As usual, it takes me a long time to work out what cleverer people understand instantly. What that means is that I’ve realised that I’m quite a nostalgic person and, ironically, always have been. Maybe that’s the real point – because I’m a bit on the slow side, I’m always trying to work out what happened in the distant past so I can make sense of the present, but because I’m so slow, I’m always going to be behind. As it goes, I’m so far behind the 21st century, I’ve got absolutely no idea what’s going on at all because I’ve barely begun to get my head around 1966, and I’m only just up to the early 1970s, so by the time I’m about to pop my clogs, I might have reached about 1979 – when I was 8 years old.
Poor show, eh? Well, sort of. I mean, I don’t mind it, really. I’ve only rarely been in step with the times- from about 1986-1998, probably, and maybe not even then, really. Even then, even though I knew what was going on and had worked out some groovy things to say about the culture of the era, I still spent most of my time listening to records and watching films and television series from roughly 1966-1974.
The oddest thing for me is that people quite often tell me how intelligent they think I am, despite my being, basically, a moron. I don’t understand that any more than I understand anything else. Maybe they’re just being nice, or it’s because I’m old or something. Nobody told me anything like that when I was a kid. When I was a kid, the world’s view of me and my view of myself were pretty much in sync, which is to say that everybody agreed I was an idiot. I don’t know what’s happened to other people’s perceptions since then but, like I say, they’ve all moved on and I’m still back in the early 1970s.
Most recently, what with it being late autumn/early winter and all, I’ve been listening to quite a lot of Folk music when I’ve been out on my walks, which I go on most days for about an hour, an hour and a half – pretty fast, I cover between four and six miles – just around the streets where I live during the week, but I like to go to the countryside when I can during school holidays and weekends. I don’t really like the seaside, what with all that fisherman’s blood in my veins – there is, my mother’s family originate from Flamborough, then came to Hull where they just continued fishing, more or less. Until that all went to shit, naturally – that sea related heritage doesn’t mean I like the sea though, because I hate it. The sea’s big, cold, wet and dangerous, and I don’t have any truck with pissing about in it, like my ancestors probably wouldn’t have either. I work in a school, but it doesn’t mean I want to go there on my holidays.
Mrs Middlerabbit’s not from Hull, she’s from Norfolk, via Northwich in Cheshire. She fucking loves the seaside. I used to enjoy it, at least in winter – there’s something oddly appealing about walking on a beach with snow on it as your tears freeze on your face from the howling wind – but I’ve pretty much had enough of it now. When I was a little kid, we were always at the seaside, and I liked it. I’m not nostalgic for that, for no reason I can think of. If that’s how it works? Like I’d know, eh?
Anyway, as winter’s come in fairly early this year – December 2022 – when it’s not really started getting cold until about February for a few years recently, I don’t really want to listen to folk music when it’s really cold because what I want to listen to when it’s really cold is pop music from the early 1970s. By spring, I’ll be back on the 1960s, because that’s how it goes in my brain.
So, the sort of things I’ve been particularly enjoying remind me of being a really little kid, which I don’t really remember as being warm, or even having much in the way of light.
If I try to picture my early childhood, the first thing that comes to mind are the illustrations in The Tiger Who Came to Tea. I don’t even know if I had that when I was a kid, I don’t remember it, and I remember a lot of the books I was into from being really young, and that one doesn’t register. It doesn’t matter though because the illustrations show the world I was born into – dark, cold and wet. Coloured lights reflecting on wet pavements in town. Pavements in front of shops that weren’t necessarily in every town. I mean, yeah, there was a WH Smith’s everywhere you went, but that was quite an exciting shop when I was little. There was a Boots the Chemist in most towns, and probably Littlewoods – a sort of low end department store, Rumbelows – a low end electrical retailer, there might have been a Wimpy restaurant here and there, but Hull didn’t have McDonalds until 1988, by which time I’d left school. It was very English throughout my childhood, and I like that. I don’t mean I’m one of those knuckle headed divvies with flags and British bulldog tattoos or anything. I like tea and cricket and old ladies tutting on deckchairs. Vicars and village greens and being reasonable, rather than whatever it is that the UKIP people are after.
Most of the shops were one offs, like in The Tiger Who Came To Tea. Local shops for local people, sort of thing. A bit Royston Vasey, yes. With all the good and bad that goes with that. I’ve written about the homogeneity of town centres here, and I’m not going into all that again, but I thought I’d mention it, because the sound of post war, pre-homogenised town centres came out of transistor radios, via 7 inch singles, mainly by British groups who were always slightly shonky in comparison to their American, or even European, competitors. Like the streets themselves, really.
