Archive for Culture

Memories of Hoxton, Shoreditch, East London

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Hoxton Market – like much of inner East London – has changed considerably over the years.  

I WAS born and bred in East London.  Despite not living there for many years now, there’s no mistaking my accent.  Like any Cockney, I still drop my ‘h’ when speaking and pronounce anything that starts with ‘th’ as an f.  Thus, thirteen become ‘firteen’ and thirty becomes ‘firty’.  I still use a lot of slang words and whilst I’ve lost a lot of backslang (I haven’t spoken it in around 35 years and would probably need to sit down and write much of it out these days!) talking in double negatives – “I ain’t never going to do that again”– makes perfect sense to me.  To be really honest, I have trouble understanding people with posh or ‘plummy’ accents and really have to concentrate on what they’re saying!

So why am I telling you all this?

The main reason is that a little while ago I came across an excellent Facebook site called Memories of Hoxton, Shoreditch which you can check out here: https://www.facebook.com/groups/46495127566/  It has nearly 6,000 members and it encourages them to post ‘memories or photos of growing up in Hoxton’ – although folks are asked not put up anything about football, politics and religion as they often cause arguments!

When I was growing up, Hoxton was only about a five minute walk away from where I lived.  I spent many hours in the general area – and specifically in Hoxton Market where I worked for a couple of years as a barrow boy on an egg stall.

Before I got the job I was very familiar with the market itself.  It consisted of a wide variety of shops (from funeral parlours to pie & mash shops) as well as stalls that seemed to sell everything under the sun.  There was even a Woolworths – remember them?!!

Like many youngsters who grew up in the mid to late 60s, it was more or less obligatory to help my mum with the errands.  (This was way before the weekly shop to a massive out-of-town supermarket became the norm – indeed, from memory, the nearest supermarket at the time was a Tesco’s at Ridley Road Market in Dalston.) Therefore, two or three times a week I accompanied mum down to Hoxton Market.  Here my main job was to carry some of the items that she had bought.

Saturday was the main food shopping day, and most children would have followed their mum around, for what seemed like hours on end.  Although my mum was only really shopping for food, she seemed to look at every other stall as well – and clothes stalls, in particular!  As mum was a seamstress by trade, she’d examine in minute detail the way buttons, hemlines and zips had been sewn.  If something wasn’t to her liking she’d slowly shake her head from side to side, purse her lips and mutter ‘tut-tut.’

Unlike supermarkets, the old fashioned street markets seemed to have a real atmosphere about them.  Many of the sights, smells and sounds have never left me.  In particular, the air always seemed to be full of raucous laughter.  Everyone who owned or worked on a stall seemed to be a real character – the wit and banter were second to none.  Needless to say much of it would now be considered X-rated and most definitely Politically Incorrect – and this was absolutely true of Hoxton Market!

The market was also a place to meet friends, neighbours and relatives.  I always lost count of the number of times that my mum would stop and have a natter with someone.  Luckily, virtually every mum would have been accompanied by a child so at least you had someone to talk to as well.

I got my first Saturday job in Hoxton Market via my mum as well.  She got it through a friend of a friend of a friend – a classic case of ‘it’s not what you know but who you know’.  On saying that, I’m inclined to think that there’s no better way to learn any sort of trade other than from the bottom up.  Over many working years I’ve seen many a university graduate put into responsible positions and whilst most of them were very personable many were, to coin a phrase, ‘all brains and no common sense’.

I started working in the market when I was about 14 or 15 (this would have been around 1974/75) and carried on for about two years.  Here I was a barrow boy – aka a gofer or general dogs body – on an egg stall.  As far as I can recall, there were no other egg stalls in the market so we always did a roaring trade.

My job was to basically to help whoever was running the stall.  I helped to set the stall up and both sell & replenish the stock.  I was quickly shown one of the tricks of the trade – placing the eggs at a very slight angle to make them look larger!

I worked with a few interesting characters.  One was a New Zealander who was living and working in London for a while before returning home to help run family sheep farm.  He wasn’t really looking forward to going home to spend the rest of his life working with the “stupidest animals in the world.”  For the life of me I can’t recall his name, but I can remember that he was a very calm, happy go lucky bloke.  He was also as strong as an ox and was a real grafter.

