Wednesday, 18 August 2010

one of these things first

And here I am again.  After a week or so away exploring the further reaches of Albion's shores, I'm back sitting here with a lot of food for thought. I've finished Rob Young's Electric Eden which at some 650 pages is a mighty tome.  It'll take a while to put some of the thoughts that came to me whilst reading it together, but it is in some ways a culmination of my recent year or so's reading list.

Interestingly, whilst we've been sojourning in Cornwall in Harvey, I've had a lot of time to think about much of the subject matter of the book.  We took in the Eden Project, the Lost Gardens of Heligan (we managed to find them) and, of course, the St Austell's brewery tour.  Well, it wouldn't be a holiday without one, would it? But this all came together at the same time.  However, after spending a week reading the book and thinking about all the lovely pastoral English music mentioned, I immediately started listening to Los Lobos as soon as I got home.  Ironically enough, the new album - Tin Can Trust - arrived the same day firstborn arrived in Mexico - a sort of cultural exchange, I guess.

Electric Eden was a mighty undertaking - to write I mean, not to read - and despite the omissions and occasional mistakes, it was a joy to read.  Personally, I would have liked John Tams to have been featured and I certainly would like to have seen The New Merlin's Cave discussed. It was a folk club near King's Cross in the mid-70s and its resident floor singers were - for god's sake, this is almost unbelievable - Richard & Linda Thompson, Simon Nicol (aka Hokey Pokey), Steve Ashley, the Dransfields and Royston Wood. I spent a few evenings there less than sober to be sure!  I remember one evening where RT was showing a friend of mine how to play Roll Over Vaughn Williams whilst Steve Ashley and I tried to drink each other under the table whilst some poor sap was trying to perform on stage!** Years later at Hitchin Folk Club I met up with him again and he remembered the evening well.  I'd already formed an acquaintance with RT et al as I had booked them for the fateful gig at Stevenage College mentioned in Patrick Humphries' biography of RT.  I was also at a major discussion at a University College Union gig (5/12/73*) just before RT formed Sour Grapes and a huge group of us (the late Tim Hart amongst others was certainly present) tried to come up with a name for the band as they were just about to go on tour with Traffic. This was all in the days before the conversion to Islam.  They all drank quite heftily then, I can assure you!  Anyway the name "Sour Grapes" never figured that evening - "Thompson's Gazelle" was the favourite.  My own rather immature attempts ( I was about 17 then) were dismissed out of hand.  Understandably.I won't bore you with them but they were more akin to a Viz idea of band names than a serious attempt at "making it".

Still, tempus fugit and all that.  Where was I?  Oh yes, thinking about all this pastoral stuff.  The 1970s were an interesting time, certainly, and much of the music has lived on.  My wanderings in Cornwall and the reading of this book have certainly brought some things together but I fear that it is all for another day.  Right now, I'm very much in the present and need to finish making dinner and have a beer.

Did you know that whistles used to be part of old tankards so that drinkers could whistle for another drink (so the waiter could bring a tray . . .) and this is the reason we use the term to "wet your whistle"? Oh well, suit yourself.

* No, I don't have an encyclopeadic mind, it's in Clinton Heylin's flawed book on RT's gigs and recordings.  It's flawed because it doesn't have the aforementioned Stevenage College gig in it (10/1/74 - sadly, I still have the contract!) where Hokey Pokey supported Al Stewart.

**I think that in retrospect, it would have been better the other way round!  I'd have liked to have had a personal lesson from RT. Hinton and Wall's excellent biography of Ashley Hutchings gives more info on New Merlin's Cave - it was set up by Steve Ashley and only lasted a few months.  I feel privileged to have attended it. (this written 23/8/10)

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