With the exciting release of the new Mary Millington record, I thought it might be a timely opportunity to take a look at Mary’s (sometimes tenuous…) musical connections. I’m told that as a young girl Mary loved dancing, and throughout her early years was a fan of The Beatles and Dusty Springfield, but it was during the 1970s that her taste for music matured. Her all-time favourite artists were an eclectic mix of the Bee Gees, Glenn Campbell and Labi Siffre.
Born in Hammersmith the same year as Mary, 1945, Siffre is one of Britain’s most inspirational singer-songwriters. Influenced by jazz pioneers like Miles Davis and Duke Ellington, Siffre got his first musical break in the mid-1960s playing in a house band at the legendary, but short-lived, Annie’s Room in Covent Garden. With a few years Siffre had gone solo. His debut eponymously-titled LP was released in 1970, but it was his third album Crying, Laughing, Loving, Lying in 1972, which brought him widespread acclaim. The 12-strong collection yielded two UK pop hits – the title track (#11) and, most famously of all, ‘It Must Be Love’ (#14). In 1981 the latter song was covered by Madness, reaching #4.
Crying, Laughing, Loving, Lying was, without doubt, Mary’s favourite album. Friends recall she played it non-stop. She felt Siffre’s lyrics genuinely ‘spoke’ to her and she could relate his poetry to her own experiences. The soulful (and ironically-titled) track ‘Blue Lady’ at the close of the record’s A-side, held particular resonance for her. ‘I watch you, I’ve got you. Well maybe that’s true, but blue lady, I may be wrong about you…’ Although Labi Siffre is now best-remembered for his rousing Ivor Novello Award-winning song ‘(Something Inside) So Strong’ in 1987, I would urge any MM to seek out Crying, Laughing, Loving, Lying. It is a stunning piece of work.
Often when Mary was working in London she was known to pay a visit to her favourite record store – HMV at 363 Oxford Street (as seen above, in 1981), adjacent to the Bond Street tube station. In all probability, she may well have purchased her Labi Siffre LPs here. The shop was opened by Sir Edward Elgar in July 1921 and for many years proudly boasted its status as ‘the world’s biggest record store’. Throughout the 1960s and 1970s HMV’s flagship premises became the place to purchase vinyl in the capital, but in 1986 when the company opened its first ‘megastore’ just up the road at 150 Oxford Street, the original shop started a sad decline. It was finally shut in April 2000, and a blue plaque erected on a wall outside. It subsequently became a Footlocker shoe store. After HMV went into administration in 2013 and the company was re-structured by new owners Hilco, the huge store at 150 Oxford Street was itself closed, and, in a move which surprised everybody, HMV returned to its spiritual home, a refurbished number 363, in October 2013.
Curiously this HMV store does have a hardcore porn connection. In the late-1970s director George Harrison Marks was hired to produce a series of UK-based 8mm sex films for Color Climax, amongst them London Lust, Arabian Knights, Cockpit Cunts, Schoolgirl Holiday and Busty Baller. The latter film starred big-boobed British model Nicky Stanton, and was shot entirely on location in a spacious penthouse apartment in a six-storey block (the top four floors were all residential) at 354-358 Oxford Street. The Sixties’ building was very easy to identify, since it had extremely distinctive-shaped windows, which were all the more apparent when seen from the inside.
In Busty Baller Nicky Stanton plays a horny housewife who, after fantasising about an ex-lover, seduces one of the ugly window-cleaners who are buffing up her panes. The men are played by Gordon Hickman (who also appeared in a hardcore scene in Mary’s 1977 film Come Play with Me) and ‘Dave’, a pug-faced porn habitué who appeared in several David Sullivan magazines of the period. During an early scene, the two randy workmen are clearly seen wiping their chamois leathers over the windows which gaze down onto Oxford Street. Harrison Marks gives us a clear view of Ratners the jewellers (now an Omega store) at number 373, the eastern entrance to Bond Street station and the HMV store ten doors down. Marks always liked to include ‘authentic’ locations in his porn loops and, true to form, in Busty Baller he even treated viewers to a shot of a red Routemaster bus whizzing its way westbound.
I often gazed up at that apartment block when I walked down Oxford Street, wondering whether the present occupants ever knew their flat had a starring role in a porn film. Unfortunately, in 2011, as part of the redevelopment of Bond Street underground station, this ‘porno block’ was sadly earmarked for demolition. By early 2013 the building had vanished; in its place currently stands a part-constructed building which will house the new Bond Street station ticket hall, shop units and 11 exorbitantly-priced new flats. HMV are probably still unaware of their cameo role in a notorious British porno too, but with the demise of Virgin and Tower and the down-sizing of the resolutely independent SisterRay Records in Berwick Street, be thankful that His Master’s Voice at 363 Oxford Street even exists. Sadly, just like sex shops, the once-mighty music emporiums are now an endangered species.
All words strictly © Simon Sheridan 2014-2015