My dad and I always had a nightly routine of washing and drying of the dishes together after the evening meal. We would often listen to cassette recordings that Dad had made of his band—Commuter—in rehearsal. He’d either sing the lyrics along with the recording or make up some new ones over an instrumental demo track. His band were an old school rhythm and blues outfit: smart suits, hats and, as a gimmick, umbrellas, to fit in with their British commuter image. As Dad rinsed a plate under the tap before handing it to me, he began singing along to a harmonica, drum, guitar and bass backing on the tape.
“Eleven plus eleven, more to do when I was seven, eleven plus eleven….”
He tapped his feet furiously and nearly dropped the plate, before handing it to me for safe keeping inside a tea towel.
“Is that one of yours, Dad?” I said.
“Sadly, no. It’s Nine Below Zero.”
He reached over to the shelf in the kitchen and took down a cassette tape. It was “Third Degree” by Nine Below Zero, a British blues band. Nine Below Zero’s trademark high energy blues earned them a huge reputation on the British music scene at the back end of the seventies and early eighties. Listen to this track and you will see why. They even performed this song on the very first episode of the hit British TV comedy The Young Ones, gaining them an even bigger audience, this time of school kids and their bemused parents as they sat and watched this new surreal show together.
For the rest of that day, that week, that month, I had that damn chorus in my head. And it’s still there, rattling around. Every time I hear a reference to the “11 Plus” grammar school exam, it pops up again. Every time I sit and help my youngest daughter with her maths homework, she gets into this game of asking me what ten plus ten is, then inevitably, eleven plus eleven. Of course, my reply is always: “more to do when I was seven”. It never fails to gain a confused look, to which I just simply say “It’s called an earworm, kid.”
(Song recommendation by Lee D. Thompson)