Monday, September 29, 2008

Put the Needle on the Record (II)

Let's Have Another One! (at 'The Queen Victoria'): a typical sing-song at a London local (BBC Radio Enterprises)
Don't be a Billy no mates; ditch 'er indoors, grab your weasel and stoat, and leg it down the boozer for a right old knees-up! There are a number of reasons why you could buy this LP (an on-the-spot recording of the clientele (or denizens, depending on your opinion) of a Sarf London tavern belting out standard London pub tunes, which vary from the well-known to the very obscure) which I have listed below (and one wonders which applies to Noel Dunne, 6 Pearse Square, Dublin 2, who bought this record in 1972, or so the back cover informs me?).
1) You are a social or cultural historian fascinated by the vernacular music of London in the middle of the last century. Or you are a filmmaker or author creating a gritty narrative of depression and hardship in 1960s Bermondsey, and want to get the ambience exactly right.
2) You're an experimental composer who makes extensive use of samples, and you could use some of the songs recorded here in a composition (a soundscape, even) combining traditional singsong with electronic shrieks and gurgles, thus making a serious and profound statement about the disappearance of such community-based local activities under the blaring white noise of global consumerism (or something...)
3) You are a member of the Billy Burnham, or Harry Hudson, fan club (both of whom feature prominently here). In fairness, the sleeve does mention that Harry Hudson and his Melody Men made 'hundreds of gramophone records'. I imagine that you'd spent a lengthy and unprofitable time searching for them today, though... (not that I've tried, I hasten to add.)
4) Songs like 'Lily of Laguna', 'Down by the Old Bull and Bush', and 'I'm a Bermondsey Girl' really mean something to you. Or you used to drink in the Queen Victoria in the sixties. Or you enjoy unspeakable versions of 'When Irish Eyes are Smiling'.
5) You have two turntables and a copy of The Sound of Airplanes at War, which includes actual recordings of the bombing of London in the Blitz. At midnight you can light a gas lamp, pop open a bottle of Spitfire, put on both records, and pretend you're a time traveller who's at a singsong in an air-raid shelter.
6) You wish to use it as a burglar alarm. When out of your house, put this record on quite loud, and passing burglars with think that a crowd of well 'ard Cockney geezers are within, having a party. They will therefore tiptoe quietly by rather than risk being beaten to death with lengths of pickled eel. Of course, if the record skips it could cause suspicion, as the supposed partygoers repeat "doing the Lambeth [click!] ... doing the Lambeth [click!] ... doing the Lambeth [click!] ... doing the Lambeth [click!] ... doing the Lambeth [click!] ... doing the Lambeth [click!] ... " ad nauseum.
7) You anticipate that at some point in your life you will be held hostage by a aging London gangster who escaped from Wormwood Scrubs by punching though a steel door with his fists of Cockney fury and is on the run in Ireland. But, as Savage Ron is about to duct-tape you and yours to a chair, you put on this record, and his battered, brutish face softens. A single tear hovers in the corner of his murderous eye as he is transported back to his childhood, to when his dear old mum would kick him down the stairs while singing 'Knees Up, Mother Brown'. Didn't I have my first pint of real ale to this song when I was a nipper, he'll cry! This one reminds me of when me and Reggie the Bastard fed Bert Egg (we called him Pickled Egg! Har har har!) through his own mincing machine for not paying us sixpence in protection, he'll chortle! He may continue in this vein for many hours, listening to the LP over and over, then steal your car but leave you and yours unharmed. Whether this is preferable to him killing you is a moot point. Keep pickled onions and bottles of London Pride handy.
8) Like me, you found the cover irresistible. The damage to the image above can be explained by the fact that, while I was listening to the LP, its cover was carried out into the garden by my dog and torn into several large chunks in a fit of anti-singsong fervour. Thankfully I rescued it from his jaws before absolute destruction was visited upon it; I hope it wasn't valuable, as an eBay description of "vinyl in very good condition; sleeve with large rips, sections missing, and canine teethmarks" won't increase my chances of flogging it for a fortune if it's rare. It shows a middle-aged gentleman with a bowler hat obviously entering into the spirit of the event with gusto, with mouth wide open and eyes closed. This has the unfortunate effect of making it seem as if someone's just skewered his kidneys with a knitting needle, or that an alien (no doubt from a dubious meat pie) is about to erupt forth from his distended gut and slaughter the pub's customers. Perhaps he's having a heart attack brought on by an overdose of gin and physical contact with his dancing partner, or by the fact that he's wearing an overcoat in a crowded pub while singing and dancing. I'm also amused by the chap with the cigarette in the background who's eyeing up the cameraman, as if for two guineas he'll come charging over and batter him senseless, while his mate says "leave it out, 'Arry, 'e's not worth it!"
9) You collect all BBC LPs, regardless of content, for reasons known only to yourself.
You may ask, at this point, why I bought it. Curiosity, primarily; aligned with the fact that I found the cover amusing, I used to live in a flat that had similar wallpaper as depicted in the background of the bar, and it was only 50c. I imagine that the kind of entertainment it captures, which had extensive Music Hall antecedents, has, for better or for worse, largely disappeared from the pub scene that kept it alive, and for that reason alone it's worth having. I hope any Londoners will forgive the blatant stereotyping above; I lived in the East End of London for a while myself and do love the place, for all its faults.


fustar said...

Terrific post. You can't go wrong with detailed breakdowns of randomly found, 50p objects. A winner every time.

The damage to the sleeve turns the melancholy up to eleven - making you realise that most of these raucous revelers are now long dead. These transient moments of knees-up fun and laughter are but dust on the wind (said he sounding like someone opting for Reason 2).

A Doubtful Egg said...

Thank you. Reading back through the post, I feel I didn't communicate one salient detail: this record is bloody awful! The sound quality is dreadful, and the singers are the equivalent of those fellas who get up unsteadily at weddings, with a pint slopping about in one hand and a wobbling mike in the other, and proceed to belt out nightmarish versions of "The Fields of Athenry" with their eyes closed. As an artefact, it's a pleasant little curio, but I can't imagine ever listening to it for pleasure... (if I knew a way of transferring vinyl to MP3 files, I'd have posted a snippet for your enjoyment).

fustar said...

I have a few such beauties that I've been meaning to blog about for ages - only I felt the impact might be lessened without the accompanying audio. Not in this case though. Nothing could live up (or down) to what I'm hearing in my head.

You can, I think, get reasonably priced turntables that can be connected to your computer via USB. I've been meaning to get one - but it seems something of an extravagance given that I'd only be using it to share very terrible records with my readers.

A Doubtful Egg said...

I must look into getting one of those, as I have a lot of vinyl, some of which is quite rare, and it'd be nice to have it backed up somewhere in case some hideous novelty picked up in a junkshop for 10c causes my record player to commit suicide rather than play it (or, more realistically, damages the needle beyond repair).
Thanks again for the comments, and I hope you've shaken off the lurgy that afflicted you recently.