The Infinite Jukebox: The Alan Bown’s ‘Little Lesley’


I am told that, not only was this record released as a single in 1968 but that, despite making no impression whatsoever on even the Top 50 of the day, the band were invited into Top of the Pops to perform it. Obviously this was on one of the programmes where the tape was wiped for re-use so there’s no way of checking if that was true, or simply the fantasy it obviously must be. I mean, a record like this on the Nation’s Favourite Pop Television? No way can that have been true.
But it very much is true in alternate universes, in which the BBC and the Great British Record Buying Public’s toleration, nay avid taste for bright and unusual musical sounds was much more well-developed than the crappy one we’re stuck with. In such universes, this song got more than just a fleeting wiped appearance, it got the repeated exposures a top 5 hit deserved. If only.
The band was formed by Alan Bown, a trumpeter who came out of the early Sixties jazz and r’n’b scenes, to become a member of the John Barry Seven, and the band’s stage leader when Barry decided to concentrate more upon composing. Coming out of the Seven on its dissolution, Bown founded The Alan Bown Set with three other former members of the Seven, continuing to work in r’n’b – their flop single ‘Emergency 999’ went on to become a Northern Soul Classic.
But in 1967, Bown dissolved the band and reformed it, this time merely as The Alan Bown!, turning the group in the direction of psychedelia. The following year they definitely did appear on TOTP with their buoyant single ‘We Can Help You’ (a very blurry film of this can be found on YouTube) but it’s chances of progressing, which seemed pretty decent, were holed by another of those record-pressing company strikes that killed so many potential hits.
According to Wikipedia, ‘Little Lesley’ was a b-side, to the completely unsuccessful ‘Story Book’. That figures: its gentle sound, its almost twee song-subject are more suited to being the track on which groups could get away with experimenting because the record company couldn’t give a toss. I first discovered it when I first discovered pop-sike, and wanted to hear as much of what was categorised as such, and when YouTube’s algorithms took you to more of the same kind of music instead of the stuff you’d already played twice or more.
I think it’s beautiful, and if it is twee, then it’s twee that should be held up as wonderful, open and honest and in no way cringeworthy. Little Lesley, sweet and lovely, helps her mother, loves her brother, helps her daddy do the dishes, gets the food and feeds the fishes…
It’s a picture that brings my long ago past close to the surface again, that past that can’t ever be retrieved, when everything was as good as it ever could get, when your parents loved and protected you and you had no fears or responsibilities, except those you wanted to share, by doing things to help them, because you’re with them and part of them. All grown up at four years old, they sing, loves to mother all her dolls, keeps her house incredibly smart, a little girl with a large heart.
It’s a word picture, of everything we hope a little girl will be at that age, full of confidence, full of innocence, free of fear and sorrow. She sews her dollies’ dresses, has a teddy bear she caresses. Don’t tell me that that’s incredibly dated, or that it’s sexist. It’s a little girl in the midst of her family, free completely of shadow. She’s probably not even started school yet.
And she’s everything you want to see thrive and grow in this world because what she will be as she grows can only be good both in and for this flawed world, that in her own small way she will improve just by being there. Though she’s only four foot two, a little mind with a large view (she) knows all the ways to be kind… and what more should we ever ask of anyone than that they know that and, like Little Lesley, she will practice that, and give all the sympathies she can find, and the song shifts down to its closing line that shows her that she is completely of love, for the ones she adores…
Yes, I know, it’s twee all the way up to and far above that four foot two, but twee cannot be twee when it’s told with the greatest sincerity we have. Once upon a time nearly all of us were like this, certainly the ones with parents who loved and cared, and who taught with kindness, not some of the bastards who should be shot before ever they’re allowed near any children, least of all their own. And yet we still fall from this state of grace. How do we do that? Why do we do it? Why can’t we be like this, for all the ones we adore?

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