Tag Archives: nostalgia

Radio Times

1945 Ekco A22 Radio

“Are you sitting comfortably? Then I’ll begin …”

My introduction to Radio, like many reading this I’m sure, was the iconic weekday show, ‘Listen With Mother.’ Broadcast immediately prior to ‘Woman’s Hour’ it was simply fifteen minutes of nursery rhymes, songs and short stories. (I don’t think my attention span has developed much in the ensuing years.)

This would be early Sixties, but already my interest in Radio had been piqued. As the years passed, my interests would widen, and with televisions in those days taking so damned long to ‘warm up,’ Radio seemed a natural and convenient alternative.

As I matured (?) from a sweet little four-year-old into a still little and also, no doubt, still sweet eight-year-old, I discovered a new catchphrase – one I could use to great effect in annoying my parents on a weekend morning after they’d enjoyed a night out at some fancy-dan Dinner Dance in the town.

“Wakey Wakaaaaay!”

In the same manner a peal of church bells draws many to worship, so this clarion call was the prompt to draw closer by my Dad’s stereogram on a Sunday lunchtime.

Billy Cotton

It’s perhaps strange to now reflect that a lame TV programme such as The Billy Cotton Band Show is at least in part responsible for my love of Radio to this day. Yet, living in a house where the sound of music consisted mainly of, erm, ‘The Sound of Music,’ ‘South Pacific’ or ‘The King and I,’ this was regarded as quite rebellious.

(See me? Punk as f***! Ten years ahead of Rotten, Vicious et al, I was.)

As the Sixties drew on, it wasn’t just Big Band music that grabbed my attention. There were some classic comedy shows to be had too. The one I remember listening to most was, ‘The Clitheroe Kid.’

This was a show centred around schoolboy Jimmy Clitheroe and his family. Jimmy, a diminutive comedian from the Lancashire town that provided his surname, was actually thirty-five years old when his long running radio show started. However, standing only four feet, two inches tall, he often passed for the eleven-year-old character he portrayed.

Jimmy Clitheroe

Listen to an episode entitled: ‘Thinking About A Holiday’ – courtesy of Radio Echoes. (First aired on 27th June 1971)

It would also be around this time I discovered the delights (and horrors) of Junior Choice.… and of course, another often to be repeated catchphrase:

Would it be deemed ‘sad’ to openly admit I still listen to the show each Christmas morning as I prepare the family meal? Songs like these made such a lasting impression!

Then of course, with football playing such a large part in the life of the young (and old) me, it was a regular Saturday ritual, with my Dad, to gather round the radio at 5pm and ‘conduct’ the orchestra playing this gem of an iconic tune:

Honestly, my stomach knots with excitement, when I hear this, even now. I’m right back to a cozy living room on a dark, dreich, late autumnal evening, next door the kitchen windows all steamed up, and our ‘special’ Saturday night meal of spam and beetroot sandwiches toasting under the grill.

(I also still wave my arms around like a loon in time with the music – as I suspect my sadly indoctrinated sons do too.)

Now, as the decade turned, I discovered to the ‘Happy Sound of Radio1.’ I should say that at the age of twelve, going on thirteen, I was myself, ‘fab’; ‘groovy’; ‘happening.’.

In truth, I probably found this modern pop music by accident, catching the handover from Stewpot’s Junior Choice to follow-on DJ Stuart Henry, who would become my favourite DJ of the time.

The more I became aware of what Radio could offer, the more I searched out new sounds and fresh presentations. My little plastic transistor had a very sensitive wheel dial, but with gentle, precise turns, and holding the radio to my ear as I turned through all points in the compass, I could sometimes pick up ‘pirate’ stations like Radio Luxembourg or Radio Caroline.

I thought at the time they offered a greater selection of music than Radio 1 – but then in the mid-Seventies, I stumbled upon John Peel! He’d actually been at Radio 1 since its inception, one of the original DJs, but his shows must have been after my bedtime!

Anyway, better late than never.

(You know that question about who, alive or dead, you’d invite over for a Dinner Party at your house? Peely would definitely be one of my guests. He introduced me to so much new music; new bands; new genres. His shows were an eclectic mix of styles. If there was one track didn’t take your fancy, chances were the next one would be on your wish-list of next purchases.)

The best DJ; the best voice; the best taste in music on the radio … ever!

Though my musical journey was by no means complete, having travelled from Billy Cotton to Teenage Jesus and The Jerks within six or seven years, I at least knew in which direction I was headed.

Without the more specialist stations available nowadays, Radio 1 was required to cater for all musical tastes. One of my favourite shows aired on a Saturday evening, at 5:30pm, as I was getting ready to meet up with pals for a night uptown at The White Elephant Disco.

