50 Years On – Lewis Still Rocks UK!


Jerry Lee outside Westbury Hotel, May 1958 (click on picture to enlarge)


Fans outside Westbury Hotel, May 2008 (click on picture to enlarge)

50 years ago last weekend, Jerry Lee Lewis arrived in the UK for his first concert tour. Elvis had gone into the U.S. Army, Jerry Lee was all set to grab his crown as the new King of Rock’n’Roll, already he had two huge million sellers with ‘Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin’ On’ and ‘Great Balls of Fire’. Unfortunately the tour was aborted after just 3 concerts in London, due to the cultural differences between the UK and the Southern States at the time, and the fact that the British Establishment hated this American ‘rock’n’roll’ and were looking for a place to stick the knife in.

When Jerry got back to America, the Establishment over there, who were also trying to kill off rock’n’roll, used the bad publicity in the British press to ban his records from the radio. They had soon silenced four of the biggest names in rock’n’roll – apart from Jerry Lee’s ban, Elvis had been drafted into the U.S. Army, Little Richard had turned to the church and given up singing rock’n’roll, and Chuck Berry was to be incarcerated for transporting a minor across a State line. When Buddy Holly, The Big Bopper, Ritchie Valens and a year later Eddie Cochran were killed in tragic accidents, and Gene Vincent and Carl Perkins had also been badly injured in car crashes, the way was open for ‘a flock of Bobbies’ as Jerry Lee put it – acceptable, clean-cut all-American boys singing nice pop music – to be presented to the public as ‘rock’n’roll’. The nasty stuff, and its performers, were silenced for good, or so they thought.

But 50 years on it is STILL going strong. Elvis may be dead, but Jerry Lee Lewis, Little Richard, Chuck Berry and others are still rocking. Younger generations have taken up the music, and perform it, and after returning to the UK Top Ten in 1961 Jerry had an endless stream of No.1 and Top Twenty Country hits in America in the next 3 decades, culminating in 2006 with his biggest selling album ever, which shot into the Top Ten of 5 record charts, reaching #1 Indie on Billboard. It has sold over half a million copies world-wide, and Jerry Lee appeared on every major U.S. chat show promoting it.

He is scheduled to do another European tour later this year, and they are lining up at least one concert in London where he first performed 50 years ago.

To celebrate the fact that Jerry Lee is still rocking, still performing, and still recording and selling albums, British Jerry Lee fans met up at the Westbury Hotel where Jerry stayed 50 years ago, then moved on to a nearby pub to continue the celebrations.

The next day, Jerry Lee’s sister, Linda Gail Lewis, gave a marathon performance, including many of her brother’s songs, in front of a packed audience of Jerry’s fans and others in North London.

50 years ago Britain was shaken up when Lewis and his family arrived on our shores for the first time, and 50 years later they are still shaking things up over here, with rock’n’roll, the music they tried to crush 50 years ago!


Tony with Fay Coffey at celebrations of 1958 tour, May 2008

(click on picture to enlarge)

Sonny Burgess Rocks Hemsby

Sonny Burgess, with two of the original Pacers – Bobby Crafford on drums and Kern Kennedy on keyboards – did a brilliant set on Saturday, backed up by Wayne of the Houserockers on double bass (some Comets style acrobatics) and another British musician (forget his name) on trumpet and tenor sax.

A mixture of hard driving rock’n’roll and Country, with a couple of Elvis numbers thrown in, this performance made the whole weekend worthwhile for me. One of the best gigs I’ve seen in some time. They describe Sonny as ‘rockabilly’, but this was pure rock’n’roll at its best. Sonny’s guitar was in tune (Chuck Berry are you reading this?) and was fantastic, as was Kern’s keyboard work, and indeed the guy on the horns.

Bobby Crafford is also no mean singer, and took lead vocals on a couple of numbers, including the slowie ‘Matilda’ which Jerry has recorded. I was going crazy at the front of the stage – oh yes, Bobby Crafford did his version of Clarence ‘Frogman’ Henry’s ‘Ain’t Got No Home’, imitating the frogman’s sounds. I then realized this is almost exactly the same as Burgess’ ‘Aint Got A Thing’ which they’d performed a few numbers before, so we had two chances to sing along to the chorus – ‘Wo-oo-o-o’. Great stuff! Sonny really is one of the great rockers, even if he does look as if he’s about to sell you a bucket of KFC nuggets when he comes on stage looking more like the late Colonel Sanders.

Dale Hawkins, on remission from leukemia, was a bit disappointing for me, mainly because of his choice of material, but of course he did his biggest hit ‘Susie Q’.

