April 2021
  books monthly
   
My continually expanding musical horizons - the 1960s...

 





Three brilliant new titles from Girls Gone By Publishers - 1: Elinor M Brent-Dyer - Lorna at Wynyards

Published 9th March 2021

GGBP first published Lorna at Wynyards in 2003 and are delighted to be publishing it again.

Lorna’s report showed that she was ‘inclined to be bumptious and domineering’ in the small school she attended. As a result, her mother, who needed to look after her husband and elder daughter, sent her to live with Auntie Kath, so that she could go daily to Wynyards to find her feet among the 200-odd girls there. How she did makes one of the best of EBD’s school stories, with Lorna eventually enjoying life both at school and at Auntie Kath’s.

Adrianne Fitzpatrick has written a short story, ‘La Souris Blanche’, about Kit and her mother meeting Joey Bettany in France, to go with this new edition. This follows on from something mentioned in the  text!

Lorna at Wynyards was published on 9th March 2021.

I discovered the Chalet School series when GGBP started sending me their books to review in Books Monthly, and I have to say that EBD is my second favourite girls' school author after Enid Blyton (of course!). LORNA AT WYNYARDS isn't a Chalet School title but it still gets the full magnificent GGBP treatment, with a stunning three-colour cover and a riveting tale that is reminiscent of Enid's Naughtiest Girl in School. This is EBD at her absolute best! As soon as I'd finished "Lorna" I started on "Jo Returns..." and couldn't help noticing that Dr Russell appears in both books - maybe a relative of the Bettanys? Also, and probably another coincidence, one of the new staff at the Chalet School in "Jo Returns", is a Mrs Carey, a kind of assistant teacher. As a Mrs Carey is Lorna's Mum in LORNA AT WYNYARDS, one can only assume that this is one of EBD's little contrivances, to have all of her characters in all of her books either related to or associated with eaxch other. It's something that Stephen King does all the time, and I love it in both authors. Finally, of course, there are a couple of mentions of "Madge Bettany" books being provided for the characters in "Lorna" to read, and Madge Bettany is, as we all know, the founder of the Chalet School, although it is Jo who is the famous authoress. I said at the beginning of this review that Enid Blyton is my favourite girls' school story author, and an announcement has recently been made that there are new series of the Malory Towers stories because the first series was such a smash hit. With TV producers scrambling to satisfy the increasing demand for nostalgia and "retro", maybe it's time for a Chalet School series to be made? Many of EBD's Chalet School stories appear to have been written to a formula, and it's refreshing to read one of her books that isn't about the Chalet School, brilliant as they are. LORNA AT WYNYARDS is brillliant fun, with some heart-rending moments too, which perfectly illustrate the way people dealt with grief in the pre WW2 years. LORNA OF WYNYARDS is of its time, but at the same time it's timeless in many ways. I know people who attended public schools for girls, and times change, obviously, but the concept is the same. Groups of girls away from home, sometimes homesick, sometimes sophisticated, sometimes not on their best behaviour... For me it was always a thrilling concept, and stories set in girls' and boys' boarding schools always entertained me right royally. I'm a socialist, and shouldn't really encourage them, but I can't help it. They're stories from a period in our history when they provided the very best literary entertainment, as far as I was concerned - I still love to read them, and have enjoyed Lorna at Wynyards as much as any other girls' school story. Probably more - it's superb!

2: Elinor M Brent-Dyer: Jo Returns To The Chalet School

Published 9th February 2021

Jo has left school, but she comes to pay a visit the day the girls go back for the autumn term, and plans to stay for one night. But measles up at Die Rosen put paid to that – she cannot go home. In the end, she stays for the whole term, writing her first book, discovering and coaching new girl Polly Heriot, and taking over classes when staff are ill. The book ends with a Christmas Play which brings tears to many people’s eyes.

The Armada paperback had minor, frequent, cuts.

Katherine Bruce has written a short story for this edition – very moving it is, too!

Thanks to GGBP I have a huge number of Chalet School titles on my bookshelf, in pride of place, because they are so colourful and so well produced. There is little doubt in my mind that when it comes to the end of the year selections for books of the year, GGBP will once again be my publisher of the year. Their attention to detail is second to none, their production values are superb, and a GGBP paperback is an absolute  delight to have in your collection. JO RETURNS TO THE CHALET SCHOOL gives EBD the opportunity to introduce a new character, Polly, who is an orphan and being brought up by two people who are, in her words, in their eighties - in fact they are in their seventies, but whilst I'm mid-seventies,  I am nowhere near as decrepit and useless as these two, and can fully understand Polly's need to seek some other kind of existence. Luckily, she runs into Jo in the town, and Jo persuades her to come back to the Chalet School where she can happily continue her education, previously at the hands of governesses, with the consent of her legal guardians. The introduction of Polly makes for an interesting term at the school, and, once again, this is EBD at her absolute best. I'm proud and privileged to be able to review Girls Gone By Publishers' books in the pages of Books Monthly, and have genuine respect and admiration for them for the success of their publishing operation. The cover of this book is from the original Chambers hardcover version, by Nina K Brisley, one of the very finest Chalet School illustrators, and there are more of her brilliant illustrations included in the text. This is a superb package, which, had it not been for LORNA AT WYNYARDS, might have been my Book of the Month. With Josephine Elder's CHERRY TREE PERCH (see below) this is a spectacular month for Girls Gone By Publishers...


3: Josephine Elder: Cherry Tree Perch

Published 19th February 2021

Cherry Tree Perch is the second title in the Farm School series by Josephine Elder. We published the first title, Exile for Annis, in 2013, and now are continuing the series due to popular demand.