I also recall working with a biker who was in his mid 20s who was just known as ‘Big Chris’ due to him being way over 6’ tall.  He had really long hair and always wore a black leather motorcycle jacket.  He was also the person who introduced me into heavy metal bands like Deep Purple & Black Sabbath.  He had an in-depth knowledge of anything and everything relating to heavy metal and would talk non-stop about the subject.  Big Chris would often recommend different LPs, most of which are still in the roof space!

Apart from bikes and music his other passion was for burgers and bacon sarnies.  He was very generous with his money and one of my main jobs was to go to the local café and come back with these delicacies!  Looking back on it they should have come with a health warning as they were dripping in grease and covered in brown sauce.

After my stint as a barrow boy, I worked for the local library service.  This started off as a Saturday job but I was also able to get plenty of work during the school holidays.  Here I was mainly based at Pitfield Street Library (in Hoxton) but also covered worked Kate Greenaway Library (which was situated in the Fellows Estate) and the De Beauvoir Library which was part of the De Beauvoir Estate.  I love books so this was more a vocation than a job.  I have great memories of the reading room in Pitfield Street where you could spend hours reading all manner of papers, magazines and reference books.

One great difference between working down the market and in a library was the method of payment.  In the market you got paid cash in hand – generally with greasy and stained old banknotes – whilst at the library the wages arrived in a small window envelope.  This contained a small printed wage statement and, more importantly, your wages in the form of both coins and pristine banknotes.  The notes were always stapled together and I always managed to stab my thumb with the staple whilst trying to separate the notes.  You also had to sign for the whole lot in a huge book!

A little while ago, and out of idle curiosity, I posted a question (on the Memories of Hoxton Facebook site) asking how many people worked down the market.  I was absolutely blown away by the response – it seems as if virtually everyone had either worked in the market or knew someone who had.  Many were even related to some of the shop and stall holders.  Indeed, one of those who’d worked in the market was someone I’ve probably known for over 50 years from our early days at Randal Cremer Primary School – in Ormsby Street, Shoreditch – and then on to  Parmiter’s Grammar School, which was situated on the Approach Road in Bethnal Green.  Sadly, we’re probably like many true Cockneys and both now live miles away from the East End.

I’d highly recommend the Memories of Hoxton, Shoreditch Facebook site to any Counter Culture reader (who comes from Hoxton or the general Shoreditch area) who like to reminisce about the ‘good old days’ before the area became gentrified.  I’d also like to encourage other Counter Culture contributors and readers to share theirmemories of bygone days, no matter where they come from.  In particular, I feel that it’s very important to chronical the lives of ordinary indigenous working folks – especially those from areas that have seen extensive racial, ethnic, cultural and social changes since the 60s – so that their vital memories are not lost to history.

Reviewed by John Field

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La Illeta Dels Banyets

yacimiento-arqueologicoEL CAMPELLO is a delightful town, in the heart of the Spanish Costa Blanca.  Situated about half an hour away from Alicante and an hour away from Benidorm, it has a population of around 26,000.  El Campello is home to a few English speaking folks – but it’s light years away from those who live, work and holiday in Alicante and Benidorm. 

As the town’s web-site – http://www.elcampello.es/index.php?s=campello_hoy&i=en – notes, it’s a ‘traditional fishing village which has known how to transform itself, without losing its roots, in to a first rate tourist town.’

Indeed, it’s where a lot of Spanish folks go for their holidays.  And it’s easy to see why – there’s over 14 miles (23 kilometres) of beautiful beaches which are effectively given a ‘manicure’ early every morning.  In addition to this the whole beach front is immaculate.  In fact it’s so neat and tidy you’d be hard pressed to find any litter at all. 

If you’re into history and culture, one of the highlights of El Campello is an archaeological site known as La Illeta Dels Banyets, sometimes known as the Queen’s Bathing Pools.

Earlier this year my wife and I visited the town.  We were aware of the La Illeta and wanted to visit it.  We were really lucky as our visit coincided with the twentieth anniversary of the opening of El Campello’s Tourist Information Office.  To mark the occasion, some visitor attractions were open free of charge – including the La Illeta.  Happy days!

