Everyone who watches football, I suspect, watches it in the hope of catching a note in it that’s peculiar to themselves. I watch it wanting it to tell me that this is still a world in which the extraordinary can happen, to remind me, when I need reminding, that I’m here and alive and it’s worth it.
Everyone’s football note is different, but the game’s big enough to play them all sooner or later. The Daily Record serialised Graham Roberts’ violent memoirs a month ago; put next to Bobby Charlton’s gentlemanly recollections, the sheer breadth of just topflight football is immediately apparent.
I hear that note in music less often. There’s a kind of blazing high to a piece of wonderful skill that needs a different sort of record to what Nick Hornby has characterised as forty years of disastrous love affairs written up in a minor key. The music of the 1920s was badly recorded, but it had an extensive emotional range, and when everything came together, it told it well.
Badly recorded? it was often merely bad. But this isn’t: Philip Larkin called it “the hottest record ever” and he was right. I owned the 78 for a while, and couldn’t find a needle quiet enough to cope with it. This is the version, poorly transcribed onto LP. You have to strain to feel the warmth and energy and ecstacy. St Louis Blues, from Louis Armstong’s annus mirabilis, 1929 New York. The greatest place, the greatest music, the Twist and Shout of the better half of the 20th century.
But St Louis Blues doesn’t inspire homesickness in quite the way this next song – song? try whistling it… does.
The clip it’s in is from Ken Burns’ fantastic Jazz series, and shows what you might call the “classic” idea of pre-War black America. St Louis Blues brings Ryan Giggs to mind, or George Best. West End Blues just reminds me of West End Blues.
West End Blues tops and tails Dear Philip, Dear Kingsley , but neither writer mentions it anywhere in their work. Well, they were Count Basie fans. What can you do? and such a stupid name. Louis Armstrong seems to have resisted the temptation to call himself King, Count, Duke, 50c..
I don’t think that anyone could argue for rock having done anything as beautiful and complex, let alone within three minutes. Or so soon: this was recorded in 1928, an adolescent’s lifespan after even the most basic jazz began to be played to the poor bloody infantry.
It’s quite different from the first song. That slow-stepping, melancholy beginning, and then the lazy-afternoon core, somehow working itself into ecstacy before winding down. All in three minutes. Form and restriction.
In most of the classic arts, the 20th century began by blaming the form for the increasing aridity of the content, and what followed was Kiki’s Paris. In football, we put the whole thing onto poor Alf Ramsey and the wingless wonders. But all form asks for is talent. You can write off English poetry just by removing the respective reigns of Elizabeth I and George IV.
Football has this over music: we remember the bad stuff with affection.