LETTER FROM ENGLAND by VILLAGE GREEN MACHINE'S Mark Lemon
60s MUSIC/ 60s BANDS/ 60s FILM/ 70s COMEDY Plus VILLAGE GREEN MACHINE UPDATES.
Where has it gone? The half a blog I wrote a few days ago, which was supposed to be completed tonight. Well, I don't know. It has vanished into the ether, leaving me, already traumatised by an evening escorting an elderly relative, to have to start all over again from scratch. As usual, I have taken Laura 'Just Like Nan' Lemon out for her strong lagers, at a nearby hotel bar.
The first thing she said was, "wouldn't it be terrible to be *********". Now, I haven't put the correct number of asterisks, because that would give the game away, of the actual word she used. Neither political correctness nor Christian charity permit me to repeat the actual word used. I managed to divert her by talking about my collection of Tootal scarves.
These days, my appearance does to some extent resemble that of Paul Weller, especially in his younger years, a fact of which I am more proud than ashamed. I would, however, like to point out that I owned 40 of these scarves before I ever saw a picture of Paul wearing one. PW is one of the few people i think who's dress sense has matched the best dressed people from the 60s. I am into the style of all the best dressed people. In no order, but these include, of course, The Small Faces, bands like The Action and The Birds, Smokey Robinson and all those really smart suited and booted guys from the US, The Kinks, Keith, Charlie, Brian and even Bill from The Stones, all of the Beatles, Syd Barrett...these are some of my favourite dandies and role models, and Paul Weller has worn a lot of good stuff - I think looking very cool in some of those 90s videos too - very George Harrison with the Casino guitar, too.
Anyway where was I ....The Tootal scarves. I bought them prior to them becoming fashionable, before the (recent) very steep rise in their value.
I paid maybe £3 each for them on average, from charity shops. I don't see them there much now, I don't visit charity shops often anymore since I discovered vintage ebay. Anyway, I asked my mother how much all my scarves would be worth, since I now own 42 of them and they are going for £30 a time on ebay. My mother, bless her, insisted that therefore my sum total of Tootal would be worth £120. While I was trying to explain to her that it is 4 X 30 not 40 X 30 which makes 120, an attractive so and so a few feet away at the bar, at waist height, clocked me looking in their direction, and subtly began exposing the midriff.
Just (deliberately) lifting the clothing enough to expose the sexy stomach, then covering it up again. Then a little later, sort fingering the navel a little bit. One eye was on my mother, trying to explain the difference between - oh whatever it was- and the other eye pulled inexorably to the extremely naughty teasing coming from the bar. I was trying to balance the conversation and trying to appear in a normal state while being driven to distraction from the other direction. For half an hour or more. No wonder my eyes point in different directions these days, like a perplexed Marty Feldman. For reasons of public decency I will not tell what happened next, . OK nothing happened next.
Now, where was I. All over the road on the way home....and now to the serious business in hand. This week and last I have been recording a faberoonie blaster, entitled, Wayward One. It has a filthy, slow, 4/4 groove, like a Rolling Stones record. On top of which, is a folk rock style 60s influenced song, bursting with melody. Its a decent set of lyrics, too. The guitars jangle, overloading the AC30 like psychedelic Rain era Beatles, with a hefty shot of Roger Mcguinn for good measure. On top of which, a big shift has occurred. I have stopped trying to record precise music. The result being, the music on this track is less tense and more precise. Cos I stopped trying. Well, I like this. And, we put it all down onto analogue tape, and it sounds fabulous. Then, we did a very experimental production and arrangement. I am so pleased with Wayward One. All I ever do is music. And damn the consequences. I have been living like this, and paying the price, for years now. But when the rewards in terms of artistic returns are this good, it feels worth it and I hope you will dig it when it goes out. PS re this track I am considering it as a single, and, my desire to do a 45 rpm vinyl single is strong enough to make it happen.
