Monday, 27 October 2014

Politics, The Musicians' Union and Me

I didn't grow up in an overtly political family. As a young child, Mike Yarwood was my route into politics; through his impressions, I knew many politicians of the time. I did think that Women's Lib had their own party, which seemed a good idea, but then I found out that Lib meant Liberals.

When I was 11, I asked my mum which way she would vote. I wasn't surprised when she told me she was a Liberal, like her friend, Councillor Kate Neil, in Clevedon. I was shocked, when she said my dad would vote Labour. Until then, the media had given me the idea that Labour were the party of smelly factories and nasty aggressive men. My clean, mild-mannered schoolteacher dad did not fit that image at all, but I think that got me interested in finding out what the parties stood for.

 Me, Snow Brian Clough, Mum, Front Brother Peter

Subsequently, my dad often claimed to have 'given up' on politics. He used to say something like 'I gave up on religion in 1959,  gave up on football in 1969 and gave up on politics in 1979'. My dad also told me never to be cynical.

After we had been living in Newark for a few years, a fantastic teacher at our school, Miss Catherine Spencer, encouraged pupils to enter public speaking competitions, and I found I was quite good at it. So, in 1977,  I was in the Yorkshire Television Public Speaking Competition. My speech was about 'death' but I didn't win; 16-year old William Hague did.

The programme for the final won by William Hague

My marksheet for the talk on 'Death'

Around 1978, when I was friends with Clare Weatherall of The Devices, I became 'radicalised' as a small-town lefty. This involved going on the train to Nottingham and spending a lot of time in alternative bookshop Mushroom Books. We bought and read pamphlets and got into trouble at school for trying to set up a branch of the National Union of School Students. Clare made me feel ashamed for not being working class enough, as my parents had a mortgage and did not live in a farm labourer's tied cottage. It seems ridiculous now, but that's how it was. 

My favourite political pamphlet from Mushroom Books
As a result, when I went to Sheffield Poly, it was as an anti-Thatcher student, with some interest in the anarchist way of things. I marched on the Reclaim the Streets in Leeds and for various other causes, as well as being the founder editor of the student newspaper - the Sheffield City Press. In an attempt to be a professional-style journalist, I  toned down my way-out thinking and became a mild lefty-liberal for a while.  I always used to say that I would join the Labour Party when I got old.

The Nico obsession at Sheffield Poly

An edition of the Student Newspaper I edited

And the lavish annual budget

After moving to Leicester University, and forming The Soviets. there was more of the 'Support the Miners' kind of activity; I was on the student union executive and was quite shocked to encounter Tory toffs and Hellfire types - I'd led such a sheltered existence until then and hadn't thought that many young people would be Conservatives. I did enjoy the commons-style bickering in meetings, and continued to give speeches if any of them would listen.

Once I had formed PO! as a band of serious intent, I decided to join the Musicians' Union, because that was now my trade and I believed in Trades Unions. Their monthly meetings were listed in the local council news sheet, so I decided to go along to a meeting. It was listed as being at the International Hotel, Leicester. I imagined a hotel conference room with rows of crimson leather armchairs full of Miles Davis types, smoking officials sitting at a table at the front, and lots of 'procedure'.

The International Hotel
Instead the MU meeting was held in one of the hotel bedrooms. I remember, as I went up to the 9th floor in the lift, wondering whether it was maybe a bit dodgy and I shouldn't be involved. Mind you, I think the three guys at the meeting were certainly shocked when I turned up. There was little attempt at a welcome, as I squeezed in to sit on a stool, and they carried on the meeting which mostly consisted of  'Do you remember when old John Duncan played his harmonica at the Liberal Club?' type conversations. During that first meeting, they broke into song on three occasions, and then, after they got rid of me, the branch secretary gave each committee member £3 for attending.

Through sheer stubbornness, enjoyment of the old guys / young punk girl dynamic, and a commitment to Trades Unionism, I stuck with the MU and attended every meeting until they got used to me. It always used to start, 'Good evening gentlemen ..... and Ruth'. Gradually, the meetings became more purposeful. We even stopped meeting in a hotel bedroom and moved to the Belgrave Liberal Club. This was a much bigger room, but there were still usually four of us. The club seemed to be an oasis of old white blokes in the middle of one of the biggest Hindu communities in the UK.

Left Bank in a proletarian cap
Around that time, the MU nationally was trying to get more members from the rock and pop field. There was a national rock and pop officer, Horace Trubridge (now Assistant General Secretary). He had been a saxophonist in a band called 'Darts' and did a good job of trying to get the MU to move with the times. Somehow our work in Leicester, putting on showcases and events within the rock and pop genre was noticed and I became involved with the East Midlands branch in Birmingham, and the national Rock and Pop Sub-Committee in London. I found this all a terrific wheeze; I must have been awfully earnest in trying to explain myself to the majority of people who did not really understand the indie pub circuit, DIY recording, let alone sampling and mixing.

