A life through Vinyl
Today, as I listen to the Bruce Springsteen ‘River’ album, I am wondering what it is that shapes our love of music and particularly a genre that we seem to stay with for life. To be fair I did come to Springsteen a little later in life although the seeds were already there for him to step into my collection. My reason for starting this journey through my past, to paraphrase Neil Young, was my father’s vinyl collection. My father died recently, and he left a vast collection of vinyl including 78’s which I suppose are technically shellac. His CD collection was even more extensive, but it was the vinyl that fascinated me.
As I looked through the records there was a familiarity about them. Growing up, I had of course heard nearly all this music many times. My father’s tastes did not greatly change from his first loves. These were mainly vocalists of the style of Sinatra, Billy Daniels, Al Martino, Nat King Cole, Frankie Laine, Alma Cogan, Kay Starr and many others of that 50’s and early 60’s generation. The CD collections showed little change in his tastes other than a large collection of Willie Nelson and a decent Classical music range.
These artists were special to my father. He saw the majority in concert, mainly in Manchester at the Palace Theatre or Blackpool in its heyday of attracting the big stars of the day. He loved to tell of seeing Sinatra in Manchester when the theatre was not even full. Yes, all special musical memories for my father.
I then realised that none of these great mid-20th century artists, massive stars in their day and all familiar to me, had not touched my musical consciousness one iota. A great collection of vinyl was just memories to me but musically I had no desire to hear them again. Why? At the time I heard them I certainly was not also listening to or even aware of the artists I would form a love of – a lifelong love. So why did I not share my father’s love of his artists before other influences kicked in? For me I would say that music did not take priority at that time. Sport did, especially cricket. However, when I look back, I can see that the seeds had been planted in my musically education. It did not come from my father’s collection.
The album, or should I say 10” vinyl album, a quirk of the day, was in fact among the records I found in my father’s collection. It was a great, pleasant surprise to find it as I thought it was long lost. It was the very first selection of music that started to form my musical DNA. It did not belong to my father but was a treasured possession of my grandmother. I spent a lot of time with my father’s mother and although her record collection was tiny compared to what was in our home it was more interesting to this young child. My grandmother delighted in playing this small group of records over and over again.
‘Satisfaction’ by the Rolling Stones was one of them. I didn’t mind it and it was certainly for an eight-year-old a great departure from the music on the stereogram back home. The other favourite of hers was ‘Green Green Grass of Home’ by Tom Jones. She loved that but I never pursued a Tom Jones collection of my own. There was a rare recording of the Beatles at the Royal Command Performance but again the Beatles did not stir any musical feelings. Wish I still had that single though. Did it really exist? Perhaps just in my memory. Maybe I just watched it with her.
It was this visually interesting 10” vinyl LP she had that I kept going back to. The green cover of the artist in the studio was intriguing. The PYE label on the vinyl was fascinating, it was the same logo as my father’s stereogram. This was her pride and joy, one I had to listen to – ‘it were great’ she said in her Lancastrian tones. This was Lonnie Donegan, and the album was called Showcase. Released the year after I was born it was already well used by the time my grandma introduced me to it. I loved it and insisted on hearing every time I visited. Only now, looking back and studying this well-worn copy re-discovered in my father’s collection do I understand that it formed the basis of my love of music and a musical genre. Musically Donegan was interesting, fresh and different for the time. It was lively and somewhat loose in style, sort of folky jazz. It stirred my musically feelings. I am ashamed to say that I never bought any of his recordings and music went on the back burner for about 10 years. I had other things to do. Lonnie Donegan though had introduced me to what I really love about music. As I look at that album now, I can see its influence very clearly. It is words. Words set to music are my great love. I want to be moved, I want to be sad, I want to be uplifted, I want a story and preferably a sad one. That 10” vinyl had those things. As a seven-year-old he formed my future love of a style of music and performing.
That album was full of stories and not all with happy endings. ‘Wreck of the Old 97’, ‘Frankie and Johnny’, ‘Wabash Cannonball’ and others were all stories, music with words. That would always be my love. I love sad music. My daughter says, ‘the sadder the better’. Artists such as Sandy Denny and Richard Thompson would certainly fill that need later, amongst others. On that Lonnie Donegan album is a song ‘Nobody’s Child. I defy you to find a sadder one.
Looking back, I find it fascinating that I could have had such a love of music formed so deeply at such a young age. So deeply that I never realised it until recently. Lyrically at the time they meant little, an eight-year-old could not relate to Frankie and Johnny that is for sure. But, they entered my make-up and the outcome would flourish later.
Lonnie Donegan was an extremely influential artist, and many artists of the calibre of Paul McCartney, Mark Knopfler and others testify to his influence on their music.
I can testify that he influenced my love of music and so having enjoyed looking at this old vinyl I will continue and explore my vinyl collection. I will try to express what these songs mean to me and add some context to the time and place they appeared to me. Maybe, that will resonate with you – I hope it will.
The reviews from 50 years or so on will be in no particular order, in fact I will probably just put my hand in there at times and see what comes out. I do have to begin somewhere so this choice selects itself as the beginning.
I will start with the first LP I ever bought – Carole King Tapestry.
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