I’ll let the town’s aforementioned web-site explain the significance of the site:

Located in a small peninsula, at the foot of the Watchtower, an archaeological site can be found which is, without a doubt, the most important of the Mediterranean. These lands were separated from the coast by an earthquake of an unknown date, and during the 30’s of the last century were artificially reunited with the land. The first excavations were carried out by F. Figueras Pacheco between 1931 and 35 and, during the decade of the 70’s, by E. A. Llobregat. These works confirmed the existence on this site of different civilisations and cultures, with the Roman, the Iberian, and the Bronze Era being the most significant, and so we can date the site as being over 5,000 years old.

From the Iberian era vessels, weapons, tombs and ceramic remains have been found, as well as singular buildings which lead us to believe that significant production and trade activity took place in relation to other Mediterranean cultures between the second and fourth Centuries B.C.

From the Roman era small thermal baths have been found which belonged to a disappeared agricultural village and, linked to this and to others nearby, some fish-farm hatcheries cut into the rock. Despite the erosion, the pools can still be made out, connected to the sea, in which the fish were farmed. These constructions (els Banyets) give their name to the site because according to word of mouth tradition they were the bathing pools of a Moorish queen.

The site is currently supervised by the Museo Arqueológico de Alicante (Marq), which is in charge of is museumisation.’

We both found La Illeta really interesting.  There were detailed information boards everywhere.  Even by the plants – which somehow are able to survive the reasonably arid conditions in this part of the world – had information boards!  It provided a fascinating glimpse into the past.  We both found ourselves thinking that we have it really easy compared to the lives our European ancestors lived.

My wife was particularly interested in the wine making area which dated back to the Iberian era.  As a wine lover, she wondered how our ancestors ‘came across’ wine.  Indeed, how did they work out how to make it – was it completely by accident or did someone deliberately set out to do it?  I’m not really into wine at all, but even I started to wonder if wine has always tasted the same or did it evolve over the years? I presume environmental changes and modern production methods would have some bearing on the matter – if so, is there any way that the ‘original’ taste of wines throughout the ages could be recreated?

During our time on La Illeta we came across one of the assistants talking in French to a young girl.  We presumed she was an archaeology student as she was taking copious notes whilst the assistant was going into great detail and both were taking a very close look at some of the ruins.

We really enjoyed our time there.  However, I thought that maybe even a small ‘living history’ museum near the site would have been useful.  I would have really like to seen full size mock-ups of the buildings, characters in various period costumes and maybe an audio visual display providing a history of the general area. 

La Illeta is one of the most prominent features along the El Campello coast line.  Others include a modern marina, nautical club and fish market.  Overlooking this area is La Illeta Watchtower.  It’s a very impressive and a fairly substantial defensive position dating back to the sixteenth century and built to warn against raids from Berber Pirates.  As mentioned earlier, some form of museum could provide a link between all of these features – a real delight for all history buffs and culture vultures!

La Illeta is well, well worth a visit.  However, a word to the wise – it’s surrounded on three sides by the Mediterranean Sea which provides a lovely – but deceiving – breeze.  Believe it or not it’s easy to get roasted by the sun without actually noticing it.  Our tip is to use plenty of the highest factor sun cream you can get hold of – you have been warned!

Reviewed by John Field

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Dr JOHN COOPER CLARKE

CQAF Festival Marquee, Customs House Square, Belfast. May 3rd 2016

As he gets older, the Bard of Salford looks more and more cadaverous. John Cooper Clarke’s wry observation, “As you can see, I’ve been piling on the pounds” won one of the biggest laughs of the evening. Most folk I know have never heard of him, so I wasJohn Cooper Clarke pleasantly surprised to see the venue packed almost to capacity.

The huge audience in the Cathedral Quarter Arts Festival Marquee had already been warmed up by another Mancunian poet, Mike Garry, who entertained them with a mixture of shrewd observational comedy and heartbreaking pathos. The most memorable item was Pay as you Go, a poem about a young girl who had been inveigled by a conniving boyfriend into ‘sexting’ him intimate pictures of herself. He then betrayed her trust by posting them on line. It was powerful stuff.

