I can not listen to this track without remembering the day I went to a friend’s wedding which took place in St Mary’s lighthouse in Whitley Bay and as Kate walked down the aisle my friend Simma sang this song.
I like a good wedding. It is at this point I can hear my Brother say something sarcastic like “Is that why you’ve been married so many times?” It does sound bad to say you have been married three times but in reality, the first time was a brief mistake of a teenager. The second marriage lasted a long time and I am still with and very much in love with the third Mrs Price. We have been together now for nearly twenty years. I have two daughters from my second marriage and Lynda has three daughters. Our five daughters consider each other as sisters and Lynda’s daughters call me Dad. We are a slightly dysfunctional but happy family.
Third time Around
Love for us was autumnal A late flowering We were retrospective lovers Caught up in new beginnings Scarred but not cynical Scared and a little cautious At times like excited teenagers Rediscovering our emotions Learning how to trust again
This is a track of its time. I have sometimes thought James is a little too “middle of the Road” for my taste but this track means a lot. Like me James Taylor is in his 70th year and is one of the best selling
folk singers of all time selling over 100 million records. He is a prolific songwriter but I have chosen this track which was written by Carole King. King said the song was inspired by James Taylor song “Fire and Rain” which contains the line “I’ve seen lonely times when I could not find a friend”
The track reminds me of all the good friends I have made over the years and also of those I have lost, some because they died or those friends who drifted away because their lives changed or mine did. Yesterday I went to a hospital to collect a friend whose husband is terminally ill. She cannot drive and relies on others to give her lifts. She says she has been cheered by those who have stepped up and supported her and saddened by those who did not. There have been times in my life when friends have stepped up for me. When the first Mrs Price left I was devastated but also amazed at the small acts of kindness that meant so much. The friend who came around with some food and a bottle of wine and listened while I wittered on about how sorry I was for myself. On another occasion, after my second marriage broke up, a random woman in a pub chatted me up and although it came to nothing and was no more than a flirtatious few moments, I remember even today how I felt as I walked home with a smile on my face for the first time in ages. She will have no memory of it and doesn’t know that all those years ago she gave back hope to a broken-hearted stranger. There are friends who you don’t see too often but when you do the years just seem to fall away. There are those who, although they are gone, you still remember with love and affection and one in particular who still visits me in my dreams.
My poem this week is about the spaces left by absent friends.
The Unexpected Chime
They’re are shared secrets in my house Talk of things that have passed and of things that are to come
They’re are empty wine bottles in my house Crushed cans of Bavarian Beer and discarded pieces of chocolate wrappers
They’re is music in my house From bands who broke up years ago and singers who sing no more
They’re are empty places in my house Stacked with silent dining table chairs and food strewn plates and stained coffee cups
They’re is poetry in my house In books that line a bedroom wall Signed by poets who write no more
They’re is hope in my house From half forgotten small acts of kindness and the unexpected chime of a doorbell
Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five: The Message
This song is from 1982 and is widely acknowledge as the first Hip Hop song to make it into the charts (or the first Hip Hop song). This video is a bit dated but worth a watch. The lyrics are amazing: Rats in the front room, roaches in the back Junkies in the alley with the baseball bat I tried to get away but I couldn’t get far Cause a man with a tow truck repossessed my car
Despite the fact this record was released thirty five years ago nothing much seemed to have changed for people of colour in the USA. The Black Lives Matter campaign has highlighted the fact that police seemed to have a shoot first ask questions later policy for black people.
A disproportionate number of young black men end up in prison and the number of black homeless people is now estimated at 500,000. African Americans are only 12.6 percent of the country’s population and yet account for more than 40 percent of its homeless population.
My poem this week is about a teenager called Napoleon Beazley a young black man who
was involved in a car jacking during which a man called John Luttig died. It happened when he was 17 years old and although convicted as a minor he was still executed by lethal injection after spending eight years on death row. Napoleon said at his appeal. “It’s my fault,” Beazley said at a court hearing , at which a judge set his execution date. “I violated the law . . . and I violated a family — all to satisfy my own misguided emotions. I’m sorry. I wish I had a second chance to make up for it, but I don’t. Although Beazley had no final words, he left a written statement in which he accepted responsibility for the crime but opposed capital punishment. “No one wins tonight,” he wrote. “No one gets closure. No one walks victorious.”
The quotes are taken from an article in the Washington Post by Paul Duggan. For the full article click here
This is not to say that Napoleon Beazley should not have been punished or in any way to mitigate what he did but to execute someone is not the answer. I have always opposed the death penalty, it does not make people safer or deter those who would kill. The law rightly acknowledges that murder is a dreadful crime and that it deserves a severe sentence but to kill someone because you believe killing is wrong is nonsensical.
