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Wednesday, July 23, 2014

What my grandparents wore to the beach

I guess this was taken on the beach at Filey in the late 1950s. Left to right: my maternal grandfather Leonard, me, my grandmother Lois (pronounced Loyce.)

That's how my grandparents dressed to go to the seaside. If they were going to be seen in public there was no question of not putting on their best. Leonard wore a shirt (possibly with a stiff collar), tie, stout sweater, equally substantial trousering, golfing socks, highly-polished shoes and his best cap. Lois appears to be wearing pearls and is certainly guarding her best handbag.

I never saw my grandad out in public in a shirt without a tie. The very notion of him owning a pair of shorts would have seemed disrespectful. You could say the same about granny and trousers.

Granny and grandad weren't in any way posh but they were profoundly respectable. The clothes they wore were the outward expression of that respectability. Particularly on the beach.




Tuesday, July 22, 2014

When Ralph Coates was traded across the Harry Fenton Line

It's the time of year football clubs shuffle their playing staffs, moving young stars on to bigger clubs, despatching yesterday's stars to Hull.

These days they'll tend to arrive all looking the same, stepping out of blacked-out SUVs in skinny jeans and expensively distressed tee shirts, accompanied by disreputable-looking agents, everyone nervously fondling their mobiles.

If they sign they will swiftly move into the local millionaires' enclave. Once installed behind the security gates with their wife, family and dependent relatives, they need only to establish the route to the training ground, golf club and beauty parlour to be able to pick up life precisely as it was at their previous club a few hundred miles away.

 It's an interesting time to be re-reading The Glory Game, Hunter Davies's definitive inside story of the 1971-72 season at Tottenham Hotspur. It begins with the arrival of Ralph Coates from Burnley for £190,000, at that time a cash record for a British player. When Ralph was first told of the deal he said "no player's worth that", which gives you some idea of his modesty.

He and his wife don't have a house and so the club put them in a first floor flat on Green Lanes in Palmers Green. There's no phone or TV. I've lived near Green Lanes for the last forty years and there's never been a time when you could have imagined it as a suitable place to put a top footballer.  Even though it was widely accepted back then that top footballers were wealthy men, earning in some cases more than £200 a week, the Coateses worry about being able to afford the £15,000 needed to buy a house in the South.

When they get changed for their first pre-season training session, the rest of the squad, who were predominantly Southerners, stare at Coates's pointed shoes and narrow trousers, still the mark of the Northerner who hadn't gone South. They congratulate him on his shirt. He says thanks, not realising they're joking.

1971 was the year the flared trouser began to arrive on every High Street via chains like Take Six and Harry Fenton. After that we were all just as in fashion or out of fashion as each other. Maybe Ralph was the last man to move from the old world to the new.


Wednesday, July 09, 2014

Was that the most men-against-boys football match of all time

Imagine you were managing an under-13 football team and their star striker got injured before a big cup tie. They might suggest to you that they wanted to take the shirt of the missing player out and hold it up  during the pre-match formalities. It's the kind of idea over-excited small boys have.

You would quietly tell them that you didn't think that was a good idea. You'd be thinking, I want the team concentrating on what they're going to do in the match, not indulging in this gesture of self-pity.

They lost 7-1. The Brazilians were playing a sentimental game in their heads. The Germans were playing an actual game on the pitch. I loved it. Half the fun of football is watching it go wrong for other people. What I liked about it most was the muted German celebrations after each goal. I think we need more of that kind of thing.

Friday, July 04, 2014

Fifty years ago this week I went to see "A Hard Day's Night". Last night I went to see it again

Fifty years ago this week I went to see "A Hard Day's Night" at the Pioneer cinema in Dewsbury. This was situated on the top floor of the Coop and was reachable via a very slow lift behind a metal grille. In those days nobody took any notice of a film's starting time. You might turn up halfway through, watch until the end and then stay to watch it from the beginning. I watched "A Hard Day's Night" three times that day. It was enthralling.

It was enthralling because it showed the Beatles on a screen yay high and brought them up this close. Nothing had done that before. TV still had end of the pier production values and so we had never seen them via a medium that matched their splendour. Cinema tickets, unlike records, were affordable. That's why the release of "A Hard Day's Night" was a moment of greater impact than the release of the two albums they put out before its soundtrack. Everybody shared it.

Last night I went to a screening of a new digital version of the film at the BFI. The director Dick Lester was interviewed by Mark Lewisohn. Lester pointed out that it was only made because the music division of United Artists saw it as a way to get a best-selling soundtrack album, it was shot in black and white because they didn't think Beatlemania would last long enough to justify the investment in colour and the brass at the company thought it was good but assumed the dialogue would be dubbed to make it more intelligible to an American audience. They were told this would not be possible, not least because there simply wasn't time. There's nothing in media and entertainment that can't be ruined by more money and more time. There's no better illustration of that principle than "A Hard Day's Night".

