My Old Man – A personal history of music hall

John Major

John Major

On Monday evening I went to see John Major speak while promoting his new book at Brighton, Hove and Sussex Sixth Form College. Another of the events arranged by City Books of Hove. As I entered the hall was a little more crowded than when Will Self had spoken last Friday but not much. A bloke in a suit stood against the wall gazing around and I guessed that he was some kind of security wallah. I took a seat near the back and waited.

Mr. Major’s book is a entitled “My Old Man – A personal History of Music Hall” and he began by telling us of his grandfather, who had worked in music hall. He went on to describe many of the characters from that era and spoke of their songs, their bawdy lyrics and how some of them dragged themselves up from poverty to become extremely rich and even influential.

Music hall was history  to me when I was young and yet the names of the songs are familiar to me. Any Old Iron, My Old Dutch, Don’t Dilly Dally on the way. In an odd way the book tied in with Mr. Self’s new book Umbrella as they both seemed to have detailed the ephemeral popular culture of a bygone age. It is also interesting that both Mr. Self and Mr. Major began their speeches talking of  how their grandfather’s had been their inspiration.

Later, taking questions, he warmed to his theme and threw in anecdotes and suggestions of lyrical innuendo in songs such as Daddy Wouldn’t Buy Me A Bow Wow. After a question on “Uncle Tom” he revealed that his father had died when in his 70s while Mr. Major was still a child and he and his mother had gone to live with Uncle Tom in Brixton. Uncle Tom turned out to be his much older half brother.

I had previously a generally good impression of Mr. Major. When in power he seemed not to be ideology driven and was more reasonable than many of his peers in the Conservative or Labour parties. The image I have in mind, by implication his public image, is of a kind and reasonable man but, perhaps, with a slightly crumpled suit.

In reality Mr. Major appears a little more Conservative. A hint of the impression one gets from successful businessmen who never appear in public lest they are immaculately dressed, well rested and alert. He seemed more focused and sharper than I had imagined but I guess you don’t get to be Prime Minister by being vague and soft (or so I console myself). I also noted that Mr. Major wore bright blue sox though I cannot say whether this is an age old habit or a reaction against his reputation for being a bit grey.

At these events there is usually a discount and so I decided to buy the book and thought that, while I was there, I’d get it signed and give it to a friend for Christmas. So I  joined the queue. Many years ago I sat in a club named Triad in Bishop’s Stortford while drinking beer and waiting for Motorhead to arrive on stage I leaned over and asked the long haired, leather jacketed bloke opposite me if he had heard of Motorhead. I can’t remember his reply but I now believe this man to have been Lemmy. Apart from this I have never spoken to a famous person.

As I arrived at the front of the queue and took my turn before Mr. Major I experienced a weird feeling. I could not put my finger on it at the time. He asked what he should write and I told him the name of my friend, muttered a thank-you and walked away.

I now realise that I had been surprised that he had not recognised me. I guess this is the weirdness of 21st century celebrity. We can be so familiar with someone that we subconsciously expect them to recognise us but of course they don’t. After some rumination on the subject I realise that what must be weirder still, is when two famous people who have never met then meet for the first time, each expecting the other to recognise them – and they do!

st malo beach

St Malo Beach

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One thought on “My Old Man – A personal history of music hall

  1. I burst into tears when I met David Attenborough, he’s been my hero for so long. Rolf Harris has too but I managed to play it a bit cooler that time!

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