With a non-stop rapid-fire line of patter, John Cooper Clarke launched into a series of old favourites; Beasley Street and its gentrified update, Beasley Boulevard; Twat, ending with the full and unexpurgated version of Evidently Chickentown, made famous in an episode of the Sopranos (albeit in a toned down form).

Due acknowledgment was given to the Sinn Féin president, Gerry Adams TD, who a couple of days earlier had tweeted his appreciation of the Tarantino movie Django Unchained, by describing himself as a ‘Ballymurphy Nigger’. This storm of universal disapproval and outrage – some of it may even have been genuine – that broke over him was still fresh in everyone’s mind. To the delight of the audience, Cooper Clarke dedicated his upbeat rendition of Some Cunt Used the N-Word in the Sinn Féin president’s honour.

Cooper Clarke is rude, irreverent, iconoclastic and at times profane. He manages to be all this and also very, very funny – even when you can see a mile off where he’s going or what he’s going to say.

The Bard of Salford is touring throughout the UK and Ireland during the month of June. If he comes to your town, go and see this show.

**** Four stars.

David Kerr

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Civil and Religious Liberties for All

Free Speech

IF LIBERTY means anything at all, it means the right to tell people what they do not want to hear.

George Orwell.

ISSUE 1 of Free Speech (FS) is a double-sided A4 pdf publication. I understand that those who’ve produced it – a new Facebook group called Free Speech: How Do We Protect It? – hope that it’ll appear in hard copy in due course. You can check out this Facebook group here: https://www.facebook.com/groups/1607711629485795/ There’s no indication how often FS will appear, but to my mind there’s so many attacks on various freedoms these days that it could become a daily publication!

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Two things immediately struck me when I took a look at FS. First of all, its strapline declares that it supports Civil & Religious Liberties For All, something that I agree with wholeheartedly. Secondly, I was delighted to see that the lead article – Trigger Warning! – takes it cue from Mick Hume’s new book Trigger Warning: Is the Fear of Being Offensive Killing Free Speech? This is an excellent and thought-provoking book which I’m very slowly ploughing through myself. If you haven’t read it yet, check out this recent review on Counter Culture: https://countercultureuk.com/2015/07/26/trigger-warning/

This lead article is accompanied by some dramatic artwork featuring a gun which cleverly uses quote marks as a trigger. But more about Trigger Warning! later on.

Issue 1 of FS features a brief but very important ‘mission statement’ entitled Where We Stand. It’s worth reproducing in full:

FREE SPEECH is a new group which aims to promote, protect and preserve civil and religious liberties for all. We are interested in all aspects of freedom. However,

we are especially interested in instances whereby elements of the State try to restrict freedom of speech and assembly.

We believe that Britain should have a formal constitution and bill of rights, based on the concept of civil and religious liberties for all. We also feel that a civil rights’ watchdog

should be established to protect people’s ability to make use of these fundamental rights.

We believe in absolute free speech – with very few exceptions to this rule e.g. inciting violence. Either we all have rights – or none of us have rights.

I’m more than happy with this ‘mission statement’ as I’ve held a deep distrust of elements of the State for many years now. It also seems to echo the words of one of Britain’s most well-know Libertarians – and a man I really admire for his unwavering commitment towards total free speech – Dr. Sean Gabb. Here’s what he has to say about State interference:

My own view—and I speak on this matter not only for me but also for the Libertarian Alliance—is that there should be no restrictions on freedom of speech where public affairs are concerned. This involves, among much else, the right to say anything at all about politics, religion, sex, science or history. It is no business of the State to tell people what they can and cannot think. Our bodies are our own. Our minds are our own. What we do with them is our business. It is one of the highest glories of the Enlightenment that states were shamed out of dragooning people into the various established worships of Europe. It is one of the most ominous signs of the modern counter-Enlightenment that people can again be persecuted for their opinions.”

With this in mind, let’s return to the lead article.

Trigger Warning! provides an overview of the various attacks on free speech. One would have thought that only views that deliberately broke the law (maybe by, say, advocating violence) would be monitored or subjected to some form of control. However, the targets for attack are widespread, ‘ordinary’ and don’t necessariyl encourage violence. For as FS notes:

DO YOU use the internet? Are you a football supporter? Do you like comedy? Do you go to university? Are you interested in history? If so, your right to free speech – and assembly – could be under threat!”

