I have spoken elsewhere about how I’m continually fascinated at how the brain reacts and adapts to the collection of miseries that is Parkinson’s. Of particular interest and importance in my case is the role that Music plays in my daily life. Not as mere ‘background noise’ but as ‘brainfood.’
I believe that music, something I consider (and I speak as a Visual Artist) the highest, purest artform engages in a subtle and sophisticated dynamic with the brain that we are often unaware of.
“We listen to music with our muscles” Nietzche. Sacks (2007) p. xi
Indeed as I write this, I am coming out of an ‘off’ spell.* I am coaxing this return to a state of relative fluidity by swinging my good right leg in time with the off-beat accentuation of Reggae and Dub music. As it happens today, big favourites Aswad.
Of course, you could say all that is happening here is that the drugs are finally kicking in, bringing an increased feeling of well-being, CD happens to be playing and so I’m swinging along to it: End of story.
But how does that explain many occasions I have been able to fight away, or bring myself out of a particularly deep ‘off’ spell by listening and dancing to music.? (Okay, ‘dancing’ may be stretching it a bit … Let’s call it ‘moving’) when in theory I shouldn’t have been able to walk? No, something far more profound is happening here. I have a confidence, a freedom and range of movement normally absent. Plus I am able to dance – sorry ‘move’ – for longer periods than my medication would normally allow.
I’m not the only one of course:
“Some of them could not initiate a single step, but could be drawn into dancing and could dance fluidly” Oliver Sacks in his book ‘Musicophelia’ (2007) on post-encephalitic/Parkinson’s patients encountered in 1960s.
And what about the task I am hopefully about to accomplish? Which is insert the needle of a Graseby Winged Infusion set into my leg. The needle, which is 2cm in length (doesn’t sound much does it?) is attached by a short tube to a syringe, set in a battery-powered pump which I wear round my waist and gives me a constant, measured dose of the Dopamine Agonist drug, Apomorphine. The needle has to go up to the hilt into the sub-cutaneous (Fatty layer) beneath the skin at a 45 degree angle. It’s something I have to steel myself to do every morning, and is a task which is always accompanied by music: Music of power, dignity, self-belief: hence Aswad.
* ‘Off’ (or in our house ‘offline’) describes the periods (between 4 and 6 times a day, 30 minutes to 3 hours in duration when my anti-Parkinson’s drugs are not effective for whatever reason.
© Andy Daly 2010
Quotations from Sacks, O: ‘Musicophelia’ (Picador) 2007 by kind permission of the author.
Well, thank goodness Diff was awake – I knew he’d get it, and first too.
Dear reader, let me introduce you to Mr. Douglas Futers, Popular Music aficionado extraordinaire. He knows everything about everything and has been to more gigs than we’ve had collective hot dinners. He’s seen Hawkwind (‘Silver Machine’ Remember?) 742 times and is now deaf as a post.
Of course! It was Noddy Holder, the band was Slade and the record, the evergreen ‘Merry Christmas Everybody’ a hit for the band first time around, Christmas 1973 (Flares, Strikes, ‘For mash say Smash’ and Advocaat)
If you didn’t know, and although you probably really couldn’t give a shit, I’m going to tell you anyway; the story is that this seasonal ditty which has etched its way into our national consciousness, along with Turkey, old St. Nick and Dicken’s ‘Christmas Carol’ was in fact recorded over a blistering hot week in New York, late summer of that year. Apparently, Lennon (that’s John, Liverpool, musician not Aaron, Spurs, winger) was in the next studio recording ‘Mind Games’ at the time.
The song was a hotch-potch of snippets that Nod and Jim Lee had lying around. They were given the final touch, it is reported when (I love this …) Nod “After an evening out drinking worked through the night at his mother’s house in Walsall to write the lyrics, which he completed in one draft.” You see? a genuine slice of British Popular Culture. Bowie, meantime, earnestly doing his Willliam Burroughs’ ‘cut-ups’ must have been wondering where he went wrong.
Anyway, it just so happens that last week I had occasion to be in Birmingham. We took our eldest up there so he could attend an Open Day at Aston University, which is, in case you don’t know slap-bang in the centre of town. Wouldn’t have been my choice personally, it has to be said. To me, Brum has always been where people speak with a speech impediment rather than an accent; A place to be avoided at all costs, using one of the myriad motorways which appear designed expressly for such a purpose.
Anyway, we drop Laddo off, and from where, when we’ve turned the corner, he makes for the lecture theatre to hear all about International Business with Spanish. Or, if he were more like me at that age, make for the nearest pub, to really start ‘getting the taste’ for the West Midlands and the good folk therein.
We’re left with a couple of hours to kill, and as we’re over the road from the ‘Bullring’ Birmingham’s infamous shopping centre we decide to nip in and take a look. Well: pleasantly surprised is the reaction. They’ve made a damned fine job of re-inventing the ‘old’ Bullring which I last saw in about 1979, and was, let’s face it not only an eyesore, but an earsore, armsore and legsore it was so bad. Not so today. In fact it looks like every other modern shopping centre in whatever city or town you care to mention.