The summer term finds Annis and Kitty back at the Farm School, where they have discovered a new vantage point – high up in an old cherry tree from which to survey their world. Life at the Farm School is always exciting, and this term is no exception; the arrival of eccentric Miss de Vipon however, endangers Annis and Kitty’s friendship for a time, and Annis also has trouble solving a puzzle which concerns some fired haystacks.

Georgia Corrick has written our introduction.

Cherry Tree Perch was published on 19 February 2021.

I picked up a copy of CHERRY TREE PERCH in the Children's Press edition from the 1960s whilst rummaging through the children's book section in one of our many charity shops in the town - when they were last open, which seems an age ago. I am reading JO RETURNS TO THE CHALET SCHOOL right now but as it's now the 25th March, I may get round to reading CHERRY TREE PERCH  in time for publication of this issue of Books Monthly...


4: Katherine Bruce: The Chalet School in Guernsey

Published 13th November 2020

After fleeing the terrors of Nazism, the Chalet School has settled into their new home in Guernsey and now the second term on its island home begins. Some old friends are delighted to return to their beloved school, but in among the new arrivals is one who has a history with the school. Mélanie Kerdec was a member of a group called the Mystic M who terrorised the school some years previously, where their bad deeds culminated in the kidnapping of Sybil Russell. Now Mélanie has come as a pupil to the school she detests and is determined to show that she has by no means forgiven or forgotten the past.

Even with that excitement, outside affairs cannot be ignored and the war continues to intrude as rationing affects both lessons and Guiding. An island-wide air raid drill gives the senior girls an exciting evening, and the war on the Continent leaves one mistress grief-stricken. Worse is to come as an investigator arrives to learn more about the previous term’s dramatic plane crash. When he cannot promise that the Channel Islands will be safe from future conflict, those in authority must consider leaving Guernsey to find a safe place for them to live for as long as the war lasts.

And finally, the new Chalet School "fill-in" by Katherine Bruce. Both Katherine and Helen produce CS stories that are actually (for me) hard to tell apart from those written originally by EBD. It's a well known fact that the Germans eventually occupied the Channel Islands, but the events in this stirring tale occur before the occupation, giving free rein to the girls to indulge in their usual high jinks and secret society stuff. I really can't fault this one as a CS story, it has everything! Absolutely enthralling!

My journey of musical discovery - the 1960s continued...

...and then we moved from Gloucester in the summer of 1963, and within a couple of years, my musical horizons had widened... This is the new bit for the April 2021 issue, which I finished writing on 30th March 2021... In the coming months I'll archive these memoirs in chronological order and stick them on a page of their own, then there'll be no confusion!

For a few months we stayed with Aunt Florrie and Uncle Stan in their little flat above their hardware shop in Prittlewell, on the outskirts of Southend-on-Sea. Mum and Dad had already arranged for me to pick up my schooling at Southend School for Boys - but it would have meant me starting my "A" Levels all over again, having lost a year at the Crypt Grammar School in Gloucester, and I didn't think I could face another two years of "A" levels, even though I would by then have been the right age for them rather than a year too young. I spent the best part of five months traipsing around Southend on Sea, and inevitably found myself in the public library. I had discovered the delights of a large public library in my last few months in Gloucester, and the sheer number of books had inspired my reading. In Southend Public Library, which I was allowed to join with my Mum standing as guarantor, I discovered drama - written drama, that is. I had studied Shakespeare at the Crypt, reading Twelfth Night for "O" Level English Literature, and starting Macbeth for "A" Level, along with Paradise Lost, which I loved, and Under Milk Wood (which I didn't like at all). In Southend, I was in the literature section and chanced upon a group of books which were the collected plays of Noel Coward. Intrigued, I borrowed volume one and discovered the delights of an almost contemporary literary genius, because he was still alive in 1963, of course. It made a change to read plays written by someone still alive, and although they were plays that had had their heyday in the 1920s and 1930s, they captivated me - I lapped them up, so to speak, and when I had read the complete plays of Noel Coward, I cast around for other twentieth century playwrights, and found Terence Rattigan, but more importantly, I found J B Priestley.

I'd already discovered Priestley in the fantasy section of our little W H Smith bookshop in Eastgate, Gloucester, finding a charming and fascinating adventure book by him entitled The Thirty-First of June. Now I found An Inspector Calls, and I Have Been Here Before. For a time, all I wanted to read was plays. I missed my collections of paperbacks, the Saints, Whiteoaks, Tarzan of the Apes etc., which I had sold prior to our move from Gloucester. I don't know who persuaded me to part with my collections, but it's not a choice I would willingly have made; there again, I can't imagine a small suitcase full of precious paperbacks causing a problem with the amount of stuff we had going into storage. I still had my record collection - or rather, my record collection was in storage along with the rest of our furniture and belongings (including my guitar!), but my books were gone. It took me several years to rebuild those collections! In the meantime, the Beatles were really starting to emerge as the primary force in British pop music, and it was while we were staying in Southend that I decided I wanted to see them live. We set off one evening to purchase my ticket, and were horrified to discover that the entire population of Southend were camped all around the town with the same purpose. There were thousands of people waiting for the ticket office to open and I knew, intuitively, that the Beatles were going to become the biggest musical act in the world, and that coincidentally I stood absolutely no chance of getting a ticket to see them for a one-night-only performance in Southend. The following day I treated myself to a Beatle jacket, one of those with no lapels, and I moved on. I continued to buy New Musical Extress and Melody Maker, and one week I filled in the answers to the regular crossword - I forget which of the two magazines it was (or newspaper, as they were then). In December of 1963 I received notification that I had won the crossword competition and my prize, an album of hits by Lesley Gore (all the songs were about Crying, as I recall; such as Cry Me a River) was on its way to me in the post to my temporary address in Prittlewell. I persuaded Uncle Stan to get me a Dansette record player next time we went to the Cash and Carry - I paid for it, of course, with the money I'd been saving which he'd been paying me for serving in his shop. At last I was able to listen once more to my music - albeit just the one album - and not just to the music on the radio.

