God Only Knows How He’s Lived for This Long – Brian Wilson at The Birmingham Symphony Hall

Yet another trip out for myself, Lady Barton St Mary and her brother Drew, this time a return to The Birmingham Symphony Hall to see another ‘legend’ in the world of popular music, Brian Wilson.

For those of you uninitiated in the history of popular music, Brian Wilson was the leader of iconic 1960s surfer band The Beach Boys. His personal history could take up an entire blog of 20 000 words, but fret not, Wordpretzels, I not subjecting you to that. Just take it from me that Brian is one of the most innovative, inventive and creative living musicians. How he’s still living, having reached the age of 73, with his history of chemical abuse and possibly connected mental health issues, is quite amazing.

Anyway, there we were, back in the circle of the symphony hall, awaiting Brian and his band. Our previous trip had been to see Burt Bacharach (88), so Brian was a mere stripling. The audience were very similar, giving all three of us some succour to know we would be at the younger end of the audience age bracket. However, it didn’t take long to figure out that, in fact, there were more than a few members of the crowd who brought down the average age more considerably than we did. People in their 20s, wearing Beatles/Byrds/Beach Boys/Doors t-shirts, clutching their ‘Pet Sounds’ programmes, looking genuinely excited at what they were about to witness. It was rather comforting to see these generationally newer music aficionados eschew a lot of the current blandness trafficked by the commercial radio stations; the sort of Cowellesque pap that makes Eurovision songs sound like everyday acceptable listening fodder. More power to these kids.

However, perhaps rather hypocritically, I admit that I don’t listen to a lot of Beach Boys’ stuff and absolutely no Brian Wilson solo projects, so I was intrigued to see how the evening went. The first half would be a smorgasbord of tunes, starting at 8.30 with an intermission at 9.15. I don’t know if all gigs are structured this way; perhaps it’s because I’ve mostly seen acts over the age of 60 for the past 5 years. Let’s just say that The Proclaimers and The Wombats managed to do the whole set in one go.

The second half was devoted to the iconic album Pet Sounds, a record celebrating its 50th anniversary, hailed by Rolling Stone magazine as a great and considered one of the first pop albums that needed to be ‘listened’ to rather than just dance about to, and containing what was regarded by Paul McCartney as his favourite pop song, ‘God Only Knows’. This part of the show would start at 9.30, completing at 10.30pm, allowing Brian to be back at the Hotel Du Vin, tucked up in bed with a cocoa, by 11.


Bang on time, with his band safely ensconced on stage and singing the opening bars of ‘Our Prayer’, Brian appeared, seated at the grand piano. He was joined by another original Beach Boy, Al Jardine, with Al’s son Matt on vocals. In fact, Matt sang all the high register harmonies so characteristic of the Beach Boys. He was also called upon to sing the higher parts that Brian couldn’t reach, like a younger family member finishing grandad’s sentences.

It didn’t take long before the smile appeared on my face as they belted out hit after hit: ‘Heroes and Villains’, ‘California Girls’, ‘Dance Dance Dance’, ‘I Get Around’, ‘Little Honda’… one after the other. We jigged about in our seats, even the youngsters, who, influenced by the majority of the older participants, stayed seated out of courtesy for others and by the fact that it’s a bit tiring standing up these days.

It was all going swimmingly. Then Blondie Chaplin appeared. Who? I hear you ask. Precisely. Apparently, Blondie was a member of The Beach Boys. He also toured with the Rolling Stones, although this has seemed to have transmogrified into ‘being a former member of The Rolling Stones’. It reminded me of old school friends, who ‘had trials with West Ham United’, in the days when you just had to pitch up at the trial to have a go.

Blondie, to his credit, appears to use the same moisturiser as Keith Richards (Blue Circle cement) and has a head of curiously and luxuriously dark, short dreadlocks. He cavorted about the stage like an excited toddler, striking exaggerated guitar poses much like the ones I did as a teenager in my bedroom with a tennis racket, as the rest of Brian’s band played on, smiling benignly. Blondie was definitely there to show how fantastic he was. By the end of the first half, he’d more than persuaded himself that he was. By the time he’d finished, still buzzing around, Brian serenely observing his antics, like a discerning grandad who may tell him to sit down any minute soon. Drew, an accomplished musician himself, described Blondie as a character straight out of Withnail and I, due to Blondie’s raffish woollen scarf knotted around his neck.


