Thursday, September 13, 2012

Trying to Chop Wood

Just a quick experiment here. Cornelius, aka "Fixbutte", a moderator at has become something of a mentor to me in my fumbling on that learned site, as I try to catalog my record colection there. I thank him here publicly for his patience as I slowly conquer the intricacies of capitalization (they have a rather odd way of doing it, but only in English, which must tell us something), image uploads, new artists, labels and all sorts.
He has also read the posts here that make up my "Musical Time Line" and has suggested that I upload some of the music I refer to; particularly, the early and obscure ones. An excellent idea, methinks, but it's proving tricky.
By way of experiment, I have tried using the microphone and webcam in my laptop to make a video of Joe Loss's cover of  "At the Woodchoppers' Ball", one of my first three 78s, mentioned in Chapter One, playing on my little Columbia gramophone which is quite similar to the one in that story - though smaller. Two things went wrong.
First, the sound quality is awful. It sounds great "live" but, somewhere between the sound-hole and the laptop mic, it loses all its bass (I had the speed set a little too fast anyway but not THAT fast).
Second, when I tried to upload the video to the original post, it got stuck. I had to go out and deliver some keys - was gone about 15 minutes - and it was, supposedly, still uploading when I got back. I gave up and cancelled it.
So now.....drum-roll please Maestro?......Thank is my second attempt to upload it (I hope). If I succeed, I will work (another day) on getting better sound. If I fail, this post will look kinda stupid and sound kinda quiet. Let's see.
"We are sorry, there was an error uploading your video"
No kidding!
Supper is calling. I'll try another day.

Friday, May 4, 2012

The Axminster Principle

Before I return to the "Musical Time-Line", I just have to do this.

If you read my last post, you'll know I am freshly returned from my native England where I went for my mother's funeral.

Everything from the moment I arrived in Croydon till the moment I left went absolutely perfectly, but a word about "The Axminster Principle" is required.

"Sod's Law" aka "Murphy's Law", originally said, I believe, simply "What Can Go Wrong Will Go Wrong" but is has taken many sub-forms over the years, generally along the lines that things that can go wrong are also smart enough to know exactly WHEN to go wrong for maximum catastrophic effect.

My favourite of these sub-forms is known as the "Axminster Principle". It goes like this:-

"The Chances Of The Toast Landing Jam-Side-Down Are Directly Proportional To The Cost Of The Carpet"

It should be engraved somewhere. If I wanted a tombstone, I'd want it to say that, but I don't, so I don't.

Why am I telling you all this? Well, a trip crossing four time-zones to attend one's mother's funeral and wrap up her affairs in a week is SUCH a prominent, important and inherently stressful event that the Axminster Principle regards it as it would a priceless Persian rug brought directly from Sotheby's in a convoy of Brink's trucks and installed at great expense in your living room. That toast is guaranteed have lots of very bright, sticky jam and to land jam-side-down.

It did.

I had booked on-line with Thomas Cook. I used to work for them. They pay me a pension. They had what I wanted (well, as close as anyone else anyway) for no more money, so why not. They only did one thing wrong as far as I can tell and it's near the end of this story. That ranks them among the stars of the piece.

Outbound Itinerary:

Tuesday April 24th, 4.20pm, fly with United Airlines from Halifax Nova Scotia to Newark, New Jersey, United States of Paranoia.

Same day, 8.30 or so pm, fly United again, from Newark to London Heathrow, arriving 7.40am Wednesday.

Around 9am Wednesday, collect sub-compact, cheap 'n' cheerful rental car from Hertz.

My plan was then to go to my mother's nursing home in Dorking, Surrey, to clear out her room. I wanted to his first so I would have maximum time to dispose of stuff, buy more luggage if necessary, find homes for things, all that. I would then make sure I could find the places I would have to find the next day - cremation day; the Cramatorium and the pub for afterwards.

I was up at 7am. Showered, dressed, final bits of packing, car loaded, cats let out and got back in, I left home with LOADS of time. Drove to the Park 'n' Fly, Parked, got to the terminal with about 4 hours till flight time.

The first sign of trouble was at the United check-in. I had not wanted to go via the USA. Of course, I hadn't wanted to change planes at all but, if I had to, I'd frankly rather do it in the Lebanon than the USA; just too much "stuff" to deal with. Keeping people free with rules and regulations, hmmm. But, being placed as it is and having all the big airports to the right of Montreal, I had little choice.

I was not actually going to enter the US, of course. They would, quite understandably and normally, make sure I stayed airside while in Newark; just a transit passenger but it seems one needs a visa waver to do even that now. Well, at least, a UK passport holder does anyway. $14 poorer, a dozen or more stupid questions on a computer screen and a half hour later, I return to the check in, swap bag for boarding card and head for security.

Security was actually not as bad as it might have been. The line was short, the search cursory, I had no shampoo, explosive or otherwise, I had remembered to junk my stash of Cuban cigars, pack my lighter in my checked bag (naughty, I think, but they ain't my rules) and my name wasn't on anybody's list of undesirables so I was deemed fit to sit in a US airport for a couple of hours.

Once through, of course, there's no going back and I was still super early. I went to the bar, ordered a G & T (the official airport drink of this semi-retired globetrotter) and got my book out. About an hour later, having finished said G&T, I turned around to look at the departure screen to see that my flight was now marked DELAYED in friendly green letters (I thought green meant "go"). Delayed till 6:30 - over two hours. Enough that I would not make my connection.

I walked around looking for a uniform; any uniform - security, airline personnel, anything. Well, not quite. I found Tim Horton's uniforms (a Canadian coffee/donut chain), and bar/restaurant staff, but nobody likely to be up to speed on missed connecting flights. Having spoken to a couple in similar straits trying to get to Edinburgh, I got out my trusty cellphone and started enquiries. I ended up calling the airport. The person I spoke to knew nothing of any problem but promised to arrange for a United agent to be dispatched forthwith. Three arrived in short order, including "Ashley" who could not have been sweeter, more unflappable or more helpful. She rebooked me, and others, on a later flight to London, wrote out a slip of paper to get my bag re-tagged and I went back to the bar.

Another G & T, another hour, I turned around again. DELAYED, said the green letters. 7:40, said the time. Another 80 minutes and another connection missed. By this time, I had struck up a conversation with the theoretically Edinburgh-bound couple. They had heard that "our" plane still had not arrived in Newark; something it apparently had to do before it could come to Halifax. We went back to Ashley who rebooked us again - this time on the last London flight of the day, leaving Newark at just after 10pm.

This time, there were no more delays. The flight left around 7:30, by which time I had been at the airport about seven hours and awake for over twelve. It was a nice little flight. A small plane, two seats either side of a central aisle. I had a lovely conversation with my neighbour, Lena, going home to New York for a couple of weeks, and my spirits lifted no end. That's it, I thought, I'm a few hours behind but all's OK now. WRONG.

The transatlantic leg of the flight was OK - the Axminster principle was probably still looking for me in Halifax, though I did have to walk the entire length of the terminal from one gate to the other. This was probably a good thing - my legs needed to move. I got a coffee and cake from Dunkin' Donuts, boarded the plane and off we went.

So, not at 7:40am, but more like noon, I arrive at my least favourite airport in the world (Dar Es Salaam is better). Because I had a brand-new UK passport, the automated passport reading machine let me through immigration without any of the fuss I was to hear about for the rest of the week. It seems, with the Olympics coming up, there's quite a stink in the UK just now over delays at Heathrow immigration - questions in the house, all that, but not for me.

Off to the baggage reclaim where the carousel was already moving when I got there. Round and round, round and round, less and less bags, no sign of mine. Well, I think, it probably didn't get taken off one of the other flights (I was so tired by this time that I didn't realise how daft a thought that was - if I missed those flights, how could my bag catch them? Oh well), it's probably sitting in a corner somewhere. I walked around the baggage hall but, of course, found nothing.

More valuable minutes were lost trying to find a United person. Eventually I'm told by a floor-sweeper that baggage handling is out-sourced and United use "Compost", or some such (like I say, I was tired - this was now about hour 25 and still no sleep, my ears were blocked and the floor-sweeper person's accent was unfamiliar). I find their booth, or rather, the crowd of people swarming around the lady in a "Compost" uniform who was trying to get back into the booth. When she had dispatched her crowd of pushy bag-less passengers, she turned her attention to me and helped as best she could - granted she didn't have my bag. She traced it. It was still in Newark. It would fly tonight. "We'll deliver it to your home in the morning" she smiled. She gave me some paperwork and a little toilet bag and hoped I had a good day.

Oh well, at least I've got less to carry. Coming out of the terminal to try to find the Hertz shuttle bus stop, I realised I might have another problem. The voucher for the car hire was in my bag - the one that was still in Newark. This thought had barely formed when a Hertz bus went by. I waved frantically at the driver, not so much because I wanted to get ON the bus (though I did), but to ask him whether there was any point me going all the way off-airport to their facility without my voucher or whether I was better of just giving up and taking the Tube. He mouthed and gestured something to the effect that he either couldn't or wouldn't stop, and whizzed (as well as anything can whiz at Heathrow) away.

