2020 vision

So, here we are in 2020. What will this new decade bring? Will it be the Roaring Twenties, as it was 100 years ago? Or another Jazz Age? That would be nice.

More seriously, though it can be foolish to make predictions, I imagine much of the decade will be – or should be – dominated by the climate emergency and mankind’s faltering attempts to tackle it. We are not helped in this by the current fashion for populist political leaders who play fast-and-loose with the truth to suit themselves and their selfish interests.

An aside here for pedants, like myself: I know the First Century began with year one and so the first decade was to year 10, the second decade from 11 to 20, and so on, meaning the new decade does not really start until 2021. But after two thousand years, conventions grow and change – sometimes, not always, it is best to go with the flow (yes, Mr Byrne, that’s you).

To be honest, it was only in the last week or two of 2019 that I realised we were about to enter a new decade. I think this is because decades have not been such a big deal since the turn of the 21st century.

In my lifetime we have had the Fifties, the Sixties, the Seventies, the Eighties, the Nineties and then, err… Did someone say the Noughties? Does anyone really like or use that name? And, as for the 2010-19 decade, I don’t recall ever seeing a name attached to it.

The 20th century was the same: the first decade was known, at least in Britain, as the Edwardian era, and the second decade was so dominated by the Great War that no name seems to have been attached to it.

Besides, the labels for decades are arbitrary and only capture a small part of the time period. For more on this read my blog about the Sixties which, I believe, for most people was nothing like the cliches portrayed in TV documentaries.

2019 sunset
The last sunset of the old decade seen from our house (image: Graham Brown)

Anyway, for Kathie Touin (Mrs Brown) and I the decade just ended was hugely significant because it was when we moved to Orkney, nearly 10 years ago in April 2010 (more about that later this year). Suffice to say we made the right decision and are very happy here – with our Border Collie, Roscoe, who turned 11 in 2019.

And the year just ended? The highlight of 2019 has to be the release of Kathie’s new album of music, Facing The Falling Sky (see my previous blog). Let me say again, it is a super collection of songs produced in a novel way.

Since my last blog it has been included by DJ Steve Conway in his 8Radio show Conway’s Christmas Gifts – 17 albums he loves and would gift to a friend. He selected, among others, Kate Bush, Paul Weller, PJ Harvey – and Kathie!

Travel in 2019 took Kathie and I to Arizona in February to see the in-laws and I made two trips to Edinburgh, one in May on my own to see Gretchen Peters in concert then again in November with Kathie.

I failed to write a blog about the second Edinburgh visit so here’s a summary. The trip was originally planned because Kathie wanted to see guitarist Steve Hackett in concert. After booking tickets we spotted that, two nights later, Mark Lewisohn (an expert on The Beatles) was presenting a show to mark the 50th anniversary of the release of the Abbey Road album. So we booked that as well.

Both shows were great, we even got into the Steve Hackett meet-and-great before the concert.

Kathie & I meeting Steve Hackett, a gentleman (image: Graham Brown’s smartphone)

Mark Lewisohn spoke (with musical and archive clips) for nearly three hours about Abbey Road. You might think this sounds overlong but if, like Kathie and me, you are a fan of The Beatles it was fascinating at every turn.

We kept up The Beatles theme by taking a day trip by train from Edinburgh Haymarket station (opposite our hotel) to Glasgow Queen Street. Then a short bus ride to the wonderful Kelvingrove Art Gallery & Museum to see an exhibition of Linda McCartney photographs.

Linda McCartney was a fantastic photographer with an eye for detail and an unusual angle or take on a subject. Her subject matter ranged from international superstars to intimate family portraits. The exhibition, Linda McCartney Retrospective, finishes at the Kelvingrove on 14 January but transfers to the Walker Art Gallery, Liverpool, where it is on display from 25 April to 31 August.

I would highly recommend a visit and allow plenty of time, there are lots of photographs to admire and you will not want to rush past them.

Our big holiday this year was an 11-night stay in Austria, split between Vienna and Salzburg. I should have written a separate blog entry about this but on return from the holiday we went straight into a hectic period preparing for Kathie’s album launch and the blog was never written.

We had a wonderful time – the people were friendly and helpful, the food was excellent, the cities seemed cleaner than those back in the UK and there was evidence of Mozart everywhere (he was born in Salzburg and lived in Vienna).

Highlights of our trip included the wonderful paintings in Vienna’s Albertina and Kunst Historisches Museums; seeing the River Danube and the fairground wheel from the Third Man film; a brief visit (for me) to Austrian broadcaster ORF; the Spanish Riding School (I went once, Kathie went twice); seeing Mozart’s Requiem performed in the beautiful Karlskirche, Vienna; cathedrals in both Vienna and Salzburg; looking down on Salzburg from the castle, Hohensalzburg Fortress; our Salzburg river trip; and our Sound Of Music coach trip. (NB: lots of pictures coming soon – promise – on my Instagram feed).

