It can’t have escaped your attention that Dolly Parton is doing the rounds at the moment, promoting a new book she has coming out.
The book tells her life through the songs she has written, focusing on a mere 170 or so of them.
I don’t own it (and I’m very unlikely to get sent a copy to review), so I can only guess which of her songs made the cut, and what she wrote about them.
I hope today’s tune features, and in the notes she references how it was used as the theme tune on Carla Lane’s hugely successful late 70s/early 80s sitcom Butterflies, which amongst other things introduced us to the acting behemoth that is Nicholas Lyndhurst (if you ignore him being in Porridge spin-off Going Straight, that is), and a chap who I never clapped eyes on again until he turned up in Coronation Street many years later, as the love interest of either Audrey or Alma (I forget which) who turned out to enjoy wearing women’s clothing. Back then, such proclivities were considered titillating, of course.
Long time readers may recall that a long time ago, back in August 2015, I handedover the pages of the blog to my older brother. The post he wrote, A Goth Steps From The Dry-Ice…, was annoyingly well received, so much so that ever since I have been bugging him to write something else.
On Christmas Eve last year, he finally delivered. It was such a long time ago that he’s probably forgotten all about it, or assumed my hyper-critical editing had ruled out it ever getting published here. Actually, I was waiting until today, his birthday, to post it (honest).
By way of a refresher, Swing’s (Swing is his nickname, but he’s Andrew to his family – you’ll need this info for later) last post told of him growing up to discover he was blighted by a love of the most unfashionable, and to some unfathomable, genre of music: Goth. And he related how he had to adapt when he joined the very particular-about-the-way-you-dress Royal Air Force, where the wearing of guy-liner and black winkle-pickers are very much frowned upon.
So here you go, unedited (pretty much – except to spare some embarrased blushes over spelling and grammar, and to insert either a tune, twice because they are specifically mentioned, one of which is one of the worst records ever made from which I wish to disassociate myself), is the next instalment, which has moved on from the 1980s where we last encountered our hero him in his own words:
“By the early noughties (we’re talking 2002) I was working on a trials unit for Her Majesty’s Royal Air Force, testing new aircraft and systems at various places around the world, most of which conveniently (considering the politics of the world at that time) happened to be quite hot and sandy. And which conveniently (for me and my mates) were not anywhere near the Arabian Peninsula, but in the Western United States. Specifically, Nevada. I’m still signed up to the Official Secrets Act, and the memory of the “civilian contractors” defending the places I’ll describe, who regularly pointed the biggest guns I ever saw at me, helps remind me that keeping some secrets is probably for the best.
What I will tell you is that you can probably work out for yourselves where I was, if I tell you the best trick used to stop people wondering what happened in that particular part of the desert was that some very famous rumors suggesting that it was an area frequented by aliens got circulated, so that if anyone saw something strange in the sky around this “Area”, then that’s what they thought they’d seen.
So we were based in this “Area” for about 6 weeks, and during the week that meant we were locked on the base, but at the weekends, when they wanted to run some other “experiments” (which may or may not have included aliens) we had to find somewhere else to stay. Which unfortunately meant we had to drive a couple of hours south and wait in Las Vegas until they let us back on Sunday evening. Your armed forces suffer on your behalf, but you’re welcome.
Now I don’t know if you’ve ever been to Vegas, but I’m sure you are aware of it. And that it is considerably different to the other desert town they sometimes based us in, which had three bars. And forty-seven churches. The only churches I saw in Vegas had Elvis impersonators as vicars, there to marry the woman you met in a bar earlier that evening. And there were a lot of bars, and more than a few of them had women in them who’d happily marry you for the price of a drink….
The Air Force weren’t skimping on accommodation for us either. The usual policy when they chose somewhere was a simple “which is cheapest?”. In this case the best offer came from a dingy little back street place called Caesar’s Palace, but the powers that be realised that if viewers on the BBC tuned in to watch a big title fight, it wouldn’t go down well if in the background of the shot were a lot of noble airmen in uniform heading for another hard day at the office. Instead they spent the extra cash to put us in a Mormon run hotel, which meant it was one of the only places in town with no bar or gambling emporium. In fact, we had to go all the way across the street to a strip bar just to get a drink. Again, only doing our duty, you’re welcome.
