Oh, how I hated that song. My sister had the 7″ vinyl single (I fear she still has it) and she played it ALL THE TIME!
Having said that, I couldn’t think of a better title for this post. I’ve thought of how to write this piece for ages and tonight I’ve just decided to splurge it out and see if it makes any sense.
Once upon a time, I had a toy record player that played – – – Pinky and Perky records. I know, I know, some readers will have absolutely no idea what I’m talking about because they’re too young, or not British, but some will remember those singing pigs. (For that I’m sorry. Sorry to have reminded you.) Now, I don’t remember P&P’s songs and certainly not their lyrics so I have to jump a year to when I was four. Then came the song that changed everything. Two Little Boys by Rolf Harris was the first song my mother ever explained to me. It’s a sentimental number but, more importantly, it has a narrative. Did the nascent writer in me grasp at that song and file it away as an example that stories can take any form?
I learned to read rather early. By the time I was six, I’d consumed all of A.A. Milne’s works. At the age of eight I moved on to adult books. My parents were unaware of this and, trust me, I should NOT have read most of my father’s library. But it’s my mother’s record collection that I want to think about here. Simon and Garfunkel, Pearls Before Swine, Leonard Cohen and, later, Pink Floyd. All of them told stories with their songs and I heard and absorbed. One of my treasured memories is of sitting on the balcony of our apartment in Banjul, The Gambia, listening to my mother’s three Strawbs’ albums over and over. Every so often our English home help would rebel and play her Motown singles and my dream world would rip open to the reality of an eight-year-old far from home who had yet to make any friends and who was mind-numbingly bored. I’ve had a dislike of Motown ever since.
Much better to be absorbed in the beautiful artwork of the Strawbs’ record sleeves and to read the lyrics printed there. The Hangman and the Papist on the From The Witchwood album is a long, stirring and tragic song that builds in tempo and power to a terrible end. When my mother explained how the story was built around the Reformation (and the troubles in N. Ireland) and that, in those days, a man might really be forced to hang his brother, I cried. I still wanted to marry Dave Cousins, though. He’s the man who wrote this story and then sang it into me so deeply that I’m taken straight back to that African balcony despite having listened to the song a zillion times in the, almost, forty years since then. Yes, I gave up David Cassidy there and then for the portly (sorry Dave), bearded chap dressed in sheepskin, pictured on the back of a record cover. I still love Dave now. Whatever the man is like as a human being, I love that in him is the talent to put together images and ideas and communicate them to me the way that he has. Thank you Dave for the music, the stories and the inspiration.
When other children would be climbing the walls with frustration or misbehaving, I withdrew into myself and dwelt in an imagination built with words. Who is responsible for that? Is it Janet and John who led me to Milne and Nesbit and Ransome (and Playboy and Penthouse and The Story of O)? Is it Rolf Harris singing Two Little Boys? Is it Dave? Or Roger Waters? Or David Bowie?
Who knows? And really, does it matter? I have enjoyed dragging these thoughts from my mind to the keyboard and seeing a picture of my writerly self’s gestation emerge on this page. Writer’s are born. And nurtured. Both must be true. Inspiration and influence are everywhere and songwriters are every bit as important as authors to the blank sheet that is a newborn storyteller. Creativity is creativity and, whether it’s expressed by chipping away at marble, throwing paint at a canvas or agonising over alliteration, it’s an un-dam-able river with uncountable branches. Those childhood stories, songs and pictures, and their creators are the architects of our inner landscapes. Landscapes that bend the individual’s branch of the river, fill it with shallows and hidden depths, and, ultimately, make it unique.
You are not me. Your inner landscape is not like mine but you are a reader, maybe you’re a writer or an artist. Perhaps you listen to story songs too but it doesn’t matter if you don’t.You may disagree with me or dislike my taste in music but, if you haven’t already, look back at the dawn of your own inner world. Is it like the Big Bang or is it like the birth of Narnia? Can you go back and see your imagination when it was still fresh and shiny?
By the way, if you don’t know, Wordy Rappinghood was by the Tom Tom Club – the bounders.