Ah, yes, the Sound Of Music coach trip. I was not a big fan of the film but before leaving home a friend said we should do this – I think up until then I was not aware of the film having been shot around Salzburg. When we arrived in the city I thought, why not? And we booked the trip.

It was four hours or so of great fun, travelling in and around Salzburg and then out to the beautiful lakes in the mountains which we would not otherwise have seen. Our tour guide was friendly and enthusiastic, without being pushy, and as the coach travelled between stops we all sang along with the soundtrack of the film.

Julie and me – a stop on the Sound Of Music coach tour (image: Graham Brown)

I found myself curiously moved by the music. I have been a fan of musicals since living in London – when my parents came to visit they would inevitably want to go to the West End to see a musical and I also came to love them.

But somehow the Sound Of Music was associated in my mind with seeing the film as a youngster when it seemed very unfashionable compared to the pop music of the day that I was listening to. All that changed on our coach trip, perhaps I was emotional thinking of my late parents on that day, but for whatever reason I was hooked.

Incidentally, on that afternoon out we also spotted a Bristol Lodekka. Most of you will have no idea what that is, I imagine. It is a double-decker bus, of a type that regularly came past our house when I was a child on Eastern Counties’ Peterborough to Cambridge service. Sometimes in the summer holidays Mum and I would take the bus to Cambridge for a day out. The one in Salzburg was being used to transport tourists.

A Bristol Lodekka – in Salzburg (image: Graham Brown)

They were called Lodekkas, I understand, because the lower deck was step free once you were on board. The person to ask all about this would have been my Uncle David, an expert on buses who has had books of his historic bus photographs published.

Sadly, David (Burnicle) was one of the folk we lost in 2019. He was always engaging company and lived an inventive, loving and productive life – though, of course, that does not make his passing easy for his family. Here he is as a young man, a photograph taken in the year I was born…


Many, probably most, of us will have suffered loss of some sort in the past year – just in the last days of the year came the unexpected death of Neil Innes, one of Britain’s most talented, funny and modest songwriters. To his family the loss will be greatest. Thankfully, his wonderful music will live on.

Who knows what will happen this year and who will still be standing at the year’s end when the Earth’s cycle has taken us around the Sun one more time?

So in 2020 let us enjoy life whenever we can; celebrate each other’s creativity and foibles; spread love to family, friends and to those we don’t know, in our own country and abroad, of our beliefs and of others; and let us work for a better world.

Graham Brown

P.S. Here’s Kathie’s New Year blog…


To find out more

My (so-called) Instagram account – https://www.instagram.com/grahambrownorkney/

My blog: The Sixties – https://grahambrownorkney.wordpress.com/2012/03/13/swinging-sixties/

My blog: Kathie’s new album – https://grahambrownorkney.wordpress.com/2019/12/17/facing-the-falling-sky/

My blog: Arizona February 2019 – https://grahambrownorkney.wordpress.com/2019/05/02/arizona-take-three/

My blog: Edinburgh Spring 2019 – https://grahambrownorkney.wordpress.com/2019/06/24/spring-into-summer-via-edinburgh/

Steve Hackett website – http://www.hackettsongs.com/

Mark Lewisohn website – https://www.marklewisohn.net/

Linda McCartney website – https://www.lindamccartney.com/

Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kelvingrove_Art_Gallery_and_Museum

Walker Art Gallery – https://www.liverpoolmuseums.org.uk/walker/

Vienna – https://www.austria.info/uk/where-to-go/cities/vienna

Salzburg – https://www.austria.info/uk/where-to-go/cities/salzburg

Wikipedia: Bristol Lodekka – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bristol_Lodekka

Neil Innes website – https://neilinnes.media/

The Swinging Sixties – really?

Groovy! (image courtsey of freeimages.co.uk)

It’s a familiar theme on British TV documentaries, so often portrayed and referred to that we assume it must be correct in all details: the Swinging Sixties.

This was the time when all the music pouring out of Radio Caroline and other pirate radio stations was hip, revolutionary and exciting, there was free love, the girls were beautiful, though the men wore dodgy outfits, everyone had flowers in their hair, people took mind-liberating drugs, joined protests against the Vietnam War and generally rejected authority.

But was it really like that in the UK? I suspect the truth is that a minority lived the kind of life portrayed in these documentaries, while some folk enjoyed some aspects of this lifestyle – mostly listening to the music – and for some people these revolutionary times just did not happen.

Here’s a question. Which act had two UK number one hit singles in 1967, staying at the top of the charts for a total of 11 weeks. Well, must have been The Beatles?

In fact it was Engelbert Humperdinck, not the classical composer of that name, but a ballad singer who you might think would have been more at home in the early Fifties, or at least in Las Vegas cabaret. If you are too young to remember here he is on YouTube…

His big songs that year were Release Me and The Last Waltz, the first of these keeping The Beatles’ Strawberry Fields Forever/Penny Lane off the top slot.

