780 Music

I’ve no idea what was the first music that I heard, but the first music that I remember being aware of was my favourite aunt singing me to sleep. I must have been three or four years old at the time.

This wasn’t necessarily lullabies, and, as it was the early 1950s, it couldn’t be pop music as we know it. It was the popular songs of the time; film songs, songs from the shows, and one or two surviving Music Hall and Variety show songs.

These were also, for most people, pre-television days. We saw the Coronation (1953) on a near neighbour’s television and didn’t get a set of our own until years later. But we did have a radio. The BBC had one mostly-music channel, the Light Programme, and more technically minded people could get Radio Luxembourg and, more usefully at the time, the American Forces Network.

Most of this passed me by until the end of the 50s and the arrival of rock’n’roll. I hadn’t been inspired by Billy Cotton (senior) or Frank Sinatra or the many even less interesting people who were around at the time.

Then we started getting Eddie Cochran, Carl Perkins, Chuck Berry, Bo Diddley, etc. and a few local heroes such as Craig Douglas, Tommy Steele, Cliff Richard, and especially Lonnie Donegan. This, I thought, was much more interesting. I started to pay more attention to the radio, especially Sounds of the Sixties and Pick of the Pops. This latter was a particular treat as it was the longest pop music show on the BBC and I had to stay up late to hear all of it. A real hero was a fellow called Jack Jackson, a former band leader who had learned the art of radio presenting, and was also a pioneer of what we would call sampling and talk-over. He had a big library of sound clips (presumably on scraps of audio tape) and managed to combine them to get all sorts of comical effects. He was the first presenter (that I heard) who was able to interject “Title!” when it came up in a song instead of announcing it at the start. It doesn’t sound much now, but it was revolutionary at the time. How he did it with the equipment that was then available is something I just can’t imagine.

Better kit intervened at some point. I’m not sure in what order these things arrived, but we got some kind of record player and I started buying singles (the first was Cathy’s Clown by the Everly Brothers, also the first single ever issued by Warner Brothers Records) and the occasional LP – these were very expensive by the standards of the time, usually a couple of months’ pocket money.

The real Great Leap Forward was the tape recorder. The machine I got was some way below entry level; it could only record things through a microphone, so I had to hold this near the radio and hope nobody made a noise while I was recording. Also you only got one shot at recording things, so you couldn’t edit out unwanted items and if you weren’t very quick on the “Record” button you tended to miss the start of things. But it worked, after a fashion, and I didn’t buy many singles after that.

I’ll take you through the 1960s on a separate page; from about 1964 onwards I found my attention drifting towards classical music, and about 1970 pop music was getting so silly that I more or less gave up on it for more than a decade. Over the years I’ve visited a lot of different styles of music, so I’ll look at these one at a time.


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