Sunday, 15 January 2017

Creeping Bentgrass, Golden Wedding Party in Garstang

Last night found us driving out to Garstang to play for a Golden Wedding party for two lovely people who have booked the band in the past, several years ago and remembered us from then.

The format of the party roughly followed the format of the wedding, 50 years ago, with speeches by the Best Man and Groom. There was an Irish Raffle. We hadn't heard of this before but basically prizes chosen had to remain on your table in front of you and more tickets were drawn than there were prizes. Once the stock of prizes ran out, winners were allowed to pinch a prize from someone else, which made for a lot of fun and a much-travelled bottle of champagne! The tin of beans didn't move about anywhere near as much...!

Barry and Marlene, it was a pleasure to play for you again, I just hope we have that sort of energy when another ten years goes by to Miss Franny and my own 50th Anniversary! Heck... I wish I had that much now!

And just to bring past gigs up to date, here's a couple I missed over the Christmas and New Year period...

The 29th December saw us out at Darwen, playing at the house party of some long-standing friends. Very informal and lots of fun. We were pipped at the post this year and missed out on a hat-trick of winning Brian's quiz...

New Year's Eve saw us playing at the Thurlby Club in Preston, where we had played earlier in the year. A game of Bingo was held to raise funds for necessary repairs to the roof. David won and donated the prize back with a wish that they did the bit over the stage first...! A really good night with a load of laughs!

Sunday, 8 January 2017

Music I Love - 'H'

Welcome to my first article for 2017 - a little late in coming I know, but with it, I return to my music series where I pick out artists whose music has touched me.

Today we've reached the letter 'H' and I kick off with Bill Haley and The Comets. To modern eyes he looks an extremely unlikely rock star. Born in 1925 he was only a whisker away from being thirty when his first hit entered the British charts in December 1954. (As a baby of only 9 months, to be honest this first exposure to rock and roll didn't leave an immediate impression with me...) It was, of course, Shake, Rattle and Roll. Ha! Got you!

Rock Around The Clock was his second chart success. It went to No.17 early in 1955, but then came back into the charts in October that year and shot to No.1. In fact it entered the charts no less than eight times, hitting No.5 in September 1956, No. 24 in December 1956, No.26 in January 1957, No.22 later in January 1957, No.20 in 1968 after being re-issued and finally No.12 in 1974 having been re-issued once again and entering the charts in the week of my 20th birthday!

I have several of his 78 rpm discs including the original See You Later Alligator that was in my parents' old record collection.

Daryl Hall and John Oates, with a couple of typical 1980s hairstyles, had a few singles that I really enjoyed and that have a tendency to become ear worms if I mention titles such as She's Gone, I Can't Go For That (No Can Do) or Maneater. Oh no... what have I done...?

Now, scoff if you like, but I always had a soft spot for Geri Halliwell. [This is your conscience speaking - don't do the joke!] Oh... ok... She had more personality than the rest of the Spice Girls put together and brought out some some catchy singles once she left them, that made the most of a voice that didn't always reach the heights of said personality. Calling is probably my favourite and a good case in point in that it didn't call for her to have to belt out the lyrics. And it wasn't hard [Oy! I'm still watching you!] to watch her videos... [Ok, but that's as close as you are allowed to get!]

A little bit of my own personal history can creep in here... Way back in 1972 I was playing lead guitar in a band called Spiral around north Manchester and we heard a couple of comedy tracks off this album by Mike Harding and bought the album on the back of them.

Then later that year we found ourselves playing support for him at a day care centre in Rochdale. I wore a cowboy jacket with leather tassels (like the one worn by Cleavon Little in Blazing Saddles) and whether that was the inspiration or not, a few months later Mike released Rochdale Cowboy which hit No.22 in the charts and led to an appearance on Top Of The Pops that he later described in hilarious fashion on his album One Man Show.

