Denise – Denis

In my earlier post, The Mysteries Five, I speculated about the possible influence of a song on the choice of name for the popular cartoon character Scooby Doo.  I was recently contacted by one of the contributors to a part of the Scooby Doo page on Wikipedia (see update and comment to the original post for details).  An interesting piece of information to come out of our communication was the fact that a well known writer on many animation series, including Scooby Doo, Mark Evanier, has also expressed an opinion that a song may have inspired the name Scooby Doo.

In an item on his own news website, POVONLINE – NEWS from ME, on June 10th 2002, he suggested that the song Denise by Randy and the Rainbows (1963), which has a repeated phrase, “scooby doo”, rather than the more common doobee-doo, may have been the inspiration for the name of the well known and much loved cartoon character!  I think that the idea has good reason to be taken seriously, as Denise is from six years before The Archies song I suggested.  Also Mark Evanier is an experienced and knowledgeable writer, with a great deal of insider insight of the the animation world.  His website has a wealth of background information on a whole range of people and events that he had direct contact with – for more details see his about m.e.

Randy-and-the-RainbowsAnyway, before I become distracted with the wonderful and fascinating details on Mark Evanier’s website, back to the song he mentioned, Denise, by Randy and the Rainbows.  I looked it up on YouTube and found several copies.  It is a traditional doo-wop song and it was one of the last big hits of the doo-wop era, which died soon after the arrival of The Beatles in America, when music tastes changed dramatically.  For a few more details of the song and Randy and the Rainbows see the post on Joe Troiano’s blog which has a great collection of almost forgotten music information, including a recent interview with Randy Safuto from the related JoeT’s Soda Shop radio show on Oldiesplus.net

Amazingly some of the original Randy and the Rainbows are still singing – here are two websites dedicated to keeping their fans updated of their news:  http://www.randyandtherainbows.com/index.html  and http://www.randyandtherainbowssafuto.com/

I used to listen to a lot of songs from this era from the mid- 1970s until the early 1980s, when radio shows dedicated to playing songs like this became popular on the BBC and local commercial stations too.  For many years I also collected original singles from that era too.  I enjoyed listening to much of the music from that generation just before my own, from simpler times and more innocent days.

Listening to the original version of Denise I immediate recognised the tune and lyrics, but the first time I had heard that song it was in an adapted and updated form.  The version I heard in 1978, when it was released as a single in the UK, had the title Denis (pronounced Denee), and the singer was a woman.  Debbie Harry, the lead singer of the pop/punk band Blondie, burst onto the UK pop scene with her unique raunchy, slightly aggressive style, that soon become very popular.

This version of the song, with her improvised lyrics in pidgin-French were excitingly different at the time.   Blondie performing this on Top of the Pops certainly got a lot of attention, and the even more raunchy video wasn’t shown on UK TV screens until much later.  They were prevented from having a blockbuster no.1 record with their first European single, by the equally sensational Wuthering Heights by Kate Bush and then the massively popular Matchstalkmen and Matchstalk Cats and Dogs by Brian & Michael.

Denis topped out at no.2 in the charts for four weeks, before falling back down, but it had successfully launched Blondie onto the UK music scene, where they enjoyed much success in the following years.  The contrast between the two versions of essentially the same song is a great example of how much music and attitudes changed between 1963 and 1977, when the two songs were recorded, and yet I enjoy both versions, which I suppose says something about the quality of the original songwriting by Neil Levenson, as well as my eclectic taste in music.

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Memories of Cats

As memories are separated from the actual events by an ever growing gap of time, some of them remain strong and clear, whilst others seem to disintegrate, little by little, until they threaten to disappear altogether.  This is one such memory, fairly intact, but missing several important elements – I can only share what remains of it and in doing so hope I continue to retain that much at least.

cat 1967

Many people recall their first pet, exactly when they were given it and the name they gave it.  I have even seen ‘the name of your first pet’ used as a suggestion for a security question for various online accounts.  Well that question is no good to me as I don’t remember it!  No one else who was there can help me either, as they are all gone now, except my sister, Suzy, and she is too young to have ever known the cat’s name.

