Tuesday, 10 December 2013

Music Concrète (1975) INITIAL DRAFT - MORE TO FOLLOW

One of the more bizarre musical influences of my childhood was "music concrète". My father had a very expensive sound system set up in the "front room" or "drawing room" of our terraced house. He loved to put on a french radio station, for which we had excellent reception, and play "music concrète" to me. Because I knew no different, I thought this was quite normal. 

Hopefully when I have had a chance to go through some old photograph albums I'll be able to find some photos to add to this short post. 

Undoubtedly, this early musical training opened up my ears to the possibility of all types of music so I have never been put off any type of music. If you asked me what was my favourite music I'd have to reply "The best examples of everything". I wouldn't dismiss a piece because it was from the genre of thrash metal, for example, but I might dismiss it if I thought it wasn't great musically.

My father also had a record which he loved to play to me. It came with the record player and was designed to show off the systems' capabilities. There was the sound of a train which felt like it was running through the room. There were various frequencies to test the system and your hearing. My favourite was the recording of thunder. 

The "front room" was for "special". It was used by the guests from my mum's B and B and we used it at Christmas but as we didn't have central heating, the two-bar electric heater took ages to heat it up so mostly the room remain unused.

Monday, 9 December 2013

The Clash - Should I stay or should I go (July 1984)

The Clash's "Should I stay or I should I go?"was the anthem to my final weeks at boarding school. It was released in 1982 but did not make No. 1 in the UK until 10 years later when it was re-issued.  

There was a sweet spot between the end of A levels and end of term where the weather was great and all there was to do was socialise and sunbathe. 

It was obvious that we were all going to "go" but never the less it was the most played song for those few weeks. 

Sunday, 8 December 2013

Puff the Magic Dragon (1973)

In 1963 Peter, Paul and Mary made a recording of Puff the Magic Dragon. It's a song about a dragon who finds a playmate who then grows up and leaves the dragon alone. Ten years later I was hearing this song played on my Dad's reel to reel* for the first time. 

Rumours went around that the song referenced drugs but the band consistently denied this was the case. Of course, age 5 this went over my head. I enjoyed the tune and made my Dad play it again and again. I pretty much knew all the words. Dad had a very expensive record player so I'm guessing that he recorded this song onto a compilation tape that he made for me but I can only remember "Puff". 

My small fingers were ideally suited to fiddling with the machine. Dad taught me how to feed the tape through, wipe a tape with a magnet, which seemed like magic to me and splice a tape using a razor blade. 

The machine had pride of place on the side board next to the television and the fish tank. In order that it didn't get filled with dust, my Mum provided a cotton place mat with lace edges with which it was reverentially covered when we had finished using it. 

*The image of the reel to reel is from this site - www.audiofilesolutions.com

Duran Duran - Hungry like the wolf (1982)

Duran Duran's second album "Rio" was released on May 10th 1982. Sometime shortly after that I went for a regular sleepover at my friend Jane's house. She had a copy of the record and we listened to "Hungry like the wolf". Jane's house was the one place I could go that met my parents' approval. They trusted Jane's Dad to pick me up in his blue Toyota as he was a "good driver". I have no idea how they formed this opinion but I was happy to concur if it got me out of the house.

I was a regular at Jane's house. I loved it there as they would often cook my favourite meat fondue in the evening and bacon sandwiches in the morning. I felt they were very sophisticated having a fondue set. They were also avid tea drinkers, like me, so I felt very at home.

Jane was a prolific reader and I'm fairly sure that she had just finished reading either "Mein Kampf" or "Das Capital" on this particular visit. Her parents owned the most wonderful antiquarian bookshop and Jane was working her way through the entire collection of thousands of books. 

This was an age that was pre-computers, pre-internet, pre-google or wikipedia but walking into their ship was like walking into a virtual search engine. I would spend a lot of time in the music section (left hand side, half way down, floor level). I was also interested in the geography section (left-hand side, slightly around the corner) and biographies which had a room to themselves on the right.  No boring dewey-decimal system for them. Jane's mum had devised her own system and had an encyclopedic knowledge of the books. Sometimes a customer would come in and say "I once read a book, it had a green cover and one of the characters was called Mary"....Irene invariably went straight to the correct book. The matt grey painted shelves, gloss black painted boarders and William Morris wallpaper, combined with rows of antiquarian books, led to a very stylish look. 

