The Circle Game by Tom Rush

1968

Every now and then I go for a dog walk with Steph who is someone I used to work with at Oakmeeds. Apart from being excellent company, she also knows lots of great places to walk. Rather than trudge round the streets with Bruno, she has pointed out to me that Roo and I live, literally, two minutes from what used to be Hassocks golf course. Over the past couple of weeks, I’ve taken the dear little chap round the edge of the golf course and on a path that leads up to Hurstpierpoint College. It’s nearly four miles which puts it at the extreme edge of a day’s exercise for me. If I were the type to indulge in regretful feelings, I would be disappointed in myself for not discovering this walk until recently.

The golf course was sold to developers about a year ago and there are already people living in the new estate whilst the rest of the houses are being built. It’s one of two new estates being built within spitting distance of The News House. Unlike lots of Hassocks’ residents, I’ve no objection to new houses being built in the “village” (now, it’s a small town) as long as the developers pay for an improved infrastructure and the houses aren’t sold to landlords who are looking to make money and depriving people of the opportunity to buy somewhere to live.

Walking round what used to be Hassocks golf course always reminds me of one of the worst faux pas I made, about ten years ago. It was towards the end of the Summer term and a good friend and colleague of mine called John was leaving Oakmeeds after about 25 years. He was a member of Hassocks golf course and he arranged a golf competition followed by a social event at the clubhouse. I had just decided that I was hopeless at golf, after three or four years of playing sporadically with my dear and trusted friend, Burton. I was fed up with being rubbish at something – someone with less vanity would have enjoyed the exercise and company but I hated being useless. However, John was very keen for as many people to play golf as possible, even though, like most of the staff, I was happy to come along later to the social event. John persuaded me that he needed me to make up the last group of four people to play and I reluctantly agreed. The day before the event, one of the four dropped out and just before we teed off, we got a message that our group would just be John and me. Five other groups of four teed off before us and John and I were last. For the next four hours, I enjoyed his company but I felt humiliated. It was his leaving do, he was a very good golfer with a single figure handicap and he was very competitive in a non-aggressive way. As he went round in 80, I took 120 hacks to complete my humiliation. This morning, to Bruno’s complete indifference, I remembered the feelings of incompetence as we passed the pond in which seven of my golf balls still lay.

However, the worst was still to come. As I went to the bar, I started talking to an English teacher who I didn’t know very well but occasionally exchanged pleasantries with. She was about my age and was dressed up nicely for the evening. I went to take my beer but suddenly realised that I was taking someone else’s by mistake. I quickly moved my hand to hold the correct glass. My hand eye co-ordination let me down and I knocked my glass onto my colleague with the full pint going over her glamorous dress. It was clumsy, it was a mistake, it would have been very annoying but I still don’t think I deserved the volley of shouted abuse that followed. I know I’m an arsehole and don’t need everyone I work with to be reminded of it. I’m not very good with being shouted at by women but I do regret my clumsiness.

Is it healthy to experience feelings of regret? Aleks Krotoski, in Radio Four’s “Digital Human” explained that having regrets allows us to do better in the future. “We make choices and we have to face the consequences. Regrets help us to understand ourselves and the world around us”. Having spent forty years explaining to children that their choices have consequences for which they are responsible, the most frustrating child was the one who expressed no regrets for their actions.

“No Regrets” was written by Tom Rush and was the final song on his sixth album, “The Circle Game”, released in 1968 (one of the famous Elektra 4 albums). The Walker Brothers’ version of the song reached Number Seven in the U.K. charts in 1976. Whereas their version of the song was soulful and desperately sad, Tom Rush’s version seems slightly more dispassionate. When he sings the song, it sounds like he is genuinely pleased to end the relationship. He doesn’t want her back; there’s no point in more tears; he’s ready to move on. When Scott Walker sings exactly the same song, it sounds like he’s in denial and lifetime regrets are just one single memory away from engulfing him. Whatever version you prefer, it’s a beautiful song. According to Wikipedia, one of the first music videos ever produced was for Tom Rush’s version of “No Regrets”. I don’t think the author of this article has ever heard of The Beatles.