Even for a pre-teen male there was something mysteriously pffffoooaarrr about French girls. Francoise Hardy definitely had this strange ability to make me feel a bit weird [ahem!] - shut up! - and even now I can quite happily listen to All Over The World and melt...

Jet Harris and Tony Meehan were members of The Shadows who I only knew from records. By the time I first saw The Shads live on stage they had left to be replaced by Brian 'Licorice' Locking and Brian Bennett. As a duo they had a few hits which remain eminently listenable today. All released in 1963, Diamonds got to No.1, whilst Scarlett O'Hara and Applejack reached No.2 and No.4 respectively. And that was it. Tony Meehan had one minor hit the following year with The Tony Meehan Combo but Jet would trouble the chart compilation team no more. On the sleeve notes of at least one early Cliff Richard album he is credited as the leader of The Shadows.

The "Quiet Beatle" was never-the-less the first to have a No.1 hit as a solo artist when My Sweet Lord hit the charts in early 1971. It brought George Harrison years of heartache and court appearances where the repeated playing of three notes from The Chiffons' hit He's So Fine would have done anyone's head in. Yet listen to his penned tracks on Beatles albums and you easily realise that in any other group he would have shone out like a blinding light. His light had to compete with the stellar supernovas of Lennon and McCartney. After a break of several years, he came back to the singles charts with a couple of great foot tappers in Got My Mind Set On You and the wonderfully evocative When We Was Fab.

American band Heart took ten years to become known in the UK, but with the release of their self-titled album that all changed. I first heard and saw them on Jenny Powell's '80s music TV show No Limits, which seems to get mentioned here and there in this series. Singles: These Dreams, Never and What About Love came from this album with Who Will You Run To, There's The Girl and All I Wanna Do Is Make Love To You coming from the following album, Bad Animals.

I'm a guitarist, so I imagine you expected this artist to appear. [You're not including the album cover for Electric Ladyland here, right?] Shush... Though it is the only Jimi Hendrix album that I own to be honest. With tracks like All Along The Watchtower and Burning Of The Midnight Lamp I was in awe of his guitar playing. Even though the track was on the album, when he died at the age of 27 in 1970 I went out and bought the special tribute single of Voodoo Child (Slight Return) which is still a treasured possession.

It wasn't just the guitar playing though. Just look at that photo of him. Look at the style, the individualism, the casual adoption of cool. I'm so glad I've got that too. [What???] I've told you...shush!

The Hollies were one of my early fave groups. The 3-part harmonies that were their trademark burned into my brain and taught me to identify harmony parts at an early age and that has paid dividends for the two of us in Creeping Bentgrass as we are often told that our harmonies are what brings audiences back again and again. I have several Hollies albums from the early Reflections to later hits compilations that include songs that had still to be written when Hollies Greatest came out in 1968. Far too many wonderful singles for me to list. This is one band that didn't have to fill a hits album with songs that were B-sides or album tracks!

Another guitar hero. Buddy Holly left an amazing legacy even if you ignore his guitar playing and the fact that he was one of the first innovators. If all he was known for was his song-writing then he would still be a legend. I have several 78 rpm records in addition to the inevitable greatest hits album.

"Well we wanna hear her and I mean that most sincerely folks..." Only a short time later was Hughie Green to announce to his Opportunity Knocks audience that last week's winner Mary Hopkin had been signed by Paul McCartney to record for The Beatles' new label Apple Records. Her first single for them, Those Were The Days shot to No.1 and is instantly recognisable today, almost 50 years later. The photo is from the album cover of Postcard. It had a few good tracks but I was rather disappointed with it if truth be told when I bought it in 1969. The singles though kept coming: Goodbye, Temma Harbour and then Knock, Knock, Who's There which was the UK entry to the Eurovision Song Contest in 1970. Her chart successes dwindled after that with only a few minor entries, but she remains an active performer.