The best example I can offer you for, really, is this…
Brotherhood of Man – Angelo
I’ve written about ABBA on here before, and how they didn’t really rock out all that convincingly on Does Your Mother Know, but how that failure to effectively rock sort of made it better than if they had pulled it off properly. Oh, and that I don’t think they are paedos, even though Bjorn was one creepy looking kid.
Anyway, the point is that ABBA weren’t rock, and probably didn’t want to be, but what they were was laser guided stormtroopers of melancholy, basically. People say ABBA are life affirming, but they don’t mean it. Everything ABBA did that was any good – and there’s plenty of that is good – has that vein of wistfulness, that regret, running through it. And they weren’t fucking about either – they knew what they were doing. I said, “laser guided“, and I meant it. ABBA records are pretty perfect sounding in the main. Well, the singles are.
As with anything that’s successful , there’s always the bandwagon hoppers who follow them. In Britain’s case, as far as ABBA goes, the big one in the 70s was Brotherhood of Man who were the Littlewoods equivalent of ABBA’s NASA guided melody and harmony laser beams. If ABBA were lasers, Brotherhood of Man were Christmas lights that don’t really work properly, but you make do, and, eventually, part of the appeal is their unreliability.
The blokes, like Bjorn, are a bit creepy, but maybe that’s the 1970s in general, but it’s a bit Rotherham City Varieties corny old shit shtick.
I mean, I don’t know anything about Brotherhood of Man, but I’d bet my house that when they did gigs, the blokes would have a couple of slightly risqué, scripted, blue jokes that the two girls would tolerate as boys being boys, but they might get a comedy clip round the ear for it anyway before they get their own back. A nice clip around the ear, and everybody’d still be friends afterwards. Well, sort of, because it’d be a scripted saucy joke that they did every sodding night for years on end and it was just fucking showbiz, wasn’t it?
In ABBA, I always felt a bit sorry for Anna-Frid because she wasn’t Agnetha and that was probably quite hard going. It’s the same balance in Brotherhood of Man, I don’t know any of their names, but it doesn’t really matter because there’s still the Rumbelow’s Agnetha and the Littlewoods’ Anna-Frid. And it’s exactly the same, except the Agnetha looks like she works in an estate agents, and Anna-Frid looks like she works behind the till at the chemists, in the bit where they sold hair slides and colouring books and other tat that they always did.
Is it sexy? No, it’s not sexy. Except, it sort of is a bit, in a tragic sort of way. Maybe not even tragic so much as a more practical, achievable sort of sexiness, which I find oddly appealing. Maybe that’s what’s really tragic. Or maybe it’s not. Like I know anything. I mean, someone like Raquel Welch was probably Mrs Sexy in 1972, but you wouldn’t expect Raquel Welch to be popping to the butchers on her lunch hour to pick up a couple of pork chops for their tea, but the girls in Brotherhood of Man? That’s exactly what I expect they’d be doing. You know, recording a slightly nunty rip off of whatever ABBA’s last single was in the morning, then pop off to do some shopping on their way over to a local radio programme, where they’d tell the presenter all about what they’ve been up to and when everyone could come and watch you mock-frowning at the blokes’ shit mucky joke they’ve been telling for the past 8 months, from Kettering to Carlisle. That’s how I imagine Brotherhood of Man’s day going. What the fuck is wrong with me? This is probably why I’m so slow, isn’t it? I’m a middle aged man, imagining how everyday domesticity impacted on the daily lives of a third rate pop group from fifty years ago. I’m surprised my wife puts up with me. I suppose I’m pretty quiet. I’m no bother really. I’m probably the less successful equivalent of Brotherhood of Man of the 21st century, except I’m a secondary school English teacher. Pfft. Eh? I know. Tell me about it.
Anyway, Angelo – which could never have existed without Fernando – I have a really soft spot for. It’s not anywhere near as good as ABBA’s take on the same concept – you know, a slightly mediterranean boy’s name, acoustic guitars, inevitably noble death impending. Hesitant verses, with flutes – a bit like Simon & Garfunkel’s El Condo Pasa. Then boom, here’s the chorus, and it’s glorious, lighting up the skies with youthful insouciance, and it’s still a bit sad. Melancholy, you know? It’s outstanding. Fernando couldn’t be any better – I’m not saying it’s cool, but ABBA aren’t about being cool, they’re about being fucking good. and it is. The start of the chorus is a bit like the theme song to Ulysses 31, a cartoon series that depicted Homer’s Odyssey through the medium of 1970s Discos in Space. I thought it was ace. I was into the Greek Myths when I was a kid anyway, and that was my introduction to Homer’s Odyssey.