I was very happy to spend as much time as I could in their shop. My reading wasn't all high brow though. I demolished all their Mills and Boon section, secretly reading them at home and then returning them to the shop.

Jane's dad, Kevin had built all of the shelves with his secret system. I never could figure out where the nails went. Kevin and Irene were a double act and were the perfect combination to run this exquisite shop.  The shop was very stylish and had a small oval garden in the centre. The shop even featured in an episode on "Bergerac".

After the sleepover we'd walk down to the shop, hang out, drink tea, walk around town in our school regulation paddington bear navy blue duffel coats which also served as weekend coats. 

We'd look in Unit One and then Rock Island, walk through Woolworths and past Millets where they sold parkas, two tone trousers and black Harrington jackets with tartan lining - a combination that enticed me with its tantalising message of rebellion but I knew I could never wear as I was a) female b) my parents would not allow it. I hankered after a parka. Jane remembers lunch at Pizzaland, half a pizza, baked potato and coleslaw for a £1.  

Then we'd head back to the shop for tea and chats. In its heyday such was Thesaurus' reputation that customers would fly into Jersey just to visit.

One such couple came from Loveland, Colorado and stayed in our house which my mum also ran as a guesthouse between April and October. The woman had discovered that she was related to the Falle family and came to Jersey to search out her heritage and spent much time in Thesaurus.

After my mum died when I was 21, Jane's parents very kindly invited my Dad and me for Christmas with them and those were very happy Christmases indeed. After lunch we would play Trivial Pursuit, which was great fun because Jane's mum knew all the literature answers and there was no question I was ever going to get close to winning.  I remember there was discussion concerning a question about "Black Friday" or the strike of 1921. My Dad closed the conversation down by pointing out that he was there and remembered going to school on a bus covered in barbed wire. He said "It's not history to me, it's just life".

Thank you to Jane Creaton for providing the photographs of Thesauraus Booksellers.

Saturday, 7 December 2013

Olivier Messiaen - Quatuor pour le fin du temps

In an earlier blog I recalled how 1981 was the year that I didn't get to see Adam and the Ants at Fort Regent and I didn't get to see the "The Blue Lagoon". And I realise that probably makes me sound like a complete spoilt brat but I'm just reporting the facts as I saw them, without any gloss. I was housed, fed and safe and went to a good school unlike many other people and really if that's all I had to worry about, life was pretty good. In fact, knowing what I know now about the abuse some children the same age as me were suffering in a children's home only 5 miles away it seems indecent to talk about my teenage concerns. I find it incredibly upsetting that in an island as beautiful as ours, some children were living such a terrible life and continue to do so.  As my friend's 15 year son would say to me "First world problems". 

Being stuck at home meant that there wasn't a lot to do apart from practising the flute. That practice paid off and I got an interview at Charterhouse school on the basis of my Grade 8 and got a place at the school after my music audition. 

By the age of 14, as loving as my parents were I was getting fed up of not being able to have the same rules as my friends. I am hugely grateful to my loyal friends who would ring my doorbell and ask my mum "Mrs Bridge, Can Jennifer come to the cinema?", even though I knew the answer would be "no" I so appreciated that they did this as a) it let my parents know that everyone else really was going to the cinema and b) I knew I hadn't been forgotten.

I decided that I would either get at job in a bank aged 16 and get my own flat or I would get a scholarship to boarding school. I reasoned that at boarding school whatever the rules were at least we would all be in the same boat.

45% of the students played an instrument so, suddenly, playing an instrument was normal and I was in a crowd of similar people and it felt great. I loved singing in the chapel choir and was introduced to the staples of the Anglican musical tradition - Parry and Stamford. If ever I hear the opening bars of Stamford's Nunc Dimitis in B flat I am transported back. 

After one Sunday chapel, the organist played "Transport de Joie" by Olivier Messiaen and I sat transfixed in my choir stall. As soon as I could, I asked him the name of the piece. This was in the days before computers, google and wikipedia, so I had to look it up in a book. I would beg him to play it again. A few years later I was able to buy a CD with this piece on and I would lie on my back, listening to this piece, thinking "this is what it must feel like to be transported to heaven".