Of course, if you are too young to remember Engelbert you will get a chance to see him in all his glory as the unexpected choice to sing the UK entry into this year’s Eurovision Song Contest in Azerbaijan. Isn’t life strange?

Engelbert wasn’t alone in flying the flag for middle-of-the-road music in 1967. Other UK number one singles that year included Petula Clark’s This Is My Song, Nancy and Frank Sinatra singing Somethin’ Stupid and Long John Baldry’s Let The Heartaches Begin.

Of course just hearing the latest fab, groovy and hip music on the radio might not have been so easy if you lived outside the south-east of England. The signals of the pirate radio stations would not have reached Wales or the north of Scotland, possibly not even some inland areas of England.

But back to 1967 – the year often highlighted in TV documentaries about the Sixties. I’d like to tell you about a fascinating second-hand book I bought recently for £2.

Published in 1967, the so-called year of flower power, it is called Celebrity Cooking. It contains favourite recipes of the famous, along with potted biographies. You might think such a book would feature, say, Mick Jagger, Paul McCartney, Jimi Hendrix and the like. Well, no. Val Doonican, Max Bygraves and Liberace, yes.

The book has some great recipes and the biographies are fascinating. But it is also notable in two respects which tell you something about life in the Swinging Sixties.

Firstly, in the acknowledgements the book’s compiler says: “A big ‘thank you’ to the many wives who patiently wrote out their husband’s favourite recipe.”

So, not of all these grand men were cooking their favourite recipes? There’s a surprise. I suspect very few of them were doing so. The book is, in fact, a book of favourite dishes.

Secondly, the potted biographies alongside each contributor are very polite and deferential. How about this one, for The Earl of Avon?

“Formerly Sir Anthony Eden – Distinguished former Prime Minister of Great Britain 1955-1957 noted for his handling of international affairs and impeccable elegance in dress. As Prime Minister his term of office was cut short by ill health. With Lady Avon, a niece of Sir Winston Churchill, he winters at his home in Barbados in the British West Indies.”

What a wonderful Prime Minister he must have been and how sad his term was ended by ill health.

But wait a minute. Isn’t this the Prime Minister who took Britain into an ill-advised military invasion of Egypt after the Suez Canal was nationalised? A war that was organised while the British public were being misled?

No, not that war, you’re thinking of Tony Blair and Iraq but I admit there are similarities. The names of Blair and Eden will forever be associated with disastrous intervention in the Middle East, whatever else they did during their careers.

The flamboyant pianist Liberace is also featured in Celebrity Cooking. His biography says: “America’s piano-playing idol. Mothers all over America swoon when Liberace, in his sequined outfit, appears playing soulfully, Chopin or Gershwin, on his candelabra-bearing piano.” Even in 1967 that description must have been a bit of a stretch.

Their recipes? For the record, Lord Avon chose chicken liver mould – that would be a gift to today’s comedy writers – and Liberace’s choice was stuffed squab or baby pigeons.

There is only one person featured in the book who could be considered, as we might say now, “cool” and that is Dusty Springfield.

But this book is about the famous, the rich, the powerful. What was life like for ordinary people in 1967 in the UK? I suspect it was not as it appears in the Sixties documentaries.

Free love and the pill for all? Yes, the pill became available on the National Health Service in the Sixties and abortion was legalised in 1967. But I suspect many young women would not easily talk to a GP about that sort of thing back then and clinics may not have been available outside big cities. For many women sex was probably scary, with uncertain consequences. What if you became pregnant? That was likely to bring shame on your family, and may lead to your baby being taken away for adoption.

How was it in 1967 if you were black? I expect you faced routine racial discrimination. I was at secondary school from 1969 to 1976 and, like my classmates, had passed the Eleven Plus, an exam which singled us out for the grammar school stream. But amongst this supposedly bright and educated group our attitudes to black people were shamefully archaic.

And how about being gay, say in 1967? As it happens it was the year that the Sexual Offences Act decriminalised private homosexual acts between men over the age of 21. It was a big step forward but growing up as a homosexual was not easy for most people in the Sixties, and for many decades to come.

Yes, the Sixties were a big influence on our lives today and started many movements – black consciousness, equality, improved contraception, gay rights – that have blossomed over the following decades.

But I expect many young people – particularly in small towns or remote areas – lived ordinary lives of sexual fumbling, perhaps scared to be gay, perhaps prejudiced against black and gay people, perhaps facing bigots as a matter of course.

Hopefully, they were at least able to enjoy some of the great music from the Sixties.

I’d be interested in your thoughts.

P.S. My next blog will be about my recent to Southern California. Watch this space.

To find out more

Radio Caroline still broadcasts today via satellite and the internet. You can even get an app for your iPhone. They play a great variety of music. I’ll return to this in a future blog but meanwhile give them a listen: http://www.radiocaroline.co.uk/

The image at the top of this blog is courtesy of freeimages.co.uk: http://www.freeimages.co.uk/