Whitney Houston, daughter of chart songstress Thelma Houston, had an amazing career with a string of Top Ten hits and No.1s such as Saving All My Love For You, How Will I Know, Greatest Love Of All, I Wanna Dance With Somebody, One Moment In Time, I Will Always Love You, I Have Nothing... You get the idea. She remains one of those singers against whom all others are measured.

But enough of all this pop music stuff. If you want to talk mega stardom - sorry - MEGA STARDOM, then here is Jack Hylton and his Orchestra who from the 1920s all the way into the 1940s, churned out hit after hit, several thousand recordings in his own right as well as backing just about every major British artist including George Formby and Gracie Fields, comedians Leslie Sarony and Arthur Askey etc. etc. Many of the 1930s and 40s band leaders had spent time learning their craft in his orchestra and when it was time to leave the orchestra behind he went full time into a very successful impresario role, giving first breaks to another generation of singers, comedians and young hopefuls. Some became quite famous. Morecambe and Wise for instance...

I have a good two dozen 78 rpm records plus several recordings from the old Dance Band Days programme and CD compilations of Jack Hylton and they are a delight to listen to. In the late 1970s The Pasadena Roof Orchestra made a successful career of bringing back the sound and songs.

And that's it for the letter 'H'. A few other artists came close to being included. I had hoped to feature Bruce Hornsby and The Range, but that's just the way it is...

Monday, 26 December 2016

2016 Reading Part Five

Phew! With a week of 2016 to go I have managed to finish another six books. This, without a doubt, will be the final showcase of books for this year!

I started this batch with the next in Dennis Wheatley's Roger Brook series. In this, the fifth in the series, Roger leaves the world of the French Revolution and is made Governor of one of the Caribbean islands. Travelling with his wife, his long-term lover and her husband and a young ward who has the hots for him (Wheatley hardly ever disappoints his readers - and certainly does not cause his heroes to lack for the odd spot of nookie!) the ship they travel in is taken by pirates including a pirate queen who has the hots for him (sheesh!) This relationship proves somewhat stormy to say the least... After escaping the pirates he gets caught in the middle of an uprising, is recalled back to France and comes back in contact with the pirate queen who now has the frosts for him... 'Pon my soul...

Wow - you should read this, folks... If this isn't tending towards the prophetic, then I'll eat my hat. Western governments should read this and quake... We are starting to lose all faith in you!

I bought this quite a while ago in a large second-hand book store. The third of John Robb's excellent books for children featuring the trail scout and gun whiz, Catsfoot, this has him reluctantly fighting American indians whilst sympathising with their cause in a way most rare for the time in which this book was written. There's a band of outlaw brothers to deal with also and, naturally, a whole heap of common folks in need of protection.

I jumped out of Simon Scarrow's excellent Roman series featuring Cato and Macro to read this awesome fictionalised account of the Ottoman siege of the fortress of Malta in 1565. Malta was defended by the Knights of St John, already displaced through history from Jerusalem and then Rhodes. Had they not triumphed in this most bloody of sieges, the world would be a very different place today. I can't recommend this too highly.

My Name Is Trouble is a book of five short stories about American Private Eye detectives (you'd never guess from the crude unimaginative cover would you?) The short story format suits this genre and the pace is never short of frenetic as Raymond Chandler's various heroes are hired, stalked or simply dragged into danger, flying fists, hard-nosed dames and gunfights.

Whilst we are talking about fast-paced stories... Alistair MacLean wouldn't know how to write a slow-moving drama and why on earth would we want him to? This tale deals with Nazi S.S. nasties, stolen gold, revenge and a location set deep within the cannibal and head-hunting tribes of the Amazonian jungle. A lost city, a hovercraft falling down waterfalls and a hero in the typical MacLean mould; ruthless, crack shot, arrogant and playing a secret close to his chest. More to come in 2017...

Sunday, 25 December 2016

Christmas Greetings 2016

On Christmas Day, let me extend warmest Christmas wishes for a Merry Christmas and a very Happy New Year 2017 to all my readers. Let me share a memory of my own childhood Christmasses.