Village Green Machine's Mark Lemon
Right - Steptoe is serious business, and particularly the peak brilliance of Oh! What a Beautiful Mourning. I'm sure I mentioned it before, but I will tell again, since this is perhaps the best of Galton and Simpson's incredible Steptoes. Funny gags are constantly strung across the backyard washing line of script, which unravels events following the death of yet another of old man Steptoe's brothers. Breaking the news to the younger Steptoe, the old man appears to be very upset, but a cynical streak exposes not only this old man's avarice but that of his family, who all are most interested to attend the funeral to hear the will read out afterwards. At this gathering, interest is centred entirely upon the "porcelain figurine on the mantelpiece", recognised by virtually all as the only object of value in the deceased's house. Finally, when the family has dispersed, all unrewarded in the will, in which most was left to the Battersea Dogs Home,old man Steptoe lifts his bowler hat to reveal the figurine. But it is throughout, a great comedy, and one of those where you have to listen constantly to get all the funny gags. I won't spoil it for you by telling all the gags but I will ask David to put a link to a section of it at the end. I will ask him to find the bit where the marvellous "Potty Aida"- in real life the wonderful Rita Webb- shows her knickers and starts swearing. She steals the show, even from the wonderful Steptoes. The run in she has with Mollie Sugden's character is priceless ("yes, well I don't take them off as often as you do!") Rita was so good in this, I decided to look her up. I have been chatting to Aaron, who runs a website dedicated to Rita, whose name may otherwise have been forgotten. He did a load of research on her, and went back to her near derelict home. Anyway it is this clip below which reminded me of her from when I was a child, and which has sparked my interest in her. She steals the show entirely, don't you agree? Re the Steptoes, apparently it was revolutionary stuff when it came out, ie the first series in the early 60s. It could not have been written by the middle class, and was not some kind of quaint comedy about middle class life. It was pithy realism, which we take for granted now but I can well see, in its day how it must really have been something new. I think the writers were the arty new wave types of their day. Arty, intelligent, talented, bohemian, working class. PS From the real world, writing comedy scripts which reflected real life. Kitchen sink comedy.
Hi all who are coming from the Beatles Facebook pages. John. You know, I have thought much about every member of the band, every day for years! I constantly reflect upon each member and thought I would share my ideas here. Lennon, I get such a distinct impression of his personality. The younger man seems to have been surly, aggressive, perhaps intimidating. But also funny, quick witted, charismatic and living on the edge a bit. He hit Cynthia, he was hurt and hit her. So she claimed in her very enjoyable book about him. His father was a seaman who spent much time away, there was a struggle for the child between him and Lennon's mother Julia, allegedly at one point the young lad was asked who he wanted to go with- him or me. So no wonder under so called primal scream therapy years later this childhood agony emerged. I am talking of course about songs on that traumatic, sparse but at times brilliant first solo LP, during which John it seems consciously exorcised painful childhood emotions in primal screaming style, on the end of the track "Mother", at least.
Lennon was a young bohemian, at art school and flouting convention. Beatle bashers don't recognise the artistic side of the band, all were described as "arty" by Paul, and certainly Lennon was by '65 on the cutting edge of bohemian fashion, dress wise. Obviously of a high intellectual level, he loved the 50s rockers, particularly keen on the records rather than seeing them live. Manager Brian Epstein dressed him in a suit as part of an attempt - some might think successful - to introduce them to a wider audience than the Cavern club in Liverpool. Lennon's most famous guitar was a 6 string Rickenbacker, every garage band in America copied what they were doing musically and in terms of the kinds of instruments they used, and how they dressed.
In my opinion, the best Beatles songs were jointly written, the hits knocked out McCartney claimed without the use of drugs. Although the songs are diverse melodically it can be quite hard to identify which bits were written by Lennon and which by MCcartney; I have never read any book which has identified who wrote what within each song, although there are obvious things like Paul's "woke up, got out of bed" lines which are evidently bolted on to an existing song by Lennon.