So we started experimenting to understand what the best ratio between partying and sleeping is over 48 hours in a city where the bars never close. To save any of you needing to repeat the experiment I can let you know that the liberal use of pseudo-effedrine and caffeine tablets (they sell them over the counter at gas stations to keep the long distance truckers wired) means 48 hours straight is easily within reach, but you are going to sleep for quite a while after that. Then one Sunday afternoon while I was getting ready to head back I started to question what I was doing with my life? I considered reading the bible in the hotel room, then realized there was something even better in there: the Yellow Pages! I had a read in the back seat of the car as we headed back to base, and that’s where I found it! I knew what was missing! A convertible Lamborghini with a hot tub in the back! And joy to the world, I could rent it by the hour next time I was in Vegas! I asked a few of my mates if they were interested, and amazingly, they were. So when we stopped I called the number from the Yellow Pages, only to be disappointed when I was told the Lamborghini was block booked for a video shoot, but that that someone from the company would call me back to let me know what they could offer instead.
Monday morning I’m back on base working on the flight line, when I was told there’s a phone call for me. You’ll remember I said we weren’t allowed mobile phones, so I’d given them my office number. I also said security was tight, and we knew that included all phone calls being monitored (at times you could actually hear the guys listening in, which I’m sure wasn’t an accident). When I picked up the phone there was a bloke on the other end who I can only describe as what central casting on a low budget film would give you if you asked for an over-excited Mexican. He proceeded to offer me a “party bus” for 6 hours, which would take up to thirty of us around Vegas, stopping wherever we liked. The price sounded good, so I agreed, and he told me he’d be at our hotel 3pm next Saturday. He also told me the bus would come with “plenty of liquor” which sounded exactly what we were looking for. He then went on to ask if I needed “any girls, any drugs?”. I can only imagine how much attention that got from whoever was monitoring my calls, so I quickly explained none of that would be necessary and bid him a good day.
Now I had to think fast. The Lamborghini I’d thought about before would have taken six of us, and I had no doubt I could find that many mates up for it. But 30 on a bus was a bigger challenge, as that was almost the whole of the support team out there. I started to spread the word: anyone who’d overheard the call with my Mexican friend was a fairly easy sell, but I needed a hook to really up the interest…
That was when I decided what was needed was a good back story…. You see, it was a fairly common procedure that whenever we took off to a different town for any reason, we never told anyone we were Air Force. That would be far too boring. Instead we chose a variety of back stories to make opening conversations more interesting. If you’ve ever had someone at a bar describe his job as an underwater tractor driver, or a biscuit designer, chances are he was one of Trenchard’s finest. The last trip to Vegas we’d been a team of carpet fitters, in town to replace the floor in the Mirage as the one of white tigers had pissed on it. On another occasion we were a team of off duty phone sexline operatives (they pay extra for an English accent, don’t you know). I decided that this week it was time to be a rock band, and as easy as that “Into the Breach” were born. Remembering why we couldn’t have a Lamborghini, I realized our band had been on a video shoot themselves, filming out in the desert for their next single, “Cry God for Harry”, and the bus was a thankyou from the management team for their hard work. Easy bit done, I put up a poster with those details in the crew room, sat back and waited.
One other thing in my favour was that to cover expenses while we were away, particularly on those arduous trips to Vegas, we were given a cash advance. This was handed out once a week, so I conveniently hung around at that time and found it extremely easy to persuade people they had always wanted to be in a band. And pay me the $50 it would take to join.
The time was ripe to nominate the band line-up. I didn’t really fancy recreating the So Solid Crew, as I thought thirty was too many for just the band itself, but there were still important roles for security, sound engineers, and a couple of more specialised roles. Such as the actual singer who the pretty boy at the front could lip-synch to, but who was too heavy-boned to be in the video, and the “fluffer” who was there to get the drummer in the mood. And me? Manager and record company executive, of course. Which meant that Saturday morning in Vegas as the others were getting their “costumes” ready I had nothing to do, so I printed myself some business cards, just in case.
