Tuesday, May 24, 2016

From O. Reader

SCOTLAND YARD

I am a great fan of British B pictures - those “quota quickies” that the British film industry was obliged to make in the 1940s through to the early 1960s as support for the big picture - which often came from America. They were cheaply and very quickly produced and many directors and actors cut their teeth on them. Watching them today - in glorious grainy black and white - it is great fun to see famous thespians of later years playing the cinematic equivalent of Shakespeare’s third murderer in Macbeth.

One series we are currently enjoying all over again on DVD was called “Scotland Yard”. These were three reelers, designed to last half an hour when the big picture was a bit long (and a total performance was rarely allowed to exceed three hours). Nearly 40 were made, and they were all crime investigations, and all were introduced by the solemn faced and sonorous toned Edgar Lustgarten who also acted as narrator.


Lustgarten (we always used to call him Edgar Last-Gasper) was a lawyer, writer and broadcaster, and a fixture on British radio for several decades. And I would always listen to him in his various radio series of famous crimes, trials, and scandals, with him often playing all the parts.

One of the best, which I quite often revisit, was about William Joyce, “Lord Haw-Haw”, the radio propagandist for the Nazi regime, who was hanged by the British as a traitor in 1946.

Joyce was a familiar voice over the airwaves throughout the war; broadcasts that many Brits found amusing. Lustgarten was involved in propaganda broadcasts back to Germany, using the pseudonym Brent Wood to hide his Jewish background, and the two men reportedly indulged in oblique verbal sparring at times. However, for the public, the dialog was somewhat one-way. Listening to Haw-Haw in Britain was a popular entertainment; listening to British broadcasts in Germany could be punishable by death.

But Lustgarten did this radio documentary about Joyce, and got the voice impersonation off (as the Brits would say) “to a T”. (As an aside, had Joyce been captured a few years after the war, he would have probably served a token sentence, and then written his memoirs. Unfortunately for him he was captured in the full flood of post-war retribution, and was convicted of treason. Since technically he was never a British citizen, but Irish-American, his conviction and execution has caused legal misgivings since. And his wife, who also broadcast propaganda and certainly WAS British, was never charged. But as one authority put it - in the climate of the times, better men were executed for less. Americans who broadcast for the enemy like “Tokyo Rose” and “Axis Sally” got away far lighter in comparison.)

Anyhow, we were talking about Edgar Lustgarten. Actually, we were talking about British B pictures in which he appeared. I really must keep to the point. Whatever that is.

These little films started with the dramatic tones of - “SCOTLAND YARD”. Americans should imagine a token rip-off from the introduction to “The FBI” or “Dragnet”. We would go through doors into the secret rooms of Scotland Yard where about three men in a small room would be using state of the art technology - maps on tables, magnifying glasses, that sort of thing - and then we would home in on a file that said “The Driscoll Case” or similar. Cut to Last-Gasper, I mean Lustgarten, who would introduce the story.

They were all filmed at Merton Park Studios, home of another long running B series based, loosely, on the work of Edgar Wallace. The studio was tiny. So we would have the police in their headquarters, the size of small closet. The villain had maybe escaped to somewhere exotic - say, Morocco. Cut to stock footage of airplane in the sky, then stock footage of Morocco, and then police headquarters in Morocco - the same closet now decked with slightly different furniture and British character actors with unconvincing make-up and even more unconvincing accents. By the end of thirty minutes the crime was solved, and Lustgarten would pontificate over the end credits.

It was great fun. It never failed.

And the sheer limitations of the form gave the whole series a new lease of life when TV took over. That reliance on close ups and few characters - created by threadbare budgetary considerations - actually made them ideal for the small screens of early TV and they all had new lease of life.

Modern films with their emphasis on CGI and action and bloated lengths and surround sound quite often leave me cold. But creaky old movies with creaky old plots and ghosts from the past in the casts - I can enjoy them time and again.

I think I’ll put one on the player right now.

Tuesday, May 03, 2016

Five Plus One

My daughters and baby half-sister, as I see them:


Amy and the Old Guy

From Occasional Reader



The last couple of days

Mrs O and I must be the epitome of aging groupies. We have taken an interest in the singing of Amy Goddard for some years. There is a family connection. But it means that over these last couple of days we have travelled around 400 miles to attend a concert launching her second album.

