When I taught at Chancellor’s School in Hertfordshire, there was a whole school assembly every Friday. There were about 800 children at the school and they all crowded into the school hall. Older children got chairs at the back and the younger ones had to sit cross legged on the floor at the front. The Head of Sixth Form was in charge of settling all the children down before the staff came in. All members of staff queued outside the Hall until we got the nod from the Head of Sixth Form to come in. We then trooped into the Hall and up the stairs to sit on the stage. Finally, the Head came in and took the assembly. One day, all the members of staff thought it would be funny if we all wore a bow tie. This was because the Head of Sixth Form always wore a bow tie and we thought it was a rather strange thing to wear at a comprehensive school. If we were at Eton, it might have been more in keeping with the superiority of teachers in private education. On this day, the Head of Physics was the first teacher to go into the Hall. I thought it would be even funnier if we didn’t follow him and left him on stage by himself wearing a ridiculous bow tie so I stopped the rest of the staff from following. We were out of sight of the children so we all stood and waved at him, while he stood impassively; the Head of Sixth Form, who couldn’t see the Head of Physics and wondered what the fuss was about, struggled to contain the giggling of eight hundred adolescents. Finally, we relented and joined him on stage. I mean, who would wear a bow tie as a teacher in 1988? By the way, here’s a teacher recruitment advert from today’s paper.
At the end of another assembly in 1988, I waited behind as all the other members of staff trooped off stage. I was wearing, jacket shirt, shoes, tie and trousers which one by one I removed in front of all the children. Taking my trousers off was particularly tricky because I didn’t want to leave my underpants showing. Did I say that I had some running kit underneath my normal clothes? Luckily, I didn’t drag my shorts off with my trousers. I remember, disgracefully, a girl in the Sixth form named Lorraine shouting something out from the back of the Hall to which I replied “Later, Lorraine.” Blimey. What a thing to say. Oh well. It was 1988. The reason for this real life actualisation of my worst nightmare was to promote the Chancellor’s mini marathon (10 miles) that was to take place in the middle of June. It was to be a sponsored run in aid of the Maths department. Funds raised would be used to buy computers to enhance Maths lessons. I proudly boasted to the school how I was expecting to be the best placed member of staff which, considering I was overweight, not to say obese, was a claim that was met with cynical disdain from the back of the Hall and amazed wonder from the front.
The next few weeks were spent displaying posters, distributing sponsor forms and reminding the whole school of the big event. I had to organise the marshalls, let the Police know and get everything ready on the day. A large number of staff helped enormously – it wasn’t all up to me. I wasn’t the only member of staff to run ten miles. That was the plan anyway….
I had a chat with Martin last Sunday and he told me that one of the offices he works at, in Ingatestone, is temporarily closed because of the latest lockdown. On the Sunday before the mini marathon (June 5th 1988), he and I were playing cricket for Tye Green against Ingatestone. We were batting second. I can’t remember how well Martin batted but I wasn’t very good. Somehow, though, I stayed in for about half an hour and ducked lots of bouncers aimed at my head by their fast bowler who was far too good for me. I got more and more frustrated and annoyed at their aggressive bowling and my own ineptitude. Finally, their bowler bowled a ball that wasn’t a bouncer; I went to pull it and got a top edge straight into my left eye which very soon closed up. I retired hurt, or more accurately, retired furious. Martin and I had arranged to drive down the A12 after the game to go and see Green On Red at The Mean Fiddler in London. It probably wasn’t very sensible to drive into London with my left eye closed but that’s what I did. It certainly wasn’t as bad as saying “Later, Lorraine” to a 17 year old girl in front of the whole school. We went to the gig and on Monday morning, when my eye was in various stages of blue, red and green, I went to school and put a note round to the whole school saying that, unfortunately, due to an injury, I would be unable to run in the mini marathon the following Saturday. What a piece of luck, I thought as I squinted my way through the week. I was also able to make the old joke to every child who stopped and asked how I got the injury: “you should have seen the other guy”.
The following Saturday, the mini marathon passed off well, we made some money for the department, the Head was pleased with me and I spent the rest of the day fighting off the advances of women who found my new look quite attractive. Some or all of the last sentence is true.
At this time, seeing Green On Red play live was immensely exciting. By 1988, Green On Red had been reduced to Dan Stuart and Chuck Prophet, neither of whom were original members of the band. The full band had been involved in recording and touring their previous album “Killer Inside Me” but after Dan Stuart had a nervous breakdown and all five members of the band had broken up with their girlfriends at the end of the tour, the band split. A producer called Jim Dickinson became involved with Dan Stuart and Chuck Prophet and “Here Comes The Snakes” was recorded in Memphis. Jim Dickinson played drums and Rene Coman was brought in one afternoon to record a bass part for every song. Jim Dickinson had been the producer of Big Star’s “Third” (or “Sister Lovers”) and many comparisons have been made between that record and “Here Come The Snakes”. The sleevenotes by Mitch Myers state that they “were both experimental albums made by bands that had disintegrated, only to reconstitute themselves in the studio with some primary members and a few hired hands. The two albums reveal themselves as shambling, inebriated and emotionally bruised, improvising and playing makeshift instruments in an effort to create cathartic art rather than mere commercial product.”
Every New Year’s Day, Ben and Anne invite a lot of their friends to spend the day with them, nursing their hangovers, playing games, drinking beer, eating curry and watching “Groundhog Day”. One of the many highbrow games that used to be played was “Blind Date” where a question gets asked and everyone has to think of a end to a phrase that would make them dateable. One year, the phrase was “when I go out on a date, I always think of….” Roo completed this by writing down “Piggly Wiggly”. Most people there were not aware that this is the name of an American grocery chain and were blown away by Roo’s ability to make a ridiculous, slightly rude name up out of thin air. This resulted in her being voted that year’s winner. She and I knew the song “Zombie For Love”, (track four on this album), in which the singer is told by a judge to get a job and he finds one at Piggly Wiggly.
Every song on this album is excellent and not everything is at a manic pace. “Morning Blue” and “Broken Radio” are more tuneful and laid back, less out of control, more reflective. “Tenderloin” contains a long spoken piece which Jim Dickinson compared to a Jack Kerouac novel. “Rock’n’Roll Disease” is more manic with ridiculous lyrics about how the youth of Moscow watch MTV and protest against their lack of freedom by not getting their hair cut. The last track is “We Had It All” and is the only song not written by Dan Stuart and Chuck Prophet, being originally recorded by Waylon Jennings. It’s a song of regret, of lost opportunities and despair and is a low key, downbeat way to end this remarkable album.
My favourite two songs on the album are the opening songs to Sides One and Two. “Keith Can’t Read” and “Change” sound like better versions of the best songs The Rolling Stones never recorded. Clanging, rousing guitar and sneering, hyped up and rocket fuelled vocals. The opening chord to the former, which opens the album, is very powerful. The chorus to “Change” is “some things never change” and whenever Martin and I saw somebody repeating the same old mistakes, we would sing the bass line to each other. De de de de. Oh well. It would be a shame if we ever grew up.
The raw quality and excitement of this album never changes. It’s still brilliant after all these years. Some things never change. De de de de.