8 Jul


 lonnie donegan photo: Lonnie Donegan mqdefault_zpsf52e97b2.jpgThe perspective of the past is a strange animal.

Recently I’ve been racking my brains to come up with little stories about my childhood, right up to the end of my teens. I’ve ignored a great deal about my secondary schooling because back in the fifties there were only two kinds of teachers: the bullies and the bullied, and I don’t feel like wasting a precious paragraph about any of them.

So let’s ignore them.

Anyway, things were different back then – different to now, that is, and grown up people were fearful in all manner of irrational ways. Have you seen the pop music of the early rock ‘n’ roll years? The Tommy Steele and Joe Brown stuff? Elvis Presley? Lonnie Donegan? The records that hovered around the charts, that set the teens (and I was a teen back then) vibrating (I have never had much of a sense of rhythm so I didn’t so much dance as vibrate), that lifted the heart and were a promise of great things to come.

And the grown folks hated it. They’d be mortified if they had to abide some of the heavy rock music that has come and gone since then!

You see, there had once been an order in things. There was the monarch (the same one as now, so it really isn’t that long ago), then the wealthy Lord this and Lady that, supported by the middle classes with their pretensions of grandeur and then the rest of us. The working class and, as I really believed back then, being the child of a single widowed mother who didn’t work, the classless.

And that order was important. It was the glue that gave society its cohesion. We knew our place all right and if we stepped out of line there was the law to sort us out, bobbies on bicycles with severe helmets threatening endless incarceration. So between threatened beatings at school and the policemen on his bike we were supposed to spend most of our lives being wary.

And you can’t so easily be wary when the sounds in the air make you vibrate.

Television wasn’t a common commodity but our next door neighbours had one and I have a vivid memory of glancing through their window after dark (and only glancing, I promise, I was no voyeur) and seeing the biggest of all wonders on their flickering screen. A man was seated at his drum kit with a drum stick in each hand and he was going wild! I mean, really wild in a seemingly uncontrolled way.

I wanted some of that! I couldn’t hear it, but I could see it! The grey shadows left by the residue of World War Two were being beaten back and that drummer was waving in the future.

I never had a drum-kit but I did have a guitar, an elderly acoustic model and I actually went for guitar lessons with an elderly female piano teacher who I rather suspect was only one chord ahead of me. But she had seen the way things were going and was taking in teenage lads with guitars, for pin money.

She didn’t have to be good, she just had to be there to frown or smile encouragement and listen. That was all. As long as I got my practice in and learned to be like Bert Weedon everyone was happy.

Two mates and I were going to be a group – a skiffle group. I had the guitar and another lad sort of imagined that a few odds and ends pinched from the kitchen were drums and a third promised he’d make a bass when he could find a tea-chest and a half-way decent broom handle. We didn’t get very far. Whilst a group of lads in Liverpool, calling themselves the Quarrymen, were morphing into the Beatles we were giving the whole idea up. We had to. It was doomed to failure.

I took a paper called The New Musical Express and I can remember the issue that finally closed the door on the past by having little advertisements on virtually every page that proclaimed “The Beatles are Coming”. The fifties were over and the whole world felt that it was ready for something new. And when the promised arrival of the Beatles did come, didn’t everything change!

Mind you, I hated them. I hated the way the girls, those short-skirted, long-haired angels screamed and even wet themselves at the very word Beatles. I had to tacitly admit that the music was tolerable, but no better than I believed I could have created had me and my mates not given up the idea of being a supergroup a few years earlier.

Now was the time for Authority to do as much condemning as it could and the papers were awash with stories of the uncontrolled beastliness of pop stars, with wild parties and carnal wickedness. They took drugs, for goodness sake! They were out of control and represented a poison that was going to eat away at what was left of an ordered society. And when the Rolling Stones came along with their exciting, vital music and tendency to relieve themselves after dark on a garage forecourt the oldsters were convinced that Armageddon was just round the corner.

They didn’t pay much attention to the beautiful lyrics and peaceful promise of Donovan and his guitar (I could have been Donovan but for the fact that I’ve never been able to hold a tune), but when he was found in bed with a naked girl … well, that was enough to crucify him even though the girl was quite old enough to be with him in that desirable state.

But the old authority was dying, which is the one thing it had to do. Helped by the contraceptive pill a new age was dawning, social cobwebs were being consigned to the dustbin, and looking back I can quite firmly say Thank Goodness For That!!!

© Peter Rogerson 08.07.15


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