I don’t do “out and back” in a day now - and anyhow, the gig ended somewhat late. In fact, by the time we helped dismantle everything it was very late indeed. So we stayed with relatives.

Usually when I stay in other people’s homes there is something that goes awry. About the only thing that happened on this flying visit was the shower. No - I didn’t break it - but I clambered in without my spectacles and looking closely about found that all my soaps and stuff were somewhere else. So, assuming that the household would not mind me borrowing, I peered myopically at various tubes, and it appears I then elected to wash my hair with someone’s Super Exfoliating Facial Scrub...

Amy’s second album is nearly all self-penned, and for this show she had a guitarist I’ve known for years, a back-up singer and percussionist, a hammer dulcimer player (a bit like a piano with bits missing that goes out of tune at the slightest change in temperature), a flute/whistle player, plus her own collection of guitars, in various tunings. Apparently you soon run out of linking jokes if you try and tune between numbers (“it was in tune when I bought it”...“I always wondered what these twirly things were for...”) so each instrument had its own tuning, and Amy’s husband was back-stage tuning up and doing the roadie bit. The venue was full, and at least three radio D J’s from specialist programmes (one linked to Canada, America and Australia) were there, which bodes well for future plays.

Making real money from performing folk music can be problematic unless you are early Bob Dylan. (Joke: how do you become a folk singer with a small fortune? Answer: start off with a large fortune). In these days of streaming even megastars often sell few albums, so CD sales aren’t the way. You can wear yourself out traveling around the country doing gigs, which is not Amy’s choice of life style. Or you can get played on radio, and there are a surprisingly large number of stations in Britain alone, let alone world-wide that have a need for this kind of product. Codes built into the CDs send information on plays to a central source, and the artist and songwriter gets royalties. A number of plays plus at least four really good reviews on specialist sites so far bodes well for the new album which has only been out for less than a week officially. Of course, if a megastar hears Amy’s work and decides to record something she’s written, I suspect she is not going to complain. But writers rarely write for the money. There are far easier ways to earn it. They write because - well, it’s part of them. But if it sells, no-one in their right mind is going to be churlish and grumble.

And - in the, “it’s a small world sometimes”, category - long-suffering readers of my stuff may vaguely remember how I carry on about a late American singer-songwriter, John Stewart. At Amy’s show, in my own guest slot, I did one of his numbers. At the interval I was immediately waylaid by an old guy (which probably means ten years younger than me) who had met Stewart, knew his wife, had been interviewed on radio about the man, and - and - yes, had actually been to - Bolinas. Huh? That will mean absolutely nothing to readers here. Only because I am what we can in the UK “an anorak” could I trade reminiscences and hold up my end of the conversation. Amy too could wade into the debate of minutia because she had to contact the Stewart family for permission to do one of his numbers on her first album and arrange royalties.

So a good time was had by all. We paid for cover to look after my mother while we were away. She will be 97 in June. She’s now outlived her first husband, my father, who was a fitness freak. She’s managed that age after her parents were told she’d not survive beyond five, and has spent a life time of eating the wrong foods and talking about, but not actually, taking exercise. (Her idea of slimming was always eating large unhealthy meals followed by two token low-fat biscuits afterwards). Anyhow, the last time we went away my daughter visited to hold the fort with her husband, and then she was taken ill and they had to stay with her for three days - kindly not telling us until we got back from vacation. This time all that has happened is that the carers have broken one of the sides of her bed. She can’t fall out, although it doesn’t look too safe. So that is a job to get sorted on Monday when the place that supplied the bed re-opens. So now it’s a takeaway meal, glass or two of red, and crash out, while hoping to make a killing selling obscurities on eBay.

So that’s our last couple of days. How were yours?

