Fri, Mar 5th - 6:04PM
PATRICK HALLING'S MUSICAL VOYAGE
Patrick Halling’s Musical Voyage 1
Unless I'm mistaken it was in the totemic decade of the 1960s - which witnessed an unprecedented explosion of pop and youth culture - that Pat moved into the session world where he was to record for film, television and above all popular music.
In the meantime, my mother's musical life was put on hold while she concentrated on being the mother of two small boys, and supporting her husband in his various passions, which included dinghy racing on the Thames and elsewhere. Despite her strong aversion to sailing, she crewed for him for many years...specifically at the Tamesis Sailing Club in Teddington, West London where he was a member for much of the sixties, winning several racing trophies initially in a Firefly (number 1588), while his career as a session player thrived.
According to what he's told me, he worked on early sessions for British musical sensations Lulu, Cilla Black and Tom Jones, as well as with superstar producers Tony Hatch and Mickie Most. Hatch wrote most of Petula Clark's hit singles of the sixties, some alone, some with his wife Jackie Trent, and she went on to become a major star in the US as part of the so-called British Invasion of the American charts, as did several acts produced by Most, including Herman's Hermits whose angelic front man Peter Noone ensured that his band were briefly almost as popular as the Beatles stateside.
Pat became close to both Most and composer-arranger John Cameron, who together helped Scottish singer-songwriter Donovan achieve a string of international hit records once he'd moved away from his early Folk-Protest style towards something far more Pop-oriented, starting with the psychedelic "Sunshine Superman" (1966), which was a massive stateside smash, and the first produced by Most.
Among those session musicians who played for Most in the '60s were Big Jim Sullivan, Jimmy Page and John Paul Jones, who also arranged for him. Page went on to join seminal British Rock band The Yardbirds, which had been managed first by Simon Napier Bell, then by Most's business partner Peter Grant. When the Yardbirds collapsed in 1968, the two remaining members Page and bassist Chris Dreja set about forming a new band, also to be managed by Grant. Page's first choice as vocalist Terry Reid turned the job down, but he recommended a young 19 year old singer from the Midlands of England known as Robert Plant. Page duly travelled to Birmingham with Dreja and Grant to look the youngster over, and was impressed by what he saw. He then invited Plant to spend a few days with him at his home, the Thames Boathouse, in the beautiful little Berkshire village of Pangbourne for initial discussions related to the band...all this taking place in the summer of '68, just months before I joined the Nautical College situated a few miles from the village itself. So, the nucleus of the New Yardbirds came into being.
Shortly afterwards, a friend of Plant's, fellow Midlander John Bonham came onboard as drummer, and an old session buddy of Page's, John Paul Jones replaced Chris Dreja as the band's bass player, as Dreja wished to leave the music scene to concentrate on a new career as a photographer. Jones supplemented this role by helping Page with the arrangements, and performing keyboard duties. The New Yardbirds were now ready to fulfill their contractual tour of Scandinavia, which they began in September 1968.
With their first album - recorded at West London's Olympic Studios - not yet released, they made their debut as Led Zeppelin at the University of Surrey on October 15, 1968. This was followed by a U.S. concert debut on December 26, 1968, and so Led Zeppelin went on to become the most famous Hard Rock band of them all equalled only by the Stones in terms of legendary darkness and mystery.
It seems incredible that a force of such seismic power and influence as Led Zep should emerge from the relative innocence of the London Blues and session music scenes of the sixties. But then a similar thing could be said of British Rock as a whole. What was it that transformed an interest among young men of largely middle class origins in the bleak brooding music of the Blues into a musical movement which took America and the world at large by storm in the late '60s and early '70s? That's not an easy question to answer, but I'm going to give it some sort of a go.
The Blues themselves may provide something of a solution to the puzzle, because they are believed to have begun life as a secularised version of the black Gospel music of the American south, with lyrics reflecting the sensuality, isolation and anguish of lost souls victimised by life and alienated from God, and they found fertile soil in the still repressed United Kingdom of the late 1950s and early sixties, and especially in the affluent south among men such as Brian Jones from the genteel spa town of Cheltenham in Gloucester, Eric Clapton from Surbiton - via Ripley - in Surrey, and Jimmy Page from nearby Epsom, also in Surrey.
But the British Rock explosion was not just fuelled by the Blues. By the early '60s, an effervescent fusion of Rock and Roll, Skiffle, R&B, Doo-Wop, Soul and even traditional Classic Pop had emerged from several British cities most notably the tough industrial towns of Liverpool and Birmingham, before going on to take the UK charts by storm. It was the sound of Beat, and no band encapsulated it quite like the Beatles. That said, to further confuse matters, the term Beat - or rather Big Beat - had been used to describe a music genre as early as 1961 by the writer Royston Ellis, a close friend of John Lennon's due to their shared appreciation of the Beat poets. In Ellis's book "The Big Beat Scene", the term Beat is used to describe the music of the first British Pop stars to emerge in the wake of the Rock revolution, such as Billy Fury, Joe Brown, Marty Wilde et al, as well as a host of lesser known ones...but then Rock is also used as an abbreviation for Rock and Roll in the same book.
The Beatles are seen by some as the inventors of modern guitar Pop. While this is debatable, they are without doubt the best known and most successful Pop group in history. Yet they themselves resisted being typecast as mere Pop, and could be said to have ultimately promoted a type of Rock with Pop elements which was yet no less removed from pure Pop than the Blues-based Rock of their chief rivals the Rolling Stones.
The overwhelming melodiousness of their classic period of 1964-'69 was founded on a vast variety of musical genres including Classical and Folk, Classic Pop, Country and Western, Rock and Roll, Soul and Motown, and even the Blues, leading one to conclude that largely through the Beatles, Rock became the ultimate musical smorgasbord, a veritable Babel of musical styles. During their brief few years of existence, they informed the development of Rock to a greater degree than any other group or solo singer, and that includes the Rolling Stones, whose early style was far more rooted in the Delta and Chicago Blues than that of the Beatles, which was lighter, or Poppier. The Stones' uncompromisingly primal rhythmic proto-Rock went on to form the basis of Hard Rock and Heavy Metal, and yet even these have to a greater or lesser extent benefited from the unrelenting melodic inventiveness of the Beatles, although the same could not be said of Punk, which is Rock stripped to its most essential ingredients.
That's not to say, however, that the Beatles introduced melody into Rock and Roll, because it already existed by the time they had their first hit single in 1962. One of its chief sources was what has become known as the Brill Building Sound, named after the very building in New York City where many of its songwriters were housed and which had been a Pop music centre since the '30s, the term Pop music having been coined - allegedly - as early as 1926. Brill Building Pop could be described as traditional Pop informed by the Rock and Roll revolution, and so partaking of Rock rhythms as much as the sophisticated song writing techniques of Classic - pre-Rock - Pop.
There was a somewhat notorious interregnum period of Popular Music between the decline of the first wave of Rock and the onset of Beatlemania and it lasted from about 1958, the year of Elvis Presley's induction into the US Army, and around 1963 when the Beatles started to go global. Much has been made of the fact that the music's initial threat was neutralised during this brief era, and that this process coincided with the first wave of teenage idols - both in the US and UK - who while heavily influenced by Elvis visually, had nowhere near the same devastating effect on the moral establishment.
It's my contention that in spite of the bad press it's received over the years, the first wave of Pop to arise in the wake of the Rock and Roll revolution was infinitely more fertile and diverse than it's been given credit for, and that's especially true of the Brill Building Sound, whose melodic and lyrical sophistication harked back to the golden age of the Great American Songbook. It's sheer wholesomeness has attracted much hostility, but it should be remembered that for the first two years or so of its existence, the music of the Beatles was pretty wholesome too, and I can't help thinking it's a shame it didn't remain that way; even though many - perhaps most - of their finest songs were written after 1965.
Its chief songwriters included Goffin and King, who wrote hits for the Shirelles, the Crystals, the Drifters, Bobby Vee, Gene Pitney and others in the immediate pre-Beatles era. They certainly influenced the Beatles, who covered one of their songs, "Chains", which was soulfully sung by John Lennon. Carole King of course went on to become a superstar in her own right during the singer-songwriter era of the late 1960s, one of the most obvious examples of a survivor from the Brill Building era. Another was Burt Bacharach, who with lyricist Hal David went on to even greater glory in the '60s at the height of Beatlemania. Despite reversals, he continues to be recognised as one of the greatest popular songwriters of all time. Other Brill building teams included Leiber & Stoller, Sedaka & Greenfield, Mann & Weil and Barry & Greenwich. As well as writing songs for major acts from Elvis Presley to the first great girl groups, their work facilitated the pioneering production techniques of Phil Spector, and influenced much of the Pop that was to dominate the '60s, including the Beatles themselves.
Yet, while the Beatles remain indelibly associated with modern Pop, by about 1966, they were as much a Rock as a Pop group and this had less to do with their music than their lyrics. These had started to acquire an intellectual dimension by that totemic year, which was significantly attributable to the influence of Bob Dylan. Pop as a whole in fact had acquired a gravitas at odds with the innocent and sentimental music of the early Beatles and other bands within the outdated Beat genre as a result not just of Dylan's influence as the first great poet of Rock, but an increasing melodic complexity on one hand, and an increasing spiritual darkness on the other. This latter was at least partly founded as I see it on the growing influence of the Blues, which led ultimately to the British Blues movement of the late 1960s. The term Rock was somehow perfect in describing the way out new music that arose out of it, although when this moved in to supplant Pop as its main name it's impossible to say. One thing is certain...as soon as it did, Rock became far more than a mere music form. I'd go so far as to say that it was a way of life of life almost from the outset, a philosophy, even a religion one of whose prime components was rebellion against the traditional Christian moral values of the West.
Could this be the reason - or at least one of the reasons - why the US and Britain came to be its spiritual homelands, given that these are the nations most associated historically with the rise of Evangelical Christianity? Perhaps so. Whatever the truth, Rock is clearly more than just another form of Pop. Yet, in the modern sense of the word, Pop is intrinsically tied to Rock, or rather was...until about 20 years ago, when the latter started to decline as the leading voice of youthful rebellion, to be slowly replaced as such by other forms of popular music such as Hip Hop, Contemporary R&B, and Electronic Dance Music.
Today, Rock no longer represents the dark side of popular music, being just one of its many faces, just another branch of the entertainment industry. After nearly half a century of waging war against a world view rooted in the Bible, Rock has very little ability left to shock...although some may still be offended by its persisting lyrical darkness. Yet, the damage has been done: Western society has been irrevocably altered by Rock Music and the socio-sexual revolution it led.
Had it not been for this devastating youthquake, Pop might never have moved beyond the kind of novelty song Tin Pan Alley was producing at such a furious rate in the early 1950s, such as Bob Merrill's wonderful "She Wears Red Feathers"; but would that have been such a bad thing, when you consider Rock's ultimately disastrous legacy, the result of over a half a century of "letting it all hang out"? I don't think so.
But to return to Pat, whose contribution to the growing Rock movement was ever both innocent and involuntary:
For the legendary Beatles producer George Martin, he led the string section that was filmed live for "All you Need is Love", written specially for the "Our World" program which secured an international audience of 350 million people at the height of the so-called Summer of Love on July 25th 1967. It was the first satellite broadcast in history, and one of the most famous pieces of film ever made. Also taking part were Mick Jagger, Keith Richards, Donovan and Marianne Faithful.
A year later, he worked on a project that was as much a concept album as any of the Beatles records of the same period, Ken Moule's superb "Adam's Rib Suite", which fused elements of Jazz, Pop and Classical music to recount the history of womankind from Eve to Cleo Laine. Needless to say though, it was infinitely less successful than any comparable record within the Rock genre, Rock being at the cutting edge of popular culture in a way that Jazz had once been, but no longer was.
However, by the turn of the decade, a reconciliation between the two alienated factions was well under way, with Jazz-Fusion coming from one camp and the more populist Jazz-Rock from the other. In '75, Pat served as leader for Mike Gibbs' "Only Chrome Waterfall Orchestra", an unsung classic of British Jazz fusion which was finally released on CD in 1997. Adam's Rib followed it on CD exactly ten years later.
By the time of his involvement with "Adam's Rib", Pat had already moved into the worlds of film and television, and his early TV career included solos for the much-loved British sitcom "Steptoe and Son" (1962-1974), penned by one-time Tony Hancock writers Ray Galton and Alan Simpson, with music, including the well known theme tune, by the Australian composer Ron Grainer.
When it came to his early film career, he served as concertmaster for the great Johnny Green on Carol Reed's version of Lionel Bart's "Oliver" (1968), arguably the greatest film musical of recent times, and for John Williams on “Fiddler on the Roof” (1971), another film masterpiece based on a stage musical, this time directed by Norman Jewison. In addition to Williams, he's served as concertmaster for several other major 20th Century musical figures, Dimitri Tiomkin, Nelson Riddle, Maurice Jarre, Georges Delerue and Wilfred Josephs among them.
