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The Beatles and me

radiogram

Sunday at the Adelaide Grand Prix. Former Speaker of the House Arthur Whyte and his wife Mary were on pit straight. Respected folk from Kimba, local royalty. Every lunchtime Arthur went to the Kimba pub. Blistering heat or punishing cold, he’d have a stout. Just one. Mostly. Arthur lived to ninety-three.

Being outgoing and with a healthy curiosity in people Mary exchanged pleasantries with the man in the neighbouring seat. He was gentle, possibly even a little shy. Sounded English. He made gracious inquiries, asked about life in Australia, in Kimba, on farms. Nigel Mansell seemed to be leading the race, and with the octane thunder booming about them Mary reciprocated.

“So, what do you do?” Gosh, what was his name again?

“I’m a musician.”

“That’s nice. So which instrument do you play?”

The cars were making astonishing noise. It was hard to hear.

“I play guitar.”

“That’s lovely. Do you play on your own? Or with others?”

Mary took a sip of her tea. He was an agreeable chap.

“I just play by myself now.”

“That’s probably easier. So you were in a group?”

“I was.”

“Oh, yes. What was the name of the group? I probably won’t know them, but you never know.”

“They were called the Beatles.”

*

Mum and Dad had a radiogram. Wooden, heavy, solemn in appearance. The turntable sunken into its teak depths. I remember Creedence Clearwater Revival and Anne Murray and The Carpenters.

But what I recollect most vividly is a 45. In the digital age when artefacts like vinyl are discretionary, these seem primeval, unnecessarily real. It was “Love Me Do” with the B-side “PS I Love You.” Both songs crackled constantly when you dropped the needle, but were exhilarating. John Lennon’s harmonica was rowdy while Ringo’s drumming crashed out of that old radiogram.

I was only five, but I was in.

*

The first cassette I owned was It’s a Long Way There by the Little River Band. I’m pretty sure my first record was Ripper ’77; on which the highlights are, “This Is Tomorrow” by Bryan Ferry and, “A Mean Pair Of Jeans” by Marty Rhone. As catchy as it was my cousins Boogly and Froggy and I thought “Blue Jeans” by David Dundas the superior denim-themed pop confection. We’re still right.

Fresh from uni and working on the West Coast I bought my first CD player, second-hand from old school mate Fats with whom I shared a passion for Bush Biscuits, tepid Southwark, and Mondo Rock. Acutely aware of my personal responsibility I went into Allans music along Rundle Mall- just up from the Malls Balls. I bought two CDs- Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band and The White Album.

Living by myself in a big farmhouse I blasted these out into the dusty summer dark; brutally cold July mornings; before cricket; after school. These provided a soundtrack to my early twenties after I’d left home, and was making my way.

*

Having spent a week in Penang my girlfriend (now wife) and I then flew to London. It remains the world’s best theme park. Is there a better way to spend a day than walking the ancient streets before flopping exhausted, in a Soho boozer?

In exquisite St Johns Wood, Abbey Road’s frontage appears modest, giving no indication to the history, and the thrilling, unparalleled creativity that’s occurred within. But the fence across the front is remarkable for it’s a giant thank you card to the Beatles, electric with graffiti and black-texta tributes. It’s re-painted every week or so.

“Strawberry Fields Forever” unfailingly takes me back to this time and place.  I especially love George Martin’s cello arrangement; it’s blue skies in Hyde Park, a string of Routemaster double-deckers along Oxford Street, and planter boxes bursting with late spring colour on the façade of a Themes pub.

*

What are the most exciting moments in music? Guns ‘N Roses’ “Paradise City” and Axel Rose’s whistle urging his band into the song like a mad football umpire? The Who and Roger Daltery’s apocalyptic scream in “Won’t Get Fooled Again”?

No, it’s George Harrison’s Rickenbacker guitar opening to “A Hard Day’s Night.” The chord’s undeniable, an invitation, a golden promise. Fifty years on, it’s still rock music’s most iconic grab.

*

My favourite Beatles’ album has changed as I have. Curiously, I’ve moved retrospectively through their discography. Starting at the ambitiously expansive church of The White Album, I moved to Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, and was then besotted with Revolver, and especially George’s spectacular guitar work on “And Your Bird Can Sing.” Is there a sunnier riff in rock?

