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December 3, 2012

When I was somewhat younger I heard a great song on the car radio late in the evening. It was John Peel’s show on Radio 1 – utterly essential listening for people who took their rock music seriously. I caught the name of the song – Love My Way – but not the name of the band. No internet, no mobile phone and a short memory meant that it passed from my mind. Until Forever Now – the third album by the Psychedelic Furs – was released, and there it was on the tracklist. A very happy coincidence. Serendipity indeed.

Much more recently I realised that the special edition iPod we bought for Caroline years ago was part of Apple’s participation in Product Red – an enterprise in which some big names brand products or services in support of programmes aimed at containing HIB in Africa. PLEASE check it out. Another notable participant – and this is where the happy coincidence comes in – include The Killers, who every year give all the profits from their Christmas single. The seventh – I feel it in my Bones – is imminent. Previous offerings include Boots, which starts with a short extract from It’s a Wonderful Life, and is one of the best Christmas songs of the lot. More about Christmas songs is on the way from santasometimessays very soon….

I had only just discovered The Furs. I came late to them, as to a good deal of the music I enjoy, though not too late to miss the opportunity to see them live a year or so later. By that time they had shrunk from six to four members and therefore satisfied part of a daft principle I had conceived when I was about five of the correct size of a pop group. That principle also required to a group to be structured like a football team – a set number of participants in fixed positions (from which you would be right to assume that I had a rigid playing formation in mind for football, too), consisting of a lead guitarist who was also the lead singer, two other guitars (I didn’t know what a bass was) and a drummer. How I arrived at that rule beats me – no group I liked when I was that young matched that structure. Exposed to more classical than pop music in earliest years – Top of the Pops only went on television if Mum and Dad weren’t in the room to require a change of channel (we just about had two channels by then…) – it took years to realise that an electric guitar was not an instrument of evil. As for synthesisers – pianos that could be plugged in – they were just too outré. (Imagine – at around that time The Animals were recording House of the Rising Sun – “synthesisers” – I blush to think of it now.)

I shared my enthusiasm for the Psychedelic Furs at university with Conrad; it is Conrad and another friend, Bob, who are probably responsible for some of the oddest backwaters of my musical thoughts. Both of them for example had a good knowledge of punk before they got to university, where I only knew the headlines and was disposed to disapprove. They – especially Bob – disabused me of the notion that you had to like any genre of music to the exclusion of others. They showed me that it wasn’t true that if you liked ska you couldn’t like rock and roll; punk and heavy metal are both possible in the same world. Bob could listen in the same evening to The Crammps Goo Goo Muck  and The Crystals Then He Kissed MeThanks to them I have absolutely – I hope – no prejudice as to music. I can happily write that the introduction to The Sex Pistols’ Pretty Vacant is electrifying, while in the background Mozart’s Requiem is oozing from the speakers.

During one vacation, Bob stayed at my parents’ house, from where we went together to see King Kurt in Kilburn. If you don’t know them – entirely possible – they were a pyschobilly rock band with amazing haircuts, who recorded not one but two songs featuring the word “zulu” (see Zulu Beat), and whose live shows regularly involved food fights. At the Kilburn show, there was a device on stage spraying custard into the audience. We emerged unscathed apart from befloured hair and heavily pounded eardrums. (Bob was suffering from tinnitus next morning, which Mum considerately acknowledged by ringing a bell loudly for breakfast.)

If King Kurt were into food – their support act was into booze: a Norwich band called Serious Drinking who wrote in a fairly downbeat way about alcohol, football, television – an incipient lads’ culture which seemed merely fun at the time but may perhaps have been more than that: since Fever Pitch was published we have to think twice before trivialising people’s passions. Serious Drinking were not, sadly, destined for prolonged success, despite some really easy and catchy songs like Winter’s Over. But they were the subject of another pleasing realisation a dozen or so years later. Andy Hearnshaw, the guitarist, also did service in The Farmer’s Boys, whose bouncy single For You I still possess –  in a gatefold sleeve no less. It lives in a cardboard box behind the sofa, along with a picture disc by the Drifters, a pink Cool for Cats, and a yellow Banana Splits by the Dickies.

cool for catsI still wonder why I spent money on Banana Splits. Perhaps I thought it was funny – which it isn’t. Occasionally I play it, to try and persuade myself that it has some value as social history – which it doesn’t. In the interests of impartiality, I have included a link so you can make up your own mind. But to be honest I wouldn’t bother if I were you. 

For the final serendipitous delight I go back on the one hand about six weeks, and on the other about thirty years or so. First, to a blog by the very learned Dancing Professor,  which starts off about cats and ends up about Christopher Smart, a troubled poet, part of whose Jubilate Agno is there set out. The extract begins with the line “For I will consider my cat Jeoffry” – and as soon as I saw it there, into my head came the  image of my brother Richard singing those words in a concert of Britten’s cantata based on the text of Smart’s poem, at a time when he was physiologically able to reach the required notes. I don’t think we have a recording of that occasion – there may be a crackling old cassette somewhere – but even without that I shan’t forget the sound I heard then. So here’s someone else singing it, and doing it more than justice.

We have cats called Octavian and Ptolemy. If you can think of any music to go with that, now that would be a coincidence.


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  1. A couple of serious comments needed for this one, Si. Firstly, have you considered ‘Cleopatra’ from ‘Salad Days’ as a fitting accomapaniment to your feline pals? Some of the most spectacularly cheesy rhymes it will ever be your privilege to hear. Ask the aged P, if in doubt.
    Secondly, I am not sure how pleased I am with the idea of the Mozart Requiem ‘oozing’ anywhere, let alone in the background…

  2. Interesting suggestion – “Egypt’s answer to Mont-Martre, and the secret of her artre was to keep her men at bay…”.

    Ooze is good. Think “custard”.

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