I only ask because I think it’s a good question, one of the best. In the Great British Grammar School of life both Tony Broadbent and I are Class of ’66, while Jeremy Corbyn will have left his alma mater a year later. So we are very much of a generation, and Jeremy: my, how knackered you must be feeling after the last couple of months. I wish you all the luck you deserve in the years to come, which is, I hasten to add, removing all hint of ambiguity, quite a lot, but you’ll probably need some that you don’t as well (I remember the ’80s and your Trot mates).
OK, blogger‘s etiquette. Tony Broadbent is an old mate – we were in one another’s first beat combo at school – and he sent me an e-copy of The one after 9:09: a mystery with a backbeat (Plain Sight Press, 2015) gratis. I get an acknowledgment in the acknowledgments and the Persuaders, the band Spike, the lead character in the book plays in, was the name of our group. The impact the Beatles had on us was huge; this book is a labour of love. Cliché time: I remember hearing Love me do under the bed sheets on Radio Luxemburg (208 metres medium wave) and feeling a tingle, thinking – I was a big Everly Brothers fan at the time – hey, these guys are English and this is the real thing. Tony, as he admits in his afterword to The one after 9:09, reverted for a while to using Paul, the first name on his birth certificate, and started speaking with a scouse accent. Musical differences subsequently arose and Tony graduated to a band that reached the heights of supporting Goldie & the Gingerbreads – Can’t you hear my heartbeat? – at the local Ricky Tick Club.
The mystery in the sub-title concerns the story related in Beatles-manager-to-be Brian Epstein’s autobiography A cellarful of noise about how he was first alerted to the Beatles existence by one Raymond Jones coming into the record department of his family’s furniture store and asking for My bonnie, the record they made in Germany with singer Tony Sheridan. Tony Broadbent has been working on this novel for a decade and when he started it, it was widely thought that this Jones feller was a fiction. The surmise of The one after 9:09 is that Raymond Jones got his historically significant namecheck in A cellarful of noise because of services rendered in other circumstances in the Beatles and Brian’s rise to world domination, and the novel, among many other happenings along the way, gives one fictional explanation of what might have occurred. Subsequently a perfectly real (and more mundane – no offence intended), a reasonable actual Raymond Jones has been found (see The Beatles Bible) but that should in no way take away from the invention of Tony Broadbent‘s weaving of what is real and what is not in the early Beatles/Epstein tale.
So, 1961, Beatles established as Liverpool’s top group, excess in Hamburg, Pete Best on drums, groups a-plenty, Teddy Boy gangs, promoters’ fierce rivalries, Brian Epstein’s paranoid homosexual misadventures, his ‘bigger than Elvis’ vision, the fight to manage ‘the boys’, the struggle to get a recording contract, enter George Martin, enter Ringo. All pretty much as reported in the sources Tony Broadbent extensively acknowledges. It’s weird: early on Tony pitches a fixer called Terry McCann straight into action, which I thought was an unfortunate coincidence – Minder and all that. So I check him out and first mention in the search engine is him attending Cilla Black’s funeral; and he’s not the only one prominent in the story was there. (Fortunately, keeping the corn at bay, Cilla does not appear in the book.)
If you want a lively dramatised potted history up to the recording of Please, please me, and how it all felt, then The one after 9:09 is not a bad place to start. Into all this enter invented teenager Raymond ‘Spike’ Jones – ‘Spike’ from Milligan in The Goons – art school drop-out (same place as Lennon), sometime muscle, admin assistant (bill sticker et al), private eye’s camouflage stand-in at The Cavern (looking out for Epstein), bass guitarist, friend of the Beatles, general man on the scene, and romantic seeker and finder of true love with his judy (not her name). The several narratives are delivered patchwork as events enticingly unfold, split-screen fashion. The coffee bars, the pubs, the clubs, the backstreets of Liverpool the backdrop to the action with scousisms and period vernacular aplenty, and lines and phrases from Beatles lyrics worked, with a nod and a wink, into the prose – the actual One after 9:09 quote is a beaut. Some of the Beatles’ wit could have come out of Hard day’s night, and though some of the fuller passages of dialogue – spelling out dilemmas and options – are a bit strained, I think Lennon’s character, his edginess, is particularly well done. Raymond Chandler’s advice to writers hitting a plot wall – have a man enter the room with a gun in his hand – might be at play with the appearance of a gang of tooled up red bandana’d Teds more than once.
I’m not going to say it’s a great book – I think Tony’s Creeping narratives, crime thrillers set in post-war and ’50s London, featuring cat burglar Jethro, The Smoke and its successors, are more satisfying conventional genre novels – but it’s an intriguing and entertaining one, the mix of fact and fiction a fascinating exercise. There were times when reading I forgot it was written by an old mate. It had me eagerly reading on – even when I knew the score as far as the Beatles story went, tension even in those first meetings with George Martin. That One after 9:09 is a labour of love, gratitude and affection is evident throughout.