At this time, I’d generally be laid in a bath tentatively scraping bits of red ash out of a knee wound sustained in that afternoon’s football match. If not, then I’d be showering caked mud off my legs – you don’t want to be lying in a bath of manky water after running a cross country race in the rain!

This was the Stuart Coleman hosted, ‘It’s Rock ‘n’ Roll’ show. It ran for three years from 1976 and was just the job for getting me bopping round the bathroom and in the mood for going ‘up the dancing.’

By the late ‘70s though, it wasn’t just music that had me tuning in to Radio. As a keen fan of baseball, I found that the 1945 Ekco A22 radio I’d picked up at a Scout Jumble Sale (still have it – similar model to that at top of this post) could pick up the American Forces Network (AFN). The time difference meant it was more late-night listening, but I was transfixed by the atmosphere and imagery evoked while listening to commentary of game from Yankee Stadium or Fenway Park.

Baseball on the radio

It was Radio that also introduced me to ‘The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy’ in 1978. It aired on Radio 4, so I have no idea how I found it, but that then led me to become a huge fan and reader all of Douglas Adams’ books.

The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy

Even today, with the advent of BBC Sounds app, I listen to re-runs of Hancock’s Half Hour (pre-Seventies, I know) and Dad’s Army, of which three series were adapted for radio, and broadcast in 1974 / 75 / 76.

It’s a sad fact and by-product of ‘progress’ that the ‘old’ is usurped by the ‘new’, only to be granted a passing word in history books.

Not Radio, though!

Radio has seen off records; reel-to-reel recordings; cassette tapes; VHS; Betamax; CD; CD-R; MP3. It is now easily holding its own with HD TV; Smart TV; streaming services and podcasts.

Long live Radio, I say!

Wonderful radio
Marvellous radio
Wonderful radio
Radio, radio
Radio, radio
Radio, radio

Post by Colin ‘Jackie’ Jackson from Glasgow – November 2022)

‘Hit Me With Your Rhythm Stick’: Ian Dury & The Blockheads.

Ian Dury & The Blockheads

Roll up, roll up ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls.

It’s a little punky, it’s a little funky.

It’s a bit jazz, it’s a bit pizzazz.

It’s naughty its haughty

You wont Adam & Eve it

It’s only me old mates

Ian Dury & The Blockheads !

It’s late 1978 and the circus is back in town. There was always a bit of music hall or vaudeville about Ian and the lads, whether extolling the virtues of  Sex & Drugs & Rock ‘n Roll or lamenting lost opportunities in What A Waste.

‘Hit Me With Your Rhythm Stick

Hit Me With Your Rhythm Stick came out of a jam session around an earlier recording  Wake Up (And Make Love To Me) and was written by singer Ian Dury and guitarist/keyboard player Chaz Jankel. It was released as a single on 23rd of November 1978.

Blockheads

Behindthe hit is a grinding and pulsating groove primarily led by bassist Norman Watt-Roy with his 16 notes to the bar acrobatics. I think he must have been heavily influenced by Weather Report’s Jaco Pastorios and Tower of Power’s Francis ‘Rocco’ Prestia, two leviathans of the 70s’ bass guitar world. He’s ably assisted by some tasteful jazz piano, growling organ, jangily funk guitar and solid drumming by the rest of  the ‘heads. The chorus is like Chas & Dave meets disco in a sex dungeon !

We are then assaulted by Dury’s former fellow Kilburn & The High Road’s associate Davey Payne’s screechingdouble’ sax solo – A nod to jazz colossus Rahsaan Roland Kirk. Believe me, it’s not easy playing two saxes at a time. I nearly put an eye out trying !

Ian Dury

Leading this merry band of new wave troubadours of course is Mr. Dury. He doesn’t as much as sing but narrates this word play doggerel. Delivered in his best nursery rhyme bingo lingo Cockney, he not only gives you a useful geography lesson, he throws in a smattering of French and German too !

The whole things crescendos to a masochistic melee of screams and a demonic distorted guitar solo before crashing down into a foetal ball of shame and self loathing……………..  Am I reading too much into this ? A cold shower and I’ll be alright.

We of course didn’t know at the time that the ‘prop’ Dury carried was in fact a walking cane and that he had a withered left shoulder, arm and leg due to contracting polio as a seven year old. He certainly let it be known his views on peoples perception of disability with his anthem Spasticus Autisticus some years later.

In January 1979 Hit Me With Your Rhythm Stick  knocked The Village People’s Y.M.C.A. off the number one spot and remained in the charts for 8 weeks.

The B-side was There Ain’t Half Been Some Clever Bastards. Says it all really!

