Dave Dee

You get the feeling it’s started in earnest, the eradication of your childhood, when people like Dave Dee (a pseudonym: he was called Harman) die, even if he was about the same age as my father was when he died, and even if 67 sounds somehow acceptable (under eleven years to go for me). And I guess it’s also a bit strange to be writing about titans like Pinter one minute, and minnows like Dave Dee the next, at least in cultural terms. But it would be a sad world if there wasn’t space to be made just as happy at the age of 14 by ‘The Caretaker’ and ‘The Legend Of Xanadu’. And I am still 14, really.

Just in case you’re wondering who on earth Dave Dee was (he died on January 9th), he was the leader and singer of one of the most successful pop groups of the 1960s: not one which sought to take itself seriously, and not one which has ever been taken seriously, either, except with all the indiscriminate intensity of teenagers of the time. No-one writes cod-learned retrospectives of them (as they do of the Beatles, Kinks etc.). They – the group’s preposterous name was Dave Dee, Dozy, Beaky, Mick and Tich – were showmen who sang, in some cases, complete nonsense (‘Zabadak!’ was one of their many hits – compare Queen’s ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’, which is also nonsense, but attracts a sort of reverence). They did straight beat music (‘Hold Tight’), eccentric romances (‘The Legend Of Xanadu’), innuendo-laden flamenco (‘Bend It’), and actually recorded at least one very powerful original song, quite the equal of any of their more revered contemporaries (‘Save Me’).

But the main thing was that you could dance to them, and you could dance stupidly to them, too, because their songs were never presented as anything other than gloriously disposable. Abba are the only act to have done this and attracted the serious musos, in my opinion. No-one ever talks of the chord-changes in a Dave Dee record. The difference is that Dee was a performer, not a writer – but he did have two top writers in Ken Howard and Alan Blaikley, who provided a series of songs for so many performers that they have a good claim to have created the aural landscape of the 1960s.

I knew that Dee, before heading for music, had been a policeman; and also that, as a young police cadet, was on duty at the Wiltshire police station when Eddie Cochran died in the fatal car-crash nearby, in April 1960 (some reports have him at the crash scene, but that looks like a nicely embroidered myth – more likely that he was at the station when Cochran’s belongings, including his guitar, were brought in. Cochran was not even two years older than Dee). Carelessly, I didn’t know he had been playing the oldies circuit in the last decade, or I would have added him to the list of still-going acts I’ve enjoyed going to see. And I didn’t know that, more recently, he had been a magistrate.

Every local band in the North-East (and presumably every other direction of the compass) covered his first big hit ‘Hold Tight’ (not too many chord changes, and a thumping beat), and usually used it as the final song of the evening. In fact, I had my first kiss – stop snivelling and sniggering in the back row – while ‘dancing’ to a cover of the song. I had waited all evening for my first attempt at lip-syncing with a girl. Quite hard to do when the song is such a thump-thump-thump of a thing. Maybe this is why I feel a little sad. (I wonder if Margaret Jennings is feeling the same way, wherever she may be.)

It was not at all unusual for hit acts to appear on children’s TV then – somehow, Coldplay and Oasis and The Killers and Franz Ferdinand seem unlikely to have done the same. I could be wrong. So here is Dave Dee as he appeared on ‘Blue Peter’, of all things, with the aforementioned song – note the appearance of Valerie Singleton – and those modish and moddish hair-styles.

When I was a child, I spake as a child. But I haven’t yet packed away those childish things.


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