Friday 3 March 2023

Long Live The Meadows

Vauxhall Motors ... reputationally they may be considered dull and unreliable vehicles, but I've owned several with the Griffin badge, and apart from the Chevette teaching me rudimentary mechanics (a necessity rather than choice), they have have been (generally) fine.

Vauxhall was formed in 1857 in Wandsworth Road in the London Borough of Vauxhall (hence the name)  It started as a pump and marine engine manufacturer, and then diversified into crane building.  The company was renamed Vauxhall Iron Works.  By 1903, Vauxhall built it's first car and then moved production to Luton (but retained the Vauxhall name).  In 1907 the "Iron Works" was dropped in favour of "Motors", and by 1925 after relatively successful car building and sales was bought up by US company General Motors.  GM now had presence in Europe, whilst Vauxhall retained an element of independence.
The first fruits of this partnership came in the form of the 1930 Vauxhall Cadet (the first production car in the UK with a synchromesh gearbox) and it's first commercial vehicle in the shape of the Bedford truck.
World War II focussed production on the military-spec Bedford trucks and vans, and as the War ended Vauxhall were one of the first to move back into the civilian car market.
The bullet-proof Bedford Trucks, plus the smaller vans produced, obviously provided an income source to keep the car division afloat, as did the GM partnership as closer links were forged with the Opel Group in Germany and technologies shared.
Vauxhall cars did sell, just not in the numbers to cause concern to Ford, BMC, or Rootes.
In 1961, Vauxhall shared design and technology and took the German Opel Kadett (Oliver, if you've ever seen Top Gear) and re-bodied and re-badged it as the Viva, a small family car to compete with the Ford Anglia, Austin A40, Morris Minor and Hillman Minx.
The original Viva (the HA model) was also made into a small van with the Bedford badge - this van stayed in production until the early 80s, with corporate customers including GPO/British Telecom, British Rail, Electric and Gas companies, and the Royal Mail (and is very likely to be the template for Postman Pat's van).
Such was the success of the Viva in terms of sales and reputation, Vauxhall was able to overhaul it's range and the Viva went through 3 models - such was the success that the Mark 3 Viva was regular runner-up in the sales charts to the all conquering Ford Escort.
Also in the 70s, the Viva range expanded to include the Magnum (with a modified front-end/headlight configuration and an 1800 engine squeezed under the bonnet) and a coupe version - the Firenza - with an even bigger 2300cc engine squeezed into the gap that was having trouble accommodating the 1800 version. 

By 1979, the relationship between Vauxhall and Opel grew beyond sharing technologies, the companies were now sharing body shells, running gear and production lines.  The production of the Viva (and the  larger Victor) ended to be replaced by the same rangers in UK and Europe, just with different names and badges.  By the late 1990s, the names were aligned and the only difference now is the badge on the front.

In 1977, the San Fransico Bay Area Punk scene was developing led by The Dickies, The Germs, The Go-Gos.  Black Flag pushed the boundaries wit hthe development of Hardcore Punk (alongside similar developments on the East Coast where The Misfits were formed).
Punk in 1977 America remained an East Coast preserve with The Ramones, The Dead Boys and Richard Hell & The Voidoiods leading lights.  Add to that list Talking Heads, Blondie, Patti Smith and Television. and you can sort of see the frustration building on the West Coast.
Into the world of Hardcore Punk rode a band who could see beyond the "Destroy" rhetoric and stage-diving, and add a political element to the lyrics and (often un-noticed in the frenetic pace) some un-punk musical flourishes (soul, jazz, prog, r&b, rockabilly, whatever fitted the moment).

The Dead Kennedys formed in 1978 - East Bay Ray (guitar) found his bandmates via a newspaper advert, and was joined by Klaus Flouride (bass), Jello Biafra (vocals) on vocals, Ted (drums) and the simply named 6025 (aka Carlos Cadona, rhythm guitar).
They went straight into the demo studio and started picking up live gigs wherever they could.  Controversy was never far away as a result of their chosen name  - particularly when they were booked to play a show on the 15th anniversary of JFK's assassination.
Jello Biafra (never one to hide from an opinion) expalined that the band's name was not on attack on the presidential family, but a poetic explanation of the death of the American Dream.
6025 left the band just 8 months after joining, leaving East Bay Ray on sole guitar duties.  Their debut single "California Uber Alles" came soon after.  As a result of their name and reputation, finding a record label proved a fruitless task, so East Bay Ray and Jello Biafra formed their own Alternative Tentacles label for Dead Kennedy's product (they did eventually pick up distribution deals from IRS in the US and Cherry Red in the UK).
In short order, second single "Holiday In Cambodia" was released followed soon after by debut album 'Fresh Fruit For Rotting Vegetables'.
The album had more musical nous and tunes than it's contemporary hardcore Punk brethren, but it was in the UK where they were most successful rising to the higher reaches of the Indie Chart. 'Fresh Fruit ...' contained re-recordings of their previous 2 singles, and 1 more was single lifted -"Kill The Poor" - giving the Dead Kennedys a Number One single (on the UK Indie Chart).
Nestling at the end of the album was a 1964 song that has a literal translation of Long Live The Meadows.  That title sounds like it should be a hymn, so "Viva Las Vegas" has more of a romantic ring to it.  The song written for the 1964 Elvis Presley film celebrates the bright lit city built so Frank, Sammy, Dean and other Rat Pack guests could get away from it all and drink, gamble and entertain.
The song is a celebration of the city, but after the satire and politicking (and some slight lyrical tweaks) the Dead Kennedys reading gives with a slightly different, less celebratory feel.

1 comment:

  1. I did not know that Vegas translated as Meadows. You learn something new every day.

    Now I'm just waiting for Martin to pop up and remind you about Morrissey's fascination with the Vauxhall brand...