Vinyl values

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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.

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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

I’m Dreaming

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It’s nearly Christmas.  The snow isn’t snowing, the wind isn’t particularly blowing (not down here in the South, anyway), though at this time of the year there’s always a bit of a storm.  But what better way to weather the storm than by listening to the Phil Spector Christmas Album and singing along at full volume as you queue to get out of the car park at the supermarket.

My particular favourite is Santa Claus is Coming to Town by the Crystals – the actual song starts at about 30 seconds in.  Great stuff.

2016 – what a year it’s been.  I’ve written a sort of on-line round robin here about my year, but today, in this post I wanted to say thank you to all of you who’ve read this blog and been with me on the path to bring Beyond the Beehive into the warm light of day.

I’ve been writing the book for a very (very) long time, but it began to really take shape in March when I was contacted by Patrick McGrady of Wavelength Films to take part in the programme ‘Living in ’66.’  You can watch it here.

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That programme and the email I received from Pete Searles of Mark Shelley and the Deans – who later agreed to play at the Chelmsford launch – spurred me on to finalise the book and get it out there.

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And since it came out – the reaction has been fantastic.  People have bought the book, come to the events, laughed at the jokes, talked about their own experiences, and asked for more. I really loved writing this book and it’s been great for me to see it on the shelves of Chelmsford Foyles. So thank you to everyone.

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Have a Cool Yule and here’s the whole Christmas album.

Soho

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I was interviewed by Radio Gorgeous last week.  We had arranged to meet in the Society Club, a small cosy coffee shop and rare bookshop in Ingestre Place, but they were clearing up from a photo shoot, so we adjourned to the John Snow pub. It’s a dark wood, Victorian saloon bar, on two levels, filled with the low hum of conversation.  We talked about Beyond the Beehive, life and the universe.  The interview will be broadcast in January.

After I left the pub, I wandered along Broadwick Street in the direction of Carnaby Street.  I passed a row of shops.  One of them had a mod target outside.  I stopped and looked in the window.

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There were Fred Perrys and suits, a particularly delectable mauve suit on a tailor’s dummy, but there were also books – books aboout the Who and books I have myself including Sawdust Caesars by Tony Beesley.

It was Sherry’s.  I went inside and met Perry who works there.  I told him I’d written a book about mod girls.  ‘If it’s mod we should have it,’ he said.  ‘Speak to Bubbles,’ he said.  Bubbles is the owner.

So on Tuesday I went into the shop with a few copies of Beyond the Beehive.  Bubbles was there and was very friendly. ‘Yes,’ she said.  ‘We’ll display them.’

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Which all means that if you’re in Carnaby Street, buying new shoes or just looking at the lights, but despairing of knowing what to buy the mod in your life for Christmas – you can nip along the street to Sherry’s, buy a copy or two of the book and order yourself a sharp suit at the same time.  A Christmas outfit!

 

London launch of Beyond the Beehive

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Last Friday evening it was all go.  First the interview at Broadcasting House with Georgey Spanswick (listen here  my interview starts at 1 hour 10 minutes in).  She was so friendly and chatty I could have stayed talking all night – but had to dash from Oxford Circus to Shaftesbury Avenue to ensure everything was ready for the launch in the heart of Soho (Bakerloo line, one stop to Piccadilly Circus and then, if desired a one stop bus ride to the Curzon cinema and then a 20 yard walk to St Anne’s Church in Dean Street) (I know people like geographical details).

And it was ready! Team Beehive were working like … well, worker bees, and the room and the garden looked lovely (and that was without the bowls of crisps, popcorn and Twiglets).   Billie was there, looking even lovelier than she does on the cover of the book, Leila was poised ready to pour the drinks, sister Tess was arranging lighting and chairs, Gill took up her position behind the book stall, Caroline was lugging boxes around and ensuring everything was where it should be and then Christine (aka Sandra) and Barry arrived and got down and technical.  People trickled in and then a tidal wave of guests arrived and the hall was buzzing.

launch-91You can read the pieces from Beyond the Beehive which I read on Friday night here.

I’ve also written about the evening here.

It was a great night!

Beyond the Beehive – Woman’s Hour

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I had had a conversation with Bev, the producer, the day before.  We had gone over the sort of questions that might be asked, why I wrote the book, was it semi-autobiographical? and what about the music? so I felt quite relaxed walking up from Oxford Circus tube to Broadcasting House at 9am on Thursday morning.  But people were sending me supportive tweets and texts, and Facebook comments, and being amazed and thrilled that I was to be on Woman’s Hour, so that by the time I got to the large imposing doorway, my mouth was a little dry.  This was really something.

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It is a magnificent building, dominating Portland Place. I passed the man with the banner about drug pushers, and the people rushing to work holding cups of coffee, I pushed open the door and I was in.  I was given a visitor’s badge, waited a minute or two for someone to come and meet me and then I was whisked up several floors in the lift to the Woman’s Hour area.  Bev met me at the lift and took me to a studio where I recorded a couple of paragraphs from Beyond the Beehive to introduce the piece.  I started, I stumbled, started again, missed a word, and then, a little cough and third time lucky, I read it straight through.

