CURRANT BUNS FOR TEA

I’ve got a bike. You can ride it if you like

It’s got a basket, a bell that rings and

Things to make it look good.

I’d give it to you if I could, but I borrowed it.*

Despite painful learning as to the aptness of the name ‘stinging nettles’, it was one of the best days ever spent in England. Reasonably early start, strap the one-year-old onto the back of my borrowed bicycle while Ms Connection loads the supplies onto hers, sunscreen (how delightful, needing sunscreen), helmets clipped one, two, three, go.

Easy warm-up peddle into Cambridge, skirting the south-western edge of that beautiful city, pick up Driftway. What a street name; wouldn’t you love it? ‘Yes, I live on Driftway, the River Cam end’. Of course everyone would mutter ‘Wanker’ as you turned away, but you wouldn’t care and certainly wouldn’t reveal the end of the lane is a car park where you currently reside in a rusting 1984 Volvo Estate.

Left into Grantchester Street; there was doubtless a quicker way but it’s all so picturesque you don’t care. Past Lamas Field and Owlstone Road (check the map, this is real) then right turn into Grantchester Meadows. The thoroughfare, not the place. Named, we hope, because it leads there.

Houses give way to playing fields, then to grass; long, green, untended. Pause to tighten the harness on the boy. Those are stinging nettles warns Ms C, brimming with local knowledge, but balancing bike, boy and bruce brings on brush with bracken. Ouch. Ouch-bloody-ouch. It’ll wear off, comforts Ms C. Good, is all I can grind out in the moment.

A hundred meters later, a glimpse of the river thrusting a bent elbow towards the path. Tilled fields on the right, meadows on the left, Grantchester up ahead. Impossible not to love this bucolic paradise. Heaven on a stick for a Pink Floyd fan, peddling a leisurely course towards the promise of a cream tea and humming along to my favourite song from Ummagumma.

Hear the lark and harken to the barking of the dog fox

Gone to ground

See the splashing of the kingfisher flashing to the water

And a river of green is sliding unseen beneath the trees

Laughing as it passes through the endless summer, making for the sea

Did Syd and Roger cycle along this path? Easy to imagine an idyllic mid-sixties summer afternoon. Surely it is compulsory for those with artistic aspirations to picnic at Grantchester within sight of the clocktower? And mandatory to recite the closing lines of Rupert Brooke’s poem.

WATERS: Can’t help noticing, Stands the Church clock at ten to three, Syd.

BARRETT: And is there honey still for tea?

WATERS: No, you finished it at breakfast you greedy sod.

BARRETT: There’s this grass, though.

[Pause]

WATERS: It doesn’t scan, does it? That final pair of lines.

BARRETT: Poetry, Rog.

[Pause]

BARRETT: I’ve written another song.

WATERS: Me too. Mine’s called “Take Up Thy Stethoscope and Walk”. What’s yours?

BARRETT: “Let’s Roll Another One” **

WATERS: Sure, but what’s the song called?

[Giggling ensues]

Change of location. Cambridge natives Syd Barrett and Roger Waters meet Richard Wright and drummer Nick Mason and find a trickle of low-paying gigs around their new patch, London. It’s 1966 and more by accident than design, The Pink Floyd find themselves supporting Soft Machine at the ramshackle UFO club, playground of the counter culture.

Cambridge graduate Peter Whitehead, now also in the capital and making a film of the ‘now’ scene called Tonite Let’s All Make Love In London, was told to check out The Pink Floyd as potential music providers for his groovy film. Liking what he saw and heard, in early 1967 he “stumped up £85 for two hours of recording time at Rye Muse studios… and filmed the group’s performance of ‘Interstellar Overdrive’”***.

Having signed with EMI for the confidence-building sum of £5000, the band repaired to Abbey Road studios where staff producer Norman Smith (who had worked on a number of Beatles productions) set the controls.# The piece they recorded was an odd pop song indeed. A catchy but slightly creepy Syd Barrett ditty about a purloiner of women’s undergarments named “Arnold Layne”. Opening with the protagonist’s name and a punchy percussive strike, the story unfolds into a tale of cross-dressing and, ultimately, incarceration. Unsurprisingly, there was controversy around the subject matter and even hip pirate station Radio London banned it. Syd and Roger shrugged, insisting the song was based on real events from their Cambridge childhood. Flip side of the single was “Candy and a Currant Bun”, a summer-of-love ditty with odd stops and starts and a lyric that falls a little below profundity. Ice-cream tastes good in the afternoon. Still, it was a strong debut release that scraped into the British Top 20.

