When not nipping out for a paper and gossiping with neighbours, I’m listening to Sounds of the Sixties. Tim Rice is standing in again for Brian Matthew, who is ill. There’s no better stand-in than Sir Tim because no one knows more about pop history than he does but I’m worried about Brian because he’s eighty eight. If another legend of my youth leaves us this year I shall be distraught.

I was thinking about how, in my early teens, I would listen regularly to Brian Matthew on Saturday Club. Those were the days when The Beatles might appear on the show, larking about and playing live. In these days of stadium rock and tickets for big name concerts at £80.00 a pop, it’s hard to believe how accessible the big names were in those days. The Beatles and other bands famously appeared on variety bills in small theatres even after they’d become well known. When I was a student, the band booked for the weekly Union dance might be Cream. Seems incredible, doesn’t it? Ah, some of you were born too late.:-)
Liberal England reminds us that The Spencer Davis Group’s Keep on Running was recorded on 21st October 1965, fifty years ago yesterday. Steve Winwood was seventeen when he recorded it! And I was the same age but doing A-Levels, not making great records. I think the song sounds as good as ever.


This photo shows most of yesterday’s non-food purchases at the market. First up, a master class in buying at boot sales.
Me: ‘How much is this?’ (the Monica Dickens book).
Seller: ‘£1.50.’
Me: ‘Too much,’ (puts book back in box).
Seller: ‘50p.’
Me: ‘OK’ (hands over money).

One of my favourite sellers there had what were for him unusual items: three boxes of 45s, all apparently from the sixties. Two blokes (it’s always men) were already looking very carefully through them but I didn’t have the patience. Since the price was ‘three for a pound’ I thought I would just get a few. Amusingly, the giant of a man standing next to me kept handing me records he’d already looked at. ‘Del Shannon?’ ‘Do you like the Everlys?’ When I asked how he could judge my tastes so accurately, he replied, ‘I’m guessing you’re about the same age as I am’! Flattering? Probably not.

The last buy was one I really shouldn’t have made: more knitting patterns. I do not need any more knitting patterns and I have no room for them.

What an infuriating book! Tsk! I could hardly put it down. If you read my review (was it really eight years ago?) of The Lost Art of Keeping Secrets you might think I didn’t like it much. In fact I love it, have re-read it and keep a copy with other comfort reading. I can see the same thing happening with Tara Jupp, although first I’ll have to get a copy, as this one came from the library.

The book is set mostly in 1962 (the year of Blowin’ In The Wind, BTW), and requires some suspension of disbelief. Tara is one of eight motherless children living in an old Cornish Rectory with their rather terrifying (but wise) father. Our heroine is a little scrap of a thing with a very big voice, which she uses to impersonate Alma Cogan and other well known singers. You have to believe that, aged seventeen and irritatingly naïve, she is invited to London to make a record and is immediately at the heart of what was to become Swinging London. You should have heard Jonathan Meades’ throwaway line on that subject in Bunkers, Brutalism and Bloodymindedness a couple of weeks ago. She is taken up by a photographer who seems based on Terence Donovan. Members of The Rolling Stones appear as themselves and Brian Jones is given a key role in the plot. Some of the characters from Lost Art reappear, living reinvented lives; Inigo is central to the story.

There is the occasional anachronism and far too much knowing hindsight (e.g. about the Euston Arch), which accounts for my tutting over the book. It's also irritating that every character considered attractive is unhealthily skinny. Nevertheless it is irresistible and reminiscent of Victoria Clayton’s adult novels. What really matters in Tara’s story is not social history (quite distorted), but people and houses. I defy anyone not to be charmed by the houses, intrigued by Tara’s family and its problems and in the end, hoping that true love will prevail for all. Yet again, Eva Rice has made me love a book against my will.
Eheu, another icon of my youth is gone.
I’m amazed he lived so long. When I was at school I went to see every single film he was in. As I wrote on here once, I would pay just to sit and look at him, even when he was old. And he loved cricket, too! I can’t find the very picture I used to have on my bedroom wall, but this will do.

