Friday, 3 June 2016
RAF Maurpur to Tin Pan Alley
I made mention in a previous post last year of a period during my younger days when I fancied myself as being a bit of a songwriter. It came about due to the fact that whilst serving abroad in the R.A.F. our particular camp situation meant that we were simply unable to keep up with the then current popular tunes and music of the day. We had no facilities to be able to hear the usual radio hit parade scene we had previously always enjoyed back home in England. Although well served by 2 cinemas on camp and even nightly open air film shows outside the canteen, these however did not provide anything new. Our only aural musical entertainment amounted to a pile of 78s being held at that time in the Cpls. Club. Although come to think of it, I did often get to hear "Joe and his Jive Boys" playing *Blue Tango* "live" down town in nearby Karachi, I really did like his version of that tune. *Blue Tango* was the only tune I managed to return home remembering after all my time out there. The "out there" I refer to was where I was stationed for those 18 months back in 1952-1953 at RAF Staging Post, Mauripur, Karachi, Pakistan.
Before being posted to Mauripur I was stationed for over a year in England at R.A.F. Hereford as a postal clerk on the permanent staff, this was in 1950-1951. Living in England then with everyday access to the BBC meant that those of us interested in "pop" were able to keep up to date with the current musical scene. Life on camp certainly felt tedious particularly having to last out a whole weekend at Hereford when you were not due a 48 hour leave pass and able to get back home to London. One thing that did break up those periods of boredom for me was the fact that I must have had a good pal working and living in the Station bedding store. I say "must have had" because now (57 years later) I have no idea who he was, or, remember much about him. I only recall he did have a good radio and also that a few of us got to sleeping in his store on some weekend nights. The significance of a Saturday night sleepover in his storage hanger meant that we were able to go to sleep in comfort whilst listening from midnight to all the latest from *Radio Luxenbourg*. In those days and probably before the phrase "disc jockey" had been coined, Jack Jackson was recognised to be the main man for the record hit parade and "208 Luxenbourg - the station of the stars" was definitely the place to be tuned into.
Back at Mauripur in May 1952 many of us on camp were invited to "A Dry Evening - May Day Ball". It was to be a varied programme attended by the High Commissioner and his Lady with other political dignitaries, remember, Karachi was the Capital of Pakistan in those days. My very good oppo Tommy McCamphill and I somehow decided to enter a "Golden Voice Competition" being held and broadcast at this event from midnight. We thought we would get around the instruction of "a dry" night by purchasing a bottle of Invalid Red Port wine in Elphinstone Street and downing it prior to reaching the venue. Mind you it didn`t do us much good, my rendition of *Till The End of Time* failed dismally because when the pianist asked me "what key?" I of course had no idea and managed to choose the wrong one. I found I couldn`t reach the higher notes and Tommy who was next on didn`t manage to finish. A disaster?, well no not really, it did give us something to really laugh about for weeks after.
This baron musical period certainly persisted and I happened to mention this to a WRAF who was in transit and passing through from the U.K. to the Far East. She seemed pleased enough to tell me the song that was all the rage back home was *How Much is that Doggie in the Window*. She even sang me a line or two "the one with the waggly tail" etc - I could hardly believe that this was supposed to be the kind of stuff that was making the top of the charts and told her that I could write a better song than that!. She was on her way the next morning so certainly never got the opportunity to find out if this would turn out to be just an idle boast on my part. Some time after that encounter I was writing the usual letters home and decided to include for my Mother a page with some verses from a poem I had just rattled off. I had never attempted this before and was surprised that the rhyming thing seemed to be quite easy. My Mum at least thought it was wonderful - of course!. I began then writing a few songs and some of the lads even gave them the nod of approval. This got me believing that I was able to come up with words and music that would make those in "tin pan alley" sit up and take notice when I got back to the U.K..
A few weeks after my demob in September 1953 I saw an advert in one of the papers, "tape recorder for hire". Although I had all my lyrics written down, the actual tunes were not. It struck me that this could the answer, if I were to sing the pick of my songs on tape then maybe I could find a musician willing to jot the notes down for me. So that`s exactly what I did, I hired this recorder for a week from a Mews address behind Harley Street in London. Unfortunately it turned out to be a reel to reel job which meant I would require a similar machine for later playbacks. This unfortunately put paid to that plan to get those taped tunes written down. This problem was solved when I discovered I could rent studio time at HMV in Oxford Street as the top floor of their store in London was in those days a recording studio. This I booked for 1/2 hour to coincide with me having to return the hired Grundig reel to reel machine to nearby Harley Street. HMV then recorded from my tape source and made me up 3 acetate disc copies featuring what I considered to be my 4 best compositions. The reason I paid for 3 discs was because they were needed to put into practice the next part of my idea. I had by then already selected 3 famous names from the English musical world with the intention of posting each one a copy of my disc requesting them to listen and let me have their comments on the songs. The first two were top bandleaders, Cyril Stapleton was one but the other one`s name escapes me completely. The third name was Steve Race the well known Musical Broadcaster. The only bandleader that bothered to reply kept the record but wrote back to tell me I was wasting his time as well as my own. Not a very encouraging start especially as the other bandleader chose to ignore me completely. However, I did manage to receive some good and reasoned advice from Steve Race. Not only did he return the record but went on to explain the way things were in the pop scene at that time, the 1950`s. He pointed out that 99% of the hit parade were all tried and tested successes in the USA so commercially no matter how good a UK number might be it just wouldn`t get enough exposure. He went on to say that many of the current singers and actors also thought their songwriting abilities should be recognised. Only one of those personalities ever seemed to make it and that was with one song only - Norman Wisdom topped the hit parade with his composition *Don`t Laugh at Me (cause I`m a Fool)*.
And so, having tried and failed, I am just left now with what I like to call my Musical Portfolio and all contained in an old school exercise book. In the absence of having any copies now of that disc or tape demo, I am unable to recall which 4 songs I chose to record originally. The fact is, looking through those titles, I reckon 5 of them still look pretty good to me so it must have been 4 from those identified and listed below.
Perhaps I should have titled this blog..... "Mauripur and back to reality?"
(Joe Johnstone - reminisces)