The follow-up didn’t fare so well commercially, but is a great little song that absolutely demonstrates Barrett’s unique song-writing skills. Originally titled “Games for May” in honour of an event Pink Floyd were headlining (note the definite article has disappeared from their name), it was re-named “See Emily Play”, backed with “Scarecrow”—a piece of Syd whimsy—and released in June 1967. It’s a terrific slice of psychedelia, even without the darker edge of its predecessor.

“See Emily Play” was recorded during sessions for the debut album, Piper At The Gates Of Dawn.^ After the album release, a tour of the USA was hastily arranged and a new single demanded. The psych-by-numbers “Apples and Oranges” was recorded and did very little on the charts, anywhere. It’s OK, but less interesting than the B-side, Richard Wright’s “Paint Box”, a keyboard driven song full of quirky invention.

All three singles are enjoyable and worthy of a listen, not least because they were amongst the earliest songs (along with a couple by The Who and The Kinks) to inject quirky Englishness directly into pop music. Not everyone’s cup of tea and a bun, but idiosyncratic in content and unusual in structure.

When EMI released Relics, a worthwhile compilation of early Floyd material, they included “Paint Box” but omitted the A-side. “Candy And A Currant Bun” was overlooked too. Makes you wonder. Did Candy have her currant bun for tea? Was there honey? Or did she have jam and cream, sitting in an English garden at Grantchester Meadows?

Grantchester Meadows, 2006

SOURCES

Mark Blake (2007) Pigs Might Fly: The Inside Story of Pink Floyd. Aurum Press, London UK.

Nicholas Schaffner (1991) Saucerful of Secrets: The Pink Floyd Story. Sidgwick & Jackson, London UK.

Pink Floyd — From Tonite Let’s All Make Love In London [Mini promo CD, See For Miles 1991]

Pink Floyd — The First 3 Singles [EMI 1997]

Pink Floyd — Relics [Harvest 1971 / EMI Digital Remaster 1995]

NOTES

*   Pink Floyd “Bike” from The Piper At The Gates of Dawn

** Later re-titled “Candy and a Currant Bun” and released as the B-side of “Arnold Layne”

*** Blake, p. 72

#  Schaffner, p. 56

^  The subject of a Vinyl Connection post in the not too distant future.

 

42 comments

  1. Good tale. We don’t have current (currant?) buns in the US. Or if we do, they’re not called that. When you started the story, my mind went to Ray Davies. So, interesting turn to Floyd.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Cheers Jim. And thanks for your homonym detecting skills. The Currant checker is currently being tortured in a bakery somewhere in Cambridgeshire.

      Like

  2. That’s a nice piece Bruce. Conjures images of my first visits to England in the 1980s.

    Weirdly, Piper at the Gates of Dawn came up in my Facebook feed yesterday, in respect of a friend finding an original copy of the first UK vinyl pressing. I used to own it once, but it was stolen, along with my entire vinyl collection, circa 1983. Along with near mint first pressings of Nico’s ‘The Marble Index’ Donovan’s ‘Cosmic Wheels’ and Brian Protheroe’s ‘Pinball’

    I never bought vinyl again after that tragic day. It was the dawn of CD, and I committed to starting again in the new digital age.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Ah, a sad story indeed. When I re-visit Piper in the near future, it will be the recent vinyl re-issue (or one of several CD versions) providing the sound. Your friend was certainly lucky to find an OG in the fiftieth anniversary year!

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Midnight Toker · · Reply

    Ah, alliteration almost always amuses – and an alias admission. Astonishing! Ali

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’m speechless. 😲

      Like

  4. pinklightsabre · · Reply

    Lush and picturesque Bruce, truly. Writing from a very strange hotel room in a very strange place called “Grand mound” (I think) near Chehalis, WA. With Coltrane and pink wine in a plastic cup. Odd days, these. This post paired perfectly. Bill

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Cheers, Bill. Hope the pink wine is matched with some floyd canapés. Warm regards, Bruce.

      Like

      1. pinklightsabre · · Reply

        Good morning to you and yours, cheers: raising one now.

        Liked by 1 person

  5. Pink Floyd in their poppy early days! Short, happy song bopping along, a ‘free for may’ concert delight. Don’t look for depth just enjoy the sunshine while it lasts (Syd Barret’s dark moods begin to surface not too much later).

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Nice one Bruce. I’m a sucker for anything Syd-related and had a similar experience to you wandering around Cambridge a few years ago. It all seemed like a Syd song…

    By the way, I noticed you didn’t include ‘A Very Irregular Head’ by Rob Chapman in your list of sources, have you checked that out? If not, it’s a phenomenal Syd book.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Cheers Matt. And thanks for the lead. Although I’m more a Floyd tragic than a particular Syd-a-holic (is that bad taste?), always interested in an outstanding rock bio.

