The Ones I Rarely Play: Richard Barnes – “Take to the Mountains”

Richard Barnes had a brief pop career that came closest to success in 1970/71, when three of his singles had massive backing from Radio 1, including Top of the Pops appearances for each one, yet failed to see him past no 34 in the singles chart. Take to the Mountains is a compilation CD released in 2007, bringing together all his singles, his one LP and two new tracks, recorded that year, and named after his best and most successful song.
I turned 14 in November 1969, knowing virtually nothing about pop music. My parents hated it, I never saw Top of the Pops (save for a few seconds, switching over from ITV to be ready for whatever followed it) and I didn’t start listening to Radio 1 until ten days from the end of the Sixties.
My tastes were naïve to begin with, unformed and impressionable, and I was open to the possible influence of everything as we entered 1970. Radio 1 played ‘Take to the Mountains’ and I was hooked.
It’s a big pop ballad, fully orchestrated, with a powerful chorus, and Barnes had a powerful, expressive voice. When he followed it up with the almost as good ‘Go North’ (to the same effect), I was hooked.
Barnes had started out as bassist and lead singer with The Quiet Five, one of many unsuccessful Sixties groups,relying on harmonies and a quieter sound than others, leaning towards what was not yet described as ‘middle of the road’. He’d gone solo in 1968 with a cover of Gary Puckett’s ‘Woman, Woman’ (it’s b-side, ‘The Princess and the Soldier’ is a minor gem) but seemingly didn’t record at all in 1969, before reaching his ‘peak’ with ‘Take to the Mountains’. This and ‘Go North’ were written by professional songwriter Tony Hazzard, a man with a good commercial and artistic track record.
But after 1971’s ‘Coldwater Morning’, a Neil Diamond cover, and Barnes’ last Top Forty entry (in a Top Thirty era), he effectively disappeared, leaving one final 1973 single and a re-issue of ‘Take to the Mountains’ behind for a stage career, taking over the lead role in Jesus Christ, Superstar on the London stage. That, apart from a 1976 album of duets with Tony Hazzard, including a cover of Hazzard’s Manfred Mann hit, ‘Fox on the Run’, released as a single, was that.
Some people, despite their talent, aren’t meant to make it. Richard Barnes had a great voice (and still does: on the two contemporary tracks on this compilation, his voice remains unchanged). But his failure to break through was in equal measure due to his being wrong for the times, and in being too middle of the road at heart.
Barnes’ voice was, in that respect, too good for pop, which never quite sounds right when sung by someone who sings clearly and confidently, with a rich, trained voice and a vocal range. Barnes, though something of a pretty boy, was too young and too pop for the kind of audience catered to by Tom Jones and Engelbert, but insufficiently rough and raucous, in every respect, for the younger audience.
His two 1970 singles might have done better a couple of years earlier, when Britain was enjoying a period of heavily orchestrated pop, by bands such as the Love Affair, the early Marmalade and the Casuals, but even then Barnes lacked the pop sensibility and dynamism of such tracks.
But in 1970, with the already legendary Sixties coming to an end, there was an atmosphere of change. So many pop bands, from all levels of the success spectrum, were suddenly going ‘heavy’. The underground came to prominence. Pop in its pure, innocent form was squeezed hard. And someone like Richard Barnes, who was not quite of the moment, whose music was too close to what your parents listened to, stood no chance.
Except with misfits like me, still working out what they liked and didn’t. Barnes’ voice, and the sheer quality of ‘Take to the Mountains’ and ‘Go North’, captured me, and a certain spirit of individualism, led to me declaring myself a fan. So, of course, I had to buy this.
I don’t play it often because, forty years on, I’m really not into MOR music. But this CD is part of my history, and Richard Barnes really is a bloody good singer, so it stays, to entertain me evey now and then, when the right mood strikes.

Breaking the Vibrational Barrier: 1978

Justice League of America 159, “Crisis From Yesterday!”/Justice League of America 160, “Crisis From Tomorrow!” Written by Gerry Conway, art by Dick Dillin (pencils), and Frank McLaughlin (inks), edited by Julius Schwartz.

