I never listen to music on the radio these days. It’s something to do with choice. I have lots of music that I don’t think I’ve listened to properly. I tell myself, probably wrongly, that I don’t have time to let somebody else choose music for me. For example, the new Lucinda Williams CD arrived nearly two weeks ago and I haven’t played it yet. I’ve just received an email to say that the new Jason Isbell CD will arrive tomorrow and I’m not convinced I will make time to listen to it. This is utter madness and stupidity on my behalf because, of course, there’s plenty of time to listen to music. I’m just not making the time. Peter and I are having our twice weekly Album Club meeting tomorrow and I need to properly listen to Laura Marling. Of course there’s time. But the idea of switching on the radio and letting someone else choose the music for me is anathema at the moment.
It wasn’t always like this. In the mid sixties I listened to the pirate radio station “Radio London” and loved it, especially the Kenny/Cash hour from 5:00 to 6:00 and “The Perfumed Garden” with John Peel late at night. After Tony Benn closed down the pirate stations in August 1967, I listened to Radio Caroline which continued transmitting even though it was illegal. The Johnny Walker programme from 9:00 p.m. – midnight was unmissable. Then there was Radio 1 and especially John Peel’s “Top Gear”. In the 80s, I started recording the Andy Kershaw and John Peel programmes which were on every weekday evening. I would then listen them in the car on my half hour drive to work in Hertfordshire. At around this point, both of them started educating me in world music. The first song that gave me the intro was “Homeless” on “Graceland” by Paul Simon which featured Ladysmith Black Mambazo. Later there were all different kinds of music that got under my skin. In particular there were three compilation records, all called “The Indestructible Beat Of Soweto” which included tracks by Mahlathini, The Mahotella Queens and The Makgona Tsolhe Band. When Paddy and I went to see them at The Charing Cross Astoria, all three were playing together. It was sensational.
When Martin and I went to see The Bhundu Boys, it was probably the first concert by a group not from the USA or UK that I had been to. It was in The Sir George Robey pub in Finsbury Park which was a real dive. Astonishingly, it has a Wikipedia page and I’ve just found out that the following all played there at one time: Bad Manners, Billy Bragg, Carter USM, Desmond Dekker, Fairport Convention, Gong, Hawkwind, Bert Jansch, Roy Harper, Ralph McTell, They Might Be Giants and Blur. It doesn’t mention the amazing set played by Johnny Get Angry, the wonderful but sadly underappreciated band from Harlow featuring the maestro Paddy on lead guitar. Wikipeida has also pointed out that “the fictitious venue The Harry Lauder in Nick Hornby’s book ‘Fever Pitch’ was based on The Sir George Robey. Near the end of Irvine Welsh’s novel ‘Trainspotting’ the characters Sick Boy and Begbie visit The Sir George Robey”.
So, despite all that, going to The Sir George Robey wasn’t a great experience apart from the wonderful music. When Martin and I saw The Bhundu Boys, the lead singer Biggie Tembo kept coming to the front of the stage and ululating. We all had to repeat this strange action which, to be honest, made me quite uncomfortable because the only time I’d ever seen this done before was when I had watched “Cowboy and Indian” films when I was about 8 years old. In 1986, of course, I realise what an offensive word that is to describe Native Americans but at the time, I knew no better. In these films, the Native Americans would ululate before charging towards the good guys – the ones who had invaded their land, taken many of them prisoner and destroyed their culture. So, knowing this in 1986 made me a bit uncomfortable but, as Biggie Tembo wanted us to join in and as it sounded pretty good, I ululated as if my life depended upon it.
Listen to this clip of Andy Kershaw talking about when he and John Peel went to see The Bhundu Boys. This was broadcast in 2004 after John Peel died.
I concur. Listening to this record today, probably for the first time in 20 years, it simply exudes happiness and joy.
Luckily I saw The Bhundu Boys when they were probably at their happiest and most successful. Their fortunes declined after the release of this record. This is well described in The Guardian article from 2006 (see link below) and is best summarised by the sub headline: “The Zimbabwean group first flew into Britain 20 years ago, and became stars overnight, world music pioneers who supported Madonna. But their fall was equally dizzying – as tragedy wiped out the band.”
Today’s news is much like any other day from the past few months. More deaths. More incompetence from our leaders. More worry. More pain. Same old. Same old. A very uncertain future. We could all do with a little joy and happiness and listening to this record again has, temporarily at least, lightened my mood. I think I’ll just go and get my dancing shoes….