Thursday, July 16, 2015
The Making of a Child Psychiatrist (7)
Alan and I became firm friends. He had access to a record player, something I was not to achieve for another couple of years, and I was introduced to Jazz. There were records by Chris Barber’s band, which had formed in about 1954-5, breaking away from Ken Colyer’s band. I am not sure the Haydon’s had long playing records because my memory is of changing singles and extended play records (the old 45 EP, created in about 1952). We listened avidly to the bluesy rhythms of ‘I Can't Give You Anything But Love’, and ‘New St. Louis Blues’. I was in thrall.
I am not sure why I had not noticed traditional jazz before. We had a radio at home that was listened to fairly frequently by my mother during the day while she was sketching or doing sculpture, and occasionally in the evenings after dinner, but I suppose we were listening to the evening news or comedy programs like ‘The Goon Show’, which had begun in 1951, but become a ritual for my family on a Thursday evening from about 1955. The other program we were addicted to, was ‘The Archers’ (an every day story of country folk), which began in 1951 (and is apparently still running, having create nearly 18,000 episodes).
As I remember it we did not have a gramophone, or records. So, I don’t think I was exactly green with envy, but I did take to spending more time with the Haydons, in part to listen to the next purchased record.
One of these featured the banjo player for Chris Barber, who was also a singer. Lonnie Donegan had played with Barber as early as 1949, but after national service, joined the band in about 1953. I would probably have heard his slightly whining voice first on ‘Rock Island Line’ or ‘John Henry’, but he later recorded ‘Tom Dooley’, ‘Cumberland Gap’, ‘My Old Man's A Dustman’ and ‘Puttin' On The Style’. I guess we sang along, and learned the words and the whine. Not only did he play banjo, but also guitar and the tea chest base, which seemed such a simple thing to make. We tapped our feet to the beat of what would become known as ‘skiffle’, tapped the chairs with our hands and ached to be able to play something.
Lonnie (Buttons) was later to meet Jill Westlake (also brought up in Westgate on Sea, Kent, and about a year older) while in Cinderella – which had toured from Leeds, through Nottingham to the Winter Gardens in Margate in the early 1960s. They later married in 1964 and had two children. Life is full of intriguing connections and superficial brushes with ‘fame’. Although they divorced in 1971, they owned a house on Epple Bay Road when I was a local general practitioner in Birchington, Kent. I was called one night to treat one of the children for an asthma attack, which luckily settled quickly. But the house, of course, was full of pictures of Lonnie.
The issue in all of this was that my musical education was broadened out. I gained another friend at school who was just beginning to play guitar, and he brought his to school when he had lessons. I used to watch him with envy and, of course, asked to be shown some chords. Then began a campaign to try to get a guitar for my next birthday. My father was horrified, and refused point blank (several times). To be fair, in retrospect I know we had a fixed single income as a family, and there was probably little room in the budget to consider extras. But the guitar went into the same category as 16-inch bottoms for my trousers. I fought hard to try to be like some of my friends at school who were beginning to emulate some of the emerging popular singers, with slightly changed hairs styles and tighter trousers. I was stuck with a with the standard ‘short back and sides’ demanded by military standards, which did nothing to hide my slightly large and protuberant ears (something that was the butt of jokes on and off during the school years). I guess these are fights that many children have with their parents, as they try to become part of their own generation, breaking away from the previous one. My father was adamant: “You will not lower the standards of this family”. My emerging fantasies of playing a guitar ‘skiffle’ style like Lonnie Donegan were dashed. I could listen, but not touch. Of course, across the country in Liverpool, unbeknown to me in my little world, John Lennon (3 years older) and Paul McCartney (2 years older) were practicing to become as good at skiffle as Lonny Donegan, and have acknowledged him as an early icon for their musicality. Such is life.
I did eventually wear down my father, and gained a portable record player for my 16th birthday. It played the three main speeds (33, 45 and 78 rpm), and was my grey and blue pride and joy. It was gained at some potential cost. There was ‘a bargain’ made under some duress: “For every pop record you buy, you will buy a piece of classical music.” I agreed. I would have agreed to anything, I think. But for many years I quietly reneged. My record collection grew slowly, beginning with Elvis Presley, Cliff Richard, Bill Haley and the Comets, and then began to include anything to which we could dance. Later at University I began to appreciate jazz, and ultimately became an avid fan of concertos for the cello. But that was still to come.
I think Alan and his parents were a part of my emerging healing in terms of low self-confidence and episodes of depression. Katie, with her kindness and cakes, was always a gentle soother, and became an occasional confidante. Doug was sometimes stern with Alan but , when he was there, he was a great conversationalist and inclusive of some of my odd ideas.
Sadly Alan was only at Chatham House for eighteen months, and his heart was not in the general academic curriculum, but rather in art. Having been demoted from 4b one year to 5c the next, he pressured his parents to allow him to go to art school, where he began to excel.
Our relationship expanded out of school. Coming out of some odd belief that the sons of RAF officers should be able to attend annual balls, and dance competently with a range of partners, we were told we would attend dancing classes. So began an episode in our lives that began with a cold and anxious Saturday morning at an almost empty dancing academy run by a Mr. George Moore and his wife, and was to change at least the direction of my life forever. More to come...