We had a slim record collection

Two pigs phoning it in — try harder, guys!

The record player in our the front room was plugged in on occasion but the playlist was slim. I do remember a Pinky & Perky record, presumably there to entertain my sister and I. Their horrible squeaks left scars but I’m over it now. They were different times, Oprah.

Apart from the porkers, I’m struggling to recall specifics. Did we have Val Doonican Rocks, But Gently (1967)? This selection of ‘rocking chair songs’ from his TV his show was a huge seller. …

How do you get to Carnegie Hall? Practise — with a metronome

Photo by Rachel Loughman on Unsplash

You can read the first part of this story here

When I lived in Madrid, the accommodation options for foreign males were limited. One apartment I lived in was a dismal concrete pre-fab in the misnamed Casa de Campo. Paper thin walls exposed me to my next door neigbour’s one-single-juke-box. It played Soft Cell’s What! — all day every day.

Then a new flat-mate was foisted upon me. ‘Un estudiante chinesa,’ my landlord announced, with a burst of air drumming. ‘El toca el tambor’

A drummer? Time to…

Wedding Day Blues

Mount Pleasant Registry Office (now closed)— where John & Cynthia married

Read Part One

News of the engagement between John Lennon and Cynthia Powell did not go down well at the Mendips.

Mimi, predictably was furious. She screamed, raged and threatened to never to speak to him again if he went though with it

Nor was Brian Epstein punching the air with joy. Since becoming The Beatles manager in the previous November, he had worked relentlessly to get them onto the national stage. Now they finally had a record contract and a marketable image. An image that did not include a married singer or a baby.

Traditional show-business wisdom at that time was that…

Photo by Kelly Sikkema on Unsplash

Musically, I was the horse that always crashed into the first fence.

Different instruments, same story.

First there was the tenor horn, part of a job lot of brass mysteriously obtained by my school. Every Monday I would lug that beast, with its absurdly outsized case, onto the bus and then a tube, negotiating ten million stairs en route. Then, when the last bell sounded and the inmates raced to the gate, I would trudge off for my lesson.

The tutor, Mr Appleby, wore a blue naval jacket with on-brand brass buttons. …

English is adding new vocabulary at an astonishing rate


The English language already has the largest lexicon (number of words) of any European language. Research by Harvard linguists Dr Jean-Baptiste Michel and Dr Erez Lieberman Aiden suggests that this comparative advantage will not change any time soon

In 2010 of they published the most extensive analysis of the English language ever conducted. It looked at 5,195,769 digitised books published between 1800 and 2000. This amounted to 4% of all the English language publications of the period.

They found that the English language doubled in size during over the twentieth century…

None of it {Beatles music} was written down by us. It’s basically notation. That’s the bit I can’t do.” Paul McCartney (2018)

With George Martin in Abbey Road around 1965

The Beatles did not read or write music. When recording songs there would be a hand-written set of lyrics and (sometimes) suggested chord. This was all they needed to work from.

Once they had hits, sheet music was needed to enable others to play or record their songs. In 1963 Brian Epstein organised a music publishing company, Northern Songs. Its catalogue became an extremely valuable commodity, the best-selling songbook in print music.


As in so many musical matters…

Paul McCartney on receiving an Honorary Fellowship to the Royal College of Music, 2017

This is kind of amazing for someone who doesn’t read a note of music

None of The Beatles could either read or write conventional musical notation — what Paul McCartney sometimes refers to as ‘dots on a page’. This was largely through choice and was not unusual in guitar based pop music.

They were what Hollywood composers called ‘hummers’ — as in ‘you hum the tune and I’ll play it.’ Doing this effectively relies on a very good ‘ear’ ( the ability to identify and reproduce the pitch) and on musical memory.

These qualities were central to the Lennon and…

‘You’ll never make a living from guitars’

1957 — George (14) John (16) Paul (15) plus random pal (15–55)

Read Part One (5 minute read)

Aunt Mimi’s analysis regarding the limited earning potential of John’s guitar seemed a reasonable one in late 1950s Liverpool. Playing ‘beat music’ not an established a career path. Even accomplished musicians, like Paul’s father, aspired to earning beer money at best. ‘Don’t give up the day job’ was sound advice to teenagers banging out rock and roll covers in laughable accents.

The sudden, skiffle boom provided an unexpected opening. In 1955 Lonnie Donegan released a version of the American folk song, ROCK ISLAND LINE. …

‘We don’t need no education’

None of the future Beatles had a formal music education. This was largely by choice. All the four had opportunities to study music either at school or through private tuition. None got past the first few lessons or the first one in John’s case.

Mimi was not quite the kill-joy of legend

His earliest music experience came via an unlikely source.

“I played a lot of harmonica & mouth organ when I was a child. We used to take in students and one of them had a mouth organ and said he’d buy me one if I could learn a tune by the next morning. …

“John Lennon began the ’60s with a car crash in Scotland. He ended the decade with another car crash in Scotland.” Ken McNab ‘The Beatles in Scotland’

Postcard John & Yoko signed near the scene of the accident

John Lennon and cars didn’t really get on, especially north of Hadrian’s Wall. In 1960 he was asleep in the passenger seat when singer Johnny Gentle ploughed into a saloon carrying two pensioners in Aberdeenshire.

Nobody was hurt. He would not be so lucky in a second accident almost exactly ten years later.

On the road

Unlike most of his rockstar peers, Lennon had little interest in cars. He learned to drive comparatively late, only passing…

Kieran McGovern

I grew up in an Irish family in west London

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