Remembrance of Things Past

Mostly about growing up the 1950s in Ilford, Essex.

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I have missed by a few days the death of Joy Beverley of the Beverley Sisters.


She sang in the group with her two younger sisters, Teddie and Babs. The group was not so well-known after the fifties but they continued together for another fifty years.

They were well known for: ‘I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus’ and ‘Little Drummer Boy,’ but more particularly for ‘Sisters.’

England and Wolverhampton football captain Billy Wright leaves the registrar's office with his bride, Joy, the eldest of the three singing Beverley Sisters, after their marriage.

Joy was also know as the wife of footballer Billy Wright, who she married in 1958. He spent his entire career at Wolverhampton Wanderers and was the first footballer to appear in a hundred international matches. He died twenty years ago today.





[32] ‘Dedicated to the One I Love’

A continuation of my musical reminiscences, following [26] ‘All I want is Music, Music, Music, Music!’

More songs that I have loved and remembered, more or less in alphabetical order.

29. House of the Rising SunThe Animals (1964)

A traditional folk song about a tragic life in New Orleans, which became a classic pop tune of its time.

There is a house in New Orleans; They call the Rising Sun;

And it’s been the ruin of many a poor boy; And God I know I’m one …

Oh mother tell your children; Not to do what I have done;

Spend your lives in sin and misery; In the House of the Rising Sun …

30. I Can’t Stop Loving YouRay Charles (1962)

Because: Ray Charles was a great soul singer, one of the few totally blind singers to make a major impact in the world of Music. Another one is Stevie Wonder, known as Little Stevie Wonder when he was young!


31. I’m Forever Blowing Bubbles

Because: It reminds me of my father.

Wikipedia says that this is a popular American song from 1918. It is also popular with the fans of West Ham United Football Club. West Ham was not far from being our nearest football club. My father never mentioned any football allegiance, but one of my very earliest memories is of him singing this to me. (The link is to West Ham at Wembley Stadium.)

32. I’m not in Love10 cc (1975)

Because: I absolutely love it. Another love song I just can’t leave out, even though it’s 1975!


33. In DreamsRoy Orbison (1963)

I keep wanting to use the word ‘haunting’ for the songs I pick, meaning sad and evocative. Wikipedia uses the words ‘dark, emotional’ for Roy Orbison. He was a singer songwriter, with a powerful voice, always seen with trademark sunglasses. This is the best known of his darkly emotional ballads. (Or perhaps, ‘Crying,’ just as powerful, just as emotional.)

34. In the MoodThe Glenn Miller Orchestra

Beause: It’s a very early memory. Trombonist Glenn Miller led this orchestra, which entertained the troops through the Second War. Their tunes continued to be played after his death (Missing in Action in 1944.)

35. In the Year 2525Zager and Evans (1969)

Because: It was another classic, with prophetic words – more science fiction than pop. It topped the charts in America for six weeks. I suspect that he will be proved a bit inaccurate in his dates:

In the year 2525; if man is still alive; If woman can survive, they may find.

In the year 3535; Ain’t gonna need to tell the truth, tell no lie; Everything you think, do and say; Is in the pill you took today

In the year 4545; You ain’t gonna need your teeth, won’t need your eyes; You won’t find a thing to chew; Nobody’s gonna look at you.

In the year 5555; Your arms hangin’ limp at your sides; Your legs got nothin’ to do; Some machine’s doin’ that for you

In the year 6565; Ain’t gonna need no husband, won’t need no wife; You’ll pick your son, pick your daughter too; From the bottom of a long glass tube.

In the year 7510; If God’s a-coming, He oughta make it by then; Maybe He’ll look around Himself and say; “Guess it’s time for the Judgement Day.”

In the year 8510; God is gonna shake His mighty head; He’ll either say, “I’m pleased where man has been;” Or tear it down, and start again.

In the year 9595; I’m kinda wonderin’ if man is gonna be alive; He’s taken everything this old earth can give; And he ain’t put back nothing.

Now it’s been ten thousand years, man has cried a billion tears; For what, he never knew, now man’s reign is through; But through eternal night, the twinkling of starlight; So very far away, maybe it’s only yesterday.

36. JudyElvis Presley (1961) and …

37. Judy, Judy, JudyJohnny Tillotson (1963)

Just Because

38. Lady MadonnaThe Beatles (1968)

Because: I had to pick one by The Beatles. Nothing by the Beatles could be typical, so I just picked one.

39. Laughing PolicemanCharles Jolly (Charles Penrose) 1926

OK, this is the exception. I remember this as a children’s song, mostly from Two-Way Family Favourites. I hadn’t realized it was quite so old. Wikipedia describes it as a Music Hall song. (I am not old enough to remember Music Hall, but I do remember The Good Old Days on television.) I hated it then and I still do!

