Pick up a Penguin


Years ago I was walking down Market Street in Manchester, around about the time they put the metro tram lines in. In the distance I could hear someone playing the bagpipes, but not the swirling, skirling, into-battle-we-go-mon sort of stuff, this was rockaboogie, someone really giving it stick.

As I got closer, through a space in the crowd that was going about their business doing their Saturday shop at the likes of Next and Mothercare, I caught a glimpse of a young chap in a doorway, with tumbling curly hair, a sweatshirt with the logo of a local brewery on it, and baggy Indonesian tie-dye pants, giving his all on the pipes, stomping his feet as if he were at a highland ceilidh, but one given for country-funk rockers rather than the Gay Gordon brigade.

I’ve read the phrase, ‘his heart jumped into his mouth’, but always thought it was a load of old Victorian tosh – until that moment. Two thoughts collided, “He’s the spitting image of Jim,” (my youngest son) and, “What the fuck’s a young lad like him doing wasting his time on the freaking bagpipes for!”

Shame! Shame! He’s having a great time. Blowing, stomping and giving everyone a bloody good time! And he was having the best time of all!

So what brought back this rambling memory? I was wandering around Youtube and came across Penguin Café Orchestra, one of my favourite bands, playing Salty Bean Fumble. Wonderful, absolutely wonderful! http://bit.ly/penguinsaltybean. Top flight classical musicians having a whale of a time. Would that I bloody well could! (I loved the way the chap on the triangle just keeps going around and around – if that’s what you actually do with a triangle – to keep the beat; take it away from all the other instruments and you’d really notice its absence.) I spent a delirious half-hour re-living a time when, at least for me, nothing musically got labelled, it was just damned good to listen to, especially because those were the days when the big names now were hustling for a venue. Elvis Costello and Ian Drury at a tiny theatre in Rochdale; Little Feet supported by Tower of Power at the Free Trade Hall as part of the Warner Brothers Tour in 1975, with TP upstaging the headliners when the brass section sashayed off the stage and did a jazzed promenade through the aisles as Lenny Williams belted out, “Giddyap, giddyap, Hiyo silver, Giddyap, giddyap hiyo yeah…” in one of the best Motown voices of the era. It was the first time I smoked a joint in my life…first time I smoked tobacco, come to think of it, and it made me feel so bloody awful that I never touched either again. But, joder, the music was fucking awesome!

I slowly came back to the twenty-first century by way of Air à Danser, one of my favourite Penguin pieces.

So what happened? I was there when Louden Wainwright gigged at the Academy, before he became known just as the dad of Rufus and the husband of Kate McGarrigle, who, with her sister, Anna, were real biggies on the folk-rock scene at the time. I saw Hugh Masekela long before Paul Simon got on the South African gig and recorded him for the Graceland album; Ali Farka Touré, who took The New Embassy by storm (which rose from the ashes of The Embassy – most of the best gigs ran out of money), and was still living in squats with friends as he tried to get his Malian music known, and non-events like The Smiths, The Buzzcocks and Duritti Column had yet to raise their heads, although the rock poet John Cooper Clarke, he of the welded-on sun glasses, and The Salford Jets, were packing the crowds in?

 I got old. That’s all. I simply got old.

 If you would like to know more about Spain, visit my web site, derekworkman-journalist.net , and Spain Uncovered. Articles and books can also be found at Digital Paparazzi.


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