“Don’t Leave Me This Way” by Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes was on the barber’s radio when he was paying his once a term visit to our school at the beginning of 1977. To be honest, the memory is slipping, I had thought it was the year before, that the song had charted in the winter of 1976. Why the moment lingers is hard to fathom. Perhaps the song was memorable because two versions of it were in the charts at the same time, the other being sung by Thelma Houston, but why remember it in association with being subjected to an hideous assault upon the good name of hairdressing by a man whose training in using a pair of scissors must have been very brief?
It is not just the fact of the song being played, even the room remains clear in the memory: an ante-room to one of the classrooms, perhaps a departure from his usual location in the main building of our school; his transistor radio playing BBC Radio 1 (what else was there to play?); his completion of hair cuts every five-six minutes, clippers up the back and sides and a quick hack at the top (he was particularly skilled at creating curved fringes).
Was he in particularly destructive mood that Dartmoor winter’s day, and did the encounter with him after darkness had fallen, create a sense of apprehension that caused a seeking of solace in the music played? Or was it something more positive, was there a realisation that my time at the school was drawing to a close and that this might be the final indignity to be suffered at his hands?
Whilst there is clear recall of the moment, it is hard to be sure it is not imagined, in whole or in part. In memory, a friend at the school was a fan of Harold Melvin and had a copy of a 7″ single of the song, which is impossible because he left the previous summer.
But why does the memory behave in such an odd and arbitrary way? Why recall a single moment in such detail, while everything around is, at best, no more than a fuzzy sequence? It is not as though the memory is of any significance. There are important times that have disappeared entirely (I have no recall whatsoever of opening my A level examination results), while trivial, inconsequential stuff, like what song was playing during a haircut, remains.
Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes sang “Don’t Leave Me This Way” on the radio this evening and was it just imagination that there was the sound of barber’s clippers in the background?