Song For A Friend

A particular highlight from last year was the Pet Shop Boys’ Electric album, a fine record chock full of the kind of spot-on English synth-pop wizardry that Messrs. Lowe and Tennant present us with on a very regular basis.

An old friend of mine would have really enjoyed Love Is A Bourgeois Construct .. he was always very enthusiastic about the films of Peter Greenaway and the music of Michael Nyman. Nyman’s Chasing Sheep Is Best Left To Shepherds from The Draughtsman’s Contract is the sample the PSBs worked into the song.

I say ‘would have enjoyed’, because my friend is no longer with us. He was a Scot, born in the 50s, who spent a large part of his childhood isolated due to illness, and as I understand quite solitary until he went to secondary school. I met him in the early 80s when I stared work at the same company, and we became good friends. He came out a few years later. Some of his family accepted his choice and supported him but his father and sister didn’t. The torment eventually led to him taking his own life in 2005.

Through the 90s and early 00s, we worked in different places and didn’t meet up as often – when we did, we caught up, visited some favourite haunts and talked about the old days, with no pressure, and maybe that was a little bit of an escape from what he was going through. I knew he was under stress, and I hope I helped a little by being a friend. He was a fine fellow, and this song will now always remind me of him.

Closing Time at The Cobbler’s Thumb

News this week that one of my old haunts is set to feel the merciless punch of the wrecking ball – The Cobbler’s Thumb, in Brighton, is finally to be demolished after years of structural neglect. The old girl will be knocked down before she falls down, though for a while in the early noughties, it seemed likely it would be the other way around.

It became one of those pubs where everyone knew your name (or at the very least, alcohol-fuddled, tried to remember it) and a place in its heyday that always felt welcoming and snug. That wasn’t the case when two friends of mine became managers.. the pub was tired, it looked pretty desolate on most week nights, the only highlight (read: more than five people drinking) being Thursday – quiz night. But Geoff and Nicci gradually took charge: the decor was spruced up, the drinks range sorted, and attendance picked up.

Problem: the Thursday quiz became the least popular night of the week. The Cobbler’s Thumb just wasn’t the kind of place that suited the silence necessary for a serious pub quiz with a martinet of a quiz master. It needed a buzz.

A quick consultation with Geoff and I was a DJ (hey, wasn’t everybody in Brighton in those days?), supplanting the quiz. By plugging my laptop into the pub sound system, I found my feet and aimed to please with an array of classic sounds: punk, reggae, ska, Northern Soul, 60s, glam rock, Stax, rockabilly, old school hip hop.. things which just seemed to feel right stuck together on a playlist.

I started out with around 400 songs, so requests for tunes often had to be politely negotiated. “I don’t have that.. how about this?”. But I listened and learned, and would be back the following week with additions to the collection, often whole swathes of MP3s brought in by the regulars for me to play.

Little traditions sprung up.. Andy’s punk “Triple Play”, and always some Hank Williams to end the evening (unless we all got locked in, of course). We played John Peel’s All Time Festive Fifty when the great man passed away. We played a couple of great all-dayers with fans of Brighton and Hove Albion and Leicester City contributing to charity.

What could be better than playing music for your friends and having a couple of beers whilst doing it? Because they were my friends.. not staff, not punters, not clientele, for god’s sake.. just regular folks out for a good time, ones you were very happy to see and who made it plain they were happy to see you.  The best kind of people. Those Thursday nights were very special to me.

Here’s a Spotify playlist in memoriam. Good times.

Northern Soul – The Greatest Record Ever Made

Part 4 – Pure gold, and what might be described as Northern Soul’s biggest ever ‘find’, Frank Wilson’s Do I Love You (Indeed I Do) was originally released on Motown’s subsidiary label Soul in 1965. Frank wanted to concentrate on producing, and Motown boss Berry Gordy would certainly have had him do that. The vocal line isn’t quite as strong as you’d expect if Smokey or Marvin had cut the tune. Consequently the vast majority of the 250 demo discs were destroyed.

There may be as many as five in existence, and if the unthinkable happens and you find one, you’re on to a winner. In 2009, a copy sold for 25,742 pounds. That’s 40,000 dollars, Americans.

Not only a rare record, but a great record. And here’s the real zinger – it was the last record ever played at Wigan Casino when it closed in 1981. DJ Russ Winstanley explains what happened when he came to play the traditional set-closing ‘three before eight‘:

I played them, and then I played them again, because people were just handclapping to the beat when the records had finished. I don’t know why, but I then played what has since become recognised as the best and most valuable Northern track ever, Frank Wilson’s ‘Do I Love You’. After that, people just sat down and cried their eyes out.

A heartbreaking goodbye to the famous venue, but a moment in time which adds yet more lustre to the pure gold of the greatest record ever made*.

* Probably.

Russ Winstanley quote taken from Chris Hunt’s article.