In those less technically dominated years in the second half of the 1950s, our Christmas tree would be bought from the greengrocer and carried or dragged home depending on size, always on the very first day of December. Dad would wrap a string of lights around the tree. Not the tiny insignificant things we have today, but bulbs an inch or so long and all different shapes. Some were like Chinese lanterns, others like a moulded Santa's face. Some were like parrots.

But one year he brought home a set of lights with a large plastic base and a glass tube with coloured liquid sticking out. Once the bulb was lit and it had warmed up the liquid, it began to send bubbles up the glass tube!

Whenever Dad bought a set of lights he would always buy a few extra bulb holders and would join them into the string of lights. With all the lights wired in series, if any bulb went out so did all the others and it was a long job sometimes to find out which bulb had blown. Adding more bulbs added to the electrical resistance and stepped down the voltage. The bulbs shone that little bit less brightly. But in the days when people strung paper garlands across the ceiling it made it less likely that a bulb would cause a fire.

Our Christmas trees had movement from the bubbles, long before domestic Christmas lights would flash on and off and change colour. The lights lasted for years and spare bulbs were available right through the 1950s and 60s until the smaller fairy lights came out and the manufacturers thought of changing the fittings slightly every year, forcing people to buy a new set when they ran out of bulbs.

We would visit one set of grandparents on Christmas Day and the other set on Boxing Day. These were our Christmas Parties and there would be more presents for everyone and we would at some point all sit or stand and sing a few Christmas carols, around the sit-up piano in the front room. There would always be a moment where someone would sigh and say "Eeh, our [insert name of a family member who had died during the year] was here last year..." and the grown-ups would all look up and lift their glass of sherry or port. For a while as a child I thought Grandma kept all the dead people upstairs in her bedroom and I used to be terrified of going upstairs to the loo in case they came out wanting a Christmas hug...

Have a wonderful Christmas.

Monday, 19 December 2016

A Morning in York

Following our brilliant night listening to André Rieu in Leeds on Friday, we were extremely sorry to hear that a member of the orchestra had suffered a heart attack. As a result, the rest of the UK dates have been postponed. The musician has not been named but is a male and has been with the orchestra over 20 years, as have many of this close-knit orchestra. As a musician myself I know that you form very close bonds with people with whom you make music and I can understand their decision to postpone. I hope he recovers well and is able to rejoin the orchestra.

* * * * * * *

On Saturday morning we knew nothing of this. We got up lazily and had breakfast then set off eastwards towards York.

We parked near the famous Shambles and walked together for an hour before splitting up - we both had secrets to buy for each other. Well, I had something in mind for Miss Franny anyway - her excuse was that she didn't want to feel rushed because she was dragging me round shops I had no interest in... Me! Me who shows ... ah... er... no interest in shopping whatsoever... Well anyway I had a chance to buy Miss Franny's Christmas present and stagger under its weight back to the car to leave it in the boot, hoping she wouldn't notice how the rear end seemed closer to the ground than usual. My arms will shrink back to normal hopefully...

I had a wander around the city centre. There were several shops where I wasn't averse to having a look in the window and the atmosphere in the city on this last Saturday morning before Christmas Eve was quite wonderful. There were several groups of carollers singing and musicians here and there. A small European Market had been set up and the air was full of smells of pastries and the tang of spice from mulled wine.

I had a mooch along narrow side streets and passed the Minster and under one of the gates of the city which are known as Bars. I came to Kings Manor, now part of the University of York, but once a residence of kings on their travels around the kingdom. King Henry VIII stayed here during his ill-fated progress which would be the undoing of his fifth queen. Catherine Howard. Whatever the facts it must be borne in mind they married (she would have no choice in it) when she was 16 or 17 and the king was 49, huge and with a stinky leg ulcer from a jousting injury. Not a match made in Heaven...

I walked past the Theatre Royal of 1744. It is built on the site of a medieval hospital and a well, thought to be Roman, lies under its stage! The rough brickwork of the building attached to it caught my eye along with an intriguing feature...

