Sunday and well over a week without any desire to gamble or watch horse racing. Life is suddenly becoming so much happier and clearer.
I’ve spent the afternoon with the people I love, my sister, her husband, his mother, my mother and my two nephews.
On the family side there is so much to celebrate as just over 4 years ago my nephew was given approximately 6 months to a year to live and this week celebrates his 13th birthday and he looks amazing and is excited about turning 13. All he needs is a lung transplant and the doctors believe not only is this possible but are confident that when it happens it will work.
So, there is so much to celebrate, plus as I write the sun is shining.
Now the subject of the bog
It’s Friday 14th March 1980 and I’m 17 years old stood on a rainy day in Sunderland at 8:30am. I know I’m going to be late for school but at this moment nothing is more important to me than securing my copy of the Jam’s latest single, which I’ve heard will be released as a limited edition 3 track EP single.
In hindsight so much of this period in my life was a kind of U turn with my peers at school from being a violin case carrying geek on the bus to school, in the first fives years, to being kind of cool.
The film ‘Quadrophenia’ (1979) had helped a lot as suddenly with the film I’d found some kind of identity or ‘tribe’, which was the MOD revival in the late ‘70s and early ‘80s.
After seeing the film and watching the Jam, who I saw a number of times at the City Hall in Newcastle, I had asked my girlfriend’s mother who was very good with a sewing machine if she could take my school tie, which until this time had always been of a big fat ‘70’s style and make it slim.
She was clever, and I owe a lot to her for how she carefully undid the seam at the back of the tie, removed the excess material and made my tie into a slim, MOD style tie. I remember the reaction at school the next day as other pupils looked in awe and asked, ‘here mate where did you get your tie like that.’ It was suddenly a fantastic feeling to be viewed as being cool. I’ve never looked back at how I dress and still what I wear is so important.
Paul Weller, then the MOD-father of a new British pop culture was one of my heroes. When I think back to my long-time heroes the Beatles and Kinks and other ‘60s groups one regret I always have is that for some reason I was born just too late to miss out on seeing the Beatles live or any of the ‘60s beat groups. But whenever it enters my head now I can understand now I can more than imagine how it was as I was there watching the Jam at the City Hall in Newcastle. Paul, Bruce and Rick live on stage, inches away from me with Paul’s dad introducing them loudly and proudly as the ‘best fucking band in the world.’ In fact, in many ways perhaps it was better this way as I could see and hear them play. There was no competition from screaming girls but just other fans jumping wildly in their Fred Perry T-shirts and skinny legged trousers as Paul screamed passionately into the mic, his arm swirling ‘Pete Townsend’ style against his Rickenbacker as would finish the songs with a screaming climax, before lighting a fag and taking a swig from a green bottle of Heineken.
I was there at the concert which Paul I believe says was one of his most enjoyable. Mid way through the concert the electricity failed on stage. No mic, no speakers, no sound. I think at the time most other bands would have walked off stage, but not Paul. I remember clear as day as he went to the front of the stage, lit a fag and went down on his haunches to chat with the fortunate fans to be right in front of him. I was too far away but could see he was making interesting conversation with the fans. It wasn’t a one way ‘I love you Paul,’ but a dialogue where he was asking his fans where they had come from and how they were enjoying the show. I can’t recall how long the power was off, but it seemed and eternity but when it came back on the Jam went into their routine as if nothing had happened and gave one of the best experiences of seeing a band I think I’ll have for my life.
So, when I was stood outside the Spinning Disc securing my copy of ‘Going Underground’ meant more to me than anything else. If I got a caning at school, it would be worth a caning every day until the end.
When the guy who owned the shop unlocked the door and saw me standing there alone he looked a bit puzzled, ‘you okay son?’ I just nodded and said what I’d come for. To be honest I was surprised there wasn’t a queue around the block, but once I had the copy of the record I put it into my school bag like the priceless piece of art it was. I ran to Backhouse Park, which is close to my school and remember sitting on a muddy bank beside a stream taking it out and reading every detail written on the sleeve. Reading record sleeves is something I miss so much now. I wouldn’t be able to play it until I got home that evening, as I lived eight miles away from my home, but knew I’d rush home that evening, straight into my bedroom and probably play it until it was time for bed, pretend Rickenbacker in my hand listening to the first striking chords from Paul to the feedback at the end.
I never knew when I bought it that the record would be a record breaker of its own by going straight into the charts at No.1 and staying there for 3 weeks.
In hindsight I honestly don’t get why The Jam never made any huge inroads into the US market. Who knows maybe it was their instance of being part of the British musical movement of the time, or the US could not relate to either the political content of their songs (which have a basis in all politics,)
The lyrics were just as important as the music. I remember reading the lyrics to Going Underground.