Anyway, the point is that Angelo is, in every single way, worse than Fernando. But, if Fernando is Raquel Welch, then Angelo is the woman who works at the Estate Agents, who goes out for pork chops on her lunch hour. And I quite like that. Raquel Welch is all very well, but she doesn’t seem real, in the same way that ABBA don’t seem real – they’re too much, man. I mean, I love them and everything, but I’d be a bit awed in their presence. What must it be like, being Raquel Welch or ABBA? It’s a bit exotic for the likes of me. Bearing in mind, though, The Beatles are the best thing in the world, and they’re not exotic at all. You can imagine Paul nipping out to the newsagents for a packet of fags at dinnertime, can’t you? I can’t see Agnetha doing that. Or Raquel Welch.
And the other thing is, Angelo’s not even from the early 1970s – it’s from summer 1977. The Silver Jubilee summer, that I remember reasonably well. It doesn’t matter though because it’s still fundamentally winter, early 1970s, because that was England from about 1968 until around 1995. In my mind, at any rate. Not much changed, really. My Grandad used to say, “The problem with England is that there’s three months of winter and nine months of bad weather.” And he was right. Except for the hot bits, which were yellow and dusty. Sitting outside on concrete. That’s the other side of the seventies, which I can’t really contemplate when it’s this cold. 1970s summers are sitting on a concrete playground, with dust blowing around and dub reggae playing somewhere. I like that too.
But that doesn’t even matter – exactly when it was – because it’s all the same thing, really. Meaning, Angelo would have worked being piped through the tannoy in Littlewoods in a way that Fernando just wouldn’t have. I can happily imagine Fernando being played on a cruise ship in the Mediterranean while people get into fondue in 1978, before buying a kit that they’ll use twice a year at dinner parties and leave in the cupboard with the Breville sandwich toaster that similarly seemed like a great idea, but turned out to be more of a faff than anyone could really be arsed with in the end.
And, at those little dinner parties, where girls who really worked at estate agents went with her husbands to the other girl’s house, who actually worked at the chemist’s shop, they’d probably play Angelo, and they might mess about and have a bit of a sing song, while the husband of the girl who worked in the chemist shop might make a suggestive remark about car keys and fruit bowls. Possibly something about Pampas grass, and the girls’d ignore him and do the dancing bit from the chorus.
And that’s what I mean about English pop groups. Their shonkiness is part of their appeal. Bananarama in the early days were less showbiz, but still the same sort of thing as Brotherhood of Man – they had little dance routines, but they were never slick, and their clothes looked like the sorts of things that girls at school could buy on the highstreet and customise on the cheap.
Cheap. Cheap and cheerful. The sort of thing you could imagine happening where you lived. That’s Brotherhood of Man, and that’s Bananarama, that’s The Beatles. And that’s just the ‘B’s. Even Blondie, while I’m pursuing that sort of thing – Debbie Harry was an astonishingly good looking woman, but she also had a look on her face that made her seem like she wouldn’t mind having a bag of chips with you outside Boyes on Saturday afternoon. That clip from The Muppets where she sings Rainbow Connection with Kermit: she’s really good with it, she plays it straight. She’d have been good with little kids. But it’s not ABBA, and it’s not Raquel Welch. And there’s something really appealing about that sort of arts and craftsy outlook of the era.
Not that Brotherhood of Man think like that, I dare say. I’ve just had a look at the Wikipedia page for Angelo. The Agnetha’s called Sandra and she’s from Leeds. Of course she is. It’s perfect. Anyway, maybe Wikipedia’s not super reliable or even right – gasp -maybe it’s some over zealous fan who’ll be sending me irate emails about how I have no right to denigrate the ‘Hood, or whatever their fans call them in secret – like the American bloke who took umbrage about my suggesting that Magic Windmill was about having a cry wank – which it is – anyway…
The entry for Angelo looked to me like it was trying a bit too hard to deflect attention away from the reality that it’s just a Littlewood’s copy of Fernando, by suggesting “The main melody of the song was derived from the dual guitar solo of the 1976 hit by Kiss, “Detroit Rock City.”
Yeah, right, I thought. Bearing in mind I’ve never even heard a Kiss record. Maybe Crazy Nights in the 80s, but I thought it was just American showbiz Metal crap for people who were mentally about eight. Still, let’s give it a listen before I slag that opinion off, I thought.
And it sodding is, as well, isn’t it? Well, knock me down with the 1978 Littlewood’s catalogue.
