Sixties Celebration

BBC Essex mods and rockers special 2 (2)

Bank Holiday Monday

It’s 55 years since the historic meeting of mods and rockers on Clacton beach. Where were you on Bank Holiday Monday 1964? It was August 31st – I was in Chelmsford.  ‘Have I the right?’ by the Honeycombs was number 1 in the charts. ‘Doo-wah diddy diddy’ by Manfred Mann was number 2. I had just heard ‘Under the Boardwalk’ by the Drifters.

On Monday 31 August 1964, according to my 1964 diary, most of the mods I knew spent the day in Chelmsford. Why go to Clacton, when you’ve got Chelmsford?

Again according to my diary, I had a ‘fabulous day’. I went to the Orpheus cellar coffee bar in New London Road, where all the mods hung out, listened to the Ronettes on the juke box, had a discussion about a mouth organ, noticed someone wearing a very nice navy blue suede with a leather collar and then went home for my tea. In the evening my best mate Christine and I went to see Chelmsford City football team play, in their ground on the far side of the rec. My diary is strangely silent about who we were playing and what the score was – I was much more impressed with the fact that after the game we got a lift home in the mini of Pete B. A mini!

         BBC Essex mods and rockers special (3)    

A few weeks ago I went into the BBC Essex Radio studios to talk about my memories of those early mod days, with Laura Doyle. She’s put together a BBC Essex Special, Leathers and Lambrettas, which will be on BBC Essex at 12 noon on Monday 26 August, presented by Marty Wilde, to mark the 55th anniversary of the historic clashes between mods and rockers. The programme asks the question, ‘Was it all about throwing deckchairs at each other on the beach?’ The short answer is of course, no. It was about clothes, and music and transport and just hanging out with your mates. We talked about the music I was listening to, and I described that feeling, sitting in the Orpheus, coffee in a glass cup in front of me, my suede on the seat beside me, chatting to Christine, when the first drum beats of Be My Baby rolled round the room. Heaven.

Listen in at 12 noon on 26 August 2019 to hear the memories and music of mods and rockers in Chelmsford and Essex of 50 years ago. BBC Essex Radio 95.3 and 103.5 FM, and on 729, 765.

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The Girls from Greenway

The Girls from Greenway, the next book about mods in Chelmsford has just gone to the typesetters and it will be out on 19 September 2019! The book features all those iconic aspects of Sixties life – scooters,

the Orpheus, Wainwright’s Milk Bar, the Golden Fleece, the Bus Station,

 

plus a few more – Carnival Queens,

The Saracen’s Head,  the County Hotel, and Bonds Department Store.

All accompanied by the great sounds of Motown, Stax and Mark Shelley and the Deans.

There’s also a slight peppering of fashion and a few magazines, like Honey and Vogue.  And a new men’s boutique in town. Everything to look forward to! And here’s a synopsis

1960s Chelmsford

Angie Smith lives on the Greenway estate in Chelmsford, with her elder sister Doreen, their struggling mother and their drunk, violent father. Bored of her job, and of her dull, ordinary boyfriend Roger, Angie dreams of bigger and better things.

But then she meets boutique-owner Gene Battini, older, handsome, charming – and married. She is completely swept off her feet. Little does she know that Doreen too is falling for Gene, and that their affair will have disastrous consequences.

As things at home go from bad to worse, Angie and Doreen must struggle to fight for what they want.

Can the girls from Greenway ever achieve their dreams?

o o O o o

And in other news, The Saturday Girls is out on 1 May in large print!

Hi-Heel Sneakers

I’m on the Robert Elms show on BBC Radio London today at 10.30 am (94.9FM) to talk about The Saturday Girls, mods, Motown and milkshakes. The big question is – when you’re going on the radio, does it matter what you wear? In bed, before I got up, I played Hi Heel Sneakers – one of the best records to put on the juke box in the Orpheus, the mods’ coffee bar in Chelmsford, a song that conjures up the excitement, the breathlessness, the cool of being a mod. I was looking for sartorial tips.

On the basis of Tommy Tucker’s advice I should wear a red dress, a wig hat and the hi-heel sneakers. It is of course a look, but perhaps it had to be 1964, in a cellar bar with very low lighting for it to work.

Is it important to wear the right clothes for any given situation, even if no-one can see you? I think so – I once represented a client in a case where the judge needed to check something as she was drafting the order, and she rang me up at home. I was in my pyjamas! It was not an easy conversation, calling someone ‘Judge’ when you’re glancing down at your slippers. Clothes are vital.

So what shall I wear today (did I mention I’m on the Robert Elms show this morning? 10.30am)? Sometimes I wish my mum hadn’t thrown away my suede (when I was 35 and hadn’t lived at home for over 15 years). A suede coat covered a multitude of sins – the not-quite-Fred Perry, the slightly wrong colour twin-set or simply the wrong blouse.

