An early column looked at the British seaside town through the rather glum prism of Morrissey and Every Day Is Like Sunday. It was a very particular perspective, one partly borne from the angst of growing up and seeing the resort round you become smaller and more tatty: empty boarding houses, derelict funfairs, the faded grandeur of Edwardian hotels. That is, of course, a partial view of the British seaside. The other side of the coin is the signature tune of ‘I do like to be beside the seaside’ , which has been the backdrop for a sunnier and jollier view for generations of holiday makers heading for a week of being characters inside a Donald Mcgill postcard.
Some resorts tried to stay a cut above the more traditional image of the British seaside. Torbay, for example, described itself as the English Riviera – a feasible analogy, with the blue sea, palm trees and marina. Less feasibly, however, Morecambe saw itself as ‘the Naples of the North’ – I haven’t been to Naples but I suspect it has never had a World of Crinkley Bottom theme park. Brighton, too, has always been rather different, a place where the sea is a backdrop to the town rather than the main attraction. It has always been near enough London for a day out by the sea - or the ‘dirty weekend’ of old for Mr and Mrs Smith - but also had the Regency Royal Pavilion, the winding alleys and little squares of The Lanes, the London to Brighton vintage car run and a growing reputation for a bohemian and cosmopolitan atmosphere. Martha Tilston’s Brighton Song summed up its more recent appeal –“ I'm gonna watch from my living room the cavalcade and the basses boom... nothing can stop us, we're bubbling, nothing can stop us, we're effervescing. This is the feeling”.
The song here then –Seaside Shuffle from 1972, about driving down from London for a day out on Brighton beach – seems a bit cheap and cheerful for Brighton now, more reminiscent of donkey rides, whelk stalls and variety shows at the end of the pier: even the sailors hornpipe section sounds as if it should be danced wearing a kiss-me-quick hat. It was a one-off hit for the group, Terry Dactyl and the Dinosaurs, in reality a blues band called Brett Marvin and the Thunderbolts, who had supported Clapton’s Derek and the Dominoes on tour. (One of its members, and the song’s author - Jona Lewie - subsequently went on to solo success, including the perennial Christmas offering, Stop the Cavalry).
The song itself would seem to owe something to the influence of Ray Dorset and Mungo Jerry, with echoes of In the Summertime, with the jug band feel, kazoo and stop-start technique halfway through, and of Maggie off their 1970 debut album. Songs like these, and ones such as The Pushbike Song by the Mixtures, were an odd sub-genre of music in the early 70’s: not rock or underground but not bubble-gum either. You could see these artists as the UK equivalent of groups such as Spanky and Our Gang or Harpers Bizarre a few years later. You could also see them as part of a strand in British pop that went back through some of the Small Faces’ work, Joe Brown and Lonnie Donegan to skiffle and beyond to the music hall. (For a surreal experience, the clip below shows the Bee Gees singing Donegan’s My Old Man’s a Dustman – not a combination one might think of googling).The tradition was continued by the BBC throughout the 70’s with their Seaside Special shows, where a bemused Three Degrees might find themselves appearing alongside a chimpanzee act, Rod Hull and Emu or Kenneth Mckellar singing of the Scottish Highlands in a kilt.
In a way, the cheap and cheerful sound is perfectly suited to the British seaside, if not Brighton itself . Once the preserve of the wealthy seeking to improve their health, the seaside became the holiday choice of Britain’s working class, whether Londoners decamping to Brighton or Margate or whole mill towns in Lancashire and Yorkshire going off to Blackpool or Morecambe in Wakes Week, where their next door neighbour in the terraced street at home would take the same holiday boarding house. Those glory days may have been well on the wane by the time of this song but the echoes were there with the man selling ice-cream and the walk along the pier – where you still might see Alan Price or Dusty Springfield at the end of the pier show. "It’s a warm day, the sun is shining”/”Everything is silent and grey” –same place, different eyes.