For their annual meeting this year, the Justice League and the Justice Society attend a private meal at Gotham City’s exclusive “22” Club. For once, the heroes can simply socialise. Earth-1’s Batman tries to come to terms with meeting the Huntress, his counterpart’s daughter. The Star-Spangled Kid hates being called Sylvester. Those politically and socially polar opposites, Green Arrow and Hawkman, having got pissed together one night, are now bosom buddies. All is well, until the wall of the restaurant is blown in.
We cut to a timeless dimension bordering on 3786AD. The League’s old foe, the Lord of Time, is worried. The infallible computer he has built confirms that five historical figures have been sent to July 15, 1978. The Lord of Time, to ensure Earth’s survival, needs these figures to utterly defeat the League and Society.
This is because the computer, which he built to stop Time whilst he looted everywhen, has worked too well. It will stop Time, but Time cannot then be restarted. And he has built it too well for it to be destroyed.
Back on July 15, 1978, the attackers of the Club stand revealed. They are all characters from long ago DC adventure series set in the past: in chronological order, Jon, the Viking Prince, The Black Pirate, plunderer of Spain’s tyranny, Miss Liberty, heroine of the Revolutionary War, scarred bounty hunter, Jonah Hex, and Hans von Hammer, World War 1 fighter pilot for Germany. All have been enhanced with superpowers, and a second volley from von Hammer’s triplane brings the building down on the heroes.
Mystified as to how they have got there, how they can understand each other, and why they have attacked these strangers, the historical heroes retreat, at Miss Liberty’s suggestion, to a place where they can think.
After they leave, the heroes start to dig themselves out of the rubble. A handful of heroes are functioning – Leaguers Superman, the Flash, Hawkman and Elongated Man, JSAers Wonder Woman, Dr. Mid-nite, the Huntress and Star-Spangled Kid. The rest are comatose, in a state of shock, feverish. They are rushed to hospital by the survivors, who then seek out their attackers driven by an impassioned Hawkman, whose wife, Hawkgirl, is amongst those in a coma.
Superman’s X-ray vision detects a trail of chronal energy that leads the heroes to their assailants’ temporary base at Valley Forge. But, despite the massive imbalance in powers, they are easily, and comprehensively beaten by the historical quintet.
In an epilogue, the Lord of Time extracts his pawns and brings them to his Palace. They have done what he required: completely beaten the heroes. But the beaten come back stronger than ever. The League and Society awaken with renewed determination. Just as he planned.
End of Part 1.