He worked with Williams again on the musical version of James Hilton’s “Goodbye Mr Chips” (1969), directed by Herbert Ross, and featuring wonderful performances by Peter O’Toole as Chips and Petula Clark as his wife Katherine. The screenplay was fashioned by one of the 20th Century’s leading playwrights, Terence Rattigan, while Leslie Bricusse provided both the music and lyrics for the songs, some of which are enchanting despite what certain critics have said about them. David Lindup, father of Level 42's Mike, whom Pat had first met while they were both working for British Jazz legend John Dankworth was one of the orchestrators on the project, under the masterful musical direction of John Williams. Sadly for all its virtues, "Chips" was not a critical success, although it was nominated for several major awards and enjoys a passionate following today, notably on the internet.
Also in '69, Pat worked on another film which has since grown in stature, David Lean's penultimate movie "Ryan's Daughter", written by playwright and screenwriter Robert Bolt and with music by French composer Maurice Jarre. Like "Chips", "Ryan's Daughter" was poorly received by the critics, although it was a moderate box office success, and is considered by many today to be a worthy addition to Lean's peerless body of work.
Patrick Halling’s Musical Voyage 2
As the sixties gave way to the '70s, Mickie Most entered the second phase of his glittering Pop career, although he was briefly involved with highly successful Hard Rock band the Jeff Beck Group which had been formed in early 1967. Beck had signed a personal management contract with Most who apparently wanted to turn him into a solo star, even though his backing band included one Rod Stewart on lead vocals. The Jeff Beck Group having failed to produce any hit singles, Most's business partner Peter Grant eventually took over their management, arranging a six week tour of the US in early '68. They went on to take America by storm, anticipating the success of another Grant-led band, Led Zeppelin.
While Grant went on to Rock mega-glory with Zep, Mickie set about turning RAK - which they'd founded together in 1969 - into one the key Pop record labels of the '70s and home to several classic Glam, Pop and Teenybop acts such as the soulful Hot Chocolate and former Detroit rocker Suzi Quatro - with whom Pat worked on several occasions with Mickie at the helm - as well as Mud, Arrows, Kenny, Smokie and Racey.
Talking about Pop, in the early 1970s, John Cameron became an unlikely member of a successful Pop act himself as part of CCS, a band he put together with Mickie for RAK, and featuring the Blues guitarist Alexis Korner as band leader, but with Danish musician Peter Thorup doing most of the vocals.
Alexis Korner has been called the Founding Father of British Blues, and with good reason because possibly more than anyone he was the incubator of the '60s Blues Boom which was one of the great cornerstones of the entire Rock movement. Some of the bands who were swept to stardom in its wake went on to be part of the celebrated British Invasion of the US charts which could be said to have transformed the American cultural landscape.
Born in Paris of Austrian and Greek ancestry, Korner began his musical career in 1949 as a member of Chris Barber's Jazz Band, but his love of the then lesser known music of the Blues led to his forming the band Blues Incorporated in 1961 with singer Long John Baldry, harmonica player Cyril Davies, guitarist Jack Bruce, saxophonist Dick Heckstall-Smith and drummer Charlie Watts.
The list of musicians who were drawn to Korner's regular Rythym and Blues night at the Ealing Jazz Club in the early '60s included future members of the Rolling Stones, Mick Jagger, Keith Richards and Brian Jones, as well as Rod "The Mod" Stewart, and spectacularly handsome Oxford undergraduate Paul Jones. Paul had apparently been Brian Jones' first choice as vocalist for his band the Rollin' Stones, which he put together in 1962 with piano player Ian Stewart from Cheam in Surrey who'd been recruited from an ad in Jazz News, but he turned him down, only to resurface at a later date as front man for another Blues-based band which achieved mainstream Pop success, Manfred Mann.
A mere nine years after their formation, with poor Brian Jones no longer living, the Stones started work on the album which is widely considered to be their masterpiece, "Exile on Main Street". These first sessions took place in the basement of the Villa Nellcôte, a 19th century mansion on the waterfront of Villefranche-sur-Mer in France's Cote d'Azur, which had been leased to Keith Richards in the summer of '71, although several tracks had already been recorded at West London's Olympic Studios, as well as at Mick Jagger's country estate, Stargroves near Newbury in Berkshire. Much has been written of the ultra-decadence surrounding the "Exile" sessions, which saw various icons of the counterculture passing through Nellcote as if there to bestow their blessings on the proceedings. They could be said to be the quintessence of the Rock and Roll lifestyle following a mere decade of Rock culture, which had yet already altered Western society as a whole almost beyond recognition. However, blame for this transformation can't in all good conscience be laid exclusively at the feet of Rock. That would be absurd.
It seems pretty clear to me that the cultural revolution of the 1960s didn't just appear out of nowhere, and that tendencies inimical to the Judaeo-Christian moral fabric of our civilisation can be traced at least as far back as the Enlightenment of the 16th and 17th Centuries, which could be said to be the starting point of the Modern Age. Much of the groundwork had already been done in other words, and that's especially true of the two immediate post-war decades, in which the Existentialists and the Beats became international icons of revolt, with lesser groups like the Lettrists of Paris acting as scandal-sowing forerunners of the '60s Situationists...Britain's first major youth cult surfaced in the shape of the Edwardians who later became known as Teddy Boys or Teds...a cinema of youthful discontent flourished as never before creating a desire among many young people to be identified as wild ones and rebels without a cause...and Rock and Roll - perhaps already jaded as an art form by 1972...the year the Stones' "Exile on Main Street" finally saw the light of day - took over the world, with Elvis Presley as its first true superstar.
That same year saw Pat work on an infinitely more humble musical project, Richard Harris' "Slides" which, while a success on the Billboard charts at the time has since been sadly overlooked, although it was released on CD with another Harris album "My Boy" in 2005, receiving very high ratings from Amazon reviewers both in Britain and the US.
A year later, Pat worked on the first of two pictures helmed by the great Fred Zinnemann, whom he was kind enough to introduce me to - and on the set of "Julia" (1979) unless I'm mistaken - and he was utterly enchanting. This was "The Day of the Jackal", based on the novel by Frederick Forsyth, and with music this time by Georges Delerue, whom I also met with Pat. Although not a commercial success, it's now seen as a classic British thriller in the tradition of Carol Reed's "The Third Man", and Edward Fox's mesmerising performance as the elegant ruthless Jackal helped turn him into a major star.
Patrick Halling’s Musical Voyage 3
By the start of the 1970s, for a teenager like myself and many of my friends, Rock and Roll music had divided into two categories. One we knew as Commercial, a word we tended to spit out like some kind of curse, the other, Underground, or some other term reflective of its shadowy exclusivity. While the former was effectively pure Pop, whose domain was the Hit Parade or Pop charts weekly featured on the British TV program Top of the Pops, the latter consisted of groups who made music largely for the growing album market...and there were those Rock acts such as Led Zeppelin who never graced the singles chart despite earning fortunes through concerts and album sales. Within album Rock many strains co-existed as I recall, including Hard or Heavy Rock, Soft Rock of the type of Joni Mitchell and Crosby, Stills and Nash, and the Art or Progressive Rock pioneered by the Beatles, Frank Zappa, Pink Floyd, the Doors and others.
Despite himself Pat was part of it from the outset, notably through his association with the Beatles, who by '67 were at the forefront of the Rock revolution, having arguably left much of their Pop career behind them once they'd retired from touring, although their Rock was ever replete with beautiful Pop melodies.
However, it was Jethro Tull, a British band that achieved both commercial and critical success on both sides of the Atlantic and beyond, that marked the height of his relationship with the new Art Rock phenomenon. Working with front man - as well as singer, flautist and composer - Ian Anderson, and conductor, arranger and keyboard player David Palmer, Pat served as leader for two Tull albums, which is to say, “Warchild” from 1974, and “Minstrel in the Gallery” from a year later, both recognised today as undisputed masterpieces of the Progressive genre.
During the Prog Rock boom which was at its height from about 1969 to 1975, Pat played on several albums which while not successful in the mould of best sellers by Tull, Pink Floyd, Genesis, Yes and others, have nonetheless received fresh critical acclaim through the internet, some of this verging on the adulatory.
They include “Definitely What” (1968) by Brian Auger and the Trinity, “Cosmic Wheels” (1973) by Donovan, “Beginnings” (1975) by Yes guitarist Steve Howe, "Octoberon" by Symphonic Rock pioneers Barclay James Harvest, and two by Gordon Giltrap, “Visionary” from '76 and “Perilous Journey” from the following year. Giltrap, I feel safe in asserting, is one of the most outlandishly gifted guitarists -acoustic or otherwise - in the history of recorded music.
For composer-producer-arranger-conductor Johnny Harris, who has worked in various capacities with some of the greatest names in entertainment of the last half century including Michael Jackson, Sammy Davis Jnr., Barbra Streisand, Liza Minnelli, Diana Ross, Dionne Warwick, Johnny Mathis and Tom Jones, Pat led the strings on “All To Bring You Morning” (1973), his second solo album, which featured no less than three one-time members of Prog Rock legends Yes, namely the aforesaid Steve Howe, vocalist/composer Jon Anderson, and drummer Alan White, who just happened to be recording next door at the time as Johnny and friends and were great admirers of his work. It achieved a CD release in 2008.
For his very close friend Derek Wadsworth he played on “Metropolitan Man” (1974) by Alan Price, the former keyboardist for British Invasion band the Animals. They scored an international mega-hit in 1964 with their version of the traditional Folk song "The House of the Rising Sun" produced by Mickie Most, who masterminded the first two years of their career, during which they became Pop sensations in the US almost on a par with the Beatles and the Stones. Alan Price left in 1965 to form his own Alan Price Set, which, with songs such as the classic “House that Jack Built” from '67, combined musical virtuosity with lashings of commercial appeal, a gift that was one of the hallmarks of classic sixties Pop, but which had perhaps declined somewhat by the turn of the ultimate Pop decade.
In the early '70s though, the Glam-Glitter genre took off in Britain, taking the Pop charts by storm in the process. Among those artists who became superstars through Glam, a heterogeneous mixture of Pop and Rock whose purveyors flaunted an outrageous androgynous image were Marc Bolan, David Bowie, Rod Stewart and Elton John, all of whom had been striving for Rock and Roll success for years.
Bolan is widely credited with inventing Glam, although it had been foreshadowed in the '60s by the Stones and others, but its true pioneer was arguably Little Richard, known today as the Reverend Richard Penniman.
Among the first generation of Rock stars he was the most overtly androgynous, although it's been said he took much of his image from a little known Rock shouter named Esquerita, who was believed to have been even wilder than Richard....if that were at all possible. A product of the southern Bible Belt like Richard, Esquerita died young at only 49 years old from an AIDS-related illness after a life of relative obscurity.
As a child Richard had attended Pentecostal churches in his native Georgia, and seriously considered becoming a preacher of the Gospel; but it was also in these churches that he developed the musical gifts that were to lead to his ultimately embracing the music which he has gone on record as declaring to be incompatible with the Christian life. In fact, few Rock stars have been quite so vocal in their denunciation of the spiritual dangers of Rock music as Little Richard Penniman. For a time, however, he was the most outrageous of the early Rock idols, and many of Rock's most dynamic performers - Mick Jagger, Rod Stewart and David Bowie among them - have cited him as a seminal influence.
The Glam Rock era of 1971-'73 was to some extent a revival of the sartorial flashiness - and musical simplicity - of early Rock and Roll...and one which swept a host of gifted young musicians who'd been striving for major success since the early 1960s to fresh levels of stardom in the UK and elsewhere. Yet, despite the Pop star status they enjoyed in the UK, several of these were viewed as serious album artists as well as TV idols, among them Rod Stewart, David Bowie and Elton John, and significantly all three remain international Rock icons to this day. On the other hand, other Glam acts were viewed largely as singles bands during a golden age for the British Pop charts...and one that seriously advantaged a certain East End boy of part Irish Traveller extraction by the name of David Cook.
As David Essex, he became a star on the fringes of Glam, not through Rock nor teeny bop Pop, but largely through acting both onstage and in the movies. It was his own song, "Rock On" a massive hit on both sides of the Atlantic in 1974 that really put him on the map as a major heart throb...together with the '73 movie "That'll be the Day", directed by Claude Watham, in which he plays a young tearaway in a bleak pre-Beatles Britain who yearns for Rock and Roll stardom, and ultimately leaves his young family to pursue it. In the follow-up, "Stardust" (1974) - also the name of Essex's third British hit single - he achieves his dream...but ends up living as a wasted recluse in a vast castle in Spain.
Both "Rock On" and "Stardust" were produced by New Yorker Jeff Wayne. Pat worked with him not just on "Rock On", but his own “Jeff Wayne’s Musical Version of The War of the Worlds” which has achieved classic status since its release in 1978.
