Rock ‘n’ Roll has an underbelly

Dad reminisced about his rock ‘n’ roll days, but he never talked it up. He spoofed every now and then, but it never took him long to return to the grim reality. He enjoyed peeking behind the curtain a little more than being on stage. He worked out early on that one needed to be on stage to get close to the curtain for peeking!

Cost of Rock ‘n’ Roll living

In the Belfast Telegraph archives there’s a great story I heard him tell many times. I remember being jolted out of a daydream by Dad saying:

“Wait until ye hear this about John Lennon and Yoko Ono…”

Gerry Anderson

The only thing worse than discovering that our idols have feet of clay is discovering they have no feet at all. We must now brace ourselves for the hoopla surrounding the 25th anniversary of the death of John Lennon. another stunned rabbit. I narrowly missed meeting him and must admit that the only contact I ever had with the Beatles occurred when I once lent George Harrison a fancy guitar plectrum which he kept. But that’s another story.

I narrowly missed meeting Lennon because I once played bass guitar with an Canadian/American rock ‘n’ roll band called Ronnie Hawkins and the Hawks (the band, coincidentally, that provided Bob Dylan with The Band, if you know what I mean). I joined them shortly after John Lennon and Yoko Ono had departed Ronnie’s Canadian ranch after a prolonged stay. Ronnie petulantly showed me a souvenir of their visit; an unpaid phone bill amounting to $15,000 (a huge amount 30 years ago).

Gerry Anderson, Belfast Telegraph
Rock 'n' roll has an underbelly John Lennon and Yoko Ono
John Lennon and Yoko Ono

Ronnie told me a story that I treasure. John and Yoko were, at the time, adhering to a widely-publicised macrobiotic diet, which is a vegan regime consisting of the exclusive consumption of seeds, grains, and organically grown fruits and vegetables. Much was made of this in the Press, something to do with Yin and Yan (look them up yourselves).

Anyway, unable to sleep one night, Ronnie went for a walk at about 4 o’clock in the morning. Noticing a light burning brightly in the kitchen, he feared interlopers and stealthily crept to the door. Flinging it open, he witnessed an unusual sight. Perched beside an open refrigerator door was John Lennon and Yoko Ono wolfing down prodigious amounts of fried chicken and hamburgers.

Removing his Stetson hat and treating his head to a mock-quizzical music hall scratch, Ronnie fixed an eye on the conscientious dieters. “John,” he drawled. “I’ve been on that ma-cro-bi-ot-ic diet all my life and didn’t f****** know it!” Even though he didn’t know who he was, Bob Dylan didn’t mind being caught eating a hamburger in public.

Gerry Anderson, Belfast Telegraph

In showbusiness, truth is often stranger than fiction. All Dad’s fantastic stories contain devilment. He was never a fan of the showband scene in Ireland, but I think he loved the general madness of it. Every showband story he told featured either a brilliant musician or a complete lunatic. The combination of music ability and lunacy gave the scene an edge.

A different kind of X-Factor

If you have a parent or grandparent tell you for the last 50 years that they almost joined a band as a lead singer back in the day, please don’t show them this next story. Put it this way, the showbands did entertain, but maybe with a type of entertainment you wouldn’t expect…

Years ago, when I played in a showband in Dublin, we somehow drifted into the habit of holding auditions for lead singers every now and then. Not that we needed a new singer. We would hold auditions for the hell of it; just to see who would turn up. Cynical, I know. But we were like that.

We held auditions whenever we felt bored. It cheered us up. We would hire the largest hall we could get for the afternoon; preferably the Arcadia Ballroom in Bray, Co Wicklow. The ad in the paper would read: “Well-known professional showband seeks male or female lead vocalist. No previous professional experience required.” The deliberately vague wording would ensure that we flushed out a varied and representative cross-section of humanity.

Setting up our instruments on stage, we would hunker down and wait for them to stream in. And stream in they did. From all corners of city and country came yodellers, rock ’n’ rollers, Elvis impersonators, ballad singers with red beards, Frank Sinatra-types with dyed black hair, Dusty Springfields with black eyes, Cilla Blacks (long before Blind Date), tenors, baritones and contraltos. We had a wonderful time.

We had particularly good fun with the rock ’n’ roll singers by encouraging them to sling their bodies about the stage. After each audition we’d tell them that we’d let them know. We never did, of course. It seems cruel now and I knew it was cruel then.

Difference was, people didn’t take themselves so seriously then. None of the auditioning singers expected to become world stars by right. It was just a bit of crack. And, God forgive me, it really was.

Gerry Anderson, Belfast Telegraph

So stop taking yourselves so seriously. And let that underbelly hang out!

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