Since the record came out many people have read that this is a kind of subversive snub at the current political climate in Britain, with Paul supposedly saying that he’s vote conservative (which he later retracted.) But at the time politics in Britain were a turmoil with Margaret Thatcher having been in office as Prime Minister for nearly a year. The woman I had recalled as the ‘Milk Snatcher Thatcher’ when in 1971 as Education Secretary Thatcher ended free school milk for children over the age of seven. Edward Short, then Labour education spokesman said scrapping milk was ‘the meanest and most unworthy thing’ he had seen in 20 years.
Well it was mean and I’d remembered fondly how getting my small bottle of milk everyday at school not only was sometimes the only time kids of my age would get anything substantial for the day but looking back, it all was just mean…mean enough ‘to pay for rockets and bombs.’
Now in my mid-fifties I can see just how prophetic the words are as the young Weller wrote
“And the public gets what the public wants
But I want nothing this society’s got.”
It’s spot on. I watched Ricky Gervais’s brilliant ‘Humanity’ on Netflix where he discussed the Brexit referendum
“We had a Brexit referendum cause they passed the buck. They didn’t want to make a mistake. And there’s a ridiculous thing of, “Let’s ask the average person what they think.” Let’s stop asking the average person what they… Do you know how fucking stupid the average person is? We still sell bottles of bleach with big labels on that say “Do not drink”. Right? Let’s take those labels off, right? For two years. And then have a referendum.”
Ricky Gervais – Humanity 2018
Was Paul displaying in 1980 his sense of apathy about a society where most people aren’t aware that they are already brainwashed by the military machine into voting for war if the argument is persuasive enough made my a government with vested interests in keeping war alive, the lower class enthusiastic youth sent as cannon fodder, oblivious to the fact that this is how the class system will always maintain the that wealth stays with a elite and rest of us are just pawns in the machinations of the elite to keep the bankers and merchants happy – all evil fuckers who somehow manage to sleep at night knowing that their control of not just the political machine, but the brainwashing of the lower classes means the continued death of millions of poor people who haven’t a fuck who to believe in and who blindly follow what they imagine is right. Yes, there’s a light shining at the end of the tunnel but have no idea that the light is one of the ‘wealth train’ which doesn’t give a toss about you and soon will be driving straight at you to put you to an early grave. As John Lennon also observed ‘but you’re still fucking peasants as far as I can see.’ But somehow the working classes still don’t get it. Not now, not 50 years after the state assassination of JFK who could see it, not after the Thatcher, 911 …..we still seem to have a ‘suicidal ant’ mentality which keeps the continual voting for Brexit, war in Iraq because of some supposed ‘weapons of mass destruction’ that were never found. But the oil merchants and governments were quick to seize the oil as the number one priority, ignore the fact the thousands of soldiers and innocent civilians (women and children) died to feed the elite’s need to keep hold on the planet’s most valuable resources. ‘Let them eat cake’ becomes ‘Let them watch Big Brother and the X-Factor’ as we screw them, kill them and take what we want.
Prophetic indeed Paul and somehow, I can’t see the cycle ever changing – but I pray I’ll always tend toward anarchy rather than apathy. There must be some way that the numbers of the proles can overcome the few who want to keep the status quo.
Tony Blair, how do you sleep? There never were any weapons of mass destruction!
None of what was to happen in the proceeding decades would be on my mind as I listened to this great prophetic song, which in my own opinion isn’t close to being the best song by Paul Weller or the Jam, but stands as a snapshot of a moment in British political history when confusion, dismay and apathy were rife.
Now in my fifties as I look at such works another thought enters my mind which is how such talent to observe and comment and make such amazing music can exist in the youth from the Beatles to the Jam astounds and delights me. Paul will have been only 20 years old when he wrote such songs. John Lennon was in his twenties when he wrote his greatest politic statements and fantastic music. Such precocity is always found in the greatest artists of all, whichever genre of art.
So, listen to the song and take in just how it meant to me as a 17-year-old, wondering only how to fit in, be cool but also find a way in life.
This all segues nicely into a discussion we were having around Sunday dinner where I expressed that the worst moment in recent history of my hometown Sunderland was when the metropolitan county of Tyne and Wear came into existence in 1974. Prior to this we had County Durham with Sunderland a town in County Durham and north of it Northumberland.
Tyne and Wear
Looking back, I believe the creation of Tyne and Wear county did more to destroy Sunderland than the German bombings ever have did in 1943.
At the time the ‘Metro’ underground system was being built using tax payer’s money from all over Tyne and Wear, but with one agenda which many may never have understood at the time by the people in Durham was that the ‘Metro’ having opened between 1980 and 1984 never did reach Sunderland until more than twenties years after it was operational, when it was extended to Sunderland in April 2002.
