A limerick a week #211

Reddy, Steady, Go!

My earliest childhood musical memories stem mainly from three sources:

    • my Geordie grandmother’s record collection (Rodgers & Hammerstein musicals, The Seekers, and Frank Ifield yodelling!);
    • my other grandmother, a pre-war refugee, poignantly singing Doris Day’s Que Sera Sera;
    • and my dad’s bass baritone renditions of John Peel’s Echo (“The horn of the hunter’s now silent…”).

During my early teens, this was overwritten by the glam rock of Marc Bolan’s T. Rex, the leather-clad Suzy Quatro (due more to an adolescent hormonal response than an appreciation of her music), and Roy Wood’s Wizzard. However, when my Geordie-born, but Australian-wed, aunt visited the UK in 1976 (’twas the first time that I’d met her), she brought with her three vinyl LPs that she thought we’d like.

The first was Nashville Skyline, Bob Dylan’s late-1960s diversion into country music. I think she chose this for a gift as her son was a big Dylan fan and she simply assumed that we too would appreciate it.

The next was Mike McClellan’s 1974 album Ask Any Dancer. His name was new to me along with his folk-pop and country tunes.

Ordinarily, I’d consider it a bit too country-ish for me, but  surprisingly, I rather liked it and when I was thinking of my retirement message to former colleagues (nearly two years ago now!), I did wonder about using a few lines from one of its tracks, Song & Dance Man, as my professional epitaph. It would have been a metaphor rather than something to be taken literally and my rationale for considering it was that when people retire, they are mostly forgotten a lot sooner than their egos would wish!

I won’t ask much of your time
Or that you recall my name.
Fame is just a momentary curse
But if you recall a song or two
That lingers when I’m gone
Then I guess a song and dance man could do worse.

In the end, although true as a metaphor, I thought it was far too pretentious even by my standards and I settled for a more literal epitaph: The lad did little harm.

So, you ask, what was the third of my aunt’s gift albums? Well, again, it was a name that was new to me, but not to the awakening feminist movement of the early 1970s. It was Helen Reddy’s Greatest Hits, a compilation album released in 1975 that included the 1971 song I am Woman, a song that had already become an iconic anthem of the feminist movement. Of course I didn’t know that at the time. To me it was just one from a collection of songs that I listened to quite a lot – I was not ‘in’ to analysing lyrics any more then than I am now – at least not consciously.

But there must have been some subconscious analysis going on. In 2017, when a BBC Four documentary chronicled Carly Simon’s late-1972 No Secrets album (the one that included You’re So Vain and turned her into a global star), it heralded her as that era’s feminist voice in popular music. On hearing that, my first impression, correct or otherwise, was that such a mantle belonged to Reddy.

Anyway, this week’s news in the showbiz world was that Helen Reddy had died, aged 78.

So  guess what? Here’s a limerick…

A singer whose voice in the heady
Days of her youth held steady.
But the path that will take her
To now meet her maker
Is here. So, Helen, are you ready?

Wimborne and I

Sandi Thom’s internet meltdown last year was, I guess, resonant of the frustration that many talented performers have with their industry, particularly where they may have served their time doing the circuit in the old-fashioned way only to see some lesser-talented, or even talentless, entertainer succeed after being showcased on one of TV’s rapid-rise-to-fame X-crable talent competitions. But not all who fail to hit the Radio 2 playlist react in the way that Thom did. Some just keep on going; doing what keeps them going in fact.

Thea Gilmore, a favourite of mine, seems to do just that. Last November I undertook a 600-mile round trip to see her in my childhood hometown, Kendal, thinking that no-one would have journeyed further for the concert. In fact a group had travelled down from as far away as Orkney, so after at least 15 albums and 13 never-quite-made-it-to-the-top singles, she clearly retains a committed fan base and keeps on writing songs and touring even when, as on this occasion, she doesn’t have an album to promote.

