We also wish a happy birthday to Mary Mason who lives in Towcester, Northampton shire: Jenny Butler and Jackie Coughlan, and David Doherty who live in Carrick-on-Suir, Tipperary, Ireland: Jodie O Fusco who lives in Halifax, West Yorkshire. Mary, Jenny, Jackie, David, and Jodie, enjoy your special day, and thank you for being my Facebook friend.
My song today is ‘You’ve Really Got a Hold on Me’. This song was written by Smokey Robinson, which became a 1962 Top 10 hit single for the Miracles. It received a ‘Grammy Award’ in 1998. It has also been selected as one of ‘The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame’s 500 Songs that Shaped Rock and Roll’. It was covered by the Beatles on their second album, ‘With the Beatles’. Many other musicians also recorded versions. "You've Really Got a Hold on Me" has been covered extensively since its release. The most notable include ‘The Supremes’ (1964) and ‘The Temptations’ (1965), among many others.
When this song was first released, I was less than one year away from emigrating to Canada. I had always wanted to travel before I settled down, got married, and raised a family. After incurring a bad traffic accident at the age of 11 years, when a large vehicle knocked me down and ran over me, I was awarded a substantial compensation amount by the driver’s insurers. This money made such travel possible for me when I attained my age of majority and could access the money (21 years of age).
One of my earliest dreams was to become a professional singer. A second dream was to travel widely around the American continent. A third dream was to emigrate to Canada with four workmates from Harrison Gardeners Dying Company where I had worked for six years. In short, five of us had planned to have a lad’s outing that was to last at least two years before we all settled down to a life of domesticity, marriage, and parenthood back home in England. I had held this dream for several years, and it could be said that ‘It had really got a hold on me’.
However, as the Scottish poet Robert Burns once quoted, “The best-laid plans of mice and men often go awry”. No matter how long and carefully a project is planned, something may still go wrong with it. The five of us had provisionally agreed to emigrate to Canada in December of 1963. As a gesture, I had agreed to pay the passage of all five of us, with the understanding that they would repay me in Canada when we all secured work. Four of us were of single status and the oldest among us (25 years) had been married but was separated and in the process of getting a divorce (something very unusual for the time).
In February 1963, after a Saturday night out dancing at the ‘Cleckheaton Town Hall’, one of the five made out with a young woman from Scholes. After they left the dance, my mate decided to escort his date for the night back home to her parent’s house on the last bus. They went to Cleckheaton Bus Station, and like many courting couples at the time, they started kissing and cuddling behind the bus station until their bus arrived.
Behind the Cleckheaton Bus Station was the darkest of places where courting couples petted and whispered sweet nothings in each other’s ears. In fact, it was so dark that the hidden row could accommodate three couples, all of whom might hear the heavy breathing of the couple at the side of them, without being able to see what they were doing in the darkness. If couples positioned themselves properly, they could do whatever they wanted to do ‘out of sight’ of other bus passengers queuing out front for their bus. The only danger was when any arriving bus made a ninety-degree turn into the bus station from Bradford Road. Because of the acute angle of its turning, as the arriving bus pulled into the bus station from Bradford Road, it would be without any warning to the courting couples kissing and cuddling behind the station. Being wholly engaged in whatever they were doing, the courting couples would be invariable caught with their pants down as the bus’s headlights would immediately reveal the sight of courting couples in various stages of undress, scrambling to save whatever dignity they had remaining.
On the night in question, one of the five potential migrants to Canada received an offer from the girl he was standing behind the bus-station shelter with that he could not refuse. Finding himself unable to withdraw from the offer during the heated passion of the moment, he discovered three months later that he had made the young woman pregnant, and therefore had to withdraw from his planned passage to Canada with us instead and marry his pregnant bus-passenger companion.
