Sunday, 9 May 2010

They Turned Me On - Part Six: Those Unheard or There is a Balm in Islington


Granted, it doesn't look too good now, and may in fact have disappeared altogether since this photograph was taken, but Reader, please to believe that this building was once a proud branch - perhaps, indeed, the main one - of the Dalziel Co-operative (always pronounced "Copa-ray-tive") in my  home town.

As mentioned in a much earlier entry, here, they always did well with their Santa presentations at Christmas, but the reason this branch in particular may fit into this series about the influence of broadcasters on my musical tastes lies in a vague sense of the aural equivalent of deja vu (deja etendu?) when, over the years, I've heard the odd Sinatra track - for example, Rain during the opening of a play called Buddleia in 1996 - or, in  one case, an obscure Fats Waller airshot called Lila Lu. Too long ago to remember with any accuracy, but I can only presume that if I heard them, or recordings like them, over the airwaves in any location it would have been in the above building in happier days - for me and the Copa-ray-tive.


The radio was not a communal experience in our family when I was young, and probably the only place I might have absorbed some of that music at a time before I was consciously aware of who was singing would have been in the cafe in the Co-operative, an airy place upstairs with a glass-domed top either in the cafe itself or the adjoining sales floor, if I'm remembering correctly. This would have been before the creation of BBC Radio 1 and 2, so would have probably been what had been known as the Light Programme (as opposed to the Home Service, roughly equivalent to today's Radio 4).

Or - and there's no real way of checking now - could there have been music playing throughout the store to inspire purchasing? Or was this a case of a lone enthusiast who brought in his own (I'm presuming it's a he) records to enliven the day? I don't want to believe it was actual muzak which I'm misremembering or recasting as Sinatra or Fats Waller.

Diversion: Believe me, I have cause to dislike muzak. About ten months into my security guard incarnation I learnt the One Great Truth which all guards must eventually come to know, and I can pass it on to you. It is this:


The well-known (now defunct) departmental store wherein I patrolled for two long months in the summer of 1986, having lost a cushier billet, had what felt like a customised form of torture (a kind of compliment, like Hook's crocodile): a muzak ,or muzak-type, tape loop, which constantly played: not a problem if you were nipping in and out of the store; hell for one who could not, during working hours, get more than a few yards away from the source. To add insult to aural injury, there was a kind of ersatz vaguely bluesy, rocky track which promised at least the ghost of something - before subsiding into mush. Every time. And again and again over every working day.

The only brief respite to be found was in inching towards the record counter at certain moments. This was around the time that a Sam Cooke song was being used in a UK TV advert, and there was what may have been a newly issued tie-n EP of Cooke hit s- at any rate, whenever those soft trumpets struck up I would shuffle towards the redemptive sound of Cupid, trying to time it so I'd be as near as possible to the speaker when Cooke, despite the sedateness of the pop setting, let forth with the word "Cry", recalling - for one uniformed erk at least, his gospel origins. There was consolation, exactly when needed. And that was the sound, brothers and sisters, that a man, working in a chain sto-o-ore, needed.

Diversion over. Whatever the music heard in the flagship store of the Dalziel Co-operative was, and wherever it came from, it put hooks into me which have yet to be extricated, predating my active seeking out of pop music as detailed elsewhere. And whoever my mysterious benefactor was, whether a worker in the shop itself or a remote BBC presenter, I owe him my thanks.

Another number which seems to have seeped into my consciousness is the 1935 recording of Duke Ellington's In a Sentimental Mood - oh, and the theme which runs through the early Kubrick film Killer's Kiss - which pairing suggests I may not be remembering specific recordings so much as an enveloping warmth created by certain instruments, certain styles of arrangement within a particular acoustic (maybe the warmth of medium wave radio emanating from a pre-transistor sort of set?).

Other memories from that time and place are also about sensation: the particular texture and smell of the paper in a book received from the Co-operative Santa; my tongue against the brick wall of the nearby school playground in an otherwise forgotten game played, unusually, with a mix of boys and girls. And all these memories, whether directly about music or not, seem of a piece: they summon a better, perhaps illusory, world, not subject to what Tennessee Williams called the rush of time.

Unlike  the Copa-ray-tive itself.


Or the branch (above) of that departmental store wherein I had my greatest trial The company went into receivership in late 2008 and on Christmas eve of that year I walked, with other scavengers, through a store in Manchester, almost emptied of stock, in a scene which suggested the aftermath of war. I ought to have felt sorry for the employees, if nothing else. But even after almost twenty-five years Woolworths, for me, still means those two purgatorial months with the momentary balm of Sam Cooke's voice.

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