July 2nd, 2008

operesque

Morag, the Fab Four, and the Metrosexual Two

Morag Hood, my mother's cousin, was the TV celebrity in our family; at boarding school my brother and I were given special permission to watch her playing Natasha Rostov alongside Anthony Hopkins in the 1972 BBC TV production of War and Peace. Later, when I moved to London, I'd go to dinner at her house on a leafy street in Stoke Newington. At that point -- in the late 80s and 90s -- Morag drove a Citroen 2CV, appeared in plays at the National Theatre, and wrote literary docu-dramas for BBC Radio 4. She'd always stay with my mother when she came to the Edinburgh Festival, and she became a sort of role model for my sister, also an actress.



Morag died of cancer in 2002, but I remember her as a fine-boned, Kylie-like beauty, even into her late 50s. She'd had affairs with famous actors, but never quite ended up marrying them or having children. Morag had an interest in Eastern spirituality, and was always off in India at an ashram, meditating at the feet of her guru. She was super-sharp, super-playful, always on the edge of laughter. Once, at the Hayward Gallery cafe, Morag told me one of the best dirty jokes I'd ever heard. It was about a little girl who answers the phone to an obscene caller, and dutifully takes down a long, incredibly filthy list of things he plans to do to her mother. I actually included this joke in the first draft of my forthcoming Book of Jokes, but cut it later because it disturbed me too much (which is saying something). But it was a great defense against accusations of immorality to tell members of my family that the worst, dirtiest joke in my Book of Jokes was told me by Morag Hood, a kind of family saint.

So why am I talking about my second cousin Morag Hood today? Because yesterday the BBC ran a story on their website entitled Lost Beatles interview unearthed. It's an interview with the Fab Four recorded at Scottish Television in Glasgow in April 1964, and the voice interviewing Paul and John is Morag's. Click the media player and you'll hear Morag asking "How do you write songs?" and "What do you think about people who maybe didn't like you then, or said something nasty, or just didn't bother about you then, but are terribly nice to you now?" (To which Paul and John's answers are "We just bash one out on an old piano" and "We didn't bother about them then, and we don't bother about them now.") You can hear a whole Radio 4 documentary about the recovered interview (and more Morag) in The Lost Beatles Interview. The other presenter on STV's Roundup, by the way -- the one who sat on the floor interviewing George and Ringo -- was also a family friend of ours: Paul Young, who appears on the cover of my dad's first fishing book, Every Boy's Gamefishing (1960).

Once, having dinner at Morag's place in Stoke Newington in 1987 (it must've been 1987, because I remember asking her to tune the radio to Annie Nightingale's show, which was due to play my single "Murderers, the Hope of Women", and did), Morag showed me a record by Duncan Browne, a friend of hers. He'd written a track called "Morag" on a 1984 album called Travelling Man, the soundtrack, I think, to some probably-dismal TV programme.



Now, all I knew about Duncan Browne at the time was that he'd been in Metro, the band who wrote "Criminal World", the track Bowie covered on Let's Dance. Or did I even know that? Sadly, Duncan Browne also died of cancer, in 1993, not long after directing a tribute to Jacques Brel (another cancer victim) at the Donmar Warehouse, featuring Sian Phillips. But I've since heard a lot more of the Metro album he made in Paris in 1976 with Peter Godwin. It's an excellent, neglected sophisti-pop 70s gem, a soft rock masterpiece that sounds like a more refined, laidback Queen or Sparks. You can hear more than half of the hard-to-find Metro album on this YouTube channel. You can imagine Mono Messiah as an Edwyn Collins number, while Black Lace Shoulder has the sensuality of Al Stewart. 1976 was, after all, "the year of the cat", and of a certain feline sensuality -- at least until it got hijacked by the caterwauling Pistols, who cared little for caresses and described sex as "two-and-a-half minutes of squelching noises".



I'll play out with Precious, a piece of aristo-pop which sounds a bit like, well, Momus. Something about the phrasing reminds me of the track I made yesterday, a duet I'll sing with Kyoka Kyoka, entitled Dracula. "Moving through the station in your empty train of thought" is a great line.