Photo from The Telegraph

Those words from Othello, spoken by Olivier, were heard over the credits at the end of yesterday’s Arena programme (one of two): The National Theatre. Although ostensibly about the history of The National Theatre, fifty years old this month, the programme was largely about Olivier. The same is apparently true of the books published to tie in with the anniversary. According to the reviewer in Private Eye, both Michael Blakemore’s Stage Blood and the Derek Jacobi autobiography As Luck Would Have It are really books about Olivier. I’ve requested both from the library, together with Philip Ziegler’s new biography of Olivier, but I’m still waiting for them.

The early National Theatre programmes all included ‘A short History of The National Theatre’, starting in 1848. Arena had little to say about that, just some ancient footage of George Bernard Shaw and a photograph of Harley Granville-Barker. The TV version began in 1963, when The National Theatre was finally established at The Old Vic theatre, with Laurence Olivier as its first director. It ended in 1973, when Olivier was replaced by Peter Hall. Olivier was kept out of the loop; he and many others saw this as an act of treachery. After all these years, scores are still being settled. Joan Plowright spoke loyally, Jonathan Miller less so. How I dislike that man. I don’t think there can be any doubt that without Olivier’s charisma there would have been no NT.

Olivier ran the Old Vic as an actors’ company, with himself as just one of the actors. That was the theory. In practice, of course, many of those working with him were completely overawed, by his already legendary career and his sheer physical presence. Most of the actors, though, look back at that time with fondness. It’s a pity that old black and white footage of extracts from the plays gives little idea of a live performance. As the Private Eye reviewer said, probably only the film of The Entertainer gives modern audiences a glimpse of Olivier’s magnetism on stage. I’ve written something about this before.
The National Theatre and me )
Yesterday, Cornflower posted about a visit she made to Liberty in Regent Street. She commented that there was surprisingly little fabric for sale. What a shame! In my youth I made so many dresses from Liberty fabric. Amazingly, I still have two of them (I think the rest must have gone for patchwork). This is Liberty Tana Lawn from the late 1960s:


Here is a later fabric, early 1970s, in a crisp cotton.


Perhaps I hung on to these because of the amount of work in them. Just look at those self-covered buttons and the bias-cut bound button loops! I can hardly believe that when I was working full time and had a very busy social life, I would still spend a weekend making a dress like that one.

I’m sure that in the sixties there was a small outpost of Liberty in Croydon but I’ve scoured the net and can’t find any mention of it. I think it was in Katharine Street. If anyone else remembers it, do tell!
How About That by Adam Faith has been in my head all morning. How could you not find this cheerful? I love every cute two minutes and twenty seconds of it.

If you’d like a laugh/shock, check out You Tube for Adam singing Poor Me with Bruce Forsyth at the London Palladium in 1960.
I could hardly believe my eyes when the latest La Redoute catalogue was retrieved from the letter box. (Hint: if you ever buy one thing from La Redoute you’ll be inundated by mail for ever more.)


‘La Redoute are proud to invite iconic French fashion house Courrèges to lead in our new Autumn-Winter collection. Considered ‘futuristic’ in the 60s, Courrèges’s instantly recognizable style – clean, structured lines, strong geometric shapes and splashes of vibrant colour – has timeless appeal …’

I remember all this from first time around, when I was at school! The white boots, mid-calf length in those days, and the little bonnets. I still love the neat little coats but wonder if anyone will adopt the whole look. Only a teenager with legs like sticks could get away with those thick, white tights. Yesterday the latest Boden catalogue arrived. On offer: ‘sixties-inspired’ (dress); ‘a Sixties sensibility’ (skirt); ‘chic, retro’ (collarless short coat); ‘Sixties Funnel Neck’ (jumper); ‘Carnaby dress’; ‘Sixties Heel’ (shoes). I could go on but you can see it all for yourself on the website.


