FRETS WORDS is an outlet for creative writing. At the moment we’re operating online due to COVID 19 regulations, however we will eventually start running weekly evenings for writers to workshop / discuss ideas in the Frets Creative building at 2 Barn Street Mews in Strathaven. In the meantime, here are some musings written by Katy Lironi about growing up listening to music in the 70s, Top of the Pops, and the existential angst of Seasons In The Sun (which was written by Jacques Brel).
A Life in Music
Part 1 – Seasons In The Sun
Where did it begin? This life on the periphery, the very edge of music…on the outer margin but none the less important at every turn, and seeping into every part of my life so far. But do I have an earliest memory, as I shut my eyes and try to transport back?…No, just a conglomeration of memories and snippets of tunes from an early life in the mid-late 1960s….so the tunes are inevitably going to be ok.
I do not consciously recall my Nanna singing to me as she sat with me, a new born in her arms, in front of the coal fire. My mum tells she sang to me but had succumbed to her lung cancer and died by the time I was 6 weeks old. I do recall being sung to, strangely enough by my dad. He sang K, K, K, Katy to me; nightly in my memory, but quite possibly only once or twice and it stuck. “You’re the only little girl that I adore…” I took it quite literally. As adults it’s good to remember how important these seemingly throw away moments are…they stick, and they are what the myths of our childhoods are made of. My Mum whistled and sang constantly. If I woke in the morning and my mum wasn’t whistling, I panicked that something catastrophic had happened. I was a nervous child, conjuring drama at every turn. Nothing has changed. Mum also seemed to know a song for every occasion and I used to challenge her by firing off random words for her to magic songs out of. Curtain! Spoon! Once, as I was opening the car door for her she burst into “Open the door Richard!” My name’s not Richard I said….she laughed and continued with her song. There was a stream of strange and lovely songs that I learned by heart for Hallowe’en guising – My Dame Has a Lame Tame Crane, Mares Eat Oats, something about a baby’s dimple….as well as the party favourites; My Mum’s family’s “Inversnecky Store” and my Dad’s fabled renditions of “Paddy McGinty’s Goat”, later supplemented by the long and winding “Court of King Caracatus” which I happily duetted on, and the racier and much much more mortifying “With my Hands on Myself” and “The Dogs’ Meeting”. My Dad was less a traditionalist and more a showman…a lover of music, especially traditional jazz, a passion my parents share, it’s none the less my Mum who’s the musical one, playing the piano by ear for all our birthday parties. My Dad’s “skill”, one he unfortunately passed on to me, is his uncanny ability to find the off- beat when clapping along loudly to any music. He is an enthusiastic listener and party performer.
As kids we had a wee portable record player in the living room where we listened to my parents’ old 78s. We had a favourite one each, to be played on special, dancing/wrestling/jumping around weekend evenings. Mine was a 1956 classic “Cookie’s Going to Marry Me”, my brother Graham’s was Lee Marvin crooning “Wandering Star”….Maybe Stephen had outgrown having a special 78 by then as I can’t recall it….Soon he’d move on to Yes and Led Zeppelin…In my memory anyway. Thursday nights were exciting once I was old enough to stay up for Top of the Pops. Not as exciting for my brothers when I insisted on dressing up and emulating the Pans People dance moves in front of the telly. Chuck Berry playing My Ding-a-Ling is my earliest TOTP memory, easy to sing along to and rumoured to be rude, so all the more interesting for that. I also recall intensely annoying my brothers with my atonal rendition of Stealers Wheel “Stuck in the Middle With You” complete with random guitar strumming. At 9 I cut out a photo of Kiki Dee from my latest TOTP album where she duetted with Elton John on “Don’t go Breaking my Heart” and took it to the hairdresser to get my hair cut in the same style, crying uncontrollably when my shorn locks hit the floor and the resulting thick short bob did little to transform me into Kiki…it did break my heart. Years later I would turn my head upside down and chop randomly, in an attempt to create a Kim Wilde look. That didn’t work either.