Eight countries in the world allow the execution of young people who have committed a crime when they were age 18 years of less Iran, Nigeria, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, China, Yemen, Iraq and USA. Since the USA Supreme Court allowed executions to resume in 1990 over 1,500 people have been executed.
This poem shot John Luttig during the theft of his car on April 19th 1994 This poem was one of three men involved in the attack This poem admitted that in the instant after it killed Mr Luttig This poem was full of regret at the stupid and pointless waste of a life This poem was seventeen and wasn’t old enough to buy alcohol or cigarettes This poem was old enough for The State of Texas to sentence to death This poem took only a few seconds to kill John Luttig This poem was kept for eight years on death row in a cell 6 x 9 feet This poem admits the killing of John Luttig was a senseless and heinous crime The killing of this poem by the State of Texas was premeditated and in cold blood The State of Texas executed this poem for a crime committed by a child
Eurythmics, Aretha Franklin “Sisters Are Doin’ If For Themselves.”
In this blog I mentioned before that I am the Father to five daughters. Suzi and Amy to my second marriage and Emma, Hester and Madeleine are my inherited daughters (I don’t like the word “Step”) from my marriage to Lynda. They are my delight and my joy. They have also taught me so much.
I was born into a typical patriarchal Northern family. My Dad was the head of the family and his word was God. My Mother left her job as a nurse when they started a family and brought up myself and my three brothers and my sister. She cooked, cleaned and was responsible for the house. My Dad went out to work and earned the money. This is the way it was and as a youngster I saw that as normal. My friend’s families were like that, the world was like that.
As I got older I began to notice that things were not as simple as they seemed. My Mother was no docile domestic home keeper, she exercised her own power in the home but it was more discrete than my Father’s “Do as I say” attitude.
My Mother loved musicals and would often drag us along to the cinema to watch films like “Seven Brides for Seven Brothers” or “The King and I”. She had a collection of LP’s of the songs and loved to listen to them. The record player broke and she asked my Father to get a new one. She told him to get one of those fancy radiograms that were very popular. My Dad, never one to spend money he didn’t have to, did nothing about it. One day my
Mother announced to my Father not to bother getting the stereo-gram as she had ordered one from the Catalogue Lady* and she would pay monthly for it. My Dad was outraged. He said they were overpriced and he hated the idea of paying all that interest on the catalogue purchase. He stormed out of the house returning a few hours later with a beautiful wooden stereo-gram. My Mother was delighted. Later that day I asked my Mother if she had cancelled the order with the Catalogue Lady. She smiled and said “What order?” and winked at me.
The Seventies and the rise of the feminist movement would change much. Wielding discrete power, women demanded much more that a supporting role in the family and in society as a whole.
In 1977 I read The Woman’s Room by Marilyn French, it put into words all the things that had been swirling around in my head, it showed me the world from a woman’s perspective in a way that no other book ever had before. It changed me and although it is difficult, if not impossible for a man to be a feminist, I try my best.
This week’s song needs no further introduction but to say although the fight for equality has made much progress there is still so much more to do.
*The Catalogue Lady would have a catalogue of products from a company such as Littlewood’s and you could order from the catalogue and pay for them weekly. The prices were high and the interest payments even higher but for working class families it was often the only way to get credit.
There is a salvation in Madness’s songs, they raises you up. I have never seen the band live but I imagine it is one of those gigs where no one can sit down and you come out feeling ten foot taller.
Music can do so much, it can move you to tears, it can make you angry with the world and it can bring you joy. Writing this blog and looking at the different types and styles of music that I have enjoyed over the years I can see why I love music so much. It’s an every day fix, it can change my mood, it can help me through difficult times. My only regret is that I have no singing voice and can not hold a note to save my life. My wife is in a choir and the people who organise it brag that they can take anyone and get them to sing. They haven’t heard my voice.
This week’s poem is a bit of fun like a Madness single it is designed to put a smile on your face. Save it for one of those days when nothing is going right or when you are feeling a little low.
