“Let’s all get up and dance to a song which was a hit before your mother was born” sang the Beatles.
And it came to pass yesterday that Great Balls of Fire exploded from my car radio with that rat-tat-tat piano intro and “You shake my nerves and you rattle my brain… too much lurve drives a man insane.You broke my will….what a thrill…. goodness gracious Great Balls of Fire.”
And it did make me want to dance, although it was tricky in the driving seat so I was just left to reflect how odd it was that this song was one of my Nan’s favourite records. We missed a trick not having it played at her funeral. It would have knocked Rock of Ages into a cocked hat.
The first time I heard it, I must have been less than five years old, in the front room of Nan’s terraced house in Abercarn. She only had two downstairs rooms – the kitchen with a range and a big square kitchen table taking up most of the room and the posh front room, which wasn’t generally used. The front room had round burr walnut dining table in the middle with a vase centrally placed on a finely crocheted white table mat. Against the wall was the upright piano and a piano stool full of sheet music. There was an unused fireplace on the opposite wall and in the bay window, a low table with an experimental electronic thing that my Uncle Alan – her youngest son – had made. It was a record player – and it meant Nan had been buying her own records when she went down the valley on the bus to Newport.
At the time Nan had permed grey hair and wore a wrap-around nylon housecoat all the time she was indoors. I rarely saw her without her curlers in under a hairnet. She took me and my brother for walks but she was a lady not given to frantic activity. I was used to seeing her in her rocking chair by the fire – reading glasses perched well down her nose – doing the crossword in the Daily Express, or making pastry.
The day Uncle Alan showed me the record player, he put that record on and I remember Nan taking my hands and she showed me how to jig along with the music around the dining table. Thinking back she was probably encouraging me to try a pre-school version of a jive.
I do remember being surprised to see Nan suddenly so animated, but to a young child it didn’t seem very odd. It was only later that it occurred to me what a lovely contrast it was that this lady, who was the pianist for the Golden Leaves Club – hardly any members under 75 – who played *all* her music in 3/4 time, was so turned on by Jerry Lee Lewis’ Great Balls of Fire.
She taught me to play a few easy pieces on the old joanna but sadly her talents didn’t run to boogie-woogie piano or I might be really good at it now. As I got older and conversations became more frank, Nan revealed that although she liked his music, she disapproved of him personally. He had scandalised her and many of his other fans by marrying a shockingly young wife.
She loved the Everly Brothers too and bought a small collections singles I still have, including Cathy’s Clown and Bye Bye Love but as she grew older, the voice most often crooning from the front room was that of Jim Reeves. She played I Love You Because until I wanted to scream and rent my clothing. But if I ever voiced an objection she just smiled in her placid, beautific way and shook her head slowly as if she was so sorry I just didn’t get it.
So I’m playing it again and thinking of Nan…who wasn’t all Lilac Times, Strauss waltzes and Golden Leaves….she was Nan who liked a bit of a jive to rock and roll.