Where’s Sailor Jack? is about two guys, Bob and Richard, born as the war ended, whose identity is forged in the north of England in the early sixties. The working class energy from then remains with them through their lives. They see that era as the only time when the white, working class had a shout in society. They cheerfully admit to it being mainly a male phenomenon. Everything that followed, right up to today’s cultural scene, is too middle class, as epitomised by the glam rock of the early seventies. Bob, when asked to listen to a Yes album, says he’d “rather listen to bloody Mantovani.” Throughout, the book has allusions to songs that help create this mood in their heads.
Both the guys would describe themselves as much the last Victorians as the first baby boomers. The glorious music from Hymns Ancient and Modern and from The Great American Songbook is also playing in the background, but with one exception I won’t include any of that.
Sticking with old money, I’m doing a top 12, just as the first NME chart did in 1952, including both songs when equal. I’ll list them broadly in the order they appear.
1. Elvis Presley - Girl of my Best Friend, 1960.
This is Richard’s choice. Bob would have had Heartbreak Hotel, believing with John Lennon that Elvis died when he joined the Army. Bob’s pretending he’s older than he is. When these two guys are teenagers, Richard’s choice is the top Elvis song.
2. Buddy Holly- Learning the Game, 1959.
One of the songs Buddy recorded at home just before he died, overdubbed and released later, and the best ever in both their opinions about the joys and otherwise they find on discovering girls. This is while they’re learning how to solve simultaneous equations at school. Who says men can’t do two things at once?
3. Bob Dylan - Tangled Up in Blue, 1975.
Both guys have a past that isn’t too far behind. No song describes a relationship that lives and dies at all points in time like this one. I’m only picking one song per artist, but Dylan’s presence broods over the whole book.
4. Leonard Cohen - Alexandra Leaving, 2001.
This is quite a late song, written not long before the main action. At some point you can say goodbye to the girl leaving, but it takes longer to say goodbye to the idea that you’ve lost her for good. That’s too poignant to want to lose.
5. The Cryin’ Shames - Please Stay 1966.
A Burt Bacharach song, produced with the unique sound of Joe Meek. “This time , be different, please stay, don’t go,” is the perfect prayer for a young Bob to offer up to the doubtful girl of his dreams, as is “...please go, don’t stay” many years later when he begins to share the doubts.
=6. Dusty Springfield - My Colouring Book, 1964.
The early sixties were mainly about the guys, but there were exceptions, Dusty the most notable. She got right to the heart of a song. What can better express the hurt a young folk singer, Margy, feels when carelessly dumped by Bob once he thinks he’s learnt the game?
=6. The Everly Brothers - Let it be me, 1960.
And what better revenge could Margy take but to sing this gorgeous song into the eyes of her new love in front of Bob?
7. Roy Orbison - It’s Over, 1964.
In later life, Bob gets his comeuppance again. He never does quite learn the game. By the Thames, “You’ll see lonely sunsets after all.”
8. The Beatles - In My Life, 1965.
Bob also has to learn in his life to love the girl more than the place, even if it’s enshrined in his DNA.
9. Carolyn Hester - Every Time, 1964.
A Tom Paxton song, Bob mourns his father’s passing as he remembers Margy singing that the birds will still be singing “when we are gone.” Both Bob and Richard feel that their fathers are in them.
10. Elvis Costello - The Birds Will Still Be Singing, 1993.
At death, this song has the birds singing “if I’m lost or I’m forgiven,” which stirs but doesn’t shake Bob’s faith.
11. Bob Marley - Redemption Song, 1980.
The early sixties in the north were about white singers. Bob and Richard with their deep voices tried to mimic Paul Robeson, dug Ray Charles, and quite liked Motown but it isn’t their music. Bob is forced to confront some of the blinkers he’s worn through his life. As this song plays at his son’s wedding, he realises that he doesn’t have to be a slave to his past.
=12. Eddie Calvert - O Mein Papa 1954.
This is the trumpet version that Richard’s son plays at the grave of his father at the funeral. As he plays he can hear Richard singing Eddie Fisher’s vocal version to his own father.
=12. Bing Crosby - When the blue of the night meets the gold of the day 1931.
Bing was a superb whistler. After Bob’s death, his son finds this lovely song in his iTunes. He listens to it and knows that it was his own father that Bob heard whistling.
Where's Sailor Jack?
Publication Date: April 15, 2015
Print Length: 324 pages
A family saga that takes in three generations of two families and all the struggles, tribulations and fireworks that you would expect as well as plenty you wouldn’t. Where’s Sailor Jack is the story of Bob Swarbrick’s journey from Northern-grammar-school-boy to business magnate through the break up of his marriage, the arrival of a new lover and an unhurried, consistent search for meaning in his life.
