HOLD THAT POSE
Kodachrome by Paul Simon
Borders by Just Poets
Flash Bang Wallop by Tommy Steele
Photographs And Memories by Jim Croce
Two Thousand Feet by Lendanear
The Boy In The Photograph by The Stereophonics
Strange Fruit by Billie Holiday
My Favourite Picture of You by Guy Clark
Photograph by Ed Sheerin
Photograph by Ringo Starr
The facebook page of Rochdale For Photography shares photographs between almost a thousand members.
One photograph so perfectly encapsulated aata that if our virtual playlists were corporeal I would choose it as the album cover. Taken by Jeff Johnson, the picture is of a long-white-bearded guy playing a blues guitar in The Flying Horse in Rochdale.
There are rustic and town centre photographs, too, on this site, reminding me vividly of the town I left four years ago after forty years as a resident. I still also remember Rochdale Camera Club, where I visited exhibitions and heard interesting talks on all topics photographical.
I have images on my walls here in Lanzarote of a Rochdale created, rather than captured, by John Cooke’s innovative and magical style and treatments of photographs by Emmerdale and Coronation Street actor Bill Ward, who I interviewed at an Annual Rochdale Literature And Ideas event about the hobby that is his life-long passion.
We all take photos on our rambles all across the arts, and most of listen to music, too, as we travel, so welcome to Hold That Pose, a playlist to accompany you as you follow our Side-tracks And Detours.
Creative writing groups’ members who attended any sessions I facilitated would well remember my constant advice to play with their words and to create puns or sound-alikes that might give clearer direction to their stories. That was what happened to Paul McCartney when his three syllable doodle of ‘scrambled eggs’ suddenly set into Yesterday to become a song that will be sung on a million tomorrows.
Also playing with a three syllable piece was Paul Simon when he arrived at his title for Kodachrome. He had been trying to write a work called Coming Home when suddenly it transposed itself to the registered trademark of the Kodak company.
It became an upbeat number, supported by The Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section. He had originally visited their studio to ask for support on the similarly celebratory Take Me To The Mardi Gras that, like Kodachrome, reminded us that ‘our memories are framed to fit our world view.’
Even if throughout this lyric Paul Simon seemed unable to decide whether things look better in black and white or in colour, songs and photographs are nevertheless, a perfect fit. Each captures its own time and shows us or tells us something we had missed.
‘They are curled, at the edges, of looking back’ is the opening line of Borders, written by my former writing partner Pam McKee. We recorded it under our ‘stage name’ of Just Poets on a cd called Time Travels, more than a decade ago now.
As I see it again at the start of this article I think perhaps I first loved the line for its echo of Robert Frost. There is a murmur of ‘something there is that does not love a wall’ evoked by the absence of the word because and by the similarly vague ´something´ with which Frost begins Mending Walls and the lack of definition in Pam’s opening pronoun. It transpires later in the poem that ‘they’ refers to a collection of photographs and we see them in our mind’s eye because of the strength and clarity of ‘curled at the edges.’
However, I currently love the line because it resonates increasingly as time passes by. These days, at sixty six and having recently left behind my country of origin, I have come to see that it is not only ‘actual’ photographs that curl at the edges but also those borders we hold in our minds.
The genius of Flash Bang Wallop is that its lyric, about a photographer, reveal as vivid a picture as any photographer ever could. Tommy Steele, once viewed as a teenage rock n roll rebel had, by 1967, become a darling of mums and grannies, who merely tutted gently at the song’s inoffensive innuendos.
Once leader of a rock group called The Cavemen (a fact perhaps inadvertently referenced to in the lyric) was by now creating a new role as star of stage, screen and cinema and on his way to becoming a National Treasure.
The song Flash Bang Wallop came originally from a David Heneker musical, Half A Sixpence, and when the musical was turned into a film released in 1967 it became a vehicle for Steele, who had starred as the show’s central character, Kipps, both in the West End and on Broadway.
The narrative may be predictable but Half A Sixpence, and Tommy Steele, delivered a real feel good factor as the man who had forsaken his love for wealth until realising the error of his ways.
I’m pretty sure I first heard the name of Jim Croce spoken in our folk club at the Kings Head in Heywood in the late seventies. As with so many of the hundreds of other singer writers in the Sidetracks And Detours play lists, it was probably Pete Benbow who introduced me, through either Photographs And Memories or Time In A Bottle or perhaps even through Big Bad Leroy Brown, to the man´s wonderful music.
Pete would regularly cover those songs in his open mic floor spots in the dozen or do folk clubs around Rochdale at the time.
So, by the time I learned about his music, Croce had already met his untimely death after releasing five albums between 1966 and 1973 of exquisite songs of love and yearning and some, too, that introduced us to larger than life, almost cartoon like characters.
There is an understanding amongst football fans that there is a difference between a great goal scorer and a scorer of great goals.
Jim Croce died, when only thirty, in a plane crash, as a man who even in that short life had created a handful of great songs. Had he lived, he would have become a great song-writer.
We now inaugurate the song Local Boy In The Photograph to this Side-tracks And Detours recommended playlist, celebrating photography as an art form in Rochdale. Photographs evoke wide ranging emotions, and this song was generated by a press photograph, in much the same as was my own song Two Thousand Feet, written after a fatal coal mining accident in Golborne.
Local Boy In The Photograph was written in response to a newspaper story about a boy from Flint in North Wales. Stereophonics’ lead singer, Kelly Jones, recognised the boy, who had committed suicide by jumping in front of a train. The two had played on the same amateur football team and Jones had thought of him as ‘the good looking kid who had it all.’