Saturday afternoon arrived, and a few of us decided that waiting until 3pm for our first drink was pushing it, so we called in the bar next door for a quick beer or three. I say bar, but strictly speaking it was more of a gentleman’s club, booths, table service, half dressed women asking if you want to dance, you get the picture. Which led to the never to be repeated question from one hostess, as to if I was a record company executive then why had one of the guys I walked in with told her he was an alien hunter? Pausing only to make a mental note to re-educate him on the rules for the weekend, I gave her my business card (knew it would be useful) and said that if she could thought she could sing then she should prove it to me. She paused for even less time to whip off her top, perch herself on my knee and sing Jolene. I told her she had potential, and I’d make her a big star someday, but now I had to go, my band were waiting.
Just in time, it turns out, because pulling into the hotel car park was our ride for the day, a fifty-foot-long bus, sort of like the ones big hotels use as airport shuttles, but all black, with blacked out windows.
I introduced myself to the driver, who took me on the bus to sort out the paperwork while the band and support crew gathered in the car park. The inside of the bus was fitted out pretty nicely, with black leather seats along each, split with mahogany topped surfaces. Lift the mahogany tops and there were fridges and cupboards, full as described with beers and all manner of spirits, along with glasses and ice. He checked I was happy with it, as if the huge grin filling my face hadn’t already confirmed that, and we got down to the business side. I paid in full in cash, and he handed me a few disclaimers to sign, including one that said I’d pay for any damage or additional cleaning needed. He swiped my credit card as pre-authorisation for that while I asked what that meant. He told me that if, for example, someone threw up on the bus, then I’d be charged with cleaning it up. Not too likely I thought, these are hardened drinkers, so I started inviting the others on the bus. At which point my new friend, the driver, pulled out a bottle of tequila, threw away the cork and started passing it round. First one he handed it too was my mate Bo. He won’t drink that, I thought, as everyone knew Bo threw up at the first smell of tequila. But the peer pressure got him and he took a good, big swill before passing the bottle on. From inside my wallet I swear I could hear my credit card crying itself to sleep.
We all settled in for the trip. The driver put some tunes on, lit the ceiling light show and we were off. I was making friends with a bottle of Jack, and concentrating on being a good host, making sure my crew appreciated the treat after working so hard in the desert, on the music video they’d definitely been filming….
As I said, to fill a bus with 30 people I went beyond my regular circle of close drinking mates, so there were a few on there I didn’t know so well. One of those was a young PTI (Physical Training Instructor) who we’d brought along to be a general helper and to be a ringer in case the Americans challenged us to a baseball or “soccer” match. He ended up sat next to me on the bus, so we got chatting.
I knew he was fresh, the correct Air Force term being that the ink was still wet on his twelve and a half (Form 1250 is a military ID card, the implication being that you hadn’t served long enough for it to dry yet). Turns out this wasn’t just his first deployment with a flying squadron, it was his first time outside the UK. He was a good lad, but it would have been remiss of me not tofeed him to the lions at least a little bit, surely?
My mate Pete was the bass player for ItB (as the cool kids had taken to writing it on their pencil cases), and he decided now was the time to help me play with the new boy. He headed down the bus to us and asked the PTI to scooch up. From his jeans pocket he pulled a wrapped-up piece of tinfoil and asked to borrow my 1250. He unwrapped the foil, revealing a fine white powder, broken up with spots of fluorescent green and purple, which he proceeded to use my id card to quite professionally chop up into two fine lines, which he offered to me and the PTI to sample. I need to be clear, neither ItB or any of their support team partake in hard drugs. I’d like to say that was a moral decision, but when we weren’t rock stars we were servicemen and as such subjected to regular no-notice drug tests with instant dismissal if you failed; that may well have influenced our lifestyle choices. No, the white substance was actually candy. I knew that and Pete knew that, but to the PTI it was an obvious dilemma: take a line and risk losing your career before it hardly started, or don’t take a line and lose credibility with a bunch of absolute rock stars you just met?
