The Four Tops

Yesterday I was having lunch with Val Wilmer and the conversation turned to the Four Tops. Val had photographed them at a concert they were doing. We recalled their greatest hits, and the fabulous voice of lead singer, Levi Stubbs.

Today I’m tidying up a chapter in The Girl in the Green Mac that takes place in the Orpheus, the cellar coffee bar in the centre of Chelmsford where all the mods gathered. There was a great jukebox in the Orpheus that had all the cool hits, the obscure records you wouldn’t hear on Top of the Pops. Another of its great features was that it was attached to the wall next to a mirror by the stairs, a very handy spot for checking out who was coming in, what they were wearing and who they were with. Then it was the most natural thing in the world to turn and ask if anyone had two threepences for a sixpence, or change for a shilling, to put in the slot, or to just chat about the group that was coming to play at the Corn Exchange on Saturday. You could even pose a question about the Vespa or Lambretta’s progress since the last flat tyre or flat battery. Any subject is interesting if it has a good soundtrack.

In the chapter, Carol (the girl in the green mac) is at the counter, waiting to order two coffees for herself and her friend Angie, who is sitting in their favourite seat, a dark booth at the back of the room.  As she stands there, waiting for a group of young out-of-town mods to make up their minds between Coke and lemon or a glass of milk, with a hiss and a crackle, the Four Tops come on the juke-box. The song fills her with yearning and longing for someone to feel that intensely about her. I thought I’d get in the groove while I was writing and I clicked on this track on YouTube, ‘Without the One You Love (Life’s Not Worthwhile). It came out in 1964, after their big hit, ‘Baby, I Need Your Loving’, and was another example of the rich velvety voice of Levi Stubbs. It wasn’t such a big hit, perhaps because the title was too long, or, it has been suggested, because it was over-produced. Who knows? Perhaps because the first line was almost a repetition of the title of the earlier hit and people were worried they were buying the same thing again. But if you keep on listening it becomes a great song in its own right. And to my 15 year old ears it was perfect.

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Dream Baby

A good weekend. The sun has been shining, so having breakfast in the kitchen reading the paper is already a joy. But there was a very interesting article in the colour supplement this week, by Grace Dent, the new Guardian restaurant critic. She was writing about processed food, the comfort and the deliciousness of food that comes out of a packet. She’s a bit younger than me, but it still reminded me of the treats made by Vesta or Birds Eye, that would appear at tea-time for a special occasion. You can read the article here.

And then, this weekend the writing for the next book (working title The Girl in the Green Mac) has been going well. I’m just writing a scene where our heroine is sitting on the garden wall, gazing at the flowers, when along comes bad boy/hero Cliff . He watches her sitting there and he wants to say something sweet and soft so as not to interrupt her reverie. I wanted to use the words of a song that would be short hand for what he was feeling, that they would both understand. Dream Lover by Bobby Darin has the wrong vibe – he knows where she is. What a Day for a Daydream by the Lovin’ Spoonful is just too late – 1966. And then I remembered Dream Baby by Roy Orbison. She can make his dreams come true. Yes, it’s a rocking number. But hey, Carol likes to dance, so why not use it?

In this version, much of rock royalty appears.

 

The Saturday Girls

I am really pleased to be able to show you the new cover for The Saturday Girls. The book is about being a mod girl in Essex in the 60s and comes out on 23 August 2018. It’s great to have a new title and a new cover that I think really does do justice to the book! You can reserve a copy here. 

In those days, life began on Saturdays. On Saturday mornings I worked in the local milk bar – it was vital if I was going to pay for my ticket to the Corn Exchange in the evening. I was a mod in a suede coat and danced to the live music of Georgie Fame and the Blue Flames, the Animals and many more groups who played at the Corn Exchange every Saturday night. I was a Saturday girl in every sense of the word.

What a good time it was. So, I wrote a novel about it. I put in the music and the milk shakes and the magic of those days.

The first record that appears in the book is the one that could almost be called the mod anthem. Green Onions by Booker T and the MGs. Close your eyes and remember where you heard it first, a dance hall, a cellar cafe, a juke box in a coffee bar, a sound-proof booth in a record shop. Remember the excitement of hearing a song that no-one older than 25 liked.

While you’re waiting for the book to come out, stay in the groove by listening to that great organ sound, and maybe practise one or two mod dances, The Block or the mod Jive.