I do remember that it was a beautiful tortoiseshell cat, but then we have had a couple of good photos of me with the cat to help prop that memory up!  I can’t tell you when she came to live with us or whether she was a kitten or full grown.  All those details have faded too, but I do remember that she was always around from as early as I can recall.

Playing games with her was a daily activity.  We made balls of wool tied on to a thin single strand and dragged them around the flat with her chasing and pouncing, perfecting her hunting skills.  We also played games with all kinds of plastic and rubber balls and we even had a small grey wind up mouse, with a flicking tail, that we used to place on the lino of the kitchen floor for her to chase around.  These games were as much fun for me as they seemed to be for the cat.  I love the way a cat moves when they are stalking, pouncing and even moving sideways as they seem to play with their ‘prey’, whether it is a ball, a hand or a light from a torch!

Feeding the cat was one of my first responsibilities around the home – putting down a old saucer with tinned cat food or small dried food pieces shaken from a foul smelling card box.  I also remember that she liked a little milk in a saucer and water too.  She was very inquisitive and adventurous, always prowling the flat and the garden, checking out her domain.  Sometimes her adventures were a bit too much for her and she got into a tricky situation.  One evening she didn’t appear at the usual time for an early evening meal.  I was sent outside to look for her in the garden or the street, just before dusk.  Other children in the street told me that she was stuck up a tree, calling out for help.  I rushed back in to tell Dad and together we went to look for her.  A short walk down the road there she was, high up in the branches of what seemed to me to be a very large tree.  She was plaintively calling as if saying “Help! Help! Get me down from here!”

After the first attempt to coax her down, my Dad started to climb the tree only for her to climb higher as if she was trying to get away from the help that was arriving.  This made no sense at all to me, but I am sure now that it was simply her anxiety about being rescued causing her to panic.  Dad asked the growing crowd at the base of the tree, which now included a few other parents too – did anyone have a ladder?  “Yes” said one man, and he went home to fetch it.  The man soon returned and propping the ladder firmly against the tree my Dad made another attempt to climb and recover the cat.  Within a few minutes, my Dad was high in the branches of the tree – worryingly high as far as I was concerned.  The cat was even higher, still occasionally calling for help, with only a couple of very thin branches remaining to walk around on.  Several neighbours were suggesting that the Fire Brigade be called, but my Dad was determined to manage on his own, with stubborn independence!

Frustrated and feeling he needed additional pieces of equipment, my Dad sent me home for the string shopping bag and a length of rope.  Now not all of you will remember string shopping bags, but in the 1960s they were very common.  Supermarkets had only just been invented and were not commonplace, and thin plastic carrier bags were unknown.  Local shops only provided expensive paper bags or expected shoppers to bring their own bag, and a string bag was often used for fruit and vegetables.

String Bag - applesThe photo is of a modern string bag on ebay.com(not the UK site), but it has the same leather handles and overall design as our original – with more and more people seeking alternatives to the free plastic carrier bags in supermarkets the string bag is making a comeback!

When I retuned to the tree with the string bag, my Dad quickly managed to use the rope to climb even higher and secure himself well enough to make a lunge and get a firm hold on the cat.  He placed it safely in the string bag, which he hooked over one shoulder before carefully climbing back down.  Once back on the ground I was handed the bag and carefully carried the cat home as Dad thanked the neighbours for their help and we finally had late meal.  The cat stayed indoors till the next day, sleeping soundly after her adventure in the tall tree!

After an adventure of an altogether different kind, Mum noticed that the cat was putting on a lot of weight around the belly and a few weeks later seven kittens were born in the early hours of one morning.  Our cat was a fairly good attentive mother, but one kitten didn’t survive the first day – Dad buried it in the back garden.  The rest we had a lot of fun naming, according to their characteristics.

The one with the weepy eyes and the fluffy grey tabby colouring we called Smoky Joe.  There was a ginger tabby, always bright, energetic and adventurous that I think we called Tiger (Winnie The Pooh wasn’t a book I knew then or it would have been Tigger!)  I don’t recall the names of all the others, all different colours, but I remember the chubby black and white one was definitely food focused.  He would barge his way to the saucer of milk, occasionally flipping the saucer and spilling the milk all over him.  When he didn’t flip the saucer, he still wasn’t content to just lap milk from the edge, he would wade into the middle of the saucer and stand there in the milk as if he was saying “This is all mine!” We called him Fatso – political correctness was another thing that we didn’t have back in the 1960s!