Once again, the historical heroes have left a Chronal Energy trail that Superman can read. The superheroes follow it into the Lord of Time’s future side-dimension to resume the battle.
Meanwhile, the enraged historics mount an attack on the Palace itself, but the Computer responds by drawing in menaces from all over Time, a Tyrannosaurus Rex and mutated reptilian apes, which overcome this rebellion. They are sent back to their own times.
Back on Earth, fresh from Monitor Duty, Aquaman arrives at Gotham Hospital, concerned for the fallen. He recaps the Earth-1 & -2 set-up for new readers, gets inappropriately excited on hearing that there were survivors who have gone into the future and only then arranges to bring the League’s advanced medical diagnostic equipment down to deal with the strange radiation permeating everybody’s body.
The League and Society pursuers are nearing the Lord of Time’s Palace. The Elongated Man feels out of place in comparison to everyone else: they all have awesome powers and he can only stretch his body: what is he doing there?
The heroes run into the first of a series of barriers created by the Computer. They break through each in turn, but at the cost of losing another hero to each obstacle. Four get into the Palace itself, but The Huntress, the Star-Spangled Kid and Dr Mid-nite are taken out by a multi-armed robot, leaving only the Elongated Man to complete the mission. And, despite his doubts, he does so, blowing up the Computer by short-circuiting it with his own body. With seconds only to spare, Time is saved.
Back on Earth, the heroes are all restored by the simple expedient of using Green Lantern’s power ring to clear out the radiation from their bodies: all except Elongated Man, and he’s ok because his rubbery bones and organs kept him from being badly hurt in the explosion. He’s back to being boastful to his wife.
* * * * *
Despite what I’m going to say below, this is a distinct improvement on the last three years of the traditional JLA/JSA teamup. After Engelhart brought his run to a thunderous conclusion with Justice League of America 150, he was replaced by Gerry Conway who, with a few exceptions, would remain writer on the series until it was cancelled and rebooted in the wake of Crisis on Infinite Earths.
Whatever I may think of Conway as a writer, and that needs to take into account my loathing of what he was to do in the following  year’s team-up, he brought a much needed sense of security and consistency to the Justice League, which was after all supposed to be one of DC’s flagship titles.
No mention of 1978 will be wholly accurate if it does not take into account the DC Explosion/Implosion, which seriously threatened the future of the company and which caused many very knowledgeable and intelligent people to predict that within five years, there would not be a comic book industry.
The Explosion was the brainchild of new DC Publisher, Jeanette Kahn, who had replaced the dismissed Carmine Infantino in 1977. Kahn, successful in publishing magazines for young people, was a complete Industry outsider, an unusual but ultimately successful choice. Looking at comics’ recent history of price increases, reduced content, reduced printing quality and DC’s by now traditional position as second to Marvel, Kahn’s solution was to get ahead of the price curve and offer more to the reader. Prices would jump to 50c, but story content would leap from 17 to 25 pages, with editors free to choose whether to extend the titular character’s stories, or re-introduce back-ups, to give different, unused or new characters a chance.
In one way, it was just another version of DC’s continually unsuccessful attempts to sell thicker comics for more, but whereas other such moves had smacked of a certain desperation, the Explosion was based on more positive attitudes, The line would be expanded, new creators taken on, experimentation encouraged, new ground seized. The publicity created enormous expectations.
Then, in the very month of the Explosion beginning, Warner Brothers looked at DC’s figures, panicked, and pulled the plug. Thirty-one titles, including five new series scheduled to start the following month, were cancelled in one go. The 44 page 50c 25 pages of content comic was cancelled and the line reverted to 32 pages with 17 of content, now for 40c. Credibility and confidence vanished like a mirage.
Ironically, Justice League of America was one of the few comics to have been losing pages in the Explosion. It had maintained its Giant size until issue 157, before dropping to the new format. As one of the titles surviving the Implosion, and with the issues already written and drawn, it was allowed to remain at Explosion size for three months, enabling this story to go out unchanged.
The following issue, it too dropped back to 17 pages for 40c.
The Justice Society of America was not so blessed. All-Star‘s first issue (#74) in the new size was the last of its revival, as the title was amongst those cancelled. The team did not vanish: its series was transferred into the new 100-page Dollar format in the struggling Adventure Comics and the already-prepared All-Star 75 was split over two issues of that.
So this team-up took place against a background of tremendous uncertainty. It would also be the last team-up to be edited by Julius Schwartz, who was reducing his workload and concentrating upon his work on the Superman titles. He had been the Justice League’s only editor in the nearly twenty years since their creation. At least he got to leave this tradition on a relative high.
Conway’s story reflected his interest in time-travel stories and his enthusiasm for having the JLA/JSA meet a group of DC’s historical characters. Jonah Hex, the extremely dark-edged bounty hunter was still in publication at the time, but the other four were vanished figures, characters from the Fifties and early-Sixties who had been pushed into obscurity by the Silver Age of superheroes.
Together, they fulfilled the ‘need’ for a third force without being as much of a contrivance as the Fawcett heroes had been.
To bring them into the story, Conway chose the early-League villain, the Lord of Time. The underlying idea is ingenious: the villain has set in motion a destructive scheme that he regrets but cannot stop: unknown to them, the heroes are his means of preventing the self-created disaster.
That much said though, there are an awful number of flaws to what is basically a decent story. Conway handles his five historic heroes well, especially in the scene where they compare notes about how they have come together and how they have been controlled – von Hammer, the ‘Enemy Ace’, is handled particularly well.