It was 1977 when I saw The Stranglers at the City Hall in Newcastle. I remember the
electrifying power of the band and the fact that so few people could create so much noise was amazing. We were right up in the Gods but I felt pinned against the wall, the bass line hammering into my chest. Like a lot of the punk bands at the time there seemed little separation between them and the fans. In fact by the end of the gig the stage was full of pogoing fans. The theme of the song was something I disagreed with. There were heroes, people like Tony Benn, Dennis Skinner and Trade Union leaders like Arthur Scargill plus a little known back bench MP who always seemed to stand up for the marginalised and the oppressed called Jeremy Corbyn (I wonder what happened to him?). I had also been very involved in supporting the Miners and I had seen the militarisation of the police and the impact that the Tory policies were having on the mining communities. Whilst the Police and the Government did everything they could to defeat the Miners other groups in society came to their support. Ordinary people all over the country gave magnificent support to the Miners in whatever way they could. I remember one Christmas being told by the local Miners Wives Support Group that they didn’t know what to do with all the turkeys they had been given. Sadly they were badly let down by their political leaders who had the chance to back the miners but did not. Over the last couple of weeks I have been seething with anger about the Home Office treatment of the “Windrush Generation” and I can guarantee that behind the words nothing will change, they are metering the same hard faced treatment to migrants they have been heaping on the unemployed, low paid and the disabled. Their selfishness and greed has no limits and I despair when I see this crippled and broken world we are leaving to our children. If there ever was a time for the heroes to rise up it is now. My poem this week is one person’s story. I think a big part of the problem is instead of many people seeing problems as statistics i.e too many immigrants, too many unemployed etc. What they need to do is see the person. Many people wanted the government to clamp down on immigrants and the government felt they had the authority to create a hostile environment but when they saw the reality of the damage it has done to peoples lives they are disgusted. See the person, see their problems and ask what we can do to help rather than how do we make the problem go away.
Homeless and rootless Underclassed and underfed No permanent address No crib for a bed
An obstacle between her Father And his latest girlfriend Running out of floor space Going round the bend
No address, no job No work, no home No matter, not important Invisible and alone
Running out of food Hope and self worth A government statistic An accident of birth
It isn’t often I click on a Rolling Stones track when I am cruising Spotify. They never appealed to me in the way that many other bands have but they are a party favourite and when I ran a disco you couldn’t have a night without them. You were always guaranteed to get everyone up on the dance floor if you played “Jumpin’ Jack Flash” or “Let’s spend the night together”. It’s remarkable that they are still touring and even more remarkable that all of them (except Brian Jones) are still alive.
However the track was playing on the radio recently and I started to think about who Ruby Tuesday was and this week’s poem is her story (although a completely invented one) in her voice.
I am not Ruby Tuesday
I never was
My name is Roya Turkhel
But no one took the time
To learn how to pronounce my name
They gave me another instead
I am a descendant of Ahmad Shah Durrani
The founder of Afghanistan
I am Pashtun
I am a woman of no importance
To them I am an insignificance
The cleaner of plates
The sweeper of floors
They robbed me of my name
Made it into a monument
To their hubris and importance
They never asked me
Where I came from
I am generations of yesterdays
Of Princes and Princesses
Lords of mountains
Keepers of history
To them I am a dark face
From a dark corner of the world
My name, like my country
Is an asset that enriches them
Yesterday does matter
I cling to yesterday
Because the mountains of the Kush weep bitter tears
Smokey Robinson & The Miracles. “Tears of a Clown”
Another fab track. The group that later became the Miracles was formed in 1955 by five teenage friends from Detroit Michigan under the name the Five Chimes. Three of the founding members, Smokey Robinson, Pete Moore and Ronald White had been singing together since they each were around the age of eleven. It must be because they know each others voices so well that you get those amazing close harmonies.
The lyrics are great as well. The song was written by Smokey with the music coming from Stevie Wonder. After “Tears of a Clown” became a number one hit for Tamla Motown they toured extensively but Smokey wanted the home life in Detroit and he retired from the band to take up a management role in Motown Records.
Listening to the track it made me think how much I cry these days. When you are getting older you expect that your body will start to slow down and things will not work as well. Whilst you expect your bones to creak and your internal organs to rebel against the years of mistreatment, I was not expecting that my mental health would also begin to suffer. I have always been a bit of a softie and I never went in for that macho posturing that some Northern men think is a sign of manliness but I never thought I would start to cry at adverts or weep listening to a song.
They stream down my face like a waterfall in flood
Brought to the surface by the most trivial of thoughts
I can ball during an advert for a building society
They can spring up at a story about a trapped chicken
Flow unbridled after a failed penalty in extra time
Watch me whimper like a baby at a picture of a distressed dog
My nasal passages snivel and snot in sympathy
I watch “Call the Midwife” through a misty veil of tears
This is a song for the outsiders, for the teenagers who are not sporty or a teacher’s pet. Like many of my chosen songs it has a story arc. It is the video as much as the song that sparked the memory recounted here.