Yes, the book is out and people are saying good things about it. People have taken snaps of it on the shelves at Sainsbury’s, as far apart as Winchmore Hill and Chelmsford (well, they have to sell it in Chelmsford). My sister was on holiday and two of her friends were reading it! Of course, they may have felt they had to, but it was a nice gesture. My sister herself read it and said it was like being back in our living room in the Sixties (it is, of course, a novel Tess!).

But back to the far more pressing issue of clothes for this morning’s broadcast. I shall wear something dark but cool, straight but well cut, the sort of thing we dreamed of in those days, but never quite knew how to put into words. Or afford.

Let Tommy Tucker say it for me.

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.

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.

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…

Beyond the Beehive – reading allowed

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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

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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!

The Beat Goes On

img_5520-2      It’s been a very busy week for Team Beehive.

It started with an interview with Jo Good on BBC Radio London.  It almost didn’t happen – the BBC building in Portland Place, just off Oxford Street in London, is a huge and sprawling place.  And sometimes people giving you directions forget which is left and right (don’t we all?).  I went into the main building and asked directions and following those directions, I turned left. They were setting up baricades for a TV One Show event.  One hopeful fan was hanging over the railing, but otherwise the place was full of people in puffa jackets with clipboards and people in hoodies rolling heavy black and silver equipment around.  I turned left again but that was the wrong building.  I hadn’t crossed enough roads.  Roads! Eventually someone gave me the right directions – he pointed – and in I went through the glass doors and up in the lift to the studio.

Jo Good was wonderfully friendly and began the interview by playing House of the Rising Sun by the Animals.  When you hear it played on good loud equipment you really understand why it has stood the test of time.  It’s over 50 years old for goodness’ sake. We talked about Beyond the Beehive, about life in the Sixties, saving up for weeks and weeks for a coat or a bag that you wanted, the importance of colour and style.  She asked me whether I thought the battles on the beaches at Bank Holiday time really had taken place.  Of course – I wasn’t there, my mum would never have let me go, even if I’d asked her.  But I think they did.  Maybe not as full on and terrifying as it seems in the film Quadrophenia but something went on.  And not just Brighton of course, Margate, Clacton, Great Yarmouth… I cut this letter out of the paper at about that time when there was talk of raising the age at which you could ride a scooter or a motorbike.

mod-letter

You can listen to the interview here.** It starts an hour and 10 minutes in, and runs for about twenty minutes.  The interview finished with Pinball Wizard by the Who.  Jo Good said listening to it always made her feel very happy.  And I can see what she means.

**For those who listen to the interview and the piece that Jo Good read out and think – Panorama, on a Saturday? I don’t think so! Rest assured, I know Panorama was never on a Saturday. The piece she read was about a week night.  In fact, later in the programme – keep listening for a wonderful story about someone who had a scooter, and a helmet and a beehive, and the solution she found for keeping her hair-do in tact – someone picked up on that piece and Jo Good realised it was in fact, a school night.

Then it was up to Stroud Green Library for a meeting about a 60s Saturday which is happening on 12 November. There’ll be 60s music, memorabilia, Beyond the Beehive and you can take a selfie wearing a beehive wig!

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And then on to Chelmsford for an interview with Tony Fisher on BBC Radio Essex. No trouble locating my destination. I know where the BBC Radio Essex building is – it’s on New London Road, a ten minute walk from the Orpheus!  Listen to the interview here. It starts 2 hours and 10 minutes in and lasts about 20 minutes.

The interview began with Be My Baby by the Ronettes.  We talked about life in Chelmsford in the 60s and also about Bob Dylan’s Nobel Prize for Literature – because in 1966 I saw Bob Dylan at the Albert Hall.  I’ve written about it here  It was the time when Dylan was changing from acoustic to electric and people in the audience called out ‘Get back to the good stuff.’  Dylan who was playing the organ at the time, rocked back and forth and said, ‘Good stuff, bad stuff, it’s all the same.’ So I told this story on the radio.  A friend who was listening said it was so realistic she thought she was listening to a news item.  See what you think.

Tony Fisher was really into Beyond the Beehive which was great.  Sometimes when you write a book you’re so immersed in it you don’t see the characters as they appear to the rest of the world.  He immediately understood bad boy Danny and he played Shotgun Wedding by Roy C, a record that used to float through the Orpheus if people announced they were getting married.  It was a really good afternoon, and not just because of the cake (it was Tony Fisher’s birthday).

Launch Party

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It was a great evening at the Ideas Hub – good book, great quiz (more details to follow) and a fantastic crowd.  My Auntie Rita (88) made it unexpectedly.  My sister-in-law struggled through the Saturday, post-football traffic, friends from Norfolk I hadn’t seen for 50 years suddenly appeared.  New friends came via the Chelmsford Remembered Facebook page and the Chelmsford Civic Society.  Old friends from those heady days in the Orpheus and the Corn Exchange.  And the piece de resistance was the group – Mark Shelley and the Deans, who did us proud. Christine and I even jived.  Video of this possibly to follow…

img_5982-3          Mark Shelley & the Deans 1.10.16

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