Day One – Penny Lane by The Beatles


Penny Lane

I guess I should start as today being day one, although in saying that it is over 24 hours since I last gambled. It is a first full day.

To start with my name is Michael Gamble (yes, a pen name) and I am a compulsive gambler.

If I was honest I never would have imagined me writing those words either in my twenties or thirties – but find myself now after a journey through the grips of gambling having blown just about all that I have and within the depths of debt which I aim to recover from. But only this weekend, this beautiful weekend with the sun shining in the North of England, and with the help from my youngest sister and brother-in-law made me come to an epiphany, a moment of absolute clarity – when I know in my soul that should I ever gamble again it will be the end of me financially and I will lose everything.

I’m hoping that as I use this blog things will unravel which may give me a clue as to how I got here.

However, today I am happy in the simple knowledge that I am alive, my family members are healthy and that despite all I have so much to live for, and still can beat this. Also, I know for sure there are many people who are far worse off than me.

I did attend some Gamblers Anonymous meetings when I first realised I was a compulsive gambler but for whatever reason believed either 1) I would find a way to get back all that I had lost or 2) I would never gamble again. Looking at this it is quite logical to see how basically illogical the two statements are when put together.

So, from the start…

I was born in the early 1960’s and in many ways also feel blessed that I was born during this time. At no time have I been instructed by my country to go to war and lived under as Confucius may have put it such ‘interesting times.’

I am now at an age where memories from the distant past seem clearer than those from yesterday, so writing this I find both therapeutic and interesting to look back on some wonderful memories.

So, what is my very first musical memory?

Although I was one of six children I guess my earliest memory is before one of my siblings had been born. Checking the release and chart history of this record makes me guess that the time is February 1967, when I will have been four years old.

It seems ironic in a way that there is a passing reference to money in the title of ‘Penny Lane’ by the Beatles. But who knows why Penny Lane in Liverpool, which is subject of the song, got its name.

There is a quote from Paul McCartney

“A lot of our formative years were spent walking around those places. Penny Lane was the depot I had to change buses at to get from my house to John’s and to a lot of my friends. It was a big bus terminal which we all knew very well. I sang in the choir at St Barnabas Church opposite.”

So, my first musical memory is of street and area in Liverpool which held a bus terminus and where the younger Beatles met, Penny Lane Junction. Which reminds me there will be a post in the 365 which will include ‘Up the Junction’ by Squeeze. A classic.

I remember as clear as if it were today and can even smell the iron that my mother is using as the voice of Paul McCartney sang the main lyrics to the song. I was sat on our living room floor and the music burst from the radio in and charged me in a way that is completely understandable for a 4-year-old child. It is a song which transcends age barriers with a bouncy lyric and melody which I would defy anyone to play now to a 4-year-old and see if it still has the same ‘bounce factor.’

Here is the link copyright ‘The Beatles.’

As this was prior to the launch of the BBC Radio One station, which launched on 30th September 1967 I do wonder now which station we were listening to. I must ask my mother.

But I can also see the colours of the day. The brown light shades, brown sofas, orange wall paper and a lamp made from a slate of rock brought by my father from the Lake District.

I could get very nostalgic about this era as experimentation in colour was the vogue from your furniture to your clothes. At parties it must have seemed like there’d been a mishap at the colour factory for wallpaper and linens. But everything went including my brown coloured Y fronts and light blue winceyette pyjamas, which would give you a sharp electric shock every now and then as plastic rubbed against plastic to produce and electrical discharge that could blow your fingers off as you went to touch the metal door handle leading to our kitchenette. We may have lived in a council house but one thing we had a was a kitchenette, complete with different colour Tupperware bowls for each family member.

The song was my first genuine impact that I recall from any record of the era, even though I do remember bouncing to Peter Noone and Herman’s Hermits.

Paul sang and made me sway and bounce on our electrically charged carpet. Suddenly music, had I not already known, was an intrinsic part of my life.

Now I look back on the song and see other quotes that interest and intrigue me and wish for a time machine to take me back and be standing at that bus terminus as the boys met.

“When I came to write it, John came over and helped me with the third verse, as often was the case. We were writing childhood memories: recently faded memories from eight or ten years before, so it was a recent nostalgia, pleasant memories for both of us. All the places were still there, and because we remembered it so clearly we could have gone on.”

Paul McCartney
Many Years From Now, Barry Miles

John Lennon is said to have contributed the line “Four of fish and finger pie”, which derived from a crude Liverpudlian sexual term.