40. Little Drummer BoyBeverley Sisters (1959)

See: [9] Bedecked with Bay and Rosemary

41. LocomotionLittle Eva

One of those pop songs from the era when every new song could have its own dance.

42. Look Through Any WindowThe Hollies (1965)

Because: I am a great fan of the Hollies. It was hard to pick one of the Hollies’ hits. They had several, continuing into the seventies.

43. Major-General (‘Modern Major-general’s Song’ from The Pirates of Penzance) – Gilbert and Sullivan

See: [16] To Make the Punishment fit the Crime

44. Maria ElenaLos Indios Tabajaras

Because: Los Indios Tabajaras were two brothers, native to Brazil, who sang to their own guitar playing as early as 1943. They found success with just one record. It was given to me as a birthday present in 1963 and I love it. I still have it. The ‘B’ side, Jungle Dream is just as good.

45. Mary’s Boy ChildHarry Belafonte (1956)

See: [9] Bedecked with Bay and Rosemary

46. Mikado (‘A More Humane Mikado’ from The Mikado) – Gilbert and Sullivan

See: [16] To Make the Punishment fit the Crime

47. MiserereAllegri

Because: It’s a great piece of choral music. This one would come in my Desert Island six. I sneaked it in. There is absolutely no association with the fifties.

(Written in 1514. For three hundred years it was performed every year in the Sistine Chapel in the Vatican, but the music could not be written down, on pain of excommunication – so it was never sung elsewhere. Mozart at fourteen transcribed the nine-part harmony from memory! The Pope complimented the young Mozart and withdrew the ban.)

48. Muffin the MuleAnnette Mills

Because: my earliest memories of television come from this programme, which ran from 1946 to 1955, with its familiar signature tune. (For Children’s television, see: [29] ‘ Was it Bill or was it Ben?’ coming soon.)

49. My Old Man’s a DustmanLonnie Donnegan

See: [22] ‘Of Shoes and Ships and Sealing Wax’

50. My Song is Love Unknown

Because: St Andrew’s Church and its choir were part of my early life so I have to include a hymn. I enjoyed singing them and still do. This is my favourite.

‘… Love to the loveless shown, that they might lovely be …’

51. The National Anthem of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland.

Because: This used to be much more part of daily life, played at the end of theatre and cinema performances, and on closedown of BBC radio stations at night. (24-hour television and radio are relatively new.) In the early days, people would stand for it, even when played on the radio. [US readers will recognize the tune as: ‘My Country, ‘tis of Thee.’]

It has no official status as an anthem and use of additional verses is not standardized. Until the recent trend towards devolution, it was always accepted as the National Anthem at sporting events where teams represented England, Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland, but various alternatives have emerged for these divisions of the UK.

52. Nellie the ElephantMandy Miller

A children’s song, familiar probably from Two-Way Family Favourites.

53. New York Mining Disaster 1941The Bee Gees (1967)

When the record was released, many people thought it was by The Beatles. It’s a disaster record, a bit like Ellen Vannin, written as if by the trapped miners, possibly inspired by the 1966 disaster in Aberfan.


54. Nights in White SatinThe Moody Blues (1967)

Because: I love the music of Justin Hayward and the Moody Blues. I don’t always follow the words of songs in full. This is obviously a love song with the drawn out cries of: “Cause I love you; Yes, I love you; Oh, how, I love you; Oh, how, I love you.”

I have to admit that until I wrote this blog post I always thought it was: Knights in White Satin! I led a sheltered life!

55. Nut RockerB Bumble and the Stingers. (1962)

One of the first two records I bought. A ‘jazzed up’ version of Tchaikovsky.

56. Oh My Darling, Clementine

An example of the songs we sang at school in Music lessons.

57. Old ShepElvis Presley (1956)

Because: I’m a softy for sad tales. One of the saddest songs ever written. (See also Two Little Boys.)

58. Orange Blossom SpecialThe Spotnicks (1963)

Because: At the time, its recording methods were revolutionary. Fast moving, instrumental. At a time when other electric guitars were connected to their amplifiers by cables, the Spotnicks used small radio transmitters. It gave their tunes an unusual tone.


59. Peggy SueBuddy Holly and the Crickets

Buddy Holly’s life as a singer was very short but after his death recordings kept coming regularly for years. Peggy Sue was a classic, but he had several others.

To end this post:

60. Dedicated to the One I LoveThe Mamas and the Papas (1967)

Reminiscent of several groups from the sixties and seventies, it reminds me of America, but mostly

Because: I like it, and because: This is Dedicated to the One I Love.



[209] Christmas Carols

[209] Bedecked with Bay and Rosemary

Issued Christmas 2014. Reissued August 2019 with very minor changes.

This is a little interlude about Christmas songs and carols. It is definitely about Christmas past but some may date from a little later than the fifties. All Christmas memories become a sort of global memory to me, so let’s not worry too much about dates.