But the underlying issue Conway has to justify is how this quintet of ordinary people can overcome so many superheroes with so many diverse powers. All he can think of is some nebulous, unexplained energy that they disperse via their respective guns or swords or, in the Viking Prince’s case by, er, nothing.
It’s indicative of a poverty of imagination that has afflicted the superhero industry ever since the fans took over the writing. Nobody seems capable of thinking up powers that don’t just fire energy blasts all over the place, and this in Conway’s solution to ‘equalising’ the non-existent balance between the two sides.
The Lord of Time’s premise is that he needs to inflict the superheroes’ first ever defeat in order for them to come back stronger, strong enough to defeat his super-Computer. It’s another new angle, yet, assuming it is a viable notion at all, it depends entirely on its execution. The JLA/JSA must be beaten, and in a way that is different from any of those other times when they have been defeated – by the Crime Syndicate in 1964, the Black Spheres in 1967 and T.O.Morrow in 1968, just to pick out three off the top of my head.
Conway, via the Lord of Time, categorises these as ‘setbacks’, yet even within part 1, the ‘defeated’ heroes get up ready to fight again in a manner no different to such previous occasions.
As for the historics, once they have served their purpose, they are an unwanted and unnecessary presence in the story. Surely the Lord of Time would restore them to their rightful place in history, forgetful of their adventure? It is, after all, what he does after their rebellion against him in nearly 3786AD, a perfunctory ending for them. It reads like sloppiness on Conway’s part, as it’s patently obvious that this is the device to enable the JLA/JSA to track down the super-Computer.
However, given that the Lord of Time has done all this to get the heroes in fighting shape, I am forced to concede that this may actually be a deliberate manoeuvre: up to that point, the heroes have no idea who’s behind all this.
The historics’ last stand suffices to bulk out the second part, as does the embarrassing interlude in the hospital with Aquaman. This latter was, of course, chosen to host yet another of the increasingly tedious and long-winded explanations for the audience about the League and the Society, Earth-1 and Earth-2, etc., but it’s turned into something of a pantomime by the King of Atlantis, dealing out hugs to the female Doctor as soon as she mentions that the heroes not propped up in this surprisingly spacious ward aren’t dead (married man cops feel) and only then offering the use of the League’s advanced diagnostic equipment to, you know, sort of, help.
It’s supposed to be to determine why certain heroes were affected by this mysterious radiation, and others weren’t, but don’t worry, Conway has forgotten that part of the story by the end. As, incidentally, is the fact that the Lord of Time’s computer has sent the historics home on page 7, only for the Aquaman-led cavalry to mentioned that they sent the warriors back on page 25. That is sloppy, and something Schwartz should have caught.
But these diversions are only that: they’re present only to keep the issue from being the straightforward war of attrition as the heroes advance, sacrificing themselves one at a time with almost manic determination, to allow their fellows to proceed, until the last one left is the one least-suited for the task.
We know the Elongated Man is least-suited to defeat a super-Computer with incredible self-defence capability, because Ralph Dibny’s been telling us so from the start, thus telegraphing that he will be the only survivor left. Which is where Conway’s potentially interesting story hits its last hurdle. This complicated, some might say convoluted plot has been devised because the Computer is so strong, not even the full Justice League and Society, in their collective might can destroy it.
But an india-rubber man can stick his fingers in the futuristic equivalent of what looks like a plug-socket and, by short-circuiting it, cause it to blow up. Why didn’t the Lord of Time just pull out the plug, if it was so bloody easy?
Nice idea, inadequately executed (in some respects painfully so). Yet I still rate this as an improvement over the past three years? Perhaps that gives you an idea of how bad I think the last three stories have been. This effort is at least clear and logical and, whilst failing at its central premise due to lack of thought, doesn’t lose itself in ineffectually established, unnecessary and confusing circles.
Conway does bring in a greater underlying emotion than most previous adventures have done. We never really have seen the League and Society socialising, or simply responding as friends, and it’s a treat to do so. I do have certain reservations in this area: Batman’s musings about the Huntress, who is attending her first team-up, are wistful, but should perhaps not have been superimposed upon Helena Wayne clearly posing her curvaceous body, which lends a distinctively perverse undercurrent.
And I am far from impressed by Conway’s sudden decision, after years of hostility between the socially liberal Oliver Queen and the uptight, authoritarian Carter Hall, to turn them into bosom buddies, all polarities overlooked or forgiven, on the strength of one night going out (offstage) and getting tanked up. It doesn’t work, and what was so wrong with their entirely natural antipathy for each other’s views that Conway felt he had to destroy it?
I’m also very underwhelmed by the needlessly artificial way Conway tries to inject emotion into the aftermath of the historics’ attack that downs so many heroes. It’s not that there is anything at all artificial at Hawkman’s grief over Hawkgirl being injured, far from it. I’m just not convinced by the weight put on this incident, as if without it neither we nor any of the other survivors will understand that what has happened is a Very Bad Thing (it made Hawkman cry both under and through his hawk-helm, it must be serious).
At the time of this story, I read only the first part, the Implosion having buggered up the perennially dodgy distribution to British newsstands and the early comics shops. I was living in Nottingham at this time, when a visit to Ben’s Comics, between the cricket ground and Forest’s ground, was a long walk, affordable only once a month, and best completed by 12.30pm if Forest – the League Champions – were at home.
Finally, this is another story requiring only the most minor of tweaks to make eminently feasible in the post-Crisis Universe. Unfortunately so was the next.