Je t’adore, ich liebe dich

(Post by John Allan of Bridgetown, Western Australia – November 2022)

remember remember

Remember, remember the fifth of November, gunpowder, treason and plot

I do have vague memories from back in the sixties of something we called Bonfire Night, where a few paltry fireworks were let off and the community stood around a massive bonfire watching an effigy burn. Apparently, the straw dummy facing immolation was the representation of one Guy (Guido) Fawkes, the fall guy for an assassination attempt on King James I in 1605. The main perpetrator was a Robert Catesby, an English Catholic, who along with his cronies, planned the failed Gunpowder plot. Fawkes was guarding the gunpowder in the undercroft of the House of Lords when caught and was hung, drawn and quartered for his troubles.

As a child, I don’t think I grasped the historical references, especially the Protestant/Catholic struggles that would be a background to my young life. It was just a good night out in winter.

The evening started in our back garden with a few of my school chums and their parents. My father took his Health and Safety role seriously armed with milk bottle, taper, hammer and nail. Then the hallowed box of fireworks, hidden from curious school kids up to this point, would be brought out.

First, the rocket would be placed in a milk bottle and my father would gingerly approach it with a taper.

Stand back kids. No, further back !

Once we were several postcodes away, lift off commenced.

Phzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz. Bwwaat !

Like a loud wet fart.

Occasionally, the milk bottle would fall over, sirens would wail and we would dive for the Anderson shelter.

Then, the Catherine Wheel. This was a delicate set up. Hammered too hard into the side of a fence post and it wouldn’t turn. Too loose and it would cascade in a spiral of death and destruction.

Back to the shelter !

Truth was, most of the time it just fell to the ground and fizzled out.

Now, something the kids could really get into – sparklers. Held at arms length, you could wave them about for all of three minutes. There was always one child that would try and grab the molten metal end.

Quick ! Get the first aid kit from the bunker ! It’s behind the gas masks !

Well, that was fun and it’s only a quarter past seven !

There was a wooded area across from our house about two acres in size that was aptly named The Woods. Over the course of the previous month, neighbours would assemble this colossal wood pile at a designated area (designated by who ?) It always looked well structured but I don’t remember their being a Community Flammables Construction Working Party. The whole thing seemed quite organic.

With Mr Fawkes atop (a penny for the Guido doesn’t really work, does it ?) The erection was soon ablaze. No! I’m not talking about Ol’ Man Dirty Dawkins up to his tricks again ! I’ve never known anyone with such a supply of puppies to visit !

With your face like a well skelpt arse and your bum freezing there was a welcome feeling of communal unity. There was no need for ‘authority’ to be watching on with unwarranted scorn and disdain.

But there was always one.

Who let that banger off ! You should have done that in your own back garden. Quick children ! There’s a safe cave in the woods !

Fireworks are banned in many countries and are now only seen in synchronised displays at public events.

Influenced by the popularity of a blockbuster movie, Guy Fawkes has now come to represent broad protest in mask form.

James Sharpe, professor of history at the University of York, has described how Guy Fawkes came to be toasted as “the last man to enter Parliament with honest intentions”

I think he got that right.

I know of no reason
Why the Gunpowder Treason
Should ever be forgot.

(Post by John Allan of Bridgetown, Western Australia – November 2022)

Me and Mr Paul

Paul Fitzpatrick: July 2022, London

I did a piece recently on Santana’s version of The Zombies ‘She’s not There’, and someone followed up by asking what my favourite 70s cover version is.

I tend to go with my gut reaction on these type of things otherwise you end up trawling through your music library, second guessing yourself and choosing songs on the basis that they have a bit of street-cred.

My initial pick was a song I first heard at my local youth club, although I have to admit that I wasn’t even aware it was a cover version at the time – Matthews Southern Comfort’s version of Joni Mitchell’s ‘Woodstock’.

On reflection, I decided that I couldn’t choose the Joni cover, because at its core, the definition of a great cover has got to be when an artist takes a song you’re already familiar with, puts their stamp on it, and makes it even more listenable than the original.

That helped me to narrow it down to my next gut choice – Billy Paul’s version of Elton John’s ‘Your Song’ .

I can remember the first time I heard this track like it was yesterday, I’d come back from a party as you did in those days, to the realisation the morning after, that half your records were missing, replaced with other peoples discs…. the time honoured tradition of writing your name on the record label or cover seemed to make no difference and searching in vain for your Roxy Music – ‘Pyjamarama’ single only to pull out ‘Paper Roses’ by Marie Osmond was to put it mildly – a real pisser!

As it happened, following this particular party I ended up with someone else’s copy of Billy Paul’s ‘Me and Mrs Jones’ and noticed that the B side contained a version of Elton John’s ‘Your Song’.
Out of curiosity and with extremely low expectations, I put the needle on the groove, and then sat transfixed for six and a half minutes as a euphonious masterpiece emitted from the speakers.