I was very pleased to discover that Messiaen's "Quartet for the end of time" was a set work for A level as it meant I could study his work in great detail. By this time pop music was playing no part in my life at all, well if it did, I can't remember anything significant.

"Quartet for the end of time" is not easy to listen to.

The more you learn of its provenance, the harder it is to listen to it.

When I listen to it I feel tormented. I don't listen to it often because I want to be distressed by it. I never want my reaction to be commonplace.

After the premiere, the composer said "Never was I listened to with such rapt attention and comprehension". The premiere was performed outdoors in the rain in front of 400 prisoners and guards in Stalag VIII-A, a prisoner of war camp in Görlitz. Messiaen had been captured and sent to the camp in June 1940.

He was only able to write the piece down due to a sympathetic prison guard who gave him some paper and pencils. He wrote for the available musicians; clarinet, violin, cello & himself on piano.

Messiaen was inspired by the of Book of Revelation from the Bible. Without being trite, with no end to his incarceration in sight perhaps he felt that the end of time had been reached or that time no longer had any meaning. 

And I saw another mighty angel come down from heaven, clothed with a cloud: and a rainbow was upon his head, and his face was as it were the sun, and his feet as pillars of fire ... and he set his right foot upon the sea, and his left foot on the earth .... And the angel which I saw stand upon the sea and upon the earth lifted up his hand to heaven, and swear by him that liveth for ever and ever ... that there should be time no longer: But in the days of the voice of the seventh angel, when he shall begin to sound, the mystery of God should be finished ....

Simon and Garfunkel (late 1970s & early 1980s)

If Simon and Garfunkel is the soundtrack to the summers of the late seventies and early eighties, then St. Ouen's bay is the backdrop. 

I was very fortunate to have not just one set of parents but two, as my friends lived just across the road and I owe a debt of gratitude to their parents for treating me as one of their own. 

In the summer holidays, as soon as there was a sunny day, and in my memories it was sunny every day, we would climb into their VW combi van*, collect their mum from her part-time bank job in Broad Street at 1pm and head out to St. Ouen with Simon and Garfunkel blaring out the eight-track player, competing with the distinctive sound of the air-cooled engine.

Liam recalled that his Dad had bought loads of tapes from Bob Furness' shop in the market, including; Simon and Garfunkel, Abba, Credence Clearwater Revival, The Carpenters, Leonard Cohen, Nilsson, Elton John,and the Beatles greatest hits.

We had our spot, second steps along to the left from the Watersplash. My friends' parents always came prepared with comfy sun loungers and newspapers. We would then lay out on our towels and bake ourselves punctuating the day with a swim in the Atlantic surf when we became too hot.  

Later on in the day we'd head to the Watersplash  for a coke and crisps.

By 5.30pm it was time to think about heading home. Sometimes in the height of summer there were so many hire cars on the roads that it could take over an hour so we'd stop at the chippy at Beaumont for fish and chips to eat on the way home.

Perfect summer days.

Eventually, going to the beach with parents morphed into going to the beach with friends and so by the Summer of 1985 we were now heading to St. Ouen in Paul's white mini with Bryan Adams' "Summer of '69" at full volume. 

Like that endlessly looping 8-track of a few years earlier, Bryan Adams was the soundtrack to my 16th year. I owed my entire social life to my best-friend and her family.

St. Ouen is a place that I always return to when I need to think. I was 21 years old when my mum died and after her funeral my Dad went to the Yacht Club for lunch (a creature of habit) and I went to St. Ouen and sat there. There was something comforting knowing that no matter what, the tide will ebb and flow and the sun will come up again.

* The van was a 1969 Kombi in "Turkis Blau", bought in 1979, became blue in 1980, black in 1982 and red in 1984.

Adam and the Ants - Stand and Deliver (May 1981)

My parents were very nice people. I feel I have to start by saying that as they had my best interests at heart. Maybe because they were elderly parents and I was an only child, they wanted to keep me extra safe. My mother was particularly concerned about the cinema and wouldn't let me go with my friends due to the "men in rain coats". I just thought she was being ridiculous and just didn't want me to have any fun like everyone else. However, I told this story to my friend's mum last year and she said "Yes there were dirty old men in raincoats." One time she had gone to a matinée and had to leave as a man had made her feel so uncomfortable. Later that evening she spotted there was an organ recital at St. Mark's Church so decided to go to it. Would you believe, the same dirty old man in his gabardine raincoat was in the back pew. So maybe my mother had a point. 