I find its comedy a bit leaden nowadays. There's one joke in the film and it goes like this. Don't grown-ups say some strange things? Whether it's Richard Vernon's "I fought the war for you" routine or Wilfred Brambell's Irish republican pub talk, Victor Spinetti's overwrought luvviespeak or Kenneth Haigh's assumption of the voice of "yoof", the message is this is a middle-aged world in which the young people are only occasionally allowed to feature. The fans in the crowd scenes are all wearing Famous Five clothes - pleated skirts, cardigans, winter coats and clumpy shoes - as if they've been decked out for a school concert. They're children.

However I now realise that the music is even better than I thought it was at the time. I also see that Lester's great achievement was in finding a way to deliver their performances to the screen and happening upon a template which still haunts anyone who tries to point a camera at a pop group. "If I Fell" and "I'm Happy Just To Dance With You" are the original and most powerful pop videos because they depict the Beatles ostensibly rehearsing for their TV appearance. That means they're playing but also working  and just enjoying being together. They exchange looks that say, right now we're the luckiest people in the world. It's that feeling that they're playing for their own delight that laid down the way that all bands would seek to behave even to this day. Lester talked about how they had an indivisible solidarity that saw them through. They're the Beatles and you're not. "I hope I managed to communicate how I felt about them," says Lester. He did.

There was such outrageous vitality in their music at the time that it didn't need overselling. The vibrancy of the 1964 sound would never be surpassed. It's amazing that they could do it. In the midst of the madness of Beatlemania they wrote and recorded thirteen absolutely brilliant songs for the film. That's seven to go on the soundtrack and another six you can put on side two. Nobody had ever done that before. Nobody's done it since.

The uncanny perfection of "If I Fell" and "I Should Have Known Better" endures after everything else has gone. It filled that luxurious cinema last night as surely as it warmed the Pioneer in Dewsbury fifty years ago this week. We sat there rapt. When the cowbell came in on the middle eight of the title song I felt the screen was about to burst with joy.




Sunday, June 29, 2014

Mis-remembering Bobby Womack

It's good that BBC TV News acknowledge the deaths of artists like Bobby Womack but I'm increasingly irritated by the way they feel they have to misrepresent history in order to justify doing it.

He had hits with "It's All Over Now" and "Across 110th Street", they said. Well, of course, it's the Rolling Stones who had the hit with the first song and when "Across 110th Street" came out in 1972 it got to number 19 in the black singles chart in the USA, which even in those days was hardly a smash. It was only in 1997 when Quentin Tarantino put it on the soundtrack of Jackie Brown that it came to wider attention, or at least to the attention of those people who end up putting together news bulletins in 2014.

The bulletin went on to say that he'd played Glastonbury a while back in front of an audience including everyone from small children to grandparents. The implication was that Bobby had drawn all those people there, which I don't think he would have claimed. Then there was a brief interview with an old bloke in this year's crowd who remembered seeing him and said he liked him because he was, well, old.

I suppose people like Womack are a problem for the news machine. Not obscure enough to be regarded as underrated (indeed he was always being talked up by people like Keith Richards) and not famous enough to able to depend on the people at home having actually heard of him.

Saturday, June 28, 2014

Pythons and privilege

Finished The Python Years: Diaries 1969-1979 by Michael Palin. Really interesting. You get the impression Cleese was living beyond his means from early on and that Idle always saw himself as a member of the jet set, which probably helps explain this year's reunion. These people have lifestyles that have to be maintained.

But even modest Michael doesn't really appreciate how privileged he is; or if he does he doesn't let on. In 1979 he's asked to open a fete at the local boys secondary school. He does it in the hope that his own boys will be able to get in to the school when they're old enough. Don't think that was ever in doubt. If you're famous enough to open the fete, you're famous enough to open lots of other doors. It's the kind of power celebrities prefer to play down.

Friday, June 27, 2014

The Premier League and England. It's a lose-lose situation.

England's top footballers won't get any better until they play overseas.

That means that some overseas team has to want to buy them. Since our top players are over-priced they don't.

The English players also have to want to go overseas. Since our top players are frightened of abroad, they don't.

Most of the overseas players who play in the UK are better for the experience. They're exposed to a different way of doing things. They improve their language skills. They get out of their comfort zone. They meet and mix with players from all over the world.

Meanwhile the Premier League is doubly bad for the England team. The amount of money washing about in it ensures that our best players never go overseas to get better while guaranteeing that the best overseas players come here to get better.

It's a lose-lose.