FS notes that the main thrust of Hume’s book is “that freedom of speech is under threat, mainly because many of us don’t want to offend anyone. Indeed, politeness or fear of causing offence is undermining the hard-won rights of freedom of speech and thought that we like to think are the foundations of our society.”

Those who seem take offence at anything and everything are branded as illiberal liberals and ‘Reverse-Voltaires’. I like the phrase ‘New Totalitarians’ but it’s not used by FS or Hume. However, the descriptions of illiberal liberals and ‘Reverse-Voltaires’ as used Hume and FS are spot on:

Illiberal ‘liberals’ don’t wish to debate or dispute arguments that they find offensive. They would deny the other person’s right to say it in the first instance. Reverse-Voltaires believe

that their personal emotions and feelings come first. They want to be protected from words.”

According to FS, there are five main areas which appear to be targeted by illiberal liberals and Reverse-Voltaires: the internet, football, comedy, university and history. Examples are given for each area under attack – and, in doing so, both the beliefs and ‘justification’ provided by new totalitaians are shown up for the nonsense that they are.

To some degree, I can understand why elements of the Establishment would want to control – or at the very least, monitor – what’s thought and/or said on the internet and in university. In addition to this, I think that it could come in useful for the Establishment to have its own version or interpretation of history. Indeed, as Walter Benjamin noted, “History is written by the victors.”

I also think that the Establishment can also effectively use history for its own ends and to suit its own agenda. This is also the thrust of History Is A Weaponhttp://historyisaweapon.com/which is a US-based left counter-hegemonic education project.” It has the following to say about the subject:

History isn’t what happened, but a story of what happened. And there are always different versions, different stories, about the same events. One version might revolve mainly around a specific set of facts while another version might minimize them or not include them at all.”

However, other areas which have been targeted by (and are under attack from) the illiberal liberals and ‘Reverse-Voltaires’ are surprising. Why attack football and comedy? I’ve two linked theories about this.

My first theory is that the illiberal liberals and ‘Reverse-Voltaires’ are engaged in a deliberate and well thought out ‘war of position.’ Here they’re working to a political agenda, and as any true liberal publication would assert, they’re:

Politically Correct busy bodies who seem to want to dictate to everyone how they should think and act. Despite their self-proclaimed ‘liberalism’, in reality they’re dogmatic, undemocratic and totalitarian in nature.

Indeed, they would have given the combined forces of the Gestapo and KGB a run for their money!”

My other theory is that – whilst I’m not into ‘class’ – their actions (indeed, their ‘war of position’) could be part of some bizzare form of class warfare. The reason I say this is that the vast majority of football supporters in Britain are working class. The same could be said for those who attend comedy nights in pubs and clubs. But the illiberal liberals and ‘Reverse-Voltaires’ tend to be middle-class professionals.

It’s my feeling that these ‘New Totalitaians’ see themselves as an elite. And as this article https://www.facebook.com/248048985374884/photos/pb.248048985374884.-2207520000.1442514734./407549906091457/?type=1&theater points out

This elite tolerates those who agree with their values and views. But they spew real hate and venom when they disagree with others. It appears that they are more than happy to see the working-class working – as they’re helping to generate profits for others – but as soon as they let their hair down or try to organise politically, culturally or ethnically, they’re demonised.

The illiberal liberal elite simply don’t – or won’t – understand working-class style terrace chants and banter when it comes to race, ethnicity, nationality, religion and sexuality.”

I suppose only time will prove my theories right or wrong. In the meantime, and for what it’s worth, I’d highly recommend issue 1 of Free Speech. You can check it out in the Files section on the Free Speech Facebook site here https://www.facebook.com/groups/1607711629485795/

  • Reviewed by John Field

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Thompson Brings Noir To Belfast

Take Care Gorgeous by Alan Drew Thompson 

TAKE CARE GORGEOUS is the début novelette of Carrickfergus (Co. Antrim) based author Alan Drew Thompson. A fast paced often violent but sometimes sentimental affair that finally brings the noir genre to Belfast.

Set against the tough backdrop of 1950’s Belfast, the book introduces a new kind of local hero Inspector James Forsyth of the Royal Ulster Constabulary. A man who will bend the rules of authority in order to do what is morally right.

