It came on the radio. It was Sunday afternoon and one of those programmes that trade on a brand of nostalgia that is not really my scene – Da Di Da, Di Da Da Didi Didi – The Wheels Cha Cha. God! It wasn’t the most sophisticated music at the time and certainly not my taste; then or now. Nevertheless it had the effect of spinning me back to when I was seventeen. Seventeen and never been kissed: that came just a bit later but it was a good time. I’d discovered music; Lonnie Donegan, Elvis, Fats Domino, The Everly Brothers. My first record purchase was then; Be-Bob-a-Lula by Gene Vincent. We didn’t even have a record player and I toted around the few friends I had to stick it on their Dansette or radiogram.
I am always puzzled looking back to those days. As a family we were doing OK with Dad and Mum running an increasingly successful shop and able to afford a good second-hand car. We’d just moved from ‘living over’ to reclaim our parents’ house in Menlove Gardens and I had a good bike. I should explain that a good bike was a not inconsiderable status symbol. My parents ran a newsagents business and with about thirty paperboys, all bike mad, it was important to keep up. Mine had come courtesy of unexpectedly good GCE exam results. If I have any retained resentment of my parents it was that they expected little from me compared to both my younger and older brothers, who were ‘clever’. I rejoiced in the sobriquet of ‘practical’. The puzzle is that when programmes now come on the television that depict that era accurately it always looks rather grey and utilitarian. I think it probably was but we lived an optimistic life where things were getting better all the time. MacMillan’s famous ‘You’ve never had it so good’, was, at least for us, true. I’d made it to Building College, which was what I wanted and it was proving a good choice for me. Shankly had arrived at Liverpool FC and we’d all decided that we were on the way back to the first division. The fortnightly ride to Anfield where we paid sixpence to an old women to let us put our bikes in her yard was a happy routine, followed inevitable by a scratch match in the pub car park against the shop wall when we got back: a match that Liverpool invariably won
Anyway back to the music. You see dad gambled. Actually he was a ‘good’ gambler and lucky to boot. Every year he put money aside in a separate bank account and that money and only that money was wagered; a bit of the pools, a bit on complex combination horse racing bets and a bit at poker. If the money ran out he stopped betting but I can only remember one year when that disaster happened. Mostly he broke even or a bit better. His maxim was only ever to bet what you can afford to lose and your stake was the price you paid for the entertainment. It was his habit to tot up his year’s accumulated winnings and either distribute them around the family, including the original stake money or buy some luxury. It was, I’m sure, the year of 61 that he bought a Grundig tape recorder. It cost about £75, which was a lot in those days. For those of you too young to remember, these machines were a sort of domestic version of large reel to reel tape recorders. They had just a small pair of tape reels and pathetically small speakers but they could record speech and music. Because there was no electronic interface music recorded from the radio or TV was of pretty poor quality but then most recordings were pretty poor quality.
We did what everyone did with these modern marvels. We recorded each other’s voices and laughed at the difference between the recorded voice and our internal impression of how we sounded. That, however, is a limited kind of activity. I and my brothers used it mostly to record music from the radio, desperately trying to cut out the inevitable DJ voice over each song. The buggers used to vary it from the opening or closing of every one. It was not long before there were pre-recorded music tapes available in the record shops and later these gave me access to the Blues and types of Jazz that I have treasured ever since. However it was when my father returned from a trip to his newspaper wholesaler W H Smith that a life changing event occurred. Smiths retailed records and my father had purchased a pre-recorded tape of the Joe Loss Orchestra. He proudly put it on the machine and regaled us with, amongst other horrors, Wheels Cha-Cha. How could this happen? The man who I almost worshipped actually liked this shit. It was all too much. I have never really recovered. It has been a tenant of my own fatherhood never to press my musical tastes on my children and to try and listen to what they like. This policy has also, I’m happy to say, introduced me to some wonderful music. It’s also required me to endure some pretty awful stuff.
Wheels Cha-Cha was perhaps a delayed and inevitable epiphany and most of my Dad’s reputation survived the crash but we never ever talked about music again. In his later days I resorted on visits to whisky when he insisted on watching the regular James Last Orchestra shows on the TV. Perhaps it’s good that dads are not made to be perfect.
Da Di Da, Di Da Da Didi Didi; God, now the bloody things stuck in my head!
Robert Winston McNaughton