One day, I woke up and knew that Johnny Muir and I had become friends. I did not make many friends, and never have over the years.
He was the man who introduced me to jazz and emphasised that we were Black Country people. He’d been the only one who told me, when the Beak at Wolverhampton Grammar School had told us all to speak Standard Received English so that we’d “get on in life”, that I was losing my heritage.
Johnny, having joined the RAF as a National Serviceman and converted to being a Regular, had been to Whitmore Modern School in Horden Road, as had his sisters, Jean and Elsie. The school – as with all Secondary Moderns – gave a basic education which aimed at producing shop-assistants and factory-workers. So our education systems could not have been further apart.
However, apart from a mutual interest in jazz, we shared a sense of humour. It was based on Black Country stories of Aynuck & Ayli. It’s a strong culture-confidence which permits self-ridicule.
Johnny Muir introduced me to a workmate of his called John. John had the amazing talent of being able to identify which part of the Black Country anyone came from just from their accent. More amazing still, he could more or less pin-point the very street where anyone had been raised.
That talent couldn’t be used these days!
When Johnny went into the RAF, we corresponded spasmodically. Mainly, we wrote about the daft things we talked about when he was home. The Goons had coloured our humour, and we wrote completely inconsequential – and sometimes incomprehensible – screeds most of the time. Later, when I did my National Service, I regretted that Johnny and I did not write to each other. Perhaps we’d both grown up and apart by that time.
We also wrote song-lyrics set to existing popular and old Music Hall tunes. Our lyrics were often stories of local Wolverhampton people, usually our family.
I did not keep any of Johnny’s letters, and now can only vaguely remember what they contained. But I’m pretty sure that they were a basis for the songs I wrote and performed in the folk-clubs of the sixties in later years.
During his RAF days, the girl who he’d been courting for years was discovered to have been having affairs both during and before his going into the forces. I know that Johnny had hoped to marry her. That discovery must have been dreadful for him. It may have been the reason why he lived alone in the house where he’d been brought up after his parents had died and his sisters had married and moved away.
Johnny died in his late twenties. The family said it was because he’d neglected himself, hadn’t eaten properly and had drunk too much beer.
Thursday, 7th May, 2009.
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