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Ears, Eyes and Suburban Skies

During recent days holed up in COVID-19 isolation, I’ve chosen a selection of Beatles refrains as my daily aural companions. These tunes transporting me back to young childhood – An era seemingly shot in monochrome, where I was introduced to the Fab Four’s hits on the familial wireless. The 1960’s locales for these episodes my parents semi-detached homes, firstly in Leeds, latterly suburban Gateshead.

Obviously, everything wasn’t black and white in those days. However, I possess memories of my early childhood being an era of few colourful scenes. These recollections, though, possibly heavily influenced by film clips depicting those times, which are ordinarily broadcast in monochrome.

Footnote – With it chromatic paucity, the mid 1960’s a less stressful time to be a chameleon I’d venture…… Not that lizards were/are native to the north east of England.

This unreliable recall of scenic colour paucity sometimes makes it feel my childhood took place within a Ken Loach kitchen sink drama. Not that I suffered any of the childhood poverty and existential starkness portrayed in those movies, I hasten to add. My family by no means well off, but we lived a fairly comfortable existence in one of the poorer paid areas of England

My favourite Beatles refrain back then, as it is now, was their progressive pop offering Penny Lane. A song for which I maintain a great fondness. Akin to Petula Clark’s upbeat tune Downtown from the same era, as a young boy this fondness borne from catchiness of melody.

As I got older my fondness of Penny Lane enhanced further with it’s thought-provoking, almost cryptic, lyrics – Evoking scenes of the hustle/bustle witnessed in northern English high streets during my fledgling years. Paul McCartney’s words evoking scenes of individuals going about their daily graft, such as a barber, fireman and banker.

Although written by Lennon and McCartney about an area of Liverpool, I’d suggest the sights inspiring the lyrics would relate to any northern city shopping thoroughfare from that era.

Part of the lyric within the refrain announces ‘Penny Lane is in my ears and in my eyes. There against the blue suburban skies I sit, and meanwhile back…….’

When I hear those lyrics, childhood haunts along Durham Road flood into my ears and in my eyes – Played out under a grey suburban sky.

If Paul McCartney had been raised in 1960’/70’s Low Fell, Gateshead, the barber serving another customer would’ve likely been an employee of James Thow. The banker, getting grief from local kids, may’ve plied his trade in Barclays Bank opposite the Cannon pub. The fireman carrying a portrait of the Queen in his pocket no doubt working from Dryden Road station.

Without doubt the same colourful working class characters existed on Durham Road as those who strolled Penny Lane. Sadly for Low Fell’s premier local band in the 1960’s, The Knackers, they didn’t possess the creative wherewithal of their Liverpudlian rivals. Subsequently, much to their cost, weren’t capable of effectively relaying the message as creatively.

Consequently, while Penny Lane was afforded global kudos, the tune Durham Road, written by Jed Trumpet and his mum Marjorie, only ever got heard in the Thomas Wilson Working Men’s Club on Chowdene Bank.

Their song Doontoon didn’t fair much better. It’s popularity flailing well behind that bestowed upon Petula Clark’s grammatically superior version of the refrain.

In adulthood I’ve returned to my West Yorkshire roots. Still, though, upon hearing the first few bars of Penny Lane, I’m immediately regressed back to a childhood when Durham Road was in my ears and eyes, under Low Fell’s suburban skies.

2 replies »

  1. I think Paul did his best writing (in terms of lyrics) when he acted like a painter or street photographer, capturing and illuminating small, ordinary moments in urban–and suburban–life.


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