I was still pondering this transformation in the Bullring gents toilets, whilst drying my hands. I was using one of these new-fangled blown air hand driers. Similar to, but not the Dyson airblade, it looked like an open letterbox in the wall. And, it was pretty pathetic: a brief vision passed before my eyes of the Facia of this thing being removed to reveal two wheezing old men blowing through it from behind. This nightmarish thought was soon banished by an awareness that someone was standing behind me…
I turned and looked. It was only Noddy Holder! The owner of the best pair of lungs this side of the Mississippi Delta!
What to say? I can’t come over all fawning fan – I’m nearly 50: No, no, no that won’t do. What about a ‘cooler’ approach? Drop in a ‘Blokey’ comment which might initiate a conversation.
That’s it! I figured.
Of all the things I could have said or asked him – such as ‘What was it really like to work with Dave Hill?’
‘Why the Mirror Hat, Nod? and how did you keep it on?’
Failing that, ”Ere Noddy, you know when Don Powell lost his memory, were there ever things you told him that hadn’t happened, just for a laugh?
No, of all the things … What do I venture forth with?
“These hand driers are about as much use as a chocolate fireguard”
He looked at me and snorted a snort which was somewhere half way between ‘Yeah’ and ‘What the **** are you talking about?’ – I’m still analysing it.
….and made his way out.
Moral of the story: Be prepared! Get a notebook, list everyone famous you would like to meet. Add 2 or 3 questions for each and carry it round with you at all times!
© Andy Daly 2010
Who’s biggest hit single was recorded at the Record Plant in New York, late summer 1973. Unhappy with the first recording, they re-did the choruses in the corridor outside because of its more favourable acoustics.
I need lead singer/guitarist’s name…. No looking it up on Wikipedia!
Answers please by the end of play Monday and I’ll tell you a little story …
HAMMERSMITH APOLLO 06/02/10
I went to see Todd Rundgren. Not everybody’s cup of tea I know, but his complete understanding of the dynamics of a three minute pop song, his ability as a producer sometimes to ‘get a lot out of a little’ (Meatloaf) and his longevity without sliding into self-parody suggest he’s doing something right.
Rundgren is a musician who has been a particular favourite of mine since the late ’70s. Funnily enough it was Alan (“Alright?!”) ‘Fluff’ Freeman who proved to be the link. Before Punk, like thousands of other ‘lost souls’ I used to listen to the mainly turgid shite that he played on his Saturday afternoon Radio One ‘Prog Rock’ show, bless him.
I say ‘lost souls’ because, at the younger end of his audience, I think many, like me listened, almost out of duty. There wasn’t anything else. We were just waiting … That’s why when Punk came along, we were off! Barclay James Harvest, Tangerine Dream and Yes? Fuck off! I want to listen to The Damned, The Buzzcocks, Slaughter and the Dogs and the Pistols.
Well, anyway ‘Fluff’ had a jingle he used to play which I couldn’t get out of my head. It was a snippet of a song. It was clearly live: you could tell by the ambience and which featured what sounded like the chorus to a song sung a-capella, the audience joining in whilst clapping a slow heavy rhythm along to it. It fascinated me. As well as sounding ‘live’ it sounded ‘alive’ like real people at a real gig.
It took me a while. None of my mates were into Rundgren, so none of them recognised it, but eventually I did track it down. It appeared to be “One More Victory” on a live album, “Another Live”. So on the strength of ‘Fluff’s few snatched seconds, I bought it, second hand mail order from Cob Records in Wales, and that was it. I still have it. If you are able to stomach the bizarre band photos which seem to depict a group of cross-dressing Mafiosi and Rundgren’s occasional self-indulgences, is a great record. One which for me, sits comfortably alongside other favourites from the same period: “The Modern Dance” Pere Ubu, “Natty Dread”, The Wailers, “Never Mind The Bollocks”, The Pistols and “The Mormon Tabernacle Choir Sings Songs of Christmas”
And so, to Saturday night, when Rundgren performed his ground-breaking oddity “A Wizard A True Star” in its entirety (at the time, he was making his money producing, and was thus able to make the record he wanted to make rather than the record company.) It is an eclectic and ideosyncratic stream of consciousness. On tour here in the UK in 2008, his promoter mentioned that the album had been cited by a number of up and coming young musicians as an influence, and suggested a one off performance.
He was brilliant! A top drawer gig from a genuine Pop music genius. Moving, funny, sophisticated, absurd, tender. A night for the soul as well as the dancing shoes.
© Andy Daly 2010
This was a band formed from staff at the last school I worked at and in which I played bass – namely an exquisite, if battered natural (‘Butterscotch’) 1973 Fender Precision. Our main rivals were the 6th Form band at the time (I guess it was 1999 or thereabouts) who subsequently stuck at the music and now make up 66.6% of chart band ‘Scouting for Girls’
To be able to outplay/out perform them when it came to school concerts was one of the things that prompted us to get out and about and play ‘real’ gigs. Our first live appearance was at Eastcote Hockey club in Middlesex, A ramshackle late ’60s early 70’s affair which sported a mass of corridors and a labyrinthine collection of passages.