The second half, back to Brian and the whole of Pet Sounds, from ‘Wouldn’t it be Nice’ through to ‘Caroline, No’.

Now, just to let you know. Brian’s vocals aren’t what they used to be, so when it came to ‘God Only Knows’, I expected a virtuoso performance from Matt Jardine, but no. Brian went for it. Let’s just say that this version sounded like a cross between Randy Newman and Rolf from The Muppets. I had a brief twinge of disappointment, until I reminded myself that this was Brian Wilson. Brian bloody Wilson. He wrote this song, so, if he wanted to sing it, he would. He was playing the Burt Bacharach card.

So, ‘Caroline, No’ ended and we gave tumultuous applause. But that wasn’t the end. He’d played ‘Pet Sounds’ in its entirety, but was back for more.

‘Good Vibrations’ got a lot of the crowd on their feet, dancing and clapping, jumping up and down. Like an avalanche of feel good tunes, they thundered through ‘All Summer Long’, ‘Help Me Rhonda’, ‘Barbara Ann’, ‘Surfin’ USA’, ‘Fun Fun Fun’ – by this time, the younger members of the audience in their retro band t-shirts were learning how to jive, whilst the common or garden, first time around Brian Wilson fan was wishing they’d paced themselves, physically wilting with the effort.

Brian finished with ‘Love and Mercy’ before saying his final farewell; like his previous stage exits, this was a fascinating sight. Brian, having forewarned the crowd that he would be departing stage right on completing a song, would suddenly spring from a seated position and propel himself across the stage, forearms at right angles to his body, wrists limp, legs slightly ahead of his torso, like a stampeding Tyrannosaurus Rex, roadies either side of him waiting to pounce as if he were a spinning plate.The whole process was an obvious effort, which appeared to be more daunting than playing a two and a half hour set. Afterwards, I mentioned this to Drew, theorising that maybe many years of substance abuse leads to this particular form of perambulation, which I call ‘The Ozzy Osbourne’.

“Maybe,” mused Drew, “but he’s allowed to walk like that. He’s Brian Wilson.”

As we ambled out of the symphony hall, across the bridge spanning the canal, I turned to Lady BSM and Drew.

“That was brilliant,” I said. They concurred.

I thought about the acts we’d seen in the past 3 years. Burt, Paul Simon, James Taylor, Paul McCartney…

“Next time, shall we see somebody who released their first album after 1970?”

They both considered for a moment, exchanging a look.

“Nah,” they both said, in unison.

Posted in ageing, Birmingham Symphony Hall, Brian Wilson, Burt Bacharach, humor, humour, Lady Barton St Mary, life observations, wordpress | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

It’s Started 2

An after school family learning session with parents and children. One little girl finishes what she’s doing ahead of her little brother.
“Can I do a drawing?” she asks.
“Of course,” I reply, “there’s some colouring pencils and paper in my box.”
“Can I draw you?” she asks. I say that’s fine.
She returns with colouring pencils and paper and studies me for a few moments before searching through the coloured pencils.
“Do you have grey?” she asks.
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Chafe House 2

More advice: Upon returning from a half marathon race where you have remembered to place protective plasters on your chest, do not decide to be manly and tear the plasters from your hirsute frontage instead of showering and gently peeling them off.

Shouting ‘FUCKITYFUCKITYFUCKITYMEENIPS’ out of the bathroom window overlooking your neighbour’s garden when they’re having a barbecue with invited guests is not a good idea.



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Dad Story – Petula Clark

My dad liked telling a story, which may come as a bit of a surprise to you, considering my obvious reticence to follow suit. Now, most of these stories would be told in exact detail, leaving no stone unturned, even if you’d heard the story before, which, if you were a member of my family, you’d most likely had.

If you interrupted the start of one of his stories by explaining you’d heard it before, he’d look at you quizzically before saying, in his fine cockney accent,

” ‘Ave yer? Blimey. Anyway…”, whereupon he would continue to tell the story through to its end. Many people who sat with my dad would be engrossed in his tales. Mum would roll her eyes and say to us, “Go and rescue (name), yer father’s boring the pants off ’em.”