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

All Hell is Going to Break Lose






            So ... in the dim, distant past, Elders (pastors) from the church my mother attended did their best to persecute me. Mind you, I wasn’t a member of their church, and, other than attending because I believed I owed it to my mother, I did not participate in any of their communal activities. Some few years ago, I petitioned the court for a restraining order against two of the local Elders. It was granted.
            One of the reasons I took that extreme step was their attempted interference with my job. They objected to a book I used in my literature class. I worked for the school district, and district policy was to offer alternative reading. I would do that even if it weren’t policy. Students are captives of a system, and it is unfair to subject them to reading they find objectionable. The book in question was Gideon the Cutpurse, a young adult time-travel novel. In the minds of these elders, time travel is  demonic. The school district restated the policy, the parent involved removed her child from my class, and I ask for and received a restraining order. (You Know I’m leaving out details.)
            This week I had another run in with elders from that church. I walked out my front door, stuck my key in the car door, and two of them zoomed up in their car. They’d been waiting for me. And Lo! I know these guys. They’re the two self-entitled creepy guys from my childhood. They’re now old and wrinkled, and one has false teeth and hearing aids. I haven’t seen them in at least 15 years; certainly enough time hasn't lapsed for me to want to see them in any setting. They’ve both moved here in the past few months. They were waiting, lurking outside my house.
            One pretended to be my long-lost friend. He was never my friend. The other was silent through an inane conversation about the other guy’s declining health. His only comment was to ask me where I worked now. I told him. I have no connection to this church. I reject its teachings and I reject their behaviors. I was polite. I will not be next time I see them.
            Some of my blog readers will say, “But we’re not like that.” You are. That’s you. Listen to your videos; listen to what you say; analyze what you think. This is your organization at its best. It goes down hill from this.
            My lawyer is contacting each of the local branches of this church. I will not be waylaid and spied upon by under-educated clergy of any denomination. If you have a comment to make, make it here, not through an email.

Fair warning to religiously inclined, self-entitled old guys who think my personal life is their business. It isn't.

Sunday, April 03, 2016

On being kissy

It's no secret that I love my pet Scotsman. Even if we're not as young as we were when we first met, he still makes my heart flutter. He's touchable. If I manage to live to old age, and he does too, and we're fat and he's bald and forgets to shave, I'll still want to cuddle with him.

His best quality is his ability to listen patiently to me and to our girls. And believe me, sometimes that takes "the patience of Job." Oh, he has his faults. (He never hangs up his coat. It's a nag the tall man moment.) But that only matters when it's cold. It's warming up now. He'll fiddle in the yard, tracking in dirt and being generally smelly. That washes off, and I have trained him to take his shoes off at the back door.

Put him together with his friends and get them talking 'engineer-ish' things and life can become dull. I'm good at un-dullifying it. We played tag around the house this morning. It left me out of breath, and I surrendered first. My current meds leave me short of breath. But he's still fun to chase. And snuggle and Kissify.


Friday, April 01, 2016

UNA



UNA


By O. Reader

In a reasonably long life (so far) you tend to meet a lot of people. I know that I have. My voluntary work has taken me to different parts of the country and I know literally thousands of people, and far more superficially know me. My secular career involved publishing and lecturing around the country, and doing battle on message boards. But when you look back, sometimes there is the odd individual who somehow stands out.

So this post is a tribute to Una. I remember her from when I lived in London, and recently I used a variety of websites to trace what became of her. (Which is not the easiest of things to do going forward in time, it is far easier to go back).

Ealing Green in West London has special meaning for me on several levels. The religious building I attended and worked from in London was there. The school I went to (Ealing Grammar) was there. And the Ealing Film Studios were there. For a glorious period of about ten years they produced a series of comedy films that subtly sent up the British character, or at least how the British liked to think of themselves. Most starred Alex Guinness before he was a big hit in The Bridge on the River Kwai and went all po-faced and serious prior to finally ending up in Star Wars. By the time I lived there, the Ealing Film Company had sadly gone, but BBC TV had bought the studios. Most old Ealing Film comedies and many BBC comedy programs from later in time have recognizable locations for me; streets where I called on people, familiar buildings, even the interior of my school for a couple of films. And the whole area was peopled with actors, many of them minor players, who could be called into the studio at a moment’s notice just down the road for work. I met many of these people, but name-dropping here wouldn’t mean much - certainly not to an American audience.

Anyhow, also on Ealing Green lived Una.  She was in her middle years, and was extremely short. She’d spent her life on the fringes of the film industry. She’d acted in one film - she’d played The Infant Phenomenon in the 1947 film version of Dickens’ Nicholas Nickleby, a part for which she was perfectly suited. For those who don’t know their Dickens, the traveling players of Vincent Crummles have as one of their star turns a somewhat elderly infant prodigy, who “though short on stature had a comparatively aged countenance” who “had been kept up late every night and put upon an unlimited allowance of gin-and-water from infancy to prevent her growing tall”. Nicholas looks a little too closely and asks how old she is?  When told she is only ten, he remarks “How extraordinary...”