The indecision and fear were written all over his face, and it didn’t look like he’d resolve it internally quickly, so I pushed him out of the way and helped myself to the first line. Now I said already it was candy, not drugs, but that was only half the story. What it actually was was popping candy, the kind we had as kids back in the Seventies, you put it on your tongue and it crackled. Snorting it is a whole different issue, when those fluorescent green and purple bits hit the top of your nose it felt like bonfire night inside your brain! My eyes immediately dilated massively. I let out a breath, then slapped Pete on the back. “Good shit man!” He helped himself to the other line, with the same effect. Soon all of the band had tried it, with our honorable friend the PTI being one of the few not to push for a hit, which means he was probably one of the only ones on the bus not to be in contention with Toxteth O’Grady for the world’s stickiest bogey title (Gratuitous The Young Ones reference, there).
By now we’d been cruising around in the tour bus for about an hour, up and down the Las Vegas strip, so it seemed like a good idea to let the rest of the world get sight of ItB. Our driver pulled up just near Freemont Street, a big area with casinos either side of a covered walkway with a huge lightshow above it. The bus pulled up and fully in character we headed in, security detail first to clear the way for the talent. These guys were having just as much fun with the dressing up box, all wearing black with SECURITY on the front of their baseball caps, but for some reason the actual casino security were unimpressed with the fact that their earpieces didn’t seem to be plugged into anything, and told them to “Stop fucking about, guys!” but fortunately still let us all in.
As I left the bus, the driver asked if there was anything else we needed him to get us while we were in there. My Mexican friend hadn’t exaggerated about the amount of liquor, but there was very little to mix it with. While I’m quite fond of straight Jack from the bottle, which seemed rock star appropriate, I thought something to go with it would be good, so suggested he buy us some coke, and headed into the casino. Seconds later I realised what I’d just asked him, what my Mexican friend offered on the phone, and that the driver had just watched the candy episode. Feeling a sudden, urgent need to break character I ran back out and shout to him “Coca Cola, we want coca cola, not drugs!” He laughed at me, said OK, so I got back into character and went to find the band at the bar. Stay cool, Swing!
I’m sure amongst a group of civilians deliberately being the last one into a bar like that would probably be regarded as a serious breach of etiquette and round dodging, but we were a well oiled machine (in many ways) and already ran a regular system with a nominated holder of the kitty who was in charge of going to the bar and ordering the drinks, with the rest of the group adding to the kitty in his pocket on request, usually in $50 chunks. Seems straightforward, and it is, but choosing who holds the kitty is something of a skill: give it to a budgie-sipper and the rest of the crew would be complaining of dry throats, go to the other extreme and you’d all be under the table half way through the night. Our usual kitty holder was my old tequila loving friend Bo, he liked to feel important, and was actually pretty good in the role, as long as you accepted two key facts:
1. He was very keen to implement the Jägermeister rule. Remember this was 2002, before the concept of Jägerbombs had really taken off in the UK, so back then it was something of a novelty to find in bars in the UK. The rule was the first one to see it said the J-word, and everyone else had to drink a shot. Be honest, it tastes like cough mixture, so being first to shout it and thus avoid the shot was a good thing. Two problems: American bars are usually pretty well stocked with a variety of drinks, so it was much more common; and Bo actually liked it, even to the extent of regularly ordering for himself a cocktail called liquid cocaine, which was 50/50 Jägermeister and Bacardi 151. Yummy! Which meant we needed to rein him in to prevent every round including shots.
2. Later in the evening after a few drinks Bo was easily distracted and often wandered off on his own. We needed to be careful to spot the onset of this, not to stop him of course, just to make sure someone else took the kitty before he did.
What that meant was that when I got to the bar I was not at all surprised to have a beer pressed into my hand. I was also not at all surprised that Bo started ribbing me about the way I had to break character and run back out, after all, if you couldn’t rely on your mates to belittle you in public who could you rely on? Equally obviously I needed to retaliate, but exactly how eluded me at first.