So, who’s up for yet another sixties revival?

Picture this. Seven in the evening and I’m flipping idly through the local free magazine, when I notice that The Zombies are playing the Tiv at eight o’clock. Phone up: ‘Any tickets?’ ‘Yes, come on down.’ Get changed, put a new face on, abandon everything and whiz down to town. Lovely warm evening for a change. Buy a ticket:


£18.50 to hear Colin Blunstone! Take that, BIC and other huge venues. Amazingly there were a few empty seats; have the people of Wimborne really got better things to do on a Friday evening?

The band started on the dot of eight o’clock, which always pleases me, and launched straight into I Love You. The setlist was pretty much the same as this one, with added treats of God Gave Rock And Roll To You and a lovely version of You Really Got A Hold On Me which segued into Bring It On Home To Me and back again. It was a very full set which included old songs, covers and songs from the 2011 CD they’re plugging, Breathe Out, Breathe In.

Rod Argent talks too much. Colin Blunstone just stands there looking smiley and lovely and then sings. Boy, can he still sing, and get ALL the top notes without apparent effort. It’s amazing how well his voice has held out after all these years (fifty two since they first played together) and how well he got through an evening of non-stop vocals. Five guys on stage and they all looked like they were having a good time. I wish the same could be said of the audience. Even though I’m hem hem years old, I enjoyed the first part of the set so much I felt like standing on the seat and shouting, yet around me there was barely even a nodding head. That’s when I felt suddenly lonely and missed the person who would once have sat beside me on these occasions. There was a man who knew how to enjoy a gig. I don’t regret going. For the first time since I heard the song on the radio in 1964, I got to hear Colin Blunstone sing She’s Not There, live on stage. And it sounded just as good.

I had a bad day yesterday, for various reasons too tedious to go into, but I was cheered up in the evening. First, I read a book I’d picked up at a charity stall earlier in the day; written for children, it’s one of the best books I’ve read for ages.* Then I watched a programme I’d recorded, Let’s have a party! The piano genius of Mrs Mills. How could Mrs Mills not cheer you up? Pre-Beatles, I was young enough to watch The Billy Cotton Band Show with my parents, which is how I remember Mrs Mills. I also liked Russ Conway, who I thought was lovely and greatly admired Winifred Atwell, another former star you never hear about nowadays. I was obviously too old for Bobby Crush when he came along; I had no idea who he was.

The theme of the programme is also a pet obsession of mine: that performers like Mrs Mills have been written out of musical history because they don’t fit with people’s idea of the sixties. She had albums in the charts for years! She recorded at Abbey Road, where she had a dedicated piano, specially tuned for her distinctive honky-tonk sound. It gives you a good idea of the musical overlap in those days to learn that The Beatles used the same piano on some of their tracks, notably Penny Lane. The piano is still preserved at the studios.

Most of the people interviewed were pianists themselves and they were all at pains to point out the technical difficulty of what Mrs Mills did and how well she did it. Typically, the BBC didn’t seem to have much footage left and we kept seeing the same old clips, mostly from The Morecambe and Wise Show. There are quite a few clips on YouTube and I picked this one because you can actually see her playing.

There was much talk of the decline of piano playing as pianos were banished from homes and pubs to make way for television sets. Nevertheless, Mrs Mills still has her fans. I found 113 singles/albums offered on eBay this morning. The album covers are so bad they’re good, collectable because they’re so kitsch. Click here to see young kingofthekeyboard playing the piano Mrs Mills style. How I’d love to be able to do that! I’d like to be the quiet, shy person at the party who can sit down at the piano and knock out any tune people ask for. We also saw young people reviving the pub singalong, with a vamping piano and customers roaring out Roll Out The Barrel like extras from In Which We Serve, then wondering how it is they know the words. Rick Wakeman pointed out that to someone of fifteen, this kind of music would be something quite new. Highly recommended and still available to view.

