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We don’t need no Pink Floyd: or supporting children’s language development, with help from The Sex Pistols and Dr Feelgood

Date posted: Monday 17th March 2014

1Ummagumma by Pink Floyd:
Set the controls for the heart of no fun?
Johnny Rotten. It could have been me.

The world of British popular music was changed forever in just 10 minutes in 1975, when Malcolm McLaren saw John Lydon walking down the Kings Road in Chelsea, sporting a Pink Floyd T-shirt. Lydon looked totally unexceptional, apart from a mass of spots on his face and the words ‘I hate’ scrawled with black marker pen above the words Pink Floyd. McLaren was very impressed and asked Lydon to audition as singer for a new band he was planning to put together. Lydon couldn’t sing, so was signed on the spot. He was renamed Johnny Rotten and the rest is history.

I never saw the Sex Pistols, bought any of their records or watched the legendary swearing match between the band and Bill Grundy live onGranada TV’s prime time Today show. I’ve always thought that, but for a cruel twist of fate, it could have been me fronting the Pistols. After all, I had spots and hated Pink Floyd. And the twist of fate? I lived in Guildford and never went to Chelsea.

I know it’s wrong to hate, but Pink Floyd really got my goat. Everyone I looked up to as a role model in my teens in the early 1970s had Pink Floyd albums. (We are talking here about my eldest brother and his cool university friends, and boys in the sixth form who had shoulder-length hair, wore trench coats and smoked Rothmans King Size.). The Floyd were cool: they never released singles, you knew they were hairy but no one knew what they looked like, and their albums had very weird names like Ummagumma and Atom Heart Mother. As an impressionable 14-year-old, keen to make an impression on my friends, I decided to pool all my pocket money and buy a Floyd album. But which one? Every Saturday I would head down to the local record shop and flick through the album covers in their plastic wallets. Everything was too expensive, so I’d usually ask if I could put on a set of headphones and listen to track one side one of Atom Heart Mother. It sounded awful, but at least I could say with sincerity, should anyone ask me what I thought of Pink Floyd, ‘Well Atom heart Mother sounds very…. progressive’.

My life has been full of fateful moments, and I still rue the day I looked in the window of the second hand shop and saw a copy of Ummagumma going for a quid. One pound sterling could buy you a lot in 1971: a box of bangers (the fireworks, not the sausages), a box of matches, a bag of chips, a litre bottle of coke, a Curly Wurly, a packet of Spangles, and an Aztec bar, and you’d still have change for a packet of 10 Players No 6 from the local sweet shop. So I lingered outside the pawn shop for a long time before I went in and bought what must have been the greatest bargain in town, because this was Pink Floyd’s legendary double album.

They say you should never buy a pig in a poke. Unfortunately no one had ever said that to me, and when I put the needle in the groove of track one side one all I got was the sound of crackling and white noise. Now I knew that Pink Floyd were ‘progressive’, ‘experimental’ and ‘a bit of an acquired taste’, so I presumed that I’d have to give the album a few listens before I got to like it and could hum a few basic riffs. It was an awful experience. To my untrained ears it sounded as if someone had spilled a bottle of wine all over the record and then taken a darning needle to every inch of the black vinyl. I wasn’t going to let on about my disappointment, so spent the rest of term with the album ostentatiously displayed on top of my locker, and steadfastly refused to let anyone play the album or borrow it.

I hoped that everyone would think I was dead cool and enigmatic, as I studied the album cover and stroked my chin, as if to say, ‘Hmm. This is a mighty fine album. A bit inaccessible in parts, but a classic nonetheless’, while in secret I seethed at the audacity of this massively popular band releasing a double album of complete awfulness, and thereby ripping off millions of poor teens like me. What really stuck in my craw was the photo on the back cover. There were two roadies (or were they in fact Dave Gilmour and Roger Waters?) standing in front of a large van, surrounded by just a fraction of the band’s equipment. That really took the biscuit. They seemed to be turning the darning needle in the wound, mocking us poor saps for buying an album that could only have taken five minutes to make, while the cover photo suggested we might be listening to music created by instruments.

(It was only recently that I discovered that my copy had in fact been covered in wine and attacked with a darning needle).

As soon as I left school and had my first job, I made sure the majority of my wage packet went on listening to real music and watching real bands with real energy and who didn’t need to have tons and tons of lights and special effects to keep the audience enthralled. No more Pink Floyd for me. Their deluded fans could trek to venues like Earls Court, Knebworth and even the Hollywood Bowl, to see a load of pyrotechnics like aeroplanes crashing into the stage while the band sang about the evils of having too much money. Pink Floyd sure as heck weren’t going to get any more of mine. Instead I used to haunt a disused bingo hall in Guildford every Wednesday night, as it was transformed into ‘The Gin Mill Club’, where for 50p you could watch the type of bands that were mentioned in the NME Gig Guide, but who hadn’t quite made it big enough to get a record deal.

Dr Feelgood in Southend in 1975. If you haven’t got 15 minutes to spare, watch this from 11 minutes in, to see the band in full flow.