Tom Rush was a singer songwriter in the mid to late Sixties. So was Tom Paxton, Tim Hardin, Tim Rose and Tim Buckley. It’s easy to get them mixed up. Imagine my confusion when I taught a boy called Tom Rose. Tom Paxton wrote “The Last Thing On My Mind”. Tom Rush wrote “No Regrets”. Tim Rose was well known for a cover of “Morning Dew”. Tim Hardin wrote “If I Were A Carpenter”. Tim Buckley was one of the greatest singers that has ever lived and he made the second best album of all time, “Starsailor”.

There are some amazing cover versions on this album including three Joni Mitchell songs, “Tin Angel”, “Urge For Going” and “The Circle Game.” Tom Rush met Joni Mitchell in Toronto before she made her first album. Blown away by the quality of her songwriting, he took “Urge For Going” to Judy Collins who rejected it so he recorded his own version. Joni Mitchell’s version of this incredible song wasn’t released until 1972 when it was the B side of “You Turn Me On, I’m A Radio”. It describes growing up in cold Canadian winters and feeling, er, an urge for going.

Neil Young wrote a song called “Sugar Mountain” and exactly the same version was the B side for five of his early singles, including “Heart Of Gold” . It was a lament for his youth as he reached the advanced age of 20. Joni Mitchell’s song was a continuation of these feelings, describing how, when you’re very young, you can’t wait to get old. Whereas Neil Young’s song goes on to regret lost opportunities, Joni Mitchell has no regrets and looks forward to even more grand dreams and aspirations in the future. I first heard this song at Folk Club at Royal Holloway College in 1972. Without realising the connection between the two songs, I would listen to “Sugar Mountain” on the Union Bar jukebox over an early pint of Guinness and then see one of the students, who played every week, sing this song and urging the audience to sing the chorus with her. It is a spectacular memory.

The sequence of the songs on the album tell a story of a relationship from its beginning to an end. The turning point in the relationship, when the lovers realise that they have more ahead of them than behind them is “The Circle Game”. An instrumental song, “Rockport Sunday”, marks the end of the romance with “No Regrets” being a coda.

Tom Rush’s voice is deep and emotional but I wouldn’t say that he is an exceptional singer. He half speaks a lot of the lines in the same way as Leonard Cohen. The singer he really reminds me of is David Ackles and that’s a compliment.

Other songs on the album include “Something In The Way She Moves”, written by James Taylor, which appeared on his eponymous debut album for Apple. The album was produced by Peter Asher who nearly became Paul McCartney’s brother-in-law. As an aside, the cover photo for “The Circle Game” was taken by Linda Eastman, soon to become Linda McCartney. George Harrison stole the title to use for the first line of “Something”. James Taylor never held a grudge and admitted that he had stolen the line “I Feel Fine” for parts of the song anyway.

The instrumentation on the album is great. Although most of the album features just an acoustic guitar, there are plenty of baroque flourishes including some very tasteful electric guitar by Hugh McCracken, who went on to play on Paul McCartney’s “Ram”. Other musicians include Eric Gale, Herbie Lovell and Bob Bushnell who all played on Van Morrison’s “Blowin’ Your Mind”. Also featured is Bruce Langhorne, who played on Bob Dylan’s “Bringing It All Back Home” and by virtue of his tambourine playing, is considered to be the original “Mr. Tambourine Man”.

Graham Potter, the Brighton manager, always gives great interviews after yet another defeat. The boys’ performance was good, he can’t fault their effort but he regrets the lack of points. The important thing, he always says, is to learn from the mistakes. Feelings of regret can’t be helped but the important thing is to learn and take a positive attitude when faced with similar situations in the future. These days, whenever I see a full pint glass on a bar, I’m very careful.

P.S. She didn’t even offer to buy me a fresh pint.

P.P.S. Only five Beatles’ references today.

Published by wilfulsprinter

Music lover

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