Happy Birthday

On Easter weekend, I mentioned how, because of “the lockdown” it would be odd that I wouldn’t be travelling to visit my parents, which my brother and I do pretty much every year, not for any religious reasons, more for it being a long weekend and, crucially, generally around the time of my Dad’s birthday.

You can keep your St George’s Day celebrations today, your William Shakespeare was born and (because he couldn’t handle his beer) also died on this day, for this year, today, is my Dad’s 80th birthday, which probably would have warranted a second visit.

Before lockdown, when pressed as to what he wanted to do to mark his milestone, he insisted that he didn’t want any fuss. Which was lucky, because he’s not going to get any this year – at least not via close contact with any of his family, anyway.

And that includes my Mum, because this year, he isn’t going to be spending his birthday at home. Oh no. He’s in hospital, recovering from an operation.

On Sunday, my Mum called. This is not a common occurance. (Actually, that’s not strictly true. My brother and I have set times on set days that we call them to have a weekly catch-up, and if you’re as much as five minutes late, your phone will start ringing as the enquiries as to why you haven’t called yet begin. “I took a little longer in the toilet than expected, Mum. Shall I take the phone in with me next time?”)

Anyway, Sunday is not my day to speak to them, so I feared something was wrong. And it transpired that as he was cooking his breakfast that morning, he had inexpicably fallen over. He couldn’t get up again by himself, and my Mum, who is probably about half the size of him and has just had a hip-replacement operation herself, couldn’t manage it either. An ambulance was called, and off he went to hospital where a diagnosis of an acute fracture of the femur was given.

I don’t know, some people will do anything to get out of the house during lockdown.

Unless he has made a miraculous recovery, that’s where he will remain throughout his birthday.

So since I won’t be able to see him to wish him a Happy Birthday – or rather, as happy a birthday as it’s possible to have laid up in a hospital bed – I thought I’d share a memory, which looking back now, probably had a lot to do with my obsession with music later in life.

Growing up, evening meals at our house during the week were always taken at the table in the kitchen, but often Saturday’s evening meal (if there was nothing on TV, in which case it was eaten off trays on our laps in the living room) and definitely Sunday lunch, were served in the dining room.

Which makes our house sound remarkably grand, but it wasn’t really. I mean, it was a decent sized gaff; not long after we moved in in the mid-70s we had a loft conversion done at the front and an extension built at the back, and it was in the latter that the dining room was situated.

Here’s a photo of the old place, which just so happens to be my brother and I’s favourite picture of Dad, fag in hand, leaning nonchanlantly against the back of what we think was his first ever company car (a Vauxhall Cavalier – there’s posh!):

Anyway, after we’d finished eating on a Saturday night, we’d remain sat around the table, picking records to play from his collection. It’s a tradition which remains to this day when the family meets up, although these days tunes are played via an iPhone and bluetooth speaker rather than from his hi-fi system.

Inevitably, since my brother and I were forbidden from bringing any of our records downstairs – he’s not daft, he’d heard enough Quo blaring from upstairs as I tried to play my guitar along whilst simultaneously trying to perfect my ‘foot-on-monitor-rock-god’ pose to know that he needed to subject himself to no more – the same records would get picked every week, to the point where, after a few weeks I started compiling a chart.

Because generally the same records got picked every week, it wasn’t the most exciting chart to read, I’ll grant you. There was no Beatles v The Stones, no Blur v Oasis.

But one rivalry did spark up, oddly between two records by the same artist.

And that was because Dad would always pick the same record by this artist, and, after a fashion, so would I.

You know when you were a kid and, if you had a sibling, you would both be charged with doing the washing and drying up every now and again? And how the one doing the washing-up would often lay down a challenge: “I bet I’ll finish first”? And the dryer-upper would rise to the challenge, hurriedly drying each pot, plate and pan, blissfully ignorant that the washer-up had to finish before the dryer-up because that’s the order that things get finished in? I say this like it’s a rhetorical question, but this definitely happened in our house, and no I wasn’t the one doing the washing-up.

