There is an episode of the UK sitcom Hardware (sadly, the clip above has been removed) in which Peter Davison, playing himself, gazes upon a photograph of Kenneth Branagh in a cafe and says something like: "Doesn't really do it for me, but you know - well done him." That's sort of what I feel about the disc below. I include it here, however, because it was a favourite of a friend whose anniversary is coming up soon. Spent a bit of time on youtube checking for what can only be termed the bootingest version - and this seems to be it, with what seems like an authentic vinyl whump:
I enjoy it but somehow not as much as he did. Maybe because the Flamingos for me have to be Golden Teardrops with the rest of their output trailing at some distance. Maybe because this is a record which needs to be heard in a club or disco-tay as Chubby Checker (or Mike McGear, depending on your vintage/musical inclinations) would put it; it's not really solitary listening in the way that even the Flamiingos' bluesier Chance recordings are: with those you can enjoy all sorts of small details in the backing musicians' playing.
And my friend, having had to change homes and adjust to new people on a regular basis, was more gregarious than I will ever be and had had experience - or so he said, anyway - of the Northern Soul clubs where such sides were played. Kept on about The Twisted Wheel and meeting Robert Plant or Jimmy Page or, oh, I dunno, Mike D'Abo, say, in a pub in Walsall. Yeah.
But we did share a lot of music. I've written earlier of an evening listening together to the famed This Is Sue LP, and I also have memories of listening to Van the Man and the Chieftains' version of Carrickfergus in his company. (I may well have mentioned it at some point here earlier, but I remember reading that someone had shouted out at a Van concert for that song, to which the Man replied "Ah, that'd be giving the game away." Which I take to mean that a performance of that particular song would be harder to fake, or busk through than harder-rocking ditties.)
We had been talking about singing and the idea that the best signers relived, or appeared to relive, to explore afresh, every detail of every song as they sang them - that it wasn't just a case of locking down the phrasing in a studio and then repeating it at every concert.
We were listening, one afternoon, to a CD of the Van Morrison and the Chieftains album, and Carrickfergus in particular, and if I remember correctly at some point, and certainly by the end of the song, tears came to my friend's eyes. I can't quite place that afternoon within the chronology of his illness. There was, I think, a time set aside to tell me about it, and it may have been that day or couple of days. His partner and daughter were off somewhere else to make the situation easier. I don't think he did tell me, though, on that occasion. And I can't remember for definite whether that was the time he played the album.
But whether then or later, the narrator's story in Carrickfergus, and the superlative delivery of it by Van (a single take?), resonated. My friend was unfulfilled professionally, and his illness was known to him at that point, whether or not I'd been told, so it put an end to any hopes of a breakthrough. And the song is ultimately about someone staring at his own death.
When the time came I wrote a sort of eulogy for him, recalling, among other things, the lunchtimes we spent cloistered together when working at the same establishment. Although those conversations usually centred around our mutual passion for writing, analysing what we had seen recently, I remembered them as a kind of happy burble, just about the pleasure of spending time together (as in a famous passage in Of Mice and Men which I'm not going to look up just now, thank you).
But now I'd link those times to those rarer moments of listening to, and delighting in, music which we'd first discovered separately.
But I'm not going to put Carrickfergus here, as you'd expect. Partly because Van (or his men) appears to be assiduous in stopping casual use of his songs on youtube. And partly because the song below, first brought to my attention by my Cheapo gaffe companion, is one which I think my friend would have enjoyed. And because the most beautiful part of this song is not the shaggy dog story of this guy's misfortunes but the wordless lament at the very end.
If you have spotify (not currently in US) hear the superior studio version here; if not, this live version preceded by considerable rambling on youtube, below, will have to do. I can't help wondering whether Lowe had his sometime father in law, Johnny Cash, in mind for this song: maybe that lament at the end at the end (best heard in the studio version) also stands for a whole heap of missed opportunities outside the confines of the song.Works for me, anyway.
What - still here? Okay, how about that Chubby Checker song? It was probably Twisted Wheel material and it still sounds plenty good. (Find the Mike McGear track here, if you have spotify.) According to one site At the Discotheque it was the B side of Do the Freddie, presumably in the US. How many of those who bought it thought of Freddie Garrity in later years? I'll write more of him another time, perhaps. One death at a time, puh-leez. Let's mosey on down to the Twisted Wheel:
And if you have read the earlier piece, here, about listening to the This Is Sue album then you will recognise the magic word which makes this Chubby Checker single an appropriate salute:
Come on come along with me
To a place just down the street
Where the kids are movin, dancin, groovin,
To the uptown beat ...