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Then I was directed to the Green Room where there was coffee and papers – and a copy of Ready Steady Girls – the new book about mod girls in the 60s.  Some great pictures! A real nostalgia fest.  So while I was waiting to go on air I ordered a copy! I was also answering emails and texts from people who might loosely be called Fans, and responding to people contacting me that I hadn’t heard from in years- decades even. Hello Jane, hi Anthea! So nice to be back in touch again.

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There were some really interesting women on the programme on Thursday, one of whom I knew, Polly Neate from Women’s Aid and Susan Bewley, obstetrician and academic, who I’d not met before.  But it doesn’t take long to discover you have a lot of shared history! One by one they disappeared to the studio for their moments on air, Polly to talk about an issue around Scottish Women’s Aid and Susan to discuss the Woman’s Hour Power List.

Then at about 25 past 10 my Keeper came and we crept round the corridors to stand outside the studio to wait for the green light to go in.  The green light came, in the form of a nod from someone nipping out from the control room, and in I went.  The recording I’d made earlier was played and then Jenni Murray (for it was she) asked me about the book.  Was I really allowed out in the evenings when I was still at school? How important were the clothes?  And what about the politics? I really enjoyed it.  I do quite like radio! The time passed in a flash and then Jenni was introducing the serial.

But what a popular programme Woman’s Hour is – so much twitter and Facebook activity about the programme, lots of people writing to me to say they’d heard it, and then a load of visits to my website (and quite a few books sold too!).  It was a great morning.  If you missed it and you’d like to listen or just listen again, you’ll find it here for the next 28 days or so (my bit starts at 33 minutes in).  You can download the podcast – I think that means you can keep it forever, almost.  How cool is that?

And for a visual flavour of the book, consider this outfit, black dress, red beret, black patent shoes with a flower detail, and wait till you get to the last chapter of the book.  I’ll say no more than that.

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Talking about my generation

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First there was the Carnival,

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then there was the Fair.  I’ve written before about the Fair in Chelmsford’s Central Park. Now, in celebration of the Living in 1966 programme (BBC1 Wednesday 7.30), after you’ve remembered the music, the pirate radio ships, the mods and the rockers, you can read a chapter from the forthcoming Beyond the Beehive.

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In this chapter Linda and Sandra are going the Fair together.  Sandra is still dreaming of Danny, her bad-boy boyfriend.   Linda is just looking forward to an exciting evening – the Dodgems, the Ghost Train, the Waltzers, and hearing some good music, including Dream Lover by Bobby Darin.

Read more about Beyond the Beehive here  as you listen to Bobby Darin whose hair indicated that he was a bit of a rocker, but whose suits were really quite sharp  (the song starts 46 seconds in).

Pop, Pirates and Postmen

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Living in 1966.  They say if you remember the 60s you weren’t there.  But some of us kept a diary!

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(a medical diary only in the sense that my uncle who was a doctor gave it to me – it is in fact full of handy tips about headaches and constipation).
Now the BBC has made a series of programmes about 1966, in all the local regions, BBC North, BBC London and so on, as well as BBC East, which involves Norfolk, Suffolk and … Chelmsford Essex, all to be shown at the same time on Wednesday 1 June on BBC1 at 7.30pm. 
I was there in 1966, and I was there again in March 2016, when on a very cold, grey day in Chelmsford, I was interviewed by BBC Radio 6 Music DJ, Steve Lamacq for the BBC East programme.  We started in the Saracen’s Head
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 and then went walkabout in the town, in the way we used to, best friend Christine and I, on a Saturday afternoon, when I had finished work in Wainwright’s Milk Bar.
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We did hover for a moment outside the site of the Orpheus in New London Road – but there really is not much to see there now – although the barber was very thrilled at the thought and was very accommodating.
We finished up at the site of the Corn Exchange, the centre of mod life on Saturday nights – the Who, David Bowie, Georgie Fame, the Animals, the Yardbirds – all played there.  Steve Lamacq is too young to remember the halcyon days of the Corn Exchange – his memories relate more to the Chancellor Hall round the corner, but we stood looking at the scaffolding of some more building work that is going on and shared our musical stories.
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Patrick McGrady, the director, has sent me a DVD of the programme (securely stored on a pile of books on my living room table until transmission) and I don’t think I’m giving away too much if I say that the scenes in which I appear have a certain style – because of all the things I do so well, walking, reading, and to a lesser extent, dancing. 
The programme also has clips of the Singing Postman and a piece about the pirate radio ship, Radio Caroline, and the two lads who set up their own radio station in their bedroom, as well as some great footage of the glory days of mods then and now in Great Yarmouth and Clacton.
Watch the programme on You Tube here
Living in 66 - pop, pirates and postmen

Beyond the Beehive

It’s happening!  It’s finished.  The final stages of editing are underway.  Beyond the Beehive is on track to be here in time for your (late) summer holiday reading.