Towards the middle of the '70s, Soul music, a popular genre which had evolved out of Gospel and R&B birthed a mutation known as Disco, one of whose hallmarks was the liberal use of strings often played in a staccato style. In consequence, Pat was involved in several major Disco projects, including the band "Love and Kisses" formed by Alec R Costandinos, which produced three albums between 1977 and '79. While these have been obscured by Giorgio Moroder's groundbreaking work with Donna Summer, they were massively successful at the time, yielding several US hit singles and helping to define the Disco sound. Both Pat and Costandinos had earlier worked with another French Disco pioneer Jean-Marc Cerrone on his hit album, "Love in C Minor" from 1976.
Pat played on several other Costandinos records, including an acknowledged Disco masterpiece "Romeo and Juliet" (1978) which unlike many of the classic works of the Disco era was not flagrantly risqué in the lyrical department. He also worked on the album “Limelight Disco Symphony” (1978) by Melophonia which was a Disco tribute produced by Franck Pourcel and Alain Boublil to Sir Charles Chaplin, who'd died on Christmas Day '77. Some years previously, Pat had worked with him on sessions which involved some of his classic films being set to new musical arrangements, and he'd introduced me to him, and he was charming; in fact it was one of the most memorable events of my life.
Boublil went on to write the libretto for the musical "Les Miserables" with composer Claude Schonberg, and it was John Cameron who arranged it for them. Pat was involved with the London production of "Les Miz" for many years as the leader of the orchestra, one of several highlights of a theatrical career which has involved his working with such legends as Ella Fitzgerald, Perry Como, Tony Bennett, Tiny Tim, Barry Manilow and Boy George of Culture Club, and touring with Tom Jones, Barrie White and others. But it's his participation in Bing Crosby's final tour of London in September 1977 that is perhaps the most memorable of all. In that same month, Bing, his family, and his close friend Rosemary Clooney began a concert tour of England that included two weeks at the London Palladium. He recorded an album "Seasons", and a TV Christmas special with David Bowie and Twiggy in the UK. His duet with Bowie on "Peace on Earth/Little Drummer Boy" was listed in Britain's TV Guide as one of the 25 most memorable musical moments of 20th Century television. After the tour Pat actually managed to wangle an autograph from Bing during a last recording session at Maida Vale studios. Der Bingle had initially objected to Pat helping himself to a piece of his sheet music, before relenting with the words, "he seems like a good man", and autographing the music into the bargain. He died some days afterwards on October 14th, following a round of 18 holes of golf near Madrid where he and his Spanish golfing partner had just defeated their opponents, towards the end of a year which had seen the deaths of a string of cultural giants including - in addition to Bing - Charlie Chaplin, Groucho Marx, Joan Crawford, Maria Callas and Elvis Presley.
Speaking of John Cameron...he was one of the men responsible for a rare classic of British Soul, "Central Heating" (1978) by London-based Funk outfit Heatwave. John served as producer on the sessions, with Pat as his concermaster, while the songs were mainly written by keyboardist Rod Temperton. Temperton was the white Englishman who went on to write several of the most memorable numbers from the best-selling long player in musical history, Michael Jackson's "Thriller" from 1982, which was produced by Quincy Jones, as well as for Quincy's own album "The Dude", for Patti Austin, George Benson, Anita Baker and others. Three Heatwave songs, all written by Temperton and produced by Cameron were millions sellers in the US, these being "Boogie Nights", "The Groove Line" and the lovely ballad, "Always and Forever", sung straight from the heart by tragic former US serviceman Johnny Wilder Jr, who had one of Soul's greatest and most underrated voices.
At the end of the '70s, Pat played what was possibly his most memorable ever solo for a television program and that was for the stunning opening and closing theme to BBC’s “Life on Earth” (1979), composed by Edward Williams and conducted by Marcus Dods. This 13-part documentary series by British naturalist David Attenborough - whom I met very briefly at a social function with his wife in the late 1970s, most probably ’79 - is widely considered to be one of the greatest ever made; but for some people- and as a Christian I include myself among them- it was controversial, given its foundation in the Theory of Evolution.
Patrick Halling’s Musical Voyage 4
The '80s was a difficult decade for session musicians like Pat as the synthesizer started making stronger inroads than had previously been the case into the world of recorded music, and that's especially true of the so-called New Pop that arose in Britain in the wake of Punk. Several New Pop acts took part in the so-called Second British Invasion, which saw British bands dominating the American Pop charts to a degree unknown since the first one led by the Beatles. This was significantly due to a demand on the part of the newly launched MTV music channel for colourful videos of which there was a shortage in the US at the time, and it enabled several - largely synth-driven - British bands such as the Human League, Depeche Mode, Duran Duran, Culture Club and Eurythmics to score massive transatlantic hits.
Despite the inexorable rise of electronic Pop, Pat's career proceeded apace during the '80s. In 1980, he worked once again for his close friend John Cameron, this time on "The Mirror Crack'd" based on the Agatha Christie novel, with music by JC, and featuring a roll call of Hollywood legends including Elisabeth Taylor, Rock Hudson, Tony Curtis, and Kim Novak, with Angela Lansbury as Miss Marple. Pat even had a small non-speaking cameo in the movie as a World War II bandleader, a walk-on admittedly but a featured one. He worked with Cameron again on a further star-studded Christie movie, "Evil Under the Sun". Both were helmed by Bond director Guy Hamilton, and produced by John Brabourne, and Richard Goodwin, who became a friend of Pat's, and they were to work together several more times in the '80s and '90s.
For Richard’s wife writer/director Christine Edzard, he was the violin soloist for “Biddy” (1983), working again with Christine - with Richard producing - on “Little Dorrit" (1988), based on the Dickens novel, and “The Fool” (1990), which was written by Christine with Oliver Stockman. All three movies were scored by French composer Michel Sanvoisin. Incidentally on “Little Dorrit”, based on the novel by Charles Dickens, Pat is credited either as soloist or song performer, duty he shared with his beloved friend, Catalan cellist Francisco Gabarro, known as Gabby, as well as the celebrated clarinettist Jack Brymer.
For Beatles legend Paul McCartney he led the orchestra for the soundtrack to the movie “Give My Regards to Broad Street” (1984), which sold well, including as it did reworked versions of six Beatles classics including "Eleanor Rigby", although the film itself performed poorly at the Box Office. Since '84, its reputation has barely improved, although on the US and British versions of Amazon it benefits from a good deal of affection on the part of everyday net users, a testament to the enormous good will MacCartney continues to generate on a worldwide basis.
Three years later, he worked with another Pop superstar of Irish ancestry, Enya Brennan - although unlike Macca she was actually born on the Emerald Isle - on "To Go Beyond II", final track of the highly successful “Enya” album to be precise. The album was later remastered and renamed “The Celts”, for use by the BBC for the 1992 TV series of the same name.
Other television projects on which Pat worked in the '80s include “Hold that Dream” (1986) based on the novel by Barbara Taylor Bradford, with original score by long time friend Barrie Guard, “Tears in the Rain” (1988), from a novel by Pamela Wallace, with music again by Guard, and “The Darling Buds of May” (1992-1993), based on the novel by HE Bates, and with music by Pip Burley and Guard.
In 1989, he worked with a yet another Rock legend, Pete Townsend, serving as leader on the concept album "The Iron Man - The Musical", based on the novel by Ted Hughes. Townsend was of course the guiding spirit of the Who, whose contribution to the so-called British Invasion of the US by English bands, led by the Beatles and the Rolling Stones, was little short of earth-shaking...as even more than the Stones they provided the basis for much of the Hard and Heavy Rock to follow. Interestingly, Pete's father Jazz saxophonist Cliff Townsend had been a colleague of Pat's during their time together on the BBC 1 program Parkinson, named after British chat show master Michael Parkinson.
In 1990, he appeared on John Williams’ album “The Guitar is the Song”, having earlier worked with the great Classical guitarist on “John Williams plays Patrick Gowers and Scarlatti” (1972), and specifically on Gowers’ “Chamber Concerto for Guitar”, as well as “Portrait of John Williams” (1982), on which he served as leader of the String Orchestra for Vivaldi’s Concerto in D major, and “Cavatina” by Stanley Myers, known by many as the theme to “The Deerhunter”.
Moving into the so-called Noughties...between 2000 and 2002, Pat played violin for Nuages, a band specialising in Swing, Vocal Jazz and Classic Easy Listening formed by his good friend Barrie Guard, and featuring myself on vocals. We laid down a series of superb demos - beautifully arranged by Barrie - at his home studio in the outer suburbs of London, and even went so far as to record a pilot radio show but to no avail. We gigged sporadically for about a year and a half, and response to our music was polite at best, until a final concert at the 2002 Shelton Arts Festival brought us into contact with the kind of intimate cultured audience we perhaps should have been aiming for all along...and we all but brought the house down. Sadly though, for a variety of reasons Nuages dispersed soon afterwards.
On a brighter note, there's a fascinating tale attached to singer-songwriter John Dawson Read for whom Pat served as leader on his two '70s albums, “A Friend of Mine is Going Blind” (1975) and “Read On” (1976). Sometime around 2005, fellow singer-songwriter Michael Johnson included an MP3 of Read singing the title track of his first album, “A Friend of Mine” on his website, and many Read fans began communicating through the site in consequence. His subsequent re-entry into the music world after nearly thirty years of relative - although not complete - inactivity, resulted in a third album, “Now…Where were we?” being released that same year.
Until quite recently, Pat served as leader - under the headship of conductor and composer Ronnie Hazelhurst - for the BBC comedy series that is the longest running in television history, Roy Clarke's "Last of the Summer Wine". Working alongside Pat on the series was harmonica maestro Jim Hughes, whose playing it is that makes Ronnie's gently pastoral theme tune so distinctive. With Jim's help, Pat began work on an album of popular song standards - featuring myself on vocals - some time in the mid Noughties, possibly 2006. Eventually given the title “A Taste of Summer Wine” thanks to the generosity of Ronnie Hazelhurst, it's credited to James Hughes Carl Halling with the London Swingtette, the latter consisting of, in addition to Pat's own Quartet Pro Musica, Judd Procter on guitar, Manfred Mann founder member Dave Richmond, and John Sutton, on bass, and John Dean and Sebastian Guard on drums. The album was engineered by sound recordist Tony Philpot, and Keith Grant - formerly of West London's legendary Olympic Studios - and finally released in 2007. Olympic became one of the great recording centres of British Hard Rock after it had been bought by Keith and Cliff Barnes in 1966, with the Stones, the Who, Jimi Hendrix, Led Zeppelin and Queen all recording there, as well as the Beatles, The Small Faces, Procul Harum, Traffic, Hawkwind and others.
Other recent projects of Pat's have included the world premiere of the string quartet “A Poet’s Calendar” by long-time friend Derek Wadsworth, which took place at the Riverhouse Barn studio in Walton on Thames, Surrey, on the 10th March 2007, with Pat leading his own revived Quartet Pro Musica, and the first live performances of Quartets 1 and 2 by Jazz drummer and composer Tony Kinsey. As things stand, Pat plays in two quartets, the previously mentioned Pro Musica, and the Leonardo, formed in 1993.
Despite having worked as a professional musician for more than half a century, Pat is still a force within the music industry, and has recently spoken on television and elsewhere on his work with the Beatles. He also paints now under the quaint monicker of Clancy, the middle name he once rejected. Furthermore, he's still winning up to two races every Sunday for his local sailing club. There seems to be no end to the man's almost preternatural energy and force of will. Although there's no hard and fast evidence that Pat has Scandinavian blood, research related to the Norwegians who emigrated to the American Midwest - and particularly Minnesota -from about the mid-19th Century onwards, reveals that one of the characteristics of the inhabitants of the Halling Valley known as Hallings and speaking a dialect known as Halling is firmness “in thoughts and beliefs”, so that he would “rather break than bend”. This in the words of the Norwegian-American writer Syver Swenson Rodning, who in 1917 took first prize in an essay set by a man called Hallingen called “A Halling is a Halling wherever he is”. The Hallings themselves settled primarily in Spring Grove, Minnesota, with traces of their subculture surviving into the 1930s. Perhaps then, alone among the three children born to Phyllis Mary Halling, Patrick is a true Halling with roots deep in the Hallingdal in Norway's Buskerud County where the Halling Valley River lies.
Fri, Mar 5th - 6:01PM
THE ASCENT OF MISS ANN WATT
The Mystery of Ormonde
I was born Carl Robert Halling at the tail end of West London’s Goldhawk Road which is a bit of a no-man’s-land inasmuch as it’s the only part of the road – prominently featured Franc Roddam’s 1979 film of the Who’s “Quadrophenia” - not to bisect Shepherds Bush, being officially in Hammersmith, but considered by some to be part of the more bourgeois area of Chiswick. My first home was a small workman’s cottage in Notting Hill, but by the time of my brother's birth on the 2cnd May 1958, the family had already moved to nearby Bedford Park, which while also in Chiswick, but by postcode this time, is part of the Southfields ward of South Acton.
