M1-3 Roger McGough

M1-3 The Wreck of the Hesperus

The above illustration of Roger McGough’s contribution to the Miniatures poster displays deceptive simplicity from a man whose fertile, fervid and febrile imagination overflows in the deluge of words that gush rapidly yet with heart and soul from his Liverpudlian/Litherlandian lips. I was bemused by the breathless, hurried way he spoke down the phone during our preparatory chats prior to recording him in my home studio. It was, then, no surprise to me at all that he would dare to try and cram into his one minute Longfellow’s poem, which at a normal reading pace would probably take four. A challenge!

I picked up the gauntlet and reached for my stopwatch (not necessarily with the same hand). With other Miniatures artists I was far more easy-going (Hermeto Pascoal thrills us for a full 1’32”; Joseph Racaille slips by gallically with a blasé 14 seconds). With Roger, I mercilessly insisted on repeated takes until he scraped in at a hair under 60 seconds. Admittedly, a verse or two was edited out – but there’s an extra “haha!” plus a “ho!” at the end so, well spoken, Roger!

(slight digression: Recently I recorded a short news piece for the Good News Show on KVMR radio, and as I ran a little over time they had the cheek and audacity – just kidding, Mikail! – to use time-stretching software to speed up my voice to fit – harrumphh!!).

Roger has about 13 years on me, and as a teenager I looked up to him as a rather kooky yet caring uncle. Sure, teenagers are often hungry for the weird and the wild, but for me, with my dad just gone off with another woman, never to return, there was also a hunger for tenderness. It showed in the way me and a couple of schoolmates would sing “This Boy” by the Beatles in close harmony whenever we got the chance. It showed in the way we ignored the “traditional” culture that was being rammed down our throats (it is Shakespeare – it is Beethoven – it is therefore good) and ravenously consumed contemporary novels and poetry anthologies, looking for some spark of humanity. Inevitably, it was not long before, in “Penguin Modern Poets #10,” we discovered Roger McGough.

For a start, he was from Liverpool – and  he knew The Beatles! He had groovy long curly hair and cool glasses. And the clincher was, in 1967 – the same year as Sergeant Pepper – he published his book “Summer with Monika” – with illustrations by Peter Blake – the same bloke who did the Pepper cover! And in its happy-sad lines we read of what it’s like to really be with a bird – none of us having had more than the odd drunken grope as yet. Now we were getting a proper education.

Oh, we knew Roger was with The Scaffold, that whacky trio who  released daft Christmassy singles like “Thank U Very Much” and “Lily the Pink.” But he was the hip one in the group, compared to zany balding John Gorman and slightly snooty Mike McGear (who’s Paul McCartney’s brother, with more hair).

Yeah, our Rog was hip and cool and eccentric and tender as well. And vulnerable. Not like any of my relatives or teachers (at least I thought so then through my teenagers-slit view of the world). Also, I’d chosen him to be one of my heroes and mentors. Not a loud proud magnificent hero like, say, Hendrix (who I, gobsmacked, watched several times, playing in pubs in North London in ’66/’67). He was a quiet, sort of intimate hero, someone you could be alone together with. So intimate that I couldn’t even let on to my mates how much emotion I felt when reading his writings. And they couldn’t let on to me either, but we kept on reading. And re-reading, to make sure this bloke was really someone we could trust with our innermost yearnings. To make sure he was a bloke we really could believe, when he intimated that it’s all right to be shy and a bit blocked and have quirks and unreachable fantasies. And he was. And he still is.

Here’s a “letter” Roger sometimes likes to read out to his audiences:

Ladies and gentlemen,

I apologise sincerely for being unable to attend this evening’s performance. Owing to pressure of work, an increasing sense of unreality, and the fear of drowning in a sea of upturned faces, I have employed an out-of-work actor to impersonate me.

On my behalf he will read poems, answer questions, sign books, get drunk and generally keep up the poetic image.

Of course, there will be weaknesses in performance, the overeagerness to please, the nervous mannerisms too consciously affected, and it goes without saying that he lacks the charisma, charm, wit and raw animal sexuality of the real poet.

I trust, however, that you will enjoy the evening, and forgive my underpaid stand-in should the mask slip and his true self show through.

Yours faithfully,

Roger McGough

I think we picked a good hero. And yes, it was really all right and true to character that, surrounded by 50 other marvellous performers on “Miniatures”, when invited to contribute “anything you like” for the Miniatures poster, he submitted a blank business card with his utterly simple signature on it, writ small, lower case…

That said – here’s some pictures of Roger! If anyone has a problem re the copyright on these – please drop me a line – but also please note I have linked them to sources where you can buy Roger-things online – click the pix to find out:

One of the cheeriest photos I’ve ever seen of Roger in The Scaffold. This album seems to be out of print now, so it links to another “best of” release, also with a cool pic on the cover.

This was a bit of a find – a photo of Roger at Mike McGear’s wedding (© Mirror Photos), with guests Paul McCartney,  Jane Asher and John Gorman. Click to buy a print on Amazon.

The book – the CD – whichever version you get will be a delight, you can be sure. Wot a life. I like the green bits.

Thank you Roger!!!

Next up – yours truly wrestles with William Blake and a noisy washing machine…

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