I headed off to the rental companies' bus stop and waited. 15 or 20 minutes later (it's now about 1pm, hour 26) the Hertz bus comes and we drive around roundabouts, along identical looking bits of airport road, under tunnels and so on for 10 minutes or so and pull into the Hertz facility. I think we were still in England, but greater precision eluded me.

There are three agents inside, a single line up of half a dozen customers behind one of those queue control ropes and some complicated looking computer terminals with phones attached. I take up my place in line and wait. It becomes clear that the agent directly in front of us has a problem customer but the other two seem to be getting along quite quickly, By the time I am next in line, though, all three have hit a snag of some sort and I start to think I could be here a while.

Just then, the agent in front of me - I take him to be in charge - looks around and sees that there's a problem. He beckons to me and suggests I use one of the computer terminals with phones - just touch the screen, he says. I want to tell him about the voucher in the lost bag - sure to need it now - but he turns back to his irate customer, so I go to the terminal. It's a cool fancy-dandy system involving a web-cam, a phone handset, a scanner, a printer and Barry. He's in Dublin - that's right, not London, not even Bangalore, but DUBLIN. Cool.

This works really well. We chat and process. I recognize Barry as a "North-Sider" and we chat about old haunts while waiting for forms to print. I sign, agree, ask about SatNav (15 quid a day, more than the CAR! No thanks). When we're all done, I'm about to say goodbye to Barry when the original agent rushes over and asks if I still have him on the line - he needs a word. I pass over the phone and gather that "agent 1" has just appeased his irate customer by giving him my car. I was so late, they'd given up on me and it was the last "Ford Focus Or Similar" they had. Good news: I get a free double upgrade. Bad news: We have to do the whole reservation thing again. Another 20 minutes.

I eventually leave with the keys to a brand new (800 miles on it), sparkly silver Skoda Yeti - which is much better than it sounds. It's a 2 litre diesel, square like a van, but very comfortable, SIX speed manual gearbox, but very smooth shift. I never quite understood the wiper controls (and it rained all week), the "climate control" or the stereo system, but I liked it. Later that day, out of nowhere, for no discernable reason, it spontaneously started to warm my bum. It wasn't cold out, just wet. I didn't touch anything, though there was a green light that said "DELAYED" - NO, sorry, wrong green light, this one said "AUTO" so maybe it did something. It also, thoughtfully, started to warm up the map book and papers I'd put on the passenger seat. Must've thought I'd get cold fingers.

They don't just drive on the other side of the road in England. It also RAINS on the other side of the road. To be fair, it may well rain on the "other" other side too but, truth be told, pulling out onto the A4 and later the M25 that day, I couldn't see far enough to tell. It was raining on my side though - and had been for quite a while judging by the flooding. The UK was (is) in a state of drought - Winter was too dry, low water table, hosepipe ban, all that. All week I was hearing jokes about "the wettest drought on record". Well, it was wet all right, I can vouch for that. I had decided by now not to go to Dorking to sort out my mother's things - too tired, too wet, too late, too hungry, postponement called for. I got on the M25 orbital motorway, meaning to head straight to Croydon, where I would be staying.

But it was SO wet. I wasn't sure the mirrors were correctly placed - I'd adjusted them before setting off but seeing in car parks is not the same as seeing on a highway - and the wipers were not responding to instructions. Note to rental companies:- IF YOU HAVE TO TAKE THE INSTRUCTION MANUALS OUT OF CARS, AT LEAST PUT SOME PHOTOCOPIES OF IMPORTANT BITS LIKE WHERE THE CONTROLS ARE AND HOW THEY WORK. WHO PUTS A FOREIGNER IN A MAKE OF CAR HE CANNOT POSSIBLY HAVE SEEN BEFORE (NO SKODAS IN CANADA) AND SENDS HIM OUT ON THE M25 WITH NO MANUAL? YOU DO, THAT'S WHO.

I've driven most things in most places in most conditions, but this was scary and I was tired. When I saw the "Dorking" turn-off, I took it, figuring that at least I'd be on ordinary roads where the things I needed to see were closer and moving at a more manageable rate. It worked, sort of. It was slower - MUCH slower. Many of the roads were flooded right across, the rest were flooded on one side so everybody was swerving about to avoid deep puddles, splashing pedestrians and so on. It took forever.

Deepdene, the nursing home, had been expecting me around 10.30am. It was more like 4pm when I got there. Parked in a residents only space (the only kind there are), I went and rang the bell. I met the new manager and some of the staff and, with help from one and coffee from another, set about going through the leftovers of my mother's life. Her TV had gone - I had bought it for her 3 years earlier and I'd promised it to my cousin who needed one after the recent digital conversion rendered his bedroom set obsolete. Asking after it, I was told it had been taken out for "safe-keeping". Unlikely, I thought, in a place where only the staff can walk but I said nothing while they sent for the man who had it locked up.

A nurse helped me go through all the stuff. Three garbage bag-fulls of clothes (give them to anybody who can wear them, the rest to a charity shop), various knick-knacks, ornaments, calendars of various years, some bits of jewellery (retained), photos (likewise), toiletries and enough luggage to comfortably take all the stuff I had to take away and more. Curiously and infuriatingly, among some unopened mail, there was a tax refund cheque. I had received a notification in February that my mother had a refund coming but had not yet seen it on her account or received a cheque. Here it was, dated February, addressed to the care home, also in Dorking, where she had lived from 2006-9. Why send ME the notification but HER the cheque? I did manage to deposit it to her account later in the week but really - a huge piece of luck was needed to avoid it getting lost. An hour or so later, I was back on the road, heading for Croydon.

It was rush-hour, of course, and still raining enough that pedestrians were soaked, half-blind and impatient. But I was heading into more familar territory - I was staying as a guest in a house I had once lived in for over 10 years - and was able to improvise my route to get out of the worst bits. Sometime about 5:30pm, I arrived, luggage free, exhausted, but home. A lovely supper, a couple of beers, some stories, some tentative (luggage contingent) plans for the big day to come, then I turned in about 10pm, about 36 hours after I had woken up to my alarm at home in Nova Scotia.

The next morning my hosts both left early for work and I rose, remarkably easily, around 9am to try to track down my luggage. United's website link to lost baggage took me to the Continental Airlines site (they had recently merged) which showed nothing about missing baggage, it just tried to get me to buy more tickets (yeah right, THAT's gonna happen). COME ON PEOPLE - THIS IS WHY YOU'RE IN TROUBLE - PAY ATTENTION. I resorted to the "pan-European" toll-free number on my claim form and was connected to a call-centre in....go on, guess.....Bangalore? No, good guess though, try again......Dublin? No, but it would've been nice to talk to Barry again. I'll tell you. The USA, that's where. I didn't ask but, from the accents of the three people I spoke to there over the next couple of hours, I'm guessing Virginia or similar.

Yes Sir, your bag left for England last night and should be there by now and will be delivered to you by three o'clock this afternoon, I was eventually told. Ah, but you see, three o'clock's too late, I have to be at my mother's funeral at 4pm and I have to drive for 2 hours before that. Once I had got this point over - 2nd attempt - they offered me an "interim payment". the agent seemed very proud to inform that she was authorized to authorize that. What does that mean? I asked. Well, in case you need to go buy some clothes.

I was still slightly groggy but could see the problems with this solution quite clearly:-

1. What if the bag arrives while I'm out? Will they leave it? (No, needs a signature).

2. I'm standing here in borrowed pajamas. The clothes I wore yesterday (and the day before) are soaked and dirty and it's pouring with rain (still). How do you expect me to go shopping? "Well I'm sorry Sir, that's the best I can do"

I said I'd wait another hour, call back, check for more news and, if there's was none, I'd consider the offer. An hour later, after much prodding, pleading and explaining, I managed to get the agent to tell me that the bag had left the airport and was on route. This was 11.15am. Even if it had JUST left the airport, even with the worst imaginable traffic, even with another couple of stops along the way, it should, I calculated, be here in time.....just.

It was. At 11.30, a van pulled into the close and my bag was delivered, only slightly damaged,

If you read my last post, you'll know that I made it to the crematorium and everything else for the rest of my stay went perfectly. Only when I left again did the Axminster Principle kick in again. I won't dwell on the return journey - it was mild by comparison. just a quick list of issues will suffice.

- Found Rental Return place after only 20 minutes of orbiting it but did not see any gas/petrol station in so doing. Got ripped off by Hertz who surely know that there is no way to return a car to them "full".

- My itinerary from Thomas Cook said I was flying direct from LHR to Halifax with BMI. The Hertz driver told me - correctly - that BMI use Terminal One and took me there. Only the third BMI employee who tried to help me when the electronic check-in wouldn't work realised thant BMI do not fly to Halifax. It's a "Star Alliance co-share". I'm flying Air Canada, from Terminal Three, 15 minutes walk away, with bags (extra bags now, Mum's stuff, remember?). Note to Star Alliance, it's members, Thomas Cook and any others guilty of the same - GET THE AIRLINE RIGHT ON THE ITINERARY - WE DON'T CARE ABOUT YOUR ALLIANCES - WE DON'T KNOW THIS STUFF - YOU ARE SUPPOSED TO.AND YOU'RE SUPPOSED TO TELL US.