But probably the most resonant part of Una’s background for me was her parrot - a particularly vicious specimen which invariably advanced menacingly whenever we called. Una’s parrot had been Mrs Wilberforce’s parrot ‘General Gordon’ in The Ladykillers. Forget the unsubtle re-telling with Tom Hanks - the original film version with Alex Guinness, Peter Sellers, and Herbert Lom had it all. Or at least for a British audience, which could appreciate the nation-specific subtleties and stereotypes. (Just watch the scene where a team of hardened criminals are overwhelmed by a gaggle of twittering old ladies handing out cups of tea and cakes while playing Silver Threads Amongst the Gold on an out-of-tune piano.) The director, Alexander Mackendrick went back to the States on the strength of it, and directed the extremely cynical Sweet Smell of Success with Burt Lancaster and Tony Curtis straight after. Anyhow, I’m getting off the point - which is an Occasional habit - the original film starred Una’s parrot.

Most of her family were in the film industry in some way. One relative I believe was a set designer, and when he died I was given a copy of Jerome K Jerome’s Sketches in Lavender from his library, which I still have. Her brother was a film producer. Yet another relative was a stuntman, who did David Niven’s jump in The Guns of Navarone. As a film junkie and long-time member of the British Film Institute, I had lots to talk about. And I saw specific films again on the strength of the information she gave me.

Only that wasn’t actually my official reason for meeting her. I’d called in our ministry work with a young lady with whom I was an item at the time, and we had been invited in. Una made excellent coffee. And we debated this and that and the other, and each week for number of months got on (as we say in the UK) like a house on fire. It wasn’t our reason for being there, but we read some of the pieces she had written, and she heard some of the humorous verse I was writing at the time before I grew up. Una’s philosophy was best described as agnostic - and just so that my posts impart a tiny bit of erudition, that’s a word that actually comes from the Bible - check the Greek for Acts 17 v.23.

I realize now, that Una wasn’t really all that interested in our message. She was interested in US. Two young people who were idealistic and wildly enthusiastic and - as goes with the territory - probably came over as planning to change the world. (In actual fact, our message was specifically that WE were not going to change the world, but the subtlety of that probably got lost on her.) We were also greatly interested in the arts, or at least of her two visitors, I was.

How did it come to an end? Una went back to work, so was not available at the times we were. The young lady and I broke up. And soon after that (although no connection whatsoever) I said goodbye to London and headed off for the wilds of deepest Berkshire, working my way over the decades to the even wilder wilds of Wales.

But I always remembered Una. And when doing historical research, I wondered if I could trace what happened to her? Her film contacts as well as Ancestry should help. Well, they did. I found from IMDB that she had been a composer. There had been a grand piano in the back room and I’d never asked and she’d never volunteered. Her published composition work however was not remotely classical, but in popular music of the 40s and 50s. It seems surprising that had not come up in conversation, but maybe I had just been more interested in the movies at that time.

Like everybody else I knew from that era, Una ultimately left London. She lived to be 98. I discovered that she had put her memories down on tape for the British Film Institute History Project, one of many groups for which I was already a member. As I write I am waiting for them to digitize the two cassettes her tale is stored on, so I can hear her in her own words as recorded for posterity back in 1991. I am looking forward to that. She appeared on the outside to be a very happy person, with a happy family around her. Perhaps, several decades ago, I should have tried to regain contact. But I remember her now.

Baby Sitting



The Warrior and her Pet


Friday, March 25, 2016

Two

Morning coffee with the pet


This reminds me of Annie:


Saturday, March 19, 2016

From O. Reader



OUR HOLS

I am writing this while we are on holiday, or as most readers here might term it, vacation - two whole weeks, when our daughter and son in law care for my mother, and we can get away.

But nothing seems to go completely smoothly in Occasional-land. For a start, as soon as we reached our destination my laptop sort of half turned up its toes and refused to accept the existence of the internet. Now I have had this machine for nearly eight years, one of the first with Vista, and it has been hammered during that time. Four of the letter keys have completely worn away, making it impossible for most others to use it. The battery has died, and to get the official version to replace it will cost more than a decent netbook. Yes - IT IS TIME.

