(Post by John Allan, from Bridgetown, Western Australia – February 2021)
Melbourne glam rockers Skyhooks debut album “Living in the Seventies” spent 16 weeks at the top of the Australian charts in 1974 – 75 – which was unbeknown to me until over a decade later when I left Thatcher’s Britain for a life ‘down under’. The first verse of the title track proclaims: –
I feel a little crazy
I feel a little strange
Like I’m in a pay phone
Without any change
I feel a little edgy
I feel a little weird
I feel like a schoolboy
Who’s grown a beard
In my experience, I’ve known very few hirsute schoolboys Scottish or Antipodean…………….That didn’t come out right! What I mean as a bum fluffed teen I could probably relate to some of Skyhooks lyrics (nobody talked about pay phones though. Phone boxes maybe with handsets severed at the umbilical and stinking of stale body fluids) Crazy, strange, edgy, weird. Glam rock was mere background. I was a PROG ROCKER.
I would like to say I survived a Shuggie Bain childhood of poverty and despair but that is obviously pure bollocks. I lived in a comfortable semi with dependable (if not a bit detached) teacher parents in a middle-class satellite of the second city, Glasgow.
Music was a biproduct of such privilege. With two older brothers the house was awash with instruments – piano, guitars, fiddle, flute, double bass and euphonium. Sheet music tumbled from the piano stool – the Seekers, Mary Hopkins, the comedic Bernard Cribbins and of course the Beatles. Norwegian Wood, Hello Goodbye …… pity no-oneplayed the piano! The record player was always cranked up with said Fab Four, Fleetwood Mac (all blokes then) and even some early David Bowie.
At primary school I was first descant recorder and more than eager to put away the chime bars. I had the classics covered when I took up flute and played in the County Orchestra. I invented eclectic.
At the obligatory interview with the school careers officer, you had to list four potential occupations you saw yourself pursuing in the future. I wrote down 1) Music 2) Music 3) Music and (surprise surprise) 4) Music. With my comprehensive list held aloft in one hand and my meagre exam results in the other, the holder to the key of my occupational future said after much deliberation “Have you ever thought of a career in banking”. I should have run him through with my lance and crushed him under my shield. Unfortunately, I was only armed with a blunt HB and a protractor.
Music was my oxygen, and I couldn’t breathe. Hale the inhaler of progressive rock!
I blame my easy access to the art for my straying, not to the dark side, but to the smug and pompous superiority of PR. Rhythm and blues was passe, heavy metal pantomime and Punk – really! Moronic fuzz guitar, torn tartan trousers, safety pins and bin bags does not art make.
We abandoned pop and rock, outgrew psychedelia in favour of the epic, the conceptual, the symphonic. We melded folk, jazz and classical – a flazzical magic. The fewer songs the better. Album covers of melting mountains and dripping landscapes (to be later ripped off in Avatar movies) cloaked in Listen bags gripped firmly under arm. These were the tunes of Tolkien, the dirges of dragons and dungeons. We were the denizens of the dingily dell, enchanted foresters, fairy queen fantasists and goblin nobblers.
We even indulged in our own form of progrockery with our merry band of troubadours, Entropy, with yours truly channelling Ian of Tull while lamenting Floyd’s Lunatics on the Grass to a hall of non-believers at Kilmardinny.
Our sonic utopia was all screeching castrati, phased finger plucked 12 strings. Of Moogs and Mellotrons.
We watched the watchers of the sky, echoed in the halls of mountain kings, slayed gentle giants, swam topographic oceans, escorted schizoid men through the centuries. We were the chosen ones. We walked among you although you barely acknowledged the swish of army navy stores great coat or the gentle scuff of sweaty sandshoe.
Crazy, strange, edgy, weird? No! We preached the philosophy of the pretentious, the priapism of the precocious, the pride of the preposterous. We were PROGRESSIVE ROCK!
The balloon burst. The curse lifted.
A handsome prince of half a dozen gritty blue eyed soul Dundonians and Glaswegians, a.k.a The Average White Band, hacked through the undergrowth, scaled the ramparts and kissed this little princess on the lips, Awakened, I was led to the promised land of soul, jazz, blues and funk.
Untethered from my Skyhook , shaven of my schoolboy beard.