Comments by Jones at the time of writing the song suggested he had been appalled that the photograph accompanying the news of the suicide showed the boy smoking a joint.
Indeed, the song was more a celebration of life than a condemnation and is notable for its reflections of nature’s seasons and Jones admits he was trying to achieve some ‘descriptive writing that people would stop and listen to.’
Nowadays huge concert audiences sing along with it.
Many front pages of The MEN Media Group have etched themselves into the memories of its readers. Munich air crash editions certainly did, and a later, awful mining disaster near Wigan saw harrowing front page stories and photographs published.
On March 16th 1979 three men were killed in an underground explosion at Golborne colliery and eight others were seriously injured when a fireball shot 200 yards along a tunnel, which was almost two thousand feet underground. By 2nd April the number of dead had risen to ten.
A front page photograph of the time showed wives and girlfriends waiting at the pit head for news of loved ones. I was, then, a young newly-wed and Colin Lever, my song-writing partner, and I were moved to write about the tragedy. Whilst I wrote about the horror of being trapped two thousand feet below the ground Colin wrote about the terror on the faces of the women ‘caught in the grip of a camera’s sigh.’
We combined our two pieces and performed Two Thousand Feet live on the BBC Radio Manchester Bus that came to our neighbourhood later that week. We would later often play the song at funding events in mining communities.
Our local town of Rochdale lived then, as now, in relative ethnic and racial harmony, but we should never forget the bravery of those that have helped generate cultural awareness and tolerance.
All across the arts therefore. inducts into this Side-tracks and Detours playlist, celebrating photography, the late blues singer Billie Holiday. She had a tough life, depicted in rose tinted spectacles in the Diana Ross film vehicle Lady Sings The Blues. Billie’s substance abuse was, perhaps, a way of dealing with her social conscience and revulsion by a world torn apart by racial hatred and class segregation.
She must have been brave, too.
We have spoken here before about the power of press photography. Billie saw not only newspaper pictures, but real life examples too of lynchings that left coloured people ‘hanging from a tree, like strange fruit.’
Just such a photograph inspired a poem, Strange Fruit, written by Abel Meeropol and published as a song in 1937. Holiday was one of the first to record it and almost forty years later her work was inducted into the Grammy Hall Of Fame.
Covered by many artists since, including Nina Simone, Jeff Buckley UB40 and Siouxsie And The Banshees, the song remains haunting and powerful.
And no one will ever sing it as she did.
Pete Benbow used to sing Guy Clark songs nearly every Tuesday at The Gallows in Milnrow for several years, when Rochdale was a folk-music hot bed of almost a dozen clubs across the borough.
Never in that time, even as I was beginning to collect albums Pete was recommending by the Texan song-smith, did I think I would ever meet Guy in person and conduct several exclusive interviews with him. And not in my darkest fears did I ever think that the man who wrote and performed all this beautiful music could be so intimidating.
Standing well over six feet tall, and pretty broad too, with shoulder length hair, dark eyes and a penetrating stare that could pin you to a wall until he lowered his eyelids, Guy somehow scared me to death.
His song, My Favourite Picture Of You was written long after most of our town’s folk clubs closed down so I have never heard Pete cover it. Of course, I have it on Guy’s albums, and its lyric of ‘my favourite picture of you is where you stare straight at the lens’ always brings back my own remembered pictures of the late Texan master-craftsman.
Growing up I would often be listening in my bedroom to ‘The Beatles And The Byrds And The Beach Boys humming’ whilst my dad would be in the shower singing something stupid about what Frank Sinatra was ooby dooby doing to Strangers In The Night. Much of the music I have added to this edition of our playlists, celebrating Rochdale’s arts scene, will sound as ancient to younger readers as my dad’s favourites did to me.
As I looked through my playlist for songs about photography, though, I almost found myself ‘down wid da kids’ in selecting Photograph, a song registered as written by Ed Sheeran and Johny McDaid from Snow Patrol. Sheeran and producer Jeff Bhasker then spent months in a studio building on the basic piano loop that McDaid had created.
The song, about a photograph Sheeran carried on tour to remind him of a long distance relationship, went to number five in the charts in 2014 supported by a music video of images and photographs of Ed’s childhood, revealing his early interest in musical instruments.
The song was not without controversy, however, and saw Sheeran sued for twenty million dollars for copywrite infringement, a claim settled privately, according to wikipeadia, ‘with no admission of guilt.’
It is quite legitimate in the music industry, however, to employ previously used titles. So when Ed Sheeran chose Photograph as his title it mattered not that it had also been the name of a song written by former Beatles drummer Ringo Starr, in a rare writing collaboration with George Harrison, giving him this song for his Ringo album of 1973
A staple of his live performances, the song became number one in several countries including USA, with some critics calling it ‘among the very best post Beatles song by any of the ‘fab four,’ so comparing it with My Sweet Lord, Imagine and Mull Of Kintyre.
The song has interesting features, though, with echoes of Spector’s ‘wall of sound’ technique and a lyric that discusses a photograph as the only reminder of a former relationship. From my point of view I was very interested to learn that one of the session musicians, Jim Keltner, played also on several John Stewart albums
At the Concert For George, held on 2002, the year after Harrison’s death, Ringo’s offering of Photograph was an emotional zenith of the show and the song was also covered by Englebert Humperdink and the late Cilla Black who, like The Beatles, was part of Brian Epstein’s management.
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