Thursday, 25 July 2013

People of the Streets

"Nobody", People of the Streets chapter 5. Illustration by Anthony Colbert

Tony Parker, a writer who could illuminate the individuality of ordinary people's voices in his pioneering books composed of recorded conversations. A technique that was hailed back in the '60s as the only new literary art form, and which has inspired generations of oral historians, sociologists, dramatists and documentary makers - but a name which has sadly slipped out of public consciousness.
For me, Tony Parker was a legendary figure. We met only once, ironically when I had the opportunity to interview him in public. A softly spoken man, who skillfully comforted my nerves with a warm, and knowing, smile. But talking about himself, was not what Parker did very much. He was the ‘Great Listener’ who always regarded himself as the ‘blackboard for people to write on’. When he died in 1996, Tony Parker had left a remarkable body of work, but just snippets of information about his own life.
In the first of a series of posts about the books of Tony Parker  - I present 'People of the Streets', which is perhaps one of the least known of his works. 
I managed to find online a cheap second-hand copy of the American hardback edition - and was touched to see this following dedication within, signed in 1970 by 'Judy' to 'Shel':

dustjacket, first edition, Bobbs-Merrill Co. USA, 1968

Tony Parker was born in Southport in 1923. His father was a bookseller, and after working as a coal miner during WW2 (he was a Conscientious Objector) , Parker would take up a job as a publisher’s representative. Later it was in book form that his most lasting work would appear - but it was radio, and learning how to interview for a microphone, that got him started...

"If someone will listen, people will talk..."

Tuesday, 16 July 2013

Our World 1967

Our World '67 (detail)
I've thought about posting this photograph for a while now. It's a recent re-discovery, and I was really chuffed to find it. I'm sure it was taken by my father in the Winter of 1967. I'm wearing the white polo neck top, my sister Carole is behind me, and our friend Robert is to my right. What's so intriguing about this snap is that it's not just an interior shot (which is rare enough to come across in family photos of this time), but this is our bedroom - and pinned to the wall, and scattered around, are tantalising glimpses of the ephemeral stuff of our world at this very specific moment in time.

I wonder if my Captain Scarlet Annual had been specifically opened to show off the double-page spread of the 'Spectrum Pursuit Vehicle'? The television show which had just begun that September was all the rage, following on from Gerry Anderson's Supermarionation smash 'Thunderbirds'. The 'SPV' had the rather unusual feature whereby the driver and his companion actually viewed the road through a projector screen - whilst sitting with their backs to the oncoming traffic. I note too that there's an Angels Painting Book to the left of my hand. More merchandising from the same TV show, and it was my sister's book - most likely because The Angels were female jet pilots. I can also just make out on the left-hand corner of the photograph, a copy of my sister's 'Jack and Jill' comic, which is beside some clothes piled on top of the bed. Unlike Captain Scarlet of the 21st Century, this comic presented rather sedate tales of the likes of Tiger Tim and Freddie Frog, who along with Jack and Jill, were by then throwbacks to the pre-Space Age era.


What fascinates me even more when I saw the picture was that I now had visual proof that my sister was a huge fan of the singer Paul Jones, who had left the pop band Manfred Mann to go solo, and to pursue an acting career. This confirms a collective memory that we'd talked about from time to time over the years. Bizarre to think that my sister was just over 5 years old at the time - and already a pop fan! But then, Radio 1, like Captain Scarlet, had burst onto the scene in September '67, and it was already the soundtrack to our childhoods. On the wall, to the left of a hand-painted Union Jack, are two colour pictures torn out of magazines - one of Paul Jones, and the other, shows two members of the Manfred Mann band, Klaus Voormann and Mike D'Abo (who had replaced Jones in 1966 as the lead singer).

There are other pictures on the wall, including various of our artworks, a scroll depicting a girl with her cat, a framed folksy picture of a boy and girl,  a partially coloured-in drawing of a leaping Batman and the Gotham City skyline, a circus elephant - and there's another image of Paul Jones, on a small newspaper clipping with a still from the Peter Watkins film 'Privilege'. A very 60s dystopian-pop satire where Jones plays a disillusioned pop star who is being manipulated by the church and state who want to turn him into a kind of messianic hero.

I would first get to see Privilege when I was in my twenties - but by then I'd already heard the Patti Smith Group's version of the anthem 'Free me' which had been sung by Jones in the '67 film.

Patti Smith had retitled the song 'Privilege (Set me Free)', which was on her 1978 'Easter' album and an LP that was considered pretty cool by some of those sixth formers at my school (and not me) who were seeking someting a bit more "deeper" than three chord punk 45s...