We also had a great rockin’ Mississippi-style boat trip on the Norfolk Broads (inland waterways) with DJ Wildcat Pete spinning the wax/CDs and some ‘live’ music from the Lonesome Valley Boys, Levi Dexter, Dave ‘Reverend’ Brown and others.

By the way, as some American rockabilly star commented at a previous Hemsby, ‘riding the Broads’ has a completely different meaning in USA.

Early Summer


Mixed bathing pond – click on picture to enlarge

We are having an exceptionally hot early May, with temperatures in London reaching 27 degrees celsius, which I believe is 80 degrees or over in real ‘old money’ temperatures.

Quite often we have sunny days at the beginning of May (though never as hot as it is currently), and not to put a damper on things, it is then usually gray skies and rain all the way thru, way past mid-Summer’s day, until the days start closing in.

Last year we didn’t get a Summer at all – just a few sunny days here and there. The more usual pattern after some sunny weather in April and early May, is for the weather to wait till the outdoor swimming places open for the Summer in mid-May, and then for the weather to turn relatively cold, gray and rainy right thru till July. If we’re lucky, July, August and early September see some good weather.

The outdoor swimming places close by mid-September, so an Indian Summer is often on the cards, meaning as soon as swimming is off the agenda the weather hots up considerably.

This year, due to public pressure, the Serpentine Lido was opened at least a month early, and I took advantage of it yesterday, and got my first swim of 2008. Today I’m going up to Hampstead Mixed Pond, which opens the middle of May. So it may be open, it may not. The men’s and women’s ponds stay open all year, but the mixed pond is my favorite. It is very picturesque.

I have no knowledge of the women’s pond, but the men’s pond is a notorious gay cruising area, and even though I’m gay I have no wish to be cruised by a load of boring old fogeys like myself, and younger time-wasters, when I’m sunbathing, swimming and trying to listen to my music on an old-fashioned Walkman cassette player, or a portable CD player (stuff your MP3 players – it’s taken me 44 years to make up the tapes and I’m quite happy with them!)

Also, at the men’s pond you have the choice of sunbathing, nude or otherwise, in a concrete yard surrounded by corrugated iron walls which has absolutely nil appeal, or sitting on the grass with a load of silly queens at the back of the swimming pond. Either way, it is a fair bet, if you’re on your own, that sooner or later someone will run off with all your clothes, money, Freedom pass, shoes, etc. and you’ll be left to walk home shoeless and naked apart from your wet swimming trunks.

Clearly the men’s pond is not designed for swimmers, just for posers and gay cruisers, since there is nowhere to leave your clothes where the lifeguards or you yourself can keep your eye on them while you’re swimming. At the mixed pond you can see the sunbathing area from the pond.

But really, since they now expect ‘donations’ for the privilege of swimming in these ponds, they should supply some lockers to put your clothes in. These would generate more income than the ‘donation’ ticket machine.

That’s it, I’m off on the Overground from Clapham Junction, via Willesden Junction, to Hampstead Heath. Get that swimming pond open, Terry (the senior lifeguard at Hampstead), I’m on my way!

P.S. Next day. The mixed pond now opens from the beginning of May till the end of September, so giving us an extra 4 weeks’ Summer swimming, and catching any early/late Summer sun. Yesterday was crowded up there, though at 62 degrees Fahrenheit the water was surprisingly cold still. Today I’m taking my mother up there to sit in the shade while I have a swim.

I’m off to Great Yarmouth for a rock’n’roll weekend on Friday, staying right near the beach, and we’re hiring a boat on the Norfolk Broads on Sunday. Guess what – the weather turns colder and wet by then according to the forecasts.


Mixed bathing pond – click on picture to enlarge

Mayor Johnson takes over


For the second time in his two careers as leader of London, Ken Livingstone has been kicked out of office largely due to the voters in the outer London suburbs.

However, this time it doesn’t leave such a bad taste in the mouth as when the voters of the London Borough of Bromley and other Conservative boroughs on the edge of London managed to achieve the abolition of the GLC, of which Ken Livingstone was the leader.

This time the London Assembly at City Hall, and the office of London Mayor, continue, with Conservative Boris Johnson at the helm as the new Mayor.

He deserves a chance to prove himself capable of the high level of responsibility now put on his shoulders. Most people see him as a buffoon, but on the other hand he is certainly an extrovert personality and something of a political maverick frequently out-of-control of his Party, much like Ken Livingstone was. Indeed Livingstone was first elected to the office of London Mayor eight years ago as an independent, in opposition to the Labour candidate for the post. He’d been kicked out of the Labour Party, and was only re-admitted due to his great popularity with Londoners. London seems to go for these extrovert, maverick characters, and it is good because they are likely to put London first and foremost, rather than strictly follow the instructions of their Party headquarters.