A gentle enquiry regarding this with the listener would generally be met with the reply that, no, dad’s story was really interesting and no, they were quite alright. This attitude could sometimes change after an hour or two, especially if drink were involved.

Of course, family members would often zone out of the story, having heard it before. As a teenager, I spent many a lunchtime listening to dad’s tales during the school holidays. He worked shifts, so when he had a late, we’d spend the time together, him regaling me with stories of work, celebrities, his youth and his experiences in World War II. They could be very funny, shocking, informative and, in hindsight, a few were quite poignant.

I realise now how great it would have been to record these stories, but of course at the time they were readily available. As time passes, (he died in 2004), I have trouble remembering them. One story in particular frustrates me, because I can’t remember the fine detail and I’m determined to write a short story based on it.

It was easy to get my dad to tell a story just by using a particular phrase. If we were feeling particularly brave, we would utter the trigger word and off he’d go. Even more entertaining would be the situation where a newcomer would use a trigger word innocently. Any family member in earshot would often react by shouting the subject of dad’s inevitable story, amusing everyone and being politely ignored by dad, as he started with his opening line. A few examples would be: Bridgnorth (the one about the giblet pie), Pele (not the best footballer in the world), Bobby Charlton (he used to miss a lot of goals), 1960s singer songwriter Donovan (not a fucking layabout, took his own bins out) and Bruce Forsyth (directions). A lot of his stories came about because of his experiences as a site foreman, working for a heating company that had some plum contracts. My dad worked at Wembley Stadium in 1966, fitting out the changing rooms for the World Cup; Harrods and Selfridges department stores; several new hospital buildings and, in London’s glittering West End, The London Palladium.

The trigger word for his London Palladium story would be the singer Petula Clark. I know, how often in everyday conversation would somebody say ‘Petula Clark’? You’d be surprised. My brother in law Drew posted something about her on Faceache yesterday. Of course, the same story could be triggered using the words ‘London Palladium’.

Petula Clark, somebody would say and my dad would sit up straight, rub his hands together, look left, look right, as if he were about to impart some deadly secret – and his story would start.

“‘Ere, I’ll tell you about that Petula Clark. We was working up west at The Palladium. There was some problem with the heating, so me and Tom were called in to put it right. Anyway, the problem was found to be in the galley above the stage, bloody long way up, I can tell yer. So, I sends Tom up and start checking the rest of the system. After about half an hour, I decides it’s time to go up and see how Tom’s getting on. I get up to the gantry and there he is, Tom, on his ‘ands and knees, arse in the air, looking through a gap in the scaffold boards.

“Oi, what the fuckin’ ‘ell are you doing?” I asks. He turned round and puts his finger to his lips.

“Shut up! Shush! Albie! Come over ‘ere! You’ll never believe it!”

So, I makes me way over to Tom, gets on me ‘ands and knees and ‘as a butchers. Well, bugger me. There’s a large grand piano, 50 feet below us, right in the middle of the stage. The curtains are down and well, there’s Petula Clark. On top of the piano. With a bloke on top of ‘er. Giving her one.

Grand piano. Lid down. Let's do it...

Grand piano. Lid down. Let’s do it…

I says, “‘Ere, Tom, bloody hell! Dear oh dear, I’ve never seen nothing like it!” and he says, “Shut up, Albie, they’ve been going at it for ages now.”

Well, I’d seen enough, so I told Tom to get his tools together; he was turning into a bleeding peeping Tom, I told him, hanging around waiting to see Petula Clark’s Jack and Danny.”

Often, the recipient of this tale would stare at my dad for a few moments before asking the inevitable.

“What happened next?’

My dad would look at them and simply say, “I dunno. I suppose he helped her off the piano afterwards.”

* To avoid litigation, this is a story told by my late father about Petula Clark’s alleged behaviour with a grand piano and an unnamed man. Although my dad’s version never wavered or changed, there is no proof that this actually happened.

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Chafe House

Here’s a piece of advice, Wordpretzels.

