The Chequered Skipper


Ok, so time to make this all timey-wimey. In other words, this post is not in strict chronolological placing, but then neither was the last one,¬†but who’s checking?

You’ll recall some time ago (actually, in this post: self referential tosser) I¬†mentioned in passing my Father’s Johnny Cash and Kris Kristofferson albums. I think this needs fleshing out some more.

When I was a kid, we used to go and visit the grandparents on a Saturday afternoon. This would involve a drive to see Mum’s side (Nan and Gramps) first and then Dad’s (just Nan). Often Dad would go for a pint and a game of darts with Gramps (assuming that Ipswich weren’t playing in a FA Cup final, that is. See how this all knits together?)

Once my Dad was playing darts with Gramps down at The Masons Arms, and Gramps threw a somewhat wayward arrow. All attempts to track it down proved fruitless, until a voice of one of¬†the¬†regulars, sat at the bar piped up: “Is this your dart, Charlie??” as he plucked it from the side of his head.

But I digress.¬†After that, we’d pop over to see a lady we referred to as Grandma, but who was actually my Great Grandma. Visiting her was a pleasure, as every week, without fail,¬†my¬†brother and I¬†would leave her house on Bath Street, each clutching a Crunchie bar, the prize for being a dutiful great-grandchild, a chore in which we had no choice.

So home! But usually there would be a diversion, to the pub mentioned in the title: The Chequered Skipper at Ashton,¬† a gorgeous country pub. Look, it even has it’s own Wikipedia page. Isn’t that lovely? (the pub, not the Wikipedia page) The pub is placed right next to what I always took to be the biggest beer garden ever, but I now see was actually the village green, which means I have an excuse to post this: Ray

This was where I first witnessed the horror that is Morris Dancing, which, much as I loathe it, I have to admit it is one of the last enduring English folk traditions, and so has a weird place in my heart. Like a car crash, I¬†can’t help but look. They do look fairly simpleton-ish¬†though. Oh, and then there’s this: Bonkers!

Without wanting to get all Good Pub Guide on you, if you’re ever in the Northamptonshire area, you should try to swing by The Chequered Skipper, it’s a glorious place. See? And that’s without me even having to mention the Conker Championship.

Okay, all well and good, but why am I banging on about this place? Because post obligatory grandparent visit, we’d sit on the village green, but come sundown, my brother and I would be banished to sit in the family Vauxhall Cavalier,¬†whilst Mum and Dad went into the pub. (I’ll hasten to add, Mum wouldn’t drink, and she’d drive home). Which left me and my bro, on the back seat of the car, a packet of crisps and a lemonade each to keep us company. Oh, and access to the on board tape player.

Truth be told, this isn’t as exciting as it sounds (and I appreciate that no matter how much I big it up, it doesn’t sound exciting) but there’s some formative memories, right there. For all we had to listen to were whatever tapes my Dad had in his car the time. And generally that would be Kris Kristofferson.

When we were younger, as I think/hope is the case with most siblings, me and my brother fecking hated each other. There’s many a story I could tell of mutual animosity, of¬†snooker cues and violin bows broken across each others backs (even in those days, we tried to appeal to all social classes). But as we’ve gotten older, both my brother and I have bonded over Kris Kristofferson, and he’s worked as a link back to Dad. Generally we meet up over Christmas, and there will be a night of drinking and playing his records, and whenever this happens, I see a little twinkle in my Dad’s eye: he loves the fact that he passed this on to us, he feels vindicated, his love of music endorsed. It’s a position I can understand; he’d be writing this if he was 30 years younger.

Early Kristofferson¬†is one of those musicians that I will often try to foist upon my friends. I see no reason why anyone would not love these songs. Actually, I was once presented with a fairly reasonable argument not to: “What, the old guy from Blade??” Shush, press play and listen. To my mind they are all timeless classics.

A couple of years ago, I¬†went on a blind date.¬†Now, I know how to behave¬†on such occasions; tell your date they look nice, feign interest in their interests,¬†in effect bite your tongue and say the right things. Pretend to be nice. But I’m an argumentative bugger at the best of¬†times, and whilst I usually¬†rein myself in and am polite¬†should someone¬†make a contentious pronouncement, on occasion (such as a date which has gone tits up the moment we clapped eyes on each other, and¬†has¬†gradually got worse)¬†I don’t see the problem with contesting it.

So when my date tried to argue that Glenn Campbell was the greatest country artiste ever,¬†aware that this¬†date¬†had already gone¬†horribly wrong, I’m afraid to say that I¬†couldn’t stop myself. I mean, for a start, that title clearly goes to Johnny Cash. But putting that aside, I pitched Kristofferson’s name into the conversation, only to be met with rolling eyes and a general “Pah!” type noise. Did Kristofferson write songs as good as¬†“Witchita Lineman“? Or “Galveston“? Fine¬†points indeed, had Campbell written them, which he didn’t. (Hello Jimmy Webb!) (They are bloody great records, mind.)

Also, did Glenn Campbell have an out-of-town silver fox character named after him in The Fantastic Mr Fox? No, he did not. Know who did? I rest my case.

Needless to say, there was no second date. There was, however, a chastising rant to my well meaning friends who set me up on the date, for which I apologise if it was taken the wrong way.

So here’s some songs which Kristofferson DID write, (the first of which, when I found out he knew it and loved it, made me love one of my friends even more than I already did. You know who you are.) At the risk of misquoting a Crowded House promotional line, you’ll be surprised how many times you say: ” He wrote this??? Wow.”