My father had been born in Rowella in Tasmania’s Tamar Valley, but largely raised in Sydney, the son of an Englishwoman, Phyllis Mary Pinnock, probably hailing from the Dulwich area of south London, and a Dane by the name of Carl Halling. However, his paternity is uncertain, given that his two siblings, Peter and Suzanne, had been born in Britain to a British army officer by the name of Peter Robinson, and Phyllis had left her husband while already pregnant with Patrick.
According to Phyllis’s younger sister Joan, their maternal grandmother’s maiden name had been Butler, which allegedly links the family to the Butlers of Ormond, a dynasty of Anglo-Norman nobles named after the Earldom they went on to rule in Munster, Ireland, although Walter was the name by which they were first known.
The Butler saga begins in earnest with the Norman Invasions of Ireland, which took place in 1169 at the behest of Dermot MacMurrough the King of Leinster, one of five kingdoms of pre-Norman Ireland. A beautiful land once given over to Druidry and the worship of the Sidhe or Faery Folk, Ireland had long been Christian (although paganism had persisted). Nonetheless, an invasion had already been authorised by the first – and only - English Pope Adrian IV in 1155, and was destined to be blessed by his successor, Pope Alexander III.
MacMurrough had been forced into exile in 1166 by a coalition of forces led by the High King of Ireland Rory O'Connor, and had fled…allegedly to Bristol first and then to France. There are various accounts of what happened next, but it’s certain he asked Henry II, first English King of the House of Plantagenet, for help in regaining his kingdom. Henry offered his support, after which MacMurrough began recruiting allies in Wales, Richard de Clare, the man known as Strongbow, foremost among them.
In 1167, he returned to Ireland with a small army of merceneries, but it wasn’t until 1169 that a full-scale invasion by the Anglo-Normans and their Welsh and Flemish allies - and led by Strongbow - got under way. Contemporary accounts apparently refer to the invaders as English, although they have also been described as Anglo-Norman, Cambro-Norman and Anglo-French. The Flemish contingent was culled largely from those Flemings who’d arrived in Britain with William I, and had been settled in Wales by Henry I, to be perceived by the hostile Welsh as English. Also believed to have taken part in the invasion was one Theobald Walter, patriarch of the Butlers of Ormond.
Two years afterwards, Henry II set foot in Ireland, the first English King to do so, and so High Kingship was brought to an end, to be replaced by over 750 years of English rule. Henry was an ancestor of future generations of Butlers, and a grandson of William the Conqueror, which may provide a kinship with the mysterious Merovingian dynasty of Frankish Kings. When Henry's son with Eleanor of Aquitaine, and the future King John of England Prince John arrived in Ireland in 1185, he was accompanied by Theobald Walter, and as his father had been Butler of England, he was appointed Butler of Ireland and given a portion of land in eastern Munster that would become known as Ormond. Hence the name, the Butlers of Ormond.
Theobald wed Maud le Vavasour around 1200, and they had one son, Theobald le Botiller, 2cnd Baron Butler (1200-1230), whose son with Joan du Marais married Margery de Burgh, a descendant of both Dermot McMurrough and the legendary Brian Boru, thereby bringing royal Gaelic blood into the Butler bloodline. One of their grand-children James Butler was appointed Earl of Ormond in 1328. He’d been born to yet another Theobald and the beautiful Eleanor de Bohun, grand-daughter of Edward I of the House of Plantagenet…also known as the Angevins from their origins in Anjou, France. Dubbed The Hammer of the Scots, he was the Anglo-Norman monarch who'd had Scottish landowner Sir William Wallace executed in 1305 for having led a resistance during the Wars of Scottish independence.
The Earldom of Ormond was created for Theobald's grandson, James Butler, son of Sir Edmund and Lady Joan Fitzgerald in 1328. Through their issue all subsequent Earls of Ormonde were descended. The 7th Earl, Thomas Butler was the great-grandfather of Anne and Mary Boleyn. On his death, Piers Roe Butler became the 8th Earl, but as the King wanted the Earldom of Ormond for Thomas Boleyn, father of Anne and Mary, Piers resigned his claim in 1528. Ten years later, it was restored to him, heralding the title's third creation. By this time, England had become a Protestant nation, and the Anglican faith established in Ireland as the state religion, despite the fact that the vast majority of the people were Catholic.
Years of vicious feuding between Thomas Butler, 10th Earl of Ormond - known as the Black Earl - and his own mother's family the Fitzgeralds, culminated in a victory for the Butlers in 1565 at the Battle of Afane. which helped provoke the Desmond Rebellions of 1569-73 and 1579-83, the second of which was bolstered by hundreds of Papal troops. Defeated by the Elizabethan Armies and their Irish allies - Court favourites the Butlers predominant among them - they were succeeded by the first English Plantations carried out in a devastated Munster.
A few years later in 1609 the first Ulster Plantation came into being in the wake of the Nine Years War which was largely fought in Ulster, the island's most Gaelic region, between Ulster chieftains and their Catholic allies, including in 1601-1602, 6000 Spanish soldiers sent by Phillip II, and the Protestant Elizabethan government. The routing of the Ulster Earls and their allies led to the famous Flight of the Earls to Europe, the end of the Gaelic Clan system, and the colonization of Ulster by English and Scottish Protestants.
As for the Earldom of Ormond, the fifth Earl of its third creation James Butler was placed in command of English government forces based in Dublin following The Irish Rebellion of 1641, which was an uprising by the Old English Catholic gentry who had become more Irish than the Irish themselves. Most of the country was taken by the Catholic rebels, whose leader was the Duke's own cousin Richard Butler, 3rd Viscount Mountgarret, and in time it evolved into a conflict between the native Irish and the newly arrived Protestant settlers from Britain which resulted in the massacre of thousands of Protestants, the precise number being a matter of much debate.
A year later, with the English Civil War (1641-1651) under way, Ormonde, who was a Royalist sympathizer, despatched an estimated 4000 troops to England to fight for King Charles I of the Scottish House of Stuart against the English Calvinist Roundheads under the leadership of Oliver Cromwell, and was made Lord Lieutenant of Ireland by Royal Appointment in 1643.
By 1649, Ireland had become a stronghold of support for the King with Ormonde in overall charge of the Royalist forces and Irish Confederation of native Gaels and Old English Catholics, all of which had the effect of attracting the attention of Cromwell and his New Model Army. Ormonde attempted to thwart the English Puritan invaders by holding a line of fortified towns across the country, but their leader defeated them one after the other, beginning in 1649 with the Siege of Drogheda.
In the summer of 1650, following a long series of humiliating defeats for the Irish, Ormonde, having been deserted by Protestants and Catholics alike, was urged to leave the country by the Catholic clergy, which he promptly did, seeking refuge in Paris with the exiled Charles II. On the Restoration of the Stuart Monarchy in 1660, James Butler was showered with honours by the new King of England, Scotland and Ireland and was made Duke of Ormonde in the peerage of Ireland in the spring of '61.
Eight year later, he fell from favour as a result, allegedly, of courtly intrigue on the part of Royal favourite James Villiers, the 2cnd Duke of Buckingham. In 1671, an attempt was made on his life by an Irish adventurer named Thomas Blood, but Ormonde escaped, convinced that Buckingham had put him up to it, but nothing was ever proven. In 1682, he became Duke of Ormonde in the peerage of England, dying four years later in Dorset, and soon after his death, a poem was published which celebrated his great nobility of character, an essential decency that was never compromised.
One of his sons, the 2cnd Duke of Ormonde, commanded a regiment at the Battle of the Boyne under William of Orange, and took part in the Jacobite Rebellion of 1715. His son was the third and final Duke of Ormonde. The Earldom, however, lasted until the end of the 20th Century, becoming dormant in October 1997 with the death of James Butler the 7th Marquess of Ormonde, who had two daughters, but no sons. It may be that I’m a distant relative of theirs…and if so, then I'm also related to many perhaps even all of the most blue-blooded families not just in Europe but the entire world.
The Ascent of Miss Ann Watt
Joan’s sister, my grandmother was born Phyllis Mary Pinnock sometime towards the end of the 19th or beginning of the 20th century.
According to my father's account, her first true love David Wilson was a scion of the Wilson Line of Hull which had developed into the largest privately owned shipping firm in the world in the early part of the century. Sadly, he perished during the First World War like so many of England’s most gilded young men, the flower of England, immortalised in Wilfred Owen’s “Anthem for Doomed Youth”.
She subsequently married an officer in the British army, the aforesaid Peter Robinson, and they had two children, Peter Bevan who went on to become a successful musician, and Suzanne, known as Dinny. At some point between Peter’s birth and that of Patrick, Phyllis decamped with her husband to Ceylon, now Sri Lanka, with the purpose of working as a tea planter. In Ceylon, two other men were working as tea planters at the same time as her, namely, Carl Halling, a mysterious seeker and student of Eastern mysticism fluent in Sanscrit who was to become her second husband, and Christopher Evans, an engineer who went on to become her third.
At some point after becoming pregnant with her third child, she took off with Carl to Tasmania, where the child was born Patrick Clancy Halling, to be raised as Carl’s son, but largely in Sydney, New South Wales. It was in Sydney that Carl contracted multiple sclerosis, after which according to family accounts, Mary made a living variously as a journalist, and teacher.
Her three children were musically gifted, Patrick as a violinist, Peter as a cellist and Suzanne as a pianist, but of all of them Pat was the true prodigy. At just eight years old, he won a scholarship to the Sydney Conservatory of Music, soloing for the Sydney Symphony Orchestra a year later, but he reserved his real passion for the water, this love of the sea and ships and specifically sailing being a legacy from his mother Mary - as she went on to be known by Pat and his immediate family – who spent much of her adult life by the sea.
Soon after Carl’s death on the eve of the second world war, Mary and her family set off for Denmark, Carl having wished to be buried in his native country, and then to London where Pat studied both at the Royal Academy of Music and the Guildhall School of Music and Drama under the tutelage of the great Austrian violinist Max Rostal.
He joined the London Philharmonic 0rchestra while still a teenager during the Blitz on London during which he served in the Sea Cadets as a signaller, seeing action as such on the hospital ships of the Thames River Emergency Service, which, formed in 1938, lasted for three years, using converted Thames pleasure steamers as floating ambulances or first aid stations.
Following his time with the LP0, Pat played with the London Symphony Orchestra together with his brother Peter, going on to specialize in Chamber music, his career including eight years with the Hirsch quartet, led by Leonard Hirsch, and the formation of his own string quartet, the Quartet Pro Musica. He also played with the Virtuoso Ensemble, whose distinctions included first UK performances of works by Peter Racine Fricker and Humphrey Searle, among other British 20th Century composers.
In the late 1940s, Patrick Clancy Halling married my mother, the Canadian singer Ann Watt…born Angela Jean Watt to British-born parents in the city of Brandon, Manitoba. Her father a builder and electrician had been born into a Presbyterian family of probable Scottish extraction in Castlederg, County Tyrone, Ireland while her mother was from Glasgow; her own father a Mr Hazeldine possibly from Liverpool or Manchester, and her mother, a Scotswoman, which means that my mother is of mixed Lowland Scottish, Scots-Irish and English ancestry, not that there’s any real difference between these three ethnicities. My mother is an ethnic Briton.
My paternal grandfather was probably a descendant of the planters sent by the English to Ulster, many of them originally inhabitants of the Anglo-Scottish border country and the Lowland region of Scotland. According to some sources, Lowlanders are distinct from their Highland counterparts, being of Anglo-Saxon rather than Gaelic ancestry, although how true this is I’m not qualified to say. Whatever the truth, the sensible view is surely that their bloodline contains a variety of kindred strains including as well as Anglo-Saxon, Gaelic, Pictish, Norman and so on, depending on the exact region.
Thousands of these Ulster Scots emigrated to the United States in the 1600s, and their descendants are to be found all throughout the US, but most famously perhaps in the South, where the greatest proportion of those identifying as just American are believed to be the descendants of the original Colonials and therefore mainly of British (English and Scots-Irish) ancestry.
Angela Watt was the youngest of six children – with only five surviving - born to James and Elizabeth Watt and the only one not to be born in either Scotland or Ireland. While Angela was still an infant, the family moved to the Grandview area of East Vancouver where James found work as a carpenter. By this time, James had abandoned the extreme Presbyterian Calvinism of his Ulster boyhood and youth for the sake of the Wesleyan theology of the Salvation Army, and my mother was raised in the Army at a time when their approach to Scripture was what would be described as fundamental today, and one of its zealots was my paternal grandfather James Watt, who was opposed to worldly pleasures such as dancing and the theatre, and in his day, even the drinking of tea or coffee was frowned upon.
At the age of 14, Angela joined her friend Marie and Marie’s mother on a car trip just beyond the US-Canadian border into the state of Washington, where she saw her very first movie, a romantic civil war picture entitled “Only the Brave” starring Gary Cooper and Mary Brian. Its effect on her was little short of seismic, as by her own admission it introduced worldly ideas into her psyche for the very first time.