I don't believe Aunt Florrie and Uncle Stan had a television, but we did play Scrabble together in the evenings, and listened to our favourite radio programmes before the adults (Mum, Dad, Aunt Florrie and Uncle Stan) at last called it a day and went to their bedrooms, leaving me to make up my campbed in the front room. I remember sitting in a sea front café that November, and finding a kind of new-fangled juke box that played special versions of top hits which also carried video, one of which was an Acker Bilk single, On the Sunny Side of the Street. I put my money in the machine and watched Acker and his band on a small screen whilst simultaneously discovering the delights of Coca-Cola for the first time in my life.

And then, finally, we moved to Stevenage New Town in Hertfordshire, at the back end of November 1963, and everything changed. My long playing records (Acker Bilk, the Beatles, Django Reinhardt, Beethoven's Fifth Symphony etc.) were unpacked, I had two record players, the one Uncle Stan had got for me from the cash and carry, and our radiogram. I had a handful of books, and set about rebuilding my collections from the W H Smith in the town. I think it was in 1963 that EMI launched a new, cheap LP label called Classics for Pleasure, and I started to collect some of those. One evening, on my way upstairs to bed (we were living in a three-bedroomed two-storeyed flat above the hardware shop we'd rented in one of the newer neighbourhoods in the new town) I glanced out of the landing window and saw an illuminated neon sign saying "Library". Intrigued, the first thing I did the following morning was to explore the area behind the parade of shops in order to find this branch library, but there was no sign of it, and I began to wonder if I had been half asleep and dreaming. It didn't occur to me that it could have been a travelling library, and I forgot all about it until 1964 dawned and Mum calmly told me that there simply wasn't enough money coming into the shop for them to pay me, and suggested that I look for a proper full-time job. My first impulse involved the local library. I'd seen it at the end of one of the shopping parades in the town centre, and I duly wrote to "the librarian" to ask for a job. Amazingly, within a week, I was invited to attend an interview, and within a  few more weeks, I was offered a job as a library assistant. What was more, they wanted me to complete my "A" levels and then go off to library school and to become a qualified librarian. Why this career choice had never occurred to me before was a source of some amazement to me - I had always loved books, preferred reading to any other passtime, it was what we now call a no-brainer. It had been books like John Creasey's Inspector West series that had made me want to pursue a career in the police force, but in the end it was the books themselves that decided my career. Or so I thought...

At the end of the Easter weekend in 1964 I started working in Stevenage Central Library. There must have been a staff of around thirty people, many senior, qualified staff, and an equal number of library assistants like me, whose jobs included putting books that had been returned the previous day back on the shelves, and using an antiquated card system to issue loans to customers. Being lowly junior staff, we were not allowed to direct customers to the relevant part of the library when they asked for books on specific subjects, but had to ask a qualified librarian to do it, even though, within a few weeks, I knew where every subject was, and had the Dewey Decimal Classification System off by heart, as most of us library assistants did. It was a hierarchy thing. Them and Us. Most of the qualified staff were friendly enough. Two weren't, and never spoke to us unless it was to give us an order. Brian and Patrick. Mr Arnold and Mr Kelly. They never let their hair down, they never socialised with us, even at Christmas time. They kept strictly to the hierarchy. Even the chief librarian, who had interviewed me, John Nightingale, was friendlier than those two. I knew just about everyone I worked with by sight, but there were certain members of staff who worked upstairs on specialised jobs, and we rarely bumped into each other, at least not until after the Rolling Stones came to town.

I was familiar with the Stones courtesy of my best friend James, from our days at the Crypt. I'd stayed for a weekend with him in Harrow on the Hill, north London, and after an evening meal, we went out in search of musical adventure. James had settled into the London night scene very quickly and very well. We ended up in a vast town house with several upstairs rooms being used by various groups of people mainly making music. They were probably doing all manner of other things including sex and drugs, but we were there for the music. We watched people like Alexis Korner forming his seminal group, Alexis Korner's Blues Incorporated, involving people like Clapton, Paige etc. We saw Zoot Money and his Big Roll Band before they were "big", (just a Roll Band!), and before they were even a band. And we saw Mick and Keith, too. And later that year, I went to the nearest record store and bought the Rolling Stones first album. I still preferred the Beatles, but I had to admit that the Stones were good - brilliant, in fact. And when it was announced that they were going to play a concert at the Locarno Ballroom in Stevenage that September, it seemed like the perfect birthday present to myself, and I bought myself a ticket. There was only one type of music for me in the second half of 1964 - British rock and roll - the Beatles, the Stones, Gerry and the Pacemakers... my jazz records, Acker and Django, remained in the LP carrying case, which every self-respecting record collector had in those days. I played my Beatles and Stones LPs ceaselessly. I bought Little Richard, Jerry Lee Lewis and Chuck Berry EPs, and wallowed in classic American rock and roll, then put my Beatles LP back on and decided they were better - no, they were the best! There was a very slim record store round in the bus station in Stevenage, and one day, waiting for the bus home, I spotted an LP in the window which I simply had to have. It was called "Noel and Gertie", and it was of recordings by Noel Coward and Gertrude Lawrence, and had such brilliant songs on it as "Don't Put Your Daughter on the Stage, Mrs Worthington", "Mad Dogs and Englishmen", and "Parisian Pierrot", amongst others. I treasured it. It brought to life all those plays and reviews I'd read whilst in Southend on Sea... and it was a kind of break from the Beatles, who dominated my musical life back then. But rock was king for me in 1964. The Rolling Stones simply blew my mind - just as in Honky Tonk Women (which came later, of course) - there was a kind of dais in the Locarno, where the dance orchestra would sit, and the audience - hundreds of us - stood in rapt awe as the Stones strutted their stuff.

