By the beginning of the summer 1978 and finding myself without a girlfriend, a band and, temporarily, without a family (they had gone to the USA to see relatives) I decided it was time to get a job.
After a visit to the job centre I found myself being interviewed by a couple of council officials. Impressed by my possession of a driving licence and my ‘can do’ attitude they hired me on the spot, and so began my stint as a temporary parks and gardens maintenance worker.
I spent a couple of weeks based at a local park with a selection of other newbies. Due to my parents being on the other side of the Atlantic I drove to work which impressed my colleagues no end although they soon started to cadge lifts at the end of the day. The most notable of my new friends was a guy without any teeth for whom gardening was just a step on the ladder to his dream job of toilet attendant. At lunchbreaks he would regal us with tales of the easy life that without doubt awaited him when he finally achieved his goal.
I don’t know if he ever made it as I was moved on to some sort of peripatetic position being dropped into any part of the city with more than its fair share of weeds and long grass. For a few weeks I was paired up with Davy a slightly tramp like figure who was only a few years older than me but was a different league. Finding that I enjoyed a pint was Davy’s cue to embark on lunchtime drinking, sometimes solo and sometimes with me in tow. Once, after a visit to the pub we came back and smashed the tools, on another occasion, thanks to a late lunch I achieved the goal of getting drunk three times in 24 hours; and my school had called me an underachiever!
One day in an effort to liven up our day Davie brought a transistor radio along. We had Radio 1, that was all but really that was enough, music was good. My main musical memory while hoeing and pruning was of the Stones who had just realised their LP Some Girls. Everyone seemed pretty excited, at last the band seemed to be giving a shit. Bear in mind this was just a couple of years after Black and Blue which not only featured a terrible ad campaign featuring violence against women but a few really half arsed tracks bunged together to make a record.
Everything about Some Girls seemed a bit lighter and sunnier, the sleeve was memorable and funny, Keith had started looking like a human being again and, best of all, there was a hit single.
‘Miss you’ was just great. It upset a few die hards because it sounded a bit disco. Disco was everywhere by the end of the decade, it was really massive with the general population and, lets face it, it produced some great singles. After a couple of years of full frontal attack some rock bands were beginning to capitulate and introduce the ‘four to the floor’ bass drum (see also my piece on the Only Ones a couple of weeks back). Eventually even the Grateful Dead would record a ‘disco’ track the music was unstoppable.
‘Miss You’ started life with Mick Jagger messing around with Billy Preston. Does this mean the afro wielding keyboard player got a credit? No need to ask of course because at the end of the day the Stones are the product of two men. Billy Wyman came in to devise the distinctive bass line, does that mean he got a credit? Well if he wasn’t going to get any acknowledgement for writing the riff to Jumping Jack Flash there was no way he would get a look in here. The song remained the intellectual property of Jagger and Richards despite the latter having very little to do with its inception.
No matter, the strength of the song was some pretty good ensemble playing including Ian McLagan on electric piano and harp from Sugar Blue, allegedly discovered busking on the streets of Paris. Flip the record over and there was ‘Faraway Eyes’ which was a fairly straight bit of Bakersfield Country with an outrageous Jagger vocal.
The single was enough to creep out a devoted Stones fan but back into the rest of the LP it was business as usual with some grungy rock with the occasional rather thoughtful Jagger lyric. As well as Richards return to something approaching health the return to form was attributable to new recruit Ronnie Wood. Ron may well be some sort of childlike musical savant but he must also be one of the most generous musicians in rock being willing to play what’s needed without any real consideration of his own needs. This is why he’s never been regarded as one of the guitar greats in the same way that Page is. On Some Girls he meshes with Richards, when it works it’s great when it doesn’t it sounds a sloppy mess but it’s always difficult to tell who is playing what. On Some Girls he also introduced us to more of his pedal steel playing and as expected it’s perfectly decent. With ‘When the Whip Comes Down’ Jagger presented his first openly gay lyric while on the album’s title track, which sounds like it was played by a bunch of 12-year olds, he manages to be a bit racist a bit provocative and also quite funny.
Again, it was the punk effect, it was as if there had been a thunderstorm and now everything was clean and new, even the Stones were a bit different.
It all went a bit down hill from there, blame the 80’s, I always do, but the band became a bit tired and Jagger and Richards fell out and I didn’t really think the band was worth listening to. As usual I was probably wrong ‘A Bigger Bang’ sounded surprisingly good and their last (final) album of blues still sounds absolutely fantastic to me.
Back in 1978 the forces of oppression decided that I shouldn’t be working with Davy anymore and I was dispatched to a base on a housing estate where I spent the rest of the summer moving grass and learning new card games when it rained. I was on the brink of change again having accepted a place at Trent Polytechnic on a humanities course. The rest of the summer was notable for drinking and dogshit. I was young and had a constitution where I could soon recover from a drinking bout, it was summer and I had money at last and was quite happy to spend it in the pubs. The dogshit was everywhere on the estate, I’m sure no one thought to actually pick it up. The worst thing was when I was sent out to mow the overgrown grass verges. Lurking in the greenery was many a ripe turd which would explode on contact with my strimmer, my ample flares soon had a green and brown line about six inches above ground level where the shit mulch hit me. There was, of course no safety equipment, no ear protectors, no goggles, not even a fluorescent jacket. Occasionally I would combine both elements of my summer and after an evening’s drinking would collapse on a grass verge realising only too late the secrets the grass had hidden.
But at least I never had to watch Celebrity Love Island