This was a small patch of brickwork that was obviously far more modern. I wondered what the reason for this apparent repair was (and still do - no amount of searching seems to have turned anything up). If anyone knows, please leave a comment!

Sunday, 18 December 2016

André Rieu in Leeds, 2016

On Friday we set off over the M62 to Leeds to see the famous violinist from Maastricht, André Rieu perform with his orchestra, The Johann Strauss Orchestra.

We arrived half an hour before the show started and found our seats way up in the gods. A couple were sitting in the seats next to ours and he turned to me with a grin saying "We thought you weren't coming!"
"Yes," I said "we were worried we might miss you!" Hooray! I thought, someone with a sense of humour.

But then his wife, who was sitting next to me said, "Are you big fans of André Rieu?" She looked a bit surprised when we said yes and said "Oh... I'm not so keen myself - he wanted to come..." She sighed and added "I hope it's not all Oom-Pah music, I don't like Oom-Pah music. If it's all Oom-Pah music I'll probably fall asleep."
"I think you'll be alright," I ventured, "it's fairly infectious..."
"Have you been before?" she asked after a pause. "Oh yes!" we replied and her face took on a shocked expression.
"Oh, really? Well..." she said leaving a lingering impression she thought we must be somehow mentally deficient. I exchanged a sympathetic smile with her husband and proceeded to ignore her. He was already there before me...

You could guess it couldn't you? She sang along to every tune whether vocal or not with a frail, grinding, very high pitched "aaaahh" warble... "Are they always the same guest artists?" she asked as the first soloist left the stage (Frederic Jennignes playing the zither for Tales of Vienna Woods followed by the theme from The Third Man).
"No, we've seen the St Petersburg Trio and The Berlin Comedic Harmonists at different shows..."
"Germans???" Her lips pursed in surprise.
"Yes," I said, "Their finale was to machine gun the back circle..."

We were well away from the snow machine as it dropped a generous amount on the audience below. It's funnier that way...

Another wonderful night with a few surprises and the usual elongated ending, long after André has announced things are coming to an end. This is always a cue for the first punters to stand and shuffle along the rows to get out first to the car park. They miss a good half hour - probably the best half hour of the night... Godzilla was staying put though... "Ahhh, aaaaahhh aah, ahh a-aaaahhhh!"

Sunday, 11 December 2016

Creeping Bentgrass Play A Masonic Dinner

Last night we played for a Masonic Dinner and Social Evening and had a most fabulous evening.

There is a dinner first and we set up and leave the hall before the dinner to sit in the foyer until it is time to go on.

We only drink water during and before a gig so we sat there sipping whilst the ladies were worried by no such reservations...

The dance floor started to fill up with our first song and remained packed for the entire night. This makes for a dream night for entertainers!

Feedback at the end of the night was ecstatic and we felt we had given the best that we could, for an audience that encouraged us all the way.

Thanks for the booking and it was our pleasure!

Tuesday, 6 December 2016

Carnforth Steamtown Locomotive Shed, 1981

One for the steam railway enthusiasts. I'm still scanning old photos and in this article we're back to black and white and a day out to the excellent steam railway museum at Carnforth just north of Lancaster and Morecambe. Lots of photos and little text (stop that cheering!) because I'm no expert about railway stuff. The date was Wednesday 25 February 1981. Enjoy, but just as a reminder please read the copyright notice in the left hand column.

There were a number of famous locomotives housed at Carnforth including Sir Nigel Gresley (above), The Flying Sctotsman, Lord Nelson and a locomotive that some twenty years later would be painted red and pull the Hogwarts Express...

On a Wednesday in February there are no engines to be found working. We wandered round the engine sheds, almost without seeing anyone else!

The collection had locomotives in all conditions but not much room to step back to admire them!

A nice reminder of a day over 35 years ago to look at machines from 70 or more years ago!

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