There’s a great scene in the film “Kes”, in which there is a fight at the school where Billy Caspar (played by David Bradley) is a pupil and Mr Farthing (played by Colin Welland) is a teacher. Everyone gathers round to watch the fight and Mr. Farthing wades in, breaks up the fight and shouts at the top of his voice “Right, you lot. ten seconds. Get out of my sight”. All the pupils disperse. It’s a great scene and one I always wanted to emulate.
Luckily, I had the opportunity early on in my career as a teacher at Netteswell in the late Seventies. Fights weren’t that common but if you were on playground duty, there would probably be one or two every year. When I saw my first fight, I copied Colin Welland more or less word for word replicating the scene perfectly. There was just one small difference. In the film, the pupils looked a bit scared and scarpered quickly. In the real life scenario in Harlow, most of the onlookers didn’t hear me and those that did looked faintly amused, or even worse, just ignored me. Over the course of the next 40 years, I never tried it again and by the end of my “career”, the idea of dragging a pupil by his collar to separate him from his assailant would have led to instant dismissal and accusations of child abuse.
Several years later, I went with Martin (and possibly Paddy) to see Colorblind James Experience in London. We were packed in and although it was possible to sway gently, as if we were listening to “Let It All In”, it wasn’t possible to completely let go of all your inhibitions, even to “Dance Critters”. The guy standing in front of us didn’t particularly understand the concept of a crowded space and started barging into Martin who gracefully accepted this a few times and gently pushing back until finally, he gave this bloke an assertive shove in the back. Looking round and seeing six foot Martin glaring at him, this guy decided to modify his behaviour. It was a great scene and one I wanted to emulate. Luckily I had the opportunity a few years later when Roo and I went to see Cracker at The Borderline. We found a good space to stand to watch the band. It was a small rectangular space right at the front left hand side of the stage. It was only about four feet in depth adjoining the main part of the auditorium. Just before Cracker came on stage, four people, about half our age, barged past and stood in front of us. It was okay though, we could still see Jonny Hickman, the lead guitarist, play his low slung guitar lasciviously. As Cracker increased the intensity of their set, the three blokes decided that they wanted to impress the girl they were with and started moving. I was going to write dancing but all they were doing was moving around as if they owned the small space they had tardily invaded. Remembering my hero, Martin, I resisted every time one of them barged into us but finally, after about an hour, when he moved back suddenly and barged into Roo, nearly knocking her over, I shoved him in the back as hard as I could. He turned round warily, wondering if I was a six foot mountain of a man but all he saw was me and he started an argument about why I was trying to spoil his enjoyment of the gig. I asked him if he was enjoying himself, which took him aback, and he enthusiastically told me that he was, very much. I told him that I was very pleased and didn’t say any more. He turned round, puzzled. Roo and I left the gig early to avoid any further confrontation and when we got out, our enemies had also left early. Oh well. We had seen about an hour of the set which was very good and at least we had seen them play “Big Dipper”.
“The Golden Age” is Cracker’s third album, released three years after “Kerosene Hat” and four years after their first album “Cracker“. It’s a good album with some fine songs but, in my opinion, it’s not as good as the first two. However, it contains one song, “Big Dipper” which would be up there in my favourite songs of all time. It’s magnificent.
It starts with a drum shot, a pedal steel guitar and a piano which quietens for David Lowery’s voice to start singing about the confusion he is feeling on a hot June day. He’s full of good intentions so he’s drinking carrot juice but he really wants a cigarette. He’s just bought a book to read but he’s rather sit on the steps of his favourite café and look at the girls passing by. Maybe he’ll get himself a new tattoo? The music is dreamy and the tempo is languidly funereal. He sings very quietly but very close to the microphone so it really sounds like he’s in the same room, if not invading your personal space.
He sees a girl he likes the look of and fantasises about taking her for a ride on a Big Dipper. Maybe she doesn’t especially want to hook up so how about if they just hang out together “and act somewhat indifferent”?
It’s hot and he’s not ready for it to be so beautiful when he’s feeling so disengaged with the world. He can’t stand the way the girls are dressing in the heat – on a hot Summer’s day he would rather be sleeping. He doesn’t want to commit to a new relationship, he’s not ready to go through the turnstile that so many others have done on their way to a settled and committed future. But a ride on a Big Dipper would be nice and they could see Monterey from the top. On the other hand, they would also see San Jose and that has unhappy memories for him.
To make things worse, he’s just seen Jim Kerouac who is also sitting on the steps of his favourite café and he has hooked up with his ex girlfriend. Jim Kerouac is a chancer and likes to boast that he’s Jack Kerouac’s brother although that’s unlikely. David Lowery is not over the breakup of with this girl and she’s looking sad so maybe she wants to get back together again? Maybe she’d like to go on the Big Dipper?
By the final verse, nothing has changed. He’s still feeling very confused – he’s drinking carrot juice again but smoking another cigarette and doubts he has the courage to carry on. At the end of the song, as the instruments fades away, David Lowery repeats “I haven’t got the courage yet” three times and it always leaves me emotional but happy.
There are hundreds and hundreds of beautiful, sad songs out there. This is one of the very best.