Good Morning Little School Girl

This week it’s all been about The Essex Girls (formerly known as Beyond the Beehive). I’ve been editing the book for its new publishers, adding a couple of extra scenes, re-reading it all, reminding myself about Linda and Sandra’s exploits in 1965.

In the process I was working on the chapter Good Morning Little Schoolgirl. In the Sixties, at my school we had to wear a uniform. The colour was navy blue. The rules were very strict. A beret (that I always folded in half and clipped as far back on my head as possible) had to be worn at all times on the way to and from school, as did a navy blue raincoat or duffle coat. If the weather was warm we would go home in a navy blue blazer with the school’s crest on the breast pocket, or simply the navy jumper, navy skirt and pale blue shirt and tie that we had worn all day at school.  There was a summer dress of a strange shape and flowery material, but no-one who was cool wore that.  And it all cost money. My mum knitted my V necked sweater which was seen as rather risque. As the mini-skirt became popular rules were made that skirts could be worn no more than three inches above the knee.

Backcombed, beehive hairdos were frowned on, so neat mod hair worked well, and my class mate Corinne and I tried to perfect the Cathy McGowan Cleopatra hairstyle. Corinne was more successful than me.

I would walk home from school along the Main Road till I reached the parade of shops at the bottom of Patching Hall Lane, where I would meet my best friend Chris whose school, the Blessed John Payne, as it then was, was just up the road. In the picture she is holding a guitar which she did not own or play. And then we would walk home together, planning what we would wear when we went out in the evening to the Orpheus coffee bar.

And here is the song that inspired the chapter.

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Writing

I’ve been working on The Girl in the Green Mac, the next 60s Chelmsford book.  The year is 1966, the Orpheus has changed its name to the R&B and the new owners are putting a stop to the four-hour cup of coffee.  Another boutique opens near the Shire Hall, run by a man with an unreal Italian name, and mini-skirts creep into the High Street. And the World Cup promises success for England and particularly for Chelmsford because of local boy Geoff Hurst.

When I’m writing it doesn’t really matter where I am, but what is important is to be able to listen to a song or a piece of music that captures the mood of what I’m writing about. This week I’ve been working on a chapter about the boutique owner, Gene Battini, who likes the cool music of Mel Torme. So I’ve been listening to ‘Comin’ Home’ which came out in 1962 but sounds good, even today.

 

 

Lazy Sixties Afternoon

Galleywood Heritage Centre – formerly the Galleywood Race Course – was the venue for a great heritage day on Saturday 3 June. Lots of different groups guided visitors to ways of finding out about local history or their own family history, in a room that had once been the base of the Grandstand. It was a really hot sunny day, with much coming and going and sharing information and drinking tea and eating rather delicious cakes.  In a separate room, decorated with a host of interesting pictures of Chelmsford in the Sixties, and with the Kinks and Roy Orbison and the Stones crooning in the background, I was talking about My Generation.

What was very nice for me was hearing the experiences of those in the audience. In the first session there were no (ex)rockers, but in the second session there was a mix of (ex) mods and rockers – I had to be careful what I said. The discussion ranged far and wide from the pop groups that went to Southend to the £10 Poms who went to Australia, from Martin Ford (fashion emporium) where I bought my pin-striped fan pleated skirt, to the trendy straight shift dresses that made it easy to run up a new outfit for yourself. We talked about National Service and pubs and cafes. And I read a chapter from the new book (working title The Girl in the Green Mac) which went down well. So it was a great day all round.

One session ran from 11.30 to 12.30 and the second ran from 1.30 to 2.30. In between, with scarcely enough time for me to eat a cheese sandwich, Andy Stephens, a local reporter, asked me a few questions.  And here are the answers.

Sixties History

Next Saturday (3 June) will be a great day.   In the Galleywood Heritage Centre there will be a whole host of exhibitors showing different aspects of Chelmsford’s History, recent history and further back. I can’t really believe people consider the Sixties history – we are all still so young! but there will be The Essex Society for Family History, the Chelmer Canal Trust, the Essex Police Museum, the Western Front Association, and lots of others too. It’s free and there’s a cafe.

