there were us – an eager audience sat drinking, singing along to Beatles covers and generally soaking up the atmosphere.

Just like those bricks.

I had a beer and my daughter a coke, before having to set off to catch our train back to Manchester. We gave our seats to a couple of women who’d just arrived from Sheffield and seemed to know every song word for word. Words that had returned to source.

I fancy coming back again one weekend to spend a bit longer here. Have a few more drinks and maybe stay over. I might even do the tour again.

I think someone else is tempted, too.

Celebrating The Big Five-O #1: Beatles Tour

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.

“No!”

“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!

Madryn Street, site of window sill theft

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.

12 Arnold Grove

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.

Let me take you down, ‘cause I’m going to . . .
Walls and gate posts daubed in fans’ graffiti

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:

In Penny Lane, there is a barber showing photographs . . .

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?

If you look closely in the bottom right hand corner,
you will see McCartney’s signature, added in 2018 during an episode of James Corden’s Carpool Karaoke

As we travelled along, our guide gave an almost casual “See that white house on your left ?”

“That’s where Beatles manager Brian Epstein lived.”

And then another:

“That was John Lennon’s home.” It was bought by Yoko and donated to the National Trust for the fans.
Mendips, where John lived with his Aunt Mimi. The window on the far left was his room where he wrote some of his songs. This was the house where Mimi famously told him “The guitar’s alright, John, but you’ll never make a living out of it.”

This last stop was my favourite.

Paul’s childhood home of 20 Forthlin Road

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:

Woke up, got out of bed / dragged the comb across my head

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.

Found my coat and grabbed my hat / Made the bus in seconds in flat

This is where he’d get the number 86 bus to Penny Lane. That place with the shelter on the roundabout.

Found my way upstairs and had a smoke / And somebody spoke and I went into a dream

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.