After a few weeks Mum and Dad said that they all had to find new homes and we took them to a pet shop.  Smokey Joe stayed for an extra week or so, due to his small size and weakness, and he was much improved before he went to a new home.  After that excitement life returned to normal, until the events I recounted in A Tale of Two Sisters turned our lives upside down and back again.  A few months after my sister Suzy was born my Dad came to a fairly sudden decision that he couldn’t stay in the flat with all the memories of my first sister Mleen and so we prepared to move out of London!

That proved to be a mixture of adventure and disaster, that only lasted for about six months, before we returned to London for most of 1969 – there are sufficient stories of that time for at least two or three posts in the future.  The one big loss of the move though was the cat!  A day or so before we were due to move she disappeared completely.  My Mum said it was either all the packing disturbed her or she was off on another adventure that would lead to another litter of kittens!  Well our Mum kept in touch with a neighbour by letter for several months after we moved.  The cat reappeared just a few days later and the neighbour took her in.  A number of weeks later she had another six kittens!

It was a year or so before we took on another cat, well just a kitten, a fluffy tabby.  He was mainly given a home to try to deal with the serious mouse problem in the shared housing where we lived.  All I remember of him was that he was a bit wild, biting and scratching, seemingly at random, far from friendly or fun.  After just a few weeks he had an accident crossing the very busy main road and it was a couple of years before we took on another cat.  By the time we did we were established in the more suburban area near St Albans.

Whiskers was another tabby, the kitten of a feral cat that lived behind where our Dad worked.  She was a more typical friendly tabby, a good family pet, tolerant of being picked up by young children and capable of dealing with the odd mouse too.  She was with us for a couple of years and moved with us to a more remote village in Hertfordshire when Mum and Dad took up a care-taking role for a fair sized country house.  The photo was taken in the beautiful grounds of that house – you do have to look carefully though to see the tabby cat, just in front of me on the left, as it is fairly well camouflaged among the stalks of the daffodils.  As far as I know it is the only photo we have of her.

s-image004-aAfter a few months living in the wildness of the deeper countryside she disappeared for many weeks.  When she finally reappeared she looked like she must have survived an attack by a wild animal, as she had what appeared to be several bite wounds and was in a very poor state.  I found her in the courtyard of the big house, near the stables and garages and immediately fetched her some water, that she very gingerly accepted.

Worried about how ill she looked I went back to ask Mum for advice and when I came back outside a couple of minutes later she was gone – never to be seen again!  We often wondered what had attacked her, there were many suspects – a fox being fairly likely as there were many in the woods around us.  We also had stoats and weasels, which she may have been tempted to take on herself – which wouldn’t have been a good move.  A domestic cat is no match for such fast and ferocious wild animals, their pretty presentation in story books for children are not really accurate.

A year or so later, after a move to a more typical village house, we took in one last kitten, a little black and white bundle of fun.  Unfortunately, it escaped from the garden when it hadn’t developed a healthy fear of the busy road right outside.  After that I think we felt that we couldn’t face any more tragedy with cats and our next pet was a dog!  She was great fun, and was around for over 14 years, an adopted family member – more about her and dogs in general some time in the future.

Cats are still very appealing to me, I often stop in the street and talk to them, stroke them and love to hear them purr and ‘speak’.  I seem to have inherited that from my Dad, he rarely passed a cat in the street without greeting it.  As you will have noticed my gravatar is an cat character, loosely based on the legendary character Growl Tiger from the musical Cats, which in turn is based on the works of T S Elliott.  One of my favourite eccentric characters in a film is the old man discovered near the end of Logan’s Run, he is played by Peter Ustinov.  He introduces the futuristic humans to a creature they have never seen before – cats, quoting T S Elliot as he speaks.  See the previous post for that clip and one of my favourite musical songs, Memory, sung by the incomparable Elaine Paige, from Cats.

