Thursday, 1 June 2017

Summer day at school, 50 years ago...

From my mother's school to my own primary school, on Oakland's Road in Hanwell, London W7. The dog-days of the summer term, June 1967. I was nine. Class 2P. Our class teacher, Miss Penn (originally from Waterlooville in Hampshire - gosh what a memory for trivia I have) was off sick for a while, so we had a supply teacher. A young man - but here, my memory fails me, as I can't remember his name or his face - he must have come in to teach us for a few days, may a week or two. before we broke up for the holidays. It was the first time I was ever taught by a male teacher.

And one day, he came into the classroom brandishing a copy of the Beatles' LP, released 50 years ago today, Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band. He played it, on the school record player, track by track, and he discussed the lyrics with us. It was an in-depth exposition of the songs' lyrics, explained so these nine year-olds from Hanwell could take something away from this didactic experience.

I had the distinct feeling back then that this was a revolutionary moment in my schooling. Newspaper taxis appeared on the shore waiting to take me awaaaay... The first time that we had been taken so far away from times tables and Janet and John reading books and the nature table. I certainly felt a sense of excitement - listening to the entire album tonight (on YouTube) brings back rich memories of that summer day of 1967. Now, after the album was released, the BBC banned several of the tracks because of supposed drugs references - not something that Class 2P was aware of at the time, so this would have been my first and last exposure to this album for quite a while. (The trippy Strawberry Fields and the nostalgic Penny Lane, recorded at the same time as the album, were released as singles, and received much airplay on the BBC Light Programme.)

The idea of a teacher, like, trying to relate with the pupils through the medium of rock music, was, like, man, far out; something entirely novel, a tipping point, the decisive moment in which the British education was entering its liberal experimental phase that helped the Children but harmed the Kids.

The title track Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band, with its the strong flavour of the Edwardian music hall act clicked me back some sixty years into the past. "You're such a lovely audience/We'd like to take you home with us/We'd love to take you home". Earwormed. With a Little Help from My Friends, did not work for me that day; the Joe Cocker cover became definitive. Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds - though I didn't catch the 'tea', the 'weed' and the 'Henry the Horse' references in the other songs, but here, the psychedelia was evident to me back then; what was going on was quite clearly not the workings of a normal mind. Our teacher put it down to 'imagination'. Getting Better passed over me, Fixing a Hole made its way into a dream I still remember, of a line of men on hands and knees progressing in line abreast along a dusty attic, tapping the wooden floor with hammers. She's Leaving Home Yes. Marvellous. Especially those three notes after the words "...for so many years", three notes of optimism in an otherwise sad story, like rays of sunlight falling into a dark Victorian kitchen. Yes, I remember my emotions. Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite! "And Mr. H. will demonstrate/Ten somersets he'll undertake on solid ground" - hilarity in class because (Ian) Henderson gets a namecheck in this song.

Turning the LP over, there was George Harrison's Within You Without You, years before my first visit to an Indian restaurant, bringing sounds of the Raj, dust, monsoon, cantonments...   When I'm Sixty-Four, all clarinets and lower middle-class whimsy. Lovely Rita Paul McCartney's paean to a parking meter maid, nicely drawn;  Good Morning Good Morning weak and forgettable with a hook used as a Radio 1 breakfast show jingle - then after a short reprise of the title track the best track of them all,
A Day in the Life... that was strong, stayed with me; memorable for its lyrics, composition and ending.

Above: I get on the Tube at Green Park, and what do I see?

Well, that summer's day at school worked for me. I got a lot out of that day's musical lesson courtesy of John, Paul George and Ringo. But for the other children... don't know. We never discussed it afterwards. Maybe not.

I was never a Beatles fan. Their music was part of the soundtrack of my childhood, rather than of my adolescent years. From their earliest appearances on TV to their rooftop concert playing Get Back, I'd only seen the Beatles in black and white. Revolver album cover was black and white, the White Album just white. But the vivid colours on the iconic cover of Sgt. Pepper were a harbinger of the transformation of my life changing from black and white to colour as the 1960s, and my grey jumper'd childhood came to an end, and the 1970s got under way.

Re-listening today, I'm convinced that the great musicians are Old Souls; they have Been Here Before and have deeper insights carried across the insights to share with us in our spiritual evolution.

This time three years ago:
Warsaw wealthier than most of UK shock!

This time five years ago:
Opening of the railway line to Warsaw's Okęcie airport

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