In the first instalment of a promised trilogy Forsyth finds himself tangled in a complicated web of murder, blackmail and shifting identities.

The story is set around a prominent member of Belfast society who finds himself at the centre of a blackmail plot involving an attempt to get a highly dangerous renegade Irish Republican released from the Crumlin Road Gaol in Belfast.

The exciting and unique feature of the story is that for the first time the writing styles of Dashiell Hammett and Raymond Chandler are set against the violent Belfast backdrop. The customary femme fatale is also on hand, this time a beautiful woman from West Belfast who bears a striking resemblance to 1940’s film noir legend Veronica Lake.

Fast paced, enjoyable with a twist in the tail Take Care Gorgeous left me desperate for more.

Thompson has promised that the sequel entitled Farewell Handsome will be released in the near future.

Reviewed by Lisa Thomas

takecare

Click on image to buy Paperback!

by Alan Drew Thompson
ISBN-13: 978-1500285371 is available from amazon.co.uk priced at £2.75
Also available on KINDLE price £1.53

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Harry Hamilton and his Swing Band – The American Songbook

Harry Hamilton and his Swing Band – The American Songbook

I CAN’T SING, dance or play any type of musical instrument. Indeed, when I try to sing most people think that I’m mucking about and don’t believe me when I say that I’m actually trying to hit a note! If I tried to dance I’d end up in my local Accident and Emergency – assuming it hasn’t already been closed by government cuts. And when it comes to playing anything all I can do is make a bit of a racket with a couple of spoons or a comb and some tissue paper.

However, I’m not too sure if spoons, a comb and tissue paper actually qualify as musical instruments. Indeed, if my life depended on singing, dancing or playing anything I’d have been dead and buried many years ago!

Despite all of this, I really love music. Living without a TV wouldn’t really be a problem for me, but I just couldn’t imagine living without music. I think that, to some degree, all of us associate particular songs with memories of family and friends. Maybe that’s one reason why music stirs the sole and certain songs really do get under the skin.

I’m also a bit of a geek when it comes to learning about different genres of music. I love to discover how one form of music is linked to another – particularly how and when they developed. The same goes for individual songs. I always want to know who wrote what, when it was written and what the inspiration was.

With all this in mind I was really looking forward to seeing the excellent Harry Hamilton and his Swing Band (a brilliant eight-piece band known as the Birdland Big Band) performing a show called The American Songbook. The show was being held in the equally excellent Courtyard Theatre in Newtownabbey, Co. Antrim.

I was looking forward to the gig for two main reasons. Firstly, Harry Hamilton has successfully carved out a name for himself as the lead singer of Flash Harry. My wife and I have seen them several times and they’re probably one of the best Queen tribute bands you’re ever likely to see. However, I’ve always wanted to see and hear how he’d perform – not as Freddie Mercury but as himself.

Secondly, whilst I’m not fantastically into every artist who comes under the umbrella of the ‘American Songbook’, I recognise the importance of this musical genre. The advertising material accompanying the gig put this into perspective noting:

“Join Harry Hamilton and his swing band as they take you on a musical journey through a century of American music. This innovative collection of popular music showcases the many “Great” Songs from the soundtrack of the 20th Century. From the classics of the Great American masters like Gershwin or Cole Porter, via the ’50’s most popular hits, to Motown and the newest chapter with songs from recent hit-makes, including Michael Bublé, Ray Charles and Billy Joel.”

The gig was in two parts (and started bang on time – surely a first for Ulster!) with the first half being slightly more formal than the second. This was subtly reflected in the way Harry Hamilton presented himself. In the first half he wore a dark suit, tuxedo shirt with wing tip collar and dickie bow and in the second half he’d changed into double denim.

I loved the way he set the scene for the whole gig by explaining that ‘The American Songbook’ (sometimes called the ‘Great American Songbook’) generally refers to a collection of the most important and influential American popular songs of the 20th century. They can be found in theatre and film and were written from the 1920s through the 1950s.

Harry Hamilton also gave a brief insight into his childhood. He noted that his father was in a Showband and that he grew up in a house full of music, all of which made a great impression. Given this background it’s probably no surprise that he also turned towards music in such a way.