It was hard to describe what I was listening to.
It was definitely ‘Your Song’, but not as I knew it.

Part Jazz, part Gospel, part Philly sound, It was a musical feast which had to be played again…. and again…. and a few more times after that.

I was dumbfounded, Billy Paul was a crooner, the married dude who was meeting Mrs Jones ‘every day in the same cafe‘ what was he doing ambushing me like this… with a fricking Elton John ballad?

I remember marching down to my mate Jay’s house armed with the single getting him to close his eyes as I lined it up on his record player to make him listen to it.

Jay and I had similar tastes in music but were constantly trying to outdo each other when it came to presenting new tracks. I needed to introduce him to this musical extravaganza as a matter of priority AND be there to gauge his response.

First Time Hearing – Staying Alive

Apparently gauging first responses to 70s songs is a YouTube phenomenon at the moment but we were all doing it 50 years ago.

I never get tired of listening to Billy Paul’s version of ‘Your Song’, even now.
It runs for 6 minutes 36 seconds but every time it comes to the faded ending I just want it to keep playing.

It’s a classic example of an early Gamble & Huff production driven by Billy Paul’s Jazz-infused vocals and the full might of the MFSB Philly session players, who’ve played on everything from ‘Love Train’ to ‘Disco Inferno’.


So there you have it, my favourite 70s cover.
It may not be the coolest, but it’s my choice and like Billy Paul says, he definitely ‘got a song!’

Of course there are lots of honourable mentions when it comes to great 70s covers so I threw together a quick playlist where in all cases (*bar one) the cover versions are better (in my humble opinion) than the originals.

*It’s a universal fact that it’s impossible to improve on any Steely Dan track….

18 With A Bullet – ‘How Long’ by Ace

Paul Fitzpatrick: London, March 2022

Selected 70s hits from across the pond

How Long by Ace

When I checked my iTunes music library recently, I found to my astonishment that the most played track is a one-hit-wonder from a 70’s pub-rock or blue-eyed soul band, (take your pick) called Ace.
The track is ‘How Long’.

On reflection I shouldn’t have been taken aback.

Firstly – I love the song, it’s timeless
Secondly – It’s got a habit of finding its way onto a lot of my playlists
Thirdly – Unlike many other tracks, I only have one version downloaded, there are no re-mixes, re-edits or remasters, the original version still stands up.

Ace, a British band based in England’s steel town, Sheffield, were formed in 1972 and How Long was their debut single. It would be the bands one and only hit before they fizzled out in 1977.

Taken from the bands eponymous Five a Side album, ‘How Long’ went on to become a massive hit in the US, reaching number 1 on Cashbox in March 1975 whilst scraping into the top 20 in the UK.

Written by Paul Carrack the bands vocalist and keyboard player, most people assume the songs lament is aimed at a cheating spouse but the muse for this particular song was actually the bands bass player, who had been caught moonlighting with a rival band…. The Sutherland Brothers & Quiver – “the friends with their fancy persuasions” in the songs barbed lyrics.

With it’s pulsating bass intro, soulful vocals and tight, rhythmic groove the song was the epitome of ‘Blue-Eyed Soul’, a genre championed at the time by artists like Hall & Oates, the Bee-Gees, Robert Palmer and Boz Scaggs.

Unlike the rest of the band post Ace, Paul Carrack went on to enjoy a successful career both as a solo artist and as a sideman in groups as diverse as Roxy Music, Squeeze, Eric Clapton, Roger Waters and most famously with Mike + The Mechanics where he was the lead vocalist on their uber hit – ‘The Living Years’.


A three and a half minute jukebox classic that got plenty of airplay in its day, ‘How Long’ has been covered amongst others by Rod Stewart and Bobby Womack, although perhaps the best cover and the closest to the Motown vibe that Ace were aiming for is a Northern Soul version by JJ Barnes in 1977.


The song is another great example of how the best ‘one hit wonders’ can prevail, maintaining kudos for artists that didn’t achieve all that much in their hey day. It even popped up on one of my sons playlists the other day which brought a big smile to my face.

Carrack is very much alive and kicking, and 48 years after its release, ‘How Long’ is still the pinnacle of his live shows.
He is currently touring Europe as a solo artist and below is a recent short interview with him, where he talks about Ace and their glorious one hit wonder….

It Must Be Love, Love, Love…

Paul Fitzpatrick: London, February 2022

For those of us a bit longer in the tooth, Valentines day has turned into a bit of a routine if we’re being honest.

Gone is the nervous anxiety we used to experience from dispatching a Valentine card to a teenage crush who’d no clue you’d been admiring them from afar…. or at least from the other side of the playground.

Unfortunately those heady days are in the dim and distant past, and the euphoria has been replaced by a tired and trusted template for most of us….