- When I get to Terminal Three, the flight has gone. I was late, it was early, I have to rebook via Montreal.

- That's about 4 hours out of my way, plus the connection time. Sneaking out of Montreal airport for a smoke between flights, I met a man on his way from Cardiff to Charlottetown PEI. His story was very similar to mine. This is obviously not a rare occurrence.

After that.all went well. I got home about 9.30pm, toughly 6 hours late, but with bag, car and self in tact.

This was, hopefully, the last time I will have to make a short notice, limited choice trip to the UK. All the people I know there now are younger than me - I do not expect any more transatlantic dashes. So, in future, for more leisurely trips I will (this is a promise to myself)

- Go when I can get a flight into Gatwick - or anywhere else other than Heathrow - even a drive or train ride down from Glasgow would be better

- Not take a route through the USA. If I'm honest, I've never been comfortable there (except, for some reason, in Manhatten, I guess it feels like London) and it is now clear that the visitor there is guilty till proven innocent in the eyes of the various "Homeland Security", "Border & Immigration" and so on "services". They even asked if I had any Cuban tobacco with me!! For an hour at the airport, then out again? Really people, get a grip.

For the good parts of the journey, I am grateful to the very funny ladies behind the bar at Halifax airport, Ashley of United, the "Edinburgh couple", Lena, my neighbour on the Newark flight, the "Compost" lady - she really did try, Barry of Hertz, Dublin and the supervisor at Heathrow, "BMI person 3" who noticed why I wasn't in their system, the two Thai Air ladies who chatted at the Hertz bus stop, Oh, and the Air Canada steward who gave me more wine than I'm sure he was supposed to, without being asked - y'know, United try to SELL you the stuff!!!

And in the non-travel related parts of the trip: Veronica and staff at Deepdene, Steve & Sally. Bill, Betty & other Steve, Wendy & Sue from Nower Care, Graham the celebrant, Sally Sherlock and all from the Funeral Directors, Michael & Dave, Bill Hill and the Bog End Boys, other Michael & the Band at the Two Brewers, Bob Russell, Roy Hollidge, Tracey Williams, Bruce & Vikki, Annie, Robert & Lynette Soper, Carol Dean, Katie Broady and particularly, my hosts who made what could have been a nightmare feel like a vacation, Jackie & Roger.

Next time, I hope, Musical Time-Line Chapter 6.

Friday, April 27, 2012

The Story of Mum - The Final Chapter

I posted a comment a few weeks ago on my old post entitled "The Story of Mum", reporting her death on Easter Sunday. I'm now writing this post from the UK, having had the cremation ceremony yesterday.At a later time, I will post about the trip as a whole, the tribulations of the journey here and the mixed feelings I have about United Airlines as a result.For now, because I know several folks want to see it, I am just going to post the "script" of the ceremony and say a few words about it.

The turnout surpassed all expectations - there were TEN of us. We had figured anything over six would be a surprise. Jackie, Roger, Steve, Sally, other Steve, Bill, Betty, Wendy and Sue (plus me, of course). Thanks to all.

It was a secular ceremony - the first I've witnessed - and regular readers will know why and my feelings on such things. I'd like to go on record as saying that, while the setting is unchanged (there are still prayer books in the pews etc), it is - to me and those of my persuasions - a MUCH better and more healthy way to go. For the first time ever at such an event, I did not have to deal with the wincing feeling I get when the superstitious nonsense is going on. Sorry to readers who don't agree, but a spade is a spade and I have put up with it far too long.

Graham, the "celebrant" as they are called, was excellent. He wrote most of what follows - except my part - from a combination of what I had told him about Mum by email, "stock" poetry that he uses often (in place of prayers, if you want to think of it that way) and his own creativity. A very nice man, easy to talk (or email) to, a true professional and far more adaptable and quick-footed than any vicar or equivalent of my experience. Thank you Graham.

I made two additions at the beginning of my segment of the ceremony. These were unscripted ad libs and do not appear below. They arose from things people had said to me since the final draft had been written and I felt they should be mentioned.

The first, a memory from Shan, was about the time spent with my Mum, in Canada, looking after her (2004-6). She wanted to express how much she still misses the fun she used to have with her - especially remembering dancing in our kitchen to the Backstreet Boys (Mum would have been 81 or so at the time). I don't remember my exact words, but I hope I did this justice.

The other came together while we were all in the waiting room. Steve, Jackie, Wendy and Sue (both from Nower Care, Dorking, where Mum lived from 2006-2009), were sharing their various but similar stories about taking Mum to a pub. Steve and Jackie would visit as family. Wendy and Sue would variously take her to appointments, the shops or wherever she needed to go. One thing, just one thing, was compulsory on all these occasions - a trip to a pub. Lunch there too, if possible, but definitely a pub. My earlier memories of visits to Mitcham were similar. She would go anywhere I suggested we might go, as long as we could stop at a pub somewhere, so this resonated and, again, I hope I did it justice with my impromptu addition.

Enough. Here, unedited, is the script Graham wrote and delivered (as I said, except for my bit) and, before you ask - YES, we really did play that song in a crematorium. It raised a chuckle. And there should be chuckles. Mum was a chuckler.

Thanks for reading. Now I'm off to argue with a bank; wish me luck.

Irene Lily Anderson 12th February 1924 – 8th April 2012

Thursday 26th April 2012

Randalls Park Crematorium

Leatherhead at 4.15pm

The Ceremony was arranged by her son, David.

Entrance Music:

Glenn Miller's - Moonlight Serenade.

The Welcome Address
Good afternoon everyone, my name is Graham Cuthell. I am a Civil Funeral Celebrant and will be leading today’s Celebration of Life ceremony for Irene Anderson.

Dave, her son has asked me to thank you for paying your respects today but also for your support, kindness and friendship over the years.

Some members of the family and friends are unable to be with us but, a copy of this Ceremony has been sent to them. It is hoped it will bring everyone closer together in thought at this time.


Irene was not religious but she was always respectful of other people’s beliefs. It is with this in mind that this ceremony has been arranged by Dave in a way that he thought appropriate with dignity and respect but also some good humour. It will include music which has special significance, tributes to her life and poems which acknowledge Irene’s approach to life. To conclude the ceremony there will be a dignified and respectful farewell together with some words to help comfort you in the future.

Poem: The poem is entitled ‘Altzheimers’ by Dick Underwood.

You didn't die just recently
You died some time ago.
Although your body stayed a while
And didn't really know.


For you had got Dementia
You failed to comprehend.
Your body went on living.
But your mind had reached its end.

So we've already said, "Goodbye"
To the person that we knew.
The person that we truly loved
The person that was, "You".


And so we meet again today
To toast your bodies end.
For it was true and faithful
Until right at the end.


And so, when we remember
We'll think of all the rest.
We'll concentrate on earlier
And remember all the best.

 For in the real scheme of things
Your illness wasn't long.
Compared to all the happiness
You brought your whole life long.


We think of you as yesterday
When you were fit and well.
And when we're asked about you
It's those things that we'll tell.


And so we meet in 'membrance
Of a mind so fit and true.
We're here to pay our last respects
To say that, "We love you".


The Family Tribute

‘Special’ is a word that is used to describe something, one-of-a-kind, like a hug or a beautiful sunset, or a person who spreads love with a smile or kind gesture. ‘Special’ describes people who act from the heart and keep in mind the hearts of others. ‘Special’ applies to something that is admired and precious and which can never be replaced. ‘Special’ is the word that best describes Irene, a very special wife, mum, aunt and friend.

Irene was born on the 12th February 1924 in Clapham London S.W.8 to Ernest known as ‘Gramps’ or ‘Pop’ and Audrie Burt. Her elder brother, who later married Florrie was called Ron who was the father of Dave’s cousin Steve. The family lived in Heath Road Clapham. She took piano lessons and became a firm favourite at parties. Apparently as a toddler Dave didn’t like the sound the piano made so it was got rid of, a little unusual considering his fascination with music – who knows?

In 1938 (the year before the Second World War) aged fourteen she went to work in the offices of Ross’s factory an optical instrument maker where she met John before he was ‘called up’ in 1940.He was absent for most of the next five years, ending up being one of a small group of prisoners of war being marched about Greece by a lost platoon of Germans. Irene continued to work at Ross's throughout the war. She had memories of often using Clapham Common tube station as an air-raid shelter. On John’s return after the war they were married in May 1951 followed by a honeymoon in Lake Como, Italy near where John was brought up as a child. Dave was born in June 1952 and Irene became a housewife, staying at home to look after her son; something so traditional for wives of that time. Dave attended Mitcham Grammar school from 1963 and for six years Irene organised and ran an informal lunch-time and after school ‘tea and Jaffa cake’ room for him and his friends. She was very popular!

Irene enjoyed a game of cards. She taught Dave to play crib and all sorts of other games. Their Christmases always featured lots of "penny-a-point" gambling games called Newmarket, Chase-the-Ace and often with her parents on Boxing Day - after John's mother (Annie Anderson) who disapproved of such things had gone home. In her middle age she regularly played Scrabble & Mah Jong with John, her brother Ron and his wife Florrie a game taught to them by Dave.

