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Soothing The Savage Breast

Back in the days of my youth, when dinosaurs roamed the West Riding Of Yorkshire and television sets were powered by steam, music was a hugely important part of my life. Generally speaking, I was a folky; most other people that I knew were rockers. Naturally we didn't talk to each other. They were musical philistines. So, presumably, was I; in their eyes at least.

My father would sit in his chair moaning bitterly about "twanging guitars" whenever Top Of The Pops was on the television. I was always glued to the screen because all the girls on the dance floor wore very short skirts and the cameraman had a knicker fetish. He kept trying to peer up the girls' legs as they twitched like epileptics to whatever group was currently miming a hit. Every so often, if you were very lucky, you'd get a flash.

"They can't be good songs," said my father. "If they were good songs, The Black And White Minstrels would sing them."

"Yes, dad."

I didn't think much of most of the music on Top Of The Pops either. But I'd have died before I admitted it to my father. I got my real musical thrills late at night beneath the bed covers as I tuned my transistor to Radio Luxembourg. It crackled and whined and faded in and out, but in between the interference and the adverts a whole new musical world opened up for me.

No knickers on the radio though.

I spent my teens and twenties travelling round to obscure pubs where folk singing was committed. I learned many things – I learned that Whiskey In The Jar is a cliché and it must never be sung on pain of being booed. I learned that after six pints of Guinness, anybody can sing a folk song and usually they will. I learned that folk singers stick their right forefinger in their ear when they sing, unless, of course, they are called Martin Carthy (who played, on occasion, with Steeleye Span). He would stick his right forefinger in his right ear and his left forefinger in his left ear when singing, thus making it hard for him to play the guitar accompaniment. Memory insists that he stood on his right leg and ran his left foot up and down the frets, strumming the strings with his willy. But that may well have been a hallucination induced by six pints of Guinness.

Many musicians started to marry the folk tradition to contemporary rock music. I heard them on John Peel's radio show and I hunted down their albums and, on rare occasions, I saw them in the clubs. Most of the groups consisted of two or three men playing instruments and a woman with a golden voice that was almost an instrument in its own right singing all the songs. I fell in love with Maddy Prior, Sandy Denny Jacqui McShee and Annie Haslam. Many of the groups performed the traditional finger-in-the-ear songs but they also wrote a lot of their own material. Some of it even had a driving beat. Suddenly folk music was modern and trendy. Perhaps I wasn't a complete philistine after all. Sometimes I saw bewildered rockers looking very out of place in the folk clubs.

"Nice Guinness!"

"Yes it is. The blackness of the drink matches your tee shirt perfectly and the white head looks just like the ones around your nose."

"When does the head banging start?"

"After they sing Whiskey In The Jar."

"They don't play very loudly do they?"

"Pardon? I can't hear you over the noise; they've really got the amplifiers turned up high tonight."

We didn't have a lot in common.

Then somebody clicked their fingers and forty years passed, just like that. Wellington was hosting a weekend of rock and roll. Superannuated wrinklies with corrugated iron skin and no eardrums were playing a concert in the stadium. Rumour had it that their contract stipulated that there must be wheelchair access to the drum riser at all times. Scores of groupies were recruited from the Malvina Major Retirement Village in Khandallah. They had their hair done specially, and they were all of a twitter.

Robin and I took the bus into town. It was our wedding anniversary and we were going out to dinner.

The bus stopped at every blade of grass, and lots of people in black jeans, black tee shirts and tattoos got on. One individualist was wearing a white tee shirt and they made her sit in a seat all by herself. They carefully left their beer bottles behind in the shelter and dutifully stubbed out their joints before they climbed on to the bus. They knew that smoking and drinking were forbidden on the bus and they were anxious to obey the rules like the good little rockers they were. They were all high and happy; they'd been preparing carefully for the concert for hours and hours. One of them had his eyeballs rolled so far up in his head that he'd had to drill holes in the top of his skull in order to see out.

"How much to the stadium?"

"$3.00," said the bus driver.

There was much scrambling around in pockets for loose change. They were all from out of town and none of them had a magic bus card. One of them picked up a single dollar coin and gave it to the driver with an air of triumph.

"The fare's $3.00", said the bus driver.

The rocker looked puzzled. "Yeah," he said vaguely. "That's right. Three."

One of his friends reached over and handed the driver another two dollars. "He's a bit out of it at the moment," explained the friend. "I don't know what he's been on, but he's seeing three of everything."

"Then god help him when Ozzie Osbourne comes on stage,' said the driver as he handed over the ticket. "Three of him will be a sight too terrible to see."

Most of the rockers were teenagers. They were far too young to remember Ozzie's first bat (mind you, it's doubtful if even Ozzie remembers his first bat these days, so they had lots in common with him). There was the occasional middle aged greaser looking very self-conscious in his torn and faded twenty year old reunion tour tee shirt and stick on tattoos, but mostly they were teenagers, chattering gaily and txtng thr frnds.

The driver closed the doors, ready to pull away from the stop.

"Wait, wait!"

One of the young rockers raced up to the driver and began whispering and gesticulating wildly. The driver sighed and opened the doors. The young man got out and ran down the road. He looked round the corner and began jumping up and down and waving his arms.

"The bus is here," came the faint and distant cry. "Get your finger out. Stop doing that you evil pervert, and get over here right now!"

He shambled back to the bus, giving his mate plenty of time to finish whatever unsavoury thing he was doing. Presently a harassed looking rocker appeared and raced towards the bus. He was trying to multi-task, running and drinking at the same time. Being a man (sort of), this was utterly beyond him, and his bottle was still quite full when he arrived panting and choking at the bus. He laid it rest among the corpses of its brothers and climbed aboard.

"How much to the stadium?" he asked.

"$3.00," said the driver patiently.

The closer we got to town the more excited the rockers all got.

"Is this the stadium stop?"

"No, it’s not this one."

"Are we there yet? Are we there yet? Are we there yet?"

"Are we there yet?"

"Here we are!"

Buses from all over town were disgorging snakes of black clad rockers which wended their gothic way to the stadium. Ours joined them and we wished them well.

"Enjoy the concert," I said. "Have a great time."

"Rock on dude!"

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