I can blame the men in macintoshes for missing one of the great cultural moments of the early 80's. One Monday at school everyone (well it felt like it) was talking about "The Blue Lagoon" a film that they had all been to see at the Odeon Cinema (which tantalisingly was only 200 yards from my front door). This film had its US release in 1980 so unless someone can correct me I'm guessing that it made it to Jersey sometime in the next 12 months. 

If you have not seen the film (and I still haven't) it's the story of two children who find themselves marooned on a tropical island, as they become teenagers they develop "feelings" for each other and without society dictating what they should or should not do, their relationship "develops". This film was obviously very pertinent to our lives so it was a topic of great interest to be discussed at break-time and lunch-time. 

Brooke Shields was only 14 years of age when she starred in this film which led to a Congressional Enquiry in which she testified that a body double was used in some scenes and in others her hair was glued to her breasts. I cannot remember at the time, anyone making an issue about the appropriateness of a 14 year old girl starring in this sort of film.

A lot was happening in 1981. As if the "Blue Lagoon" wasn't exciting enough, unbelievably "Stand and Deliver" by Adam and the Ants made it to No. 1 in the UK charts on May 9th 1981 and stayed there for five weeks and then whilst it was No. 1, the band came to Jersey and according to this site they performed at Fort Regent on June 6th 1981. I solved the problem of not being disappointed by the inevitable rejection by simply not bothering to even ask my parents if I could go.

To get the "look" required a visit to "Unit One" in town where you could buy faux-leather skintight trousers and frilly white shirts. I was happy just to practice making two red stripes and a white stripe across my nose using my mother's makeup (obviously she didn't have white so I used her cream pan-stick) so I could look like a man wearing make-up. 

However, I persuaded my mum to let me go to "Rock Island" and for the first time I was able to fit in. I bought a white T-shirt, a pair of skin tight sarsparilla jeans and a navy blue tank top. I could not have been happier, no more home-made dirndl skirt with matching bolero for me. However, I still had to finish the outfit off with my sensible Start-rite shoes from Béghins shoes. 

Most girls wore shoes from "Freeman Hardy and Willis". These shoes had heels and whilst I secretly wished I could own a pair, believing them to be a secret pass to the cool club,  I was also glad my mum was strict about high heels as I did not want bunions like hers when I grew up.

So 1981 can be summed up by two things I didn't see. What I was doing was practising my flute a lot which meant that at the age of 14 I was able to get my grade 8 with distinction and that set me up for my future.

When I was in my twenties I challenged my Dad on their parenting and he got quite upset. He said "Give over, I did my best". I've always regretted that conversation as I had genuinely upset him. As a parent of a 9 and 12 year old I can understand why my parents did not want me to see the film or let me go out at night, although at the time I resented it, leading me to become sullen and withdraw from them. As a parent you can only do your best. 

I wish it could be Christmas everyday (1973)

My parents "did" Christmas until I was 8 years old but the second that I decided I didn't believe in Santa any more my parents stopped as my mum found it too stressful so I decamped to my friends' house across the road. 

If you were born in or around 1968, like me, then you probably can't remember a time when Christmas wasn't accompanied by two songs “I wish it could be Christmas every day” by the Wizzards and “Merry Xmas Everybody” by Slade. Both of these songs were part of the soundtrack to Christmas 1973. 

And were your decorations homemade too? Every year I couldn't wait to start making my Blue Peter Christmas hanger decoration. It was supposed to look like this -

I was convinced mine looked like this - 

But the reality is it probably looked like this - 

I'm of an age where the internet still continues to surprise and amaze me. This wonderful site is a treasure trove of information - www.ctva.biz . After present opening, church and lunch, I can tell you with some certainty that I probably watched the following programmes on BBC1 in black and white as we didn't get colour TV in Jersey until 1976.

Here is the television in 1968 with me in front. We kept this TV until we rented a colour one in 1976. 

