Having established the standard guitar, vocals, bass and drums format, we now come to the instruments which will be adding a little colour to what will doubtless become the distinctive Slender sound. The spices in the Slender stew. The cardamom in the Kid’s curry if you will. Or the embroidery on the threadbare metaphor.
I invite you now to come with me. Back. Back in time. How far back? Well, let’s just say a time long, long ago. And where are we going? Well, let’s just say a land far, far away. It is approximately 03:45 pm, I am 10 years old and am just about to arrive at one of the crossroads in my life.
In one hand I have a new packet of football cards to unwrap (Bobby Moncur, got. Paul Madeley, got. Terry Hennessey, got. Keith Weller, NOT got!) and in the other a letter from school offering music lessons. And not just any kind of lessons but a dazzling choice of instruments. Were every instrument to be employed, the Royal Albert Hall could not have contained us all. OK, stylophone and bagpipes were conspicuous by their absence but I’m pretty sure the rest of the orchestra was represented. I was briefly seduced by the flute, flirted, as we all do, with the saxophone and was on the verge of rubbing ankles with the cello before finally placing my X next to the clarinet. My mother signed the letter and I waited naiively for the call to come from the clarinet tutor.
A week later we were summoned to the school hall, the future marimba virtuosos of our generation, only to have our faith in humanity cruelly ripped from our collective pre-teen bosom with the immortal words “we’ll start you off on the recorder and see how it goes”. What kind of abdication of trust was this? Did our Lord send his apostles into the world with the words “I’ll start you off flogging tupperware and we’ll see how it goes”? No, and likewise I was ready to start saving souls with my clarinet from day one, not spending an eternity in the purgatory of the recorder section.
Needless to say we never quite hit it off the descant recorder and I. Sure, we tried to make it work for a few months but I was finally forced to admit that (to paraphrase countless women of my future acquaintance) it wasn’t the recorder, it was me. I just didn’t want to be in a relationship with the woodwind section just then. In an act of frustration and pure willfulness I accepted a transfer to the Siberia of the xylophone section. Three of us sat out of sight behind the piano every week, banging out our versions of “claire de lune” and that tune that was used in the Hovis adverts – you know the one.
We then fast forward a number of years, maybe a decade. The legs of my trousers have narrowed, considerably. My haircut has expanded, vertically. The Leicester City defence has leaked goals, biblically. At some point I become aware of 60s garage classic “wild thing” by The Troggs and everything I thought I knew about the recorder is cast against the wall like the Newton noggin connecting with a Cox’s Pippin. Reg Presley has just entered my life.
Now, I assume in writing all this that you all have roughly the same rock’n’roll reference points as me. I have after all fairly conservative tastes in music. I assume equally that if you don’t recognize things I mention that you’re perfectly capable of looking them up. But when it comes to Reg Presley it’s important that you’re aware of the earth shattering majesty of the man.
Reg was still working as a brickie in Andover when The Troggs released their version of Chip Taylor’s “wild thing” in 1966. When the work radio assured Reg that it was a hit he then, and only then, resigned for a lifetime of rock madness. A few years passed as did a few more hits, Reg proving himself to be an adept songwriter and the band equally adept at capitalizing on their blokey image to make the whiff of floweriness surrounding songs like “when will the rain come” and “love is all around” extra queezy. However, come the 70s the hits had dried up and not even a reggae version of “wild thing” (!) could stop the rot. Was Reg downcast? Hardly. The former Reginald Ball merely redirected his not inconsiderable talents elsewhere. Specifically in copywrighting a device to disperse fog from airport runways. Heathrow were interested. Reg sat back and waited for the money to roll in. Unfortunately he proved to be one of a long line of geniuses who got shafted by the Man, as the British Airport Authority merely waited for the copywright to run out before reccomending the invention for all airports. The Ministry of Transport later twisted the knife in further by later making it compulsory on all stretches of the M25. Was Reg downcast? Seething I should imagine. He did, in any case, decide to then withhold his plans to irrigate the world’s deserts (still not making this up) and retire to the relative comfort of the nostalgia circuit.
Fast forward some more years, possibly decades and fortune suddenly shines on Reg (but sadly not on the rest of us) when Wet Wet Wet, fronted by the rictus gurning Marti Pellow, unleash their version of “love is all around”. Reg has now gone global. Literally – No.1 in 10 countries world wide, the song is everywhere – all around you might say. So much so that eventually even Wet Wet Wet themselves get sick of it and have the record deleted, but not before Reg has amassed a Croesus like pot of gold. Does he do the decent thing and buy a tacky mansion dating back to the Mock Tudor era? Of course he doesn’t, he’s Reg Presley. No, having conquered the world Reg sets his sights on galaxies far, far away and spends the rest of his life trying to contact alien lifeforms. Just in case the money starts to run out before the Presley Death Star is completed, writer and director Richard Curtis uses it a second time in the film “Love, Actually”, albeit to marginally less teeth grinding effect (Incidently, in my previous bookselling incarnation I once served Richard Curtis and have often solipsistically (woahh!) wondered if I wasn’t the inspiration for Hugh Grant’s character in “Notting Hill”, what with me and Hugh being separated at birth, and that). Reg’s findings can be found in his book “Wild Things They Don’t Tell Us”, available at what I believe are known as all good esoteric bookshops. I don’t doubt for a moment that it’s a rattling good read, unputdownable and quite possibly heaped with creative laurels but I also feel certain that descant recorders were denied their own chapter.
We need to get to the point and go back to 1966. There, at precisely 1 minute and 10 seconds into “wild thing” is one of the seminal moments of rock’n’roll history as an instrument from the school orchestra wreaks techtonic havoc with the only three chords you’ll ever need. Why this never caught on is a mystery I aim to explore (hey, I’ve just realised this is probably a Presley sized conspiracy involving the CIA, J. Edgar Hoover and Elvis (you don’t believe Elvis is dead do you? Foolish children – he was never alive in the first place HA!)) and an oversight I intend to correct. After “you really got me” we all punched holes in our amplifiers to sound like Dave Davies. After “96 tears” we all bought Farfisa organs and I’m willing to bet that I’m not the only one who regretted not keeping up with the xylophone after hearing “gone daddy, gone”. Yet no one ever thought to replicate the searing recorder mash up from “wild thing”, despite the almost Pellow-esque omnipresence of the instrument and it’s apparent suitability for expanding the human conciousness… oh yes! So come with me, hipsters flipsters and finger popping daddies, as we journey together through the cosmos of Reg in search of saxophone free life and recorder based civilizations, onwards, ever onwards towards a bright golden dawn.
Mind you, I’ve got shocking hearing so it could quite easily be a flute.