At 11.30 and at 1.30 I’ll be talking about my books ‘Beyond the Beehive’ (set in 1965 Chelmsford and coming out in a lovely new edition in the New Year) and reading from my new book set in 1966 – working title ‘The Girl in the Green Mac.’ Come and join in. What were you doing on 30th July 1966 when the World Cup match was being played?  What was your favourite record? Were you a Stones supporter or a Beatles fan?  Do you still have your Sacks and Brendlor Suede coat?

The Heritage Centre is off Margaretting Road, Galleywood Common, Chelmsford CM2 8TR It would be great to see you there.

And to get you into the mood here’s another chance to see the BBC documentary, first broadcast last year, about East Anglia in 1966.  See you on Saturday!

The letter Z

So here is the news.

Beyond the Beehive has been purchased by the publisher Bonnier Zaffre. Beyond the Beehive is a story of female friendship and the search for love and adventure in Essex in the 1960s, a time of political and social change. The book will reappear in a fabulous new edition with a big Z on its spine, in a bookshop near you in the New Year.  It will be swiftly followed by a second 60s novel, in the summer.

I signed the contract last week, and I also went to Wimpole Street (think Elizabeth Barrett, Wilkie Collins, Paul McCartney – apparently he and John Lennon wrote ‘I Wanna Hold your Hand’ there) for a meeting with Bonnier Zaffre in their swish offices where lots of young people sat in front of computers in rooms buzzing with energy.

I’m so pleased for the characters in Beehive, it is a book which is close to my heart,.  So to all you out there who have bought the book, borrowed it from the library, talked about it in your book group, come to talks. Thank you.  You put it out there, in the air, and Bonnier Zaffre picked it up and run

I also love the way things have turned out because I rather like the letter Z. It is so Other. I can never believe l actually have a Z in my own name.  In my heart I’m surprised I’m not really called something like Penny. But Z has followed me throughout my life. When l was at Birmingham University there was a satirical ‘magazine’ pinned on to a wall in the Student Union building and l had a column on it under a pen-name.  And that name was Zoë Meldrum.  Zoë.  So let’s hear it for the letter Z.

                   

All or Nothing

I never was a great fan of the Small Faces – I think I thought they were too…. small.  But also that they tried too hard to be mod or something. But 50 years on I can see things through a Vaseline smeared lens, and I know all the words to the songs so when old school pals suggest a trip to see All or Nothing, the new Small Faces musical, I say yes quickly and find I’m looking forward to it.

We meet for dinner before the show – apart from a recent sighting across a crowded room a few months ago I haven’t seen Gayle and Amanda for almost 50 years.  Chris I haven’t seen for as long. We have had Facebook discussions as to what we should wear and we all agree we will wear something mod. They all look fantastic and I am the party-pooper who has failed to even wear a suede coat or chisel-toed slingbacks (I blame travel and accommodation problems). It is discouraging for the others, and indeed for me, because we are expecting a moment during the show when the cry will go up ‘Is there a girl group in the house that could come and sing a few numbers with us?’ We know that even though our seats are in the balcony this will not stop us and we shall become the Goldie and the Gingerbreads of Chelmsford and possibly be offered a contract before the night is out.  I only hope that my jeans won’t hold us back.

The show is just starting its regional run, in the Chelmsford Civic Centre.  As we go in we remember various shows we have seen here – mostly with The School. I am also wondering if this is where I performed with the Chelmsford Amateur Operatic and Dramatic Society’s production of The Crucible. For some reason it is all a dim memory. Amanda and I eschew the notion of a bag of Maltesers and have ice cream.

In the first half charting the early days of the group there is a lot of R&B (as it then was). Each time they pick up their guitars and tune a string or two there is that exciting feeling that comes with being at a dance with live music – Chelmsford YMCA, the Corn Exchange, a Youth Club on one of the estates. The Steve Marriott character sings well. Every now and again he hits a note with exactly the same sound as Steve Marriott and it’s like being back there, in the Sixties, in the Orpheus, Snows, listening to the juke box. I remember the snatched minutes,in my bedroom, listening to blues on the Mike Raven show on the pirate radio station Radio 390, hearing Muddy Waters, BB King, Howlin’ Wolf, thrilled by the music and entranced by the names, Peetie Wheatstraw, Sleepy John Estes.  Now to hear Boom Boom played very loud on stage is exciting.

