21st Century Gold

As best I can remember the only records Mum and Dad had in the early 1970s were by The Dutch Swing College Band and James Last.

The Dutch Swing College Band were, and for all I know still are, a group of rotund Dutch men, in dinner jackets, some with extravagant moustaches and beards, who played a kind of syncopated trad jazz with added oom pah pah. An important part of my half Dutch heritage.

James Last was a cultural phenomenon who sold almost as many records as The Beatles. He wore a safari suit and led an orchestral dance band who transformed the hits of the previous day into a blanded out non stop dance oom-pah that came linked together over the side of an album, the covers of which normally featured a blonde Fräulein sitting astride a wooden fairground horse with our hero superimposed in the right hand corner. Self described as ‘happy music’, he released at least 65 albums in the UK alone a fair few of which were bought by Mum and Dad. Ten years later his basic idea was picked up by Jive Bunny and the dancing at weddings has had to suffer the results ever since.

The records are in my attic now collecting dust in a corner with all those other records that were a good idea at the time that I bought them but haven’t been played for 25 years.

There may have been some Sacha Distel as well, but he didn’t get played loudly on a Saturday evening, when friends came back from the rugby club and best china got thrown around, because there no balls about, to the never stopping happy dance beat of James Last.

It is perhaps surprising that amongst the ten or so records my Mum and Dad owned there was not one by The Beatles. It was as if the whole of popular music had passed them by.

Despite this at some point in 1973 Pure Gold on EMI came into my life. I still don’t know where it came from but I can remember being about 9 and having it in my hands spending hours staring at the names on the cover sat on a green settee and then putting it on the red leather boxed record player to play easing it down the grey spindle designed to take a load of singles.

The cover had the top right and bottom corners cut off to better resemble a gold bar. The back cover featured a rogues gallery of the stars who sang on the album. Grainy black and white photos superimposed on each other – a cheery Cliff Richard and Cilla Black flanked by a glowering Peregrine Took and a too glamorous Diana Ross.

It might have been something to do with T-Rex. I had been at the house of my friend Richard Harrison after school late on a Thursday and had caught a glimpse of him playing Ride A White Swan on Top of the Pops. Some sort of bright white slinky sound unlike anything I would have ever come across before. Perhaps something to be slightly afraid of, the long hair, noise, sex and transgression, but also irresistibly attractive, drawing me in and kick starting that same impulse that still draws me to a record shop to have a look through the racks spending money I don’t have on another I don’t need.

I can’t believe Mum or Dad bought the record for themselves, so it must have come into the house to keep me happy. Around the same time I caught a glimpse of the Glitter Band on the TV as well and after through all I wanted was a star spangled star shaped guitar. There was no hope of me ever learning to play it but just to have such a thing in my hands was enough. I must have talked up T Rex in the same way I talked up that guitar and then the gold coloured album was in my hands. 

There were two of his great songs on it Sold Gold Easy Action and 20th Century Boy. Maybe they bought it from the record shop in West Kirby that had in its window the image from the front cover of Bowie’s, Aladdin Sane. More transgression, the bolt of lightening across the face, water pooling on his shoulder and space boy ambiguity. I was on safer ground with T Rex.

I have been upstairs to the attic to try and find the original record. It took some time but I got there eventually pulling it out from where it should be amongst the general pile of odd compilations. Looking at the back cover now and going though the names it came to me that it might not have been T Rex after all. Mud where there with one of their less good songs Crazy. Hadn’t I loved them as well. Possibly more than T Rex as they bopped, bashed and ploughed their way through Tiger Feet on Top of the Pops in their orange and black outfits. And there was Wizzard with Ball Park Incident. 

Solid Gold Easy Action was the first song and side one and was a big enough song at the time to have the whole album wrapped around it. The loping insouciant guitar leading to Marc Bolan’s ever perceptive lyrics

But I can’t get no satisfaction
All I want is easy action

A stud is a lamb
With the thoughts of a tiger

Who moves like a cat
And knows how to ride her

Words to live your life by.

But it may have been 20th Century Boy that made more of an impact. This was the fourth song on side two, tucked between Hurricane Smith and Cilla Black’s Step Inside Love, from where it made a noise like no other. There was nothing insouciant about this guitar, it leapt out of the black grooves in the vinyl and laid out its intentions from the outset, this was noise with wild abandon, loud and unruly, noise for the sake of it, and from that moment on I was forever drawn to the sound of a guitar and its strings being hit hard for no better reason than the sheer noise that it made.

Hours were spent sat on the back of the green sofa record sleeve in hand, staring at the list of names and songs trying to match up the singers with the grainy black and white photographs. At the time many of the names meant nothing to me. Apart from T Rex, there was Cliff Richard, Mud and Wizzard. So the needle got lifted to play those as well. Apart from Cilla the only other woman was Diana Ross singing Doobedood’ndoobe. A song that still goes round my head even now. My ears were also caught by the Temptations doing Psychedelic Shack  and Electric Light Orchestra making heaving work out of Roll Over Beethoven. Surprisingly I didn’t pick up on Deep Purple’s Strange Kind of Woman.

Still happy to do that now. Sit on a comfy chair music playing too loud record sleeve in hand reasing over and over the list of songs and singers, the producers and engineers and the words.

Within a few months my life would change as we moved house and I was sent away to boarding school for the first time.