This laid back approach to explaining his musical influences – and the information that he provided about each song – meant that he had the packed audience hanging on to his every word. I particularly liked the way he used humour to introduce some of the songs. I’ve found some music ‘experts’ come across as bores who look down on those who aren’t as informed about a particular song or artist as they are.

But what about the songs themselves?

To be honest, Harry Hamilton sang that many both my wife and I lost count of what we’d heard! The whole gig simply consisted of hit after hit after hit. And all were pulled off to a tee. However, we were able to agree on some of the highlights of the evening. These included Frank Sinatra’s classic Fly Me To The Moon, American Trilogy made famous by Elvis Presley (and a song that always makes us both cry – and many others judging by the sniffing and wiping of eyes from other members of the audience!)

Other highlights included Georgia On My Mind made famous by Ray Charles, I’m A Believer which was written and originally recorded by Neil Diamond but effectively ‘owned’ by the Monkees. Also in there were Superstition and Sir Duke written and performed by Stevie Wonder – the latter as a tribute to the legendary composer, pianist and bandleader, Duke Ellington.

We also loved his take on one of Don McLean’s most famous songs, American Pie. Recorded in1971, it commemorates the deaths of Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens and J. P. Richardson (aka ‘The Big Bopper’) in a plane crash in early 1953. Harry Hamilton’s vocal range was also given a great workout when he sang Roy Orbison’s operatic ballad, In Dreams. He explained the complexity of the Big O’s song which – according to Wikipedia – “has a unique structure in seven musical movements in which Orbison sings through two octaves, beyond the range of most rock and roll singers.”

One real stand out moment of the evening came towards the end of the first half of the gig. Here Harry Hamilton’s father joined him in a duet. As noted earlier, his father had been in a Showband and still had a great voice plus a mischevious twinkle in his eye – something that has been passed onto his son. Together they performed a brilliant version of Mac the Knife (which started life as Die Moritat von Mackie Messer, composed by Kurt Weill) made famous by Bobby Darin.

As well as talking about – and performing – the American Songbook, Harry Hamilton enjoyed some great banter with both the audience and his band. The three piece brass section – as well as being excellent musicians – seemed to be having a whale of a time. They seemed to spend half their time laughing and joking. At times they were in absolute stiches – so much so that I wondered how they would be able to stop laughing in time to play their instruments or provide backing vocals.

If you’d like a couple of hours of top notch entertainment and would like to learn a lot about music at the same time, check out Harry Hamilton and his Swing Band. They’re still on tour throughout Ulster. Catch him if you can.

O CHECK OUT this promotional video for Harry Hamilton and his Swing Band – The American Songbook https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BjpTU-s4ZSE

O CHECK OUT Flash Harry’s Facebook page which also provides some information on Harry Hamilton’s American Songbook show

Reviewed by John Field

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HARRY FERGUSON

Harry Ferguson

By Bill Martin.

Ulster Folk & Transport Museum, Cultra, Ulster.  1984.

THIS is a remarkable booklet.  Although it’s only the size of a large postcard, its 30 pages are crammed full of information, photographs and diagrams.  I really liked the way it was written – everything was direct and straight to the point.  Bill Martin is not a man who uses two words when one will do!  For instance, his introduction tells the story of Harry Ferguson in a single paragraph:

“HHarryFerguson 2 jpgarry Ferguson was born into an age of rapid change.  He contributed to the way in which change was applied.  He was born into a way of life which the industrial revolution had largely bypassed, where the horse reigned supreme, where brawn was more useful than brain and where a farmer could feed himself, his horse and four other people in that order of priority.  When he retired he was able to look at an industry in Britain in which one farmer could produce sufficient food for himself and forty others.  The other measure of his success is that some 80 per cent of tractors produced today the principles which he established.”

Henry George “Harry” Ferguson was born in 1884 at Growell, near Dromore, County Down.  The son of Mary and James was the 4th child of 11 in the family.  In 1902 he became an apprentice in his elder brother Joe’s engineering business, Hamilton and Ferguson – later to become J.B. Ferguson and Co. Automobile Engineers based in Little Donegall Street in Belfast.  The brothers were known for their discipline, efficiency, accuracy and quality.  Great innovators, they used the most up-to-date equipment.  Harry also took part in sporting events to publicise the company.