But that didn’t help me on this trip. So I have been reduced to using a Mickey Mouse tablet. Mrs O uses her tablet all the time, but mine was kept mainly for videos. Well, forced into it, I have learned a lot. I trained as a touch typist a million years ago, with a view to getting part-time work to support myself while working for a charity. I was a lad of 16 at the time, in a class full of girls, which was rather nice really. The result was that I can think of a word or sentence, and it is already there on the page. Great! But a tablet! Here I was, pecking away like a demented chicken at keys with fat fingers - I’d mislaid the stylus of course - at about five words a minute - misspelling something chronic. It sort of reminded me vaguely of someone else. So the massive emails I usually send to less than long-suffering correspondents were reduced to an impersonation of Twitter. Which probably was an improvement, but changing the habits of a lifetime was hard. I come from the penny a line school. That was the name for journalists of yesterday who were paid by the line, so it paid to be as verbose as possible. Their motto was always to use two words when even one was superfluous.

So, now I am back (even if momentarily) on a conventional keyboard - our hols. What a dispiriting title. It reminds one of all those times when people invited you round to show you their holiday movies. Even though 8mm film was quite expensive, people used to shoot reels of out of focus movies of families embarrassing themselves. And when video came in and the cost of cameras came down it was even worse.

But - you don’t have to read this do you! You can skip it and read posts about dragons and young pixies and stuff instead.

We went to North Wales, because Mrs O wanted to learn to swim. Properly. There was this course she’d wanted to do for about ten years. The hotel supplied the pool, instruction every morning, while Occasional could crash out in the bedroom and curse at both his laptop and tablet. It worked. She learned. She is ecstatic. She wants me to join her in the pool every day. I am NOT ecstatic.

But every afternoon we did the tourist bit. We visited the Roman town of Chester, and what a well kept place it is. The main streets - dating back to Victorian times - have two tiers of shops, one above the other - all kept in pristine condition. And a canal. Belonging to a canal trust back home, I am a sucker for canals. We will go back again. And we went to Liverpool, and behaving like real tourists, saw the Beatles experience. Quite nicely done, and the reconstruction of the Cavern reminded me of places I used to visit in another life when in London.

The only problem with visiting Liverpool was the toll system for the tunnels under the Mersey. Back in Wales, I am used to traveling over the two Severn Bridges to reach England - where you either have a tag on your vehicle, or someone swipes your card or gives you old-fashioned change at the booth. Here, they wanted the exact money and they wanted it thrown into a strange kind of bucket. Mrs O hastily counted out the fee - unfortunately all in very small change - as we queued and I threw it into the bucket - and missed. Don’t ask me how I missed. Mrs O is still asking me, but I don’t know. But I was out of the car grovelling on the ground trying to retrieve the small coins, while juggernauts with impatient drivers leaned on their horns behind me. Mrs O says I should stay calm and not get flustered. Flustered? Moi? It is easier said than done. I REALLY felt like a tourist.

The only other mishap (well, so far) was when we first got to North Wales. The day before we left we’d both visited the dentist and were given a clean bill of health. But my dentist - my daughter’s age - gave me a little lecture and suggested I might like to retire my trusty toothbrush. Mrs O has used a rechargeable thing for years, but I have resisted. So - I succumbed. How do you use this thing? Well (said in a world-weary patient voice with only a trace of a sigh) you put the toothpaste on the little brush - see? - And then you press the button. Simple. I have been told that the ring of toothpaste on my sweater will wash out, but there is still some concern about the hotel wallpaper.

Our second week we travelled to the Holiday Village of Centerparcs, and here to-night - oh joy, oh rapture - the internet has come back, even if only temporarily. So I am bashing this out before it all goes pear shaped again. And I am hoping to catch up on all the research I promised to do for various ones last week.

As usual, I expect we’re going to need a holiday/vacation to get over this one

Wednesday, March 09, 2016

From Harry

Gun Culture

A lot of people around the world don’t understand American gun culture. I thought I did when I was a teen, but it was a simpler time. I grew up in the rural countryside of Eastern Virginia. Hunting was, and still is, a big part of country living. Our dad took my brother and I hunting for dove, quail, and squirrel in the autumn. He gave us matching 20 gauge shotguns to use and, most importantly, he taught us how to handle a gun safely.