In the interval we have a drink, idly glance at the memorabilia on sale and watch the unusual spectacle of hundreds of men queuing for the loos. They’re all here, most of them of a certain age. The discussion centres on our memories.  Is what it is happening on stage what it was really like?  The jury is out.  We all agree that the scooter in the foyer, adorned with a trillion lamps, is not anything any of us remembers.  The scooter boys we knew never had an extra lamp. We take photos.

          

The second half covers the move through the Sixties, via Mary Quant and op-art. We all agree we love the black and white dresses, coincidentally made by Love Her Madly, someone I follow on Twitter.  Straight and simple, we are all taken back to the happy days.

And then on through to hippies.  Hippie-dom was not my personal favourite era (not enough ironing) but others among us really like it.  At the end, our moment comes, there are repeats of the songs and people in the audience are pulled up on the stage and there is dancing.  We look at each other.  This is our moment.  Maybe.  I’m still drinking my interval wine, we’ve all got bags, and then there’s our coats. No, not today.  We probably need to rehearse a bit  too.

Gradually the show comes to a halt and happy punters leave the building. It has been a great evening.

 

Book talk

So tomorrow 18 March is Essex Authors Day, part of the Essex Book Festival, and I shall be at the Chelmsford Library in Market Street (opposite the multi-storey car park) from 10am, chatting to people, talking about the 60s and reading from my books.

The exciting news is that Beyond the Beehive is going to be republished in a whole new format in the new year, closely followed by a sequel. I say closely – I have to write it first.

More news as it happens.

In the meantime, rest assured, there will be mods, Motown, minis, a sprinkling of parkas, suede and leather, frothy coffee, and Horlicks. Yes, I shall be talking about my generation…

Pink Floyd

Pink Floyd Exhibition - their mortal remains poster

I cannot put my hand on my heart and say I was ever a Pink Floyd fan, although it’s fair to say, I do have an album of theirs, and I’m not sure how I got it.

But I was invited to attend a press briefing about the forthcoming exhibition at the V&A  Pink Floyd Exhibition – their mortal remains.  I’d been to the V&A exhibition You Say You Want A Revolution (last few days, catch it now) – which covered the years 1966-70, and I enjoyed it, although as those who read this blog regularly will know, for me the Real sixties was 1963-66 (at least that’s what my diaries tell me).

The presentation room/cinema in the Mayfair hotel was packed.  As I looked up at the rows of seats I counted at least 10 cameras on tripods waiting to film the event.  The big event was obviously going to be the moment that Roger Waters (Bass guitarist) and Nick Mason (drummer) came on. I was mainly interested in their early years, what made them do the things they did.

pink-floyd-mid-60s

The curator of the exhibition Victoria Broakes explained the chronology of the exhibition, David Sennheiser the grandson of the inventor of the ‘legendary Sennheiser MD 409’ microphone they used and whose sound systems they continue to use, and two old pals and colleagues from Cambridge, where they’d gone to local schools, and who came with them up to London where they were art and architecture students.  They talked about how the band had started, the Bedford van they had used to move their equipment around, the risks they took, the wild ideas they had and how they encouraged others to have wild and inventive ideas for sets, and stunts.  How their star rose and rose.  And then punk came along.  I wasn’t a particular fan of punk, but they did occasionally tell a good joke.

Johnny Rotten I hate Pink Floyd tee shirt

Then the guests of honour walked onto the stage.

Pink Floyd Waters and Mason

They talked about their past.  Roger Waters said he had wanted to be political in his music, he had wanted to put a message out to the world.  They told some good stories, Storm Ferguson, the man who ‘wouldn’t take yes for an answer.’  They spoke about the heady days of psychedelia.  When the MC Matt Everit asked which of the two had the better memory Roger Waters said, ‘How would we know?’

Pink Floyd Obvserver collageRoger Waters described the difficulties for young musicians these days, and the negative effect the internet has had, how singles are given away, and it’s hard for artists to make money. ‘The record industry didn’t make the deals.’

Roger Waters and Nick Mason - Q&A

My heart warned towards them in the Q&A session, when a Mexican journalist asked, given that they had made an album The Wall, if Trump’s wall is ever built, would they go to Mexico and sing on the Wall.  Roger Waters wasn’t sure.  He talked about walls, and said when the Palestinian-Israeli question is resolved and the wall in Palestine is taken down, then maybe there would be a concert as an ‘act of celebration.’ Something to work towards.