The following day my memories of that concert were brought to an abrupt halt when three of the young library assistants who worked upstairs in the library came looking for me. Two were girls I had "chatted up", even though both were engaged to be married, when we worked together in the early mornings, shelving books. The third was a thin slip of a girl who looked as though she should still be at school. I later discovered that she should still have been at school but her headmistress at Stevenage Girls' Grammar School had granted her permission to start work in the library. She had been a brilliant scholar, top of her form each and every year in just about every subject; but schoolwork was something she eventually couldn't cope with, and working in the library suited her far better. She hovered in the background whilst the other two did the talking. "Wendy was followed home by a man after she got off the bus last night. As you live near her, we wondered if you might walk her home, make sure nothing happens to her?" they said. Having been brought up to be a good citizen with the kind of manners that meant I held the door open for people, and gave up my seat on the bus for ladies, etc., etc., of course I agreed. In those days Stevenage Central Library closed at 8pm Mondays to Thursdays, 5pm Fridays, 1pm Saturdays. I was on lates that day, as was the little schoolgirl, Wendy. We went round to the bus station, not saying much; we sat together on the bus, and we walked up Hydean Way and into Chertsey Rise, and I saw her safely to her front door in one of the cul-de-sacs.

On impulse, before she closed the door, I suggested that she might like to go for a walk with me on Sunday afternoon, and she readily agreed. You see, reader, in that brief instant before she disappeared into the safe interior of her house, we had fallen in love. Wendy was eighteen months younger than I was, but she was beautiful, and, more importantly, she seemed to like me! In March 1964, just before I met her, she was sixteen years old, and after that day when I had walked her home, we were seeing each other every day (at work) and every night. Eventually the chief Librarian wanted us separated, because we got on his nerves; and he got me a job in the SPCK bookshop round in the bus station; my library career nosedived overnight, but Wendy and I still saw each other every night - I walked the quarter mile or so up to her house in Chertsey Rise, and we sat and watched telly, or else we listened to music. Lots of it. Because Wendy's Dad had an enormous collection of LPs, and the most expensive hi-fi equipment I had ever seen. If books were my passion, music was his. I took my new Beatles LP with me, Rubber Soul, I think it was, and he played it for us - we weren't allowed to touch the turntable, but he was happy to put it on for us to listen to. As the days went by, Wendy and I became closer and closer, and so much in love, they were days of joy for me. We are this year celebrating our fifty-fifth wedding anniversary, and they are still days of joy. But in 1964, Wendy's Dad introduced me to the Reader's Digest Festival of Light Classical Music - a three LP set of the most brilliant music I had ever heard. In fact, some of it was quite heavy classical music, such as Siegfried's Rhine Journey by Richard Wagner, and a scintillating violin piece by Pablo Sarasate, and I loved it. I bought my own copy, or rather "our" own copy, and listened to it every night after walking home from Wendy's house.

It was the kind of music I had used to listen to on the radio, but about which I had simply forgotten. Wendy's Dad introduced me to Beethoven's other symphonies, to Brahms, to Dvorak, to Smetana, to the three great ballets by Tschaikowsky, Swan Lake, Sleeping Beauty and The Nutcracker. On social outings to London cinemas, I was introduced to the music of Richard Strauss (Also Sprach Zarathustra), Johan Strauss the Younger (Blue Danube), to Ligeti (Atmospheres) etc., courtesy of 2001: A Space Odyssey. And then, in 1973, when we had been married for seven years, and with Martin, our eldest son, now at primary school, something happened that changed my life forever, and brought me back to the religion I had cast aside, and set me on another musical journey. Yes, we got married in church, yes, Martin was christened in the same church, but somehow, I had forsaken my Sunday evening church-going back in Brockworth, and the endless nights when I studied the Bible - I was always top of the class in our religious instruction lessons at the Crypt Grammar School. What happened that Easter in 1973 brought me back to God with a bang!
To be continued in the May issue...

 - this bit was updated 31st MARCH 2021

The thrill of finding out about new albums (and even the occasional single record or EP) by Mr Acker Bilk and His Paramount Jazz Band came about by me buying, every week, the Melody Maker and the New Musical Express. As I recall, there were sections on traditional jazz - and modern jazz, which I abhorred, always have, and always will - in both papers, which regularly listed the top bands, as voted for by the readers, and even twenty or so years after Django Reinhardt and the Quintette disbanded, they still figured in the top tens, because people with longer memories still voted for them. In 1958 or so, Ken Colyer's Jazz Men were still dominating the traditional jazz scene; Acker Bilk had played with them for a few months in the early 1950s before forming his own ensemble, and in their early days, they specialised in "jazzed-up" versions of Sousa marches, such as Blaze Away, Under the Double Eagle, etc., etc., which were released as 78rpm shellac records on the blue Pye Jazz label. Then in 1960, Bilk employed Peter Leslie, an up and coming pulp fiction writer, to be in charge of his publicity. He changed labels, to EMI; Leslie had the idea of dressing the band members in fancy waistcoats and bowler hats, about which I have written extensively on the Acker Bilk Sleeve Notes Page of this magazine, and which has been updated this month with a further selection of Acker's album notes written by Peter Leslie.

