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This Beatles classic is not as innocent or simple as it first appears

The author on a pilgrimage to Liverpool on the street immortalised by the Beatles. Photo by Mrs Markham.

You’ll never be able to hear Penny Lane in the same way again once you know what Paul McCartney was really singing about in this song.

I imagine the Beatles were highly amused when the UK’s staid middle-class institutions, such as the BBC, and US radio stations innocently played Penny Lane without realising the song contained several sexual innuendoes and a drug reference.

English working-class sexual expressions and culture

The English working classes use many seemingly innocent expressions to describe sex; a bit of how’s your father means to have sex, meat and two veg. is used to describe male genitalia and garden gate means fellatio.


One of the greatest British pop-rock bands of the ’60s never received the recognition and rewards they deserved

cd cover of the small faces
cd cover of the small faces
Photo by the author

In 1960s Britain, The Small Faces were serious rivals to The Rolling Stones, The Who, and The Kinks (The Beatles were in their own league). They had fourteen hit singles and five hit albums in the UK plus commercial success across mainland Europe, Australia, and New Zealand.

They were, however, the only major British band to have little success in the USA during the ‘British Invasion’ of the ‘60s.

We are the Mods

The Small Faces were Ronnie Lane, Kenney Jones, Ian McLagen, and former child…


Warning — reading this post will seriously damage your sanity and love of music

Image by Mandyme27 from Pixabay

I’m not going to take all the blame for what follows.

The original idea came from a message conversation with Stuart Grant. He had possibly not his greatest ever idea: a list of the most annoying songs in music history. I then had an even worse idea — I took up his challenge.

I quickly found there were too many annoying songs so I whittled things down to the ten most annoying №1 hits in the UK.

Sadly, the record-buying public of my homeland — a country that gave the world The Beatles, The Smiths, The Arctic Monkeys, David Bowie…


How a youth subculture changed popular music

Vespa motorcycles as used by the mods
Vespa motorcycles as used by the mods
Mod scooters — Image by dpexcel from Pixabay

Cigarette smoke swirled around the windowless basement bar in London’s Soho district like a thick fog. A pianist pumped out complex chord progressions seemingly at random from a small corner stage. Beside him, a drummer swished brushes and a skinny youth thumped on a double bass.

The audience of teenage and twenty-something boys in slim Italian suits tapped polished black shoes and nodded their heads to the syncopated beat. Later they’d go to the coffee bar to enjoy the only places with all-night opening.

Many had families who ran garment businesses clustered around London’s East End and across Soho. …


Give your summer to the important things in life — music and football

tax and old new york photo
tax and old new york photo
Photo by The New York Public Library on Unsplash

Back in the summer of ’66, that summer seemed to last forever
And if I had the choice, yeah, I’d always wanna be there
Those were the best days of my life.

There’s no typo in the lyrics, I meant to write ’66, not ’69. Bryan Adams’ song is not about 1969 at all but something entirely different and probably more appropriate to the Medium publication Sex and Connection than The Riff.

Anyway, I digress which is an increasingly common problem when your age edges ever closer to the number 66.

Déjà vu 1966

What connects July 1966 and July 2021? Give up…


No candles burned in the windows, no torches lit the muddy village greens

lightning in a dark sky
lightning in a dark sky
Photo by Johannes Plenio on Unsplash

The final day of the year of our Lord 726 AD was much like any other day. Across the Kingdom scrawny chickens pecked at grubs on muddy village greens, dogs barked and the border wars raged. A chilled north wind threatened the coming of the January unweather.

Something was wrong; the village gates were open and unguarded. He held the reins tight as the old horse, its head low, followed the water-filled wheel-ruts into the stockade. No candlelight burned in the windows, no torches lit the muddy village green. …


The angry young man is a much less angry old man

Paul Weller — Image by Maccosta on Wiki Commons

There are only four artists to top the UK album charts in five consecutive decades — Paul McCartney, John Lennon, Bruce Springsteen and Paul Weller.

Weller has a lot in common with Springsteen — a working-class boy from just outside the nation’s largest city, a powerful lyricist commenting on the challenges of working-class life and a fanatical following.

Like Springsteen, Weller’s father was a massive influence in his life although for different reasons. …


The world’s largest waterfalls are one of the world’s greatest natural wonders.

Iguazu Falls with a rainbow
Iguazu Falls with a rainbow
Iguazu Falls — photo by the author

We tracked the pale strangers for three days. Despite the heat, they wore tunics and hats of metal and had hair on their faces. They rode on the backs of large beautiful animals and carried heavy sticks made of metal and wood.

They arrived at the Big Water and dismounted; we guessed they’d been drawn by the roar that can be heard from a great distance. I emerged from the undergrowth and the pale strangers’ bodies stiffened; they lifted their sticks and swords towards me.


Friends, Romans, countrymen, lend me your eyes for one of the most important Roman cities in Iberia

A smiling lady in a tarragona restaurant
A smiling lady in a tarragona restaurant
Alexandras, happy to be in a Tarragona restaurant — photo by the author

Fourteen thousand spectators are baying for blood as a gladiator stands over his defeated adversary. All eyes are fixed on Emperor Augustus. He stands with slow majesty, smooths down his white toga and lifts his right arm outwards. His hand is fisted, his thumb extended horizontally. He twists it up and then down a little. Teasing us.

The crowd goes wild, shouting out their choices. Mostly it’s for death. The Emperor smiles a haughty grin and surveys his subjects. The shouts subside and a buzz of excited voices floats above the arena like the rising sound of swarming hornets.


Alex Markham

Fiction, humour, top writer in music and travel. Get my newsletter at —

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