In the intervening years millions was ploughed into the revival of the Newcastle quayside area and gentrification of the whole of Newcastle, with Sunderland left behind to just watch and wait to see when they would get a slice of the ‘Tyne and Wear’ pie. Maybe as a pacifier Sunderland was granted ‘city’ status in 1992 during the 40th anniversary of Queen Elizabeth II – but very little was granted in the way of development. In fact, it was largely ignored, all of which saddens me as it is my home town.
In the conversation at dinner today my mother, who is 82 this year argued that Sunderland had never been part of Durham County, so somehow also along the way residents have been brainwashed to forget that we ever had an identity and were indeed at one point in history one of the greatest industrial towns in England, building fantastic ships in the shipyards that stretched the whole banks of the Wear and a producer of coal in coal mines scattered across the whole of the county as well as an exporter of glass.
Now Sunderland makes very little, a microcosm of Britain, with only the Nissan car factory to boast. The rest is made up of call centres (yes, people like the accent) and …well more call centres! What does Sunderland have to offer today after its grand history where we had the Empire Cinema where I remember Sid James died onstage in 1976, but also was a vibrant theatre and attraction to celebrities in its history including the Beatles on Saturday 9th February 1963 on tour with Helen Shapiro.
My opinions may well be biased as my grandfathers were both coal miners. My family moved to the North East in the 1850’s from the Lake District with sinking of the first coal mines in the area and the promise of work, homes and a better way of life from the black solid gold. There were disasters along the way with the worst one being the 7th with the Seaham Colliery disaster of Wednesday 8th of September 1880 where it was reported that up to 164 men and boys lost their lives, the youngest boys being 14. Today many may not notice but in a church in Seaham is a wooden beam retrieved from the mine where miners trapped and facing the inevitable took to scrawling messages to their loved ones, who they knew they would never see again on the beam and whatever they could find.
Michael Smith, a colliery packer from Seaham’s Henry Street, used the time to scratch out a message with a rusty nail on his tin water bottle. His 18-month-old son, also called Michael, was seriously ill that day, and 34-year-old Mr Smith’s message to his wife, Margaret, read:
“Dear wife, farewell. My last thoughts are about you and the children. Be sure and learn the children to pray for me. There was 40 of us altogether at 7am. Some was singing hymns, but my thoughts were on my little Michael, that him and I would meet in heaven at about the same time.”
Death by colliery disaster was not the only fate of some sad miners, one more less obvious until it was too late was the Coal workers’ pneumoconiosis (CWP), also known as black lung disease or black lung, is caused by long exposure to coal dust. I witness this in both of my grandfather’s who went through the latter part of their lives gasping for air because of it. An awful disease which somehow the miner’s accepted as being part of the job. Again something that makes me wonder at the mentality of the working classes, that in order to have a decent life, first they must accept that at some time they will pay for it dearly/
So yes, during the Miner’s Strike of 1984-1985, as a musician I supported the miners playing at charity gigs in and around the Durham area.
In the end it was a lost cause as nothing would steer the Iron Lady from her determination to grind Britain into a non-producing, non-industrial consumer. Happy to allow ship building, car manufacturing and coal mining move to other parts of the world.
All of it angers me as the country I love has been turned first into a non-industrial, but banking biased economy, where the bankers get rich until they loose control and the inevitable crash in 2008 with the financial crisis.
Did no-one see this coming?
How could we have been hood winked to believe in the 80s that being a ‘yuppy’ was the answer and you didn’t really have to ‘make’ anything.
An economy built on a bubble made by the military and government promises to the working classes that yes, we are looking after you and that you’ve never had it so good.
As I end this I wonder just how long it will be, if ever, before we realise that the only way to sustain an economy is to ‘make’ things which you then sell to your friends in other countries. But then why would the establishment wish us ever to be friends with anyone – if we can have a reason to keep making war to ensure the 1% keep the 99% of the world’s wealth.
You may say I’m a dreamer – but if reading this, any of it sinks home with anyone, then this has been worth me writing.
If all of this sounds serious, it is, but joy can be found as always in humour. I recommend you watch, as I did last night ‘Humanity’ by Ricky Gervais on Netflix. He’s as good as ever, if not better and his comedy as raw and challenging as ever. Explain why it is okay to make a joke about anything, depending upon the context of the joke. Something many people who take offence and don’t get why jokes can be made on any subject. It all depends on the context. Watch and enjoy a man who didn’t make it until he was 40 and is still honing his art and if anything, getting an absolute master in his craft of comedy and observation of the human condition. It’s laugh out loud, start to finish. Well done Ricky.
If you are an addict also, good luck. I’m doing very well, but should you falter always remember you have hope every day to start again afresh.
© Michael Gamble 2018
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