That same year Acker's single SUMMER SET reached number five in the UK charts, and the floodgates of traditional jazz in Britain were opened. The Wikipedia page says that bands such as Acker Bilk's, Kenny Ball's and Chris Barber's tried to revive traditional jazz in Britain. I know enough about traditional jazz to know that this wasn't a revival - traditional jazz had always been popular with purists, but there was only one Golden Age of traditional jazz in Britain, and that was in the early 1960s. Those bands weren't "reviving" anything, they were playing the music that they had always loved, emulating their 1920s heroes (Jelly Roll Morton, King Oliver, Louis Armstrong's Hot Five etc.), and the British public liked what they heard and trad jazz became the dominant music genre for at least a couple of years, fading away in 1962 as the Beatles wrought the biggest revolution in popular music not just in Britain but all over the world. The 1920s in Britain had seen the boom in "swing" orchestras, like Harry Roy, Jack Hylton etc., and this genre also boomed in Britain in the early 1960s with The Temperance Seven. But the dominant two bands were Acker Bilk's and Kenny Ball's, who had a string of top 40 hits. For me, there was only ever Acker Bilk - or Mr Acker Bilk, as Peter Leslile defined him - and his Paramount Jazz Band. They were far and away the very finest musicians on the trad jazz circuit, and if you listen to Jelly Roll Morton's classic single "Doctor Jazz" and compare it with Acker's "Stomp Off, Let's Go", you can hear what Acker was trying to achieve, and how brilliantly he succeeded.

There is footage on YouTube of Acker and his band playing "In a Persian Market Place", a light classical "bonbon" by Ketelbey, arranged by Acker, showcasing the brilliance of the Paramount Jazz Band in all its glory. I urge you to watch it, it is terrific, and shows an ensemble at the top of its game. The other reason for my choosing Acker above all others in the trad jazz field is the plethora of literature produced by Peter Leslie's BILK MARKETING BOARD, which was the name of the publicity machine that ensured that Acker dominated the trad jazz phenomenon that swept Britain from 1960-1962. When Acker wrote a tune which he called "Jenny" after his daughter, (subsequently renamed Stranger on the Shore to accompany a hugely successful children's TV serial) I was delighted, because it meant that my hero (who hailed from the West Country, just as I did) would still be dominating the charts even though music was changing in Britain. The announcement of the album, with Acker backed by the Leon Young String Chorale, was made in the NME and Melody Maker, with the caveat that it would be issued in the United States about five months before it would be released in Britain. I was by that time a subscriber to a record company - like the Companion Book Club, which sent you a monthly selection which you could keep or return - and they also announced the US release of the Stranger On the Shore Album. I ordered it through them, which meant that I had the precious LP in my hands five months before it was released over here; and I treasured it just like all of the other Acker Bilk albums.

The sleeve notes were again written by the marketing and literary genius, Peter Leslie, and you'll find this on the Acker Bilk page in Books Monthly, too. Trad Jazz, and particularly Acker Bilk's renderings of it, have remained favourites of mine right up to the present day. Most of those brilliant Acker Bilk albums have been released as CDs, but the CD producers have not recognised how important the sleeve notes were and are, which is why I have taken it upon myself to reproduce them in Books Monthly. It is literature, after all. The late 1950s and early 1960s are imprinted on my memory as my Golden Age of music - or discoveries, of passions, of formative years. In 1958 my dear Gran died. I only ever had one grandparent, the other three all died before I was born. She was precious to me - I have only the fondest memories of her. In 1958 I was eleven years old (when she died - I reached twelve later in the year). Mum and Dad decided I might be too young to attend her funeral, and so I was packed off to spend the day with sister Jean in her place of work in Cheltenham, in a Grace Bros., style store called Wolfe and Hollander, where she worked as a secretary. I was given a ten shilling note (a fortune in those days) and told to go and spend it, to buy something I really wanted, so that the day would be remembered as a good one, and not as a dark one, the day they buried Gran. I went first into a branch of W H Smith and bought  THE ADVENTURES OF SHERLOCK HOLMES, and then into a record shop, where I bought THE BALLAD OF TOM DOOLEY by the KINGSTON TRIO. I was heavily into my music by then, books and music were my principal hobbies. When the weather was too bad for outdoor play, like football, I was happy to sit in the front room playing my records and reading my books.

Like my three children after me, I always maintained that I could do my homework with my music playing in the background. It worked for me, and it worked for them! At school, the arguments raged about who was best - Elvis Presley or Cliff Richard. One of my rivals for being best at Spanish, a boy we called "Pedro" Smith (Smith was his real name, Pedro was his nickname, first name was really Peter), insisted on championing Elvis, but for the purposes of just being different, I championed Cliff Richard - even though he didn't interest me at all. If anything, he was a bit wet for me, but I was happy to debate the various records of the two men who dominated pop music in 1958 and on into the beginning of the 1960s. In 1962, recovering from my abuse at the hands of the peripatetic violin teacher, with whom I reached and passed Grade 3, I was looking for a musical challenge, for the violin had lost its appeal. I found an old guitar in a cupboard upstairs at home, and tuned it so that it played a chord. I spent hours teaching myself to play, sitting in front of the big mirror in Mum and Dad's room, and then realised that I should really be tuning it properly. This I did, and set about teaching myself all over again, sometimes with the aid of the Bert Weedon book, sometimes without. This coincided with my discovery of the breathtaking genius of Django Reinhardt - I even gave a speech in my class about Django, all in French, it was something we all had to do, and I chose to talk about a Belgian! But as well as the 78rpm records Dad had dug out of his collection, there were leaflets, concert programmes, sheet music, many of which had pictures of Django, some of which showed him playing that amazing Macaferri guitar. I had to have a guitar of my own, and it had to look something like Django's. So off I went to Hickey's the big music shop in Northgate, in Gloucester city centre, and looked for a guitar with a cutaway, at a price I could afford. I found one which probably looked more like Roy Rogers's guitar, but never mind. It was a Rosetti guitar, white with a thin dark line all the way round the edge. The one pictured doesn't have the edge stripe, but it's identical in every other respect. My eldest son Martin still has it. My guitar cost £3, and I paid a deposit of ten shillings, the remainder to be paid in weekly instalments, which took most of my paper round money. At last I had a decent guitar of my own, and, what was more important, I could play it!