Anyway, 'Set me Free' is a terrific song, and sorry Patti, good on you for being inspired to revive it, but the original '67 version wins out for me. I must add, that any mention of Peter Watkins, the director of 'Privilege', compels me to think of the devastating impact that 'The War Game' had on me, when I saw his banned BBC TV film (which was shown in kind of samizdat 16mm versions for decades after the ban) at one of the umpteen anti-nuclear bomb gatherings.

But as I conclude this nostalgic romp triggered by this photograph, I'm reminded by how much of a deep and lasting impression so much of that popular culture scattered around our bedroom in the Winter of 1967 has left on me. In a good way.


Saturday, 6 July 2013

And All Leading Makes

I'll let this brief run of musical-themed posts come to an end with a set of three of my old transparencies that I've just run through the scanner. I've not seen them for ages, but they certainly must have sealed an impression on me, as whenever I've been stuck in the inevitable traffic-clogs along London's Holloway Road, I still think of the dilapidated remains of a music shop called Crossman's.

The billposters confirm the year, and an approximate month when I took the pictures: there's a black, red and white illustrated poster promoting 'The Dark Destroyer' Nigel Benn's boxing match at the Royal Albert Hall, which was on Saturday 28th May 1988. Other posters pasted on the boarded-up window panes announce the release of The Cure's John Peel Sessions, a gig by Linton Kwesi Johnson at Kentish Town's Town and Country Club, and another for Jerry Harrison, formerly of New York's Talking Heads.

93 Holloway Road, then (now it's an antiques shop)

I'm not too impressed with the main shopfront image, but at least I did get something. Shame that I can't make out how the wooden gate is actually connected to the rest of the building? Maybe it was just propped up, as it looks like this once-splendid looking shop became a repository for dumped rubbish.

However, I do prefer the two close-up images which highlight the period details in the signage and the lettering. Relics like this one were still peppered around the streets of the City at this time. Within a few years they'd all left us for good.

I've not discovered much information about the history of Crossman's Music and Radio although I note that around 1915, Crossman's actually published this postcard (below) of Islington's Central Library which is almost opposite the site of the shop. The Library was opened in 1907, and it continues to serve the area to this day...
a Crossman's product, pre-radio

Tuesday, 2 July 2013

All Muddled Up

Greetings from the Star Grill

Continuing my riffing on music-related themes, I've just discovered another old treasure which I picked up several years ago - an unused multiview postcard which presents five different scenes at the Maison Lyons, Marble Arch, London W1. With my recent post about the newspaper advert for the Wimpy Bars of Majorca (Cosmic Wimpy) still quite fresh in my mind, I also return to ponder on yet another one of the restaurant brands under the massive Lyons banner.

The Lyons chain were well-known for their enormous restaurants, often on four or five levels, with each floor having its own theme - an all day breakfast at the 'The Bacon & Egg', or perhaps the quartet of waitresses (known as Nippies, and pictured below) at your service at 'The Star Grill'.

It's a pity that this postcard wasn't printed in colour, and I'm not quite sure of the date, but I'd hazard a guess at sometime around the late 1950s. Anyone reading this who can help to confirm, or who can work out a more specific date from clues in the interior fixtures and fittings, or the Nippies hairstyles, please do come forward!

This postcard of Maison Lyons is also sadly not populated with any customers at all. Without the bustle of life, the place looks rather bleak and quiet, and its the sounds of Lyons that I'm especially interested in. For in their heyday, live orchestras once played almost continuously thoughout the daytime and in the evenings - though I wonder whether there were any all night long performances when several Lyons restaurants had experimented with 24 hour openings?

a striking image of a used 'Grill & Cheese' match-book cover

A stylish menu cover at The Bacon And Egg

the interior is rather egg-cellent too

Another lovely Lyons artefact is the special disc "All Muddled Up" which was released to mark the American bandleader Paul Specht and his Orchestra's invitation to perform at the Lyons Corner House restaurant in London's Coventry Street on 23rd May 1923:

note: 80 revs per minute
Photo of Specht (seated far right) and his band taken in the USA around the time of recording "All Muddled Up"

The story was taken up by the famous Variety newspaper, and their report exclaimed that Paul Specht and his band were enthusiastically received, and the restaurant was packed continuously from morning until closing hour.

Ok, lets fast forward the musical styles from Paul Specht's big shows for Lyons - and about forty six years in time, to the year 1969. Another sl-ice of the Lyons empire was its Lyons Maid ice cream, with all those tantalising ice lollies boxed-up inside the big freezers at the newsagents. One such lolly was called 'Luv', and tucked in-between the outside wrapper with its brightly coloured groovy logo, and its inner paper sleeve, was one of 40 'Pop Stars' cards. I've still got No.28 after all these years - and it's the terrific Troggs: