Tony’s Themes

The Chain is going to be a day later than usual this week. This is entirely intentional, for today I need to write about someone, today is the day that I must post it, and I’m sorry, but I don’t want it be overshadowed by a second post later on. You’ll see why, and you’ll understand, I’m sure. Back to normal next week.

Right. When I was at Sixth Form, as I’ve mentioned before, I had my little gang of like-minded (politically and musically) chums.

There was Richie, who I’m still in touch with; Anne, who lives down in New Zealand now and who I had the pleasure of a very long phone conversation with earlier this year, the first time we had actually spoken in approaching thirty years; Kirsty and Maria, wicked,  lovely people, all polka-dotted skirts and tousled up hair – I’m in touch with Maria on Facebook, but haven’t heard from Kirsty since we disbanded in 1987.

And then there was Tony.

Tony Plant was a little bit older than the rest of us. He was with us because he had some health problems which meant he was a bit behind his peer group, physically not intellectually. We all knew that he had some kind of problem with his heart, but I don’t think we ever really knew the extent of it. If you asked him, he would just wave you away, saying “Oh, it’s just a thing…nothing to worry about.”

Tony would have been 50 today. You’ll notice the tense of that sentence.

A couple of years ago, I bumped into Richie and he broke the news to me. I was visiting my parents at the time, and they found the fact that I’d bumped into someone I knew – in a B&Q car park, in a town I hadn’t visited in over twenty years, of all places – highly amusing, until I divulged the content of the conversation.

Tony had died, on the operating table, finally having the operation that was hoped to have sorted out once and for all the issues which had put him back into the same Sixth Form, and circle of friends, as me.

It’s a weird situation. I’m so glad I knew him, but I only knew him because of the heart condition that ultimately killed him.

I only knew Tony for a year, maybe a year and a half at the most, a long time ago. But he was one of the loveliest, funniest, warmest blokes I ever met, one of those rare people that the moment you meet them for the first time, you feel like you’ve known them all your life.

He was as much a part of my musical awakening as anyone else that I may attribute that to elsewhere on these pages, pointing me in the direction of some bands he thought I’d like, nodding appreciatively when I told him about ones I’d discovered by myself. It pains me that I will never be able to catch up with him again.

Let me give you an example (or six).

One day I was round at his, sitting in his bedroom at his Mum and Dad’s, listening to records. He played one, which he said he loved because it was precisely in his vocal range. A girl, who he refused to name, had pointed this out to him once. He sang along for me, and he was right. He loved the fact that both she, and I for that matter, had been blown away by his rendition of a record that I had thought was by Heaven 17 until that moment, when I found out it was this:

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The The – This Is The Day

It was on this occasion that he first showed me his party trick: “The Man With the World’s Smallest Mouth”, which I cannot even begin to do justice to. Imagine Rob Bryden’s “Man in a Box” and then take it back 20 years. That was Tony.

He sidled up to me once in the Sixth Form Common Room; a mixtape I had made was playing, and suddenly I was aware that Tony was standing by my side.

“This should be number one, shouldn’t it, mate?” he whispered to me.

In an ideal world, Tony, yes, it should have been. (It got to Number 11.)

This record:

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Westworld – Sonic Boom Boy

And he was right, it should have been Number One because it’s bloody great, far better than most of the old tosh that was cluttering up the UK Singles Charts at the time. Who cares that they released nothing else of any note? That is a great record. Westworld were The Ting Tings of the 80s, only without the number one hit record.

I bumped into Tony one day, in a record shop in Peterborough. It was called “Choices”, a short-lived place just off the main drag, which I often visited because nobody else ever seemed to, and I picked up many recued-to-clear bargains in there. Also, a guy I knew from junior school was working there, so he would happily order stuff for me. It was odd seeing him there, as he was not someone I particularly associated with music – I remembered he and I when we were much, much younger extolling the virtues of Bucks Fizz’s “The Land of Make Believe” and Tom Baker-era “Dr Who”.

Anyway, one day, Tony was in there too, we chatted about what he’d bought, and about a gig he wanted to go to, The Wedding Present, not just because he loved them, but because he’d heard the support act, The Flatmates, were pretty good too.

Desperate to please, moments after our conversation ended, I picked up this :

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The Flatmates – Shimmer

And so began a life long love affair with indie bands with female lead singers.

He was also very supportive. Around this time, having had a guitar for a few years, I was getting to grips with playing chords and being able to perform songs. I once told him I could play the next one, did it for him, and the next thing I knew I was wheeled out in front of his parents and a few friends, being encouraged to do it again:

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The Wedding Present – Everyone Thinks He Looks Daft

It’s the 30th anniversary of that record next year, and I’m going to see them perform it in it’s entirety. Tony will be with me.

I see Tony whenever I hear those records. But none more so than this next one.

Christmas 1986. Sixth Form Christmas Party. Tony and I have ended up sitting on some tables, all the chairs having been snuck off by people less drunk than we.

We talked about records, as we often did, and when we got to this one, we both sat, cross-legged on the table, singing the 82-second life out of the C86-opening track:

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Primal Scream – Velocity Girl

To finish off, I remember how excited he was when he first heard the Pixies’ “Surfer Rosa”, not least because it’s a brilliant, brilliant record, but more so because it had this on it:

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 Pixies – Tony’s Theme

That little group of friends I mentioned earlier: I guarantee that every time we hear that, we think of him, thank our lucky stars we knew him, and curse our luck that he’s gone.

After I found out he had passed away, I got in touch with Anne and broke the news to her. It was a shitty way to reconnect with someone after so many years, but I knew she would want to know. After the initial shock, she sent me a collage of pictures she had from when we all used to hang out. It included this one:

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He couldn’t play the bloody thing, but he was going to try and look like a member of The Bluebells if it was the last thing he did.

And that is exactly how I want to remember him.

It’s such a cliché to say that you wish you’d stayed in touch with someone, but I don’t really care that it’s a cliché. Tony is someone I wish I’d tried harder to keep in my life. And now it’s too late. He’s gone.

As we approach the festive season, perhaps there’s a message there for us all.

Rest in peace, old buddy. And happy birthday.

More soon.

Friday Night Music Club

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote a very short post – too short, so I’m told – in my “Which Reminds Me…” thread, about Kaiser Chiefs’ “Na Na Na Na Naa”.

That in turn has made me think about how songs with nonsensical titles have played quite a big part in the history of rock and pop, so I thought we’d have a look at some of them tonight.

But just like cafe’s feel obliged to write the words “Warning: Contents May Be Hot”, here’s an advance warning for you: this post contains songs of wildly varying quality. But that’s why you’re here, right? Right….?

So, let’s start with one of the greatest records ever:

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283. The Crystals – Da Doo Ron Ron

Unfortunately, people of a certain age, i.e. me, can’t hear that record without being reminded of this pair:

Not got any funnier with age that, has it?

What is there to say about Little Richard that hasn’t already been said? Well, very little that isn’t defamatory, so we’ll go straight to one of his tunes:

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284. Little Richard – Bama Lama Bama Loo

Bears more than a passing similarity to his own “Tutti Frutti”, that is it…?

In 1986, presumably spurred on by his former Generation X frontman Billy Idol’s solo success, guitarist Bob “Derwood” Andrews formed Westworld. Named after the Yul Brinner movie, the band had two hit singles in 1987: a great one, “Sonic Boom Boy” which made Number 11 in the UK charts, and this not so great one, which made Number 37:

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 285. Westworld – Ba-Na-Na-Bam-Boo

The follow-up single, “Where The Action Is” tanked even more, not even making the Top 40, and when their debut album met with a similarly indifferent response from the UK record buying public, the writing was on the wall for the band.

A few years ago, there was a rather wonderful sitcom on BBC3 called “Him and Her”. Starring Russell Tovey as Steve (the “Him”) and Sarah Solemani as Becky (the “Her”), a young couple living together in a flat where all of the action in the first three series’ took place. With able support from the likes of Joe Wilkinson, Camille Coduri and Kerry sister-of-Russell-Howard Howard, it’s a wonderfully understated show, with no laughter track or studio audience, full of awkward silences and knowing looks. If you haven’t ever seen, I would urge you to check out.