John was a Dylan fan, an r&b fan, a rocker, and had excellent taste in more general pop, as his personal jukebox, an actual 60s relic, revealed.
The Parkinson interview revealed a likeable, down to earth man who had abandoned some earlier prejudices. He liked Donovan's music and was a close mate of his.
Adopted by his Aunt Mimi, part of his childhood was spent in this formidable lady's detached middle class suburban home, Aunt Mimi herself being unpopular with Cynthia who claimed she threw some fruit at her. Lennon's parents evidently were rougher people, even rougher than that! His mother Julia was killed by a car when John was a young man, an experience which surely welded the bond between John and Paul, since Paul's mother had died from breast cancer when he was a similar age. Lennon smoked "pot", and got into acid. In the end, the experiences became horrific leading to his disenchantment with the drug. He went to stay with a guru in India, but was embarrassed by his flirtatious antics with a member of the British visiting party, as demonstrated in the song Sexy Sadie on the White Album. Cynthia could not relate to the acid era Lennon who was tripping it seems at home in his stockbroker belt residence, then along came Yoko Ono, who wished to be Lennon's partner. She stopped with Lennon at the family home, while Cynthia was away, and was there, I believe in her dressing gown and slippers, when Cynthia returned. An "avant garde" artist, Germaine Greer said that in truth John would have been putty in Yoko's hands. Certainly she was a strong woman from a moneyed background, who had a clear agenda. (PS I like Lennon's assertion that avant garde was French for bullshit). Lennon's interest in things like macrobiotic diet and world peace seem directly attributable to Yoko. In retrospect, and judging by the Playboy interview given very shortly before his death, the couple were fairly standard bearers of the alternative thinking hippy ethos, which covered feminism, on Yokos part anyway. This thinking has now percolated through to mainstream society, and, it has been claimed, is infact the new conservatism.
Yoko's performance art included Lennon, doing a "bag in", that surely came from Yoko. Some might think this made him look rather foolish, as did her appearance at the Rolling Stones rock & roll circus, where she is shrieking along to John and Clapton's playing, Lennon no doubt excruciatingly embarrassed and feigning great appreciation of Yoko's extraordinary vocal extrapolations.
Still, the poor woman was with him when he was shot. The account of this I read makes the stomach turn over and the blood curdle, so lets leave it there and reflect that, with McCartney, he penned some of the 20th centuries most enduring popular songs.
When I interviewed The Searchers I asked what it was about the early Beatles which was impressive and was told it was their power as a live band. Lennon was a loud powerful vocalist, Twist and Shout would be the end of most singers tonsils and voicebox. Let me see if I can find that rather good picture. recently unearthed from a duffle bag, which was recently printed in a national newspaper.
Hi to everyone from modculture, here is my Revolver review.
Which brings me to, my thoughts on what for many, especially 1960s enthusiasts, is regarded as the best Beatles album of them all.
It was one of the first albums I discovered when I began to get seriously interested in 60s music. I always loved the cover, the excellent psychedelic black and white line drawing by Beatles friend and Manfred Mann bass player Klaus Voorman. On the back, the cool exciting pictures of the band, with great haircuts and dressed in that kind of mod/psychedelic crossover style, which was around before, of course, the Sgt Pepper look which some think a little over the top. This rear sleeve design was typical 60s b&w shots, presumably a custom which was more about saving money than looking cool in artwork terms. (Not that they had to worry about that by '66, I am sure.) Plus the black Parlophone label. All together, all this looks fantastic. You know I say all sorts of things as if they were facts, but of course I am expressing my subjective opinion. However, I am confident I am right when I say what a great looking album Revolver was. The heavy vinyl. Everything. Mine is a later vinyl copy, I'd love an original. Anyway, to the music. Taxman was a bold statement of George's maturing prowess as a songwriter, and surely its adoption as introductory track on this great album suggests the other band members acknowledged this. A sparse recording with very loud vocals, tambourine and lead guitar, it seems characterised by a kind of minimalism, a stripped back quality with little reverb, which defines its sound. Topical lyrics about the rock stars tax predicament, an acid psychedelic lead guitar break and hints of McCartney's "Rain" style bass playing, which is a style of bass playing in its own right, fix this song in place as one of the Beatles best.
