I learnt yesterday that the Cotswold village of Little Rollright was up for sale for the princely sum of £18m. My first reaction? I wonder if Steve Winwood knows about this. Why? Because somewhere in the back of my mind, a song started playing:
Many of these
Can be seen
In quiet places, fields of green
Of hedgerow lanes with countless names
But the only thing that remains
Are the Roll Right Stones
I can still remember the first time I heard the song, the first time I held a bashed-up copy of the album in my hands. I can still remember wondering whether all Traffic albums were shaped like this:
The only other Traffic album I’d seen and touched was The Low Spark of High-Heeled Boys, an album I loved so much I now own the original artwork to the cover below. I don’t think anyone else bid for it at the auction!
I’d heard other Traffic albums, but I’d never actually seen those in the flesh: usually they were copies of copies on cassette tape, this was Calcutta in the early 1970s. “Foreign” albums took time to get there, if ever. No Traffic album was ever released locally, so we relied on the booming Grateful-Dead-Taper-like trade in informally recorded cassettes, the higher the quality, the higher the price. Pre-recorded cassettes were rare, as were original LPs. For these, we were beholden to the influx of hippies eager to convert their vinyl into various other substances, usually of the smoking variety. [And yes they inhaled, Mr President]. There were other routes, but rare and sparse. We could go down to the Kidderpore Docks and walk down Smuggler’s Row there, to see if there were any Taiwanese “imports” of our favourite music there: photocopied covers sealed in thin polythene, Chinese titles and descriptions, cheap ultralight vinyl. Very rarely, someone in our circle of acquaintances, usually very well-heeled, would actually leave India’s shores and bring some albums back. Occasionally, foreign diplomats would hold some sort of yard sale as they disposed of their belongings before moving on, and you could get rich pickings there. But most of the time, it was off to Free School St to tap into the hippie trade.
I can’t help but smile as I think of myself singing along with Roll Right Stones without a clue as to what the lyrics meant. No internet. No Web. No Wikipedia. No personal computer. No mobile phone.
But I was curious, so I found out, once it was possible for me to find such things out. When you’re passionate about music you’re interested in everything about music: the people, the places, the times, everything. I was lucky to be born at a time when the vein of music was rich. I still spend most of my time listening to the albums made between the early 1960s and the mid 1970s, there are probably over a thousand really good albums made then. Of course I listen to Indian classical music, particularly flute; to Western classical music through the ages; to various forms of jazz; to a lot of folk; and even to some stuff made since 1974. I’m sure there’s been incredible music produced since, incredible music produced before. I just don’t have the time to listen to everything, and if I had to choose, then choosing the music that’s familiar to me is a natural thing to do. Especially when it’s so good.
Such specialisation leads to joyous possibilities. I’ve been able to watch many of my 1960s and 1970s heroes perform live, in concert. I’ve been able to meet a bunch of them personally, have conversations with them.
And I’ve been able to visit places that were just phrases in songs until I visited them.
Like Roll Right Stones. Or Penny Lane. Or Strawberry Fields. Sitting at the Albert Hall and thinking about holes in Blackburn. Standing on the platform at Preston, or walking down Hampstead Fair. Experiencing the fog on the Tyne. Finding out where Omemee was (though in the end I couldn’t get anyone to take me there. But I managed to get to Massey Hall). Passing Newport News and thinking about the Navy man stationed there, or seeing signs for Biloxi and asking myself, was Narcisissma from Pomona or Biloxi? I could go on, but won’t. You get my drift.
Sometimes my visits had tinges of sadness in them. Going past the Dakota Apartments; wandering around Pere Lachaise; listening to the music at Threadgills; having steak at Croce’s. [Incidentally, if you’re ever in San Diego, make sure you go there. Especially if you’re a fan of Jim Croce. Ingrid Croce is still there most days.
Whatever our memories, we tend to remember the people we were with when those memories were formed. The places we were. The times we had. The music we listened to. The food we ate. The books we read.
People, places and times. The basis of memories.
Music, food and books. So often, triggers to those memories, embedded in our senses. Not just sight and sound and taste, but touch and texture too, even smell. Like smelling the valves heating up in the radio as it came on.
We live in a connected world where everything can be recorded, and our very concept of memory will be challenged. Recorded things can be changed more easily than what’s in our heads.
We live in a world where we use our senses to engage with information, perhaps like we used to do. No more keyboards, no more printed material. And that too will come with its challenges.
We can spend hours, perhaps days, arguing about how our world is being made worse by technology. It’s not the technology, it’s what we do with it.
A point made beautifully by Yiibu here. People in emerging nations are doing magical things with those very technologies.
In the meantime, I give thanks that I can write a post like this, making all the references I want to make, using a medium that others can read all over the world, if they so choose.
There are places I remember.