Television in the 1970s was a completely different beast to what it is today, with just the three channels available in the UK to entertain the masses, none of which broadcast very early in the morning or very later at night. Saturday afternoons saw BBC1 and ITV offer up sports programmes, while BBC2 would carry an old movie, more often than not from the era when Hollywood churned out Westerns and John Wayne was a global star.
ITV’s offering was a show called World of Sport, hosted by Dickie Davies whose name would later feature in a song by Half Man Half Biscuit.
Worth mentioning, in passing, that Brian Moore, who was another stalwart of World of Sport as the main football presenter, gets namechecked in the lyric of the above song.
Anyways, I can hear you wondering what the hell all this has to do with Luke Haines, so let me explain….and I’ll get there in the end.
World of Sport followed a formula each week. It started at 12.15 and ended five hours later, opening with a segment on football and closing with the all the football results from across the country, along with some reports of the games where cameras had been present and would feature on highlights programmes the following day. Much of the afternoon was taken up by horse-racing, with seven races from two or more tracks shown back-to-back, always destined to finish by 3.45 when the half-time football scores were read out.
The key time for World of Sport was the 4-4.45pm slot, the period in which they wanted to retain their viewers who only tuned in for the football scores and news. They chose to do this by offering up 45 minutes of wrestling in which you tuned in to the antics of a group of middle-aged men where the theatrics and story-lines were more important than the sport itself. In many ways, it was like being allowed to watch a pantomime, once a week, from the confines of your living room, complete with a cast of regular good guys and villains, with the latter inevitably being on the receiving end for the most part, albeit sometimes they were allowed to win to enable a new storyline to emerge or develop.
Luke Haines spent much of his young childhood watching the wrestling, and to be fair he wasn’t alone. At its very peak, the wrestling attracted 12 million viewers, which was around 25% of the viewing public in the UK. I was something of a devotee, spending every other Saturday afternoon between the ages of 5 and 12, when I wasn’t at the football with my dad, in the company of my maternal grandparents, and my nan loved the wrestling like nothing else on the telly. The names and faces of the participants are still fresh in my memory and I can still hear the mid-Atlantic twang of the commentator, Kent Walton, who covered the sport for more than 30 years until a new controller of the channel decided it had run its course and pulled World of Sport from the schedules.
Luke Haines took his childhood memories and turned them into a concept album that he released in 2011. In a career packed with strange and bold statements, 9 ½ Psychedelic Meditations on British Wrestling of the 1970s & Early ’80s is among the most bizarre….(to this point in time at least – there’s a few things just around the corner as will be revealed)
I said earlier that this was a concept album, but that would tend to suggest it had some sort of story line with a beginning, a middle and an end. Instead, the album offers up songs/tunes/spoken word numbers, all of which are in some way related to the characters who appeared on the television screens on Saturday afternoons in the 70s and early 80s between 4pm and 4.45pm, but which have their own narrative rather than then being interlinked.
It’s an incredible piece of fictional work, albeit memories of Haines’s upbringing are woven into the imaginary and fantastical tales of real-life characters such as Rollerball Rocco, Gorgeous George, Catweazle, Mick McManus, Count Bartelli, Big Daddy, Giant Haystacks and Kendo Nagasaki. There’s one thing I can tell you and that it’s not an album that would translate to a show in the west end of London or on Broadway.
The release of 9 ½ Meditations stirred up a huge amount of debate. Was Haines being particularly thrawn (a Scottish word for crooked or perverse)? Had he gone too far with his efforts to demonstrate that he was not your archetypal bloke with a record contract, far removed from those who every breath and bit of energy was devoted to commercial and mainstream success? Or was he genuinely, having just passed his 40th birthday, doing what so many do at that age and reflect back on more innocent and perhaps happy times? After all, jumping on the nostalgia train has made many a pretty penny for its passengers…..
The debate may have been wide-ranging but the conclusion of almost all reviewers was that the album was very much worth a listen, with most folk giving it a solid, 7 or 8 out of 10. Maybe the best summary of it all came from J.R. Moore writing for Drowned in Sound:-
The first thing that makes an impression is the humour. This is not a comedy album, however. It is a very personal project, inspired by a childhood enthusiasm for the sport and by watching wrestling with his father. The first lines “I was trying my best to understand / How a beautiful bouncing baby becomes an ‘orrible man / As a child I thought I’d grow up to become a dancer / But I became a fighter”, could apply as much to Haines as to any wrestler, and also evoke universal feelings of lost youth and innocence. As well as Haines’ own past, it is also about history in a larger sense; he is analysing a version of Britain that no longer exists.
J.R Moore? Surely it wasn’t his old mate from Black Box Recorder providing a leg-up?????
It’s an album that wasn’t really ever going to win him any new fans, but it was one that appealed greatly to those of us who had followed him with interest through the years or those re-attracted to him as a result of reading the hilarious and enlightening (and occasionally score-settling) Bad Vibes. It also felt as if Luke Haines, for the first time in a while, was seemingly enjoying being a recording artist again, that is if it can ever be said that Luke Haines is capable of enjoying anything via the creative process.
No singles were taken from the album. Here’s a track in which one of the wrestlers from the era grapples with a new piece of musical gadgetry:-