I don’t care for clutter and am not the sort of person who keeps old letters and the like for very long. So I could rarely be bothered keeping a diary or log of my activities; memory would suffice, I naively thought, as I now discover that my recall of events isn’t as clear as I would have hoped. It is with some envy, therefore, that I regard those of us who did take the trouble to put their thoughts/drawings on paper and I am curious to know how I would now react to reading the words of my younger persona. I’ll never know. However, occasionally, a simple sensory stimulus brings memories flooding back. The other day I discovered a tube of Snik sun-block glacier cream and its distinctive odour transported me to a rocky Greenland ridge. It’s the same with music.
How technology has changed over the last few decades. Who would have dreamt of CDs, Bluetooth, digital sound production and mp3 players? All we had in 1971 was a simple battery-powered Philips cassette player and, for financial reasons, we were allowed only one cassette each. There were two sorts of magnetic tape, ferric or chromium dioxide, the latter of higher quality for music recording. We had the former which may help explain why my cassette hasn’t survived the years. Perhaps it’s just as well for that tape included our Nanortalik production of “Take Your Pick” starring Richard as Michael Miles and Pete as Mrs. Jones, the contestant, with his outrageous outburst of expletives upon being told that the prize in his box was ……..“a turd”. All this immature studenty hilarity was beneath the dignity of one long-suffering expedition member who rightly regarded our puerile capers with disdain.
Use of the cassette-player was limited by our small supply of batteries and I don’t recall that we used it very often – which may help explain why it was such a great pleasure to hear familiar tunes, enjoy each others choice of music and partake of a drop of alcohol when we all re-assembled at Base Camp midway through the expedition. However, all was not well, for the cassette-player, taking its cue from the outboard motor, proved to be a temperamental device. Phil, with little evidence, blamed this on cement dust from the carving of our mascot, the unadulterated owl seen sitting atop the tea-chest kitchen shelving. Incidentally, the owl was carved from a piece of low-density aerated cement/sand block called Aircrete found washed up on shores everywhere, in this case at Nanortalik, and not, as some seem to think, dense concrete breeze block.
Phil had recorded an uninspiring Jimmy Young radio programme, which included a totally unnecessary routine of keep-fit exercises; John had the songs of Fife-born Rab Noakes, possibly his first album Do You See The Lights released in 1970; Bob didn’t have any music, preferring to listen to his girlfriend Cynthia reciting … yawn …. Noggin The Nog; whilst both Tony and I had each chosen a variety of different genres, ranging from folk and pop/rock to classical. If I had my chance again I’d probably replace the folk with trad jazz. I’m sorry but I don’t recall the choice of other members, other than that Richard had given his cassette to me in St. Andrews because I had assured him that I would make a suitable choice for him. This was probably the start of the Master/Apprentice relationship. I’m sure that it was Richard’s tape which thus included one of Private Eye’s silly Christmas-issue thin plastic gramophone discs. This cross-fertilisation of musical tastes stimulated each others interests. I remember Pete asking me which album contained Bob Dylan’s Lay Lady Lay (missing his wife?) …. it was Nashville Skyline … which he subsequently bought. I, in turn, was taken by some Beatles’ tracks that Tony had recorded from Abbey Road, along with items such as Take Five from the work of jazz pianist and composer Dave Brubeck. Bob particularly liked Urge For Going by the Johnstons, which I had recorded from a sampler LP. The Johnstons were an Irish close-harmony folk band; the lead singer, Adrienne Johnston, died in 1981 in controversial circumstances, many believing that she was murdered, a victim of domestic violence.
But the two pieces which became almost musical mascots because Chris was always either humming the tunes and trying to sing the lyrics were Jupiter from Holst’s orchestral suite The Planets and, especially, Here Comes The Sun by the Beatles. We knew the tunes but did we know much else? So I’ve done a little bit of research.
The concept of Holst’s work was astrological rather than astronomical, each movement is intended to convey ideas and emotions associated with the influence of the planets on the psyche. Jupiter, ‘the Bringer of Jollity’, had the desired effect upon Chris, the conclusion of the opening bars fitting perfectly with the the three syllables of joo-pit-err. The melody of the central section was adapted by Holst to fit the metre of the poem I Vow To Thee, My Country by Sir Cecil Spring Rice and has become both a hymn and a patriotic anthem.
Here Comes The Sun was written by George Harrison and recorded for the album Abbey Road in 1969, ranked as one of the greatest albums of all time. Harrison states in his autobiography that the song was written at a time when the Beatles had to be businessmen, forever signing documents. Feeling that winter in England went on forever and that he deserved the warmth of Spring, Harrison went to Eric Clapton’s house and wandered round the garden with a guitar and wrote the song. Harrison is the lead singer but John Lennon does not appear, apparently he was recovering from a car accident.
The full lyrics to Here Comes The Sun are available at the very useful MetroLyrics site. For Bob’s benefit, The Urge for Going by The Johnstons can be heard here and for those of us who want to be reminded of Michael Miles, try this