In 1963 they tried Holiday camps such as Warner’s and Butlin’s but after a couple of years returned to holidays in Broadstairs which they preferred. Apart from their honeymoon John and Irene’s next holiday abroad was in 1969 on a Cosmos bus tour. It was advertised as ‘Five European Capitals in eight days!’ Dave joked "and getting out of the bus in at least three of them, guaranteed!"

Irene decided to work part-time. In about 1961, during the ‘Cold War’ when there were real concerns the Russians would activate a nuclear bomb she joined the Civil Defense with neighbour Carol Bawden in the Ambulance Corps. While there, she learned lots about bandages by practicing on Dave but, failed two driving tests to drive ambulances with flying colours! She never drove again.

John and Dave both passed driving tests 1970. John bought a car which resulted in a disastrous motoring holiday to Cornwall 1971 - rain, burst tyre, more rain, smelly farmhouse, more rain - now with added mud, frayed tempers, more rain, epidemic "dire-rear", more rain with simultaneous second flat tyre on way home!

Irene was widowed in 1992. After a time from somewhere deep within herself she found the courage to carry on with life and began to find happiness once more. Irene always had a few close friends but never had many. She started to travel. Irene and her nephew Steve travelled together to visit Cyprus and Canada where Dave had emigrated in 1991. There were other trips with close friends such as Bill who shared her enjoyment of gardening but, her constant companions until about 2003 were her cats. Irene had a cat most of the time - several called "Tigger" after Dave’s cat "Puss" died in early 70s. She loved owls and cats - pictures and ornaments of both were everywhere.

Irene had a lovely quick sense of humour. She was prone to uncontrollable fits of laughter on occasions as you are about to hear. Irene was an avid reader of mysteries and court-room dramas. In the past she enjoyed reading Perry Mason mysteries and watching them on television. Both John and Irene liked to do crossword puzzles. In her sixties and seventies she took pleasure completing jigsaw puzzles as well.

We will now hear some of Dave’s memories.

David’s memories

It sounds odd, I know, but the following is a record review that I wrote for a website about a month before Mum died. It does make sense, honest. Just work with me here OK?

As I write this, my mother is nearing death and it's appropriate that I comment on this single at this time.

During the late 60s, my mother worked in a local newsagent/tobacconist shop in Mitcham run by one Mrs. Aldridge. Every couple of weeks, Mrs. Aldridge went to a wholesaler - a "cash and carry" - somewhere to buy stock for her shop and, sometimes she would ask my mother to go with her to help carry things. I have no idea where this wholesaler was, but it was a short car ride away.
I was about 15 or 16 and an avid record collector.
After one such trip, my mother told me that, next-door to the wholesalers, there was a second-hand shop with racks of old records, mostly 78s, outside and she wished she knew what to look for for me because she was sure I would find it a treasure trove.
I suggested she look for anything on the "London" label. this was Decca UK's label for US releases that they licensed from small labels without their own UK outlets and I had made a practice of buying anything, subject to price and condition, on this label and seldom went wrong.

I showed her the few London 78s I already had, both so that she would know what they looked like and so she'd be able to avoid duplicates.

One day, a few weeks later, I came home from school to find my mother in a fit of laughter in the living room. The only record player in the house was mine and, though she knew how to use it, she almost never did.

Now, though, the lid was up and the lights were on.

"Oh, David", she said (back then, she always thought that was my name and, to be fair, it was), "I'm afraid I've disproved your theory about the London label".

"What is it?" She showed me what she'd found and paid sixpence or so for.

The Monotones - "Book of Love". It had not been a hit in the UK and I'd never heard it, or heard of it. She'd just finished playing it when I came in and couldn't stop laughing. We played it again. I laughed too. For days if not weeks, the house rang to "I wonder wonder who, da doo hoo hoo (Bash) Who wrote the book of looooooove?"

It's fabulous! Later, it featured in the movie soundtrack of "That'll Be the Day" and was on the album. Suddenly, almost everybody knew it and now it's on dozens of compilations in the UK and everywhere else but I'd still rather play my old 78.

Thanks Mum. that's what I will remember; that day, that old 4 speed record player, that old 78, that laughter, not the stranger who doesn't know who I am, thinks she has a baby upstairs and that the kind and lovely, but unrelated, Filipina nurse is my cousin.

Thanks Mum."

And now, some music.

Music: Monotones - Book of Love.

The Family Tribute cont.

After a fall in 2004 Irene experienced the gradual decline of her health. She moved to Canada for eighteen months to live with Dave, Shan and Irene’s grandchildren Morgan, Haleigh and Tegan. The family bought a bigger home to accommodate everyone. Shan even gave up work to care for Irene but eventually Canadian Immigration and health insurance problems necessitated her return to England which she understood and agreed with.

Irene settled into Nower Care, a care home in Dorking where she would spend the next three and a half years. Her most frequent visitors were nephew Steve and Dave’s ex wife, Jackie who called in whenever able. In 2007 she received treatment for breast cancer which she recovered from but, her increasing frailty and the onset of dementia resulted in her being being moved to Deepdene Nursing Home in Dorking where on Sunday 8th April 2012 she died. Irene is now free from the infirmities, turmoil and confusion of ill health. She is now at peace.

Irene would wish you to remember her as she was before her illness during her more content and happier times. Many of her qualities, character and values have been passed on to you and in this way they will transcend the generations of your family. Irene will always be remembered as a loving wife and mother by David and the family with much love and great affection.

A moment for quiet reflection

There now follows a moment for quiet reflection. It is an opportunity for you to pray should you wish but it is also a time for you to recall your own personal happy memories of Irene and how she enriched your lives.

Please stand.

The Farewell

As we gently say goodbye to the body of Irene we say farewell with immense sadness, but let your hearts be lifted by the wonderful happy memories that will remain with you always.

The curtains will gently close around the catafalque as the farewell music plays. Please be seated.

The Farewell music:

Glenn Miller's - Moonlight Serenade.


Dave wishes to express his grateful appreciation to all those people who have supported or shared their love and friendship with Irene during her lifetime but in particular, Sue a volunteer from The League of Friends on the information desk at the East Surrey Hospital for her help and support.

The nursing and carers teams at The East Surrey Hospital, Nower Care Home and Deepdene Care Centre both situated in Dorking whose tenderness and warmth supported Irene during her period of illness.

Words of comfort

So let us reflect upon the mysteries of life and death: -

The separateness, the uniqueness of each human life is the basis of our grief in bereavement. Look through the whole world and there is no one like Irene but, Irene still lives on in your memories and, though no longer a visible part of your lives, she will always remain a member of your family and within the circle of her few friends through the influence she has had on you and the special part she has played in your lives.

Poem: You can shed tears she has gone has gone - written by David Harkins. This poem is how Irene might have wished you to approach the future.



You can shed tears that she has gone

Or you can smile because she has lived.

You can close your eyes and pray that she’ll come back

Or you can open your eyes and see all she’s left.

Your heart can empty because you can’t see her

Or you can be full of love you shared.

You can turn back on tomorrow and live yesterday

Or you can be happy for tomorrow because of yesterday.

You can remember her and only that she’s gone

Or you can cherish her memory and let her live on.

You can cry and close your mind, be empty and turn your back

Or you can do what she’d want: smile, open your eyes love and go on.

Close of ceremony music: Glenn Miller's - Moonlight Serenade.



Friday, April 6, 2012


Around March 1969, I chanced to be in the school library at the end of the day. Only two other people were there and they were not reading. They were at the piano which sat, mostly unused, at one end of the room. I knew them both, one (Rob) better than the other (Martin). They were the only two in my year taking music at "A" level and "Rob" also took French and German, as did I, so we spent much of our school days in the same classrooms. .

When the library was otherwise empty (I think I was packing up a chess set or something) they opened up the piano and started to play. I went over and joined them.

There were a number of similar afternoons later so I don't recall exactly what they played that day but several Beatles songs were included and, I'm pretty sure, Thunderclap Newman's "Something In The Air", a big hit at the time. They played the piano, often together, we all sang, making up harmonies on the fly and I "drummed" on the top of the upright piano.

I had been drumming along with records, on anything that made a noise - with my hands mostly, for as long as I could remember and had had a brief flirtation with a set of drums belonging to another friend a year or so earlier (I'm not very good with sticks but did play in a group he formed for a while in 1968) so I had at least an intuitive idea ofwhat I was doing.

After a while, during a pause, Rob asked me if I played drums. I told him of my limited experience and he said that he had joined a folk group, "Maya", which had been booked to play at his youth club, (St. Mary's Youth Fellowship or "SMYF" but always called just "The Club" by its members) in nearby Beddington. The group's leader (not a memberof The Club), concerned about playing to "a bunch of teeny-boppers" had decided they should include some pop songs in their set and would need a drummer - just for the one evening. Rob suggested I try out for the job.