“It’s part fact, part nostalgia for a great place – blue suburban skies, as we remember it, and it’s still there. And we put in a joke or two: ‘Four of fish and finger pie.’ The women would never dare say that. except to themselves. Most people wouldn’t hear it, but ‘finger pie’ is just a nice little joke for the Liverpool lads who like a bit of smut.”

Paul McCartney, 1967

The song’s title had been toyed with by the two writers since Rubber Soul, when an embryonic In My Life had Lennon imagining a bus journey through Liverpool, listing names of places remembered. When released alongside Strawberry Fields Forever, both songs saw both Lennon and McCartney looking back to their childhood in markedly different ways.

“We were often answering each other’s songs so it might have been my version of a memory song but I don’t recall. It was childhood reminiscences: there is a bus stop called Penny Lane. There was a barber shop called Bioletti’s with head shots of the haircuts you can have in the window and I just took it all and arted it up a little bit to make it sound like he was having a picture exhibition in his window. It was all based on real things; there was a bank on the corner so I imagined the banker, it was not a real person, and his slightly dubious habits and the little children laughing at him, and the pouring rain. The fire station was a bit of poetic licence; there’s a fire station about half a mile down the road, not actually in Penny Lane, but we needed a third verse so we took that and I was very pleased with the line ‘It’s a clean machine’. I still like that phrase, you occasionally hit a lucky little phrase and it becomes more than a phrase. So the banker and the barber shop and the fire station were all real locations.”

Paul McCartney
Many Years From Now, Barry Miles

I was to discover only when the ‘Help’ LP by the Beatles became a favourite of mine on my elder sister’s Dansette record player that could play 78 rpm, 33 rpm and 45 rpm records with seven stacked on top of one another, that even though nearly all the Beatles songs had the writers as Lennon and McCartney that the songs were generally written by one or the other and you could tell who had written the song by listening to who was singing the main lyrics.

This was some revelation by my friend Paul when I was around 10 and enjoying ‘I Need You,’ written and sung by George Harrison. It happened to be one of my favourite songs on the LP and I whenever I played ‘Help’ I remember playing this song over and over again, not just for the difference of hearing George’s voice, but quite simply because of the beauty of the song and lyrics. George had talent too…and lots of it.

Sadly, fifty years on, the lovely soul that is George is no longer with and John left us all bereft when we heard the news of his assassination outside his beautiful Dakota Building home in Manhattan, just before my 18th birthday. At the age the impact I really can’t overstate. He was my hero and was just about to start a new life, emerging fresh into a new life with his LP ‘Double Fantasy.’ A new man, a new life with a lovely beautiful boy with plans which would end at the hands and by the gun of Mark Chapman.

I remember seeing clips where John said the Beatles were ‘just another band,’ but on this point I will always disagree. They were more than this. Four talented individuals. Hard working northern lads steered by their manager Brain Epstein to a musical journey that would create ripples that will continue across the universe until the end of time. People would often try to choose who their favourite Beatle was. Mine changed frequently. But when you look at it they were together far greater than the sum of their parts. Is it possible to imagine the Beatles without Ringo? Would they have survived without his brilliant drum patterns and that element of ‘fun’ he brought to the group. How would the Beatles have been without George and his rivalry with Paul, who would always be 8 months his senior and the constant battle for the approval and love from John.

The Beatles were the greatest musical phenomenon of the twentieth century. I write those words without fear of contradiction. Everyone else was just trying to be like them or admired or envied what they achieved, depending upon who you were.

So, for my 40th birthday my parents bought me something I treasure to this day and will always. All the Beatles songs transcribed in the key in which they had been recorded in a beautiful bound white book.

One thing I must add in this entry is just how thrilled I was when Paul was awarded the Library of Congress Gershwin Prize for Popular Song in 2010 by Barack Obama at the Whitehouse, and in style several contemporary musicians sang some of Paul and the Beatle’s songs to the President and his family (including of course Paul.)

I must end with this as not only is it fitting but also, I was thrilled to see the talented Elvis Costello, who was also to become a hero of mine, sing Penny Lane as part of the concert.

The link is here. I would recommend watching all of the concert, but it’s wonderful to hear a man who lived so close to Penny Lane eventually go on to sing the song in front of his hero and the president of the United States.

Elvis Costello, I know will feature in future entries.

But for now, apologies to anyone reading this if the content is not as good as it will be. I’m one day sober and really, I know it’s getting better all the time. This keeps me going!

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