It is incredible that the standard this track sets is maintained if not surpassed throughout the album. Eleanor Rigby radically shifts the mood, with its swooping cellos scored by George Martin I think - didn't he deserve a writers credit if he wrote those parts? A song full of English atmosphere set in a churchyard, its subject matter far removed from the bohemian avant garde its writer lived and worked in at the time. It seems his thoughts were sometimes far away from the cool clubs and new elite of musicians, actors and comedians. I'm Only Sleeping has a smashing acoustic guitar sound, that of the J60 acoustic I think, the bands deep drum sound now perfected, with terrific swathes of backwards guitars and superb harmonies. A lyric which suggests dreams and perhaps being stoned in bed, leads to a final crescendo of backwards guitar, the whole atmosphere being extremely woozy yet compelling. Love You To is the albums first sign that George has really gone for the Indian thing, the entire track comprising Indian instrumentation, George's melody developed, and rapidly so from the Carl Perkins rock outs of just a couple of years earlier. This shows huge changes in his life. The deep waters of so called mysticism already seemed upon him. Here, There and Everywhere is a gently executed piece of McCartney brilliance, a piece of perfection which frankly is scarily good. It seems to be an extremely original melody, which points to experimentation and a gifted creativity. Paul was - is - an arty bloke. This is superbly confident and like the rest of the album, the sound is brilliant. The technology of the time and ambience of Abbey Road contributing much to the end results. No harsh sounds like you get on recordings from, say, the 80s but lets not even mention that nasty word. It might bring up images of Kajagoogoo which is almost as disturbing as when I brought up blood last month so lets get back to the sublime REVOLVER LP right now... Yellow Submarine, the slightly daft song given to Ringo perhaps as a slight throwaway, conjures an hallucinatory atmosphere with its sound effects and "full steam ahead" instructions, "all aboard", etc. Obviously in part a children's song, it is in fact a surreal song as well. After all, how many yellow submarines are there? There might be thousands, I don't know, but it sounds a bit odd to me. Isn't this all very Lewis Carrol? I still haven't read his stuff. She Said She Said, Village Green Machine favourite and Lennon acid story, is a simple enough piece of work, with fantastic Epiphone Casino guitar sound and fuzzed up lead, a record with a swing you can dance to, with super singing and a cool period double time ending. I don't think music comes much better. Good Day Sunshine is VERY McCartney. Typical in its melodic content of his songwriting, especially during the mid to later Beatles era, it has a strong chorus hook, sung over and over, which has a feelgood vibe and an experimental 'round' type acapella ending. And Your Bird Can Sing sounds to me very much a collaborative effort, the bridge sounding very different from the preceding part of the song. At one time I think I am right in saying, it had George playing a very Byrds style 12 string part, this early version full of stoned giggling. This, the proper released version, loses the 12 string having a very well measured double lead guitar part to end.