In my teenage years there was a religious divide in the West End of Newcastle based around Catholic versus Protestant. Today the tapestry of divisions and misunderstandings is far more complex. Fear of the “other”, those different to ourselves, led many people to vote for Brexit. Demanding that the “other” be stopped, curbed or banished.
When I was growing up in the West-End of Newcastle in the fifties and early sixties I was part of a Catholic community that had its roots in Ireland. We had educational segregation and I was taught by nuns in my primary school and priests in the high school (not all teachers were priests and nuns but they dominated the management and culture of the school).
Our high schools were also divided so that girls went to one school and boys to another. This meant that we boys had little social interaction with girls and non Catholics. Non Catholics largely meant Protestant as at that time there were very few other alternative communities in Newcastle
Our main opportunity to meet girls was either at the church youth club which meant the steely eyes of the priests would be watching you and if necessary report back to your parents, or there were the two cinemas.
The Plaza and the Brighton Cinema sat on opposite sides of the West Road. To avoid clashes between the Catholic and Protestant youth there was an unofficial peace line along the West Road and we went to the Plaza on the north side and they went to the Brighton on the south. In 1960 the Plaza closed and this led to a few problems but in 1963 the Brighton changed from a cinema into a bowling alley and that’s when things turned ugly.
After a number of minor clashes including me getting beaten up in the toilets of the bowling alley, a big confrontation took place in a local park. Looking back it seemed like hundreds were involved but it was probably no more than thirty or forty.
I remember there was a lot of posturing and shouting but very few actual clashes but the fighting that did take place was vicious. Later, we got together with our rivals and worked out a deal where we could each use the Brighton Bowling Alley on different nights.
Today there is a lot of talk about gang culture. In the sixties you felt being part of a gang or being seen as part of a community afforded you some protection. The reality was being in a gang lead to more trouble not less and not just with rival gang members but also with the Police.
It did however, teach me a valuable life lesson. Violence only brings more violence and rarely solves anything. By negotiating we found a solution and if we had done it before I would have saved myself a swollen jaw and a few loose teeth.
This weeks poem is about one of my daughters when she was a teenager.
In the living room four teenage girls talk
Conducting a complex matrix of interwoven conversations
In the corner of the room the television demands attention
I ask them politely to turn down the volume
My daughter tells me they would miss a favourite TV program
I suggest that watching a television is impossible
When they are all talking at once
My daughter informs me that woman can do this
I know better than to quibble with her
You can not argue with an article of faith
It forms part of her feminist catechism
Passed down from Mother to Daughter
Since the nineteen eighties
I retreat to the bathroom and wallow in the warm water
Turning up the radio to drown out the sound of the voices in my head
To call Janis Joplin a legend is not an exaggeration. So many musicians and singers have named her as their role model. Sadly, her moment in the sun was only fleeting but she left a legacy that still echos today. Janis was born in Port
Arthur Texas in 1943. She first big break was in 1967 when she fronted Big Brother and the Holding Company at the Monterey Pop Festival and then as a solo artist in 1969 at the now legendary Woodstock Festival. Her hits included this week’s track and “Piece of my Heart”, “Mercedes Benz” and Summertime”. She had a raw earthy blues voice and I picked “Me and Bobby McGee” written by Kris Kristofferson as a wonderful example of her work. Sadly, she died in October 1970 of a heroin overdose at the age of 27. The song tells the story of two young people hitch hiking across America and contains this amazing line, “Freedom’s just another word for nothin’ left to lose”. It struck me the first time I heard it and I have thought about it a lot over the years. I was never that freewheeling spirit, travelling where the mood took me. I left school at 16 and started work straight away. Since then, I have been tied to things like my family, my kids, work and the truth is, I like that. To be truly free as an individual can mean being without all the things that have been important to me. There is a more positive and beneficial side to freedom and that is our collective freedoms. In our country we do have many political freedoms such as the right to vote, the right to the protection of the law and to live in peace without the fear of violence and discrimination. Sadly, today I feel that these rights are under threat and we need to stand together to protect them.
Freedom’s just another word
A ship needs a harbour A boat needs a dock Trousers need a belt Shoes need a sock
Sentences need words You need tyres on a truck A bathtub needs a plug Lollies need a suck
A kiss needs lips Nudists need the sun Ducks need a puddle Joggers need to run
Freedom needs limits Floating voters need to float Socialism needs planning Democracy needs a vote
Children need a parent Northern summers need heating Problems need a solution The Tories need defeating
Teresa May needs a backbone Boris Johnson needs a gag Jeremy needs our backing He’s the only hope we have