Assistant General Secretary on Saxaphone
The pinnacle of my time with the MU was attending national conference as an East Midlands delegate. I got to address a hall full of classical flautists and jazz trumpeters about a number of things that I now forget - I think one was the 'two in a bar rule' about performing licenses, but I know I used my public speaking skills to the max. After the proceedings each day, there would be entertainment - usually a jazz big band - and everyone would drink heavily. After that, the delegates would retire to the college conference accommodation and act like students on Freshers week.

The orchestra players were the heaviest drinkers. One guy showed off a mini travelling drinks cabinet that he took on tour with him that held two bottles of whisky and some glasses. Out of a couple of hundred people the only women were me, about 8 orchestral players, and a few elderly wives who were there for the food. And there was a lot of classy food.

The experiences in the Musicians' Union seemed unlike any politics I could recognise; it was more like a battle with the old guard and How We Do Things. 'Keep Music Live' was the old 1970s MU slogan that was somehow overtaken by an ever-flowing tide of disco, karaoke, sampling, DJ mixing, downloading and the Internet. Ironically, the greater availability of digital recorded music has not killed off local bands where I live; there seem to be more open mic acoustic nights and live venues than before, and certainly there are many more impressive female musicians getting up on stage.

I don't hear or see anything of the Musician's Union these days; maybe they need better PR.  After finishing performing and recording with PO!, I stopped being part of the MU. I miss the old guys and was pleased to find out that one of them is still playing local rock n roll gigs at the age of 77.

Saturday, 11 October 2014

Songs by Ruth Miller

Looks like it could be the Royal Mail, Leicester?
Today I am in the mood for lists, so here it is:

A list of 80 songs written by Ruth Miller

  1. A Lovely Letter
  2. A New Grandma
  3. A Page a Day
  4. Albert Stole My Heart
  5. Appleseed Alley
  6. Better
  7. Bigger Wall
  8. Bus Shelter 
  9. Confidence
  10. Danny's Girl
  11. Early Hours of Summertime
  12. Elephant Chains
  13. Empty Vessels
  14. Engineering
  15. Ever Been Had
  16. Failed Inventor
  17. Farmyard
  18. Fay
  19. First Foot
  20. George Orwell's on the Trail
  21. Ghost of the Green Grass
  22. Glamour
  23. Glass King
  24. Good Behaviour
  25. Good Boy Jacob
  26. Haunt You
  27. Higher Than Your Smile
  28. I took my Head on a Date
  29. I Won't Stay
  30. In a Mermaid Tail
  31. in My Dream
  32. In the Rain
  33. Ipswich
  34. Jacqueline's House
  35. Jennifer Television
  36. Kitchen Sink Drama
    Northampton Labour Club
  37. Last Bus Home
  38. Leopard
  39. Lips That Are Not Mine
  40. Loneliness
  41. Look for the Holes
  42. Lying on my Side
  43. Milksop
  44. My Head's on Fire
  45. No Flowers
  46. Northern Wonder
  47. One Last Thrill
  48. Plastic Charity Girl
  49. Poor Old John
  50. Pop Stars Wives
  51. Ruby Dream
  52. Ruthless
  53. Safe
  54. Sallyann
  55. She Lies in State
  56. Shed
  57. Sixteen Boxes
  58. Speak Again
  59. Squinting at the Sun
  60. Summer got Angry
  61. Summer Pudding
  62. Sunday Never Comes Around
  63. The Artist and the Model
  64. The Boys Who Went to Good Schools
  65. The Mad Girl
  66. Things That Might
  67. Tina
  68. Tomboy and Cowgirl
  69. Torturers
  70. Trains Go By
  71. Treasure
  72. Two Friends
  73. Walking in my World
  74. What Makes You Cruel?
  75. When
  76. White Cloud
  77. Why I'm Not at School Today
  78. Your Brother
  79. Your Shout
  80. You're the Judge

There were quite a few others registered with PRS/MCPS that I don't remember, so I haven't included them here. That's a lot of songs. But also.....
My notebook from 1986, when I wrote Appleseed Alley.

A list of joke songs written by Ruth Miller for the cult cable TV series Chez Lester

Embedded image permalink

  1. Born to be a Star
  2. Bouncing Bikinis
  3. Don't Prick Your Finger on the Holly
  4. The Slate Dance