These are all from his first proper album. Dad’s copy, bought when we lived in the States I think,¬†was called “Me & Bobby McGee”.¬†Apparently, the record label refused to call it “Kristofferson” as his name wasn’t well known enough. Or possibly because they knew he would be in Blade. Recently it’s been re-released over here with the original title. The whole album is¬†essential listening in my book. If you disagree, well…you’re wrong.

Sunday Morning Coming Down

Best of All Possible Worlds

To Beat the Devil

Help Me Make It Through the Night

Feck it, just go and buy his first album: Kristofferson. Best money you’ll ever spend.

And yes, I have deliberately avoided posting the really obvious ones.

Oh go on then, the most obvious one. A friend of mine tells me they love this version: Janis. I don’t for a second dispute the greatness. But I must disagree. I have a theory about cover versions, which is this: irrespective of how magnificent either version is,¬†you love the one that you get to know first. And much as I love Janis’ version (and I do love it), it’s not this: Bobby

And of course, any song which references it deserves a mention too, particularly if it’s by Billy

A Yankee Visits


Well, hello you! This is becoming quite the habit. Two posts in the space of (just over) a week…who’d have thunk it.??

Anyway, this is where things get a little tricky, as some records came into my life now which I neither bought nor requested, but they were records which I clutched to my bosom, consumed, and then nearly 40 years later decided to share with you, you lucky people.

I have family in the flag-kissing, gun-toting US of A, and I lived there when I was a kid. I don’t really remember anything about it, I was too young, but I’ve seen photos and slides of me trying to elope with Mickey Mouse when we visited Disneyworld, and of me with my head stuck in some railings at a local restaurant we apparently visited regularly called “The Big Banjo”, a joint where men in bowler hats, waist coats, stripy trousers and exotic moustaches twanged away in the background while Yankees stuffed their fat faces with treble quarter pounders followed by waffles and maple syrup and ice cream. As an appetiser.

Anyway, what I’m trying to say is, I don’t have any specific memory of these events, but I’ve seen photographs and slides which seem to illustrate both of these events happened, and they have become my inherited memories. I certainly wouldn’t want to rule them out as never having happened. I mean, trying to run off with Mickey Mouse and getting my head stuck in railings both kinda sound like the sort of things I’d do…

But I digress. I have family in America, and every now and then when I was growing up they would come over and visit, and on one such occasion my cousin Terri bought a bunch of 7″ singles with her.

Now, I don’t particularly recall when exactly it was that this visit was, but I do remember that when she came over I was allowed to stay up and watch The Sweeney with her. Could’ve been a repeat, no idea. But I remember her being annoyed that at the end, Carter and Regan had failed to catch the criminals, which strikes me now as being a thoroughly British way of ending a cop show. Anyway doubtless at some point, someone said this (isn’t that Howard from Howard’s Way getting busted? Nice to see he changed his ways and went into the reputable world of yachting for his next venture)

So, to the records. I can look at these now and see that they added to my growing hunger for different sounding stuff. Sure, I had the Quo, and The Police, and Shaky, but these added to my palate.

It also occurs to me that three of these singles came out in 1979, the other in 1982. I can’t rule out the possibility that Terri hated the 1979 ones and was just looking for an opportunity to pass them off on someone….well, someone who was more inclined to run off with Mickey Mouse or get his head stuck in railings.

a) “Don’t Bring Me Down” – ELO Now these days, I bloody love a bit of ELO. Mr Blue Sky is a go-to classic feel good record in my book, and I have vague memories of it being on Top of the Pops, a video with some piss-poor special effects which I found amazing at the time and which I can’t seem to source now, so have this instead: Mr Blue Sky Kudos to the perms. Columbia was missing a midfield general the day this was shot.

Buy it here: Bruce!

Actually, whilst I think about it, and since I never actually bought any of their records so they won’t crop up here again, have this, another formative Top Of The Pops memory. Seriously, was nobody else weirded out by Ron Mael’s and his moustache?? (Jesus, that was 1974?? Then, I must confess it must be a later record of there’s that I remember seeing on Top of the Pops. At least, that’s what I’ll be telling my shrink)

b) The Devil Went Down To Georgia – The Charlie Daniels Band I think this one hits the nerve as I was coerced into learning the violin when I was a kid, and the thought of being Johnny and defeating the Devil in a Deilverance/Duelling Banjos scenario (not that I’d seen the film at that point, mind) definitely appealed.

Buy it here: Fiddly Fiddly

c) Jack and Diane – John “Cougar” Mellencamp I have three things to say about this record. 1) It is an incredible description of that age when you’re not quite adult, but too old to consider yourself a kid anymore 2) Diane sucking on a chilli dog was a formative image, and 3) The term “cougar” has really changed over the years, hasn’t it?

Buy it here: Sucking on Chilli Dog

d) My Sharona – The Knack l would hope this needs no introduction or explanation. One of the greatest singles ever made, in my book (please don’t ask me to list my Top 10 favourites, I’m not Nick Hornby, much as I clearly want to be. Arsenal, see? No thanks.) But imagine my delight when this record got sampled/ripped off/call it what you will on this. (By the way, my apologies if having clicked that link you have to endure a car advert urging you to “Go Fun Yourself”. I in no way endorse this product. But did you see what they did there? Fun? Sounds a bit like Fuck? Oh you waggish advertising scamps!)

Buy it here: Wouldn’t Get Away With a Record Sleeve Like That These Days

More surprisingly soon.