      Like

  7. Lovely. A big fan of that song and English quirkiness, though happy they kept moving too. Great story and pic.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks so much. Keen on a bit of the ol’ quirkiness ’round these climes too. Long may it quirk.

      Liked by 1 person

  8. Great post, Bruce. Almost got me wanting to go for a wee jaunt around Cambridgeshire, with a stop or two for a scone and tea. Then I remembered I’m more a coffee and cake guy. And not at all into Pink Floyd much, either. Drats.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Two minor setbacks, agreed. But still, if you left at dawn you could be back by twilight. Worth considering, surely.

      Liked by 1 person

  9. I have yet to convince anyone to visit Cambridge with me. The early Floyd is a treasure. Later Floyd similarly so for different reasons, I love currant buns and toasted teacakes, they may be the same thing. two weeks and I will have one for you.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I hope for you a relaxed tea in the afternoon sun while otters play badminton on the lawns and badgers do laps of the riverbank. (The psychedelic song lyrics are coming along well).

      Liked by 2 people

      1. I was thinking tea and scones as the river laps languidly along the verdant bank and the breeze ruffles the hedgehogs spines.

        Liked by 2 people

  10. Pure poetry. Lovely!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks Aaron.

      Like

  11. Fantastic those early Floyd’s, nice story.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks. Yes, they are. And the Piper is on the way…

      Like

  12. A fine post Bruce – it may not be profound, but I think they make a compelling argument about afternoon ice cream!
    Those afternoons that require sunscreen & where efficient travel times aren’t required are wonderful!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Icecream and agendaless afternoons. Sounds like a recipe for world peace to me. Hope you get some in late summer doses, Geoff.

      Liked by 1 person

  13. I love both versions of Pink Floyd (until I hit The Wall). But the older I get the more I appreciate Syd’s version, and Syd himself, poor soul. He created the blueprint for English psychedelia (sci-fi and childlike fantasy). And as one of his mates once said, he’s one of the few pop stars to “get off the bus” and never get back on.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Well said. Spending lots of time with Piper again this week has been very rewarding.

      Like

  14. “English quirkiness”. That is the term I’ve been searching for all these years. Perfect! ‘Relics’ was wore out at my pad. Was just listening to a twofer I have of Syd. I put it on and I’m singing along with the record like it was yesterday. You hit a chord with this one Bruce. I devoured this stuff. (Very slick on the “Recent Spins” add on)

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Ha! Thanks for noticing that distracting little box, CB. Now I know someone’s seen it, it’ll need updating. Coltranes John and Alice, Klaus Schulze, and of course Piper…

      Liked by 2 people

      1. I can’t keep up with all this good music that’s coming at me. ‘Relics’ is coming up on the CB show when he gets back to business. I like that “distracting little box”. I want one. Great piece Bruce.

        Liked by 1 person

  15. Visiting England? what a strange thing to need to do.

    My best friend in school moved away to Cambridge and so I got to know it pretty well as a late teenager, far too many people sneaking up on innocent pedestrians silently with bikes if you ask me! It used to have a very good games shop i remember.

    I’m not very good on Syd whimsy myself, I prefer the darker stuff but I really enjoyed this post. One day (hopefully not for a week or two, at least!) I’ll inherit original copies of all the singles and early LPs. Maybe I’ll sell them for tickets to go to Oz?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. You probably could, too. D’you know, I’ve been listening to Piper a lot this week (as could probably be predicted from this post) and there is a lot less whimsey than you’d imagine if you haven’t heard it for a while. The fractured shadows are omnipresent…

      Liked by 2 people

      1. Any LP named after my favourite chapter of my (50% of the time) favourite book can’t be all bad anyway.

        Liked by 1 person

        1. BTW, is it P & P the other half of the time?

          Liked by 1 person

        2. I sublet the other 50% between Catch 22, Emma and To The Lighthouse.

          Liked by 1 person

        3. I think you might have missed this one while you took and unauthorised holiday…
          https://vinylconnection.com.au/2017/04/14/10-things-i-love-about-pan/

          Liked by 1 person

        4. Yup, sorry. I am just about to sneak off on another one too.

          Liked by 1 person

  16. […] but that he shares a similar love of music and memoir. And has two kick-ass blogs you’ll find here and there. And has a sardonic POV about prog rock, which is its own thing. Enjoy, and thanks for […]

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  17. Ah, yes, Grantchester Meadows. Been there (twice). It was all too long ago but it was the epitome of English idyll. I remember sitting in the shade of the apple trees, ladling jam and cream on the scones and sipping a deliciously refreshing blend of English tea accompanied only by the sound of subdued conversation and chirruping birds. It was bliss. Not even a small portion of early Pink Floyd would have improved it.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. That sounds like the spot!

      Like

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