The same principle applied here: having compiled the chart and established that Dad’s weekly selection was miles ahead, I started picking the same record every week, determined to catch him up, hoping that he would forget to play the resolute Number One. And of course, every week, after I’d played my choice, Dad – and he might let me think he’d forgotten for a record or two afterwards – would play his choice and I’d have a bit of a sulk and would vow to return the following week, surely to be triumphant when next we would joust.

When I mention the name of this artist, a couple of his best known records will spring to mind, and don’t get me wrong, they’re great, great records, but a bit…I dunno…’comedy’. The record I used to choose every week pretty much fell into this category, but the one Dad chose most certainly did not.

They’re both by an artist who is often cited as an influence by bands and musicians who came through in the late 50s and early 60s: as well as having an effect on the likes of The Beatles and Jimmy Page, in the 70s he released an album where his backing band comprised of Elton John, Ronnie Wood, Brian May and Ringo Starr. He later toured with Van Morrison, which displays far greater levels of tolerance than perhaps he had previously been credited. The Wedding Present have recorded a cover version of one of his songs. There’s doubtless many more who would cite him.

I speak, of course, of Lonnie Donegan, who I found out when researching this, died in my home town of Peterborough. It has that effect on people.

It’s a shame that he is mostly remembered for his ‘novelty’ records, for “My Old Man’s a Dustman” and “Does Your Chewing Gum Lose It’s Flavour on the Bedpost Overnight?” and this, the record which I chose every week:

Lonnie Donegan – Puttin’ On The Style

It’s a record which, now imbued with a a little more pop knowledge, reminds me of The Beach Boys “I Get Around”. That should be the other way round, of course.

Unlike this, my Dad’s choice which is neither novelty nor particularly skiffle, but whenever I hear it, makes me think of…well, Dad:

Lonnie Donegan – Seven Golden Daffodils

I don’t think he would argue too much if I said that was his favourite record.

And after today, annoyingly, it still remains top of the charts.

Dad: I know this might sound weird given where you are, but happy birthday. I’m so sorry that we can’t be with you today. When all of this is over, and you’re allowed home, and we’re allowed to visit, we’ll have a bloody good drink. Deal?

And if any of you are nice enough to want to wish him a happy birthday too, there’s always the Comments, and, rather than calling him Jez’s Dad, his name’s Den. That would be quite a lovely thing for you to do.

More soon.

From Leeds With Love

Ok to back to something approaching normality.

I spent the weekend up visiting my folks to mark my Dad’s birthday on Saturday. As I’ve mentioned on these pages before, although I probably – no, undoubtedly – would never have admitted it at the time, his record collection has proved to be a massive influence on my own musical tastes over the years.

Pretty much every country record I’ve ever posted here, and in particular most of the stuff I’ve posted recently in my Sunday Morning thread, I first heard via my Dad’s record collection. But there’s another chap, non-country, who my Dad loves, who I previously wrote about here: one Lonnie Donegan.

There was a fairly decent documentary on ITV, of all places, the other week which if you didn’t catch I’d urge you to see if it’s still available on their On Demand service. I mean, you can tell it was an ITV production because they felt the need to have it presented by one of the actors from Downton Abbey, but he makes a pretty good fist of it, including interviews with both the remaining Beatles (including one with Ringo Starr which he manages to get through whilst preventing Starr from waffling on about peace and love), Roger Daltrey and, surprisingly, Jack White. Now if that’s not a recommendation…

White explains how many of Donegan’s songs were American folk songs, and, as proof if proof were needed, today’s selection was first recorded back in 1924, and in between then and Donegan recording it in 1957, such luminaries as Woody Guthrie and Pete Seeger, to name just two, cut versions of it too.

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Lonnie Donegan – Cumberland Gap

In 1992, to mark the 40th anniversary of their first publication, the NME released a three-CD compilation album, “Ruby Trax” where they invited current bands featuring on their pages to record a cover version of a record which had reached Number One in the UK charts during those 40 years.

