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