Bob and Richard are grammar school boys ‘done good’. Starting life in similar working class homes they have progressively climbed the ladder until they are able to both sit comfortably as champions of industry, and look back on their achievements and failures with the keen Northern wit that never left them, even after years of exile life in the south.
As they reflect on their lives, loves and business decisions both try to find an explanation to fit their lives: Bob seeks purpose, Richard meaning. While soul-searching, the reader is witness to an exemplary part of British history - from their childhoods in post war Northern England to the boom years in a prospering South (before survivors guilt starts to bite in their latter years and they wonder just how their opportunities would have worked out if they were born a few decades later).
The book covers and takes a unique look at romance, religion, business sense and social mobility but does so with wry tongue in its cheek whilst looking for a laugh, not a deep and meaningful conversation.
Excerpt from Where’s Sailor Jack? By John Uttley
Second edition, published by Matador, released April 28th 2016
On a Sunday soon after his move north-west, Bob was flying high on Virgin, to LAX, as everyone but he knew Los Angeles airport was called. His last long-haul flight had been on Atomic Futures’ business in the bulkhead with British Airways. At over six foot and heavily built, he could make good use of the leg room. In an unflattering lavatory mirror he saw receding, grey hair and many wrinkles above a jaw line a boxer could break a fist on. He’d never quite understood how his rugged looks had charmed the several-to-many women along the way. The seating arrangement in Virgin’s best seats made the cabin look like a beauty salon, but he’d played safe and eschewed the offer of an on-board facial. The Journey Information on the monitor told him there was about an hour of the flight to go, confirmed by something looking like the Grand Canyon out of the window, though it looked bleak enough to have been the surface of another planet.
He was trying not to sleep on the way out, nor to go to be until at least ten o’clock Pacific Standard Time. He’d flicked between the films on the in-flight entertainment system, and found nothing he’d wanted. He’d then settled down to listen to some music, first Elvis, then Ray Charles and finally Abba, who’d bounced along merrily at first until a cold sweat told him that he was the loser standing small alongside seventies woman. He switched Agnetha off to pick up the book he’d brought, Ian McEwan’s Saturday, which he immediately put down again. His eyes were tired.
He reclined the chair to be alone with his musings on his return to Lancashire. Blackpool was making a good fist of doing itself up, despite New Labour lousing up the Las Vegas style casino scheme, the place was alive with young ladies joyfully, sometimes even decorously, celebrating their hen nights with like-minded friends. The folk who lived in St Chad’s hadn’t changed that much. The young people at church had the same freshness that he’d once had, full of their multimedia world and excited about their opportunities, though the ladder had been pulled up since his day, leaving cows from the Fylde fields with more chance of going through the eye of a needle than any ordinary kid entering the kingdom of riches he’s inherited. Lancashire wasn’t at the centre of things the way it had been back then, with Blackpool the Mecca for comedians, Liverpool the capital of music, the mighty Granada television like a second BBC, and the Manchester Guardian thinking about what the world would do tomorrow. He saw The Guardian moving to London as an even bigger betrayal than John Lennon’s sleep-in.
The summer of 1963 with Freewheelin’ on his turntable and the Mersey sound on every radio was forever to remain his Archimedean point. Martin Luther King was dreaming his dream accompanied vibrator by Joan Baez and civil rights were coming. Bras weren’t being burnt though. Much later Jane challenged him why not. He’d answered that women’s liberation hadn’t come out of nowhere. She’d generously agreed that it was only fair for apes like him to have had their day in the sun before the real business got done.
He’d had a vacation job in Stanley Park and that had given him an affinity with the old codgers from the Great War who came for the brass band concerts. Though they were sitting in God’s waiting room, they were cheerful, talking for hours about space travel and the like but not of course about their health problems or the trenches. He thought of his never-liberated Grannie who died at the start of the pivotal year. She’d make him green jelly with bananas whenever he went round as a kid and had knitted most of the jumpers he was still wearing through university after he death. His sister had in her kitchen the old milking stool from Grannie’s farm-girl days, with more than a thousand years of history stored in its battered wood. Like the religion his ancestors had shared, its purpose had been endorsed by the long passage of time. To lose either would be to lose his soul. He didn’t want to live so long that his memory of Grannie dimmed.
About the Author:
John Uttley was born in Lancashire just as the war was ending. Grammar school educated there, he read Physics at Oxford before embarking on a long career with the CEGB and National Grid Group. He was Finance Director at the time of the miners' strike, the Sizewell Inquiry and privatisation, receiving an OBE in 1991. Shortly afterwards, he suffered his fifteen minutes of fame when he publicly gave a dividend to charity in the middle of the fat cat furore. More recently, he has taken an external London degree in Divinity while acting as chairman of numerous smaller companies, both UK and US based. This is his first novel. He is married to Janet, living just north of London with three grown children and dog.