Memory

In preparing my next post I thought of the title without any problem at all, as memories and cats are forever linked in my mind, by this song.  I believe I first heard it sung by Elaine Paige on a late night preview of the musical Cats on BBC2 in 1981.  It was many years before I saw the musical performed on stage, but it was just as magical as when I first heard it 30 years before.  A mixture of poignant, melancholy and hope combine to make it timeless and wonderful – Elaine Paige singing this, incomparable!

The ‘cat man’ from Logan’s Run

This is a clip of one of my favourite eccentric characters in a film. (Logan’s Run 1976)  Peter Ustinov plays an old man who lives in what appears to be an old derelict court-house, with dozens of cats.  In this dystopian future world young people from a nearby closed city society have a very limited lifespan so the couple have never seen an old man with wrinkled skin before.  They also have no pets in their society so have never seen cats.  In telling them about his cats the old man mixes in quotes from T S Elliot’s Old Possum’s Book Of Practical Cats.

Eurovison Song Contest

Official-Logo-ESC-1956It is only right that I start this post with a confession – I LOVE the Eurovison Song Contest!  There I’ve said it – so if you don’t enjoy crazy fools jigging about on stage singing songs in many languages, bi-lingual presenters, not to mention the UK coming near to last for many years, then you may wish to look away now. 😉  For overseas visitors, particularly from the USA, Canada or elsewhere in the world, where you may not have seen this event on TV, you may find this post totally baffling.  Read on about this European eccentricity and you will either be intrigued or be appalled, possibly both!

Over the years, since I can first recall watching this annual event in 1972, there have also been some memorable nights of entertainment, some winners who went on to have incredible success and quite a few who were never heard of again!  The UK coverage on TV for many, many years has been complimented by the live commentary of two Irish born presenters, Terry Wogan for several decades and more recently Graham Norton.  Both have managed to tread that fine line between between seeing it all as a lot of fun whilst mentioning some of the things that have undermined the contest, blatant voting within ethnic and politic blocks and a fair sprinkling of incredibly terrible songs every year.  In fact, part of the reason I watch it is to see which country has the most ridiculous song this year!

Marcel Bezençon  of the European Broadcasting Union is credited with proposing an international song contest in 1955.  The idea was based on the popular Sanremo Music Festival in Italy, but with a few important differences.  In the early Sanremo contest, from 1951, songs were sung twice by different individuals or groups, first by Italian artists and then by foreign guest singers, the song was then judged, rather than the song and performance being judged together.  The Sanremo Music Festival is still held every year, and has often been used to pick out the Italian entry for Eurovison and has also launched the international careers of several popular singers, like Andrea Bocelli.

Eurovision 1956

In 1956 it was almost too ambitious a project to link up the fledgling TV stations of Europe in a live TV show.  It stretched the limits of the technology of the day and remains a massive technological achievement.  Now it is also streamed live on the internet and broadcast in many countries beyond the European boundaries.  Whilst the TV technology was an integral part of the whole idea from the first contest in 1956, most people who were interested in the contest tuned in to the radio broadcast – TV ownership was not widespread enough for everyone to watch it live as they do now.  In fact I can recall listening to the show on the radio in the 1970s too, so perhaps it was in a year when our TV had broken down in that week.

The Eurovison Song Contest has always just had the one performance of the song by an individual or group and that song and performance are judged by panels of jurors from the competing countries,  In much more recent times some countries have introduced phone voting in a similar way to many live TV talent shows, but telephone votes cannot be cast for the country from which the call is made, only for any of the other countries entries. There were only 7 competing countries in the first contest, held in Switzerland in 1956 and there were no questions about the motives behind the way the votes were cast as it was a secret jury decision and the winner, Switzerland, was just announced.  From 1957-1987 a physical scoreboard was used to display the points awarded by the various national juries.  Since then various electronic display boards and onscreen graphics have been used.

The number of competing countries grew to 18, by 1965 and 17 or 18 countries competed in most contests throughout the 1960s and 70s.  During the 1980s and 90s the entrants increased to 25 for many years before a rapid expansion of numbers in 2004.  Now there are two stages to the contest, with two semi-final rounds where new entrant nations or ones that scored badly in previous years have to compete to even be in the final, which is now between 26 competitor nations.  As the numbers have grown and different scoring methods have been tried there have been various controversies about the results with nations threatening to boycott future contests when unhappy with the outcome.  It can all get a bit heated with various rivalries surfacing from below the apparently smooth calm surface of international togetherness!  Again for me this is also part of the fun of the event.