Where am I now? Rubber Soul.

The record’s a confident transition by a band sensing that the boundaries might be further than even they’d imagined. It’s a languid listen, but there’s telling experimentation- most notably with Harrison’s use of sitar on “Norwegian Wood.”

But it’s “You Won’t See Me” which is the album’s standout.  At 3.22 it was the longest song the band had recorded. It’s perfectly placed, appearing at track three.

It connects to Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby. In it the author explores some dark themes that are critical of much in America- the greed, the selfishness, the appalling lack of responsibility, but he delivers these bleak ideas beautifully, in achingly gorgeous prose, and I’m always struck by the poignant contrast between method and message. It stays with me, haunts me. I like art which displays a thoughtful divide.

For me it’s the driving jauntiness of Paul’s piano, Ringo’s tambourine and inventive drumming, and the uplifting harmonies of Lennon and McCartney. “You Won’t See Me” has up tempo hooks in counterpoint to the gloomier nature of Paul’s seemingly autobiographical lyrics, documenting his challenges with then girlfriend Jane Asher, who might still be the most famous former girlfriend in rock music. This song marks a maturation for the Liverpudlians. It’s colossal fun.

In time I’m sure I’ll bow before other Beatles’ albums, other Beatles’ songs. Just like I always have. The labyrinthine beauty of their palace ensures this.

But tonight, as my family sleeps, I slide on my headphones and press play. Again.
Beatles

 

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London: Good Service on the Piccadilly Line

London Eye

In London I thought about Margaret Thatcher. I didn’t wish to.

Our hotel lift was of the talking variety, and in the awful, condescending vowels of the late baroness, it’d declare things like

“Going down.”

“Doors closing.”

“I usually make up my mind about a man in ten seconds, and I very rarely change it.”

That last one was a shock, especially when the lift then scolded me. “You. Yes, you. Colonial man. You’ve been a disappointment to so many, many people.”

*

Slung from the Eurostar, we got into a black cab outside St Pancras. It was instantly welcoming. Like bumping into old friends at the cricket, and sliding straight into some happy banter.

The Gherkin loomed into view along with provocative youngster The Shard. Nattering about kids, our cabby said, “A mate of me old man reckons you should treat boys like dogs. Run ‘em ragged all day, then feed ‘em and put ‘em to bed.”

And that’s why we love London.

*

A decade back and living north of the city, we’d take visitors, without telling them much, on the Northern Line from Kentish Town to Westminster. We’d scale the stairs, rush out into the light, and right there in front of them, to their surprise, would be London’s most lovable landmark, Big Ben.

We did this with Alex and Max too. For them Big Ben’s initial significance was through the film Cars 2, as the place where Professor Z traps Finn McMissile, Holly Shiftwell and Mater. But you already knew that.

It was New Year’s Day. So we found a spot on Whitehall to watch the traditional parade. Suddenly it began, with rousing music from that most cherished British institution, the University of Texas Longhorn Alumni marching band.

Once we’d enjoyed the spectacle for something approaching seven minutes the wife decided we should pop into a nearby pub for lunch. “Think of the children,” she said.

The Silver Cross was a bright opening to our Ashes pub tour. Like Justin Langer getting a solid forty in the first dig, I had a Staropramen pint, and there was a lager and black for the bride. Having fended off the new ball, we played our gastronomic shots. Scampi and chips, steak and ale pie, and kids’ serves, which were good if unspectacular, like a second XI middle order.

A hospitality company, Taylor Walker has run English pubs such as the Silver Cross, for two centuries. If he hasn’t, the new Adelaide Crows captain should claim this etymology. It’d fit within his robust narrative: Broken Hill boy, not uncomfortable within a boozer, former global beacon for the mulleted.

*

London Eye. Up we go. The river shrinks, and the cityscape stretches. Now, multiple interactive touch screens litter the capsules, and there’s vaporous Wi-Fi. Shouldn’t we simply look out the window, and enjoy? Are we so addicted to the digital that even London can’t sustain our gaze?

The rain became ridiculous at the zenith of our ride, and we could just see the Houses of Parliament. Remarkably, it was the first bad weather of our fortnight in Europe. The capsule was a glass submarine, but the boys left buzzing.