Theatre Nights: Programme Notes

In 1993, Vertigo Comics began publishing a spin-off to Neil Gaiman’s extremely successful Sandman series. Entitled Sandman Mystery Theatre, the spin-off focussed on the adventures of the original, Golden Age Sandman, Wesley Dodds, creating the unique situation where the subject of a spin-off was the original character from whom its ‘parent’ series had been spun off.
Gaiman’s series bore almost no resemblance to the Golden Age crime-fighter, or any of the revived versions that had already been seen, but his character, Dream of the Endless, was inspired by the Sandman name, and one of the first steps he took on starting his series was to bind Wesley Dodds into its mythos. Dodds had had no origin story in the Forties, but had had a convoluted story spun for him only a couple of years earlier, by Roy Thomas, only for Gaiman to dismiss this in a single panel, providing the simpler, and much more thought-provoking notion that Dodds was driven to his alter ego by dreams caused by the absence of the mythological presence of Dream from the Universe.
This explanation was taken up by writer/artist Matt Wagner, most of whose work has been done in the independent market (Mage, Grendel), but who has occasionally dipped into DC to shake up some of its older conceptions Wagner pushed for a Wesley Dodds series that would reinterpret the character in the light of his dreams: driven by them to unravel puzzles and crime in the late Thirties: puzzles and crime that, beneath a very stylish pulp veneer, would focus upon the genuine social ills and hypocrisies of the era. In 1993, he was given his opportunity.
Mystery Theatre would never hit the commercial heights of Gaiman’s series, but it sold enough to run for just under six years: 70 monthly issues, an Annual, and a couple of short stories in Vertigo compilations. As so often happens on cancellation, there were promises of repeat business, in mini-series, but the end of issue 70 was the end, even though that was (deliberately) halfway through the latest play.
Because that was the series’ conceit: that each story arc was a four-act play, with a different stage designer, or artist, for each drama.
Matt Wagner was the inspiration behind Mystery Theatre but only wrote the first three arcs, issues 1-12. After that, he worked with Steven T Seagle from issue 13 to 52, plotting each story for Seagle to dialogue. Wagner then withdrew from active contribution, limiting himself to suggesting settings and themes, before dropping out entirely after issue 62, leaving Seagle as sole scripter.
The intention was for each arc to be drawn by a different artist whose work was suited to the noirish, Thirties setting, and the first three arcs were drawn by Guy Davis, John Watkiss and R G Taylor respectively. But Davis’s renditions of Wesley Dodds and Dian Belmont, and the supporting characters, not to mention his depiction of the era, was so powerful and defining that an arrangement was worked out for him to become the series’ semi-permanent artist, drawing two arcs each year, with the third drawn by a guest artist.
To date, 52 issues of Sandman Mystery Theatre have been collected in a series of eight graphic novels, a mixture of single and double-arc collections. There are currently no plans for volume 9, though (assuming that the Annual and the short stories are not to be reprinted) the rest of the series could be collected in two further volumes.
The series ended midway through its final drama, with Wesley and Dian suddenly leaving New York, with the mystery of the latest monster unsolved, but with other mystery-men, not to mention the Police, poised to take it on, and with enough clues (allegedly) having already been given to enable the reader to decipher the mystery alone. This depiction of Wesley Dodds permeated back into DC itself, and the Justice Society, but it didn’t sell in the numbers needed to keep the series going, and in the New 52, there is no Sandman comparable.
So join me beneath the proscenium arch, as the curtain goes up on a series of plays, as the spotlight shines upon a dark stage, and those corrupted players  move upon it. Settle comfortably in your seat, ensure all mobile phones are switched off, and let the house lights dim. Appearing in our first performance, for your delectation, Ladies and Gentlemen, I give you the first play by our Repertory Company…. The Tarantula.

The Ones I Rarely Play: “We’re the Banana Splits”

The Banana Splits Show was around for about a year, in 1968 or 1969, when I was between 12 and 13. It was an American show that was shown about 5.00pm, the ideal time for getting back from school and having fun before tea and homework took over. I was the right age for it, just discovering the possibilities of absurdity: the greatest era of children’s TV is when you’re between 12 and 13.

It was about four guys dressed up as giant furry animals, running around some massive American fairground (Six Flags over Texas, it said, a rare early instance of me actually reading the credits). They’d meet in a clubhouse, tell outrageous jokes and puns, play songs, run after the bus, take out the trash, cower in fear from the Orange Crush Gang, eight year old girls who danced around, and be wonderfully, wonderfully silly.

And there were cartoons, and a live action serial titled ‘Danger Island’ which we all watched religiously, and we’d shout ‘Uh-oh Chongo!’ to each other, after one of the characters in the serial, and avoid talking about the girl with the long blonde hair, because we weren’t quite ready for that yet: well, I certainly wasn’t.

Then, inside the first two minutes of the second series, the Banana Splits, who’d been like real-life animated characters, turned into actual animated characters, and it was rubbish, and I never watched it again.

Years later, it kept reappearing, and I’d video episodes hoping to capture those one or two songs that had stuck in my memory, I mean, really stuck in my memory, from one, or maybe two hearings. By then, I’d discovered a taste for mid-to-late Sixties clean-cut American pop, bordering on but not actually bubblegum, and there was one Banana Splits song that was so perfect an example that I’ve never been able to understand why it wasn’t put out as a single and become a big hit.

Fast forward to about a dozen years ago and one of those late Sunday night cross-country drives, bringing the kids back from seeing their father. From somewhere, the conversation turns to the Banana Splits and those great songs, and their not having been released, until simultaneously we think of the internet. And, sure enough, a search as soon as we get in turns up this CD, in California, at an easily affordable price, and ten days later it arrives.

It’s an oddball of a compilation. First, there’s the We’re the Banana Splits LP of old, plus nearly a half-dozen bonus tracks from the series. Then it’s paired with another Sixties cartoon album, Here Come The Beagles, taken from the cartoon series ‘The Beagles’, which, to the best of my knowledge, was never broadcast over here, which provides ten tracks, but after that is another four bonus bonus tracks from the Banana Splits, which is weird programming.

Apparently, the CD was an unofficial release, mastered from the vinyl copies, with the benefit of noise reduction processing (which works incredibly well), but it covers the vast majority of the groups’ recorded output, or rather, let’s be honest here, the various combinations of LA session singers and musicians (which include Al Kooper, Barry White and Gene Pitney!) used to produce these tracks, who were working on a purely commercial basis.

I’m not usually into manufactured music, but you can’t love Sixties music as I do without recognising that a considerable amount of it was created as a purely commercial enterprise, overtly or covertly, by professional songwriters and producers, and yet so much of even that is art itself: happy, warm, living music that belies its cynical origins to sparkle.

