This post could also easily have been entitled “Why I’ve had nursery rhymes going round and round in my head for the last few days”. But that’s a bit of a long title. And it has nothing to do with television.
At the weekend we found ourselves in Paignton, staying overnight with my parents. It’s not the house I grew up in, but it’s a home from home I’ve learned to love. ‘Home’, for me, will always be Watcombe Park, in that cosy little 3 bedroom house with the back garden that flooded when it rained and the front garden with the rose bush at the end of the path (but that’s another story). A great many happy memories were generated in that house, from my earliest childhood memories through to leaving home for university. And now, nearly 25 years on, with a youngun growing fast, I’m conscious that everything we do has an impact in some way, even if he is only 11 weeks old. Memories are being made, and as a father I have a duty to ensure that they are good memories.
And so, on this somewhat spontaneous visit, I decided it would be a good opportunity to reclaim a few cassette tapes from my youth, to give Samuel something to listen to. Or, as the case may be, for me to sing along to until such a time as he can join in.
Top of the list was “Tommy’s Tape”, the product of a Challenge Anneka episode (anyone else remember Anneka Rice?). The aim was for her to create a tape of nursery rhymes starring celebrities within a weekend to raise money for the premature baby ward at St Thomas’ hospital in London. It was a tall order, as most of them were, but the result was incredible. Lots of famous people got involved, all at very short notice, including singers like Beverley Craven and Sonia (both of whom were popular at the time), the girls from Birds of a Feather, Right Said Fred, poetry read by Joanna Lumley and Pam Ayres (to name but a few), a very young Phillip Schofield, and all produced by the legendary George Martin. The quality, especially given how rushed it must all have been, is incredible.
As a quick aside, I really ought to mention just how excited I was to find that someone had posted a video of that entire episode of Challenge Anneka. It was 1992, Anneka was wearing a luminous pink and blue jacket, they drove around in her iconic beach buggy, and she talked to her film crew. Even now, memories are flooding back of watching that programme at home, sat around the television as a family… happy days.
Although I wasn’t able to put my hand on any of the other cassette tapes I remembered from my childhood, Tommy’s Tape surfaced easily, and we promptly popped it into the hifi to listen to it. Sure enough, it was right there, just as fresh and familiar as if it were still 1992. Then we listened to it in the car on the way home. Of course, we don’t have a tape player in our lounge, so I decided to hook my wife’s old walkman up to my computer and transfer the whole thing into MP3 format to preserve it from decay. That meant listening to it all through again. Shame. And then once it was all converted and split into its component tracks, I had to listen to the completed album once more to check that it was playing in iTunes correctly.
For reference, for anyone who might be interested in the technical side of the operation, I plugged the walkman into a USB sound card I have, which provides phono input and output connections, and recorded the source in Audacity (one side at a time), normalised the audio (to make sure it’s all at a suitable volume), saved out as an MP3, and then used Logic Express to split the audio track into per-song chunks which could then be ‘bounced’ out as individual MP3 files. Those MP3 files were then imported into iTunes, where they were ordered and had their ID3 tags filled in with the appropriate details and album art. Next time, incidentally, I’ll record straight into Logic Express rather than going via Audactiy, as that turned out to be an unnecessary link in the chain.
I have some favourite tracks, of course. Timmy Mallet’s rendition of The Laughing Policeman has to be the best I have ever heard. Beverley Craven’s Hush Little Baby is beautiful, and will undoubtedly make its way onto Samuel’s relaxing nursery playlist. And I reckon Joanna Lumley’s delightful and expressive performance of Jabberwocky must be definitive; if you know of a better recording, I’d like to hear it. And the three tracks that have been unrelentingly on my mind the last few days are Sam Brown’s Nellie The Elephant, Julia Fordham’s The Ugly Duckling and Sonia’s Who’s Afraid Of The Big Bad Wolf, not because they’re necessarily the best songs ever recorded, but because they’re just so catchy.
So thank you, Anneka, for a superb collection of nursery rhymes and children’s songs, which I am still listening to 18 years on and which, thanks to the joys of technology, is now immortalised in my iTunes collection. And no, you won’t find this album in the iTunes store, nor even on Amazon I wouldn’t have thought, because it was only produced as a tape, there were only ever 10,000 of them, and it was sold exclusively through WHSmith’s. So if you want to listen to it, you may just have to come and visit us.
So now I have a collection of other tapes that need converting, now that I’ve successfully transfered this one. If you need me at all in the next few weeks, I’ll probably be in my study, surrounded by cables, cassette tapes and headphones…