After leaving school, Angela trained as a secretary before working as such, until she was able to make her living exclusively as a soprano singer. Many of her greatest triumphs took place at the Theatre Under the Stars, one of Vancouver’s most famous musical theatres, which officially opened on August the 6th 1940. At the TUTS, Miss Ann Watt as she became known played the lead in such classic operettas – which were the musical comedies of their day – as Oscar Straus’ “The Chocolate Soldier” (1908 ), based on George Bernard Shaw’s “Arms and the Man”, “Naughty Marietta” (1910) by Victor Herbert, with libretto by Rida Johnson Young, and “The Student Prince” (1924 ) by Sigmund Romberg, with libretto by Dorothy Donnelly.
For the CBC with full orchestra, she broadcast many popular classics. With the accompaniment of Percy Harvey and the Golden Strings she sang Noel Coward’s “I’ll See You Again” from “Bittersweet” as well as two songs by Victor Herbert, “A Kiss in the Dark” from “Orange Blossoms”, and with “Sweetheart” with the baritone singer Greg Miller. She also sang another lovely song by Herbert, “’Neath the Southern Moon” from “Naughty Marietta”, “Strange Music” from “The Song of Norway” (1942), adapted by Wright and Forrest from Grieg’s “Wedding in Troldhaugen” and “Can’t Help Singing” by Kern and Yarburg from the 1944 movie of the same name. She also broadcast Classical songs such as “les Filles de Cadiz” by Delibes and “Depuis le Jour” from Gustave Charpentier’s “Louise”, and German liede sung in English – due to wartime restrictions on the German language - to the piano accompaniment of Phyllis Dylworth, among these Schubert’s “To be Sung on the Water”, and Richard Strauss’s exquisite “Night” (“Die Nacht”).
After the war, she hoped to expand her career either in the US or the UK, but despite a successful audition for the San Francisco Light Opera Company, she ultimately opted for England, once a ticket to sail had become available to her.
She set sail for Britain laden with letters of recommendation from her singing teacher Avis Phillips, as well as – presumably - numerous press cuttings from her brilliant Canadian career. She'd been led to believe that once in London, she'd effectively take the singing world by storm, at Drury Lane and elsewhere. Sadly though, soon after arriving, she failed an audition for the internationally famous Glyndebourne Opera House, home of the annual festival of the same name.
However, she did land a small role in the Ivor Novello musical, “King’s Rhapsody” which opened at the Palace Theatre on the 15th of September 1949, with its author one-time matinee idol Novello in the title role. It ran for 841 performances, surviving Novello who died in 1951. She also broadcast for the BBC, and among the songs she performed were Debussy’s “Des Fleurs”, and the popular Harry Ralton standard “I Remember the Cornfields” with lyrics by Martin Mayne, and appeared in an early television show called “Picture Post”. Sadly though, it wasn’t long after her arrival in London that she realized her voice was deteriorating - this being especially true of her top notes - possibly as a result of sleeping difficulties, although mention must be made of her former lifestyle in Vancouver, where in the city’s many night clubs she loved to dance, drink and smoke until the small hours.
She went from one singing teacher after the other in the hope that her once near-perfect voice might be restored to her but little came of her efforts, although one of her tutors, who just happened to be the great German soprano Elisabeth Schumann did offer some hope. Schumann suggested to my mother that once her time in England was over – she recorded her last liede 78s in London with the British pianist Gerald Moore - she accompany her back to New York City where she’d been resident since 1918.
My mother, however, turned the great Schumann down, feeling she’d already spent enough money on lessons, and besides she was seriously involved with a London-based musician my father Patrick Halling, whom she married in June 1949, and so uprooting would not have been easy, and they were far from rich. They spent the next seven years living the vie de bohème in a peaceful post-war London and on the continent, travelling by car or motorcycle, just happy being young and in love in that relatively innocent period between the end of the Second World War and the birth of the Youth-Rock culture, after which things would never be quite the same again…
Fri, Mar 5th - 5:57PM
THE RIDDLE OF THE BRITISH ENGLISH
The Riddle of the British English
In June 1949, my mother the former singer Miss Ann Watt became Mrs Ann Halling through her marriage to my father Patrick Clancy Halling, thereby substituting a Scottish surname for a Danish one.
In Ireland, the Watt surname is exclusive to Ulster, home province of my grandfather James Watt, having been carried there by the Scottish and English planters of the late 1600s. It's common in the Scottish Lowlands, especially in the counties of Aberdeenshire and Banffshire. Lowlanders are altogether distinct from their Highland counterparts, being widely considered to be of Anglo-Saxon rather than Celtic ancestry, although how accurate such a perception is I'm unable to say. What is certain is that many of those descended from the original British colonial settlers in the American south are of Ulster and Lowland Scottish ancestry.
As might be expected the Watt surname is affiliated with that of Watson, and both are what is known as septs of the Forbes and Buchanan Clans, a sept being a family that followed a certain chief or Clan leader, either through being related by marriage or resident on his land, thereby making up a larger clan or family. Kindred septs include those of MacQuat, MacQuattie, MacQuhat, MacQwat, MacRowatt, MacWalter, MacWater, MacWatson, MacWatt, MacWatters, MacWattie, Vatsoun, Vod, Vode, Void, Voud, Voude, Vould, Walter, Walterson, Wasson, Waters, Waterson, Watson, Watsone, Watsoun, Wattie, Wattson, Wod, Wode, Wodde, Woid, Woide, Wood, Woyd and Wyatt and Watt.
I came into the world a little over six years later as Carl Robert Halling, Carl being the name of my paternal grandfather, and Robert that of my mother's brother Bob, and very much as a Briton as opposed to an Englishman...which is to not to say that I don't consider myself English, because I do. But my origins are British as opposed to strictly English...which is to say Scots-Irish, Scottish and English Canadian through my mother, and Danish Australian and English Australian through my dad, with a possible Cornish admixture coming through my paternal grandmother. Her maiden name had been Pinnock, a common one in England's poorest county, and therefore of possible Brythonic Celtic origin.
Like the Welsh and Manx of Britain, and the Bretons of France, the Cornish are of the Brythonic family of Celtic peoples, while the Scottish and the Irish are of the Gaelic. It could be therefore that I partake of both Gaelic and Brythonic Celtic ancestry.
Whatever the truth, I'm proud of my roots in Ulster and Glasgow, both of which possess - I think it's fair to say - long-established working class traditions. The same applies to Wales and the north and midlands of England, while the south and especially the south east of England are widely seen as affluent, middle class regions, although needless to say, variations exist within all regions of the country. For example, the aforesaid Cornwall in the south west is, as I've already stated, England's poorest county, and the great metropolis of London, which is Europe's financial centre and still one of the most powerful cities in the world, contains no less than fourteen of the nation's most deprived twenty boroughs.
What's more, while Glasgow is home to a massive working class with clearly defined Catholic and Protestant communities, Scotland's capital Edinburgh, known as the Athens of the North, has a reputation for great gentility. Yet, in common with other affluent cities throughout a nation of striking extremes of wealth and poverty, Oxford, Cambridge, Bristol and so on, Edinburgh contains areas of considerable deprivation...Wester Hailes, Broomhouse, Clermiston, Muirhouse, Pilton, Granton, Leith, Niddrie and Craigmillar being especially affected in this respect.
I'm also proud of a more bourgeois English ancestry which comes through my father, who although born in the Tasmanian hinterland in Rowella and raised by a Danish father, is English through his mother Mary, a brilliant woman who once ran her own school in Sydney and wrote for the Sydney Telegraph. Her own father was apparently what is known as a gentleman, which means he was independently wealthy, and therefore arguably part of the lower gentry. Yet, by leaving her first husband - an army officer by the name of Peter Robinson - for a Dane with no steady profession from what I can gather, she effectively cut herself off from her class and country, act which ultimately forced her out to work to support her young family, and with Carl desperately sick with the Multiple Sclerosis that would ultimately kill him.
Yet, while I'm proud to be British, England is the country of my birth and the one I identify with in spirit despite the fact that I'm more British than English as such...indeed if anyone incarnates the riddle of what it is to be British, a citizen of a nation consisting of four nations and yet existing as one, it's me. For all that though, in the words of the famous hymn...there's another country, in which all distinctions of ethnicity and class will be a thing of the past, and whose citizens will be of one race alone, the human race, the only one created by God.
The Playing Fields of Pangbourne
My first school was a kind of nursery school held on a daily basis at the home of one Miss Pierce in Bedford Park, in the Southfields ward of South Acton, then as now one of the poorest areas of West London with its vast South Acton Estate, although Bedford Park was demographically mixed and relatively affluent. It's now one of the capital's most exclusive suburbs.
My brother was born in Bethnal Green, East London on the 2cnd May 1958, and as he's the only member of my immediate family who's never been professionally involved with the arts or entertainment, I shan't be mentioning him by name in order to maintain his privacy.
Aged 4 years old, I joined the exclusive Lycée Francais Charles de Gaulle, situated in the fabulously opulent West London area of South Kensington, where I was to become bilingual by the age of four or thereabouts. My father was far from wealthy, but he was determined that my brother and I enjoy the best and richest education imaginable, and we were dressed in lederhosen as small boys with our heads shorn like convicts so that we be distinguished from the common run of British boys, with their short back and sides, and to this end, he worked, toiled incessantly in the tough London session world to ensure that we did. He himself favoured radically bohemian items of clothing such as faded canvas trousers covered in multi-coloured patches, and could therefore cut a striking figure among certain other Lycée dads. Almost every race and nationality under the sun was to be found in the Lycée in those days... and among those who went on to be good pals of mine were kids of English, French, Jewish, American, Yugoslavian and Middle Eastern origin.
I left the Lycée in what must have been the summer of 1968 - or perhaps earlier - before spending a few months at a crammer called Davies Preparatory School so as to become sufficiently up to scratch academically to pass what is known as the Common Entrance Examination.
Taking the CE is a necessity for all British boys and girls seeking entrance into private fee-paying schools, including those known as public schools, which are the traditional secondary places of learning for the British governing and professional classes...the ruling elite in other words. The vast majority of those who go on to public schools begin their academic careers in preparatory or prep schools, and so for the most part leave home at around eight years old.
The school my father hoped I'd manage to get into was the Nautical College, Pangbourne, although I think his first choice had been either HMS Conway or Worcester, also known as the Incorporated Thames Nautical Training College. However, naval colleges and training schools were fading fast in the late 1960s, Conway being on its last legs as a so-called stone frigate on the south coast of Anglesey, and Worcester having recently been incorporated into the Merchant Navy College at Greenhithe, Kent.
Somehow though, I managed to pass the CE, and so at still only twelve years old became Cadet Carl Robert Halling 173, who was for a few months the youngest in the college, and an official serving officer in Britain's Royal Naval Reserve. Pangbourne's regime was tough in '68, even by the standards of British public schools which had historically trained boys for service on behalf of the Empire, and its headmaster - a serving officer in the Royal Navy for what I think was a quarter of a century – was known as the Captain Superintendent.
I was what was known as a stroppy moosh, stroppy meaning insolent, and moosh a neophyte or new boy, as distinct from a doggie, which was the Pangbournian equivalent of the traditional public school fag, or personal servant in the so-called fagging system. In my first term, I was deemed as so transcendentally incompetent that none of the seniors, or older boys would even consider me as their doggie...and yet when it came to my stroppiness, this came ultimately to work in my favour, when I became a virtual mascot of some of the hardest and coolest boys in college.
I idolised these lads and happily clowned for them like some kind of court minion, and they protected me in return, instilling me with a sense of invincibility which can't have had any kind of positive effect on the development of my character, which wasn't too strong to begin with. I'd go so far as to say that I wasn't born with natural backbone as perhaps some are, but that doesn't mean to say that those who lack moral fibre can't go on to develop it, nor that those who don't are not capable of losing it, because they certainly are. Am I wrong to suggest that thanks to the New Covenant established by Christ, natural born sons and daughters of Cain can go on to become the noblest of men and women, while natural born scions of Abel can degenerate into the most unspeakable monsters? Perhaps so...but one thing I am right about...I've struggled to develop character in a way my parents never did, and I'm still struggling. If anyone ever needed Christ it's me.
By my second year, all the social standing I'd worked so hard to acquire had evaporated, as I was required to remain behind in the third form, while all my friends went on to the fourth, a reversal which exerted a devastating effect on my morale. Insecure and disaffected, I started throwing my weight around among my new classmates, until two of them came down so hard on me that I was cured of trying to act the lout with them at least. We eventually became very close friends, but I don't think they ever fully forgave me for trying it on with them, not that they ever let on about it. Actually, I jest…of course they did.
From the outset, I desperately wanted to distinguish myself at Pangbourne...and especially at sports, beginning with the great ruffianly game for gentlemen of Rugby Football...and oh with what longing I gazed at the sight of rugger colours on the blue blazers or striped Paravicinis of those who'd earned them on the playing fields of Pangbourne. At Pangbourne, colours were - and presumably still are - awarded during one or other of the main sporting seasons of rugger, hockey, cricket and rowing and for such subsidiary sports as swimming, boxing, sailing, fencing and so on, to one showing distinction within a particular team or rowing eight or whatever, and are a long-standing tradition within British private schools and universities. Sad to say, none ever came my way.
