Song of songs by Trevor Plumbly
I’m sick to death of American politics. I want to write about something more uplifting than the daily doings of Biden, Trump and Co. What about music? Like most folk, I don’t have a tuneful voice; British education tried to correct that by holding ‘music’ periods in infant schools. Ours involved a rail thin Miss Folster thumping away at a piano in an effort to nurture a gang of misfits into choral harmony. It was a brave effort on her part, but doomed to failure, largely due to the song sheet. If she’d have stuck with the likes of “My Old Man said Follow The Van” it might have worked, but imagine 20 odd snot-nosed embryonic thugs belting through “All Things Bright And Beautiful” and you’ll get the picture. To rub it in Miss Folster always insisted on closing with “Jesus Wants Me for a Sunbeam”. Looking back, I can only assume that the Son of God must have been pretty desperate for illumination that year.
Song and dance
Bruised by the early choral fiasco, I avoided music for the next few years, until rock and roll arrived. Since I could neither dance nor sing, I rejected Elvis: there just didn’t seem any point to the guy. There I was bursting with roving hormones, desperate for a sexual passport and listening to someone mumbling about blue suede shoes didn’t seem the way to go.
It was a tough time for the more thoughtful: popular lyrics confined young women to being ‘chicks’, ‘babes’ or worse ‘dolls’, whilst the males attempted to lure them with monosyllabic chat, drainpipe trousers and winkle-picker shoes; strange days indeed. Beyond provoking pubescent female hysteria the Beatles didn’t add much, “I Wanna Hold Your Hand” and “Yeah, Yeah, Yeah!” didn’t do it for me either, I obviously needed more than a couple of chords and a bit of falsetto to gain musical appreciation. It was a needful time, I was a growing lad, life was riddled with emotional uncertainties and I was living through the crap. Country music opened the door: cheating women, dogs and horses conking, real stuff! Hank Williams proved beyond doubt that life had it in for a lot of poor sods like me.
I’m gonna tell you how it’s gonna be!
The pop explosion of the early 60s amounted to musical brainwashing. Fans became afflicted with a rhythmic tic just listening to the stuff, apparently it proved they were ‘with it’. Unable to produce an authentic twitch, I was forced to socialise without ‘it’. For the groups life was simple, all that was needed was long hair and a power source and bingo you’re a star! Herman’s Hermits, Gerry and The Pacemakers, The Dave Clark Five et al, all came, and mercifully left without much of a musical legacy.
I did listen to some rock around that time, a fair bit of The Rolling Stones: they had a dark, bluesy edge, outside the stage antics Mick Jagger could actually sing and the group were musicians more than dolled up show ponies. If you want confirmation listen to “This Could Be The Last Time”. Another group I listened to around that time was Credence Clearwater Revival: John Fogarty on “Proud Mary” and “Born On The Bayou’ placed him above ‘pop singer’ status and unlike most of the junk churned out round that time it’s still pretty good listening.
“A voice that came from you and me”
The folk scene suited me: I found a thoughtful expression much easier to maintain than co-ordinated movement, Dylan finally lifted popular music above waist level, “Blowing In The Wind” didn’t affect me much, but Mr Tambourine Man” hit like a truck, suddenly discussing the deeper meaning of lyrics was as potent in the ‘chatting up’ preamble as thrusting your hips and yelling in the targets ear. “Like A Rolling Stone” achieved anthem status but for me “Visions of Johanna” was haunting, and still is. With folk-rock, things just got better: Crosbie, Stills and Nash, Paul Simon and Neill Young and of course Leonard Cohen, even Country lightened up a bit through Kris Kristofferson and Emmy-Lou Harris. They weren’t all winners though: Donovan’s bland warbling almost justified the earache bought on by ‘The Sex Pistols’, Dolly Parton went pop through “Jolene” (bring back Patsy Cline please God) and Rufus Wainwright struggled to find talent and some sort of identity. After tolerating those three and a few others, it became obvious that it was time to move on.
Airs and graces
From memory, my first listen to more serious music was on a borrowed LP by Andres Segovia. Up to that point I’d felt that that sort of stuff was beyond me and a couple of trips to concerts with a posh bird had done little to convince me otherwise, but, with Segovia, I discovered the guitar didn’t need to be plugged in to make itself heard. After that I was hooked: the cello with Du Pre and Lloyd Webber, then the violin through Heifetz and Perlman. I never did the full orchestra thing; it always seems as if they’re constantly squabbling amongst themselves.
Opera was, and still is, quite beyond me. I can’t grasp the concept of lingering death as a cue to bursting into song. Try as I might I can’t attach any musical value to ‘Rap’, the food of love meets anorexia there; sadly it seems, music isn’t all forgiving. But we all sing songs and I reckon if old Miss Folster could hear me trilling ‘Jerusalem’ in the bathroom along with the King’s College Choir she’d realise the talent that she failed to nurse 70 odd years ago. But to paraphrase Mr. Dylan, “Them old dreams are only in my head”.