Tropical City Discs (1)

If you are British, you will know that there are a number of reasons why the BBC earns its licence fee. Mostly, it's not the junk TV like Eastenders, nor is the dreadful BBC website which is journalistically bankrupt and often barely literate. And it's not the platform for stridency that is Woman's Hour. No, it's things like its excellent drama on TV and Radio and Radio 4's "Letter to America," now sadly dead along with its creator, and Desert Island Discs. Sadly, the Roy Plomley years have gone and good as his replacements have been, it's not the same without those warm, avuncular tones. Even so, people really, really want to appear.

I'd love it. I'm not even going to try to pretend not to. I don't even care whether my episode is ever broadcast. I just want the experience and the challenge of trying to reduce my long involvement in music, both as a performer (but not for a long time), as a non-stop listener and as the father of that most unlikely thing an English pop star who has made it big in China.

Of course, I'm not going to be on a Desert Island but I live in a Tropical City so that's close enough.

How would I ever choose? I was born in the mid 1950s, when music was still hung-over from the American invasion that had started in the 1940s. Prior to that, popular music had gone the other way with European and British music dominating. But wartime dance music, from the Jitterbug to the lush sounds of Glenn Miller influenced British music and a British version of Big Band music slugged it out with the next wave of "crooning" that came across the Atlantic. British radio remained dominated by these sounds until the mid 1960s, leading to the creation of pirate radio, that I listened to under the covers despite the awful swishing and in-and-out and fuzzy sound of distant AM radio. Radio Luxembourg, Radio Caroline and, later, Radio North Sea International were my dirty little secret. I often laugh today at how my generation couldn't wait to dump our tiny, tinny speakers for better sounding things and how today's generation is delighted with the same, or often worse, sound coming out of their phones. They are the "DUH!" generation for a reason, one might say.

I didn't get the whole Rock 'n' Roll thing: I was still singing and collecting bits of paper for "proper" music, as we considered it at the time. Yes, I went to see The Shadows in Pantomime (I can't remember if Cliff Richard was with them but I still remember the bright red Fender and VOX AC30 that brought the wondrous Hank Marvin up to my seat in the circle of the venue that doubled as a cinema). And I saw Bert Weedon, another magical guitarist. In fact, only a few weeks ago while clearing out my parent's house, I found the album and photo that he'd autographed for my brother. I enjoyed but didn't get to see Fleetwood Mac (but I only knew Albatross and nothing of their blues music), Telstar by the Tornados (if you don't know it, find it and listen to it : not only futuristic but actually predicted some of the sounds that NASA has recorded in space) and some other pop - David Bowie's Space Oddity and The Tremeloes, to name just a few. The Kinks were in there somewhere, too. But good as they were, they weren't enough to drag me from Mozart, Elgar, Handel and the like.

The Beatles passed me by entirely: in fact, I found much of their music annoying and stressful, but other examples I thought clever and well written and performed. On the other hand, I rather liked the Rolling Stones and The Who, but only in a kind of "that's crude but well structured" kind of way.

Then, visiting relatives, my world was shattered. I heard the piece that changed everything. Even today, when someone asks me what my favourite piece of music is, there is no hesitation: it's Steppenwolf's Born to be Wild. And so that would be my first choice. It was down and dirty, it carried emotion like Mario Lanza but with the growl of a Norton (turns out they were Harley boys but I suppose they are American so they can be forgiven for that lapse of judgement). It was both ponderous and thunderous and carried light and shade in ways that nothing else had come close to, at least for my taste. That piece opened doors to a world of music I had never imagined possible. That same day I heard "Won't Get Fooled Again" by The Who and "25 or 6 to 4" by Chicago. You know how, in a film, people's head snaps back when someone kicks them under the chin? That was basically my reaction to those three pieces of music. I had dismissed rock and pop as transient, almost flippant, musical forms, disposable. And I'd been wrong. I was about 13 years old and I'd had an epiphany.

Today, I still get excited when I hear a great piece of music, old or new, classical or pop or rock. I don't dismiss "pop" for some of the most enduring pieces of music from the past five decades have been "pop." Long after 99% of twentieth century classical music is forgotten, people will still be singing "Sugar Sugar" by The Archies.

I'll do more of this musical meandering in future blogs. We don't have to be serious all the time, do we?

 


 

© 2016 Nigel Morris-Cotterill
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