It is a shame that, having helped win the 2012 Olympics for London, Ken Livingstone should now be denied the chance to host the Games as Mayor. But if he decides to stand again in four years time there’s still a chance he could be Mayor at the time of the London Olympics in August 2012.

Boris Johnson will either make a good job of being London Mayor, or he’ll make a complete mess of it, in which case he may well damage the Tories’ chance of getting re-elected into government in 2010. Either way, we may eventually benefit from his victory in the 2008 Mayorial contest.

Both Ken and Boris gave good speeches following the result, Boris praising Ken for his years as the first London Mayor, and Ken saying he must take the blame for not getting re-elected. This was probably too hard on Ken – it was actually a combination of factors. 

Tory voters in places like Bromley, where they were lining up outside polling stations to vote Ken out of office. Bromley and similar Outer London boroughs don’t feel part of the capital city, and never have done. They feel they are part of the rural Home Counties surrounding London, and this is reflected by their outdated postal addresses which they refuse to give up – a form of snobbery, insisting they are still located in counties like Kent, Surrey, Hertfordshire and Essex, when in fact they are suburbs of the metropolis. London Boroughs coming under the auspices of City Hall.

Another factor was 11 years of an unpopular Labour government which took us into an illegal war in Iraq, and which has allowed knife/gun crime and gang warfare to take over whole areas of cities, and removed real policemen from the streets, creating no-go areas. And which has allowed Britain to be swamped by economic immigrants from Eastern Europe and elsewhere, working for very low wages, jumping social housing queues and putting British people out of jobs.

Gordon Brown has been even worse as Prime Minister than Tony Blair. Brown needs to be ditched pronto if Labour stands any chance of winning the next General Election, and New Labour ditched with him. Tony Benn said on TV following the election of Boris Johnson, that New Labour was, in fact, a different political party to Labour, and that he’d never joined this New Labour Party. He is right – we want old Labour back, the one which had some principles and wasn’t just the Tory Party mark 2 with a PM who is a poodle of American foreign policy. This unprincipled New Labour Party which has ruled Britain for over a decade, bowing to every whim of American foreign policy, undoubtedly lost Labour Mayor Ken Livingstone many votes. He might have done better if he were still an independent.

The third reason Boris replace Ken as Mayor was the vicious campaign by the London Evening Standard, London’s only newspaper (not counting the free give-away ones), which daily plastered London with billboards accusing Mayor Livingstone of all sorts of sleaze. This must have had an effect on Londoners who saw these billboards, even if they never read the newspaper.

But despite all this, Ken Livingstone increased his vote by some 200,000 on the last London Mayorial contest 4 years ago. He only got pipped to the post by 140,000 votes, in a contest where both Ken and Boris got over 1,000,000 votes each. Whichever way you look at it, it was a close result. A 140,000 majority in a city of 7 or 8 million is not a high percentage at all.

This brings us to the third candidate, Brian Paddick, the Liberal-Democrat contender, and previously an ‘out’ gay policeman. He was also a very capable candidate, but due to the nature of our voting system, was never going to stand a chance of being elected London Mayor. He got many second preference votes, including my own.

In fact, nationally in the local council elections, the Liberal-Democrats got a higher percentage of the vote than Labour, which means the Lib-Dems should have got more councillors elected. This wasn’t the case, due to our unfair voting system.

Ken can now have a well deserved rest from office as Mayor, but let’s hope all at City Hall can work together in the interests of this great city which is now the host for the next Olympic Games. Boris Johnson must be given the support he needs to carry out his new responsibilities as, like it or not, he has now been elected Mayor of London for the next four years.

Will he go ahead with his crazy plan to phase out bendy-buses and bring back a new version of the Routemaster with conductors? We’ll have to wait and see. I can’t see this is practical myself, except possibly as a gimmicky tourist attraction on the two Central London routes which still operate some of these buses – purely for tourists. In this age of Freedom Passes, free travel for under 18s and Oyster cards/Travel cards, conductors would have little to do on buses. Inspectors could more efficiently do the job of making sure everybody on bendy-buses and other forms of public transport have valid tickets for their journeys.

I think a few years in office as Mayor of London could be the making, or breaking, of Boris Johnson. He has the maverick qualities which might surprise us all, and make him a good Mayor for the city leading up to the 2012 Olympics.