I had some rudimentary percussion instruments, mostly souvenirs brought back by my father from his business trips to Mexico and Brazil, but no drums bigger than a small set of bongos. Another classmate had once been a marching drummer with the boy scouts and lent me his snare drum, a makeshift stand for it, a couple of small cymbals and some sticks. We cobbled all this together to make a completely ersatz drum kit and one Saturday morning a couple of weeks later, I schlepped it all onto a train to the Epsom home of "Maya's" leader for an audition/rehearsal.

He wrote all their songs and played guitar, his brother played a second guitar, Rob played flute (his main instrument, not an odd fit in a group at that time thanks to the recent success of Jethro Tull) and some piano. We ran through their usual set with me just tapping along gently with brushes (oh yes, I had brushes too) to the, mostly ballady, extremely arty, songs and then we started to look for suitable "pop" songs. We did "Twist & Shout", "Living In The Past" and a few others I don't recall, with me crashing, banging and walloping at all my various noisy surfaces. It was not pretty, but, mostly out of desperation I suspect, I was accepted.

SMYF always met in the church hall of St. Mary's, Beddington, on Sunday evenings at 8pm was decided that we should all go there a few weeks before show night to "check out the scene". Although only three miles from my home, this was in a direction I never travelled (I had tended to look inwards towards London proper rather than outwards into more rural/suburban Surrey) and I had no idea where I was going. A bus ride of about 20 minutes and a walk of another 15 and I found it.

We took part in a "Beetle Drive" that night and met a number of the members, then went home the same way we had come. I now knew I had a transportation problem. That bus ride and walk would be impossible with my "drum kit". Fortunately, I was still the "Eggman" and, without lying to my boss TOO much, could keep the bike with its large front basket over the weekend.

While playing Beetle (a silly game of chance involving rolling a die to get legs, antennae etc. to build your plastic beetle before your opponents), I learned that the show we were booked to play in would also feature some sketches and routines by other members. I was invited to join the rehearsals for the sketches and keenly agreed.

So, the next few Sunday afternoons, I made the same trip only this time to the nearby home of Mike, the 16 year old director/producer of the show and was given parts in a series of skits he had dramatized, mostly based on sketches from a popular radio comedy show called "I'm Sorry, I'll Read That Again" and old Peter Sellers records, some of which I knew. After the rehearsals, and "tea" with his family, I would stay on and go to more club meetings.

Most of these involved more silly games; "Shaggy Dog Night" (a competition to see who could tell the best really long, really bad joke. Four or five would take two hours), a game of "spoons" (a silly card game involving grabbing a spoon when holding four equal value cards. But one was a "social". In later times, it would have been called a disco. A single ancient record player, a few records brought by members, some dancing and chat. It sounds hokey, but it was all great fun and a world away from anything I had previously experienced.

I somehow managed to get all the necessary gear into the basket of the "Quinney's Fresh Farm Eggs" bike but the balance was off and I and arrived on time, but tired and extremely sweaty and sore. We did the show and I survived without too much embarrassment but "Maya" never played again that I heard about. I DID keep going to the club. They were always rehearsing some sort of presentation; for a regular club night, a concert for the old folks, a cabaret, a pantomime, a one-act play for entry in the "Sutton Youth Drama Festival" (I eventually appeared in those five years in a row - a record, I think) . I stayed nearly five years, even meeting my first wife there.

The members, who almost all became my friends and many of whom I am still in touch with, were a different kind of people than I was used to. The three mile journey from my home crossed the cultural (but not the official) boundary between London and Surrey. This was a more refined crowd with a different accent and a different outlook. They went in pubs underage, just like we did, but they were nicer, quieter pubs. They dated each other ("went out with" was the term used), went to the pictures, played football, all the normal stuff, but they also went to church!!!!

I had known churchgoers before - my paternal grandmother was a devout Baptist - but had never knowingly had FUN with any. It was almost an oxymoron. Now, I was an invited guest of a church affiliated youth club. Other friends of mine from Mitcham started to come with me and many settled there too. Soon, there was talk of a "Mitcham Invasion" and the Rector of the church (that's like a vicar, but of a very old church; this one was Norman) was not happy. He was adamant that membership required church attendance - at least monthly. So, for a time, despite already being completely, and openly, atheistic in my beliefs, I went to Evensong on my way to the club once every four weeks. For some reason, it appeared not to matter what I believed, just that I showed up. The Rector was happy and I stayed.

I had owned a cheap accoustic guitar for about three years but was only now starting to get anything musical out of it. Suddenly, I was surrounded by musicians, mostly guitar players. I soon ditched the cheap accoustic and bought a "real" guitar; a Hoffner Senator, semi accoustic, and got stuck in with everyone else. Groups were formed and disbanded on a regular basis for the various entertainment ventures but seldom played outside the confines of the club. One exception was "Me & Dave" a duo that was formed for such an evening by me and another member called Dave. We rehearsed quite intensely at his home for several weeks and thus I was introduced to the work of two groups (by now it was OK to call them bands - I shall start to do so) whose music has stayed with me ever since.

The other Dave had been teaching himself to play the songs of "Lindisfarne". They were also popular with other members of the club so we included several in our set; meaning I learned them too. I bought the two albums Lindisfarne had out at the time, "Nicely Out Of Tune" and "Fog On The Tyne" and both still rank high on my list of all-time favourites. I still regularly perform "Lady Eleanor", "Winter Song" and a few others on occasions.

Dave also played me the first two albums by Brett Marvin & The Thunderbolts. This was an odd moment indeed. I realised, as soon as I heard them, that I had seen them only a few months earlier at the Marquee Club. I hadn't caught their name at the time - they were among several bands quite low on the bill - but had deeply enjoyed their fun set full of blues standards and originals, odd percussion instruments (including the "Zobstick", a broom handle smothered in bottle caps with a work-boot on the bottom and a cymbal on the top), jokes, mistakes, false starts and general mayhem. We did not cover any of their songs directly but did do a few in in a version their style. I bought those albums too and still treasure them. They achieved brief fame in 1972 as "Terry Dactyl & The Dinosaurs" before returning to their roots. They continued as a working band into the 21st Century and may still be out there somewhere.

Other Dave had written some songs too and we added those to the Lindisfarne, some Beatles ("Run For Your Life", "Cry Baby Cry"), Animals ("House Of the Rising Sun"), Roy Harper ("Another Day", another song I still play although I think my version would now be unrecognizable to Mr. Harper), Beach Boys ("Feel Flows" and "Long Promised Road" from the then new "Surf's Up" album). All in all, we had a nicely balanced and quite extensive repertoire by the standards of our time and place.

We played at the club several times and once at the Christmas 1972 staff party of a local bank branch where Dave's father was the manager. On that occasion, my then girlfriend (also from the club) came along and sat with my portable cassette player on her lap, recording the whole thing. The tape has, sadly, not survived but, before it finally gave up the ghost in about 2001, I was able to salvage some of the set onto a CD. I'm not going to claim it's good - or even a good recording, but it is surprisingly not bad. It is also the earliest surviving recording of me playing or singing.

There was a choral group called "The Harvesters" loosely attached to St. Mary's church and Rob sang in it. Apart from him and one friend and club member, Bernard, the other 14 members were of at least our parents' generation, some older (my girlfriend's mother and several other "club" parents were in it). When one of the basses left, Rob suggested I join.

The church choir-master and organist, Walter - a lovely man who had also once been a jazz trombonist, ran it and agreed to audition me. I got the place but was the only member who could not read music. I had to listen to each new piece once and try to pick out the bass part from the other three, trying to follow the dots on the page, then try to add my part, mostly from memory at take two.

I stayed with the group for several years, singing with them in Salisbury Cathedral (I think that's where we were) as well as regular local shows. The repertoire was a mixture of choral works, Christmas music, novelty songs and, Walter's favourites, spirituals. I learned two important things from our attempts to rehearse these - particularly "Joshua Fit De Battle Ob Jericho".

Firstly, most people, especially from pre-rock generations but still today, have no sense of back-beat. If I watch people tap their feet or clap along any kind of music that has rhythm, to me, THEY'RE DOING IT WRONG. I ALWAYS end up clapping in between everybody else's claps. they go front-beat, all the way, all the time. This is hard to write down, I hope it's clear. The Harvesters, Rob, Bernard, Walter and myself excluded, just could not get that song. I didn't understand and I'm still not sure I do. Some of it has to do with classical training. They were looking for the "metronomic" time of the classical conductor, and lacked the "gut-feel".of the African slaves whose music it was.

Second, they were not prepared to ACT. Walter was always telling us to smile, look happy, even if you're reading what you're singing, nervous, sweaty, SMILE dammit. Now, I realised, he had to get them to smile while faking an accent. Most of these people had what we used to call "RP", "Received Pronunciation" otherwise known as "BBC" or "The Queen's" English. This is the dialect that gives us "Nace Hice" for "Nice House" and "Fawlen Awf" for "Fallen Off", even "Plahstic" for "Plastic". There's nothing wrong with that. It's just another dialect/accent combination. Trouble is, singing a spiritual in it (especially with the front-beat stresses) sounds as authentic as singing Italian opera in Cockney or Brooklynese. You HAVE to mimic. Trouble with THAT is that RP, unlike any other English dialect in the world, comes with a built in belief that it is the ONLY CORRECT way to speak. Anything else, including, but not limited to, my dropped "H"s and "F"s for "TH"s, is not a dialect, it's just wrong and the sign of "bad" or "lazy" speech. What price African slave talk to these people then? How we gonna do this Walter? Rob, Bernard and I did the song on our own, just three of us and I walked away wiser. I learned this.