There were other guns in the house. Dad had a .22 caliber rifle and pistol. I love that pistol, a Colt Woodsman. It’s a collector’s item today. My brother has it. I remember buying my first rifle from Sears and Roebuck. I was 14 or 15. Yes, things were different then. In those days a kid could walk into a hardware store and buy a box of bullets and go home and plink at tin cans to his heart’s content.

For many, many years after I got married my guns stayed locked up in a gun cabinet. Just because you are a gun owner, doesn’t mean you must play with them everyday. The only thing I shot for a long time was a snake that made the mistake of entering our yard. Once I retired from teaching things changed. Well actually things had been changing around the country and the world for quite awhile. Columbine, 9/11, the Virginia Tech shootings, the DC sniper, and Sandy Hook were events that affected us at school.

On 9/11 word of the events in NYC reached school by late-arriving students. Rumors spread from classroom to classroom. I personally don’t believe in hiding the truth from children. I let my students watch events unfold on TV until the principal made an announcement-ordering teachers to keep the TVs off. Years later I was monitoring a class of online high school students when the Virginia Tech shootings took place. Using their cellphones to text and email their friends, the students in my classroom accounted for all of the Tech students who had graduated from our school. Technology at it’s best.

The DC snipers scared the heck out of all of us. The two snipers were targeting schools, gas stations, bus stops, and parking lots where they could pick a random target. They traveled south of Washington to Ashland, Virginia (only 40 miles away) to shoot a restaurant patron and to leave a note saying they would target a Richmond area school. We closed schools for two days while local police forces beefed up security for the communities. I was never so relieved as I was when the snipers were captured.

It was at that time our schools started implementing lock-down drills. It became just another drill at first, like the annual tornado drill, but that changed again after Sandy Hook. That scared a lot more people who realized that schools are soft targets for mad men. Now every school I go to requires a visitor to be buzzed in through a locked door to the office. It’s not a perfect system, but it will slow someone down.

Anyhow I admit I let the growing paranoia get to me and did what many Americans have done. I bought a pistol and applied for a concealed carry permit. I did a little more. I bought another shotgun and a couple more rifles, partially out of a desire to be prepared and partially because I have and always will like guns.

My feelings about guns are conflicted at times. It bothers me that it’s too easy for kids to get their hands on unsecured firearms with tragic effects. It bothers me that guns sold on my state end up in the hands of criminals in other states like New York. It bothers me that the NRA has a lock on too many politicians who will not pass any reasonable laws to prevent guns from getting into the hands of people who are dishonest or mentally unstable. A majority of Americans (67%) want universal background checks for whenever someone buys a gun. I have gone through the process multiple times now. It’s no big deal.

Education is important too. If you own a gun you need to know how to handle it properly. I think my father taught me well, but I still took a gun safety course when I applied for my concealed carry permit (CCP). I could have gotten the requirement waived because I was a military veteran, but I wanted the refresher. CCP holders and hunters have to take safety courses, but there is no requirement that anyone who buys a gun have any training. I think children should be taught gun safety at some point. Teaching gun safety can be done in schools without guns actually being brought into the schools. Little Johnny might not accidentally shoot his little sister if he understands that you should ALWAYS treat a gun as if it is loaded. Of course Little Johnny might not accidentally shoot his sister if mom and day kept their guns secured at home in a gun safe or use trigger locks.

There is no one solution to our gun problem. Some of the gun laws we have are not enforced, partly because the legislatures in some states don’t fund police departments and other agencies well enough for them to do their jobs. There are too many people on the streets that are not getting the mental health services they need, but can easily get a gun even if they are a few cards short of a full deck. That is a health care problem that needs to be fixed. People (mostly men) who are guilty of domestic abuse should lose the right to gun ownership until it can be shown that they are no longer a threat to their families.

Guns need to be safer too. Most of mine are locked up. One of my pistols has a built-in gunlock. Without the key it makes a nice paperweight. I need a larger gun safe too. Just because I know (well, I think I do) how to handle a gun safely, I don’t want someone else to use my guns carelessly.

What this country needs is for common sense and reason to prevail. Unfortunately that is in short supply at the moment. I don’t know how events will eventually play out over the issue of gun control, but until then I’ll keep my powder dry

Tuesday, February 02, 2016

Amy! by O. Reader




Amy’s Gig

It nearly didn’t happen for us. Everything was organised for us to be away for a long weekend to support Amy Goddard and family - carers employed to look after my mother, who is bed bound and 96, and all other appointments shelved for five days - and then what Brits call “the dreaded lurgy” struck both of us down. Cough, bark, splutter, and the usual one-upmanship (which in the modern world should probably be one-up-person-ship - of arguing who was the least worst, whose turn it was to struggle out of bed to make the coffee and find the Acetaminophen.