The fact is that, raised as I was in the western suburbs of London in the sixties with its alleys, greens, parks, sweet shops and narrow streets lined by terraced or semi-detached houses, I was wholly ignorant of the secrets of the hallowed sports of Britain's gilded elite...so ignorant in fact that by my third term, I'd got it in my head that I wanted to be a rowing coxswain, due to some crazy dream of mine of one day ending up in the 1st VIII. As things turned out, I ended up in the conspicuous yet humiliating position of coxing only lesser crews...except for on those rare occasions when a better man was unavailable. We were pretty thin on the ground we coxes.
The Genesis of the Beat Generation
It would be false to assert that Pangbourne was exclusively composed of the sons of the British privileged, because it wasn't...and neither was it a narrowly Anglo-Saxon institution, because during my time I knew American, West Indian, Middle Eastern and South African cadets as well as British ones, and several of these were close friends. What's more, it was supplemented in the autumn of '68 by cadets from the recently dismantled TS Mercury, founded in 1885 by a wealthy businessman and keen yachtsman Charles Hoare for the rescue of London slum boys who would then be trained for service in the Royal and Merchant Navies. Until as recently as the previous July, she'd been moored on the River Hamble near Southampton. Its regime made that of Pangbourne resemble a holiday camp in comparison. For example, there'd been no heating onboard even in winter, and the boys were forced to sleep in hammocks. Nonetheless, I was friendly with several of them, and most were not too tough, although the truth is that a degree of resilience was necessary in those days at Pangbourne, even after '69, when despite being renamed Pangbourne College, she changed little.
As much as I struggled in the arena of sporting activities, my true failure came in the classroom where I had little if any interest in what the master was trying to teach me in any given subject except French, English and Physical Education. Terminally bored, I was constantly in trouble for one misdemeanour or another, and my grades were rarely anything other than appalling during the entire four year period I was at Pangbourne. In fact in pretty well every subject except French, I tended to be bottom of the form, term after term, year after year, and if not bottom then very near it.
It’s my contention that I was a slow developer suffering from mild learning difficulties, and certainly there were those teachers at Pangbourne who found my behaviour medically worrying with good reason. On one occasion, I went for an eye test in the village, only to return to college without having taken it, before announcing that I’d forgotten why I’d gone into town in the first place. As for my hygiene, it was so minimal that at one point the bottoms of my feet were literally as black as soot, as if someone had painted them.
But it would be false to say I was an unqualified rebel. In fact, I never stopped longing to be recognised as being good at something, anything...even going so far at one point as to become a member the college boxing team. As such I suffered punch-drunkenness at Eton at the hands - or should I say fists - of an elegant young adonis with a classic Eton flop who later commented on an especially cruel blow he'd inflicted on me with a certain degree of remorse, which was decent of him. But how deceptively graceful he was, this flower of Eton...king of all public schools.
However, in around 1969, some time after having seen a TV programme about young revolutionaries who idolised Che Guevara, I became a Che acolyte myself, and one of the few genuine accolades I ever received while at college came in consequence of a short story I wrote about a young man who becomes involved with Che in his revolutionary activities in South America. Even the headmaster commended me for my work.
Following on from my infatuation with Che, I came to fancy myself as a full-blown Communist, covering various items with the hammer and sickle, including at various times, a school notebook, and my own hand, which provoked an older far larger boy into accusing me of being a bloody Red bastard - or something similar - before playfully setting about me in a spirit of mock-outrage...but he wasn't going to deter me from my chosen path: I'd fallen hard for the hard Left and that was that.
My time at Pangbourne coincided with the counterculture being at its point of maximum intensity, which is to say between the infamous year of rioting and street fighting of 1968, and that, four years later, when the sixties really and truly came to a final close and which was defined in Britain at least by the artifice and decadence of Glam.
One afternoon around the turbulent turn of the decade, I found myself longing to join the Hippie throngs I saw flocking to the Reading Rock Festival one afternoon from the window of a college coach in all their ragged multicoloured glory. Rebellion was everywhere in a desperately imperilled West, and Pangbourne was not exempt, in fact, many of us dreamed of a world of Bohemian freedom lying only just beyond the confines of our college, and intensely close friendships were forged smoking cigarettes in secret wooded places where the Cadet Officers couldn't find us. We were united by a love of Rock music and the floating hair and defiantly androgynous clothes of our heroes...Hendrix, Morrison, Jagger, Page and so on.
Needless to say, the Counterculture of the 1960s and early '70s didn't just spring out of nowhere, being merely the latest in a long line of Bohemias reaching at least as far back as Romanticism, which many consider to be the wellspring of Modern Bohemianism.
Its most immediate predecessors though included the Existentialists and Lettrists of '40s and '50s Paris, and most especially the Beats of America, who'd exploded into the mainstream around 1955, but whose origins lie in New York City at the height of World War II. Few today are aware of the existence of Isidore Isou's scandalous Lettrists, but the Beats continue to enjoy an exceptionally high profile. This may be as a result of Paris ceding her time-honoured role as the world epicentre of the avant garde to New York City in the late 1940s, which was the age of the proto-Beat, aka the Hipster.
It had been earlier in the decade - around 1943 in fact - that a disparate group of would-be poets and authors of Bohemian inclination had coalesced around an angelically handsome and intellectually brilliant young Columbia University undergraduate from a socially prominent St Louis family by the name of Lucien Carr. The first to gravitate towards Carr was a fellow Columbia student from a middle class socialist family from nearby New Jersey by the name of Allen Ginsberg.
Through Carr, the bookish-looking Ginsberg was introduced to Arthur Rimbaud, the quintessential post-Romantic bad boy poet whose terrible yet beautiful visionary verse and frenzied rebellious rage has exerted an influence on the development of the adversary culture of the post-Romantic West that is second to none or close to it. Rimbaud went on to significantly inform the evolution of Ginsberg's own poetic vision.
Also through Carr - and perhaps even more importantly in terms of his artistic career - he met the boyfriend of another of Carr's Columbia friends, future Beat biographer Edie Parker. This was Jack Kerouac, a recent Columbia drop-out with movie star good looks from a working class French Canadian family from Lowell, Masachusetts. After having gained a Football scholarship to Columbia, things had gone wrong for the gifted athlete, when he cracked his tibia, and then repeatedly clashed with coach Lou Little, the upshot being that he quit his Football career in his sophomore year, and ended up drifting in New York City, where he met the two men with whom he went on to form the nucleus of the Beat Generation - both through Carr - namely the aforesaid Ginsberg, and a friend of Carr's from St Louis, the patrician William S Burroughs.
In 1957, Kerouac emerged as the movement's undisputed leader with the publication of his second novel "On the Road", a fictionalised account of the cross-country wanderings he undertook between 1947 and 1950. The character who, early on, emerges as the work's epic hero is Dean Moriarty, based on Kerouac's closest friend, Neil Cassady.
Cassady, who bore a striking resemblance to the film icon Paul Newman, was the working class son of an alcoholic whose early life had included the loss of his mother, a childhood on skid row, a spell in reform school, and eleven months imprisonment for theft. Little wonder, therefore, that he served as muse to Kerouac who - from such a stable loving background himself - was the genius behind Beat's defining work, while Cassady provided the inspiration as the Beat par excellence.
Oddly perhaps, Carr himself never went on to write anything of note, preferring to father a family and pursue a long career with the venerable news agency United Press International. It fell to his son Caleb, author of The Alienist, The Angel of Darkness, Casing the Promised Land, Killing Time and the Italian Secretary among other works to be the novelist of the family…but his place in literary history is secure. As Allen Ginsberg once put it, "Lou was the glue”, which is to say of what was probably the most significant and influential avant garde movement of the 20th Century.
Pastorale (for Pangbourne College)
1964 was the year that Beat started to shift imperceptibly into the Hippie movement. It was in '64 in fact, that Colorado farmer's son and former Stanford University student Ken Kesey - author of the best-selling "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest" (1962) - set off on his legendary cross-country trip from California to New York on a psychedelic school bus he named Furthur, with one Neil Cassady doing most of the driving. He did so in the company of a band of counterculture pioneers, writers, artists, students &c., known as the Merrie Pranksters.
Once in the Big Apple, they met up with the New York Beats including Jack Kerouac who, deeply patriotic and a devout Catholic at heart, was allegedly repelled by the Pranksters' outlandish dress and appearance, and took no part in the coming psychedelic revolution, unlike Allen Ginsberg, who embraced it wholeheartedly.
The first of the infamous Acid Tests occurred a short time later in 1965, and during these LSD-fuelled events, there'd be slide and/or light shows and experiments with cutting edge sound technology, and bands such as the Warlocks - later the Grateful Dead - or Kesey's own Psychedelic Symphonette would regale the crowds with proto-psychedelic Rock, and so on...all of which served to usher in the Hippie era.
However, it wouldn't be until '67 that the Hippie phenomenon entered the mainstream to became an international obsession...and it was in that very totemic year I think that I harried my mother into making me a psychedelic paisley shirt which I went on to wear with a peaked Dylan cap and possibly also purple corduroy jeans.
By the end of the decade though, the relative innocence of my infatuation with the Hippie dandies I witnessed each Thursday night on Top of the Pops and other frothy Pop programmes had mutated into a passion for actual social revolution, whose apologists I read about and revered. Today what I revere are the very old-fashioned phenomena the revolutionists of the sixties set themselves against.
Yet, even at Pangbourne, there was a part that never stopped wanting to be accepted by the system...never stopped hoping that one day, favour would look kindly on Cadet CR Halling 173, and he'd be promoted to Cadet Officer, and given a star to wear on the right sleeve of his navy blue pullover, but it just wasn’t to be. In fact, I ran away once…just the once, in order to avoid being punished for something stupid I did. It was a completely irrational thing to do as it was the last day of term, but I just panicked and bolted, and on kept running...until I ended up trekking through a muddy field in the heart of the Berkshire countryside before just giving up and sitting by the side of the road...
After a time though, the college chaplain, who just happened to be driving by, offered me a lift back to college...but by the time we arrived, my poor mother, who'd been in a frantic state all afternoon after having driven to Pangbourne to take me back home for the holidays only to find I'd vanished, had already left for home. This would have been in '71, or perhaps '72, I can't recall.
Certain pieces of - specifically pastoral, and quintessentially English - music have the power to evoke this strange and sudden rush of blood to the head for me. Not so much Vaughan Williams' "A Lark Ascending", which bespeaks a passion for the Arcadian soul of England that verges on the ecstatic, nor any kindred work by Delius, Ireland, Finzi, Grainger, as much as I love these composers.
For some reason though, pieces within the Rock realm have more power to transport me back to the day of my mysterious and sudden flight into the heart of the English countryside than any within the Classical. I'm thinking especially of Moving by Supergrass, which wails out the anguish of an aimless wanderer in a way that so reminds me of my own attack of blind panic of nearly 40 years ago...which saw me moving, keep on moving till I didn't know what was sane. The same applies to certain songs by another supremely English band of provincial middle class English origin, Coldplay, which suggest a deep mournfulness beneath the picture perfect image of English privilege.
Any argument in favour of a tragic element within the gilded world of English privilege would be powerfully reinforced by playing the music of the much-loved singer-songwriter Nick Drake. Many of his impeccably crafted songs - contained within the mere three albums he recorded between 1969 and '72, together with out-takes and four final songs - convey the same kind of chronic tortured restlessness evinced by Supergrass' Moving...songs such as River Man from the first album, Five Leaves Left, and Things Behind the Sun and Parasite from the third, Pink Moon.
He was born in 1949 into an upper middle family based in Rangoon, Burma, where his father had been working as an engineer for the Bombay Burmah Trading Corporation since the early '30s, and after an idyllic upbringing in the English countryside, was educated at Malborough and Fitzwilliam College, Cambridge. As if the foregoing weren't sufficient to ensure his happiness, he was not so much handsome as beautiful in a classically English, one might say, Byronic way, and blessed with charm, intelligence, and a precocious musical genius which ensured him a recording contract with the prestigious Island label when he was just 20 years old and still at Cambridge.
He subsequently dropped out, and set out to make his mark as a Rock musician. Sadly though, he was unable to translate his enormous gifts into commercial success, and became very seriously depressed in consequence of this and other issues, including possibly his own deeply shy and inhibited personality.
I can't help thinking that in any era other than that ushered in by the Rock and Roll revolution, Nick Drake would have pursued a career more suited to his background than that which ensured his immortality, but broke his fragile English heart, and thence a perfectly conventional existence. However, he came to maturity in a Britain whose young were in active rebellion against the traditional Judaeo-Christian values on which the nation had long been founded, although he himself doesn't appear to have been especially rebellious, despite the long hair and passion for Rock music that was more or less ubiquitous among young men of his generation.