It doesn’t need saying that Gaz with his little girl’s bladder had disappeared to the toilets when we walked in, but I was sure everyone else would do the same before we left, and guessed that meant Bo would need to get someone to hold his beer. A few weeks earlier he had done the same thing for me, and while I was gone he put the straw from my Jack and Coke down his pants, so that when I came back he could ask if I “liked the taste of his Bobby?” Sophisticated humour like that was something they taught in Air Force basic training. My expectation was correct, and although it wasn’t me he asked to hold his beer, I was the manager of a successful rock band, so I only had to ask and it was handed to me. Slight problem, its one thing putting a straw down the front of your boxers, a bit more of an issue to do the same with a beer bottle. No problem, sheltered corner found and wall of mates blocking the view I gave the bottle top a quick wipe of the wand. Which is where the next flaw in my plan became apparent, he was drinking Corona, which had come with a slice of lime in the top. He’d pushed the lime in the bottle, but that meant there was a lot of lime around the top of the bottle. A lot of lime. Definitely not something you’d want in a sensitive area….
I passed him the bottle back as he returned, and realising what had just happened he started to complain, but recognising the obvious look of pain in my eyes he just laughed and swore to only ever drink Mexican lager from that day on.
We had a couple of rounds in the bar, but the draw of free drinks on the bus soon drew us back. The driver had added a few cases of soft drinks and a couple more bottles of Jack (just in case) so the security detail checked everyone was back and we set off around the town again. When we weren’t busy being a rock band some of the guys were avionics experts, specialising in maintaining the electronics on the aircraft: radar, weapon systems, radios, etc. The set-up on the bus had been fascinating them, and between drinks they’d been exploring it, taken control from the driver and found that in addition to the stereo there was an option to project one of a small library of “specialist” DVDs onto a screen filling the back of the bus. The dilemma now was this: did we have pounding rock music for the next leg of the tour, or hard-core pornography. The obvious answer was why not have both, so we were treated to the country-rap classic Cowboy loud enough to make your ears bleed, while on the screen were several young ladies getting overly friendly with each other, and what appeared to be one of their school teachers. I’m pretty sure that’s exactly what Kid Rock would have chosen himself for a video if he could get it played on MTV.
Much sooner this time the balance between free drink on the bus vs no toilet on the bus required another stop, so we had the driver pull up at the next casino, which happened to be The Venetian. Lots of the casinos on the Vegas strip have themes like this, The Venetian obviously consisting of lots of little indoor canals with gondolas in them, but instead of the architectural wonders like St Mark’s Square you got rows of hundreds upon hundreds of slot machines. You have it to hand it to those Yanks, they know how to take anything from the Old World and just make it better.
Disembarking from the bus was much less orderly this time, more of a mad rush to get in and find the first place to pee. Which is why it was time to start enforcing the ‘little boy wee’ rule. This being the early two thousands I got a lot of inspiration from reading the key record of the cultural and artistic pulse of the nation: Loaded magazine. The idea came from someone who’d written in describing a drinking game in his rugby club, and I shamelessly stole it. (Same also applies to the idea of a pub crawl using a Monopoly board as a map, but that’s another story.) (Yes, one I’vealready told: here – Ed)
In essence, when potty training your children, most little boys don’t go straight from soiling themselves to confidently standing alone at a public urinal, there is an interim stage, usually only a few months, involving mummy helping them go for a number one. During this stage rather than fishing through the willy maze that is the front of most male underwear, she makes things easier for herself by lowering trousers and underpants to the floor, thus making access much easier. The concept of ‘little boy wees’ is what would have happened if your Mummy forgot to tell you you don’t always need to do that when you’re all grown up.
So when the rule is in force that’s what you need to do: every time you’re in a public bathroom, trousers and underpants must be fully around your ankles before any release. And if you choose to use a cubicle instead and hence hide the evidence, what you’re actually proving is that you sit down to pee and you’re in completely the wrong bathroom. Anyone forgetting got a forfeit, usually involving shots and/or humiliation. Its quite an amusing game at the best of times, but goes to another level in a crowded place with multiple bathrooms, like a Las Vegas casino on a Saturday evening.
