Memories · Music · On my radio

“Mama used to say”, a musical memory

Three times in recent weeks BBC Radio 2 (my radio station of choice) has played “Mama used to say”, a 1982 release by Junior. It reached #7 in the UK charts and #30 in the Billboard Hot 100. Every time I hear the record, including these three recent plays, I recall the same scene.

It was a Sunday during the summer term of my first year at university. I was at a lunch-time party given by my Tutor, the member of staff responsible for our pastoral care rather than academic matters. Our dealings with him were often routine – forms to be signed, brief meetings at the start of each term in case there were any items we wanted to discuss. I suspect the latter were just to make sure that we’d made it back after each vacation, similar to a rollcall at the start of a school day.

The social events – drinks parties and the occasional lunch – were opportunities to meet people we didn’t know well or hadn’t spoken to before, fellow students reading different subjects. At the party in question, a sunny afternoon in May, I was in a conversation about not very much with my Tutor and a personable, confident old Etonian who was reading Archaeology and Anthropology, subjects I still know very little about. I’ll call him OE for now. We had spoken a few times. He had gone out, at least briefly, with one of my fellow Historians. (I’m using “fellow” Historian here to describe a female student, in case there’s any doubt.)

The conversation, such as it was, turned to music. OE raved about the latest single he had bought. Had we heard it? I hadn’t, and nor had our Tutor. He told us that we really should. There was a turntable in the room. OE’s room was a short distance away, in a different courtyard. He left us for a few minutes, returned with the 12” single and put it on the deck. He put the needle on the record and the song began. He turned the volume up and started dancing along, smiling and commenting above the noise; “Good, isn’t it? … Such a good record …” And singing along.

He was a little over 6 feet tall and wore drainpipe jeans, pointy shoes, a stripy shirt with the top two or three buttons undone and a blazer-like jacket. He was dancing around the room, dancing, as the saying goes, as if nobody was watching. I admired his confidence and enthusiasm.

A few years back I heard an old Etonian guest on “Desert Island Discs” say that the important thing for them when they were at school was to be “into something”. It didn’t matter especially what it was, as long as you were into it. OE at my old college was definitely into “Mama used to say”, that weekend at least. Whenever I hear it I am transported back to that party in my Tutor’s room, hearing the song for the first time, with a smile on my face. I am smiling now, listening to this clip on YouTube, and (as usual) not dancing but singing along. In the words of Junior Giscombe (to give him his full name): “Take your time young man … Don’t you rush to get old … Take it in your stride … Live your life”.




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