It was an English lesson with Mr Bryant in my Third Year. He was handing back our carefully completed homework and it was probably the middle of September 1967, early in the school year. He had a pile of books resting on the inside of his left elbow as he read out our names, waited for a hand up and flung the book somewhere in our direction. “Brown?” he asked, looking round the room. Paul Brown’s hand shot in the air and his carefully covered exercise book landed at his feet. “Black?” Graham Black slowly raised his hand and years of teacher practice paid dividends as his book shot into his desk and thumped into his ample stomach. “Green?” No response. John Green was absent but we were all too scared of Mr. Bryant to speak out of turn. “Green? No? Okay then.” John Green’s book was thrown without due care or attention back onto the “master’s” desk at the front. “Mauve?” No response. “Mauve? That’s a lot of sickness in this class. I thought you were the healthy well fed future of the nation.” Suddenly, a light bulb went off in my head. There was no Mauve. Whoever heard of someone called Mauve? Michael Mauve? Ridiculous. Shyly, my hand lifted a few inches. “Sir”. Mr. Bryant fixed me with a stare that even Neil Young would have found intimidating. He was a bull of a man, probably a “rugger” player with a squat frame, short blonde hair and he wore what would later be known as “Herr Flick” glasses. His nickname was “Hitler”. “Come on Mauve! Do you know your name or not? QUIET!” The tittering, pisstaking and humiliation had started amongst my kind hearted peers. My book landed several feet away. I started to get out of my seat to retrieve it but was forced back into my seat by the sound waves of Mr. Bryant. “MAUVE. Sit down”. It was a phrase that my kind classmates used every time I walked into a room for the next year. “MAUVE. Sit down.” How I laughed every time Colin Pell shouted that at me. Mr. Bryant continued with my humiliation. “BROWN! Pass Mauve his wretched exercise book”. Paul Brown threw my book at me, striking me on the nose. Even Mr. Bryant affected a small smirk as laughter echoed around Room 8. I felt my face redden to the colour of my Kent membership certificate and I vowed that, in future, I would write my name in block capitals, taking special care to ensure that the third letter looked like a C and not a U.
Fast forward 23 years and the deeply unpopular poll tax notification was waiting for me after a hard day’s graft at the chalk face. Gleefully, I noticed that the A from my surname was missing and an extra E had been added to the end. The government was demanding that Michael McVee pay the same amount of money as Nicholas Ridley’s duke and his gardener. What could be fairer than that? I had determined, along with my angry, middle class, faux socialist friends not to pay the poll tax until forced to. The aim was to clog up the courts and cause maximum disruption. This all culminated in the poll tax demonstration on 31st March 1990. A few of us travelled up to London together, wandered around London shouting anti Thatcher slogans, had a few beers and went home before the rioting started. The U Turn by Thatcher led to the end of her Premiership the next year. At a time when the rights of people to peacefully demonstrate are being discussed (a gathering to show solidarity following the death of Sarah Everard ended in violence on Saturday), I find myself conflicted between understanding the strength we can draw from mixing with like minded people and, on the other hand, the progress achieved in reducing the spread of the virus by banning large gatherings. Anyway, back to the envelope addressed to Michael McVee that was delivered to me. I wrote “not known at this address” on the envelope and put it back into the postbox. I repeated this with all subsequent, similarly addressed mail until I realised a letter had come from Harlow Magistrates Court requiring my attendance. I looked forward to my court appearance as I had the perfect pedant’s entitlement on my side. When my turn came, I was asked if I wanted to say anything and I asked the clerk to find my name on the register. When she spelled it out I told the court that that wasn’t my name. I said if I had received a letter addressed to me, I would have paid but I had never had such a letter. I thought I had a reasonable case but the magistrate dismissed my point as frivolous and fined me £50.
“TSMNWA” is a Loudon Wainwright song which stands for “They Spelt My Name Wrong Again”. He introduces the song by recalling that one of his concerts was once advertised as starring Gordondon Wainwright III. During the course of the song, he tells of different misspellings – Louden, Ludin, Wainright and Weinright and he sings that “I guess that’s just rock’n’roll/Dyslexia takes its toll“.
This is a wonderful album and I’ve written before how his live albums are generally superior to his studio albums. He is joined by Chain Tannenbaum and David Mansfield for some of the songs. There are some desperately sad songs. “Absence Makes The Heart Grow Fonder” is heartachingly beautiful as he misses his his wife. “Five Years Old” is sung to Martha Wainwright, apologising that he can’t be there for her fifth birthday because he doesn’t live with her mother. “The Man Who Couldn’t Cry” is a song about a man who could never express emotion until he died. “Unhappy Anniversary” celebrates one year since he split from his wife.
There are some really funny songs. “Happy Birthday Elvis” looks forward to the return of The King. “Suddenly It’s Christmas” explains how there’s no let up between Halloween, Christmas and Valentines Day. “Suddenly it’s Christmas. The longest holiday. When they say ‘Season’s Greetings’, they mean just what they say. It’s a season. It’s a marathon. Retail eternity. And it’s not over ’till it’s over and you throw away the key.” “The Acid Song” is also very funny apart from the people in the audience who have to whoop and holler to prove that they, too, have taken acid. The description of a group of people tripping on LSD and acting stupid doesn’t sound like it ought to be funny, but it really is.
My favourite song on the album is “Road Ode” which is a song about how difficult it can be to live a decent life as a musician while touring. The song is a torrent of words and the rhyming, the humour, the pathos and delivery are all wonderful. There are references to Willy Loman (“Death Of A Salesman”), Tom Joad (“The Grapes of Wrath”), Jack Kerouac, Genghis Khan, Vladimir and Estragon (“Waiting For Godot”), all brilliantly put together in the chorus. Maybe one of my favourite parts of the song is when he briefly stops to tune a string on his guitar and he tells the audience “it’s folk music – you can do that“. At one point he describes running through an airport to catch a plane which he says is okay for OJ when he’s 43 but it’s no good for him “with a bad back a hernia and a bum knee“. He wishes he could have a tour bus like Willie Nelson. “A roadie carries his guitar/and in that bus there’s a VCR/Oh Willy deserves it, he’s a big old star. / Oh Willy goes out for weeks at a time/He makes a ton of money, it’s a life sublime/But for me it’s punishment and crime.” The structure of the song and Loudon Wainwright III’s singing are fantastic.
I wonder if Holly Macve, a young singer from Galway, has the same problems.