Step 1) Try to write something witty in said card that’s neither too flippant or too soppy, oh and something different from last year (if you can remember what you actually wrote 12 months ago!).

Step 2) Procure an over-priced bunch of flowers, inflated by 50% for the special day… but never from a petrol station (we’ve all learned that lesson the hard way!)

Step 3) Source a romantic dine-in meal for two from your favourite supermarket complete with customary Prosecco and chocolates.

Truth be told we all know that Valentines Day has become a commercial juggernaut and whilst the tradition should have every reason to grind to a halt in todays age of instant messaging, it’s still chugging along just fine…

In the UK alone, just under half the population spend money on their Valentine beau’s and around £1.3 billion is spent on cards, flowers, chocolates, etc, with an estimated 25 million Valentine cards being sent.

Whilst we all appreciate, nay expect, a Valentine card from a long-term partner, if we’re being honest, it’s akin to receiving a birthday card.

As we all know, the authentic Valentine experience centres on intrigue, ensuring that all the fun is in the detective work…. looking for clues to uncover the secret admirer.

I’m going back 50 years or so here of course to when we were impressionable teens and such things were deemed important.

I did receive one anonymous Valentine card… when I was 13, but I didn’t dare think about who it was from until I forensically compared the handwriting to my Mum’s in order to rule her out of the equation.  

I’ve still no idea who sent it but thank you whoever you were, I should have framed it… although having a 50 year old Valentine card hanging up in your living room wall would be a bit weird.

I also sent one anonymous Valentine… to a girl in Primary 7, I say anonymous but when I walked into class that day with a big chunk of hair missing because someone had convinced me that enclosing a ‘lock of hair’ was a Valentine tradition…. I probably gave the game away.

With no comprehension of how meagre a ‘lock of hair’ should be, I struggled to close the envelope due to the mass of curls I’d tried to wedge into the card.
I imagine the curls sprung to life like a jack in the box as soon as the envelope was opened, attacking her like the creature from Alien and scarring the poor girl for life.

One thing I remember about Valentines back then was the trend to utilise every inch of space on both the card and the envelope with messages, acronyms and rhymes.

Classics like –
Postie postie don’t be slow, be like Elvis, go man go”

Or

SWALK (Sealed With A Loving Kiss)

The origin of acronyms on envelopes stems from soldiers writing to their sweethearts during the war, using coded initials to convey secret messages.
Some acronyms were sweet like HOLLAND (Hope Our Love Lasts And Never Dies) whilst others were a bit more risqué like NORWICH (Nickers Off Ready When I Get Home).

We were normally en-route to school when the postman came a-knocking on the 14th Feb, which gave opportunity for some hopeless romantics to day-dream about an avalanche of mail waiting for them on their doorstep.

For a good mate of mine this scenario actually happened, although it wasn’t on the 14th of February.

Unbeknown to him, an ex-girlfriend who wasn’t best pleased with him sent his picture, a dewy-eyed story about him being lonesome, and a heart-felt request for female pen-pals, to one of the popular teen mags of the day. When he got home from school his Mum greeted him at the door with a sackful of mail and a hearty – “what have you been up to now, you little shit?”.

Of course, at the time he had no idea what was going on, but he still had hours of fun ploughing through his ‘fan-mail’, replying to a selected few.

It’s a great story, but it’s his to tell, so I’ll see if I can entice him to share it in all its glory on the blog sometime.

Coming home to a bagful of fan-mail from strangers who thought you were cute must have been uplifting, but I suspect he, like the rest of us, probably falls into one of three camps when it comes to Valentine’s Day now…

Camp 1)
The – ‘it’s a scam and a waste of money, and I refuse to be ripped-off ’ brigade.
This guy is normally single!

Camp 2)
The – ‘I’m a hopeless romantic, and it’s a special day’ brigade.
This guy is normally single!

And perhaps the most popular….

Camp 3)
The – ‘I better make an effort or else I’ll be in the shit’ brigade.

To which I am a fully paid-up member!!

Happy Valentines Day to all, when it comes….

playground slide.

(Post by Colin ‘Jackie’ Jackson of Glasgow – February 2022)

(Playground slide)

Arguably the most popular attraction in the park playground, the slide (or chute as it was more often referred to in Glasgow) would at peak times have queues of the following waiting their ‘shot:’

THE GALLUS EXTROVERT:  sliding on their knees or even backwards was their forté. Their propensity to show off was often curtailed when they hit a sticky patch on the slide, the sudden stop at best grazing their knees, at worst hurtling them over the side.

THE MENTALIST: no fear from this one – head first, arms by the side. Those who had previously slid right off the end could be distinguished by their chipped teeth and black eyes. Experience would eventually lead to them at least extend their arms above their head on future descents.