He was very quick to spot trends.  He first saw aircraft in summer 1909 and by December he had a plane built and undergoing trials in Hillsborough, Co. Down.  This was no mean feat as he was “trying to design an aircraft and learning to fly it at the same time.  There were no reference books to work from only indistinct pictures in magazines.”

After several attempts, he won a prize of £100 for the first official flight in Ireland over a three mile course.  Despite his flying success he split from his brother JB, who could not see how it would benefit the garage business.  They decided to go their separate ways.  The May Street Motor Company (later Harry Ferguson Ltd.) opened for business in 1911 and became agents for Vauxhall, Maxwell and Ford.  He also started to sell Overtime tractors imported from America in 1914 – something that would later ‘make his name.’

Tractors had been introduced in 1894 but there were only 300 in the whole of Ireland by 1917.  The situation was to rapidly change:

“1916-17 was a period of national crisis and the need to increase home food production became paramount if starvation was to be averted.  There was neither spare manpower nor industrial capacity and large numbers of women were already employed in agriculture yet the problem had to be solved and the area under the plough increased immediately and substantially.  The tillage order of 1917 gives some indication of the desperation since it required holders of 10 acres or more to plough 15% more than the previous year and large landowners with 200 acres or more to plough an extra 20 percent.  The Government made two important decisions which were to have far reaching effects on Ferguson.  It arranged to have 6,000 Ford tractors imported from America, which helped to get Ford firmly established in the U.K. tractor market, and it also made arrangements to ensure that farmers were taught how to use them properly.”  

This proved to be a turning point in Ferguson’s life – he was regarded as a ploughing expert because of his previous association with US Overtime tractors.  In March 1919 he (and his employee William Sands) were appointed by the “Irish Board of Agriculture to travel throughout Ireland and by demonstration, instruction and example to improve the quality and efficiency of tractor ploughing.”

It was during these trials that he began to think about faults and problems associated with ploughing and started to construct his own ploughs.  According to Martin: “The plough was built in the May Street premises in Belfast and compared to its contemporaries was about as revolutionary as a plough could be.”  Mounted directly on a Ford Eros tractor it was four times more efficient than other tractors and “set the pace and style for development for the next 20 years.” 

In 1933 Ferguson designed the revolutionary ‘Black Tractor,’ which was both light and powerful.  It was built in Huddersfield, West Yorkshire, by David Brown Tractors Limited.  The Ferguson Brown Type A was introduced in 1936.  Sales were slow – but some success was to be found in the Channel Islands and Scandinavia.  Later on (in 1938) Ferguson met Henry Ford and – famously sealing the deal with a handshake – agreed to go into business together.  The equally famous Ford Ferguson Tractor was born and thousands were built (in the Ford factory in Detroit, Michigan) up until 1947.

Relations between Ferguson and Ford were soured when Ford’s grandson took over the company and set up the Dearborn Motor Corporation.  Here he produced tractors based on Ferguson’s designs – but neglected to obtain use of the patent rights.  As Martin notes, this led to one of the most famous industrial law suits ever: “It took four years to settle and eventually Ferguson was awarded over £3m as compensation for patent infringement and loss of business.”      

Ferguson switched production to Coventry in the East Midlands and in 1946 the TE 20 made an appearance.  He later became involved with the Canadian-based Massey Harris (later known as Massey Ferguson) until 1954 when he resigned as chairman of the group.

Whilst his name is – rightly – most commonly associated with tractors, Ferguson had always retained his interest in motor cars.

He was successful in helping to launch the Ulster Grand Prix in 1922 and the Tourist Trophy Races in Ards between 1928 and 1936.  He also became interested in the idea of cars obtaining more power safely using a four-wheel-drive system.  Prototypes were built but there were no takers.  To try to encourage public acceptance of the system, the P99 racing car was built.  (Stirling Moss gave the car its first win, the Oulton Park Gold Cup in 1962.)  The system was later used in the Jensen Interceptor FF, a luxury car, but sadly never in a ‘people’s car’ as he wished.  Ferguson sadly died in October 1960.

Reviewed by John Field

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