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To paraphrase the Beatles, it’s been a long, cold painful winter in the Woodcraft household, but gradually the sun is shining, not least because the book is finished.

If you were wondering – how can we go Beyond the Beehive if we’re not even entirely sure what a Beehive is.  When we went out shooting for the cover of the book Billie spent a long time preparing by watching videos on the net.  Find out how to do it here. I have to admit that I have never had a beehive – though I will admit to a bit of back-combing on occasion.  It does seem cruel to hair – pulling and teasing it into shapes that we usually only see now on Bake Off when contestants do magical things with spun sugar.  But you know, when you belong to a group, be it beatniks, rockers, and even mods, you have to go with the flow.  And for rockers, the flow for the girls was a beehive.

This was what the world was like when Sandra and Linda, way beyond the beehive, wore their suedette jackets and dreamed of going to the mods’ coffee bar, the Orpheus.

Sandra and Linda are young women living on a council estate in Essex, as is the exotic Sylvie – a woman with a past.  All three have very different dreams for their lives.   Played out against the wonderful music of the 60s – Smokey Robinson and the Miracles, the Crystals, the Animals, Chris Montez, and even Miles Davis – they grapple with love, loss and the American Way.

 

Also – another recent pleasure – along with finishing the book, and having lunch in the garden, was a trip to see the new movie Miles Ahead, directed by and starring the wonderful Don Cheadle.  It’s an imagined episode in his life, but gives an interesting view on the life of an artist in the 50s, 60s and 70s.  Go and see it, if only for the pleasure of listening to the haunting music Miles Davis made.

Bob Dylan Dream

It was the lunch break of a one-day Guardian Masterclass (one of the cheaper ones).  On an upper floor of the glass and metal Kings Place building, the new home of the Guardian, I wandered past tables with my plate of lasagne looking for an empty seat.   Most tables were taken but I found a place with only one occupant, and sat down opposite a cool looking dude, who had nearly finished his meal.  We fell into a discussion of our books, mine A Sense of Occasion and Beyond the Beehive, his Bob Dylan Dream – and discovered a clutch of similarities.  We were each writing about our adolescence in the 60s.  We’d both grown up on council estates and had listened endlessly to music.  Not only that but he was writing about Bob Dylan and I had been to see Bob Dylan at the Albert Hall in 1966!  I have to say that I went with the school and at that point I wasn’t entirely sure who Bob Dylan was, although I knew he was important and big and there was a spare seat on the coach.  Roy was a serious Bob fan, an aficionado.  He lived Bob Dylan.  And he knew how it all fitted together, the music, the culture, the radio stations, in that wonderful, tumultuous, explosive period for youth in the mid-60s.

Bob Dylan Dream is now out.  It is the story of growing up in the 60s, as a fan of Bob Dylan.  But not just Bob Dylan, he knows about all the music of that time.   In this fragment Roy talks about listening to Dionne Warwick.

Whatever their individual qualities, Sandie and Cilla were always in the shadow of Dionne, who was extraordinary from the beginning, and she was very young at the beginning. Even now a radio can deliver you an early hit while you are thinking of maybe pouring a cup of tea, or dropping a plate into a washing up bowl, and catch you up completely.

‘Don’t Make Me Over makes itself known and you are thrilled, uplifted, surprised by the open emotion, the simple clarity, the swift uprush into yearning and power when she sings the words that on the page seem unassuming:

Accept me for what I am,
Accept me for the things that I do

but in the air, in her upper register, they soar and shimmer with pain. They also link the subject not only with a romantic dilemma but a racial one. It’s fantastic grown-up songwriting and arranging, and was part of the Sixties like the Beatles, The Stones and Bob Dylan.

All of it was coming at us every day, all of those groups, bands, singers on a treadmill to put out records. And we were there to hear them as they happened. This is one of the main factors in the teenage identification of a music as its own. It doesn’t come from a time before you were around. It didn’t exist in the background for you to suddenly notice. It comes into existence and into your life while you’re paying attention, and it makes a difference, and you feel it belongs to you because it says something about you. 1965 and the Byrds making Bob Dylan into rock, or was it pop; and Bob Dylan making his break from old people’s expectation with Like A Rolling Stone, plus his follow up and most poppy rock record yet, and ever, with Positively 4th St: the sound of his voice where youth and age intertwine like strips around a barber’s pole; the touch and go coherence of the ensemble, with the instruments almost not fitting together while the tune stays endlessly beguiling; then the final put down with its blend of street language and fairy tale, lives and shoes swapped, a familiar unexamined phrase becoming an image from a film.

All of this greatness on the radio and in the air and in your dreams, no, not your dreams, the atmosphere in your everyday waking thoughts, the place where thoughts are the land where daydreams exist. Yet the biggest selling records of the year were by the most definitely non-teenage Ken Dodd and the Seekers. How could that be so and yet all still seemed perfect in a perfect world? Could 1966 keep up these exalted standards?

This is a book for anyone who remembers the 60s, who loves Bob Dylan, or who simply wants to know what it really felt like.  You can buy Bob Dylan Dream here.