Friday, 22 October 2010

My life with the Beatles (part 1)

I was five years old when 'Love Me Do' was released, and in the Britain of 1962 pop music was something you had to seek out and find - bizarre though that may sound to anyone raised in more recent times, when pop has been unavoidably everywhere. My only exposure to music, beyond those chaotic 'Music and Movement' classes at school, would have come from Children's Favourites on the BBC Light Programme at weekends. It was the forerunner of Junior Choice, and as far as I can recall it aired a mixture of light classics (Peter and the Wolf, usually, which was also my first record, although we didn't own a gramophone to play it on), comedy songs, and very occasional chart hits. That winter, I remember dancing the twist at a schoolfriend's party. But I was too young to know that there was a Top 20, or to note the Beatles' arrival there.

At some point in 1963, everything changed. 'She Loves You' was released shortly after my sixth birthday, and everybody at school that autumn was singing its chorus. I have vague memories that I already knew 'From Me To You' as well. And for the next year, I became fairly obsessed with pop, and the charts, especially after I came across a copy of Record Mirror in a hospital waiting-room and saw to my amazement that there were lists of the best-selling records not only here but overseas as well.

In 1964, my parents bought me New Musical Express every week, alongside the properly educational Children's Newspaper (which was as dull, and doomed, as it sounds), and I studied the apparently miraculous movements of the Top 30 with as much care as I was starting to apply to the daily sports results. (At this point I wouldn't have realised that, in theory at least, the charts were reflecting record sales.) I also have vivid memories of buying the pop paper Fabulous for its colour pin-ups of the stars. Forty-six years later, the memory of those luridly technicolour-styled portraits still brings shivers to my spine.

After loving the anarchic rowdiness of 'Glad All Over' and 'Bits And Pieces', I wanted to become the drummer of the Dave Clark 5; I even drew a version of this fantasy, peopled with matchstick figures and my name on the drumkit. But I never doubted the supremacy of the Beatles, whose hits were a universal language for pre-teens. They were competing for my attention, though, with football, cricket, school, puppet shows on TV, Enid Blyton, and no doubt plenty more ephemeral influences. I didn't own any records; I never dreamed for a second of ever seeing a pop concert; I can't remember knowing that there was a Beatles film, and anyway I had never been to the cinema; and at the age of seven, everything existed in the present, so I had no sense of having tripped across something that might endure in my life.

Some random Beatle memories spring to mind . . . being confined to bed (measles, probably) in spring 1964, hearing the group talking on BBC Radio's Saturday Club . . .. seeing in the NME's US charts that there was a Beatles song called 'Please Please Me', but being frustrated because I had no way of hearing it, though I tuned in to Saturday Club every week with a hopeful heart . . . receiving a plastic Beatles guitar (red?), which broke (or which I broke, probably) almost immediately . . . hearing that their next single would be called 'I Feel Fine', and being so impatient to hear it that I improvised my own ditty of that name to the tuneless thwacking of my (probably broken) Beatles guitar. I even committed this 'composition' to reel-to-reel tape, alongside a chorus of 'Hippy Hippy Shake'. It went something like this: "I feel fi-e-i-e-ine (thrash thrash), I feel fi-e-i-e-ine (thrash thrash thrash), all the ti-e-i-e-ime (thrash)". The boy was clearly a genius.

For many years, that tape survived - certainly into the 1980s - but now I think it's gone, though I live in hope that it may turn up in a box somewhere, alongside the only surviving recording of my maternal grandparents, chatting about peppermints, and my paternal grandmother reading me a story. As Paul Simon once wrote, "Preserve your memories, they're all that's left you".

Anyway, the tapes vanished - and so, quite mysteriously, in spring 1965, did my interest in the Beatles, and in pop as well. I remember hearing 'Ticket To Ride' for the first time, because I'd been to Ryde on the Isle of Wight, and I assumed the two things were connected. But 'pop fan' was a skin I shed effortlessly that year, as I channelled my enthusiasm into collecting stamps, playing with Airfix soldiers, reading, and endlessly devouring the scores from my football and cricket annuals. Until . . . but that's a story for another time.

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