About this time also, the Light Programme on BBC radio started a programme called Saturday Skiffle Club - an hour-long programme celebrating the boom in skiffle, headed by Lonnie Donnegan, who had previously played with the Chris Barber Jazz Band. In 1960, the programme dropped the word "skiffle" and was extended to two hours, and became a secondary source of finding out about new and forthcoming records in the trad jazz boom. Make no mistake, trad jazz was everywhere for the best part of two years. Every weekly magazine for girls had portrait pictures of those all-important trad jazz purveyors. There was no doubt, the three "Bs", Barber, Ball and Bilk (Chris, Kenny and Acker respectively) were outstanding. There were others who tried to copy Acker Bilk, bands like Dick Charlesworth's City Gents, who also dressed snazzily, but they lacked something that Acker's band had, and that was Peter Leslie and the Bilk Marketing Board, not to mention the outstanding talent of Acker and his fellow band musicians.

When Uncle George came to stay with us in the summer holidays, he calmly announced that Johnny Mortimer, Acker's trombonist, was a nephew of his, which means that I was related to one of the Paramount Jazz Band, if only by marriage! I was thrilled beyond belief at this news!  And with Stranger On the Shore becoming the best-selling record of 1962, he and the Paramount Jazz Band left all the other trad jazz bands behind. Coincidentally, the Beatles were beginning to become known - LOVE ME DO and the issue of their first album, PLEASE PLEASE ME in early 1963 were indicators of something quite extraordinary, and the banter at school no longer included Cliff Richard, it was all about Elvis vs The Beatles, and no prizes for guessing who won! On the Acker Bilk page in this issue of Books Monthly you'll see a poster showing Acker Bilk and the Beatles. This would have been in 1962, when the Beatles played in Gloucester Odeon, a support act for Acker.

I MEET THE BEATLES!

In 1962, this would have been, and I frequently walked through the city after getting off the bus that took us from school on the way home. It was a two-bus journey, the first bus dropping us off in Westgate, and then a walk through to the bus station in King's Square; and I would spend a lot of time in Hickey's music shop, buying the occasional single, of which there was a box in the left hand side of the shop. I went into the shop looking for a copy of Ray Charles (and the Ray-lets) singing WHAT'D I SAY, and found a cover version by Bobby Darin. I was aware of three older youths, all wearing long black overcoats, messing about in the right hand side of the shop, taking guitars down off the wall and playing them, much to the dismay and anger of Mr Hickey, who was an old-fashioned nd rather intolerant shopkeeper. These youths could only mean one thing to him -trouble! I saw them coming towards me out of the corner of my eye, and one of them said "what record are you getting, then", in a deep, gruff Liverpool accent. I didn't want any trouble, so I handed him the single, and he grinned, and said: "Good choice, Kid", and handed it back. I paid for my record and left the shop, realising as I walked to King's Square in order to board the bus home, that it had been John, Paul and George in the music shop, the guys who had asked me what record I was buying! Ringo would have been out in the city with his camera, he was always taking photographs. I couldn't wait to tell the boys in my class the following day - I had been in Hickeys' music shop when the Beatles were there! Wow! Wow! Wow!

Trad Jazz took a back seat when I bought my PLEASE PLEASE ME album. I played it over and over again, as loud as I dared, and Jean still complained, asking my Mum to make me "turn it down". For me, the world of music changed overnight with the Beatles as it did for so many other millions of people. From pooh-poohing rock and roll, preferring trad jazz (and a small number of select classical pieces), I was desperate for Little Richard, Jerry Lee Lewis, Elvis, but first and foremost, the Beatles... and then we moved from Gloucester in the summer of 1963, and within a couple of years, my musical horizons had widened...


This bit was published/ updated 28th February...