You can choose to be an actor, whether you can sing or not, but if you choose to be a singer, you better be able to act.

My main friend in Mitcham at this time, and for many years after, was Paul and he was now a member of the club too. While a huge music fan and avid record collector when funds permitted, he admitted to not being able to sing or play anything at all - "can't carry a tune in a bucket" was the phrase. Faced with all these musicians, some wannabes like me but some REALLY good (Rob made a career out of it and is still a choir-master while Dave released an excellent CD, "I Know That I Should Know You" in aid of the Alzheimer's Society in 2009), Paul took up the technical side of things. Add the music to the drama organized by Mike (later a BBC TV producer) with the sound-effects, incidental music etc that it required and Paul was in great demand from a lot of very talented, if young, people.

One of his first ventures, with Rob, me and another member, Nigel, was to upgrade the old "socials", still held monthly to be more like proper discos. Originally by scrounging old turntables, amplifiers and speakers and using our own, now quite extensive, record collections, but gradually adding purpose built and bought equipment, we soon had a rig that could "go on the road" and take private bookings as well. After several false starts, names, rebuilds and personnel changes, eventually "Voltstax" (named for two US soul labels) was born with Paul and I as operators and we played parties, wedding receptions and the like for several years - until my work took me on the road myself in late 1975. After that Paul and another friend of his, another Nigel, carried on well into the eighties with me helping out when able and needed.

There was never any money in this enterprise, at least while I was involved - it was too low-key to attract anything but small events. What it did mostly do was pay for itself, including quite rapid expansion of our record collections. I was already, at the age of 19 in the beginning, considered "The Oldies Guy". At weddings, at that time, the parents' generation wanted big-band music for their waltzes, fox-trots and quicksteps. I had it, in abundance. Often, we would encounter rockers who wanted the 50's originals. I had them, in abundance. Fortunately, the new material split quite nicely into two camps that Paul and I were happy to split between us. There was a lot of Soul and Motown music around at the time and I still had no taste for it. So Paul would buy Stevie Wonder, The Chairmen Of the Board and so on. There was also a rockier side to the hit singles of the day; Status Quo. Dave Edmunds in various guises, which fit in well with my tastes. At one point, when Paul was out of work for a time, I bought a quantity of his older records from him to enable him to replace them with newer ones. I bought compilation albums to fill in historical gaps and we sometimes tossed a coin over something we needed to have but which neither of us had any desire to own.

I came to see the business side of music differently through this work. The very real competition between artists producers and labels; the blatant plagiarism of sounds forming new trends that appear out of nowhere but are suddenly everywhere; the manufactured fashions. Some I liked, some I did not. This was the time of Rod Stewart (no), Elton John (yes, after a while), T.Rex (yes at the start, then no), Slade (not really), Status Quo (yes), The Chi-Lites (no), Gilbert O'Sullivan (yes). Still all very fragmented, faddy and, I couldn't help thinking, going downhill..

In the early months of 1973, Paul and I embarked on what we called a "studio project". He had, by now, a good quality reel-to-reel tape recorder and a good cassette deck, several decent amplifiers and speakers of various sorts and another ersatz drum-kit. With my guitar, we spent many long hours playing with effects, experimenting with dubbing between the two tape machines, even writing songs (something I have never really tried since, having found it a frustrating exercise). We gave ourselves a name; CADUBU, an acronym standing for "Cleethorpes And District Union Of Brut Users". Abject nonsense, of course, but band names were (and ramain) usually little more. It was a variation on a throwaway line in a Monty Python game show sketch - "And, from Goole in Yorkshire, the Humber and District Catholic River Wideners Club". I don't remember how we got from "A" to "B", just what "A" was.

Over the course of three months or so, losing some of our better takes to the noise of passing traffic, we made "an album". It was a cassette, actually, and only half a dozen copies were ever made. I think three were sold to loyal people at my workplace who were clearly humouring me. I have one, though like "Me And Dave Live At NatWest Croydon 1972" it doesn't play any more but some tracks survived long enough to make it to the same CD.

It's bad. There's no other way to put it. Bad. We did Lindisfarne's "Alright On the Night" and "Train In G Major", The Beatles' "Cry Baby Cry", The Stones' "Lady Jane", a medley of 50s rockers with "Blue Suede Shoes", "Stuck On You", Johnny B Goode" and "Brown Eyed Handsome Man" which ran into a frenzied surf-style instrumental called "Tangled Tapes Boogie" and our own dire compositions "Jenny", "Railroad Stampede" (BTO still owe Paul for this one. Their "Taking Care Of Business" has exactly the same theme!), "Factory Life" (mostly Paul's lyric, chords taken from Brian Wilson's "Ballad Of 'Ole Betsy; a lovely progression wantonly misused by me, who added the "tune") and about 5 more. Last I knew, Paul's widow (he died in 2003) still had the original "master tape" and I live in hope of one day cringeing to the whole sorry thing again.

By the end of "The Club Years" in 1974, when the Rector shut it down and my contemporaries and I were getting a bit long in the tooth for a youth club anyway, many lasting friendships had been made. There are still at least two reunions a year of members of this group and, although I have yet to be able to attend one, I have met up with Rob and one other member, Katie, on a UK visit and have at least a dozen of them as Facebook friends some 38 years after the last club night.

I grew up a lot (not too surprising, I suppose, granted that most of this took place between my 17th and 22nd birthdays) and learned a lot. Relevant here, in a musical time-line, the main things are these:-

- I can act (I had played the lead in the school play at the beginning of this period (Nov. '69) but the pantomimes, sketches and plays gave me much more confidence in that area),

- I can entertain musically (I will never be a good technical guitarist but can make a noise that people like to listen to) and do it best if I combine that with some acting,

- I can harmonize (this comes easily to me and I can only assume it comes from early singing along with records since I have no formal training and have no idea HOW I do it).

- I cannot write songs. I can come up with mediocre lyrics and can collaborate but any music I try to invent ends up being something I already know.

- I have a good sense of rhythm. Not time, in the musical sense; I often end a song faster than I started it, but syncopation and beat. I can percuss, but not drum, and I can syncopate backing vocals easily in a way that many better singers and musicians find difficult.

In short, I found a little group of niches and have, over the decades since, managed to turn them into a sort of stage persona and style. It's not art. It's entertainment. I'm not a musician, I'm an entertainer, who sings and plays a bit. Whatever it is, it has to be fun. The term "serious music" has no meaning for me. Take the preparation seriously, by all means, but "serious music"? Why would we need that? If asked in 1974, I would not have had this thought but it comes to me directly from my experiences at The Club" which have influenced me over the long haul more than any other social part of my life. If I can write the rest of this memoir as well as I hope to, these themes will reappear and flesh out. Still 38 years to go!

Tuesday, April 3, 2012


The chronology gets a bit mixed at this stage - lots of different things overlapping. I hope it makes some sort of sense.

I suppose, if I`m honest, I was never really a typical anything. I'm not one of those who deliberately goes out of his way to be different, but my major interests are seldom completely mainstream. In music, I have always disliked the tendency to classify things, to pidgeon-hole them. I referred in Part 3 to the attitude in the UK in the mid-60s that there were, at most, three kinds of music; classical, pop and jazz - and even then, sometimes the lines got blurry.

I only started to have a problem with this as the sixties whizzed, tripped and span their psychedelic, hippy way towards the 70s. Most of my contemporaries picked up genres like "folk" or "rock" while I liked bits of all but clung firmly to the original wider definition of "pop" for the rest of the decade - in fact, truth be told, I still do.

I have long maintained that what Americans know as "The British Invasion" HAD to be just that; an invasion. They could not have come up with it themselves because to get played on US radio, even then, you had to fit the format of one set of stations; Popular, Country, Blues, "Race" etc. Sound different and nobody plays you. We had the BBC, Luxembourg and the pirates and they all played everything. Doesn't matter how different it is - in fact it helps if it is. If we think people will like it, we'll play it.

So, for the first couple of years, 1964-5, it really was an invasion, with no defences. The Beach Boys, perhaps, were the exception, but that's about it. Motown, Stax, Chess and the rest just kept on being Motown, Stax and Chess and waited for things to get back to normal; which of course, they never did. No alternative. When new American groups did start to appear, it was because they had formed in order to imitate a new genre that had been created elsewhere, just as Cliff Richard and his contemporaries, following the tradition of Joe Loss and HIS contemporaries, had done in the UK in decades previous.

The early ones, like Gary Lewis & The Playboys, were just copying - and often covering - what they heard from across the pond. Only when some more creative types like The Turtles, The Loving Spoonful and Simon & Garfunkel broke through did they start to contribute and steer things in a more American direction. If I'm honest, though, even later, when people around me started to take an interest in the likes of The Byrds and The Doors, I found most of them derivative und uninteresting.

