“Went to see manager of Whitwams – said he will phone on Monday”
Please don’t tell me I put on my new suit and traveled on the train to Winchester on the off-chance I might get a job at Whitwams
I probably did, didn’t I? *shudder*
Whitwams was a haunt of mine for sure, but I couldn’t really imagine me working there. It sold not just records, but… *gulp*… musical instruments. Regular readers will no doubt remember the ‘success’ I have had attempting the most rudimentary elements of even a guitar… let alone other things like keyboards, trumpets, saxophones and the ilk.
However if Whitwams were looking for a salesman who could bang out the opening chords of “Smoke on the Water” on just about ANYthing, I was most certainly their man…
.. and would await their call with baited breath on Monday.
A job, after all, IS a job when you have a vinyl and vodka habit to satisfy.
I remember it as clearly as what I had for breakfast this morning.
It’s weird how the memory will hang on to things of little or no consequence whilst simultaneously discarding the important things.
The suit was 90% wool. A three-piece dark blue affair with grey pinstripes throughout. The waistcoat (or ‘vest’ as it is referred to in America) was high-buttoned and featured two little ‘watch’ pockets of which I was most proud.
Yes, I wore a pocket watch with it (it was my Australian Grandad’s) for a while – utterly stylish but ultimately quite pretentious.
I always wore it with a crisp white shirt and a blue tie. Shoes would vary from sensible Clarks numbers to silly two-tone (brown & cream) oxfords with 6″ platform heels.
I wore the suit for years. It was the only one I owned and got dragged out for all kinds of things: interviews, work, parties, dates (!!) and more.
The waistcoat ended up outliving the suit. In the late 70’s – when working at Virgin – I had an extended phase where I wore a waistcoat almost every day of every week. I would hunt waistcoats down at charity shops (thrift stores for my American readers) and owned a collection of two or more dozen strong. I was that guy.
Today, in 1975, I probably put that suit on and thought I was the dog’s bollocks. Shame isn’t it?
“Got letter from Francis Records saying I’d got sack”
Yep, the wizened old bag fired me.
Wish I still had the letter. I probably tore it up in some disgust.
It’s easy for me to say I was amongst the best things that happened to Francis Records on a Saturday and it may sound boastful to do so… but I truly believe I made a difference to sales in what was otherwise a stuffy, staid little emporium.
However, as readers will discover, there is a twist to this tale still to come….
But not before I go off and wander the weekend/part-time employment wilderness for a while
“Work. Bort 6 classical albums for 95p & new Be-Bop album. Party at Hiltingbury – rubbish – but in pub before=great! Drunk again”
6 classical album for 95p?!! … boy, they must have been good….right?
I think the word most associated with Be Bop Deluxe’s frontman Bill Nelson is “underrated”. As I have stated before I feel he was at least – if not moreso – as accomplished an axeman as so-called greats such as Eric Clapton or Jimmy Page. But he was also a superb songwriter, the songs on “Futurama” – his band’s second studio album – testament to that.
Personally, I feel that the word “underrated” can also be applied to this album. OK, so it gave Nelson his first taste of chart success – the perfectly crafted pop song “Maid in Heaven” – but, in my mind, it’s a much bigger album than that, chock full of wonderful material…
… which kicks off with “Stage Whispers” which (much like the title track on the band’s debut “Axe Victim”) featuring more of Nelson’s musings about being in the music industry… This guitar does not lie
The great deception is not my achievement
Well I’m waiting in the wings with all the strings
And things that help me make the music
Hardly revelatory lyrics, but they’re wrapped inside a driving rhythm that immediately showcases Nelson’s skillful fretwork. IMHO, one of THE best album openers ever.
Then we get to “Love with the Madman” a chunky slow-paced ballad washed (again) in guitar licks and, proving that Nelson has been listening to a lot of Steve Harley whilst they toured together, with Rebel-esque lyrics such as “you’ll go crazy with the wonder of it all“
“Maid in Heaven” – as already mentioned – was the hit single reaching a heady (hey, it was heady in those days!) #23 on the charts. As perfect a pop song constructed around a guitar riff as there’s ever been.
“Sister Seagull” – also the b-side of “Maid…” – follows. I’ve never stopped feeling that it should have been a single in its own right. Nelson’s voice is to the fore whilst his guitar work is more subdued than on other cuts, but the whole song simply oozes drama from start to finish. It’s a whole Shakespearean play in one song.
“Sound Track” was a cut I wasn’t mad about at the time, but the prevailing years have made me appreciate it more and more. The opening lyric “Tin aeroplanes trace the time, past our fading window’s eyes” is a theme Nelson would return to over and over again in his subsequent work, but here he takes a back seat to some fabulous (again, “underrated”) drumming from his new band mate, sticksmith Simon Fox. (Nelson had originally stole members of Cockney Rebel, but abandoned them in favour of Fox and bassist Charlie Tumahai, later adding keyboardist Andrew Clark)
Side 2 kicks off with “Music in Dreamland” – “maybe we’ll make music in dreamland tonight?” – yet another cut that could so easily have been a single success. Not often you hear heavy guitar licks married to what almost sounds like a Northern Brass Band section!