As the session ended and Roger Waters and Nick Mason left the stage, a series of photos of the band, rehearsing in the 60s, were flashed up onto the screen.  As people left the auditorium, quickly dismantling cameras, rushing to the next shot, Roger Waters turned and watched the images.  The past is another country.

Roger Waters          Pink Floyd early days

 

I got the music in me

It’s been an eventful few days, music wise.  A young friend, currently being cool in Berlin, has sent some tracks of music he’s listening to, and another friend, more mature, has sent me a CD of early 60s tracks.

So first to talk about the sounds from Berlin.  If I say it is music I have never heard before no-one will be surprised, but there are tracks here that I think owe a lot to the 60s. And it’s not all new music.

Possibly my favourite was Sampha (No-one knows me) Like the Piano.  He’s from London, born in 1988. This track has just been released.  I like his voice and the sound of the piano, as if he’s playing in a cold church hall.

Oby Onyioha who hails from Nigeria singing ‘Enjoy Your Life,’ a 1981 track, is a great example of funk.

And of course Serious Style by Omar.  He was born in London in 1968 and this track was from the album ‘There’s Nothing Like This’. I liked the music and I loved the sentiment.

There were also tracks from XX, Childish Gambino, I Level, and Crucial O’Niel – all worth a listen.  A real treat.

And then we come to the early 60s tracks.  I knew all the words! Helen Shapiro, Adam Faith, the Allisons (Are You Sure?).  Move It by Cliff Richard is I think one of the best rock and roll records ever – and I don’t even like Cliff Richard (the first few seconds of this clip will explain why, that and the extraordinary hairstyle that Cliff is sporting).

Cliff goes on to sing ‘Please Don’t Tease’ and then Johnny Kidd and the Pirates follow up with ‘Please Don’t Touch.

Marty Wilde singing ‘Bad Boy’ is good – and there are some great images on this video.

There’s Craig Douglas, Lonnie Donegan, Adam Faith.  Remember folks this was before Ready Steady Go, before the Pirate Radio Stations, before Radio 1.  We had The Six Five Special on BBC, while Cool for Cats and Oh Boy were on ITV – which in our case, we did not have.  I had to go over the road to Christine’s house to see Cliff and Marty and the Vernon Girls.

Thank heavens for Motown.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Vinyl values

portable record player - picture3-2

Unexpected and best Christmas present – a record player!  And not only is it a record player but it’s portable. Imagine – I could take it with me when I have to stay in hotels or go on holiday.  Unlike some people, I still have quite a lot of vinyl and it’s very nice to sit in the kitchen and put on some old favourites.  I’m only sorry I’m not still practising as a barrister – along with the brief and the papers, and notebooks, I could have taken my neat little green case into court.

portable record player - case

A couple of bars of ‘I fought the law,’ or even ‘Jailhouse Rock’ could have melted the heart of many a judge. I notice (only now, because he was not in my time) that there is a song by Jackson Browne called ‘Lawyers in Love‘ but that might have been a bit distracting.  But this is the thing, you could get to a tricky point in cross examination, where all seems to be going badly – a not infrequent event – and you could say, ‘Officer, I put it to you that my client is not that bad.  Why, listen to this!’ and slip ‘I shot the sheriff’ on to the turntable.  After a couple of lines you could go back to cross examination.  ‘Officer, don’t you understand, he did not shoot the deputy.’  Verdict – not guilty!  In my dreams.  *

Yo Yo Ma Sing Me Home

Another surprising and lovely gift was an album by Yo Yo Ma, Sing Me Home, from friend Susan in Yorkshire.  One of the most intriguing tracks, because I have a history with this song, is St James Infirmary Blues, featuring Rhiannon Giddens, Michael Ward-Bergeman & Reylon Yount.

Those of you who watched the BBC documentary Living in ’66 – Pop, pirates and postmen will remember (possibly) that during the section where I walked round Chelmsford I read an extract from my diary describing a day in March 1966 where friend Christine and I went in to Dace’s music shop to buy Lee Dorsey and Lou Christie’s latest singles, but bumped into a couple of pals who were listening to something else and so Christine walked out of the shop with a copy of St James Infirmary by the Graham Bond Organisation.  Very different, but great!

* For more songs that have to do with lawyers look at this website, Abnormal Use