In the spring of 1963, another of the four remaining migrants dropped out of the Canadian excursion after securing another job in Dewsbury, and he started going out with another group of workmates. Having changed both job and workmates, he soon stopped being enthusiastically wedded to the idea of foreign travel as he had once been. By the summer of 1963, there were only three of the initial five left; me, a married mate called Peter who was still seeking a divorce, and a workmate called Arthur.
Arthur and I both worked together in the same part of the firm. We had been close friends for many years. Over the years, we would regularly pick girls up at the dance halls, cinemas and sometimes on weekend outings to Blackpool. I recall two young women we met at Blackpool seaside who we decided to see again. So, a few months later, we arranged a weekend to meet up with them in their hometown of Cannock Chase, Staffordshire. The girl Arthur liked had a father who was a publican and he kindly put me and Arthur up for the weekend. He provided the bed and breakfast free of charge, and his daughter and the young woman I fancied provided the weekend’s entertainment.
In August of 1963, Arthur learned that the publican’s daughter from Cannock was pregnant, and like all young couples of the time, the only honourable thing to do was to get married before the bairn started showing and the neighbours of the girl’s parents started gossiping. Like most young men of the time, Arthur had behaved irresponsibly as a weekend guest in the Cannock Chase pub, but that did not prevent him taking responsibility for his actions when the chickens came home to roost. As our parents often said in such circumstances, “You’ve made your bed, lad. Now, lie in it!”
So, there was now only two of the original ‘famous five’ left to do the Canadian trip, but as life would have it, passion struck once more. Yes, you’ve guessed it! In late October of 1963, my mate Peter reluctantly had a change of heart and dropped out before I purchased our tickets of passage to travel across the Atlantic Ocean over Christmas 1963. I never found out the full tale about Peter’s change of heart, except to learn that the wife he had been separated from and was in the process of divorcing, attended the same Working Men’s Club as he did one Saturday night. They had gone out for the night with their own group of friends, but several drinks later, they found themselves going back to the marital home they once shared before separating one year earlier. Like the Cannock Chase publican who had offered me and Arthur a weekend we would not forget, it would seem that Mary (who still held a torch for Peter) also offered him free bed and breakfast for the night; and having had his passions ignited once more by the woman he had planned to divorce, Peter was prepared to get burned again! This reconciliation with his wife, Mary, led to his change of heart about the Canada voyage at the eleventh hour. Soon after, their divorce petition was called to a halt. A few years later, after my return to England from Canada, I sadly learned that Peter had been struck down by a deadly illness one year later and had died prematurely.
‘The Famous Five’ had been whittled down to one, but I had dreamed of going to Canada for years and I had no intention of changing my plans because my other four travelling buddies had each dropped out. I booked my ticket to sail from Liverpool to Nova Scotia during the second week of December, shortly after President John K. Kennedy had been assassinated in Dallas, USA.
I obviously held some trepidation about going to a strange country on my own. Travelling as far as a British Butlins Camp or seaside resort was the more usual thing for many a young man to do in 1963/64, but travelling to another country thousands of miles away, was generally unheard of at the time.
All my anxiety was forgotten, however, by the Christmas and New Year’s crossing on the S.S.Sylvania. I was helped in large measure to place my homesickness temporarily to one side by a ship romance I enjoyed with a Chinese woman who was nine years older than me. That brief period we spent together on the crossing was passionate to say the least, and proved to be far too memorable for either of us ever to imagine that such a good thing was ever meant to last beyond our five days of ‘love on the high seas’. We parted friends at Nova Scotia, never to see each other again as we went our own ways. For many years during my late teens, I had made a point of not getting emotionally involved with any young women I dated, as I planned to travel extensively before settling down to a life of domesticity. There was simply no way I was going to change my plans on a trans-Atlantic crossing, however attractive my seductive Chinese companion happened to be, or whatever she whispered in my ears.
My Chinese romance may have grabbed my attention during a week on the high seas, but she did not ‘have a hold on me’. It would be a further year before my heart would be tempted along the path of ‘true love’ once more with a young woman called Jenny.
Love and peace