Tales of the City: Have I got 'Woooooo's for you

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The Independent Online

"Why man, he doth unweave the rainbow," Charles Lamb is supposed to have grumbled, to his fellow Romantics over a ham-and-port supper, about Isaac Newton, whose investigations into the world's physical laws struck them as hopelessly prosaic, reductive and unromantic.

"Why man, he doth unweave the rainbow," Charles Lamb is supposed to have grumbled, to his fellow Romantics over a ham-and-port supper, about Isaac Newton, whose investigations into the world's physical laws struck them as hopelessly prosaic, reductive and unromantic.

Something of the sort crossed my mind while watching a preview of this Sunday's South Bank Show. Its riveting subject is John Lennon's jukebox, which is not, amazingly, a metaphor but a real machine, discovered a few years back, which belonged to the late Beatle in the 1960s. It contains 40 tracks - rhythm and blues, soul, rock'n'roll - which weren't just his favourites: they were the musical style-bible from which The Beatles sound derived in the early 1960s.

Or, sorry, do I mean pinched? As the programme proceeds on its merry way down Memory Lane, you start to feel a little alarmed. It's fine to hear Lennon's voice (in an archive radio interview) saying he looked at Gene Vincent doing "Be-Bop-a-Lula", and thinking: "How can I do that? How do they make that music? How do they make it so exciting?" It's charming to discover from Gary "US" Bonds, who had a hit in 1960 with "New Orleans", that he hired The Beatles as backing singers in 1962 but fired them because they were crap.

But when the Isley Brothers point out that not only did they do "Twist and Shout" first, but they patented the strained lyrical delivery and the climactic "Wooooooooaaaarrrgghh" that, more than anything, inspired Beatlemania. "Yeah, the 'Woooo' was taken from the Isley Brothers," says a sulky Lennon. "We put it on everything - 'Twist and Shout', 'From Me to You', 'She Loves You'..."

Picking yourself up from that little bombshell, you then encountered Bobby Parker, a veteran R&B star and a charmingly modest cove with a hairpiece that suggests a crow has suicidally dive-bombed his head. He played the intro lick to "Watch Your Step". It seemed ridiculously familiar. "I think when The Beatles heard the opening of 'Watch Your Step'," he murmured politely, "I think that was the beginning of 'I Feel Fine'. It did a lot for the song."

I'll say it did - it was the only lick in the song, endlessly repeated in different registers. The camera returned to Parker's impassive face. "At the time I was flattered. But it stuck in my mind that I should have got a little recognition for that." Bless him. We also discovered that Lennon's marvellous tangential harmonica-playing in "Love Me Do" would have been nowhere without the note-for-note virtuosity of one Delbert McLintock...

Are these merely games of chase-the-influence, or something seriously close to plagiarism? We've known for years that The Stones adapted riffs from Chuck Berry for their earliest hits - but when you go around pinching another fellow's intro, his 'Woooo' and his sustained note sequences, his screech, his cowbell and his stage behaviour, what, apart from the lyrics, is there left to inspect for signs of genius?

Legends of the fall

I'm mystified by the subtleties of "taking a dive" during a horse-race, as Sean Fox is accused of doing during a steeplechase at Fontwell Park, West Sussex. Falling off your horse is a misfortune and a damned painful one, as I well know, having once gone flying over the head of a mare called Lady Jane Grey in the early stages of a hunt. Jumping off is a voluntary activity, but it's hard to imagine anyone being bribed to do it with two tons of horseflesh doing 30mph beneath him (and lots more, with flying iron hooves, coming up fast behind). And when you're crouched over the beast's neck with your feet in the stirrups, how do you ready yourself for the climactic moment, as if jumping off a train? As for the bookies' term - "stepping off" a horse mid-race - well, it's just too ladylike to be true. Posh women in long dresses "step off" a jetty onto a punt. Chaps glued onto a plunging thoroughbred are in no position to step off anything. You might just as well have Michael Schumacher "stepping off" his Ferrari at that famously difficult corner in the Monte Carlo Grand Prix.

Memo to Jockey Club: sometimes the simplest explanations are best. The poor bastard fell off.

Shy and retiring? Not quite...

The Irish author and film director Peter Sheridan is in town this week to launch his first novel Big Fat Love (out tomorrow, Macmillan books, unmissable etc). Sheridan made his name five years ago with 44, a family memoir about growing up in Dublin in the Fifties, and he has become the city's top chronicler, without sentimentalising "the rare oul' times" when Dublin was poor, seedy, unloved, alcoholic and hopeless.

The busy brother of Jim ( My Left Foot, In the Name of the Father, In America) Sheridan, he's directed a movie of Brendan Behan's Borstal Boy, and has just opened a play called Finders Keepers at the Abbey Theatre, about the city when the docks were still working and the centre of Dublin was filled with thousands of matelots unloading barrels of Guinness and cattle ambled through the backstreets, steaming and defecating outside Sheridan's front door. "If you were a footballer like me," he says, "you had to be a brilliant dribbler, in order to keep the shite off the ball."

His new book features a 17-stone, coarse-grained Dublin wife called Philomena who joins a convent to escape her violent husband ("I love the fucking peace and quiet," she tells the startled sister in charge, "I just fucking love it"). Sheridan's subversive streak emerges in the love scenes between a day-care couple who discover hot sex in their mid-seventies.

"I thought elderly bonking was a taboo worth taking on," says the energetic Mr Sheridan. "I'd noticed in Spain that you'd see retired old couples holding hands and kissing, and I thought, 'The weather, the sun, not having to wear many clothes...' I had one of those sudden blinding flashes, that it's only because of the climate that we don't do that."

First Calendar Girls, then The Mother, then Something's Gotta Give, now Big Fat Love. There'll be Pomagne corks popping among actresses over 70 when one of the Sheridan brothers comes to cast the movie.