THE HOGGER: this selfish little git would slide to the bottom and instead of joining the end of the queue back up the steps, would try to clamber back up the slide itself, thus preventing the next in line taking their turn.

THE TANDEM SLIDERS: it would seem like a wizard weez at the time, but invariably the kid at the back, legs placed either side of their pal in front, would receive painful friction burns from the narrow sides of the slide.

THE EVIL EXPERIMENTALIST: consumed by the quest for speed, this nutter would smear Fairy Liquid on the chute, resulting in some poor, unsuspecting child ending up in the sand pit, some ten yards away.

THE DOG: there was always a dog! Usually a collie. They even had the audacity to skip the queue. No manners, these canines.

(Queue for children’s slide)

_________

caravan holiday hell in the ’70s

(Caravan hell – 1970s)

I’d have been new to the ranks of teenager in 1971 when my parents came up with the whizz-bang idea of buying a caravan.

“… we’ll now be able to take weekend breaks throughout the year, whenever we fancy. Won’t this be splendid?”

‘Splendid?!’ Are you mental? Weekends? What happens to my athletics / cross country races? What about my football? My school parties? Saturday morning cartoons on the telly? What possesses people to forsake their nice spacious homes to go live in a claustrophobic, formica lined box on wheels?

(1970s caravan)

I was already counting the days till I could be legally left at home to fend for myself. I’d even willingly do household / garden chores while the family were away. Maybe we could broker some kind of deal? Creosote the fence or something?

Resistance was futile though, at least for a couple of years.

“Do you fancy going for a golfing trip to Pittenweem this weekend?”

If I’m going to stay in a five, or even four / three star hotel, then maybe.

“It’ll be fun,” they lied.

And so it was … frequent weekends were spent collecting the caravan from the storage facility in the neighbouring town; bringing it to the house; uncoupling it overnight and loading it with clothes and provisions for the weekend; reconnecting the car and driving to Fife, usually arriving just in time for lunch.

Reverse that procedure on the Sunday afternoon, ensuring we arrived back before the storage facility closed, and we had just enough time to squeeze in a round of golf and fish supper on the Saturday, and a walk along the windswept and bitingly cold beach on the Sunday morning.

Oh yeah – this was fun, alright!

Then, horror of horrors! Emboldened by admittance into the Caravan Club of Great Britain, my excited parents announced we’d now be taking an additional summer holiday. An additional week. In Dornoch.  In the caravan!

(Dornoch caravan park.)

Heavens above! Dornoch, even in 2021, is a good four and a half hours drive away. Fifty years ago, and towing a bleedin’ caravan …. a letter with a second class stamp would get there quicker.

“It’s a lovely caravan site – right by the golf course. And there’s a toilet and shower block too.”

And that’s the best selling point you can come up with?

I suppose having a site toilet block is better than the family sharing the chemical filled potty that stank out the wee cubby-hole that passed as a toilet in most caravans. Oh, perish the thought! (We actually used that space for storing the golf clubs.) But really, is it such a privileged luxury to waken in the dead of night, scratch around for a torch, pull on a pair of wellies / sandals  / golf spikes, and trudge a hundred and fifty yards to a damp, smelly and cold toilet? I think not.

We’d play golf in the morning and weather permitting, another round in late afternoon / early evening. This was summer in Scotland, though. Weather has a habit of messing with your plans. So we’d then be dragged off on some Godforsaken sight-seeing trip.

John o’ Groats? Nothing to see. Still wet there. Dunnet Head? Naff all there either. And just as wet. Thurso did have a chip shop, though.

(Dining / bed area, 1970s caravan)

Back at the caravan, my mum, not renowned for her culinary skills, bless her, would prepare a hearty evening meal. Something along the lines of tinned Heinz macaroni on toast, followed by Birds Eye instant custard and jam. Yes. Jam.

Mmmmnn! Yummy!

(Kitchen area / dining area – 1970s caravan)

Meals would be served up in instalments because the ineffectual cooker, fired by a suspicious and sinister looking gas canister, had the power of a Christmas candle. While we waited in not-so-eager anticipation, the combination of body-heat times four, damp clothing and smoke from the burnt toast (told you, didn’t I?) would cause the windows to steam up. A decision then had to be made: open the windows to clear them and die from hypothermia, or risk asphyxiation from the steam, smoke and ever-present hint of leaking calor gas.

Thankfully, I managed eventually to extricate myself from these tortuous events, playing the ‘I best stay behind to study for my exams,” card.

A couple of years later, freed from the shackles of holidaying with parents, a few pals who like me were leaving school in the summer of 1976, decided to go away together. Benidorm? Majorca? Blackpool?

Nope. We had all recently bought our first motorbikes – one had a car, a Morris 1100, I think.

( Suzuki TS125 – my first / only motor bike .)