After returning from a 10 mile run in hot weather without wearing the required protective plasters, do not, upon entering the shower, shout, “OOOOOOO ME NIPS!!!” at the top of your voice when the bathroom window facing your neighbour’s garden is wide open and they’re out there. They’re already scared of me.

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Heil Hamstring

Wordpretzels, some of you may be aware that as well as being a runner, I am also a qualified football (soccer) referee, which means for 8 months of the year I spend my Saturday mornings and afternoons running around outside in all forms of weather being undermined, questioned and insulted by a multitude of players, their parents, managers and supporters. 

Back in December, I tried refereeing 2 youth matches in the morning followed by an adult one in the afternoon.

“Be careful. Too many matches in a day leads to injury,” warned the Referee’s Association secretary in an e-mail. What did he know? I’m an experienced runner, I’m fit and healthy. Sure enough, with 10 minutes remaining in the adults’ game, my left hamstring suddenly ‘twanged’. Not a full blown rupture, just a tweak. Having reached my 50s and having played sport all of my life, I’ve been fortunate to have never had a hamstring injury, but now it’s started. It turns out old men are quite capable of plodding around the streets for miles, but are no longer equipped to sprint, unless they undertake half an hour of warm ups. It also made me realise that I used to be built for speed; now I’m built for nothing.

Anyway, I had an enforced rest  the weather forcing games to be abandoned and my hamstring got better. I thought. Then in February, it ‘tweaked’ again, so I bought a special strapping for my thigh, which was conveniently hidden under my long referee shorts. No more trouble.

Until April, when my right hamstring ‘twanged’. On a run. Bloody brilliant. Now I had two tweaked hamstrings, with three more games of the season left, so I went to Sports Direct and bought another thigh strap and a pair of compression pants. They say exercise helps you to lose the pounds. In my case, I’d forked out approximately thirty of them.

Getting ready in the small, lonely, one person referee changing room, I looked at myself in the mirror. Thigh straps, compression pants and a hinged knee brace. My body was being held together by various pieces of lycra, velcro and metal. Now I know what Robocop must have felt like.

Fortunately, I managed to get through the match with no injuries and minimal haranguing, vowing to return home and ‘heal thyself’. Of course, I approached the most effective and reliable form of medical care and advice known to humankind, namely the internet, typing in ‘treatment for strained hamstring’. Naturally, there was a wealth of information. I noticed one website showing the best way to warm up to avoid hamstring pulls. This was it:

Version 2

Now, this may well be an effective method for preventing injury, but look at it from my point of view. I take to the field of play 10 minutes before kick off. The players are also out warming up. They would suddenly notice me, goose-stepping up and down, wearing a black shirt. I would only need to raise my right arm straight in the air to complete the impression that the impending game was being managed by a fervent neo nazi.

Then again, it may make them think twice before questioning my authority…


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It’s Started…

Leaving the supermarket and walking to my car, I answer a call on my mobile.

“Hello? It’s Blessing. I wanted some advice on my essay,” says the voice on the other end of the line; one of my student tutors. I stuff the mobile between my ear and shoulder as I fumble for my car keys in my left hand pocket, shaking them loose and clicking the button to unlock the car.

“I have managed to finish my assignments, but think I have exceeded the word count,” Blessing explains. I load the heavy bag of shopping in the boot and shut it, walking around to the driver’s door.

“How many words are you over?” I ask, as I climb into the seat and check my right pocket. Something isn’t right.

“About three hundred and fifty,” he explains, “do I need to cut it down?”

I check my jacket pockets, more fervently than my trouser pocket, then exit the car, looking around the driver’s seat and the front passenger seat.

“Erm, no, that should be OK,” I assure Blessing, not really concentrating now. I’m hurriedly heading back to the boot, opening it and searching through the groceries as Blessing expresses his relief, in direct proportion to my panic. I’m trying to think how it’s completely disappeared, I’m usually so careful. I make my way back to the driver’s seat and pretend to listen to Blessing’s description of his assignment. Where has it gone?

“Can I ask you about my teaching assignment next week? Only I – ”

Now completely freaked, sweaty and unable to continue the conversation, I interrupt my student.

“I’m really sorry, Blessing, I have to go. I’ve lost my phone.”

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