For No One again has a marked contrast between the differing sections of the song. It certainly sounds as if someone with a very different sense of melody is writing the chorus. Surely it will always be a mystery, who wrote exactly what on some of these Beatles songs. I love the English sounding brass. Piano is present pointing to the new advancing texture of the bands music. Dr Robert sounds very Lennon to me. An r&b song fundamentally, with a key shift and hooky psychedelic guitar part, the album as I hear it now is inducing a sense of synaesthesia, it seems to sound green baby its sent me on a trip I'm losing it....hope I'm back in time for tea. Dr Robert is a pretty druggy lyric. Didn't Nixon have a Dr Robert type character who filled him full of "enhancements"? I Want To Tell You brings in more of that McCartney? piano sound. Of course it could be Lennon or even GM playing it. But the strident rhythm suggest rock & roll, this yearning melody again elevating George to much more than a lead guitar player. Fab harmonies end another mysterious Indian influenced track. Got to Get You Into My Life is McCartney's brass laden r&b song, reminding me of, say, a song like Sweet Soul Music, more that Stax r&b influence perhaps than Tamla. But his young English voice, despite a brave attempt, doesn't have that black grit. Shimmering psychedelic guitars and pumping organ help mark this track as very British 60s - and lets face it, that's where its at. That and the sounds of America. Tomorrow Never Knows was a radical departure from anything pop music had done before. It was surely unprecedented, and a brave step into the unknown. It is experimental, Paul playing with tape loops apparently in spare time. Generally he was perceived to be the straight Beatle, but he did hang out with arty types, he was in fact at the centre of that scene which saw an opening up of new ideas in various areas, film, art, literature and so on. Yet this I think is a Lennon lyric. At this stage seemingly still fascinated by LSD, the drug he later renounced as a passage to a chemically induced hell, the lyrics I believe are taken from a book written by a very funny fellow indeed, who has a great deal to answer for. Enough said, but, at least this incredible song, with its groundbreaking musicianship was a product of what at the time, was thought to be thinking which would open new doors.
And so. I read different accounts of what those weird backwards sounds are in this last song on this incredible LP. One account had it as Sir Paul's laughter played backwards, fast. Another that is infact guitar playing sped up. It does sound like seagulls. George Martin had already done much experimentation with weird sounds as a radiophonics producer, so when The Boys wanted sound experimentation for their artistic ends, Sir George was all set up.
Let me know your thoughts on this album.
Carry On Teacher
And finally...a film review of Carry On Teacher. Wrote this one a while ago but my brain is getting worn out so here is a recent article.
Carry On Teacher reminds me of a St Trinians romp. It is not really a Carry On as we know and love (or regard scornfully), resembling perhaps an Ealing film, very much a post war atmosphere rather than anything from the sixties. Hence the mannered romantic scenes mostly chivalrous, apart from a few hints, surprisingly mostly emanating from Joan Simms, of the later bawdiness. Indeed she is known as Miss Allcock, lol. Kenneth Williams appears to be still clad in puppy fat, his absurd comic laugh already in place. Charles Hawtrey seems oddly cast, wearing a schoolmasters flat hat. You have guessed I don't know what those things are called, I know no more about them than the 50's soda syphon I recently bought on holiday which I had no idea how to set up or use, resulting in fire extinguisher like scenes in the caravan which would have fitted nicely into this film. Riotous schoolchildren create escalating chaos with bunsen burners etc, the motivation for which, it quaintly transpires, is that they don't want their headmaster to leave for another school and decide to wreck his chances of promotion by trying to demonstrate he can't run an orderly school. Even Hattie Jacque's presence does not hint at the Carry On lascivious mayhem and pop psychedelic glory to come in the next decade. Only occasionally truly funny, the film is a mirror of its times, and is nonetheless an entertaining and well acted installment in the Carry On cannon. These popular comedies certainly mirrored the times in which they were made, and the society of that time accurately and therefore may be of interest to those who do not appreciate their, to me, entertainment value and, sometime comic genius. I do think the core actors represent corporate comic genius, I refer to Syd James, Kenneth Williams, Bernard Bresslaw, Joan Simms, Charles Hawtrey, Hattie Jacques, Barbara Windsor and a few others. Kenneth in the 'ooh matron' sketches with Hattie Jacques is classic comedy, surely? I cannot see many such engaging characters in modern comedy. I think the whole 60s/70s comedy scene was well populated with many loveable, funny and talented comic actors.
Keep on groovin',
new Letter From England published every Friday.
Village Green Machine
Steptoe & Son
Oh What A Beautiful Mourning
"The wonderful Rita Webb - shows her knickers and starts swearing."