 

Essex Rock Groups

 

Yesterday I went to Braintree – a town in North Essex that I have never knowingly visited before. I went by train, passing through Witham, Cressing and White Notley. The train stops at Braintree and goes no further.

It is a small market town (population 45,000), set on the River Brain. In fact, my mum was a social work assistant here (one of the famous Braintree Five – my mum is on the far left).

I went to hear old friend John Power give a talk about Essex Rock Groups.The talk took place in the Braintree Museum, which was originally a junior school, built in the middle of the 19th Century.

John and I go back many years – we met first in Chelmsford and then later at Colchester Tec College where I was doing my A-levels (see my earlier post about the student newspaper, Outlook). John was doing art and went on to do a degree in Art and Psychology. He paints, but he also writes about Chelmsford and Essex history.

And yesterday he was talking about Essex Rock Bands.  The Graham Bond Organisation, the Fairies, the Small Faces (Ilford), the Kursaal Fliers, Dr Feelgood (Canvey Island), Blur (Colchester), Prodigy (Braintree’s own), to name just a few. What is interesting is how the members move from one group to another – Jack Bruce and Ginger Baker were members of the Graham Bond Organisation. Ronnie Lane, Ronnie Wood, Rod Stewart all had a part to play in the Small Faces.

The talk ranged wide – from Suzi Quatro who lives in Chatham Green, through Ian Dury from Upminster, through to Eddie and the Hot Roads from Canvey Island and beyond. A good afternoon.

I wrote last year about the Saturday that my best friend Christine bought the record St James Infirmary, after listening to it in a booth in Daces, Chelmsford’s music shop. It’s still a great song.

You can read John’s book about the Essex bands here on the website Chelmsford Rocks. In the meantime, listen to Back in the Night by Dr Feelgood, who came from Canvey Island. Dr Feelgood, the first Thames Delta Blues Band.

Colchester days

 

I did my A levels at the North East Essex Technical College and School of Art in Sheepen Road, Colchester (now the Colchester Institute). During my time there I worked on the student newspaper Outlook, in particular on the fashion pages. Last week, preparing my talk for the Essex Book Festival, I went through an old box of papers, looking for my Beatles scrapbook and my postcard collection. Amongst them all, I found this copy of the college newspaper.

Apart from letters to the Tinkers Club in the Chelmsford Newsman Herald, I think this was the first time my writing had appeared in print. Unfortunately there was no by-line to this December 1967 article about the style inspired by the film Bonnie and Clyde, but I remember the angst of discovering that the illustration accompanying my article was just too small. And I clearly had not explained the brief properly to the artist (doubtless a talented student from the School of Art, but who, like me, was not acknowledged by name) so that she did not give boots to the image of Bonnie Parker. This is probably because she had seen the film and had noticed that Bonnie did not ever wear boots.

Interesting to see the longer hemlines when we were still wearing short skirts in real life. But it wasn’t long before I bought myself a maxi skirt and a pair of (admittedly unattractive) boots.

And a good beret is always good to find. 

As is Georgie Fame.

A date for your diary

Essex Book Festival

Saturday 17 March 2018 Essex Authors Day

12.00 noon – 12.45pm  Writing from my experience

‘How can authors draw on personal experience? In the sixties Elizabeth was a Chelmsford mod and used that background as well as research to create her books.’

Chelmsford Library, Market Road, Chelmsford CM1 1QH       Free    BOOK NOW

And then, come and chat. 1 -2pm Meet the Authors

o o O o o

 

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.

 

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Beyond the Beehive – reading allowed

img_5520-2

Some of you may remember September 2016 – gloriously hot days, a bit of rain, the start of Strictly Come Dancing.  But you may also remember 2 September when I appeared at an event in Waterstone’s Covent Garden and read the first chapter of Beyond the Beehive.  It was an event organised by Novel London

covent-garden-waterstones

You may also remember that the event was videod and I know many people were anxiously waiting for the video to come out so that they could share in the joy of the occasion.  Unfortunately, and I am convinced it was not my fault, something happened so that there could be no video.  However, you can listen to me reading Chapter 1 here (this link takes you to my website, scroll down and it’s there after the blurb about the book).  Sit down with a cup of tea and a Bourbon biscuit and remember the 60s, the clothes, the perfume, the mods, the music.

The London Book Launch for Beyond the Beehive is on Friday 28 October – contact me for more details.

Before that listen to an interview on Woman’s Hour on Thursday 27 October at 10am.

Be there or be square!