Sunday, 2 February 2014

How Music Got Me

My thing has always been song. The kind of song that stands alone without instruments. It probably sounds better with instruments, but if you whistled it, it would retain the essence of The Song.

My mother started me off with singing at the sink; songs I have never particularly heard in other forms. Schubert's The Trout was a favourite (of hers). She also sang one about 'young Molly who lived at the foot of the hill', and 'oh no John'. I ought to find these songs I suppose.

The second influence on me was my cousin Christopher who was much older and liked rock groups. I thought they had to have a colour in the name to be good; Pink or Black or Purple. Anyway, he taught me a couple of chords on the guitar and that was good because...

The third influence was a book of American Folk songs, which I worked out how to play, using the guitar chords. My favourite as a child was Big Rock Candy Mountain, which I now understand has significances beyond my understanding at the time, but I liked the concepts as I recognised them to be.

My Church of England Primary School in Bruton, Somerset played a big part. There I learned hymns with fantastic tunes - melodies that skipped up and down several octaves without doubt that any young children could gargle their way through them. It was the 1970's and school assembly moved smoothly from Victorian hymn 'Ye Holy Angels Bright' to Ralph McTell's 'Streets of London' without a breath. There was also a local old codger who came in to teach us songs from the World Wars, and I quite enjoyed 'Keep right on to the end of the road' - particularly the bit that goes 'Keep right on round the bend'. I learned to play the recorder there and the music teacher, Mrs Goodwin, got us to compose Christmas carols. My first effort at songwriting: 'Litttle Baby Jesus' I believe, was chosen as one of the best three, and so I got to play the organ for my carol at Bruton church. It was that which made me think that I could write songs.

Skip forward many years, in which we moved to Newark, Nottinghamshire. I failed to learn the clarinet, didn't do 'O' Level music (that's what the posh girls who played clarinet did) and gave up piano lessons because I hated the teacher blowing cigarette smoke in my face. I got a cool friend Clare Weatherall who liked punk bands. Clare and I were in a teen drama group that was largely a comedy group. We did comedy shows and Victorian music hall, organised by the fantastic Carolyn Drury. Clare and I decided to form our own band, and roped in lanky theatre manager John Bingham because he could play better than us and at 22 was a proper grown-up with his own flat, a leaky car, hundreds of punk 7"s and a healthy respect for the feminist way of things. We called ourselves The Devices (orginally The Ditto Devices - after something in a  a Marshall McLuhan book I was obsessed with) and played some small-town gigs in Newark.

There was a phone call from Cherry Red records and a letter from another company asking us to sign to them, but we decided to go to polytechnic instead. When Cherry red signed The Marine Girls a month later, I was kicking myself - I hadn't realised that you could be in a band and still be at university at the same time.

To be continued....
1978? Drama group that led to The Devices.
Clare Weatherall back left with Ruth Miller on her right (I am wearing my dad's shirt because I had recently seen Annie Hall).

 Me and Clare by the river in Newark. John is behind the fence - this was a feminist statement, as I remember it. 

 Me playing a gig at the Palace Theatre workshop, Newark. I was playing my first electric guitar - a Hofner Futurama, which I stripped the PVC off and painted, and messed about with. Wish I hadn't.