What on earth? Indeed… The link between these two is Bedwellty Grammar School Christmas parties –and until I checked out the dates on these two discs, I didn’t realise that two separate events have blurred and blended together in my mind –particularly strange since they are three years apart, but perhaps that’s a mark of what a slow/late developer I was. I probably approached the 1967 (form 4!) party not so differently from the way I did the Form 1 party in 1964…
… Which we’ll deal with first. Those who know me intimately might also know that this party –after just one term in secondary school, now I think of it –was the occasion of one of my earliest and proudest achievements –winning the ‘Twisting Competition’. Largely due to the Chubby Checker single, and the industry around it, I suppose, the aforementioned dance had become a new, relatively successful, teenage fad. The record played several times that night in the ‘dancey’ part of the evening (for surely, in 1964, we had games and food first? I don’t remember) and teachers decided, I imagine, that it would be fun to test the youngsters’ expertise at ‘twisting’ their little bodies in an elimination competition. Yay –last man left standing: me! Of course, this being the only dance achievement of my life (and, thinking about it, one of the few dance experiences altogether) I definitely ‘peaked too early’.
Fast forward three years (if I went to the Christmas parties for Forms two and three, their musical flavour remains an undistinguished blank in my memory) and I’m in the Form four party – but…ah! the music! The music being played over and over again is a genre to which I have obviously given too little heed –because on this particular evening, and without the aid of chemical substances and intoxicants, ladies and gentlemen! -the music seems electrifying! Several times the keynote single was played –Arthur Conley’s ‘Sweet Soul Music’ –I’d never heard it before, but it seemed to me that rarest of things, a ‘new sound’. Although I was clearly too busy dancing (probably still the twist) along to it to recognise any lyrical content, I think I worked out that he was sort of referring to other stars of the same genre –Lou Rawls did I hear? Wilson Pickett? Apart from that, it was all tooting horns sections, and a ‘soulful’ controlled sort of shout –‘Do you like good music …?!’ And of course, 14 year old ingénu that I was, I certainly did!
Who was our DJ for the night, I wonder? He had clearly decided that ‘soul’ was to be the order of the evening, though –because Aretha Franklin’s ‘Respect’ also got several plays, as well as Otis Redding’s ‘Dock Of The Bay’ –and suddenly, I felt I was able to join the dots together and appreciate this music for it was: yes indeed, a brand new sound, an aptly named genre.
Now, this may well be a memory that is largely apocryphal fantasy – still, in my mind I seem to recall that brother Allan may well have come to pick me up from the school hall at the end of that evening in, I imagine, his first, ‘new’, secondhand Morris Minor (with its comical registration plate of MOO 118). If I’m right, and he indeed did so, I believe he found me in something of a state of excitement, waxing lyrical about “Soul Music!!” What did I say to him that night? “Hey Allan, it’s the new big thing!”? “it’s the way ahead”? “is where it’s at, man”? Who knows?
My soul–excitement obviously never developed into anything life changing, or even listening changing. Still, for one exciting night (two, if you count the Chubby Checker night and the glory of the Twisting Competition) I discovered what I suppose most youngsters experience routinely, and take for granted now –the simple links between a ‘new sounding’ sweep of popular song, and the urge to jig around to it, and that equally simple, sweet exhilaration of being alive!