(As an aside “Music in Dreamland” is the title of a biography of Bill Nelson & Be Bop Deluxe by Paul Sutton Reeves that may – or may not – actually exist. The hardback version is already out of print, and I have had the paperback on pre-order from Amazon for… let’s have a look now… over nine months now, and every few months I get an update saying its release date has been pushed back again. Weird.)
“Jean Cocteau” is a laid-back almost acoustic ballad infused with jazz guitar. It could sit quite easily with much of Bill’s later solo work. Just lovely in feel and execution.
“Between the Worlds” takes us on a rock’nroll rollercoaster of a ride, mixing modern guitar riffs with classic 50’s “la-la-la-la” chorusing. For best effect, it must be played LOUD!
“Swansong” closes the album down and returns Nelson to the feel of the debut album, simple phrasing with guitar flourishes to die for. (I have, however, always worried about the lyric “We were Siamese twins in ecstasy” because… well, if you think about it, it’s just a little bit incestuous and/or creepy isn’t it?)
This is the Be Bop Deluxe album which, for me, represents their best and most fluid work. Many people cite their third album “Sunburst Finish” as Nelson’s best Be Bop output but I’m of a mind to disagree. The debut album contained the seed of what Bill was trying to achieve and this, the follow-up, is the full germination.
Ironic then, that in an underrated career the best album is also the one underrated.
In other news…
“Party at Hiltingbury” refers to a semi-regular event that took place at the Hiltingbury Pavilion in Chandler’s Ford. A dingy airless ‘event’ room above the accompanying sports field’s changing facilities, it was rented out to individuals for discos and parties. Parties which invariably descended into physical violence after the local ‘youth’, denied entry, would pick fights with whomever was willing to take them on. My review of ‘rubbish’ would therefore have been based on either “no fights to watch” or “I didn’t get off with anyone”
Yes “Drunk again” is a bit worrying, isn’t it? It was about this time that I discovered a love for alcohol in quantity, invariably spirits rather than beer. Bloody Mary’s (with added Worcestershire Sauce), Bacardi & Coke, Vodka & Blackcurrant and whiskies were my 17-year-old tipples of choice. It was easy when you owned a liver that could take the abuse. Now, not so much.
I am sure there will be more about my drinking in future posts.
“Tim came round and paid me for Dylan album. Brought round Phaedra – crap. Good day at college – Geoff C jumps in swimming pool”
Hey, I’m allowed to change my mind about an album over time aren’t I?
Yes, I dismissed Tangerine Dream’s “Phaedra” as crap in 1975. It would take the advent of the Compact Disc a decade or so later – accompanied by the inhaling of certain substances – before I would declare it “pretty bloody fine!”
“Phaedra” was the tenth album ever released on the Virgin Records label, Richard Branson having signed them up to try to cash in on the “Krautrock” and/or ” Electronic” phenomena (both headed up by Kraftwerk) that were rampant on at the time. It reached the heady height of #15 on the UK album chart, despite selling just 600o copies in Tangerine Dream’s own country of Germany.
There’s not a lot to it and is admittedly a bit ‘noodly’ in its loose construction. However, I still enjoy hearing it every once in a while even if that ‘1980’s’ child (just like the 1970’s child) is long gone.
In other news, good riddance to that crappy Bob Dylan album!
Geoff C refers to a college chum who may possibly have been quite barking mad. The son of someone who owned an Army Surplus store in Southampton, Geoff would often come to college bedecked in combat gear and huge desert boots. Today in 1975 he evidently decided that he needed to go swimming, and – if memory serves me correctly – in all his clothes. The rest of us were undoubtedly in stitches as he was dragged out of the pool and away to be reprimanded.
Geoff provided far more than his fair share of laughs during that time we were together at college, and a strange phrase of his “I was under the seats mate, under the seats” – to express (either) joy or surprise at something – has stuck with my into my dotage. I often wonder what he’s doing now, apart from still dressing provocatively?
“Nig came round – brought my new copy of Human Menagerie”
Funny how a simple diary entry will remind you of something.
Reading this reminded me that I went through several copies of Human Menagerie before I found one that didn’t suffer very noisy surface noise on the opening track.
It was a recurring ‘issue’ back in the days of vinyl. Unlike now where any ‘faulty’ product is immediately discussed and disseminated at online message boards – resulting in swift withdrawal and replacement by manufacturers – news of a bad pressing would often take weeks to filter through to record companies.
I think I must have gone through 6 or 7 copies of “Human Menagerie” before I struck Cockney Rebel gold. I’m guessing that Nig must have worked in Eastleigh to have swapped my album out at Jack Hobbs… either that or I was simply getting embarrassed at the number of times I had already done the deed?
I am a fifty-something ex-pat Brit transplanted into America’s Mid-West. When I finally got around to unpacking all the boxes I shipped across the Atlantic, I found the “schoolboy diaries” I dutifully wrote in during the 1970’s.
I decided, as a fun endeavour, to document, share and comment upon many of the diary entries.
Posts will be in chronological order starting in 1972 and will gently travel from my 14-year old insecure geeky phase through to my involvement in the UK ‘punk movement’ at the end of the decade.
I hope other people find the project to be entertaining