Enough of all that ponticication, this is a dyary, dammit. Let's have a word or 300 about the Beach Boys. After the UK success of "I Get Around", they had had little luck with "When I Grow Up", though I liked it and had it on my tape, then rather more with "Barbara Ann" which, until I came to understand the story of the "Party" album much later, I always thought an odd choice. Around the time I was due to buy another album, they had the double "A" side, "Sloop John B / God Only Knows" on the UK Top 10. I had taped both sides at different times but knew nothing of "Pet Sounds", Brian Wilson's troubles, or any of that. Browsing in Mrs. Thorpe's shop one day in 1966, I came across, not "Pet Sounds" but "Best Of the Beach Boys", at a good price. Seeing that it had the two recent hits and "I Get Around", I bought it. I knew nothing of surfing or drag racing. As far as I knew till that day, the Beach Boys had been new at "I Get Around". This album was a revelation. From "Surfin' Safari" to "Good Vibrations" in half an hour, calling at "Fun Fun Fun" and all stops between.

I said in Chapter 1 that Phil Harris had captured my attention despite, or perhaps partly because of, the inpenetrability of his lyrics. It happened again here, for the first time since. I knew the term "T-Bird" from my dabblings with toy cars but what on earth is a "Dooscoop", a "Surfin' Safari", a "woodie"? It even took me a while to work out that a "Lie- brerry" was a library - which we pronounce "Lie-bree". I was hooked - mostly by the harmonies, but also by the strange world of which they sang.

I turned 14 about this time and had started to earn a little money. I would help out in the shop where my mother worked and do the odd paper round for it when somebody got sick or quit. I sold primitive lottery tickets door to door for Tooting & Mitcham United Football Club (Come on you Striiiipes!) and sold programmes at their ground on match days. As I said in the last chapter, I also began to lose interest in the tape recorder. I continued to make tapes of other people's records for some time but the collector gene kicked in and I wanted to own the records. I also discovered that I could get "ex-jukebox" records easily and very cheaply in a local shop and filled in a lot of gaps with them.

I became something of a Beach Boys nut. I found a copy of "Surfin' USA" at Mrs. Thorpe's and bought "Pet Sounds" to make THREE albums. Someone at school was selling off records to buy a bike and I got a stereo (my first, though I still had Teddy's original mono player so wouldn't it in stereo till 1972!) copy of "Shut Down Volume II" from him. I bought "Smiley Smile" when it came out and was hugely disappointed with all except the two singles, "Good Vibrations" and "Heroes And Villains". Faith in them was restored with "Wild Honey" and by early 1969, I had NINE Beach Boys albums, in a total collection of probably no more than 30, including a very rare "Surfin' Safari" and a german import stereo copy of "Surfer Girl".

I kept up with The Beatles too - all the singles from "I Feel Fine" onwards and albums from "Rubber Soul" I filled in the rest later and replaced the whole lot with the "Collection" box sets of albums and singles in the 70s. From late 1967 to mid-1969, I was also known as "THE EGG MAN". I delivered "Quinney's Fresh Farm Eggs", on a bike, for about eight hours every weekend and did very well on commission. So the records poured in.

Things were changing fast. As the Beatles and Beach Boys went, so followed just about everybody else. Many of the established groups fell by the waysdide. I was still a fan of the Hollies and Kinks, became a fan of the Small Faces, but bought only singles of all of them. All three seemed to be doing their OWN thing, as valid as anything the Beatles were doing, just different. Most others who tried to follow SOUNDED as if they were following. I lost interest in the Stones, buying only the occasional single.after the excellent "Ruby Tuesday". I maintained an interest in the more poppy side too, buying singles by the Tremeloes, Dave Clark Five and even Herman's Hermits as late as 1969.

I liked the new sounds of sitars, phasing, fuzzed and distorted guitars (in moderation, I was never a Hendrix fan) but only when used cleverly. George Harrison is credited with bringing the sitar into western pop and I approved. When Traffic used it in "Hole In My Shoe" I thought (and still think) it was wonderful. Too many others, though, seemed to add it just to be "cool" and, consequently, failed.

My left-over interest, after the "big two" went mostly to new names. The Monkees were probably the first of these, late in '66, and I cared not a hoot when the whole "but they don't play their instruments" scandal broke; I liked the music and the TV show and that's what they were all about. I was, by now, savvy enough to have recognised that they were not playing live on the TV show anyway. But hot on their heels came The Equals and The Move. I liked the early singles of both but really took notice after seeing them live. My exposure to live performances previously had been limited and disappointing. I had seen The Animals at Mitcham Carnival in 1964 - presumably booked before they were famous - and was not impressed with the sound at all, it was horrible. I'd seen and heard a few groups, mostly unknown, at Streatham Ice Rink, where I misspent much of the late 60s, and been similarly underwhelmed. Then The Equals came to the Ice Rink. They sounded good - just like the records. This was more down to their engineer than the band, I'm sure, but at the time I thought "Wow these guys are good". The music was very simple pop stuff, "Baby Come Back", their biggest hit, "Softly Softly", "Hold Me Closer", "Michael and the Slipper Tree", loud, bassy and basic. But the POWER, the delivery! Even playing in front of a crowd of skaters and in horrible accoustics, Eddie Grant, the leader who would become much more famous under his own name a dozen years later, performed superbly. I was impressed.

Then, a friend and I "won" (they were just giving them away really) tickets to the "Carl Allen Awards" at the Lyceum Ballroom, Leicester Square, a now defunct event sponsored by Mecca Leisure who also ran the ice rink. We went, of course, and most of the acts on the bill were well known but, to me, forgettable. I remember P.P Arnold was there, a Motown group that I didn't know from all the other Motown groups (never liked Motown) and The Move!. Magnificent.

I already had ex-juke box copies of their "Night Of Fear" and "I Can Hear The Grass Grow" and now bought "Flowers In the Rain", one of the best of the "new sounds" records to date. It coincided with the end of pirate radio. I had not listened to these stations very much simply because the poor reception we got in Mitcham ruined my attempts at home taping but I favoured Radio London (BIG L 266) over the bigger, more famous Radio Caroline. When they were closed down by "The Man" in August 1967, I was at Mitcham Fair - a travelling amusement park that came every Summer - where all the radios were tuned to "Big L". They closed with the Number One song - "Flowers In the Rain", just as the BBC's new "replacement for the pirates", Radio One, started with it a little later.

As happens occasionally, it was the "B" side of that record that sent me out for the LP. I always played "B" sides at least once and have found many favourites amongst them, two in particular in 1967. The Move's "Lemon Tree", from "Flowers In the Rain" and "Act Nice and Gentle", on the back of the Kinks' "Waterloo Sunset"

The Move's LP, just called "MOVE" was the weirdest thing I had heard to date, but I loved it, and still do. Almost all the lyrics are at least partially obscure, but only partially. A song about walking on water, one about being in an asylum, one about a dream (well, maybe they're all about dreams), one about a crazy neighbour running round a lemon tree in a silver bikini, and so on. It wasn't "Plasticine porters with looking-glass ties", but it was a long way from "She loves you, yeah, yeah, yeah" as well.

What Douglas Adams later called the "Fundamental interconnectedness of all things" slapped me in the face about now. I deliberately avoided talking about Sergeant Pepper until this point. When it came out in mid-67, it was a first for me in many ways. To everyone, it was the first album to have the lyrics printed on the sleeve. Wow!

It was also my first gatefold sleeve. Wow! It was also the first time I'd bought an album on the day of release so, not only unheard, but unseen too. Wow! I was marvelling at the sleeve before I had even walked the two minutes home from Mrs. Thorpe`s. Taking the record out of the sleeve, there are no track gaps.....huh? What? I'd only ever seen that on an LP once before; on my "Flintstones" album. Surely, there can't be only one song on each side? No, wait a minute, I've read the back of the sleeve, there are the words to at least a dozen songs there, What the????.

OK, play it, stupid. I did. I sat on the little bed in that spare room, listening and following along on the sleeve. It just sort of flows! Wow! One song runs into the next, but they're all so different! And when it was over, it didn't stop; it just kept repeating about two seconds of......of what? What IS that? What are they SAYING? I played it right through again, and probably again. Before long - can't remember, but no more than a couple of weeks - I'd memorized the whole thing. I really cannot express what a huge leap this was. Music had changed so much already in my roughly ten years of paying attention but now, with one record, there was another whole world opening up and, for the second time, out of three, it was the Beatles who had opened it.

Even to me, whose first five years following new music had taken me from "Putting On the Style" to "Please Please Me" and whose next five were just ending, this was radical. It's hard to imagine today. Think back ten years and describe what has changed in music since 2002. OK, I'm waiting..... Anybody? Mmmm Thought so.

Allow me to demonstrate. On the left, here are some of the UK Top 20 singles in July 1967. On the right, roughly equivalent place holders in July 1957.