Why don’t we drive over to St Andrews and rent (no! please, no! I can sense what’s coming ….) a caravan for the week? It’ll be a right laugh.

Noooooooooo!!!!

I’d love to tell you it was a right laugh. I’d love to tell you it was a right nightmare. I’d love to tell you it was a right anything. Truth is, I can tell you next to nothing! It’s all a bit of a haze.

I do recall we upset someone in a neighbouring caravan who was always on our case. So we did what any self-respecting gallus teenagers would do, and threw a pan-loaf worth of bread chunks onto the roof of his caravan in the dead of night.

(Angry bird.)

Yeah, you’re there – come first light, his caravan was besieged by a flock of noisy, ravenous seagulls pecking the bread and stomping around on the roof.

Have some of that!

(Pernod. )

Other than that, my only other recollection is suffering my worst ever hangover after a night on Pernod and lemonade. That took care of one of the seven days.

The hangover from Hell – and in a caravan.

I’d said it before, but this time I meant it. To this day, I’ve never even sipped a Pernod.

And to this day, I’ve never again set foot in a caravan.

I’d rather wash my mouth out with soap.

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lady gaggia.

(Post by Andrea Grace Burn of East Yorkshire )

Hawkins Wine Bar.

Having spent a good deal of my teens frequenting pubs around West Birmingham during the mid 1970s, it seemed perfectly natural to progress to working in them. My ambitions were to go on the stage but a girl has to make a living, right?

As soon as I left school in 1978, and with no particular place to go, I headed for an interview with a new wine bar that had just opened in the city centre – very upmarket!   Harpers occupied a large corner site near the police station and Accident and Emergency Hospital, so I figured I’d be safe walking late at night to catch the bus from outside the ‘Back of Rackham’s’.

(Rackham’s was an elegant department store occupying a whole city block on Corporation Street in Birmingham. Rumours abounded that ladies of a certain type frequented the pavements outside the back door and Mom always warned me against hanging around there.   I walked many times around the ‘Back of Rackham’s’ as I grew up and never once saw anything improper going on, much to my dismay.)

With Mom’s advice to ‘look smart and mind my manners’ ringing in my ears, I borrowed her fashionable black and white dog-tooth checked suit (shortening the skirt, obviously); teaming it with my white leather cowgirl boots, white cotton lace gloves and an antique parasol.

With the audacity of youth, I strutted into Harpers one sunny October afternoon and stopped in my tracks to gaze in wonder at the fabulous fixtures and fittings. The long mahogany bar was backed by a reclaimed church façade and bevelled mirrors, which reflected the light from the enormous curved, windows. I felt very grown up.

(Opposite: Harpers interior – now Sound Bar.)

Assistant Manager Tristan must have noticed me gawping and bounded over, shook my hand and ushered me to a table. He had a big Zapata moustache and an equally big, bright smile. 

“Hello Darling, you must be Andrea?” 

“Yes thanks, I am.” (Going well so far) 

“So, you’ve come about the position as bar maid and waitress?” 

“Yes thanks, I have.” 

“Have you had any previous experience?” 

“No, but I learn fast!” 

Tristan flashed his brilliant smile at me, touching my arm lightly: 

“I love your outfit darling – especially the parasol! Wonderful!” 

“Thanks!” 

“So, when can you start?” 

“Right now.” (Mom had said I should appear ‘keen’.) 

“OK darling, I’ll just have to introduce you to the manager.

Tristan trotted away to find said manager; a tall man with a weak handshake which worried me slightly as Dad had always warned me of men with a “limp” hand shake.  (“Honey, you know where you stand with a firm grip.”)

“This is Andrea –  isn’t she gorgeous? She can start right away and she’s a fast learner.” 

“I bet she is,” said the manager as he looked me up and down.  My interview was apparently over and I was asked to start work the next morning at 7:30 am  to   serve continental style breakfast and coffee from eight. I was put to work on the food counter, serving cold meats and cheese, croissants and pastries and the infamous Gaggia espresso machine. This great red and chrome beast occupied the whole length of the food bar, with its hot water spouts, coffee grinders and stacks of white cups and saucers. 

Getting to grips with the Beast, as it became known, wasn’t easy – it was all in the wrist action. Customers would stand behind the counter and watch as the other girls and I twisted and twirled the mighty coffee grinders and polished the spouts in time to the music; steam hissing into the steel milk jugs. We could pull quite a crowd. 

Having to start work so early meant I was often the first person there with the cleaners, one of whom was spooked by rumours that Harpers was haunted. There were stories that the bar stools had been found one morning stacked on top of each other – just like the kitchen chairs in Poltergeist! The lamps behind the bar moved and footsteps could be heard running up from the basement kitchen, where people had died during WW2 as they sheltered from the bombing.  I hoped against hope to see a ghost but never did – but the old building certainly had an odd atmosphere.

