‘What dat?’ I hear you say. Well … many many years ago I was invited to write the music and the theme song for a Childrens Film Foundation film called … yes … ‘Big Wheels & Sailor.’
I was recently contacted by the British Film Institute to tell me they were releasing Vol. 3 of CFF films and ‘Big Wheels’ was in it, would I like to write a piece for the booklet?
This is what I wrote!
In this Twenty First Century any kid can drive a Formula 1 race car, fly a jet airplane or start and win a war, all without moving from a computer screen. The only complaint from an adult being a comment on the lack of fresh air. But there was a pre-laptop time when kids had to use their imagination. If anyone had a football or a cricket bat a quick cup final or test match could be arranged, failing that you could be a cop or robber, a pirate, a cowboy, a great detective or a spy, all played with a healthy dose of fresh air. Then …there was Saturday morning pictures where the stars were your contemporaries and they always triumphed over the wicked evil grown ups … great stuff!
In 1979, a time referred to by today’s youth as ‘the olden days’, producer Jeni Cole contacted me either by pigeon or note fixed to an arrow, I can’t rightly recall - it was the ‘olden days’ after all - and asked me if I’d like to write the score for a new CFF film about trucks. Despite thinking that a ‘score’ was something you got at the end of a cricket match, I agreed. I’d had an album out recently which had the word ‘banjo’ in the title and had been to the US, the land of big 18 wheelers and CB radio, so I guess Jeni thought I just might be qualified.
My partner in crime then was a giant from Paisley in Scotland named Arthur Anderson. We had a recording facility in North London based in the hippy house we shared with girlfriends and various drifters passing through. Arthur had the ground floor flat, I had the first floor. My spare bedroom became the control room and the top floor was the actual studio space. Whenever the landlord came by we managed to convince him that the mountain of equipment in the place was just an elaborate hi-fi. I think we got away with it!
I had no idea how to go about writing a film score. We started by using delaying tactics. I talked to director Doug Aitken and convinced him that Arthur and I should hang around the filming to ‘soak up the atmosphere’.
We got to see some of the truck stuff, a taxi driven into a pond - twice - and
hang about in a transport cafe while shooting was in progress, in fact you can see big Arthur drinking tea and reading Melody Maker in one shot.
So … we were ready. I got busy watching a test match on tv. England must have had a rare victory as I was in a good mood (Arthur, being Scottish…not so much). Anyway I started work on the theme song the next morning and discovered that the hard work had already been done. Two of the trickiest parts of writing a song are subject matter and title. As I’d already been handed both, I located my crayons and set about writing. Two boxes of crayons later we set about recording. We got the legendary Carlo Little on drums. Carlo was a long time member of Screaming Lord Sutch and the Savages. That was before Lord Sutch became Prime Minister (you might want to check I’ve got that right). On fiddle - or ‘violin’ as he preferred to call it - was Bob Loveday. Bob played with my band, among others, for years and is currently part of Bob Geldof’s touring band. I handled guitars, banjo, bass and vocals, and Valya Picquart provided vocal harmony.
Recording took a couple of weeks and when I’d finished all the bits and pieces we proudly presented it to Jeni and Doug. Then we hit a problem. I’d happily written what I thought was a pretty snazzy trucking song. It had all the right elements: the names of the trucks in the movie, a bit of CB radio thrown in and the obvious US trucking reference …18 wheels! Doug gently pointed out that the trucks in the movie had FOURTEEN wheels. I frantically searched for a drawing board to go back to. Found it, re-wrote bits of lyric and recorded the vocal again, making a mental note to do some work on this counting business. I’m a guitar player, damn it, not a maths professor.
I have to say the whole experience was a joy and even the weather played ball for a change. Many folks involved with CFF projects went on to have successful careers including several from ‘Big Wheels’.
So here I am … managed to reach old age without a criminal record though I sure have played on a few, but you always look back on your early career with fondness. Many thanks “Big Wheels & Sailor’.