We should have travelled to a place called Uxbridge on the outskirts of London that I actually knew very well in my pre-teen years, where Amy had a paid gig; and then the idea was to get to Hampshire for her own pre-launch concert the next day. As it happened, we only struggled down to Hampshire and then came back to Wales early afterwards. But we got to the show that really matters - a small venue, but packed out with over 70 people, and where in response to a diminishing number of requests, I still did a support slot, backed by Amy and her husband.

She did her album preview to close the first half. Her support opened the second half, and then the two of them finished the show with a number of standards from Snow Patrol, Extreme, and Simon and Garfunkel, that the audience could join in with. You know the scene - elderly arthritics dancing on the tables, that sort of thing. Her choice of performance slot was deliberate - some of the older ones tend to go home after the first half, but they all heard HER and a number pre-ordered her new album before going home to cocoa and bed.

Her songs from the new album included the title track, Secret Garden and her current single, Near the Sea. A local singer named Andy Adams, who I’ve seen perform before, duetted on The Maiden’s Leap, a Celtic legend song that actually - unbelievably - has a happy ending. You know - she leaps - and for once doesn’t fall to her death and come back as a wailing banshee. Apparently visiting a Scottish castle at a folk festival a couple of years ago, Amy heard the legend, and the sheer incongruity of a happy ending stuck in her mind. Another song was The Highwayman, based on the Alfred Noyes’ poem. Because she had to edit the poem - (even in the folk world, tracks that last 15 minutes don’t go down too well - it’s not exactly Stairway to Heaven) - she had to get permission from the Alfred Noyes’ estate for the edits, which they ultimately gave. She was accompanied by a whistle player and a hammer dulcimer player - apparently the hammer dulcimer has something like a 148 strings to blithely go out of tune at the slightest change of temperature.

The whole was professionally recorded from the sound console, and edited highlights will be on a local radio station in the coming weeks, which has featured Amy in songs and interviews before.

Her husband did the sound - something quite new to him because they were lent the sound system by someone for whom she is building a guitar - adding luthier to her CV or resume. But the sound was spot on.

And what about Occasional’s part? I hear you cry.

Actually, after barking like a dog and frightening the real dog at our accommodation, things held up very well. Dreamers on the Rise is my favorite John Stewart song of all time, but I may describe that in a future post. There is one line in it where you have to let rip - once past that successfully you can relax. As for Wimoweh, that only really works when the audience joins in the backing vocals - so we taught them the bass, and then the alto and soprano parts, before launching in what could have been Wimo-croak. This was probably the best it has ever gone, which may not say much for other attempts, but hey - you’ve gotta put a good spin on embarrassing the family. I may end up on YouTube yet - THINGS YOU SHOULD NEVER TRY WHEN YOU REACH (insert venerable age). Perhaps number 1 of a series - How to Grow Old Disgracefully...

One small segment of the audience was a group of people whom I had visited a few years earlier wearing smart suit, tie, briefcase of tricks and orthodontist smile. One fondly hopes that they were suitably gobsmacked by the Hyde incarnation of Brother Jekyll.

Amy told us that the big launch is to be in April. Two shows, one in what is now her home area, and one the following week in South Wales where she grew up and went to school, and possibly a showcase session at a well known folk club in between.. There are radio slots lined up with interviews, and if she gets as many as the last time that should be very encouraging. And now she is known within the limits of her “world” that helps considerably, because so many hopefuls never get past their first album or even first EP. She got her former art teacher to help with the cover art and a former music teacher to play violin on a couple of tracks. Most folk violinists just go with the flow, and improvise each time. A classical violinist often needs all the black dots written out, but since Amy teaches Theory of Music she was able to do the latter. It still sounded genuine and folkie and improvised to me. But as I have known Amy for a good number of years now, perhaps I am a little prejudiced.

I’m sure I will have told the same anecdote before, but apparently she got these same former members of staff from her school to come to her wedding over 15 years ago. As one observed on the day, he knew she’d been trying to inveigle him into her place of worship for years, but wasn’t getting married just a little bit drastic?