That said, he was unavoidably affected by the spiritual chaos of the age, which propelled him - as it did many of his contemporaries - towards the endless night of worldly philosophy, deadly for a mind as touch-paper sensitive as his in my opinion, and which must surely have played its part in the mental deterioration which resulted in his spending his final few months of life as a recluse at his parents' home in Tamworth-in-Arden, Staffordshire, where, wrongly convinced he'd failed at everything, he died aged only 26 in 1974.
Since his death, his small but perfect life's work has inspired some of the most successful Rock artists of all time on both sides of the Atlantic, including - in addition to the aforesaid Coldplay - Paul Weller, Elvis Costello, Michael Stipe of REM, Elliot Smith, Badly Drawn Boy and Norah Jones.
Listening to him, I become aware of a colossal compassion within myself for the privileged classes of Britain, a somewhat unusual receptacle for the milk of human kindness some might say...but they are no less in need of salvation than any other social group. They are after all one with whom a somewhat distant connection exists in my own case through my paternal grandmother, whose flight from a gilded cage of upper middle class convention resulted in my branch of the family being cast out into a kind of social exile. At least, that's how I see it.
By sending my brother and I to Pangbourne, my father was perhaps attempting to reverse this exile for our sakes, yet I remain desperately declassé, although not through personal choice...it's just turned out that way...and it's tough at times. That said, I feel an enormous spiritual kinship with the everyday people of my adopted home town on the Surrey-London border, as much as I feel for the privileged...because social advantage can clearly be a cruel and heavy burden to bear for some, like poor Nick Drake who once sang so hauntingly of falling so far on a silver spoon.… But let us not go too far…the vast majority of those who’ve passed through the public school system since its inception before going on to university and a successful professional career have been perfectly normal and far from melancholy. As for myself, if I possess a single quality that might termed noble, such as patience, or self-mastery or consideration of the needs of other people, then I am significantly indebted for such a blessing to my education. Within this sphere, I would place parental discipline, and the four years I spent at Pangbourne…whose authorities extended me a fair and decent report after my departure, commenting on my resilience, and the fact that I was universally well-liked. They also gave me a good send-off in the college magazine, mentioning my time in the Boxing and Swimming teams, and my tenure as 2cnd Drum in the college band. God bless you for that, Pangbourne, beloved old friend and sparring partner…and long may you thrive in your sanctuary deep in the Arcadian heart of the English countryside…
Fri, Mar 5th - 2:12PM
THE LEVIATHAN OF GLAM
The Leviathan of Glam
In the summer of 1972, I finally quit Pangbourne in consequence of a decision made between my father and those in authority over me at college to the effect that it was pointless my staying on for the final two years, presumably because "A" or Advanced level GCE - or General Certificate of Education - exams would be far beyond me. After all, I'd only succeeded in passing two GCE "O" Levels (in French and English Literature)...five being the minimum acceptable amount for entrance into university, together with two or more well-graded "A" Levels, depending on the university. GCE "O" levels were phased out in 1988, in favour of GCSEs.
I was subsequently involved in the intensive program of academic, artistic, sporting and semi- professional activities outlined in my previous autobiographical work, "Rescue of a Rock and Roll Child", and continued to be so until about 1977.
When I left that summer, I'd not changed for years and was still a hippie at heart despite the military-style haircut I so detested and resented, and resolutely masculine in my tastes, despising softness and effeminacy in the standard male adolescent manner, but a change came over me in the summer of '72, which may have been caused to some degree by the prevailing zeitgeist in the UK at least, but which I can nonetheless trace back to a single defining incident.
This took place in a bar in the little former fishing town of Santiago de la Ribera in the province of Murcia, Spain, close by the Mar Menor, where I'd been vacationing with my parents and brother since the late 1960s, and which I'd like now to recount.
There was a young man of the pueblo I'd idolised for several years. He incarnated a kind of old-school Iberian macho cool, and was fair as I recall, rather than swarthy as might be expected, and quite stocky, with muscular arms...and if he'd worn a medallion and identity bracelet, he'd have been typical of his kind. That's how I recall him...
What I'm certain of though is that by the summer of '72, he'd let his hair grow collar length as was the fashion of the day - even though it was still quite rare among Spanish men - and taken to sporting colourful large-collared shirts which he elected not to tuck into his trousers. The style of these shirts meant that his long hair would occasionally get caught between neck and collar which necessitated his flicking it out with an elegant sweep of his hand and coquettishly tossing his head. This he did one evening in full view of Castilla's clientele.
While these gestures seemed perfectly in keeping with his swaggering machismo as I saw it, there was another of Castilla's patrons that evening who was far less convinced than I, and he duly muttered his misgivings in my ear. Rather than putting me off, these whispered words of censure had the effect of making him even more fascinating than ever; and it may be that as a result of this episode, I came to covet the notoriety that had suddenly been afforded him. Furthermore, this incident may have marked the beginning of the end of my identification with undiluted masculinity...whether of the type of the macho movie star such as Steve McQueen, or that of any number of hirsute Hard Rock shouters, and the onset of a fascination with a far more androgynous brand of male sexuality.
This was compounded by a performance I witnessed on TV towards the end of the year on an afternoon Pop show called Lift off with Ayesha (hosted by presenter Ayesha Brough) of former Bubblegum band the Sweet, performing their startling new single, "Blockbuster". The Sweet had once incarnated everything I loathed about commercial Pop music, but watching them prance around in high heels and make up, pouting and preening like a quartet of amphetamine-crazed transvestites, I had what was little short of an epiphany. What the effect this spectacle had on my nascent sexual identity I can only imagine.
However, the influence of the Sweet, devastating as it was, was destined - by 1973, the highpoint of Glam - to become minimal in comparison to that of David Bowie, whose sphinx-like charisma was so potent that even the most unreconstructed of provincial British macho men were drawn, irresistibly, to an art which combined the most infectious Pop melodies with complex, deeply literate lyrics, and yet one purveyed by a man who would once have moved those same men to violence. Indeed, Bowie still antagonised as many as he mesmerised in his Glam Rock heyday of 1972-'73.
My whole persona seemed to soften once I'd turned 17 in October 1972, as maturity brought me a physiognomy I'd not expected, and yet, while I was more than pleased with this development, my interest in the opposite sex was as strong as any other male in late adolescence, although I was inclined to sentimental reverie rather than macho forwardness. If an attractive female happened to speak to me in a public place, I'd be all but incapable of sound...while in serious danger of falling in love on the spot.
A propos of which, on the way back from Spain via Bilbao on the ship HMS Patricia in the summer of '72, I fell in love by sight with a fellow passenger, a young Spanish girl I saw several times about the ship but never actually spoke to, and subsequently became obsessed by her, even to the point of roaming the streets of London for several days in succession in the vain hope of somehow bumping into her.
Several songs served as the soundtrack to this irrational spell of romantic madness, including Betcha by Golly Wow by the Stylistics, and Last Night I Didn't Get To Sleep At All by the 5th Dimension, written - respectively - by Philly Soul stalwarts Thom Bell and Linda Creed and master British songwriter Tony Macauley. The former initiated a love affair on my part with the aforesaid sweet Soul variant which - originating in the City of Brotherly Love - was popular from around 1969 to 1975, and it remains my favourite ever example of the genre...apart, that is, from the exorbitantly romantic La La la Means I love You by the Delphonics, also written by Thom Bell, but with first partner William Hart rather than the better known Linda Creed.
Mine was an isolated existence throughout the following year of '73. When I wasn't pursuing the academic and sporting programme that had been specially prepared for me by my father, I sequestered myself in my parents' house, where I fantasised about the kind of fame enjoyed on one hand by Glam icons such as the Sweet and David Bowie, and on the other, by a new breed of teen idol that included Donny Osmond and David Cassidy, whose angelic faces graced the covers of teen magazines all over the world, and like them I wanted to be endlessly pursued by hordes of lovelorn teenyboppers. I was supposed to be studying, and study I certainly did, but I also spent untold hours in idle contemplation of the glamour of the superstar lifestyle...a life I wanted for myself as soon as possible, and despite a serious dearth of discernible talent.
Late in that same summer, I signed up for five years service with the London Division of the Royal Naval Reserve, based at HMS President on the Embankment of the Thames. Within a short time of doing so, I discovered that I was seen by several of the older seamen as some kind of shipboard mascot/pretty boy and at first I was flattered rather than insulted to be seen in this way, because it was all new to me, given that my reputation at Pangbourne was that of an unkempt scran bag. To a degree then, it was a case of an ugly duckling suddenly finding themselves to be a swan, and enjoying the resultant attention...or rather the notoriety, such as that conferred on the young Spaniard of the Bar Castilla in the summer of '72 by the wry mutterings of a disapproving patron.
'73 was the year in which Glam became a national craze throughout Britain and other Western countries, although it had been carried into the Pop mainstream several years earlier by the aforesaid Marc Bolan, who'd been featured in 1962 in a magazine called Town, as one of the Faces, or leading Mods of his area of East London, Stamford Hill, although by then he'd moved with his family to a council house in Summerstown near Wimbledon.
He went on to become a darling of the Hippie Underground as one half of the acoustic duo, Tyrannosaurus Rex, the other being multi-instrumentalist Steve Peregrin Took, whose tastes inclined more towards the avant garde than Bolan, and who was eventually replaced by Mickey Finn. In 1970, Bolan shortened the name of the band to T.Rex and soon after enjoying his first major hit single in the autumn of that year, became the biggest British teen sensation since the heyday of Beatlemania...as lovingly portrayed by Elton John in "Teenage Idol", his 1972 tribute - with lyrics by Bernie Taupin - to his one-time Glam Rock comrade-in-arms.
In truth though, Glam was not as new as many might have believed it to be...extreme androgyny having been pioneered in Pop music all throughout the '60s by such figures as Brian Jones of the Stones and Pink Floyd’s lost genius Roger “Syd” Barrett, although it could be said that its true founding father had been Rhythm and Blues shouter Richard Penniman, better known as Little Richard. After all when it comes to Rock and Roll, everything can be traced back to the early days and beyond that to the Blues themselves.
As a boy, Richard attended the New Hope Baptist Church in his native Macon, Georgia, and sang Gospel songs with his family as The Penniman Singers, his favourite singers being Gospel legends Mahalia Jackson and Sister Rosetta Tharpe. He joined Sister Rosetta onstage in Macon at the age of 13, in 1945 after she heard him singing before the concert. What's more, he had serious ambitions of becoming a preacher.
By 1951, however, the world had begun to beckon, and he won a talent contest in Atlanta that led to a recording contract with RCA Victor, but the four records he subsequently released all flopped. Around about the same time, he came under the sway of an outrageous Rhythm and Blues musician by the name of Esquerita, who shaped his unique piano style. Esquerita is also believed to have influenced his increasingly flamboyant image, although self-styled King of the Blues Billy Wright, who piled his pomaded hair high on his head - as did Esquerita - and wore eye liner and face powder, was also an influence in this respect. Real success came for Richard in 1955 with Tutti Frutti, which has been cited as the true starting point for the Rock and Roll revolution; but within two years, he'd quit the business and returned to his faith.
Whether Richard is saved or not no one knows except God, but one thing that is certain is that few Rock stars have been as vocal in their condemnation of Rock and Roll as he has been. He has been quoted as saying that Rock and Roll is driving people from Christ, and that he himself was directed and commanded by another power. The power of darkness. This presumably at the height of his influence as a Rock and Roll star. And if anybody knows whereof they speak when it comes to this massively influential musical and social movement, it's the good Reverend Penniman. I think he's a man worth listening to myself.
The Punk Rock Insurrection
By the end of '73, the first wave of Glam Rock had all but dispersed, although it was to experience repeated periodic revivals, notably in the '80s through the New Romantic movement in the UK, and the Glam Metal scene in the US. It still exists to some degree...yet with its power to shock effectively reduced to nothing, such is the extent to which the West has become inured to outrage.
Within three years, it had been supplanted by a movement which - if it were at all possible - was even more outrageous…I'm referring of course to Punk.
By the time I left the RNR in '77 as an Able Seaman - and armed with a character report that was only a little shy of glowing - Punk was in full swing, and within a few months, I was a fellow traveller myself, my hair dyed and spiked, and favouring black drainpipes, usually worn with black leather winkle picker boots and other provocative items of clothing.
Punk's origins lay in the US among the so-called Garage bands of the 1960s, who attempted to emulate the rougher acts of the British Invasion, such as the Stones, the Kinks, the Who, the Troggs, the Pretty Things, who were themselves heavily indebted to American Rhythm and Blues. But it was the distinct New York variant that exerted the greatest influence on the British Punk uprising...easily the most momentous of them all...and largely through the influence of a brilliant young London entrepreneur by the name of Malcolm McLaren.
McLaren, whose Jewish mother had owned a shmatte (clothing) factory in London's East End was a former art student turned boutique owner, who by early 1972 was selling '50s style clothing - among other items - designed by his then partner Vivienne Westwood through an outlet at 430 Kings Road, Chelsea, which he'd named Let it Rock. It exists to this day as part of Dame Vivienne's global fashion empire as World's End, which it was renamed in late 1980.