As I grew, music came along for the trip. As the third child, with 2 musical brothers up ahead, I had an endless supply of their music to be influenced by. The Sweet and Slade are some of the earliest I remember, probably from very early primary school, Wig Wam Bam was a personal favourite. These were closely followed by Alice Coopers “School’s Out” album….with a pair of paper pants round the album sleeve…did I imagine that? There was also the aforementioned Yes and Led Zeppelin, The Who, and very quickly, as late primary school kids, my brothers were heading from our new town suburb into the Glasgow Apollo for their first gigs. At the same time they were doing paper rounds to save up for their first instruments, a drum kit for Stephen and bass guitar for Graham.
A few years younger, I was lured by the gleam and glam of The Osmonds, buying Little Jimmy’s “Long Haired Lover from Liverpool” with a 50p record token from Boots. Other favourites included Wizard’s “See my Baby Jive” given to me on my 8th Birthday. Progressing inevitably on to LPs, The Bay City Rollers Definitive Collection, was one of my first. This was swiftly followed up by Paper Lace’s “Paper Lace and Other Bits of Material.” To my mind this was a classic and Billy Don’t Be a Hero reached out and stroked all the tragic drama that my hungry 8 year old imagination craved. I also adored Terry Jack’s “Seasons in The Sun” tears springing unbidden at the opening chords…especially when my brother told me the singer wrote it when he was dying. Perfect. This brother also tormented me for years by singing “Hey Fatty Boom Boom” to me at every opportunity.
In my memory it was always sunny and we were always outside playing, flares and hair flying free in the wind. An unrestricted, unfettered childhood. Without the opportunity to sit glassy eyed in front of an endless supply of cable TV, youtube videos, games consoles, tablets, smart phones….bla bla bla…what did we do? We played out in all weather, we read and read and read…for hours and hours and we sang songs…playing the same single over and over and over again. We never ever missed TOTP and we never ever missed the chart rundown on a Sunday night. We recorded it onto tinny little tape recorders with an external mic where we could do our own dj intros….or maybe that was just me. We could do our own editing and cut out any prog rock that sullied the charts and spoiled the ruling glam fest. Each week had the same shape and so our lives were moulded by music and stories and outside space. Is childhood really so different these days?
And so the years rolled by. We moved house and the outdoor playground of a glen out the back door and a Wimpy cul-de-sac out the front was replaced by a main road and no pals. It was my last year of primary and I felt isolated. Two things happened to save the day, I made a new friend and I fell in love. A love that would last for a long, long time. I queued round the corner at the ABC in Glasgow for my first sight of him and I was not disappointed. I first saw Grease with my new friend Clare and both our mums. For some reason we wore shirts and our Dad’s ties….it must have been a fashion at the time. Anyway, it didn’t mar my overawed enjoyment of the film and of John Travolta specifically. It was possibly an obsession, one that grew even though I had no video recorder to re-run that moment in the film when he first appears on screen, looking over his shoulder with the cigarette dangling from his lips. It was re-run in minute detail in my mind and in the hours Clare and I spent in her room, tinny tape recorder at the ready, acting out the entire film and singing all the songs over the soundtrack. Innocent bliss.
My record collection grew. I had the Goodies album. ? Who knows why. I bought The Beatles’ Revolver with one of those record tokens and my brother swiftly offered to swap it for a Haircut 100 album, realising I’d probably bought something good accidentally. The Sweet and Slade albums had eventually come my way and I’d also supplemented them with a Showaddywaddy best of. With a new house came more space and more stuff, a Bush “music centre” complete with smoked glass lid was installed in the new living room and the portable record player eventually made its way into my bedroom, as did many of my brothers vinyl cast offs. John Travolta gazed down benignly from my wall, a life sized poster purchased in ecstasy from Gerona airport on the way home from a family holiday…almost in tears, my excitement at finding it was so great. As I gazed up at John the soundtrack was a messy mish-mash of hand-me-downs… “I’m a boy I’m a boy, but my mum won’t admit it…I was born with a plastic spoon in my mouth….Is she really going out with him, is she really going to take him home tonight? I don’t like Mondays, tell me why? I don’t like Mondays…..” Bob Geldof soon supplanted John Travolta as the object of my affection and years later I was to develop a liking for spending Friday nights at the Queen Margaret Union at Glasgow Uni where I would see many of my favourite bands live, The Boomtown Rats included.
Part 2 coming soon…