*Huck and her Time Machine by Gillian Avery
I was sorry to hear this morning that Scott McKenzie has died. Everyone my age knows all the words to his 1960s hit San Francisco. What has surprised me is that all news media are claiming the song as ‘an anthem of the counter culture’. To me it seems totally mainstream, middle of the road, practically easy listening. If you want something really subversive, check out Frank Zappa’s Flower Punk. The song satirises Hey Joe, yes, but also the whole weekend hippy thing Zappa despised so much and which San Francisco typified.

Last week, LoveFilm sent me Morgan: A Suitable Case for Treatment in time for Saturday evening viewing. I last saw it when it came out and was surprised to find how well I remembered whole scenes after hem hem years. Morgan, played by David Warner, is a working class artist married to, but soon to be divorced from, rich Leonie, (Vanessa Redgrave, so beautiful). His behaviour is erratic, to say the least. He refuses to accept that his wife has had enough of him and takes refuge in bizarre fantasies, mostly involving animals. (We’d see this again ten years later in The Rise and Fall of Reginald Perrin.)

It’s rather a subversive film in that at first the viewer is not sure whether or not Morgan is really mad. You tend to sympathise with him because his in-laws and Leonie’s new fiancé, Charles, are caricatures of upper class types of the time. Morgan’s dotty communist mother, (Irene Handl), calls him a class traitor. Marx is another of Morgan’s obsessions. First time around, I thought Morgan really cute and his escapades quite funny. Now, he seems like a dangerous stalker; laying traps for Leonie and Charles (Robert Stephens) and trying to blow up his mother-in-law. You constantly ask yourself why Leonie doesn’t change the locks/move house/get a court injunction (she does try this), to escape Morgan’s unwanted attentions? Uncomfortably, although determined to marry Charles and lead a normal life, she still finds Morgan’s behaviour a turn-on. Spoiled bitch. No wonder the poor chap's confused, and in the end he does go right over the edge.

I’d have to say it’s a good film, if only because I could remember it so well. It does show the best and worst of sixties films. Good soundtrack, very evocative of the period, a lot of Keystone Cops-type dashing about (think A Hard Day’s Night or The Knack), rather too much wackiness. When I was a theatre-mad schoolgirl, David Warner was right up there with Albert Finney and Tom Courtenay for us gels, and if you watch the film, you’ll see why. He’s still acting but I’d say he's less famous than the other two? Some young thing will have to tell me.
film trailer )
I had a weird experience on Saturday as I was driving to the market. I had SOTS on the radio and suddenly found that I knew every word of a song I swear I haven't heard or given a thought to since the sixties. It was If I Had A Ribbon Bow, the first single by Fairport Convention and I sang along merrily. It took me back in an extraordinary way, yet I can't remember why. Here it is; it takes a while to get going.

The singer is Judy Dyble, not Sandy Denny.
As usual on a Saturday morning (when I’m not at the market) I’m listening to Sounds of the Sixties. Brian Matthew played The Everly Brothers singing Let It Be Me. I turned up the radio as loud as I could stand it. I literally felt goosebumps break out on my arms and when it finished found tears in my eyes. It’s absolutely perfect.

Incidentally, 'your old mate Brian Matthew' and his wife celebrated their sixtieth wedding anniversary last week.
This was supposed to be Monday's post! LJ is still rather broken.

Over the weekend I watched Far from the Madding Crowd in two instalments. When I first saw the film I’d never even visited Dorset, let alone had any idea that one day I would live here. It was longer and slower than I remembered but still very good. There’s beautiful scenery (it was shot in Wiltshire and Dorset), a lovely pastoral score by Richard Rodney Bennett and clever use of folk songs throughout to highlight the story. There’s a strong feeling of the isolation of rural communities (Bathsheba’s aunt’s house in the middle of nowhere), the rhythm of the seasons and celebrations of the high points of the farming year. No Lark Rise-style rose-tinted spectacles here but plenty of mud, rain, fog and a reminder that loss of stock or a rick fire could mean ruin.