Russ our, guitarist, discovered these and was soon able to navigate most of the hockey club – in the dark In fact, most of the exits opened out into the changing rooms which were our green Rooms – Lovely! a pungent mix of mud, Deep Heat, sweat, lager and stale farts.
Well, to cut a long story short… Russ decided to go ‘walkabout’ for one of his guitar solos, using his ‘wireless’ guitar lead. He’d planned his route: Main Bar, Gent’s toilets (!) playing all the time, from there he was to go through the juniors’ changing room and up on to the back of the stage – except that on the night, one of the doors was locked so he had to go back. Meanwhile, as we continued to play on stage, no idea where he was, his guitar lead began to pick up the local cab service signal, the Police waveband, Heathrow Air Traffic Control and a Turkish Radio programme. He finally made it back after we had played 47 choruses of Oasis’ “Some Might Say” and ordered everyone’s taxis home for the night – A European record.
We were called the Crabs and actually played four weddings and a funeral (Well, not quite a funeral, it was a memorial service for a fellow member of staff who had died of Cancer.) We were asked to play something appropriate. (So that was ‘Pretty Fly for a White Guy’ out f the running) I suggested “With or Without You” by U2. It was very moving, definately the hardest gig I’ve ever done. In fact, Roy now lead singer with ‘Scouting For Girls’ Gave the speech.
© Andy Daly 2010.
I thought you might like to hear of my night out with George in the West End’s exclusive ‘Wag’ nightclub.
This was … errr … now let me see: 1985. My first year teaching. I was living in Bromley-by-Bow, heart of the East End, working by complete contrast in Northwood Hills, comfortable, leafy ‘Metroland’. My school uniform at the time was a mixture of 1950s ‘Rockabilly’ late 60s/early 70’s Skin and Suede Head style Doc Martens, Ben Sherman button collar shirts, high – waisted pleated trousers, bleached Levi jacket, bootlace ties, metal collar tips, pointed leopard print and suede ‘Brothel Creepers’, ‘Harrington’ jacket, Levi 501’s, suits from Johnsons, Kensington Market, shirts from Jack Geach, Harrow and my ever present US MA1 Flying jacket.
‘Playtime’ on a typical week around this period consisted of:
Monday and Thursday – the last hour in the Priory Tavern, Bow once I’d finished my marking.
Tuesday and Wednesday – 5 – A – Side league, Eastway Sports Centre and bar for post match analysis, Stratford (Now the site of the 2012 Olympic Stadium)
Friday – Skinful. East or West End. Long walk or expensive cab ride back from whichever London Underground/Transport terminal I happened to awake at.
Saturday – The Wag. (Then after see Friday)
Sunday – Recovery position
It was Simon, dear Simon who first got me in the Wag.
By rights, I should have hated the place, it seemingly embodied everything I detest It was exclusive. If you didn’t look right, you didn’t get in: no matter how much money you waved in the face of bouncer, Winston. It was small and cramped, even after they extended it. The beer was shite and ludicrously expensive, BUT the music!. And I have to say, the people made it a top night out.The Wag played ‘grown up’ Dance Music, Funk, Soul and R ‘n’ B. And I loved it! I remember one night of solid James Brown and James Brown mixes. OMG! I thought I’d died and gone to heaven.
Often our itinerary was The Blue Posts Berwick St. Soho, Intrepid Fox, Jazz and Latin club Frith Street. Oh! and of course there was always someone to meet at the Spice of Life.
And so it came to pass that on one of these magical evenings, I found myself standing at the bar in the Wag. Minding my own business, I felt someone’s elbow graze mine as I idly scanned the bar looking for free staff, letting my mind and body immerse themselves in the music. I turned with a non-committal look, the owner of the elbows smiled.I smiled back, he used the opportunity to get the attention of the barmaid and get served. Bastard! It was George Michael.
As soon as he’d got his drinks, he made a beeline for the VIP area and motioned me to follow. I spent a blinding night in his company (and later that of his friends, which included Andrew Ridgely, Pepsi and Shirley among others) swapping the names of favourite singers and bands. We danced till the first morning light. Leaving the club, bleary eyed, I hitched a lift on the back of a milk float to Baker Street, at which point I jumped off and caught the first train back to Bow.
Actually that last bit’s a load of old bollocks. He smiled. I smiled back, he used the opportunity to get the attention of the barmaid and get served then fucked off to the VIP area while I waited another half an hour to get served. BUT the music! … It was a top night out.
© Andy Daly 2010
I went with My Mate Bill to see Chuck Berry. He played at the Hackney Empire: one of those sumptious old theatres clearly in need of some TLC. It is kind of like an inside-out wedding cake painted by a three year old. In fact I spent a lot of time, come to think of it, trying to work who was the older, Chuck Berry or The Hackney Empire. The Empire’s upholstery is definitely in worse shape, but then it is easier to park round the back of Chuck Berry.
© Andy Daly 2010