3:00pm The Queen Speaks to the Commonwealth

3:15pm Billy Smart's Christmas Circus

4:20pm Pantomime: Robin Hood with Terry Scott, Hugh Lloyd, Freddie Davies, Anita Harris, Billy Dainty, Dana

5:55pm News

6:05pm Bruce Forsyth and The Generation Game

7:05pm The Mike Yarwood Christmas Show

7:35pm The Morecambe and Wise Christmas Show


Slade's "Merry Xmas Everybody" was the UK Christmas Number One in December 1973, beating the Wizzard's "I Wish It Could Be Christmas Everyday", which got to number 4. It eventually reached No. 1 in mid-January and stayed in the UK Singles Chart until mid February 1974.

The hanger decoration can be found at "your vintage life blog"

Friday, 6 December 2013

Kraftwerk - The Model (February 1983)

Memories of my schooling are pleasant but fleeting – British Bulldog (fun so that got banned, instantly), straining to see boys at the reciprocal Catholic school next door (dots in black uniforms), blacked out words in the bible (really??), hot exam papers emanating the odour of spirit with typing in aniline purple reproduced on the banda master machine, the nit nurse, individual confession to the French priest in the ante-room of the school chapel, happy hymns led by our 12-string guitar playing biology teacher, a film about a woman who was paralysed from the neck down from a diving accident but was happy because she was a Catholic (subtext - your mind will bring you happiness - not the pleasures of your body), delicious lent lunches of rice dripping with butter, doughnuts covered in custard in the steam filled basement of the convent, a video cassette placed in the huge television on wheels in the basement dining room of the convent about why abortion was wrong, (did they really show us a bloodied aborted baby in a kidney dish or did I imagine that?) crochet & knitting lessons (We made Tom Baker Dr Who scarves), waiting three years to dissect a rat and then never doing it and one glimpse of a memory of a break-time after lunch....

I had never had any interest in the pop charts. I watched the end of Top of the Pops to ensure I didn’t miss the beginning of Tomorrow’s World, which followed. I was happy to share my opinion on how I liked classical music and didn’t enjoy most pop music, even though it invited mocking and sometimes a bit more. 

Twenty years on, at the wrong end of a pub with no exit nearby, I saw one girl who had not made life particularly pleasant for me as she had mocked me for my flute playing, acne, sensible Start-Rite Mary-Jane shoes (“at least I won’t have bunions when I grow up”) and love of classic music. I was ready to run but she spotted me and cornered me. I was 14 all over again. And then she said, “I was always so jealous of your flute playing, you were amazing”. “Well you had a funny way of showing it”, I thought but still did not have the confidence to speak aloud.  

On this lunch-time one girl was teaching another the “Wham dance”, I was hugely impressed, in awe really, as I’ve never been able to coordinate my limbs. Someone must have smuggled a radio into school or was it a cassette recording? A group were crowding around listening to the charts.

I was bored and waiting for the lunch break to end when I heard Kraftwerk perform “The model”. I was blown away - a “pop” song that I thought was good. I said “I don’t care whether it’s No. 1 or not – it’s the best song”. Clearly this song had been in the charts before but had passed me by. I couldn’t understand the purpose and value of the notion of “No. 1”. They told me to “shhh”. The excitement was mounting as the group huddled, listening to see if Kajagoogoo’s “Too shy” was going to make it to No.1. I remained on the periphery of the group in a Kraftwerk induced reverie – an unlikely highlight of my schooling and still one of my top ten songs of all time.  

Kajagoogoo’s “Too Shy” was UK No. 1 from 19th to 26th February 1983.

Wham’s “Young guns go for it" reached No. 3 in the UK charts in October 1982

Kraftwerk’s The Model/Computer Love spent one week at No. 1 from 6th February 1982

Tom Baker played Doctor Who from  8th June 1974 until 21st March 1981

Thank you to Jane Creaton for remembering the name "Joni" - a quick google search found www.joniearecksontadastory.com

I was really hoping that my memory was playing tricks on me and the nuns really hadn't shown me a gruesome video of an abortion but Jane remembered the name "Silent Scream". I've embedded a link above. The only thing I've not quite got right is the chronology. According to Wikipedia this film did not come out until 1984.