What struck me was how closely it follows the book yet is very obviously a sixties film. Julie Christie’s hair and make-up mark her out immediately as a sixties’ beauty rather than a nineteenth century one. The shots, too, all those long views of the rolling landscape and especially the ones with figures outlined against the sky (the view of Terence Stamp at the top of a hill is particularly good) seem very sixties features, which you can see in Whistle Down the Wind, for instance. Julie Christie is not really convincing as the tough woman Bathsheba must have been to be ‘Queen of the Corn Market’ but it’s easy to see how Terence Stamp (cor!) got mastery of her and to believe in Peter Finch as her obsessive and half-crazed would-be lover. I found Alan Bates less good as Gabriel Oak than I remembered but I think the fault there lies with Hardy. When I read the book as a teenager Gabriel had all my sympathy; it’s only now that his devotion stretches my credulity.

I really enjoyed this re-visit and now want to read the book again.

Yet again I’m indebted to Liberal England for a link to a wonderful little transport film. In this one from 1963, Sir John Betjeman travels on the Somerset and Dorset Joint Line, narrating in his inimitable style, defending the usefulness of the old branch lines. I’ve travelled the old Great Western line more times than I can remember but never a mile on the Somerset and Dorset. I was rather disappointed that the film is entirely about Somerset, with Dorset only coming into it because the train has come from Sturminster Newton. When we first moved down here the trains were long gone but the station was still standing and you could walk along the old deserted tracks. Now that too has been swept away and the area turned into an industrial estate. The surrounding streets are known to conservation planners as ‘Railway Town’; I’ve never heard anyone call them that in real life.

Apart from Betjeman’s melancholy tones, the best thing about this film is the sound of the trains. You can almost smell the steam, while the birdsong at Pylle reminds one of Adlestrop. There aren’t many people about but just look at them enjoying the swinging sixties :-). They might have come out of one of Angela Thirkell’s novels, on the line from Waterloo to Skeynes, passing through Winter Overcotes and Worsted.

I can't make the embedded code work here, so you'll have to hop over to Liberal England to see the film.

The words of a chap who’s still a fan after all these years.
I missed a programme on Radio 4 yesterday and just caught up with it on the iPlayer. It’s called Falling for Françoise and describes how John Andrew and other teenage boys (Malcolm McClaren, for example) fell for Françoise Hardy in the early 1960s. Andrew sets off down memory lane, meets other fans (not all male, I’m pleased to note) and even gets to interview his heroine. Bob Dylan was apparently also an admirer and sang Just Like A Woman and I Want You to her in his dressing room; you need to hear her tell the anecdote. One of those amusing and interesting little programmes Radio 4 does so well. And Françoise sounds so nice.

There’s something on Radio2 almost every evening this week, some programmes timed to be on just as I’m dropping off to sleep. So thank goodness for the iPlayer. Last night’s offering was Nashville Cats: the Making of Blonde on Blonde. It was presented by Bill Nighy. Normally I could listen to him reading anything but here I felt his voice added little. TBH it was a prog for geeks or people who are very keen on Al Kooper (and nothing wrong with that). It was worth hearing just to be reminded what a great album Blonde on Blonde is or, as the script put it, ‘arguably Dylan’s greatest LP’. Singles, EPs and LPs; another world.

As well as these music programmes, there’s short stories on Radio4 in the afternoons and No Direction Home on TV. Sometimes, I’m really glad I was around in 1966.
poll )

John Barry has died. He was famous for writing a lot of James Bond film title tracks but you probably have no idea how many of his songs and tunes you know without realizing he was the composer; stuff which has been the background to our lives for many years. I’ve known his work since the 1960s because he wrote the arrangements for Adam Faith’s hits. Yes, I do still have the record in the picture.



January 2017



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