Another fun feature is the television link ups to receive the scores from each country, as every year there are always a few attempts to use the very brief moment in the spotlight to be noticed on the international stage.  Unfortunately some of the attempts to look great are seriously misjudged and end up looking like a really bad YouTube video by a nerdy teenager, and their moment of fame turns to disaster, bringing embarrassment on individual and their home nation!  The scoring section of the contest is the most tedious, but as it reaches the conclusion the tension mounts as to which of the top 2 or 3 songs has won.  A lot is at stake, not just for the song writer and performers, but for their country too, as the country of the winning entry get to host the contest the following year.  This is often seized as a major opportunity to promote the host country and city with lavish travel videos in little clips throughout the contest, shown before each competing song.  It has also been rumoured though that some small nations have tried to ensure that they don’t win, for fear of the costs of hosting the contest bankrupting the host TV company.

Watching the contest for the first time I am sure many people are completely baffled by all of the nuances of national rivalries, but they may also be baffled how some nations think they are going to win with bizarre costumes, strange performers and crazy novelty songs.  This is made all the more strange by some extremely good entries each year, that are serious, meaningful songs, sung by individuals or groups with great talent and charisma.  An early favourite for me, although I only heard it a few years later was 1964 winner from Italy, Gigliola Cinquetti  – Non ho’ l’etá, a song that still sounds great now.  The video below is the radio audio, with some video and stills mixed, as the original video was lost.

The first UK winner was Sandy Shaw with Puppet on a String, in 1967.  As you can see in the video below, there was a slight technical hitch with her mic not working for the first few seconds of the song and she famously performed barefoot!  Sandy continues to sing and entertain and has a great website.

Lulu’s Boom Bang-a-bang was a joint winner in 1969, when unclear voting rules left 4 nations tied for first place and no way to decide who had won.  Despite that controversy, that led to threats to boycott future contest by several nations, it is an iconic TV clip, in colour!  Again she remains a popular figure in UK music and entertainment, her official website is here.

A group that went on to have the most successful career after winning Eurovision were ABBA’s the winning song Waterloo (1974).  They were a slightly strange blend of glam rock styling, folk lyrics and pop harmonies, but it all worked and they remain very popular as an historic group.  As individuals each has enjoyed successful careers in many aspects of music.  Their songs of the 70s and 80s were turned into a stage musical in 1999 that has had sell out tours around the world and a successful conversion to film too.  Now they even have a museum dedicated to them, for more info on that visit here.  Many individuals or groups competing in Eurovision each year dream of emulating the success of ABBA, but to do so they need to have some incredible talent and the luck of catching the public mood and imagination of the era.

For me one of the most outstanding and unusual winners was in 1995, a classical style duo known as Secret Garden, along with a beautiful singer, Gunnhild Tvinnereim and Swedish nyckelharpist Åsa Jinder,  performed the haunting piece Nocturne.  Secret Garden are Fionnuala Sherry originally from Ireland and Rolf Løvland, from Norway.  Secret Garden have continued to make haunting beautiful music enjoyed by many people, despite not being a major commercial success story.  They have an official website that is very good and their own YouTube channel too.

Finally, after all the modern sounds, bright colours and flashing lights, here is a reminder of how simply it all started out with the 1956 winner Lys Assia – Refrain.  She also continues to record and perform and her official website is here.

For details of Eurovision 2013 visit the official websiteMy prediction for the winner tonight is Denmark, Emmelie de Forest – Only Teardrops.  I also really like Anouk – Birds, The Netherlands entry.  Sadly while the UK song Believe in Me by Bonnie Tyler is better than some recent years it is no match for most of the other entries and doomed to fail again.

Update: The winner – Only Teardrops (my first correct prediction of the winner for many years!)

This year’s most ridiculous entry (in my opinion)  Cezar Ouatu – It’s My Life (Romania)