The Beagles (and we can guess where that name comes from) were a two-piece who apparently took off Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis as their personas (but then the wonderful Top Cat took off Phil Silvers as Sgt. Bilko, so let’s not quibble). Their songs date two to four years earlier than the Banana Splits, and it shows in their relative flatness: they’re responses to the British Invasion and lack any true inventiveness, where the Banana Splits music is derived from American pop and bubblegum: it’s original inspirations are further back, allowing a richer, more vivid palate to surface.

The styles of songs range too widely to be the ‘product’ of a single band. They’re catchy, but not all that memorable, except for the three tracks which make this CD worth keeping, one from the album, one from the bonus tracks and one from the bonus bonus tracks. Extracting these tracks and playing them together is a clear reminder that this is session work, for the lead vocals differ significantly from track to track.

But ‘Wait till Tomorrow’ is that perfect piece of cleancut pop, light, airy, with the most gorgeous, yearning chorus, all love from that time when holding hands is still a major breakthrough, all love lost but there to be recovered, given time: wait till tomorrow/we’ll find each other again/just wait till tomorrow/tomorrow we will learn to love again.

‘I enjoy being a boy (in love with you)’ (which was only ever given away with Kellogg’s box-tops) is a slice of psychedelia, with gravelly vocals and fantastic imagery and is one of the few songs ever to use the word ‘mellifluous’ in its lyrics.

And ‘I was the very first kid on my block’ is again a piece of pure pop, guitar based, a song on the edge of maturity as its narrator relates how he was the very first kid on his block to fall in love, with a girl who used him for fun, manipulating him without thought for his feelings. The song is his rueful acceptance of his experience, his dealing with the hurt and emerging strong, yet not unchanged: ‘I’ll forget about her in a while and then/I’ll be the very last kid on my block to fall in love again’.

I could easily rip those tracks, add them to a CD of my own making, but I like to hear them in their context. The golden age of children’s TV is between 12 and 13, and these were the only unmediated pop music I heard in a household where my parents hated the sound of it. This CD allows it to still be there.

The Ones I Rarely Play: Angelo Badalementi – “Soundtrack from Twin Peaks”

I bought this one because I loved Twin Peaks (that the cliffhanger ending to season 2 was left unresolved because the series was cancelled is, twenty-two years on, a nagging frustration), and because its soundtrack was not just the most apt I have ever heard but almost a character in itself.

The CD is like visiting Twin Peaks: Badalamenti’s slow, soft, atmospheric, jazz-inflected sounds offer minimalist melodies, of which the theme music is a perfect example. It appears here as the opening and closing tracks, the latter being the vocal version, entitled ‘Falling’, a number 8 hit in the UK, sung by the impossibly fragile-sounding (and looking) Julee Cruise. The track is built around the repeated three-note bass riff, overlaid with a synthesizer playing the main melody, rising slowly towards a peak.

Another example is the theme for the Man from Another Place, which is built upon a shuffling rhythm of plucked double bass and lightly brushed percussion providing the platform for a saxaphone to blow.

I said jazz-inflected above. I am not into jazz, I know very little about it and understand even less, so my comments here betray a deep-rooted ignorance. What I hear is a smoky, lazy sound, music that plays in dark, sparsely populated clubs whose patrons sit in silence, absorbing the sound as much through their skins as their ears. In the series, the music is not only on the soundtrack: Julee Cruise’s band are the houseband at the Roadhouse and their performances are incorporated into the story: it adds another layer of strangeness to the show that this avant garde, ‘cool’ music is the choice of everyone, especially the high schoolers, as opposed to something more representative of the time.

But Twin Peaks is about strangeness. beneath a surface veneer of normality, and so is its music. The CD evokes the television show, but is a presence in its own right. When I listen, I think of Twin Peaks, but not of any specific scenes. The music exists on its own, not merely as a background, or an influence, to words and actions.

There are three vocal tracks from Jule Cruise on the CD, the perfect balance to the intstrumental tracks, and each feature the wispy, not-quite-falsetto voice of ‘Falling’. All lyrics are by Twin Peaks co-creator David Lynch. The CD sets its own mood and every now and then I go under its power.

The Ones I Rarely Play: Laurie Anderson – “Big Science”

I bought this album in 1982 because of ‘O Superman’, which had originally been played by John Peel, the previous year, after a trip to New York looking for new sounds. ‘O Superman’ was stunning, a near 9 minute epic based on the continuous flow of breathy ‘ah – ah ah’, over which Anderson intoned rather than sang a cryptic story of seemingly banal concepts, leading again and again to the disturbing threat/promise of “Here come the planes…”.

