Carolina in my Mind - James Taylor
The next morning we woke up with sore heads - the hooch turned out to be a vengeful delicacy - and we had a big row when we discovered that Jeremy had somehow left his money behind. As we'd already paid for his share of the bike hire and the ferries and buses on the way there, this was a bit of a shock to go with our hangovers: we didn't have enough money for more than one of us to get back all the way to school. It was very early morning, raining and we were down belowdecks in the cafe on the ferry back to Skye having a communal sulk when the seemingly only other passenger on the boat, a fifty something American woman picked the time to come over and chat.
She sat down on the seat at the table next to us and announced that she her son had treated her and paid for her to travel in Scotland for a whole fortnight so that she could see the land of her ancestors. We all remained silent looking at our feet, only me, the polite one, looking up for a moment and giving her a polite smile. Encouraged she suggested perhaps we'd heard of her ancestor, Isaac Allerton, who was one of the original New England settlers on the Mayflower? No we hadn't. She expected us to be impressed; we weren't: we didn't even let on that we'd heard of the Mayflower. Maybe, she thought, we'd heard of her more famous ancestor, Zachary Taylor, the twelfth president of the United States? Now here we were in a bad way, with an argument to resume and being bothered by a crass American woman with fantasies of grandeur and we were very close to just ignoring her; I felt sorry for her and said: "Was he? Goodness you're descended from a President? Sorry but I'm afraid I've never heard of him." And she said, "Well maybe you've heard of my sons and daughter: James and Alex and Kate and Livingstone?" We were transformed: yes we had; the others had heard of James, but I, a music nerd and avid reader of every page of the Melody Maker knew her whole family, what albums they'd brought out, what label, the works. She was impressed and we were away, all three mad keen to chat with her after all.
When the boat arrived at Skye, she said it was a real shame there were three of us as she didn't have enough room in her little Volkswagen Beetle us and her luggage. In a quick meeting we voted 2 to 1 that a complaining Jeremy, having forgotten his money, should take our dosh and catch the train home, while Ricky and I hitched a lift with Gertrude Taylor, James Taylor's Mum..
We had great time: she bought us lunch at the Dunvegan Hotel, and after a glass of wine said I reminded her of her youngest, Hugh, and told us tales of James, Joni, Carly and Carole and other luminaries. She also revealed that her husband had left her to live in New York with (and I can still see her lip curling ever so slightly as she said it) "a 23 year old stripper". Possibly the reason for the gift of the holiday from James, who knows. When our ways parted that afternoon, with Gertrude leaving us about an hour's train ride home - now covered by our reserves - she invited us both to spend the summer at the Taylor summer house on Martha's Vineyard saying we must meet James and her family and all manner of the others like Carly who were expected.
And needless to say neither of us did. My parents put the koybosh on that (imagine that happening nowadays?) and instead I bummed aimlessly around Europe and Ricky surfed in Cornwall.
James Taylor had spent 1968 in London, and recorded his first album on the Beatles' Apple label, under the auspices of producer Peter Asher (formerly of Peter and Gordon and also Jane asher's brother). This is a song about Taylor being homesick in London, pining for North Carolina where he was brought up. Nowadays, the studio version most often played is much more like his more anodyne, laid back records from Sweet Baby James on. But there's a touch of angst in his voice that hints at his homesickness that which later versions lack, and this chimes with the energy that Asher's production brings to it, with the string arrangement and Paul McCartney's bouncy bass. And if you listen carefully you can clearly make out George Harrison among the backing vocalists.
The great thing about Taylor, apart from his exquisite vocal phrasing, are his gently poetic words, here giving the sense that that he thinking of Carolina just as he drifts into unconsciousness, having been hit in the head.
"In my mind I'm gone to Carolina Can't you see the sunshine? Can't you just feel the moonshine? And ain't it just like a friend of mine to hit me from behind? Yes I'm gone to Carolina in my mind....."
I guess that is what I think when I hear this, what would have happened if I had gone to Martha's Vineyard that summer? And I'm sure that that's what Ricky - now living in New Zealand - thinks too. God knows what Jeremy thinks.