I used to spend a lot of time in our family shed in the mid-sixties. At the age of six or seven, I had found something in there that thrilled and fascinated me. Goose pimples bubbled up on the soft skin of my arms and I felt flushed with excitement as I pushed open the shed door and settled in for another session.
A session with an abandoned, yet fully operational, wind-up gramophone and a box of old records.
The gramophone was a big beast, and, as tall as I was, I had to stand on a box to reach the turntable or to slot in a change of needle. Forever in search of a crisper sound, I would sift through the Players Navy Cut tobacco tin, which was home to a colourful collection of needles, in search of the one which would deliver the definitive audio goods. Although however many times I changed it, and I went through the tin so often that each and every needle had a fair go, it always sounded pretty much the same. A bit ropey. But, ah, what I’d give now to be able to hear it again.
The records were made up of classical pieces, mainly. Ten inches of doomy, dirge-drenched shellac from which I could extract some fun only by playing them at greatly increased speeds and, a few years later, shooting them with an air rifle. But there was one glorious exception:
Gamblin’ Man c/w Puttin’ on the Style by Lonnie Donegan
So thrilled was I when I first played this, that I swear I was shaking too much to flip it over and drop the weighty arm onto the outer edges of the B-side but instead had to go looking for stag beetles until I’d calmed down enough to return for another blast.
I played this single record endlessly, hour upon hour, day after day. I’m surprised there was anything left of it at the end of the summer holidays. God, I wish I still had it. Lonnie set me off, like he did so many more, on the path to other musical wonders.
Memories of trips home at night from visiting grandparents in Worthing are brought rushing back by hearing the briefest snatch of a record we didn’t have but was seemingly never off the radio during these journeys, Downtown by Petula Clark. The smell of the Ford Zodiac, my mum’s perfume, and my old man’s Embassy fags as he chain-smoked his way through 60 miles while making only a few stops to down a couple of pints or so. The car-sickness…
I liked two of the 45’s which my parents had indoors. The Everly’s Cathy’s Clown and, best of all, Georgie Fame’s Yeh Yeh. When I say ‘liked’, what I mean is I liked them to the point of hollow-eyed obsession. I liked them until they might have begged for silent mercy and a quiet day in their sleeves. But I was ruthless. I played these on heavy rotation, and while one was playing, I would read the label of the other. Again. Or lean right over and attempt to read the labels as the records spun round on the indoors radiogram.
Thanks to Spotify, I re-connected with Georgie Fame recently via the tremendous album 20 Beat Classics, home to gem after shining gem.
If you’d forgotten about, or even never tried (for shame!) Georgie Fame, this is a splendid way back in.
Best of all, I’ve still got the 7-inch singles of Cathy’s Clown and Yeh Yeh. Indeed, in the face of recent severe flood warnings, they were the very first things which made it out of the danger zone and to a high and dry place of safety. Yeh yeh.