We used to sing carols much more then – at church, at school and sometimes, at home. Sadly, carols are becoming a little obsolete now. With the dawn of records – that’s what we used to call vinyl – and CDs etc., we are much more likely to be singing a popular modern tune.

Two of the early songs I remember were Mary’s Boy Child sung by Harry Belafonte in 1956, and The Little Drummer Boy (or Carol of the Drum), also from the late fifties. I’m having difficulty tracing early versions of Little Drummer Boy, but I think my early memories come from the Beverley Sisters’ version of 1959.

The Rock ‘n roll era brought Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree, sung by Brenda Lee in 1958. From about the 1960s, pop songs have appeared regularly aimed at the Christmas shopping clientele, including the re-release of Mary’s Boy Child by Boney M in 1978. Prominent in my mind as I write is All I want for Christmas is You, by Mariah Carey, the song which featured in the 2003 Christmas film Love Actually.

I do like some of the more modern tunes but I still prefer the old-fashioned carols. (Grumpy Old Man!)

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The Streets of Ilford

My main memories of carol singing come from the first half of the sixties. (I won’t always restrict what I say to the fifties.) For most of my childhood, I went to church at St Andrew’s. I also went to Cubs and Scouts there, sang in the choir there for a few years, and spent a few years going to their Youth Club.

The Youth Club always did the same thing in the two to three weeks before Christmas. We sang carols in the street and collected for charity. We would move along the street, stopping under a lamp-post to sing two or three verses of a carol, while one or two volunteers went along ringing doorbells.

They were mostly familiar songs, always from the same books of music. There was a rehearsal evening at Church and then we sang for about two weeks – two hours every evening, Monday to Saturday.

It was a quiet area of town and I don’t remember ever being disturbed by traffic of any kind. I assumed that the aim was to cover the whole parish. We certainly covered a lot of streets. Of course, for the members of the Youth Club, it also offered a chance for the boys and girls to get to know each other. Singing under a clear sky and discussing the constellation of Orion could be quite romantic. Perhaps that’s why I remember it!


Nine Lessons and Carols

The still familiar service of Nine Lessons and Carols has always been one of the high points of Christmas. It combines familiar words with the opportunity to sing along to all the well-known hymns and carols.

The format was defined in 1880, and revised in 1919, specifying precisely the nine Lessons. (In Church parlance, a Lesson is a reading from the Bible.) Those who have been paying attention will know by now that these were always from the Authorized Version.

Since 1928, King’s College, Cambridge have held this service in their chapel every year, sticking to the prayers and Authorized Version lessons in their original wording. The service mixes familiar hymns (sung by the choir and congregation) and less familiar carols (sung by just the choir). In general the hymns are the same every year and the carols change, normally including one or more brand new carols. It always starts with a processional version of ‘Once in Royal David’s City,’ with the opening verse sung as a solo by a treble chorister. Several of the choristers will have rehearsed this solo but the chosen one does not know he has been selected until a few seconds before the start.

The service from King’s is always broadcast live on the radio and it continues to mark the start of Christmas to me. We drive to visit relatives, leaving on the dot as the solo begins on our car radio, in the afternoon of Christmas Eve. As we drive, we sing along to the familiar Christmas hymns. I recognize some of the choral anthems from a period in my life in a school chapel choir. I love all the familiar words of the service, especially the Bidding Prayer and the Ninth Reading, which starts ‘In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God …’ Somehow modern English versions don’t have the same poetic effect.

I can’t claim that this habit dates back to the fifties but I do remember our local version of the service. Our local church, St Andrew’s, always used to have this service on the Sunday before Christmas, in a similar but shortened form. (They didn’t have the help of King’s College Chapel Choir!) I did wonder whether this tradition had kept going but my understanding is that it has changed to something with candles and Christingles. It used to be an ever-popular service, which brought in the highest congregation of the year. The pews of the church were packed and extra chairs were brought into the aisles.

I suspect that modern churches have their own versions of this, with more modern carols and readings from modern versions of the Bible. I will stick to the King’s College version.

Bring in the Boar's Head [Illustrated London News]

The Boar’s Head

The tradition of eating a Boar’s head at Christmas pre-dates our chicken and turkey, going back hundreds of years. Several places continue this annual tradition. My title today comes from one of my favourite carols, a lesser know one from our Youth Club repertoire then. The carol, aptly entitled, ‘The Boar’s head’ apparently originates from Queen’s College, Oxford, where they continue this annual event.

It is what is known as macaronic verse, mixing English and Latin. The carol starts:

The boar’s head in hand bear I;

Bedecked with bay and rosemary;

So I pray you my masters be merry;

Quot estis in convivio.”

Sometimes I think I was born in the wrong century. I prefer the language and music of the first Queen Elizabeth!

Not quite finished with Christmas reminiscing. I may have left some of the best bits until last …