Ruby Trax is probably best know for having spawned this, by the Manic Street Preachers, a balls-out rock version of “Suicide is Painless (Theme from M*A*S*H*)”, which became the bands first Top 10 hit:

The song was released as a double ‘A’ side in the UK, with Fatima Mansions’ frankly rather weird version of Bryan Adams chart-clogger  “(Everything I Do) I Do it for You” on t’other side:

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Fatima Mansions – (Everything I Do) I Do it for You

If you’re hearing that for the first time, you’ll not be overly surprised to learn that was the only time that Fatima Mansions came even close to bothering the UK Top 10 (although they did release a few belters, which I’ll deal with some other time).

But elsewhere on the Ruby Trax album, was this version of “Cumberland Gap”, provided by stalwarts of this section The Wedding Present:

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The Wedding Present – Cumberland Gap

And, just to make this all nice and circular, it was Wedding Present main man David Gedge’s birthday on Saturday, the same day as my Dad’s. Coincidence? Well, yes, obviously. What are you suggesting….?

More soon.

Sunday Morning Coming Down

My father is a man of few words. Not exactly what you’d call a Chatty Kathy. If anyone ever used that phrase apart from me.

There was once an occasion when he gave me some sound words of advice. Actually, that’s not strictly true, there’s more than one. The one I’m thinking of is about records.

Another one I can recall is about football. Or, more pertinently, about drinking whilst watching football.

In 1986 he and I settled down to watch England v Poland in the World Cup finals. England needed to win, or they were pretty much out. My dad is not the most avid of football fan, but we settled down to watch the match anyway. To get him through it, he had a few beers lined up, and a bottle of whiskey on stand-by.

“We’re either celebrating or drowning our sorrows”, he told me when I mentioned this might be a little excessive. I was only 16 at the time. He gave me a beer and I shut up.

This is how it panned out:

I, as with so many others of a similar age, desperately wanted to have a bandage or cast on our left hands after that. With the benefit of hindsight, one on the right hand was more likely.

“We’re either celebrating or drowning our sorrows”: the best advice I ever had. Seven words I’ve tried to live my life by ever since.

Anyway, the record related advice was this: “You’ll regret selling them, you know.”

Back story: I was skint, and had decided to off-load a wodge of my vinyl, including one that I haven’t even told you I’ve bought yet. See, time is a big blob of wibbly wobbly timey-wimey…stuff (apologies, you will only understand that link if you saw the greatest episode of Dr Who since it rebooted).

Now I’m not a massive fan of Pink Floyd, and I can prove this by telling you that amongst the vinyl I was flogging off the day that those wise words spilled from my father’s mouth was the album on which today’s song resides. Floyd fans will gasp in horror that I even contemplated selling my copy. But that’s what I did.

I don’t deny that that The Dark Side of the Moon is a work of genius. And today’s song is, as is the rest of the album, amazing, powerful, beautiful.

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Pink Floyd – The Great Gig in the Sky

Two weeks later, I went out and spent the money I had made selling my old vinyl on buying a new copy of The Dark Side of the Moon.

You should always listen to your parents.

There’s some karma in here. About 10 years ago, after they’d both retired, my parents built themselves a rather nice bungalow in Southern Ireland and moved over there. As they were moving out of the spacious three bedroom detached place I grew up in, this lead to a downsizing of their belongings, and needless to say one of the casualties was my father’s vinyl, the majority of which went in a car boot sale or three.

One of the records they sold was one which I know is very close to his heart. And I say karma, because I sought out a copy of the album and gave it to him at Christmas. The volume went very loud when he played this, I think one of his favourite records ever:

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Lonnie Donegan – Seven Golden Daffodils

See, a “Best Of” album. That’s where I get it from.

If you don’t know who Lonnie Donegan is: well, he’s possibly one of the most influential and unsung heroes of pop music. John Peel loved him. The Beatles were inspired by him, as were so many other bands that broke through in the late 1950s/early 1960s. Much of what we know as popular music simply would not have happened were it not for Lonnie. I urge you to go seek out his stuff.

In the meantime, here’s a song that I love from the same album:

Lonnie Donegan – Puttin’ on the Style

1-1, I think.

More soon.