The Day Music Came Alive – Memories of an Early Sixties Teenager

Written by Bob Rogers
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The coin was pushed into the slot and it rattled away to its unknown destination flicking levers and triggering switches as it went and the machine was suddenly alive.

Rows of buttons - numbers and letters - awaited the command, lighting up as they were chosen and setting the magic in motion.

A carousel of black plastic discs rolled and stopped, a mechanical arm pulled out one of their number, twisted it and brought it down onto the waiting turntable. The arm lowered the stylus and after a second of crackling a much-loved song boomed out, the deep bass and the drums taking on a new resonance as big speakers brought to life the music in a way a little transistor radio never could.

For a single coin our favourite artists played on demand and, in a backwater town in the Sixties, this was as close as we were ever going to get to seeing or hearing them perform live.

Sixties teenager 4The musicians might never have included our small town on their itineraries but the instruments were there for all to see in the window of Williams’ Music Shop: shining electric guitars in sunburst red or gleaming white, their pick-ups and controls gleaming chrome; a bass guitar, the same shape as the one Paul McCartney played, was displayed on a stand, its four fat strings ready to lay down a rhythm for someone with the cash and a dream of stardom.

For us, 12- and 13-year-olds, there were dreams aplenty but not the faintest idea of how they could ever be made into reality. We would avidly watch Top of the Pops on a Thursday evening; we could name every member of every group and sing every lyric of every song. Substituting cricket bats or tennis racquets for guitars and a wardrobe mirror for an audience we would, for a few short moments, cross the boundary between what was and what could be.

But then, on a cold evening in the depths of a particularly hard winter with the ploughed snow piled three feet high on the sides of the road where it glowed orange under the glare of the streetlamps…we heard something amazing!

As four of us trudged home, cold, damp and tired from a few hours’ sledging on a nearby hillside we passed the storage warehouse for the local cash and carry and from inside came music that couldn’t possibly have been generated by a machine. It was the unmistakeable sound of a band rehearsing and it pulled us irresistibly in.

With considerable effort we managed to drag a discarded workbench to a place under the high window and we climbed up to peer through. Wiping away years of grime we managed to see enough through the smudges to confirm our assumption. There was a real group in there, not a famous one, but still a real group, with real electric guitars and a drum kit and amplifiers.

A few girls sat and watched as the four youths belted out the introduction to “When You Walk in the Room”. Dissatisfied, they stopped and counted themselves in to start again. One of the girls turned and caught sight of our faces peering through the glass. She got up and headed to the door. We hastily clambered down in anticipation of being told to clear off.

As we reluctantly walked away a voice called us back and one of the girls beckoned to us; she was a distant cousin of one of our number and to our delight took us into the warmth and light of the warehouse and into the presence of a real group.

With unplanned but perfect timing we entered the hall just as the band reached the line, “I can feel that something pounding in my brain…” and so it did: an all-enveloping sound that shook dust from the floorboards and rattled the ancient windows in their fittings. The lead guitarist had a cigarette tucked behind his ear and winklepicker shoes far pointier than any my father would have allowed me to wear.

I recognised the drummer as the youth who worked in the butchers; I had often seen him absently rapping out a rhythm on the scales with a pair of skewers and now I knew why. To our young and untrained ears they sounded amazing. We sat on the floor against the wall feeling the boards vibrating beneath us, shaking drops of melting snow from our shoes and cuffs.

The band went through their repertoire of six or seven Sixties’ hits and we resisted the temptation to sing along with them but nodded our heads and tapped our feet vigorously, shaking droplets of melting snow from our shoes onto the grimy floor.

We stayed until the end of the rehearsal, oblivious to the fact that it had made us more than an hour late for home and on the dark and chilly way back we held an impromptu Mick Jagger impersonation contest to keep warm.

Half a century later music is available at the touch of a key, and I go to concerts several times a year, but its very attainability dilutes it. Back then live music was a whole world away (If you discounted the Sally Army band who played outside Woolworth’s on a Saturday - but they didn’t do many Rolling Stones numbers).

Whenever I hear that old Searchers song it triggers a cocktail of sensations: cold, wet feet, the smell of a thousand smoky chimneys, snow glowing orange under the streetlights and most of all hope. We were young, things were moving so quickly and one day maybe that would be us playing those guitars with our hair halfway down our ears and wearing the pointiest shoes imaginable

Used Kind permission of "This England" magazine

Read 4240 times Last modified on Saturday, 13 February 2021 14:55
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Bob Rogers

Bob Rogers

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