Her set was exceptionally well received by the local audience. That surprised me as in my youth Kendal audiences would usually sit tight-lipped with arms folded, assuming a posture that spoke volumes: “Ah’ve bluddy well paid to see yer, so bluddy well entertain me!”. At that time Kendal still seemed to adhere to the TV historian David Starkey’s description that it was a right tight little northern town where, if you couldn’t trace your forebears locally for several generations, you were viewed as a dangerous outsider! So I’m pleased to say that it seems to have changed since then, even though in a certain Steven Hall (a Britain’s Got Talent finalist) it has generated the sort of X-crable ‘celebrity’ that would make most unsung talents weep, never mind Sandi Thom.

Anyway, back to Thea Gilmore …

Seemingly, as audiences go we were better in Kendal than at Wimborne! Mostly, I think, because the room erupted with cheers when asked whether we were interested in a song about s-e-x (clearly Kendalians don’t get out much). This obviously pleased Thea as she recounted the fact that such a comment was met with relative silence in Dorset. Apparently she could do no right at her gig in Wimborne, whose audience would ostensibly have preferred a humourless and tuneless recital and to not have to cope with her breaking occasionally to re-tune her guitar or add a risqué comment. And that got me thinking – we must all have, or surely will have, a Wimborne moment; a time when your skills and humour are simply not appreciated to the full.

As an ex-pat Kendalian it is perhaps no surprise that one of my own Wimborne moments relates to Kendal itself. I once sent a short, well-crafted, self-deprecating and, I thought, humorous letter to its local weekly rag, the Westmorland Gazette. Unfortunately, it was edited before publication to the extent that any semblance of humour was removed and the sense of self-deprecation was transformed into one of apparent pomposity. This was all because the opening line contained the s-e-x word, so it had to be got rid of. That, in turn, meant the last line was meaningless, so they got rid of it as well thus completing a malign transformation that made its author look a bit of a plonker. Given Wimborne’s response to Thea’s humorous mention of s-e-x, it strikes me that the feckless illiterati of the Wezzy Gezzy’s editorial team would be well at home in Dorset:

I wrote you a letter and yet
It was odds-on, or so I would bet,
That its sense would be changed
By the oh-so-deranged
Illiterates that edit the Gazette!

Postscript: Much to my displeasure, my letter (as edited) was included in a publication of the Kendal Civic Society on a look back at the town over the preceding fifty years. Even more to my displeasure, my mum bought me a copy for Christmas. Aaaaaghhh!

“Oh God!” you say, “Not folk music?”

“I like Bellowhead”.

“Who?” you ask.

“Bellowhead” I say “a contemporary English folk group”.

“Oh God!” you say, “Not folk music?”.

Or at least that is how I imagine most conversations with the uninitiated would pass on the subject. But Bellowhead is not your average folk group. Oh no. It is an 11 piece folk ‘big-band’ that has headlined concerts for a dozen years and is now, sadly, towards the end of its farewell tour. It is also a band about which The Independent said: “With the exception of The Who, Bellowhead are surely the best live act in the country”.

One of the group, Paul Sartin, has described them thus: “We’re not a period piece band. To be a party band, the music has to be accessible, and therefore contemporary … we use the songs as a template, chuck everything into the mix and see what comes out”. They certainly do and it ticks the “contemporary take on tradition” box that brings both relevance and a wider audience to a sometimes staid cultural heritage.

I mentioned to an acquaintance that is ‘in’ to folk music that I was going to see Bellowhead at the London Palladium. A fairly dismissive reply (“I saw them, they’re just noisy”) immediately identified him as a straw-sucking, acoustic-only, 1960s traditionalist who would gaze softly into the distance whilst listening to the semi-strangulated vibrato of a nasally-congested singer seeking to remove earwax at the same time as spitting out more words than the phrasing within a melody could possibly dictate. Personally, I would rather have a good night out.

And that is why I travelled with ‘Management’ from Aberdeen to the London Palladium where we took part in a shindig of the first order. I won’t go into detail because it was one of those occasions that you had to experience; words alone could not sum it up. Two quick points though: thankfully, the audience appeared very ordinary when contrasted against the imagery of shirtless collars, waistcoats and neck-wringing bandanas that normally conjures up the attire of a stereotypical traditionalist, but more importantly, much more importantly, everyone left grinning widely.

Ready to go ...
Ready to go …

It was terrific. You can get a taste of them here, read about the Palladium concert here  and find out more about the band here.

Saturday Night at the Palladium!
Saturday Night at the Palladium!