Cantilevered observation wheels aside, sightseeing remains best by foot. Our hotel sits within the shadows of the Monument (to the great fire of 1666) and heedful of the cabbie’s son-raising philosophy, we go up and down the Thames. Daily. Maniacally.

Like scamps, Alex and Max run and parkour between the Tower of London and Blackfriars Bridge. St Paul’s. HMS Belfast. The Founders Arms (Coopers Sparkling Ale now available). The iconography! The Tate Modern. The Globe. The new Nando’s at Bankside. At dusk, with the tide out, they dash about on the riverbank, and throw stuff at the freezing water.

*

With Kerry and the boys ice-skating, I’m solo in London on a Sunday morning! I walk. Time can appear elastic, and gazing at Trafalgar Square’s bronze lions and Norwegian spruce tree, and across to St. Martin-in-the-Fields, it seemed we’d only been away for a long weekend, and not nine summers.

I dive into Soho. Losing my usual spatial bewilderment, I know precisely where I am. I round the corner and spot the youth hostel we once stayed. Was it fourteen years ago? Had the Adelaide Crows really lost four preliminary finals since then? Had only nineteen Spiderman films been released in the interim?

I then photographed Berwick Street as it features on the cover of (What’s the Story?) Morning Glory by Oasis, and imagined Noel and Liam and I in the gutter, happily bashing the fook out of each other with expensive guitars.

If you let it, nostalgia can kidnap your life, so I snapped back to the moment. I strolled over to Oxford Street.

*

London’s Natural History museum is magnificent. The Volcanoes and Earthquakes, and Entomology sections investigated, we steer Alex and Max towards the blue whale. Grrr. Another gift shop.

When Kim Jong-un takes command he’ll annihilate every single gift shop using the same precision his late father displayed with a Hot Dot: a 38-under par 34, for 18 holes at the 7,041m Pyongyang Golf Course. Eleven holes-in one. As witnessed by his seventeen bodyguards.

The blue whale looks old because it was completed in 1938. Weighing six tons, it dominates the room, and is impossible to capture entirely in a photo.

Orbiting the whale, I’m startled that coins are thrown onto its massive fluke. Do the punters flip a quid and wish for West Ham to beat Chelsea? For the stockroom assistant to win Big Brother? For a Susan Boyle CD?

*

Down into The London Dungeon! Jack the Ripper, medieval torture, Guy Fawkes, Sweeney Todd, and a gift shop combine into a woolly performance, and it was excellent.

“Giant leeches were used to protect people from the Great Plague of 1665 by removing bad blood,” cried the doctor. Our seats wriggled beneath us as if these parasites were urgently seeking somewhere warm and moist. Being an owner of warm and moist, I leapt up. Alex loved it.

It was terrifying, but timid next to Margaret Thatcher. Years ago, before her passing, I asked my mate Barry if they’d erect a statue of her in posthumous tribute. “Yes, they will,” he said, “And I’ll head straight there and turn it into a fountain.”

oasis

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london & you

london & you

lost and excited along oxford street drinking in the colour and the promise on our first morning

in boxy bunks chatting in the dark like teenagers in orbit (the toilet flushing next door)

offering vegemite to europeans as the summer sun pushed in the hostel kitchen window

you sending home emails from the smoky lounge and me delighted by your wit and exuberance

blitzkrieg chunks and holes in cleopatra’s needle and putting our astonished hands into the cold wounds

ending an exhilarating first day with you proudly sipping a shandy in soho’s white horse pub and then

dipping hungrily into the rock ‘n’ roll guide to london after you, always knowing best, insisting on this gift for me

piccadilly circus to ourselves at 7am, jet-lagged and euphoric; awake since the 4:30am sunrise

like peering into cupped hands at a secret, mesmerised by the sutton hoo in the british museum quiet

a tiny squirrel in greenwich park and our pure delight as it scampered

you photographing me on the lords dressing room balcony, knowing I’d treasure the image

your hysterical laughter as I kept jumping at the spider web display in the museum

our soft afternoon calm, strolling by the round pond in kensington gardens

the abbey road pedestrian crossing and despite my tantrum and the traffic you persevering so the moment was caught

hot drinks huddled among the pigeons in the trafalgar square grey breeze

your pink thongs slapping and dashing up the theatre stairs as shrill bells ring for mamma mia and

chasing the yeoman warder’s baritone as it animated history and myth at the tower