Peely played it, I thought it was amazing and bought an import copy of the single, which I still possess. That was before it was released in the UK and, unbelievably, rose in two weeks to the number 2 position in the charts, even though Radio 1’s DJ’s were at best only playing two-thirds of the track. That reminds me of my first car, and my first few days of going away by myself, and hearing this on the radio. Of course it was no more than a novelty for the bulk of its buyers, much as Joe Dolce’s ‘Shaddap Your Face’ had been, but infinitely better.

Anderson was a Performance Artist, not a musician, and this was the first time I’d heard that term. ‘O Superman’ was part of a two-night performance piece, United States Live I – IV, and the Big Science album was a collection of some of the more music oriented pieces of that suite. The title track is the closest to an orthodox song, with a melody and genuine singing from Anderson, who talks her way through most of this album, her voice filtered more often than not through different forms of electronic distortion that it as much as part of the music as the mostly electronic instrumentation.

Being in only one dimension, that of sound, the ‘songs’ are limited from the outset. It’s a mainly electronic album, though as far from the bpm of dance music as it is possible to conceive. Anderson works by repetition, little phrases and rhythms, over which her voice draws the listener to try to understand the visions she’s seeing.

I keep this mainly for ‘O Superman’, which is still an extreordinary piece, undulled by repetition, and a constant reminder of what the British public can sometimes take to their fickle hearts, even in novelty (the single’s chart life was 16 – 2 – 3 – 18 – 35). It reminds me of its era, of being in my first, post-qualification job, of the new freedom of my first car. But I like it overall; its quirkiness, its atmosphere, the sense it gives of fragments surrounding a larger, ultimately absent but nevertheless defined shape, its sheer difference from everything else in my collection.

This is the time. And this is the record of the time.