And that’s where I saw Dr Feelgood. This band was a revelation. None of them had long hair or beards. They wore suits, played a strange blend of R&B and rock’n’roll and looked a bit seedy. Their guitarist, Wilko Johnson, regularly leapt in the air and used his guitar like a machine gun, spraying the audience with notes. And their lead singer, Lee Brilleaux, used to make cheeky comments to the girls in the audience in between songs, while waving his arms around as if he was holding a bottle of cheap plonk and a darning needle. I was smitten. This band were real grafters, who hailed from Canvey Island and would play anywhere they could. Their stamping ground was places like Hounslow, Portsmouth, Cardiff, Aberystwyth, Belfast, Swansea and Oldham. They travelled to gigs in a beat up van and slept in dodgy hotels and ate in greasy spoons up and down the UK. They were gritty and real. (Amazingly, after the death of Franco, they became the number one band in Spain, and I saw them in 1978 at the Plaza de Torros in Barcelona, on the same bill as XTC and The Police.) No flying across the globe in a private airliner and lounging around in swimming pools for Dr Feelgood. This was a real band, with a real message, and a faithful following of diehards like me.

What is all this about? Well, I’m writing this in a dodgy hotel, having just dined in a greasy spoon somewhere in the hinterland of the UK. I’ve been driving my van all over the country on a tour of training days and conferences. My theme is ‘Finding time to talk in busy settings’, where we explore how we can help children develop their language and learning through having conversations with adults and other children. We look at the role of the adult in helping children enjoy talking in groups, and how to support children who are vulnerable because they are shy, or learning a second language, or have additional language learning needs. We take part in practical workshops to see how we can help young children develop their language and mark making skills too.

Where have I been? So far, Hounslow, Portsmouth, Cardiff and Oldham. And where am I headed? At some point you will find me in Belfast, Aberystwyth, Swansea, and back in Cardiff for three days. And what am I listening to as I head towards a town near you? Everything but The Floyd.


On the road again.

Take care out there.


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7 responses to “We don’t need no Pink Floyd: or supporting children’s language development, with help from The Sex Pistols and Dr Feelgood”

  1. John Rice says:

    …if the public have heard of them, then they’re no longer cool.

    Rock on, Michael. Rock on…

  2. Patricia Blakey Lodge says:

    I guess this is the nearest you will ever get to being a roadie. So count your blessings…

    • Michael Jones says:

      Hi Patricia!
      Funny you should say that, because my next post is about how I nearly ran away from home to be a roadie with Hawkwind, and on another occasion had the good fortune to bump into Phil Collins at a festival and got to ask him a very important question!
      That’s not as unlikely as it sounds, as I was brought up near Guildford, and in the 70s the surrounding area was literally awash with rock stars!
      More soon!
      Michael (in an exclamation mark kinda mood)

  3. Loving the Ummagumma pastiche photo. The only “Floyd” album I ever bought was Saucerful of Secrets. No cover, 10 bob in wh smiths bargain bucket.If you really want to dislike “The Floyd” watch live in Pompei…Them in a restaurant eating an apple pie and moaning about not having a corner piece. …It’s like we all needed punk but didn’t know why til it came.

    Anyway have you noticed this thing people do when they are fans of a band and shorten the name. Once I’ve got over the irritation (especially if it’s a band I irrationally and subjectively dislike) I get to wondering why. My theory, for what it’s worth, is it’s to do with a sort of claimed intimacy. After all only people close to you are allowed to shorten your name.Isn’t that the rule? If I started calling you Mike there would be a very English frisson of awkwardness. But there may be people in your life that know you as Mike, or even Mikey.
    So if you like the psychedelic furs etc you call them “The Furs” or “The manics” or the “Pistols” It even extends to band members names “Richey” and “Johnny.” Best to head it off at the pass and shorten it yourself…., The Clash (you can’t shorten) Madonna, Prince etc although there’s been some messing with their names along the nickname route which may be slightly different I think.

    For reasons I can’t fathom half my class are calling me a 57 year old man, Timmy Boy at the moment. Also there seem to be more people in my life calling me Timmy. I don’t really mind. However I did work with someone once who called me by my surname, or called me “boy” which caused me to ask /tell him not to.I think he went to public school but I didn’t.
    I instinctively feel uncomfortable when I hear teachers/ carers calling children by their first and second name together.In British culture I think it probably signifies something demeaning. I may well be wrong but in my experience it’s usually the precursor to a telling off. What’s in a name? A lot.
    Pip Pip

    • Michael Jones says:

      Spot on Timmy!!!!
      Only my wife calls me Mikey (based on Al Pacino in The Godfather)
      Where have you been hiding recently? Have you been busy gigging with ‘The Curseds’?
      Thought I’d lost you!!
      PS if you Google ‘1970s mind 21st century body’ you can access my new website exploring music and my youth in more detail
      Take care out there

  4. I did check your other website but seem strangely drawn back to this one. Probably because I feel duty bound to at least attempt to conclude with something “educational”
    Have been busy with the Curst Sons. Also went to a fantastic day event in Brighton. The Creative Minds conference run and managed by learning disabled artists. Massive debates and big questions. Check out their talking area on the creative minds website.
    Re: the pistols have you seen the movie of their 2005(?) reunion gigs at Brixton academy…. Awesome
    Pip pip

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