“Never eat Shredded Wheat” was the mnemonic for recalling the points of the compass in school days. It seemed a complicated way of remembering, North, East, South, West. I never did eat Shredded Wheat, I’m sure it was good for you, I just didn’t like its texture. Forty odd years later, a Shredded Wheat television advertisement brought memories of a lost world, a path not travelled.
The advertisement features a man who enjoyed Northern Soul music in the 1970s, but then family responsibilities and financial constraints ended his disco-going days. Forty years later, he is making up on lost time, dressing as if it were 1975 and meeting friends at a dance hall where they again dance to the music of his youth.
Watching the advertisement was both heart-warming and saddening, the music captures a sense of the times, but brings also a sense of a life lost.
Soul music was the backing track to teenage schooldays, while others played Pink Floyd and Led Zeppelin, some chose the records on labels like Staxx, Atlantic and Tamla Motown. It was music with a youthful joy and innocence, music for its own sake, music that made you feel happy.
Moving to live among conservative Northern Ireland Protestants at the age of 22 was a move from the 1980s back to the 1950s. “Christians” did not do a lengthy list of things; the usual suspects were there, drinking and dancing featured on almost every list of activities frowned upon. But there was a more general disapproval of things that were considered “worldly”. Such “worldliness” would have included the playing of records that were not religious, records that might be played at places where drink was consumed, records that might be played in order that people might dance.
The pile of 7 inch singles that had accumulated through teenage years were left behind in England, they would not have been appropriate for someone in Northern Ireland preparing for ordination. Soul music became no more than a memory, a memory occasionally refreshed by hearing the odd song, not that many would have been played on Radio Ulster.
The Shredded Wheat advertisement brought a realisation of how innocent the days of listening to those records had been, how it was an absurdity for anyone to have thought that songs by soul groups were objectionable. In a society that tolerated sectarianism, racism, sexism and homophobia, it now seems extraordinary that I would have worried about whether or not people approved of the music I played.
Were the dance hall in the advertisement nearby rather than in the English Midlands, there would be a temptation to go along – the lack of platform shoes and flared trousers being the only obstacle.