The High Five – Working For The Man 7”
Once upon a time I was accused of disappearing into my world of books and films where darkness came too soon. Total nonsense of course. There was music too. But the suggestion was that I was missing out. Total nonsense too. Products have so much to teach us. So many stories to tell …
I think you just maybe picked the wrong time to ask. I’m pretty sure you’ll get your guitar, but my advice would be to save up for it. Why don’t you get yourself a paper round or something? And start putting a little bit aside each week.
You see, what you probably don’t realise is that your mum is a little sensitive when it comes to the music business. She has, er, shall we say a little history there. Oh sure, sure, you’d never guess now, but your mum is the last of the romantics, and once upon a time she thought music could be a force for good in the world. She really thought musicians might change things, and I guess she got burned. She learned the hard way that not everyone holds ideals to be sacred.
Your mother would kill me if she knew I was telling you this story, so I’ll have to trust you. Can I? Okay, well, it must have been early 1985. And I remember this because it was a little after her 18th birthday, and I was struggling to get this balance right somehow between treating a young girl like an adult and protecting the daughter I’d been left to bring up on my own. It was a tough time, and there was no script to follow.
Hmm she was a feisty fiery thing, your mum, and I had to trust her on certain things and give her some freedom. So she’d gone off somewhere to a concert, and it was a benefit for the striking miners. Those were strange days. It was about the nearest the country had come to civil war in a long long time. Anyway she went off to see this concert, and the next thing I know is getting up in the morning and stumbling across a horde of bodies in the living room.
I used to get up pretty early in those days, being still on shifts. And to say I put two and two together and made twenty two would be putting it mildly. I’m not particularly proud of how I behaved, but I meant well. And your mum, well, she suddenly appeared, and added to the mayhem, accusing me of this that and the other, while I was busy laying the law down. And all the while these four shell shocked lads were peering out from sleeping bags bleary eyed and scared stiff, wondering what on earth was going on.
Eventually someone had the nous to put the kettle on and make a pot of tea while we all calmed down. Basically it turned out that these guys were a group from Liverpool, and they were called the High Five if I remember rightly. And they’d driven down from Liverpool in a hired van to play at this benefit, and had refused to take any payment. Your mum was a big fan of theirs. She’d seen them locally when they’d blown that Morrissey guy’s group offstage. And she’d been chatting to them after the show, and was appalled that they were planning to drive straight back up to Liverpool, and her maternal instincts had kicked in so she offered to put them up, insisting her old dad wouln’t mind, and that he was a big union man, and would be delighted to do his bit. Ha, and what did they come across? A bear with a sore head, reading a little too much into things.
Well, once I’d calmed down, and started to look at things a little more rationally, I had to concede that my living room didn’t exactly look like a scene of rock’n’roll decadence, and actually these lads looked a lot less wild than the apprentices at work. They were, it has to be said, incredibly polite. Anyway, one of them broke the ice, consciously or not, by spotting an old Bob Dylan LP propped up by the stereo, and asking whether I was a fan. Well, I was still a bit mad at that point, but yeah I had to admit I was a huge fan, particularly of the pre-electric stuff. And then we were off, talking about Freewheeling and protest songs and folk music in general.
So, anyway I began to warm to these lads. They were really down to earth, principled kids, and they were earnestly chatting away about the opportunities to get messages across in their music, and the importance of staying true to themselves in a corrupt industry. They were scathing about groups using the Miners Strike as an excuse to look good and get gigs. I ended up apologising for my earlier behaviour, and offered to treat them to a good, honest East London lunch of pie, mash and liquor after work if they could hang on. And as for you young lady, I said, you had better get yourself ready for school and get your feet back firmly on the ground!
Yeah, I remember that lunch very well. We chatted about football, Bill Shankley and Kenny Dalglish, Thatcher and the miners, the East End and Cable Street, the roots of trades unionism and socialism, Ewan MacColl and Joan Littlewood, Bob Dylan and Phil Ochs. They didn’t really know Phil Ochs. Well, not many young people did back then, so I took them back to the house where I played them my battered copy of All The News That’s Fit To Sing, which they loved. I remember them getting out acoustic guitars and singing this song about Angela Davis, the black activist, which I think was called If They Come In The Morning. That was pretty special. Your mum was amazed when she got home from school, and we were sitting round like best buddies, or bezzy mates. The funny thing was that although we were chatting about Eddie Shah and Warrington, up their way, and attempts to break the unions, I had little idea what was around the corner with Murdoch and News International at Wapping, practically on our doorstep.
I liked those lads, but they were exceptions. Proper gentlemen. Few and far between. In any walk of life. And your mum soon found out that the music business was filled with self-seeking knaves and fools. After the collapse of the miners strike, there weren’t too many people prepared to stick their heads above the parapet for the print workers, either playing benefit shows or joining us on the picket line. Funny that. Though credit to that lad from Primal Scream, their singer who you see now in the gossip columns, as his dad was a SOGAT official up in Glasgow, and he came along one time in his leathers to join the picket line.
I think your mum kept in touch with the lads from Liverpool for a while. I seem to remember her saying something about, I think, the singer starting a studio back up there for the community to use and play in. The place was called The Picket, which made me smile.
I think the whole thing with her experience of some shall we say people within the music industry, and what I went through at Wapping, turned her off politics and involvement. That’s why I was so surprised she got involved with the community action group, and the Living Wage Action Committee, a few years back in support of the cleaners at Homerton Hospital after all the terms and conditions were changed for sub-contracted workers, and there was no sick pay or London Weighting and reduced holiday entitlement. That made her so mad, and I was so proud of her. She really bloomed in my eyes during that campaign, and it was so good to see her organisational skills being used in such a positive way. That look on her face when she told me the company had given in. I suspect that guy from the High Five would have approved if he’d known.
So, I guess what I’d suggest young man is that you don’t make too much of this guitar thing just now. We’ll think of a cunning plan. Anyway, what is it with guitars? I thought it was all computers now …
© 2007 John Carney