A Whiter Shade of Pale - Procol Harum                        All Shook Up - Elvis Presley

Alternate Title (aka Randy Scouse Git) - The Monkees  Putting On the Style - Lonnie Donegan

She'd Rather Be With Me - The Turtles                         Little Darlin' - The Diamonds

All You Need Is Love - The Beatles                             We Will Make Love - Russ Hamilton

Carrie-Anne - The Hollies                                             Around the World - Ronnie Hilton

See Emily Play - Pink Floyd                                          Yes Tonight Josephine - Johnnie Ray

San Francisco - Scott McKenzie                                   A White Sport Coat - The King Brothers

Paper Sun - Traffic                                                       When I Fall in Love - Nat "King" Cole"

Okay! - Dave Dee, Dozy, Beaky, Mick & Tich             Around the World - Bing Crosby

Here Comes the Nice - Small Faces                              Butterfingers - Tommy Steele

And dammit, Petula Clark (Part II) doesn't want us to sleep in the subway. Mr. Wonderful - Peggy Lee

Thanks for spoiling my point, Pet.

From Johnnie Ray to Pink Floyd, in just 10 years - well, OK, Except for Petula Clark (Part II). And then comes Sergeant Pepper. I was asked a short while ago - you getting this Sam? - whether I thought at the time that the rapid change would continue and whether I had any idea where things would go next. I struggled to answer at the time but now, having written all this, it's crystal clear. YES, of course the change would go on. it always had (not true, but it seemed that way to me) and it always would. Did I think I knew where it was going? NO. No more than I could have predicted "See Emily Play" from hearing "Yes Tonight Josephine". Impossible. Young though I still was, I realised that, I'm sure.

The Whirlwind in the title of this chapter did not start that day - it was already well under way - but it reached full force at this point and being a music fan became infinitely more complicated. Over the three years that the sixties had yet to run, we got a host of new styles, schisms, fads and words.

First, I think, came the split between "pop groups" and "rock bands". In essence, the division had been around since the days of deciding between the Beatles and Stones but now it took on new meaning. This derived not only from the rapid changes in the music but also because it now had two distinct audiences, with a large grey area in the middle in which I found myself.

The original late-teenagers who had bought "Please Please Me" in 1963 were now in their early twenties, either students or working. They had grown and developed with the best of their teenage heroes and were moving into the new world of albums, shunning singles, looking for meaning (often by over-interpreting the deliberately nonce words of the John Lennons and Van Dyke Parks's of the world). Like the jazz-heads of a generation before, they wanted to go deep - or in some cases, at least appear to. The American artists had now caught up and some of the best were starting to lead again. They were getting back into protest, political awareness, peace and the rest. In the US and UK, they also rediscovered blues - again - only louder, heavier and longer. In the late sixtues, my classmates were playing Jethro Tull, Led Zeppelin, Fairport Convention, the seemingly bullet-proof but still off-key lyrical genius Bob Dylan, The Who, Yes, and dozens of other names ignored by folks only two or three years their junior. All this, with a few exceptions, was mostly bought on LPs. Led Zeppelin never even released singles AT ALL - unthinkable in 1969.

But the world was still making new teenagers. They were no different fom earlier versions except that they now had the Merseybeat as their ancient history instead of Lonnie Donegan, Cliff Richard or Glenn Miller. The more progressive of the old groups weren't playing to them any more - and the ones that tried were too old for them to relate to anyway. Something new was needed for them but what with independent labels and producers and an ever more diverse field of inspiration to draw on, there was little chance of consensus.

Those younger kids had their own styles and favourites but they, too, were splintering. The "skinheads" emerged around this time and oddly, granted the direction their successors later took, adopted Jamaican Reggae as their own. Some others adopted.Motown, Soul and other American pop forms which now had a resurgence. Some picked up the lighter side of the new "rock" with bands like CCR. Yet others, the more dance oriented, took to what became known as "bubblegum" - disposable pop singles by a huge array of one-hit-wonders and others who are rarely more than footnotes in musical history today.

In three years we got the terms Rock, Progressive, Teeny-bopper, Bubblegum, Reggae, Blue Beat, Ska, Concept Album, Rock Opera, and more, I'm sure, that don't spring to mind. I've just picked a month fom that period at random (May 1969) and done a quick analysis of the best selling singles in the UK. Here goes:-

UK groups from at least three years earlier - 4 (Beatles, Herman's Hermits, The Who, Manfred Mann)

Newer UK groups - 1 (Fleetwood Mac, the instrumental "Albatross")

Motown or Soul - 4 (Junior Walker, Isley Bros., Diana Ross & The Supremes, Bob & Earl)

Jamaican - 2 (Desmond Dekker, Johnny Nash)

"Old school" UK solo singers - 4 (Mary Hopkin, Clodagh Rogers, Tom Jones, Noel Harrison)

"Old school" US singers - 3 (Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Tommy Roe)

plus Simon & Garfunkel and the 5th, Dimension ("The Boxer" and "Aquarius/Let the Sun Shine In" respectively).

The "Old School" artists had always sold well in the UK, to our Mums and Dads, but only ever appeared in numbers in the Top 20 when there was no "big thing" going on - when younger fans were divided or disinterested.

I continued to follow the Beatles and Beach Boys, through albums and singles, where different. I bought mostly singles of other favourites, even Jethro Tull and The Who, but absorbed a lot of the other styles, either from school, other friends or the ice rink. I would come back to much of the album based material much later but found it pretentious at the time..Much of it lacked the vocal harmony and the sense of fun which had always been what drew me in.

Late in 1967, a school friend who was an electonics whiz started a little side business building record players and radios to order for his classmates, I was one of his first customers and he made me a replacement for my now tired and tempramental old machine. The two big enhancements I wanted were an autochanger and a headphone jack. He lived some way away, in Ewell, and I had to take a train there one Sunday to collect it - and have "tea" with his family, then, very gingerly, take it home on the train. It was flashy by comparison with the old one - white and sky-blue; twice the power (I now understood such things, at least vaguely, 4 watts instead of 2). I moved it and my records into my own bedroom and could now lie in bed at night with eight albums stacked on the turntable, headphones on and, in complete and utter silence apart from a "clunk" every 20 minutes or so, listen until either:-

a) I fell asleep or

b) one of the discs started to slip on the one beneath it or

c) two and a half hours or so went by..

There's a little piece of commentary that sits squarely between this chapter and the next one. It covers the few months across the end of 1968 into early 1969. I'll put it here.

In 1968, I was spending most of my spare time at the aforementioned Silver Blades Ice Rink in Streatham, London SW16. I formed a loose gaggle of informal friends there including a girl of my age whom we shall call "G". I was still at school, doing "A" levels but she, although my age, had left school to work in her grandparents' greengrocer's shop in Bermondsey, almost in Central London. Although most of my admissions to the rink - I normally went four times a week - were covered by either winning tickets for sillyness, doing odd jobs there or just being waved through because the guy on the door THOUGHT I was working, she had far more disposable income than I did (it seems it was a very good greengrocer's shop) and liked to go to concerts and, occasionally, London's famous Marquee Club, for which we were both underage. She liked to take me because I was tall and old looking and never got challenged in pubs or by the bouncers at the Marquee.

Her musical tastes.were varied and; to me, they bordered on odd. She was a huge fan of Tyrranosaurus Rex, before abbreviation and electrification; need I say more? So I got to hear and see some strange gigs in those few months and got my first real introduction to live performances. At the Marquee, over about four or five visits, we saw Blodwyn Pig, Fleetwood Mac, Yes, Brett Marvin & the Thunderbolts (about whom more next chapter) and a host of others whose names I don't recall. In concert we saw Creedence Clearwater Revival, Delaney & Bonnie & Friends featuring Eric Clapton and (separately) Ravi Shankar.

I enjoyed the Marquee more for the "derring-doo" of the whole caper than for most of the music, although it was good to see Fleetwood Mac who had already hit with "Albatross" and I really enjoyed the very messy but fun set by BM & T. The others, I'm afraid, missed me; too heavy. Of the concerts, CCR were great but the sound in our side-of-stage seats was awful; mostly bounced from the back wall of the Albert Hall. It was a huge experience to WATCH them though. Delaney and Bonnie were good but I knew only one song - "Comin' Home" and lost the plot at a certain point; too many long solos by wailing guitars again. Ravi Shankar was, for the first 15 minutes or so, highly educational and fascinating. The last 2.39 fortnights of the concert (seemed like, anyway) just left me behind.

At the ice rink itself, I saw a host of unknown groups, the only names of which I remember being "Cashbox" and "Dr. Marigold's Prescription". Occasionally, though, a "name" played there and, as a casual, general factotum employee, I was always there on those nights, whether I cared about the music or not.

I saw Amen Corner (awful! Saxes out of tune, both times they played there), The Equals (also twice, with Eddy Grant, already mentioned), Bill Haley & The Comets (yes, in 1969, part fabulous history and part sad), Status Quo ("Pictures of Matchstick Men" era, psychedelic but not the same without all the effects), Geno Washington & The Ram Jam Band (great fun), the Herd and Love Affair (both dreadful). I'm sure there were more and if I think of any, I'll add them later.

Also in 1969, two other things happened which would change my direction for all time. I started to get the hang of the cheap guitar I'd had for about three years and I joined a youth club. But those stories are for another day.