Monthly Archives: July 2015

The Ballad of Ginger and Charlie


Ginger and Charlie were stick men,
way back then, back in the day.
Back in the day, that glorious day,
after Dizzy, Mingus, Billy Stray-
horn, Thelonious Monk. Who would have
thought it? Who would have thunk, that these
were the geezers, these were the dudes,
who’d pin down the rhythm, shake up the blues,
a million miles from them Blue Suede Shoes.

Ginger, with Jack, and freaky Slowhand,
Charlie, with Mick, and spooky Keith:
these were the guys, these were the bands,
to give music that vital kick in the teeth.

No Bonham or Moon-type excesses;
no histrionics or frenetic flailing.
These guys knew the way to success;
never going to be ones for failing.

Cockneys, hard eyes, working-class roots;
memories of demob, con-men, Zoot Suits.
They were schooled in Jazz, steeped in Swing;
these guys, these geezers, were the real thing.

Not the preening wordsmiths, dabbling with rhyme,
not the hell-raisers, destined for the hot coals,
but these dudes, chips of ice in their souls;
controlling the rhythms, mastering time.

I watched a fascinating documentary on BBC1 recently; it was entitled “Beware Mr Baker”.  The Mr Baker in question was Ginger Baker, the legendary rock drummer who formed Cream, with Jack Bruce and Eric Clapton, in the 60s.  This feature-length documentary was made by a young American journalist, and was composed partly of excellent vintage footage of Baker in his prime, and partly of an interview conducted fairly recently with the man himself, now in his mid-seventies, and even more irascible than ever.  The film opened, and concluded, with a scene of Baker – goaded and enraged by the rather callow journalist – lashing out at the film-maker with his cane, slashing a gaping wound in his nose.  As you will gather, the documentary was highly entertaining, and some of the scenes from the sixties, featuring Baker and his fellow-drummer Charlie Watts of The Rolling Stones, gave me pause for thought.  It was an interesting fact, and quite a coincidence, I thought, that these two vitally important rock bands of the sixties – Cream and The Rolling Stones – both happened to have drummers who were hard-eyed cockneys steeped in jazz.  No sooner had I had this idea, than the first few lines of the above poem began churning away in my mind.


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Spots, threads,
fragments of cobwebs.
Transparent things
that swoop and swim.

Animals? Amoeba?
When you try
to look at them,
away they fly.

Shadows cast
on the meniscus.
Acrobats, tumbling
in a curved circus.

Actors, on the screen
of your eye.
Observing existence,
they live and die.

“Mouches volantes”
(Tr. “Flying flies”).
Shimmering ideals
you will never realise.

Coiled, waiting, on the
periphery of the known.
Hopes, dreams, you will
never pin down.

Inveigling, entrancing;
unmistakeably free.
Stare all you like,
you won’t catch me!

I can’t remember where and when I saw it, but I recently came across the French phrase “Mouches volantes”, and the translation of it as “Flying flies”.  The phrase struck me as rather odd.  I didn’t know whether it was an inaccurate translation from the French, or whether it was a case of the word-order in English being different, but I couldn’t think of any similar phrases in English – “swimming swimmers”? “dancing dancers”? . . .  I started looking for more information on the phrase, and suddenly found myself reading about “floaters” – those black spots or specks in front of the eyes that most people have glimpses of from time to time.  In fact, if you really try to look at these phantom images, they turn out to be much more varied than you might think.  The idea for a poem suddenly suggested itself . . .

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