It was 50 years ago today. Sergeant Pepper taught the band to play
Neil Pickford remembers things.
I don’t listen to the radio these days. Oh, radios Humberside or Two are on for other members of the family to sample as they wish but I rarely listen as closely as once I did.
So it took a long process of drip-drip-dripping before I realised that I was hearing a higher-than-normal ratio of really good music among the vintage pop and modern chatter.
It then dawned on me that most of these good songs came from one particular four-piece, guitar-based beat combo as ‘Hep Cats’ used to describe this sort of thing back in the ancient days of black and white telly – The Beatles!
Finally, it dawned on me that this was 2012 and, therefore, 1962 was 50 years ago. TARAAA! Suddenly it all made sense.
You see, in this month exactly half a century ago, a gentleman at Decca wrote a letter declining to sign The Beatles to a recording contract on the grounds that: “Guitar groups are on the way out.” Nice one Decca.
Well, EMI were a bit more broad-minded and, later that year, released the group’s first single (‘Love Me Do’) which just scraped into the Top 20 and the rest, as we say, was history.
You may think I’m overstating the case but I truly believe that these four gentlemen changed the entire world, and I’m prepared to defend this statement.
Certainly, without the Fab Four Britain would be a very different country and I’m old enough to remember how drab it was before 1962.
(As a side issue, my home town of Dursley remained drab for another 30 years. Interestingly, when JK Rowling was looking for a suitably horrible surname for Harry Potter’s dreadful guardians, Aunt Petunia and Uncle Vernon, she picked on ‘Dursley’ because it was a town she absolutely loathed. I share her feelings and, in fact, when I first-ever used a new-fangled spellcheck device in the days of good, old black and green computer screens, instead of accepting ‘Dursley’ it suggested ‘drowsily’. I felt I was in the presence of brilliant Artificial Intelligence – but I digress.)
The Beatles’ success took the international image of our damp group of islands and gave it a good polish, coincidentally transforming the cities of Liverpool and London into icons of ‘cool’ – an image that we are still deep-mining to this day.
Go into any British airport or retailer of tat to the tourists and what do you find? Models of double-decker buses and black taxi-cabs, that’s what, of the kind that haven’t worked the streets of the capital for years, but which are indelibly linked to trendiness and Beatle-style. The moulds were made in the 60s and are still working overtime now.
Because London was the trendiest city in the known universe creative types flooded here and started making things, because people wanted to buy things made in London where The Beatles were.
Britain’s film industry became commercially successful and still is, producing mega-hits such as Star Wars as well as James Bond and Harry Potter. The London Symphony Orchestra then performed the movie soundtracks that shaped the tastes of a generation, Superman, Jaws, Star Wars etcetera.
Britain’s music ruled the world: if you listened to a foreign language pop station in the period you heard: “Gabble, gabble Rowling Schtones…gabble, gabble Rode Schtewart… gabble, gabble Da Kinks!” Occasionally there would be a local wannabe artiste singing an unmemorable ditty (in English) but then it was back to the real stuff.
We conquered America, first with the pop bands that followed The Beatles as fast as work permits could be negotiated, then the louder guitar-based bands (thank you Decca) such as Cream, Led Zeppelin and Queen who found they could fill stadia effortlessly. Even rubbish like Judas Priest was treated with respect.
Back in the 1980s one third of all the records in the US Top 100 were British and EMI was the biggest record label in the world. The rest of the world copied the literate three minute pop song format popularised by our heroes (ABBA being the most obvious example) and the entire globe followed our fashions, football and TV.
Even the French, not normally fans of le rosbif (us) succumbed to the joys of The Avengers and The Prisoner while everyone else consumed Thunderbirds, Captain Scarlet, period dramas and the like.
We also had Rolls Royce, the Mini, Harrier Jump Jets and Concorde – we RULED!
That’s why, to commemorate the 60th anniversary of Her Majesty in a proper way I launched a campaign to make ‘Hey Jude’ our national anthem in time for the Olympic Games. So far it’s not made much headway, but we can live in hope.
And 2012 also marks the (approximately) 80th anniversary of the monster tree next to a northern wall of which I have written in the past.
The tree is younger than some of our Thursday morning congregation but they, unlike it, do not need pruning.
In a nice piece of circularity I found out that The Beatles had written a song on this very subject: “It Came in Through the Transept Window”; and you must also remember Paul McCartney’s marvellous chart-topping “Band (saw) on the Run.”
Ahhh, glorious memories.
And if you want more glorious memories of my writing then why not pop along to www.vestry-view.blogspot and sample a further 170 sparkling gems. You could even become a ‘Follower’ – which would be nice. Every mad egoist needs a few.