Here’s a clip:

I mention this now because the end credits had this playing over them:

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286. Lulu – Boom Bang-a-Bang

“Him and Her” was written by Stefan Golaszewski, who some of you will know for being part of the comedy sketch group “Cowards”, along with the likes of Tim Key and Tom Basden. He also wrote the equally great “Mum” which is currently showing on BBC2 at 10:00pm on Friday nights, but you wouldn’t know that because you’re here reading this on a Friday night, right? Watch it, it’s great.

More TV related shenanigans now, and a tune which again is guaranteed to bring back some happy memories for those of us “of a certain age”:

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287. The Dickies – Banana Splits (Tra La La)

For those of you who have no clue what I’m talking about, when I was a kid in the 1970s, no Saturday morning was complete without watching The Banana Split Show, which would always be on at about 8am, whetting the appetite for the three and a bit hour feast of middle of the road, middle class niceness that was The Multi-Coloured Swap Shop.

The Banana Splits were a fictional rock band comprised of Fleegle, Bingo, Drooper (I wonder how he got his name….?) and Snorky, who were in essence, and sorry to shatter the illusion, four blokes in weird costumes.

Probably easier if I just show you them, I think:

I so wanted a buggy like that when I was a kid.

Wait – did I just say “Middle of the Road”…?

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288. Middle Of The Road – Chirpy Chirpy Cheep Cheep

Let’s not dwell to much on that one, eh? Instead, let me direct you this, a song which was just a bit too far ahead of the pack. Released in 1992, had it been three of four years later it would have been one of the great records of the Britpop era, by one of the most underrated  acts, led by one of the most underrated musicians ever – Lawrence, formally of Felt, now of Go-Kart Mozart (unless he’s moved on again), then of Denim. As it was, it was largely, criminally, ignored by the majority of the Great British record buying public, the fools:

I’d hoped to be able to find their appearance on “Later…”, and it’s there on YouTube, but with even worse sound/video quality than that clip. It is rather amusing to read all the “This sounds like something from the 70s” slams in the Comments under that, written by people who really didn’t understand that that was the whole point.

Time for some more puppet-based fun now, but ignore what it says on the sleeve, and give credit where credit’s due:

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289. Mahna Mahna & The Two Snowths – Mahna Mahna

Nope, you’re right. I can’t resist posting the video clip of that:

What’s not to love about that?

To some early 1980s German electro now, and a record which when I saw them perform it on Top of The Pops, the lead singer scared me like nothing else on that show had since Ron Mael had glowered down the camera lens in the 1970s:

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290. Trio – Da Da Da

Next to one of my favourite bands when I was a kid, cementing a place in my affections just after I’d grown bored of Shakin’ Stevens but before I’d discovered the joys of Status Quo, and, crucially, before I’d realised what a pretentious prick Sting was, and, even more crucially, before I’d ever seen him act.

From their 1980 album “Zenyatta Mondatta”, here’s:

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291. The Police – De Do Do Do, De Da Da Da

I say I hadn’t worked out how pretentious Sting was, but the clues are on that album. Who else could write a lyric like this with a straight face:

“It’s no use, he sees her
He starts to shake and cough
Just like the old man in
That book by Nabokov” (from “Don’t Stand So Close To Me”)

Really, Sting? Are we supposed to believe you couldn’t think of something to rhyme with “Lolita”??

Time to round things off for this week, with two stone cold classics.

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 292.Small Faces – Sha-La-La-La-Lee

And finally, you will have done very well to avoid knowing that the Euro 2016 tournament started tonight, with England’s first game on tomorrow. Now, there seems little point in me posting any football related songs – though I have loads – when you can go and pay Football and Music a visit, and find everything you ever wanted to hear, and quite a lot that you don’t (said with affection, I promise – the first comment I ever posted was on this website).

No, instead, I’m going to leave you with this song, because it mentions “Tottenham Hotspur, when they couldn’t get one in” in the lyrics.

It’s looking like there will be five Spurs players in England’s starting eleven tomorrow night. Some of them might even be lucky enough to get played in their preferred position.

I’ll be hoping that one of them, at least, manages to get one in.

You know where I’m going with this, right?

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293. Chas & Dave – Gertcha

Oh, and good luck to all the Home Nations: Wales (except against us, of course), Northern Ireland, Republic of Ireland and…oh, that seems to be the end of the list.

More soon.