Time to start talking about music and me, I think. I was born into a musical family - that is to say, my Mum played the piano, my Dad played a variety of stringed instruments - we have a photograph of him in fancy dress as a gypsy, playing a violin, but from memory he was never that good on the violin, although he excelled on the mandolin-banjo; my sister Jean, who passed away last month, played the piano, and I played, firstly the recorder (of which more in a moment), then the violin (until the incident with the violin teacher), and finally the guitar, my basic prowess at which I managed to pass on to my two boys, who are both far superior to me; and finally, my violin playing rubbed off on daughter Samantha who went the whole hog and is a Master of Music.  So, when I say that I come from a musical family, I'm not talking about more than two generations, I'm talking about my immediate family. My uncles sometimes joined in with stringed instruments such as mandolins, but more often than not they were content to sit and listen as we murdered such classics as Suppé's Poet and Peasant, and tunes from motion pictures such as The Wedding of the Painted Doll. If you were to raise the lid of the piano stool, you would find a massive pile of sheet music, all for the pianoforte. We had one in the house, and my Dad occasionally attempted to tune it, often well enough for Jean to practice her Schubert and her Chopin. There was a time when she was the most gifted musician in the house, but I like to think that when I passed grade three Violin I was starting to overtake her, and by the time I had mastered the basics of guitar playing (jazz and skiffle), she was married and living in a caravan in Charlton Kings, near Cheltenham. Of course, playing an instrument doesn't make you an expert in  music. For that, you need to listen. My first instrument, the recorder, was something I was very good at, but it required me to produce a lot of spittle. So much that,  my Mum and Dad, being very good with practical jokes of the variety that didn't hurt you mentally, made a cardboard box from a cereal packet (easy, really, just cut the bottom off) and tied it with string to my recorder. I was so good at the recorder (performing regularly in ensemble at my Primary School), that I was sent down the road a few doors to where Mrs Livesey lived, the piano teacher who had made such a brilliant job of teaching Jean.  But, to my dismay, I was no good at piano. My left hand wanted to play the same notes, an octave lower, than my right hand, and vice versa. Later, much later, after many years of playing violin and then guitar, I taught myself to play The Old Rugged Cross on our old piano, achieving a very commendable left hand accompaniment. But my greatest love was the guitar.

My earliest memories of listening to music are of Listen With Mother. This would have been from 1950 onwards, when I was walking, and looking at picture books by Mabel Lucy Attwell, and learning to read, and when my ears started to tune themselves to the rather pleasant sounds that came out of the box on the small table in the alcove in the front room next to the bay window. The time was 1:45pm, the introductory music was a few notes on the piano, and then Daphne Oxenford or Julia Lang, who both had the sweetest voices on the radio, asked "Are you sitting comfortably?..... Then I'll begin." And they would start to read to me, stories that featured characters such as Larry the Lamb and Dennis the Dachsund and their adventures in Toytown. The programme finished a quarter of an hour later, with Gabriel Fauré's Dolly Suite. The music is beautiful, the stories were especially tailored for us "baby boomers", children born after 1945 celebrations. I was a baby boomer, sister Jean was a war baby, born in 1941. I miss Jean terribly - we spoke often on the phone; she always looked after me in the early days, and we always got on famously, except for that time when I bought the Beatles' first LP, and played it over and over again downstairs on the radiogram, causing her to make her one and only ccomplaint (that I remember) to my Mum, about playing my music too loud. It was different when she wanted to play her Frank SInatra LPs, of course. But I'm getting ahead of myself. Radio was everything in the 1950s. few people had televisions, at least in our street. Our new next door neighbours, the Hughes family, comprising Ida (mother), father  (forget his name), Adrian, Norman and Nigel (the ginger-haired twins) and their sister (forget her name too!), had a television, a nine inch screen which was positioned in the hall, into which we were invited to stand and watch the Coronation in 1953. I imagine they moved the TV into the hall from the lounge, which was always kept shut, except on special occasions (to which we were not privy). The parents were Methodists, very strict, and kept themselves and their home private. They kept up with the Gardners, who lived on the opposite corner, because in their opinion, we were lower in class, probably because we could not afford a television and neither could we afford a car. Both the Hughes family and the Gardner family bought brand new Ford Anglias on the same day... Norman and Nigel, who were rebellious, weren't Methodists, if anything they were unbelievers, never once went in their father's car. At least, that's how it seemed to me. Back to Radio.

In those days, there was The Light Programme, The Home Programme, and The Third Programme. With the relaunch of BBC Radio in the 1960s, these became, respectively, Radio 2, Radio 4, and Radio 3. The bulk of the music was to be found on The Light Programme and the Home Programme, unless you had a love of classical music, in which case you tuned to The Third Programme. I had no knowledge or even a liking for classical music in my formative years - that came much later. As a toddler, I listened to every music programme on the radio: Workers' Playtime, Parade of the Pops, Housewives' Choice, Music While You Work, Henry Hall's Music Night, Friday Night is Music Night, Children's Favourites, Two-Way Family Favourites (which often became Three-Way and even, on occasion, Four-Way Family Favourites). Every programme on the BBC had its own theme tune, of course, and on Children's Favourites I would be regaled with all manner of musical treats, like 'Peter and the Wolf', 'The Ugly Duckling', Gilly Gilly Ossenfeffer, Katzenellen Bogen By the Sea', ''The Runaway Train', 'Teddy Bears' Picnic' 'Nellie the Elephant', 'A windmill in Old Amsterdam', 'Sparky's Magic Piano' and my of course, the Oberkirchen Children's Choir singing 'The Happy Wanderer'. As the years progressed and my musical tastes blossomed, I was exposed to simple folk tunes such as Barbara Ellen, and Bobby Shaftoe at school, and various others to which we did country dancing (one of my favourite lessons at school!). I remember  one occasion when the Headmaster, a terrifying tyrant called Mr Gillow (whom I didn't like and with whose bullying son I had a run-in in about 1955) brought a gramophone into our lesson and played Smetana's The Bartered Bride Overture. I don't know why, but it made me think about listening to other music - it was exciting, electrifying, hugely enjoyable, and I knew that other music existed because, as I said earlier, we listened to every mucis programme going, including Mantovani, who murdered various light classical pieces.

