Tuesday, 28 January 2014

So fare thee well, Pete Seeger

I remember my parents buying their first record player. Or gramophone player. It was covered in cream and maroon vinyl, and it was placed in the dining room, where we all looked at it and wondered what it was doing there.

My brother knew what it was doing there. He seriously bought records, EPs and LPs – still has all the original Beatles records, and he followed the charts religiously.

I wasn’t really interested in music, and in this, I took after my parents, which is why I wondered why they’d bought it. The purchase did compel them to invest in some records. There was, as I recall, an EP of Ella Fitzgerald. We also had a few classical LPs stamped with ‘Fire Salvage,’ which might explain why the labels couldn’t be trusted. It was years before I discovered that what I’d thought was Beethoven’s Eroica Symphony was actually Mendelssohn’s Violin concerto.  My parents really felt far more comfortable with the spoken words, so we had Dylan Thomas reading some of his poems, Under Milk Wood and several Shakespeare recordings. This is why I can still quote most of Henry V from end to end.

But there were music records that made an impact in the family: songs by Pete Seeger. We played them religiously, and every Sunday we would go to the pub at lunch time (long before serious campaigns about drink-driving) and come home roaring ‘The Banks are made of marble’ or ‘If you miss me at the back of the bus’ or, if we were too tipsy to manage complicated words, ‘We shall overcome.’ We were, of course, a radical left-wing family, which we demonstrated by singing Pete Seeger songs on our inebriated way home.

So perhaps, the best song to commemorate Pete Seeger, for me, is not one of his but ‘As soon as this pub closes, the revolution starts.’