Oxford, summer 1985.
I hear the refrain quite regularly, sometimes as the soundtrack for a TV ad or maybe sampled by a DJ from America …
Ah hey-o ma-ma-ma
… but seldom the complete original song — a song I first heard in The Plasterers’ Arms pub in Oxford, selected from the jukebox by a man I’d just met: Steve.
We had arrived in Oxford in early summer 1985. Steve had motored up from the Channel Islands ferry in his pristine, soft-top green MGB roadster while I’d caught the X80 express coach from London’s Victoria bus station.
While searching for more permanent digs we both stayed at the Plasterers, which was neither historic nor quaint. Mid-Victorian, it stood some distance from the ancient university precinct to serve the needs of, well, plasterers, I suppose. Steve was the first person I’d met from Guernsey and I’m pretty sure I was the first Australian he’d known. We were the new reporters on The Oxford Star.
Both of us had left jobs and families to seek experience and adventure in England. I may have travelled further but Steve’s move from tiny Guernsey was no less significant. His passion was music while mine was sport, so in no time I was the paper’s sports editor and Steve had launched a music column with the best name ever, Rock Star.
For about nine months we worked and played as a double act. Steve helped me cover Oxford United Football Club’s first home match in First Division (and was threatened with a knife by a nervous scalper he stopped in the street outside), while I tagged along to concerts he was covering (remember Squeeze or Level 42?).
Among his highlights Steve scooped an interview with Davy Jones of The Monkees and papped Yasmin Parveneh, the leggy Oxford model then in a secret romance with Duran Duran’s Simon Le Bon.
The Plasterers was not the only pub we frequented. We spent a lot of time at the Waterman’s Arms, beside the Thames near our office on the city’s western edge. There we would sit watching tourists ineptly navigate their narrow boats through the lock while draining lunchtime pints. If not there it was The Fishes, The Perch or even the Trout Inn. If we wanted a bit more folklore, we’d liaise at The Eagle and Child (waterhole of CS Lewis and JRR Tolkien) or The Turf (where it was claimed Bob Hawke set his world drinking record).
Everywhere we went Steve would find the jukebox and study the playlist. “Have you heard this one, Hugh?” he’d say, punching the buttons.
We both moved on after a year, me to see a bit more of the northern hemisphere, while Steve returned to Guernsey. In time he moved from journalism to public relations, starting his own firm with his wife Lois. He was an early adopter of Twitter, using it to comment on local issues but also to reference music and promote his beloved island home.
I visited him once in Guernsey and he and Lois came once to Australia.
When Steve sold the business and retired a few years ago he’d take his guitar to the local town square and busk. He also started running marathons — not easy on an island less than 20km long — and last year he ran successfully for the States of Guernsey, the local legislature.
We’ve remained friends despite it being many years since our paths have crossed. I’m reminded of him — and The Plasterers’ Arms — every time I hear that jubilant refrain,
Ah hey-o ma-ma-ma
“Have you heard of Dream Academy in Australia, Hugh? Life In A Northern Town will be a classic, just you watch.”
Stereo Story #632