By this time, I had discovered our own wind-up gramophone, which I believe had a built-in speaker, not one of those giant horns you see in the illustrations of the period, and a stack of 78rpm shellac records of performers like Al Bowlly, Harry Roy and his Band, Jack Hylton and his Orchestra, etc., etc. There was a built-in tray holding the needles you needed to replace on a regular basis. In the next road, my Great Uncle Ernie and Aunt Grace lived. He was OK, she was horrible. But he gave me a pile of 78s to play on my newly discovered toy, for which I was very grateful, finding amongst them,, for example, a performance by Django Reinhardt and the Quintette du Hot Club de France. I was delighted to discover later that day that my Dad also had some Django 78s, and these became the flavour of the month for me, so much so that when my French teacher said we all had to give a five minute presentation (in French) to the rest of the class, I chose to speak about the amazing Django Reinhardt. He was Belgian, not French, but the language was the same, wasn't it?

By this time, the world had moved on. To 45rpm single records, and 33-and-a-third rpm albums. On the way home from school in 1958, I went past Currys in the Oxbode in Gloucester. On the opposite side of the road was the massive side profile of the five-storey Bon Marché Department store. But Curry's had what I wanted - a radiogram that not only played all three speeds of record, it also had a radio built in. Our radio, the one that I used to listen to Listen With Mother on, was very old, and past its best. At least as far as I was concerned. Mum, Dad and Jean were happy with it. I was not. I was excited by the prospect of being able to put on an album and not have to get up to change the record, but to sit and listen for anything up to a half hour. In those days I could nag for England, and I nagged and nagged and nagged until Mum caved in and went to Currys and signed a hire purchase agreement for the radiogram. Once it was installed, I had other things on which to spend my pocket money and the money from my paper round besides books and comics. And music was starting to become much more important to teenagers like me. Up till now, we had to get our popular music fixes from Radio Luxembourg on frequency 208. I remember the first LP record I bought - it was a truncated performance of Beethoven's 5th Symphony on the Embassy Record Label, which was exclusive to Woolworths. I'd been with my Dad to a working men's club, which was a smoke-filled room in the middle of Gloucester, where a couple of hundred men stood and listened to a gramophone record recital of the symphony. It blew my mind! And once we had the radiograme, I simply had to have it. Years later I started to buy Classics for Pleasure LPs and discovered that the Embassy 10-inch record missed all of the repeats, and was actually very poor value for money. But at least my record collection was up and running.

Some record purchases were hit and miss in those days. Everyone in the family loved traditional jazz, and in the very late 1950s, we heard a performance of Blaze Away, a John Philip Sousa march, by a new band called "Mr Acker Bilk and his Paramount Jazz Band". There was, in those days, I think, a radio programme devoted to jazz. I was duly sent out on Saturday morning to hunt down a copy. In Gloucester, there was Hickey's Music Shop, of which more later, and the Bon Marché department store. Hickeys didn't have the record, and neither did Bon Marché. What the latter did have was a performance of "Whistling Rufus" by Chris Barber's Jazz Band, and with the money Mum, Dad and Jean had given me to buy Blaze Away, I bought Whistling Rufus. There was much disappointment. But in the end I was forgiven, because my Melody Maker newspaper revealed that Blaze Away was on an album and had not been released as a single. By this time, I was hooked on Acker Bilk, and it coincided with "trad jazz" becoming the hottest thing in British music making. Dozens of new bands surged onto the market, with Dick Charlesworth's City Gents, Terry Lightfoot's Band, The Dutch Swing College Band, Chris Barber's Jazz Band, Kenny Ball's Jazz Men, and Mr Acker Bilk and his Paramount Jazz Band, to name just a few. I don't know if it was the name of the band, or the amazingly different and beautiful clarinet of Acker's that hooked me, but for me his was absolutely the best trad jazz band ever, and I set out to follow him and to collect his records. It was about 1961, when Acker changed record labels from the Pye Blue Jazz label to EMI, and at that point, he appointed publicist Peter Leslie, a literary genius, to handle his promotion and to write his record sleeve notes. There is nothing quite like an Accker Bilk sleeve note, which I am in the process of preserving on a special page in Books Monthly. The trad jazz phenomenon was comparatively short-lived, although Acker did shoot to international fame and acclaim with the gorgeous and very memorable Stranger on the Shore, which ensured he was never forgotten, and must have provided him with adequate funds to keep him in comparative luxury until he passed away in 2014. What followed trad jazz in Britain was quite extraordinary, and changed music forever...


Yours Retro Magazine - the latest issue - out now!


The April 2021 issue of Yours Retro magazine has a brilliant feature on Tarzan of the Apes, and for once, the magazine gets it right - that none of the films has ever done the book justice, something Edgar Rice Burroughs complained about throughout his long and distinguished life! The article looks at the various men who have portrayed the Jungle Lord on screen and reaches the same conclusion I did, that Miles O'Keefe is the finest screen Tarzan of all time; however, we disagree about the film in which O'Keefe starred: I love Tarzan the Ape Man with O'Keefe and Bo Derek, but Yours Retro describes it as the worst Tarzan film ever... There's also a great article on Breakfast at Tiffany's star Audrey Hepburn, revealing that Marilyn Monroe was the author's first choice; and a superb article about genetleman actor Jack Hawkins, another about the original Incredible Hulk TV series, among many other super articles and features. This is most definitely the best monthly magazine on the planet - reminiscent of the movie magazines of the 1960s we used to read, such as Picturegoer and Photoplay... absolutely terrific stuff!










The small print: Books Monthly, now well into its 23rd year on the web, is published on or slightly before the first day of each month by Paul Norman. You can contact me here. If you wish to submit something for publication in the magazine, let me remind you there is no payment as I don't make any money from this publication. If you want to send me something to review, contact me via email at paulenorman1@gmail.com and I'll let you know where to send it.




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