Thursday, July 13, 2017

Sgt., Flynn's Lonely Hertz Club Van


I remember the day just like it was just yesterday. It was one morning early in 1963 and I strolled into my mum’s cosy kitchen without a care in the world. She was busy preparing lunch and, as ever, she had the radio on. She’d have been hoping they might play Tony Bennett or Frank Sinatra or, better still, her favourite disc, What Do You Want to Make Those Eyes A Me For? by Emile Ford & The Checkmates.

Up to that point music had been a bit like wallpaper to me; it was there all around me all of the time but it was pretty easy to ignore. It didn’t engage me. But that morning I heard a joyous, infectious, melodic, pleasing sound that stopped me in my tracks and, quite literally, changed my world.

The sound I heard was Please Please Me and I soon discovered this magic came from four Liverpool lads called The Beatles. I became obsessed by both the single and the group. Soon I’d a cheap record player and, a few months later, was also the proud owner of Please Please Me (the long playing record). Another six albums and four years later, I thought I’d it all figured out when they hit me (and the rest of the world) with what has arguably become the most important album ever released: Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts’ Club Band.  

During the summer of 1967 I was still living in Northern Ireland, getting ready to leave for London in fact. I'd bought Sgt. Peppers the day it was released but hadn't had a chance to listen to it too much, preoccupied as I was then by trying to secure gigs for my first group, The Blues By Five. But I had liked the album; most certainly I’d liked it a lot. Then, one Saturday evening, I was at this party in a church hall in Cookstown, up in the heartland of Northern Ireland in Co. Tyrone. Up until this point Cookstown was famous for having one very broad street which ran the whole way through the townland. The street was so broad that legend had it pedestrians brought a flask of tea and some sandwiches with them so they could take a break mid-way across. Now, to me, Cookstown was going to become famous for something entirely different.

All the walls and ceiling of the church hall were covered with a mass of colourful posters, streamers and balloons. The music was great and, as they say up in those parts, the craic was ninety. We just sat back and let the evening go. People were talking, laughing, joking and dancing. Some were sitting around, drinking and having a good time and then someone put the Sergeant Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band album on a record-player they’d wired up direct to the PA system.

One by one the party-people stopped talking and chatting and the noise and bustle of the party died down completely until the entire crowd present was being seduced by this beautiful and inspiring music. People were smiling and loving it. Happiness was spreading from one person to another with the same power and speed panic can move through a gathering. It was wonderful to be there. It was certainly a thrill. Every new track drew everyone deeper and deeper into this new world. Our new world, a world created for us by The Beatles. It was like everything they had ever done had been leading up to that point. Every note of music they had ever played, every song they had ever composed had been in preparation for this moment: the moment they captured with Sergeant Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band. It didn't matter that perhaps the Revolver album might have been a better album. It didn't matter that touring had nearly destroyed our band. It didn't matter that I didn't have someone there with me to love and share this with; there was already more than enough love in the air. Nothing really mattered apart from the wonderful sounds filling the speakers and the fact that the Beatles had fulfilled their unspoken promise to us. This album wasn't a great album because it sold lots of copies. The album sold lots of copies, purely and simply, because it was a great album. Yes, maybe even the perfect album.

And the thing about the party that night in Cookstown was that we were all sharing it, sharing the pleasure. And as it was being shared, the pleasure grew. When John Lennon started to sing A Day In the Life, I swear to you I felt shivers run down my spine, the hairs on the back of my neck stood up and my throat went dry. I could feel my nostrils tightening as though tears were going to flow. I bet you not one person in that hall felt any different. No one moved a muscle for fear of spoiling the mood. As the last note, the E Major, drifted into silence, everyone was left stunned and speechless. It was like a mass turn-on but instead of the buzz being incited by a drug, it had been induced by the show The Beatles had wanted, needed to present to us. This was the show they knew they could never do on stage as the moptops to their screaming fans. But they felt they could do it by sending it out to us in the form of the Sergeant Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band album. I know that probably sounds as if I may have been indulging in some of the stimulants that had even managed to make it as far as Cookstown in those days. I wasn't. I never felt the need to. But you really had to be there, in Cookstown on that spectacular summer evening, to know what I'm on about. It was a perfect moment. It was one of those moments that rarely happen in your life but when they do, well then you have to try and find some way to savour the magic moments and cherish and protect them in your memory. All I can tell you is that as we strained to hear the disappearing E Major, there was the most incredible feeling of elation, yes… even euphoria. When all that was left was the crackle of the needle on its final revolution everyone started to clap their hands. We didn't know what else to do. We just clapped and clapped and then clapped some more.

You'll never ever meet anyone who can tell you what it was like the first time the 1812 Overture was performed, or what it was like sitting in the Olympia Theatre in Dublin when The Hallelujah Chorus was receiving its world premiere. In fact, I can guarantee you won't. Time has drawn a line under both of those. But, with hand on heart, I'm happy to tell you that for me what those audiences felt could not have compared with the experience I felt while listening to The Beatles' masterwork that night in Cookstown.

It was never the same again. I never ever experienced that same buzz again. I don't tell you that with the slightest regret. I am proud to have been alive in that time and enjoyed that once in a lifetime experience. I still love and enjoy listening to the record. But it just may have been the communal spirit between all present at the party that special summer evening in Cookstown that made the Beatles playback so extraordinary. I suppose for an experience to have been so special meant that it certainly wasn't going to be an experience which could be repeated frequently, if ever.

And it all came from the music; the music of The Beatles.

And here we are fifty years later (nearly to the day) and we’re enjoying that music and those moments once again and to mark this special 50th Anniversary celebration I wanted to share a D.I. Christy Kennedy (short) mystery, entitled: Sgt. Flynn’s Lonely Hertz Club Band, which was inspired by the Beatles eighth album or, as it was known to the EMI accountants, PCS 7027.   

         Thanks to the Fab people at Fahrenheit Press a Kindle version is available now. And talking about available now, there is also a Christy Kennedy (short) mystery included in the current (July/ August) edition of Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine. The Kennedy story is called Harry Potter & The Shadow of the Forger's Throne, I hope you enjoy both.