By now you would expect a lapse in discipline with the first stragglers wandering off, but this game made it easy to find if the others were around, just head to the bathroom and use the level of amusement/disgust to judge how many of your colleagues had already been there. In all that helped get the majority of the team back to the bus after a reasonable amount of time (two drinks).
We did continue for another couple of hours, I suspect there was probably another stop somewhere along the way at another strip club, and the tour ended with us being dropped at a night club somewhere, but I have to be honest, by now time and Jack have wiped all those memories from me. If anyone there wants to tell me what else happened that night (or at any other time since I hit drinking age) it would be greatly appreciated.
But there are two post scripts to this story. The following Saturday I was in a regular bar in Vegas when one of the guys called me up to listen to what was happening. Just along the bar was one of our aircrew chatting to a young lady. Now being a squadron leader fighter pilot should be a pretty good chat up line, in fact pilot was the only persona we had an unwritten rule never to use, because that would only encourage them. But this chap wasn’t telling her that, he was explaining how he was a music producer and talent scout from London. I listened in to him for a while then tapped him on the shoulder and asked if he’d ever met Into the Breach. He realised he’d been rumbled, and bought me a drink, the first of many I took from him over the years whenever I reminded him that he pretended to be me to impress girls.
The second one was a bit later on, back in the UK. It turned out that the lead singer (the one in the video who lip-synched, not the chubster who actually sang on the record, keep up) met some girls in the club who were pretty sure they had seen ItB on MTV earlier, and he had taken advantage of this apparent gullibility to live the rock star dream a bit further than he should have. Definitely further than his fiancé would have approved of….. When he got home he had a pang of conscience and admitted everything to her, so after her Dad beat him senseless she forgave him, but decided that whoever organised such a thing was definitely not welcome at their wedding. Which meant that Swing didn’t get an invite, but for the only time in my Air Force career I dusted off another alias and made sure that Andrew behaved himself at the ceremony and at least the early part of the evening event!”
There’s only one song that we can possibly sign off with, I think:
Before I go any further, my apologies for the delayed response/approval/liking of some of the comments left here since I reappeared.
Ordinarily I would respond via the WordPress app on my phone, but there seems to be some sort of a glitch with that at the moment, immediately crashing whenver I try to open it. It’s probably been like that since the last update, but I’ve not had cause to use it for the past few weeks. Tonight is the first chance I’ve had to fire up my laptop and react to the comments, so sorry for the unintended radio silence.
Especially as my post about disappearing social media footprints seems to have touched a few nerves; it’s nice to know when something you write hits the target, slightly less so when you realise you may have inadvertently been responsible forreopening some old wounds.
I’ll try to reply to each of you who left comments about their own experiences when I can think of something which doesn’t sound mealy-mouthed or vacuous.
And to the couple of people who left comments for the first time this week: hello, and you’re very welcome here.
So for those of you who are new to my little corner of the internet, on a sunday moning (UK time) you should find a little gem of Country music here. Many of the same acts – Cash, Kristofferson, Pride – will appear here often, others less so.
This morning, a tune featuring a Country star who is perhaps better known than any other, accompanied by her former singing partner Porter Wagoner.
I’m a little bit behind watching the excellent series currently airing in the UK on BBC4 of a Friday Night, wittily entitled Country Music and produced by Ken Burns (or as it’s billed over here: Ken Burns Country Music which just sounds like Barbie’s old beau has a grudge), but I imagine Wagoner has got a mention, given that he was known as ‘Mr Grand Ole Opry’ and apparently racked up 81 hit singles between 1954 and 1983.
This is one of them, a cover of a Tom Paxton song which has been blessed with many interpretations over the years, performed with the little lady with a big heart, who he introduced to the world on his TV show in 1967, and who he released records with throughout the late 60s and early 70s, before she busted out (sorry I couldn’t resist) into fame in her own right.