A Bloody Embarrassment

As regular followers of this blog will know, I spent long years as a fan of Droylsden FC, a non-League football club on the eastern margins of Manchester, based in the Borough of Tameside.
I first went to see the Bloods (a nickname shared with only one other English Club, Essex’s Saffron Walden Town) in 1969, and spent two long spells following the club, from 1969 to 1980 in the Cheshire League, and again from 1995 to 2003, in the Unibond Northern Premier League.
In the latter spell, I became involved in the club itself, as match-day reporter in the local press, programme editor and main contributor for five years, and Vice-Chairman on the Supporters Club formed in 1999 in the wake of the Bloods’ greatest ever season, a marathon effort that ended with the club winning promotion to the Premier Division by the narrowest of margins.
Droylsden’s success in achieving that, and the success the Club has enjoyed subsequently – elevation to Conference North, winning that Division, a season in the Football Conference Premier and twice reaching the FA Cup Second Round Proper – is due to Chairman/Manager Dave Pace, a local double-glazing merchant who played for Droylsden as a Junior, and who has owned the Club since before 1995.
Pace has put at least £1,000,000 into Droylsden (that estimate was made several years ago and is undoubtedly much higher), and as well as being Chairman, he has managed the team since 1998, with a series of coaches assisting him, currently long-term Droylsden player and coach Aeon Lattie. He’s committed the team throughout this period to a ground-based, passing game, as opposed to lumping long balls forward, and when it has worked it has resulted in both exciting and attractive football, and plenty of wins. The fact that a club the size of Droylsden that, despite its success on the field, cannot command a committed support of more than a few hundred, would reach the Football Conference, is due to Dave Pace and the money he has pumped into improving ground facilities beyond all recognition, and paying good footballers to perform for the Bloods.
By the time that happened, I had stopped going to Droylsden on anything more than a very occasional basis, and that is also because of Dave Pace, and I am far from being the only person that thinks that way.
I’m not going to use this blog as a means of rehearsing my particular grievances. But it is acknowledged that Pace, who is not always the most diplomatic of people, is very single-minded and that this extends to his ownership of Droylsden FC. The Club is under his sole control, and therefore what he says goes. He is determined to maintain that control in every respect, and that has led at times to friction with the Supporters Club, which was set up as (and I assume remains) an independent Supporters Club and thus, whilst devoted to Droylsden, not under the control of its Chairman. The early enthusiasm of the Supporters Club to assist in any way possible, and its ideas (from a supporter’s perspective) as to what might be done to aid the Football Club, fell by the wayside over the fact that such ventures would have been outside Pace’s direct control.
Droylsden’s peak was the season in the Football Conference premier in 2007/8. Even as they won Conference North at the end of the previous season, my thought was that success the following year would mean finishing 23rd. I wasn’t just being cynical, I was being coldly practical, and unfortunately I was correct, Droylsden came straight back down, in 24th place, a last-day defeat costing them even the dignity of finishing second bottom.
It’s been downhill ever since, though not, initially, with the precipitousness that these past two seasons have displayed. The Club maintained its position in Conference North until 2012/13 and, to be honest, I paid them virtually no attention. I do recall the 2010/11 FA Cup, Droylsden reaching the second Round Proper against Leyton Orient, and the disaster of the replay away: leading 2-0 after 54 minutes, Droylsden conceded first an equaliser, and then, in extra-time, six more goals in a complete collapse that saw them knocked out 8-2.
The irony now is that the Bloods no longer have any money. A large tax bill, which Dave Pace has honourably chosen to pay rather than go into bankruptcy, has left him unable to put into the Club the kind of money he has done before now, and without Pace’s support, Droylsden FC is far from capable of supporting itself. The result has been collapse on the field.
Droylsden were relegated last season with 22 points from 42 games and a goal difference of -81, having conceded 124 goals. They were only saved from being bottom by the even more extreme plight of Leicestershire’s Hinckley United. In the Evo-Stik Northern Premier League, Droylsden are doing a Hinckley: they are in freefall.
Tomorrow, Droylsden are set to play at home to Liverpool’s Marine. It will be their 31st League match of a 46 game season. Of their first 30 games,  the Bloods have drawn 2. the other 28 have been lost, including the last 22 in a row. The defeats have been unending, and few have them have been close: already this season, Droylsden have suffered home defeats of 10/0 and 9/0 – the latter at the hands of local rivals Ashton United on New Year’s Day.
Should Droylsden lose Saturday’s game by two clear goals or more, they will, before the end of January, reach a goal-difference of -100 or more. Just think about that for a moment.
My first season ‘back’ at Droylsden, in the mid-Nineties, saw the Club concede exactly 100 goals, and be relegated from the Northern Premier League Premier Division (on goal-difference) on the last day of the season. The 100th goal was conceded in the penultimate match of a 42 game season.
This is an entirely different order of things. Though mathematically Droylsden are not yet down, the fact is that they would need to win ten and draw one of their remaining 16 games, without any of the four teams above them (two of which have a game or games in hand) adding a single point just to escape the relegation zone, means that the position is as hopeless as it could possibly be.
Last time they were relegated from this Division, Droylsden conceded 100 League goals: this season, they conceded that number before the New Year.
What is the cause of this spectacular collapse? The answer is money: the Club owed £100,000 to HM Revenue and was placed under a transfer embargo. The easy option was to let the Club go into Administration, write-off the debt, or at least the vast majority of it, and accept a mandatory three-level demotion (to the North West Counties League Premier Division). Instead, and to his credit, Pace chose to pay off the money in full, from his own pocket, and take a one-level relegation.
What has happened this season was not on Pace’s agenda.
As I said, I was (twice) a committed Droylsden fan, and on the second occasion the link was broken by Dave Pace. Like many others who have, in one way or another, gotten on the wrong side of him, I’m not prepared to go back whilst he is there: which, realistically, means never. Though I did return in November, as an away fan supporting FC United of Manchester: it felt extremely strange entering that ground to support the opposition and I couldn’t shake a certain sense of betrayal (FC won by a comfortable 4-1, which at another time might have felt like a spanking but, in the light of the scores the Bloods have been conceding, was no more than a light slap).
For most of the first half of this season I have been enjoying the results almost unreservedly. The reasons I have no time for Dave Pace are, in my eyes, full justification for enjoying the spectacle of his Club being completely humiliated as they have been, over and over. Though the 10-0 home defeat sobered up even me.
My only regret was for the loyal fans, who appear now to have been whittled down to about 120 people, several of whom I know and at least one who used to be a good friend. However much Dave Pace might deserve this, they surely don’t. But they’re taking it, and they’ll take it next season in First Division North, and all credit to them for their loyalty.
Now the only question is how deep the embarrassment will extend. Last week, the transfer embargo was lifted, and the Club is desperately trying to attract new players. Marine’s manager has already warned his team and fans about complacency, unless they should find themselves facing a Droylsden side unrecognisable from that which has been humiliated over and again. Surely something can be done to prise a win – or even another draw? – out of those sixteen remaining games.
On the other hand, you have to ask what player of the grade required would go to a Club that’s a stone-cold certainty for the drop?
Still, there is a ray of hope: unbelievably, two levels higher and a few miles distant, another of Droylsden’s Tameside rivals, Hyde (formerly Hyde United), having been going through an almost identical nightmare in the Conference Premier, having accumulated only four draws and no wins in the first 29 games of their League season (though with a negative goal difference less than half that of Droylsden). What chance two such appalling records within so small an area?
Then, at the 30th attempt, Hyde won, and away from home too! (Though they crashed 6-2 at home next game).
The example is there,and for the sake of Colin, and Mouse, and Leachy, and Rusty if he’s started going there again, Mike from Crewe and the Marshes, Stroller, Steve Jarvis, and Nigel Randall too, not to mention good old loyal Aeon, I hope the Bloods can muster up one win to give them relief, even whilst I hope for Dave Pace, and others I shalln’t name, I hope that the egg continues to be spread, liberally, face-wise.
Because Droylsden FC ultimately is Dave Pace, and he’s deprived me of what was once my team, and I do not forgive.