It gets better – or worse, depending on your perspective – because then it says, “The song tells of a shepherd in Mexico who falls in love with a rich girl, but he is met with resistance from her family. Both aware that her family would never allow the union, they run away together and commit suicide“. Helpful hyperlinks to explain what a ‘shepherd‘ is, and what ‘Mexico‘ is, and what ‘love‘ is and, of course, what ‘suicide‘ is. Which suggests to me this has the fingerprints of a zealous fan’s work all over it on Wikipedia.
I’m quite looking forward to them emailing me to point out how stupid every last word I’ve written about the ‘Hood is, because I’d like to know what it’s like, taking them seriously in the 21st Century. If you’re reading this, and that’s you, do let me know, won’t you?
I thought, I’ve listened to Angelo hundreds of times without ever paying any attention to what’s being said. And there’s this Wikipedia page about it, telling me that, not only is it about all of those things above, but it’s also, “According to co-writer Hiller, the lyrics were based on “Romeo and Juliet – the great love story. The idea was to create a modern day Romeo and Juliet romance.”
So, I looked the lyrics up, and sure enough, there it is. Well, sort of. The precis of the lyrics on Wikipedia don’t really miss anything out at all. What it says on the Wiki page is exactly what the lyrics are. They’re a bit shit, but the tune’s nice, the melody’s pretty good, even if it is ripped off a Kiss guitar solo, and the words do the job. They tell when they should show, but that’s Littlewoods for you, isn’t it?
As for the high-faluting suggestion that it was a “modern day Romeo Juliet“, I don’t know how that works, bearing in mind that the Capulets and the Montagues are – as stated in the first line of the prologue – “both alike in dignity“, meaning they’re both a big deal, and that’s not what Angelo’s getting at.
I think what we can say is that, whoever wrote the words for Angelo, they didn’t really have much idea about what was going on in Romeo and Juliet, except the basic part about their families not being into it. And calling it a “modern day” version suggests that they don’t even pay any attention to their own lyrics because the first words in Angelo are, “Long ago“. And they kill themselves, but on purpose, unlike Romeo and Juliet. It doesn’t make much sense, does it? To run away together so that you can just kill yourselves. Why not just do that at home? What difference does running away make? Romeo and Juliet didn’t mean to kill themselves, did they? Well, Romeo did, but he was always on about killing himself. Juliet was probably better off without him and his histrionics.
Brotherhood of Man weren’t intellectuals, but that doesn’t matter really because they weren’t aimed at intellectuals, they were aimed at people who were pretty much illiterate, but who might have been impressed by a reference to Shakespeare. Like Boris Johnson and Jacob Rees-Mogg when they quote him and anybody with any idea about Shakespeare immediately realises that they haven’t got a fucking clue – or if they have, they know most of the people don’t and they just want to exploit people who look for received wisdom. Oasis sound like The Beatles. Nonsense like that.
It’s not Romeo and Juliet, Angelo. What it is, however, is She Moves Through The Fair – the rich girl’s dad won’t let them be together and she kills herself then haunts the lad because she doesn’t realise she’s dead. I mean, that doesn’t happen in Angelo, but you’re not going to get that level of depth and thought from the Rumbelows of the pop world, are you? Fair dos, eh?
So, lyrically, it’s a bit crap, and musically it’s bits and pieces from bigger, more successful 1970s acts with four letter names, but it’s still great. Nobody’s going to hold it up as the pinnacle of 1970s songwriting or recording, but its flaws make it what it is. A bit variety – it’s never going to be hip, in the same way that Littlewoods were never going to be hip, but it has its place and it does things that the hip, groovy bands just can’t.
I ought to mention that The Barron Knights – a band similarly associated with the cold, the wet, and the dark afternoons of 1970s Britain, including Variety clubs and crap comedy routines, did a parody of Angelo, which was their thing, really.
It is, like everything The Barron Knights did, bloody awful. It was popular though, I remember hearing this, and I remember kids singing their version over the top of Angelo at School Discos at Junior School, where the girls wore lots of blue eyeshadow and perfume that smelled of burned cork. I don’t have anything much to say about it, except, if The Barron Knights considered that Brotherhood of Man’s material was a bit lah-di-dah and highfalutin, that pretty much tells you how low their bar was. Mind you, I had ‘flu just before Covid broke out in 2020, and I read Peter Paphides’ book Broken Greek in bed, on codeine, and he was a big fan of them when he was a little kid – and fair dos – if they were going to appeal to anyone, it’d be little kids. Outstanding book, by the way. I absolutely loved it.
Still, Angelo, eh? In a world of George & Mildred and Littlewoods, and unused fondue sets taking up kitchen cupboard space with Breville sandwich toasters, what more do you want, eh?