A specific afterthought, one that keeps cropping up generally in all sorts of contexts lately: what if homosexuality had not been illegal when Brian Epstein was a young man? How might popular music history then have been changed?
As should be obvious from the above I am interested in music. I am also a big fan of charts and infographics. So if a picture paints a thousand words and infographics is meant to be a way of displaying information clearly then how come I got so little from Infographic guide to music, as compiled by Graham Betts (Hachette, 2014)? There are many reasons, not all of which apply to every page:
- as someone who worked on a student magazine under the influence of Oz magazine I know only too well the problem of reading text (coloured or not) printed on colour; though occasionally decent examples of geometric art emerge, clarification of the issues they are not.
- even where it’s just about readable and you can make sense of what’s there on the page, a simple list would have been more efficient and much less of an effort to read eg. It’s your funeral (popular songs chosen for funerals – depressingly Frank Sinatra’s My way)
- I could care less eg. Radiohead songs by genre; The 360 degrees of Jay-Z (hey, an incomprehensible pie-chart!)
I was going to say at least I got a certain sizeist satisfaction from The height of pop success when it said that the average height of The Beatles was only 5’8″, but on checking who was the short arse I discover that that’s not right. With Lennon and McCartney at 5’11” and George at 5’10” not even Ringo coming in at 5’6″ can bring them down to that. Another couple of small saving graces: an analysis of opera endings, Is it over when the fat lady sings? – no, it isn’t; the wit of selecting (of which there was not enough) as a topic What’s on ZZ Top’s mind? (women and/or sex 46%), even if it was actually a list with a pop art illustration. A random pick-up at the library; at least it adds to their issue statistics.
Out and about
Back after its summer break Scribal Gathering picked up where it had left off and hit the eclectic ground running in a half redecorated upstairs at The Crown. Featured musical ensemble The Outside This (outside the Box?) with the unusual line-up of guitar, drums and three female vocalists (one with added violin for lilt and lyricism) entertained with an energetic and varied set of catchy original material. They deliver what must be more demanding arrangements than they end up sounding. Intriguing, and getting better all the time. Elsewhere a distinct touch of the Brecht/Weil’s from Mitchell Taylor with his jaunty (and now vindicated at least for now) hymn to Jezza, Leaders, and Sian Magill’s ditty, complete with controlled angry rapid recitation, about a friend being made redundant. Prize for what is Scribal’s loudest spontaneous singalong must surely go to experienced but Scribal first timer, musician to the Brackley Morris, Stephen Ferneyhough, accompanying himself on Anglo-German concertina, with a delightful rendition of the Kinks‘ Dedicated follower of fashion. Oh, yes he is: a perfect match. Some may even call it folk music.
Great little show of snippets from Shakespeare, part of the open weekend at Westbury Arts Centre, a fine old 17th century farm building with extensions in the attractive setting of Shenley Wood, in Milton Keynes. Should have taken my camera, just for the splendid old wooden doors, never mind the sculptures in the grounds (including a couple of rusted and artistically arranged Austin mini-Metros). We were treated to extracts from five (or was it six) of the Bard’s comedies (they all tend to jumble up in the memory) on the theme of revenge, delivered in unorthodox style by (it says here) “local professional and amateur actors” though you couldn’t really see the join. Should it be surprising that the Bard’s sharp comic dialogue came over, in one instance, so well as an exchange of text messages? Beautifully done. Most inventive of all was that Shylock speech from The Merchant of Venice – “If you prick us do we not bleed?” – delivered as a slow and meditative monologue by a woman artist who spent plenty of time setting herself up and making herself comfortable in order to sketch us, the audience, before thinking out loud in between further bouts of sketching; tremendously effective. The joshing of Falstaff in The merry wives of Windsor was another piece that has stayed with me. Thanks too, to the artists who opened their studios to us.
Oh, and I put in a stint at the latest Cock & Bull Beer Festival at York House, Friday Night. Reminded me a bit of being on the enquiry desk at the Central Library – great fun once you’d worked out which way the beer was going to come out at (some down, some sideways). Didn’t drink much either side of the bar, but I will mention the delicious aroma of elderflower that greets the drinker from Buntingford‘s Sun Star (and very nicely floral it tasted too), and the vibrant ruby delight of the Magpie brewery’s Angry bird (oh yes). Great Oakley scored well as usual in my book, with their Welland Valley (practically a mild, hurrah!) and Walter Tull, their tribute to a great man and no longer forgotten local hero, the first black outfield professional footballer (Northampton Town and Spurs), the first black British army officer, who died leading his men out of the trenches in the Great War.
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