In the late 1960s, he'd been drawn to the subversive ideas of the Paris Situationists, believed to have played a part in fometing the '68 riots, themselves offshoots of the previously mentioned post-war Lettrists, who were very much precursors of the British Punk variant. He brought them to bear as he set about developing the Punk look in mid '70s London.
In 1975 he became the manager of the disintegrating Glam band the New York Dolls, designing red leather outfits for them in tandem with a new pseudo-Communist image, which proved a disastrous move and they split up soon afterwards. Yet, while in NYC, he came across a fledgling Punk outfit by the name of the Neon Boys, featuring two young former Sandford Preparatory students by the name of Tom Verlaine - named after the French Symbolist poet Paul - and Richard Hell... born Thomas Miller and Richard Meyers in Morristown, NJ. and Lexington, Ky. respectively.
He was especially impressed by Hell's unique image of spiky hair - allegedly inspired by the famous tousle-haired photograph of Rimbaud by Etienne Carjat - and torn tee-shirt held together with safety pins. He attempted to persuade Hell to return with him to London, but the poet and musician demurred, so McLaren returned alone in mid 1975.
Some time afterwards, he renamed his Kings Road boutique Sex and set himself up as the manager of a group known as the Strand (after a song by Bryan Ferry of Roxy Music). The Strand had originally been formed by three working class denizens of the Hammersmith - Shepherds Bush - Acton area of West London, allegedly at the urging of guitarist Warwick "Wally" Nightingale.
Mclaren agreed to be their manager only on the condition that founder member Wally - deemed "too nice" by the entrepreneur - be ejected from the band, and so he was. Then, when a charismatic young London Irishman by the name of Johnny Rotten - born John Lydon in Finsbury Park, N4 - came onboard as lead singer, and the band was renamed the Sex Pistols, they were set to spearhead the most infamous and influential Punk insurrection of them all.
I was more than happy to be caught up in it all...although when I auditioned for the Guildhall School of Music and Drama in late '77, none of my overseers would have suspected anything of the sort. These included the handsome patrician head of a British acting dynasty that thrives to this day who informed a third party - I can't recall who - something to the effect that while my stagecraft was crude and chaotic it was also mesmerising, and he believed something could be done with me at the school, and told me so. As it turned out he was wrong, but his initial faith resulted in my being offered a place on the three-year Drama course beginning in the autumn of 1978.
The Clattering of the Compact
Once I started at Guildhall, I made it pretty clear than the nice clean-cut Carl who'd auditioned the previous year had been a curve ball, as I was making no further attempts to conceal my Punk image. This was compounded by a bizarre hyperactivity that occasionally degenerated into outrageous and even disruptive behaviour. It was as if I was determined to convince the world that I was an Artist with a capital A and therefore entitled to incessantly attract attention to myself with aberrant behaviour and clothing. With regard to the latter, among the items I favoured in '78-'79 were slim jim ties, drainpipe jeans, florescent Fifties-style socks, and white leather brothel creepers, but my favourite of all was a pair of tight plastic snakeskin trousers, which I can only actually remember wearing once.
As if my manic behaviour and bizarre clothing weren't enough to cause eyebrows to raise among the Guildhall authorities, I insisted on wearing make-up even in classes, although to be fair it was subtly applied, except for on certain occasions such as parties when I really piled on the slap, foundation, eye shadow, blusher, lip rouge, the works. Talk about lipstick, powder and paint..
On one memorable occasion, in the course of a mime class supervised by a quirky bearded professional mime artist who'd been a regular on children's TV for a time, and who worked as an occasional teacher at the Guildhall, the rouge compact I usually carried in those days for sporadic touch-ups fell out of the inner pocket of my jacket when I bent over during an exercise before hitting the floor with an embarrassing clatter. All eyes went to the offending compact, and there was a mortifying silence...which our mentor mercifully broke by retrieving the blusher from the floor, and – while urging us to make use of everything that comes to hand - started furiously daubing peoples’ startled faces with glittery blusher, thereby sparing my blushes.
He was a champion of mine among the members of staff at this time, and they'd become thin on the ground quite early on in the course…by the time in fact that I was summoned to the principal's office to be informed something along the lines that I'd be better off away from college. Naturally I disagreed, but I had no choice but to go along with their opinion. As things turned out, though, I didn't leave until the end of the year, and at the end of the second term I was told my work had much improved, so it looked like I might be asked to stay on; but it wasn't to be, and I was definitively informed I'd have to go a little before the end of my third term. It was on this very day, or not long afterwards, that another friend of mine from among the teaching staff - and a working actress at the time - rushed up to me to tell me in no uncertain terms that I was extremely talented and that I ought to aim for the Fringe…which is the London equivalent of Off-Broadway, and Off-Off Broadway…
But it wasn’t the Fringe…it was the great British tradition of pantomime that ultimately claimed me...and within months of quitting college, I was Christian the Chorus Boy in a panto production of Sleeping Beauty which played at the Buxton Opera House over Christmas '79, and if that sounds louche then it assuredly was…at least how I interpreted him: in pale ballet-style tights and full make-up.
Still, my days of wearing slap were numbered, because within less than two years of the Sleeping Beauty tour...around about the time in fact that the New Romantic movement - which was a Glam revival to a degree, fused with the more sophisticated decadence of figures such as David Bowie and Bryan Ferry - was at its apex, all forms of face paint were causing my eyes to become puffy and red-rimmed. I had to convince myself that I could still be interesting without cosmetic enhancement, and this was a tough order for me at first...but at least my dandyism remained undimmed, in fact, enhanced thanks to the sartorial liberalism of the crazy nineteen eighties…and what a decade that was!
Fri, Mar 5th - 1:53PM
Weimar Shadow of Future Things
Many cultures have made monumental contributions to the development of our great Western Judaeo-Christian civilisation, not least that of Germany, one of the most purely artistic, poetic, musical and spiritual nations in modern history. Yet it could be said that the greatest and most blessed nations are those most liable to corruption and decadence, and few societies have been more associated with this latter quality, which seems to seems to suggest both moral decline and a dark, sinister glamour, than that of Germany between the wars, and specifically its then capital city of Berlin.
The Weimar era, which came into being in 1919 and lasted until Hitler's ascent to the Chancellorship in 1933, has been likened by some cultural critics to the contemporary West, and it could be said that much of what's happened to the West since the end of the second world war was to some degree presaged by the Berlin of the 1920s, familiar to millions through Bob Fosses' superb movie version of the Kander and Ebb musical "Cabaret", actually set in 1931, with Hitler on the very brink of power. While a work of art in its own right written for the screen by Jay Allen, "Cabaret" had been significantly informed by one of British writer Christopher Isherwood's two Berlin stories, "Goodbye to Berlin", penned in 1933, but referring to incidents that took place between six to eight years earlier.
Needless to say the Weimar era didn't spring out of nowhere, having been shaped by the culture which birthed it, and while Germany had been the birthplace of Luther and the Great Protestant Reformation that exerted such a monumental influence on the evolution of Biblical Christianity, it had also long been associated with myriad revolutionary and esoteric ideas by the dawn of the Weimar Republic in 1919. For example, more than any other nation in the late 18th and early 19th Century Germany, Germany had played host to Higher Criticism, a school of Biblical criticism which flagrantly attacked the authenticity of the Scriptures. Moreover, late 19th century Europe had witnessed a significant occult revival and of all its great nations, it was Germany that had been most affected by this, even more so perhaps than France and Britain, and to the obvious detriment of Biblical Christianity, even while modernity thrived.
Thence, the legendary hedonism of the so-called Golden Twenties could be said to have arisen as much - if not more - from her spiritual legacy as the more immediate source of a long and terrible war and its aftermath, but it's this latter that we turn to now.
Despite the fact that the bona fide Weimar era was set to dawn in all its gaudy decadent glory in early 1923, Germany was yet a terribly ravaged and traumatised land as a result of a long series of traumas leading back to the abdication of Kaiser Wilhelm III and military defeat in the First World War.
Following on from the armistice, she was subject to still more bloody conflict in the shape of the German Revolution, which culminated in the Spartacist Uprising of January 1919, during which the Spartacist League and other leftist factions rose up in revolt in Berlin, only to be put down by paramilitary Freikorps consisting of volunteer soldiers, many of them on the extreme right.
The liberal democratic Weimar Republic was established soon afterwards, but Germany's post-war miseries had only just begun. During the debates in Weimar, A Soviet Republic was declared in Munich which was crushed by the Freikorps, resulting in the proliferation of far right movements throughout Bavaria. One of these was the German Worker's Party, and several of its key founding members went on to exert a powerful influence on a young war hero by the name of Corporal Adolf Hitler with their shadowy brand of nationalism.
To further compound the nation's woes, The Treaty of Versailles was signed on the 28th of June 1919. Of its many provisions, one of the most vital required her to accept sole responsibility for causing the war and so to agree to drastic military restrictions, as well as a good many territorial concessions including the surrendering of all her overseas colonies. She also had to pay heavy war reparations, the total cost of which came to 132 billion marks, or £6.6 billion.
The following month, while still in the army, Hitler was sent as a police spy by German Army Intelligence to infiltrate the ranks of the previously mentioned German Worker's party in the mistaken belief that it was Socialist in ideology.
The German currency was relatively stable during the first half of this year, but May brought the harsh London Ultimatum, which demanded reparations paid in gold or foreign currency, as well as 26% of the value of Germany's foreign exports. Hyper-inflation followed soon afterwards, which resulted in the Mark becoming all but worthless. By January 1923, defaults on payments had grown so serious that French and Belgian forces felt compelled to invade the heavily industrialised Ruhr Valley close to the Franco-German border, where they set about securing reparations in the shape of coal and other commodities.
Many Germans, including skilled workers, started working for the bare minimum necessary for the sustenance of life, as the nation started to become increasingly afflicted by unemployment, poverty, hunger, and even malnutrition, leading to widespread bitter unrest and resentment, one of whose expressions was the infamous Beer Hall Putsch of 8-9 November 1923. This was an attempt by Hitler's National German Workers Party, including paramilitary storm troopers under the leadership of Ernst Röhm, as well as future leading Nazis, Hess, Göring and Rosenberg, at a revolution modelled on the Fascist March on Rome of the previous October.
Of all the putschists, it was World War I hero General Ludendorff who demonstrated the greatest courage under fire, but he was to subsequently disown Hitler. As to the latter, he spent just a little over a month in Landsberg Prison after the putsch was decisively put down by the Army, where he dictated his memoirs, "Mein Kampf" to his friend and fellow inmate Rudolf Hess.
Somehow, however, total economic collapse was halted by the replacement of the worthless Papiermark with the new Rentenmark - introduced on the 19th of November 1923 - and yet while Germany achieved a reprieve under the chancellorship of Gustav Streseman, millions of middle class Germans had been left ruined and embittered by the period of hyperinflation, with the result that they became susceptible to extreme right wing propaganda, while many workers turned to Communism. The seeds of Hitler's rise to power had thence been sown.
For the time being, though, Germany - and specifically Berlin - became the supreme world epicentre of Modernism, of creative and intellectual foment not just in the fields of literature, architecture, music, dance, drama, cinema, and the visual arts, but of science as well. While she'd been a cradle of the Modern Impulse for centuries - a distinction she shared with several other Western nations including her closest European intimates, France and Britain - it could be argued that never before had she been quite so fiercely inclined in a cultural sense towards the radical and left-leaning, the experimental, the iconoclastic, the frankly scandalous, nor on so large a scale, as in the Weimar era.
Artistic innovation wildly thrived in the years 1924-'29 in the shape of, among other phenomena, the painters of the Neue Sachlichkeit movement, such as Beckmann, Dix and Grosz, Berg's ground-breaking opera "Wozzek" (1925), as well as the staccato cabaret-style music of Kurt Weill, Fritz Lang's dystopian "Metropolis" (1927), the erotic spectacles of Cabaret Queen Anita Berber and so on. So much of what has become familiar to the West and beyond in the last half-decade, from the philosophies that have dominated our academia for decades, such as Critical Theory and Deconstruction, all the way to the theatre of outrage that is the essence of Rock music pre-existed in some form in the Golden Twenties.
However, Weimar Berlin remains best known for its notorious sexual liberalism, which still has the power to shock as seen in pictorial and photographic depictions of the cabarets and night clubs in which license and intoxication flourished unabated. Given that several other Western cities in the twenties were hardly less hysterically dissolute than Berlin, it's little wonder that this key Modernist decade has been described by some critics as the beginning of the end of Western civilisation.
In its wake came the Great Depression, the ineffable horrors of the Second World War, and the collapse of the greatest empire the world has ever seen, all of which were succeeded in turn by the dawning of the Rock and Roll era, and the youth and drug culture, which together could be said to constitute the very triumph of Western decadence.
By blithely celebrating so much that runs contrary to our precious Judaeo-Christian fabric, could we be shoring up such disaster as has never been known in our long and glorious history?
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