Andrea in 1978 … and in standard issue Hawkins beige cords.

Reports of hauntings didn’t put punters off, as solicitors from the Law Courts next door poured into Harpers for their ‘working lunches’.  I worked the mighty Beast in beige cord jeans so tight I had to lie down and zip them up using a coat hanger.  I was voted ‘Gaggia Girl 1979’ – my claim to fame!

As I worked the bar one evening, Andy Gray, – the Villa footballer – came in and asked the other girls and me if we would like to come over to his new night club? I had to think about that for, oh, maybe two seconds. Imagine, the girl from Virginia who didn’t know what the Villa was, now being asked to come check out a night club owned by a Villa player!  Ha – what would the lads at the God Awful school think now? 

The nightclub was the most fantastic, exotic place I had ever been! Like a dark cave, it went back and back through a series of rooms beneath the railway arches at Snow Hill station. It became a new romantic club in the early ’80s with live bands such as Roxy Music and Duran Duran, but when it opened in ’79 it pumped out disco. TheHarpers staff became regulars after our shift ended; strutting our stuff fired up on Pernod and coke, great music and youth. I crawled home at 2am to sleep it off, get up at five and do it all over again.

Back at Harpers the buzz was always at fever pitch as we worked to the heady disco beat on a Bose Sound System:  ‘Le Freak’’, ‘Ladies Night’, ‘Instant Replay’, ‘You Make Me Feel, Mighty Real’ beneath the huge mirror balls and innovative laser shows. I loved every minute. 

It was in this heady atmosphere, that I first met George Melly when he was booked to play a gig at Harpers with John Chiltern and his Feet Warmers. I was asked to go down into the staff room to serve drinks to the band and was introduced to Mr. Melly, who was sitting with his large frame overextending the rather small chair; resplendent in a snappy pinstriped suit with wide lapels and a large snap brimmed fedora hat.  He smiled his languid smile and said something like:   

“So, my dear, how kind of you to bring old George a drink.” 

As the lights in the bar dimmed to a spotlight, Mr. Melly sashed onto the floor with a wicked gleam in his eye and a whisky in his hand as he belted out Bessie Smith’s ‘Kitchen Man,’ which was rich with lewd innuendo.

I became a big fan, following his gigs from London’s Ronnie Scotts to the Malvern Theatre, where he had to stop the show and tell the be-jewelled, staid audience to clap on the off-beat: “This is Jazz!” he growled.

 I saw George Melly several more times, including an appearance he made on BBC Pebble Mill’s ‘Six Fifty-five Special’ – a surreal experience.  I was invited to meet him in the Green Room, where he sat in his trade mark Zoot suit and snap brim Fedora before he went on air. Whether he remembered me or not is doubtful, but he spoke to me as though I was his best friend:

“Hello my dear, how kind of you to come to see old George.” He still twinkled.

With him was Kenneth Williams, who was staring up the nostrils of  70s actor and singer David Soul, giving him an impromptu lesson on how to speak with an English accent:

“Enunciate, dear boy, e-nun-ciate.”

I had just witnessed a Master Class.

Before I left Harpers, we had a New Year’s Eve fancy dress party with a ‘Glamorous Hollywood’ theme. All staff were expected to do a ‘turn’ and having recently had my permed hair cut into a short crop, I went along dressed as Liza Minnelli as ‘Sally Bowles’ from “Cabaret” in bowler hat, black waistcoat, fishnets and towering stiletto’s.  Grabbing a bar stool, I did my best, although I couldn’t for the life of me bend backwards over that stool! My brother Dale tagged along wearing a full suit of armour. Unable to sit down, he stood all evening with cigarette smoke curling through the grid on his visor. 

Liza Minnelli as Andrea … no, wait …??

The drag acts were outstanding that evening, including ‘Fred and Ginger’ who thrilled us with their rendition of ‘Cheek to Cheek’ and ‘Rita Hayworth’ slinking across the floor to ‘Put the Blame on Mame’. We danced until dawn, seeing in 1979 in considerable style and with heavy hangovers!

Oh to be eighteen again!

(Copyright: Andrea Burn May 1st 2021)

members can now post directly onto our facebook group.

GOOD NEWS!
When Paul and I started the blog around ten months ago, we took some time to gauge what would work, how best present the memories and how to organically grow the readership.

The intention has always been, and so remains, for the blog to be the focal point of sharing stories from The Seventies. However, there is also a case to offer ‘quick hit’ conversations centred around what we regard as the ‘Greatest Decade’ so the Facebook Group has now been reconfigured, allowing members to post nostalgia and memories direct.

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As Buzby said: it’s good to talk.’