2 years ago
I understand from the Guardian newspaper that people are "Wyatting" in pubs these days.
This refers to the practice of trawling internet jukeboxes in pubs, with the express purpose of deliberately choosing tracks considered inappropriate for the setting. These are usually long and "difficult" works, such as those by Brian Eno or Robert Wyatt, hence the name. The newspaper articles debate whether or not this is some kind of statement, or just another childish prank, the next big thing etc.
Well, sod "Wyatting"; I didn't even know that there were internet jukeboxes! (Although, it does now explain the playing of the Argentinean national anthem in the Lord Nelson the other night, particularly as the version appeared to be from circa 1928).
And anyway, when I was doing this kind of thing thirty odd years ago, it was more simplistically called... wait for it, wait for it... taking the piss: just one of many tedious practical jokes to which teenage boys are genetically attracted.
Of course, as far as the pre-internet options were concerned, there wasn't a vast opportunity for dissent back in the 1970s, as the jukeboxes of the day would only hold something like 100 ‘pop ex’ singles of dubious quality, and these ranging from "Distant Drums" to "Chirpy Chirpy Cheep Cheep".
In fact, the only record available for subversive purposes around that era, was "Sultanesque”. This was an otherwise obscure B-Side of Roxy Music's "Love is the Drug", an early experiment in "electronic" music. This comprised of a long throbbing intro, with Bryan Ferry playing a single note saw tooth wave, manually turning the knob on an early synthesizer, producing a sound not unlike the electric current running through a badly wired guest house. This lacklustre din continues for over a minute until a simplistic "beat" arrives, followed by, well, little else. For 5 minutes & 24 seconds.
In the interest of research, I've just played my copy, and with the passage of time it doesn't sound too different to a lot of early electronic music of the period, (usually practiced by the Germans, and "avant gardists"). However, back then, hardly anyone had been exposed to that kind of thing outside of art-schools, and it wouldn't be unfeasible if some who had purchased the A-Side on the strength of its radio performances or its position at No. 2 in the charts, may well have played the B-side and concluded that the disk was faulty and needed to be returned.
Thus, armed with my only option, I would sit in the Rockley Arms, awaiting my moment to squidge across the beer-soaked carpet to the juke box, where I would deposit the freshly minted decimal coinage in the slot; select the track by punching the clunky buttons, before returning to my rickety seat to admire my work.
To the clients of that nicotine-stained boozer, the 5 minutes & 24 seconds that would follow was never considered educational or enlightening. No one said "Hmm; interesting, this could prove to be a prescient moment in popular music", or even "the brave thing to do would be to release this as an A-side!"
No, what they would actually say was "BLOODY HELL, WHO PUT THIS SHIT ON?" or "WHAT THE FUCK IS THIS!" or even—amongst the more mannered patrons—"Excuse me Landlord, could you turn this down, it's giving my lady wife a headache!"
And yet to me it was all hilarious. There they were one moment, swigging their Watney's Red Barrel, moaning about the England football team, the perils of immigration and their disappointment with Brentford Nylons, whilst not really listening to "Hold Back the Night" and "Tie a Yellow Ribbon". Then the room would be slowly, and initially imperceptively, infused with a sonic fug, which would only slowly seep into their consciousness.
Conversations would stall, brows would furrow, and geezers would turn about in their seats looking in the direction of the Juke Box: possibly expecting to see an electrician sorting out the apparently poor earthing. The initial confusion would give way to general disgruntlement, which in turn would rapidly develop into opprobrium of the "WHICH ONE OF YOU CUNTS DID THIS?" variety.
I didn't need Cannabis back then, the response of the drinkers to that track could keep me giggling senselessly for months.
Mind you, I only witnessed this the once, as I was very much of the belief that practical jokes were not about schadenfreude (pleasure derived from the misfortunes of others, although I didn't know there was a name for it back then), and that it should be suffice to merely set up the circumstances of a prank, and then leave the hapless recipients to their fate*. I found the concept of their plight far more agreeable than the vulgarity of witnessing it firsthand. From then onwards, I would merely visit the juke box as we were leaving a bar, dial up "Sultanesque" and exit, smirking for the rest of the evening at the confusion to come.
*I went too far with this once, when, attempting to smoke bomb the Red Lion, I quickly realised that the Fumite I had just ignited was NOT appropriate for a prank, designed as it was to help plumbers detect the extent of blockages in flues. As the rank, over-bearing odour belched from the fizzing tablet atop the cistern I struggled, Napoleon Solo-like, with the lavatory windows, only to find that Jack, the world's meanest landlord, had NAILED them shut. Choking and blind, my eyes streaming with tears, I ran into the bar and gestured to my (unknowing) cohorts that it was time to leave. We donned coats and made our way to the door as brows furrowed and the atmosphere grew acrid as the locals began to rub their eyes.
After spending the rest of the evening at the Potter's Arms, it was decided to risk returning to the Red Lion on the way home. We arrived in time for last orders, just as a police car pulled away.
Apparently, my "prank" had cleared the pub with the impact of an early 70s counter-terrorism raid. The air was still vicious, and those few stragglers left stood around squinting through blood-shot eyes, sporadically coughing, and unable to taste their drinks (but then, in the Red Lion, that would not be a bad thing). Jack couldn't prove anything, but his grimace that night as he served me was more menacing than the usual distain he would normally display.
Of course, back in those the "good old days", we knew how to make our own entertainment.
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