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Back on the Chain Gang - the Pretenders

Awali was a place of three distinct inhabited areas: Upper Camp, and the two zones of Lower Camp - Zallaq Gate and Manama Gate and Simon and our buddies called ourselves as the Upper Camp Gang, although there were certainly other groups of children who styled themselves likewise. But we weren't tough at all, and the gangs only seriously lasted the length of each two week holiday and then were put on hold when we went back to school. The wonderful desert landscape, so redolent of the steady diet of westerns and war films that we were fed every Friday afternoon at the Awali Cinema, enabled us to live in an almost permanent fantasy world.

Unlike anywhere else in the camp, Simon and I had our own extended area of desert inside the surrounding fence, and there we re-enacted every kind of movie, sometimes with six guns and Winchester rifles, others with tommy guns and green helmets with camouflage nets. We planned expeditions to the Mountains of the Moon, taking water bottles and a compass and heading south illicitly having crawled under the fence out into the unknown (as long as we were back by six we were okay). Other times we tunnelled beneath the fence, finding ways of surreptitiously depositing the excess soil in our parents gardens a la the "great escape". A favourite scenario was the one where we'd imprison random individuals, usually younger than us and from (we imagined) rival gangs, taking them to "the quarry" where we'd guard them in shifts, Simon ten minutes, then me a further ten, while the hapless captive was made to chip away at the rock with a pick axe in the hot Arabian sun. There was one kid who, when we released him after nearly an hour's hard forced labour, refused to go because he enjoyed it so much and wanted to do it of longer, to our great annoyance as we were bored by then, and we had to threaten him to make him go away. The next day he turned up with a further four companions including his smaller brother and sister, who we had to tie together in a line by their ankles, with old ropes instead of chains, and set them to work with a variety of tools borrowed from my Dad's shed. A lot of digging was done and they had a whale of a time. They didn't even try to escape and stayed all day. Simon and I were bored witless. The next day we hid, and when they turned up again we legged it for the Fairy Glenn.

Here the imperious Chrissie Hynde, calls on her soul routes using Sam Cooke's Chain Gang's "ooh ah"s to evoke the grind that is the collateral of the rock business, the way, even in a business which should be their dream come true, paradise can become an oppressive drudge, the negatives suddenly piling up and taking their toll.

This song came out in September 1982, with a hastily revamped Pretenders line-up, Hynde having sacked bassist Pate Farndon that June because his drug habit was making him impossible to work with, only for lead guitarist James Honeyman-Scott to suffer a drug induced death two days' later.

While Hynde has always denied that the "you" in the song was Honeyman-Scott, she did dedicate the song to him, and it is at the very least a condemnation of the bad side of the competitive world in general and the music industry in particular. And what the grind does to people and the way they feel helpless before it:

"A circumstance beyond our control the phone, the TV and the news of the world got in the house like a pigeon from hell threw sand in our eyes and descended like flies......"

but even though they may defeat her, she's still defiant

"...the powers that be that force us to live like we do bring me to my knees when I see what they've done to you

but I'll die as I stand here today knowing that deep in my heart they'll fall to ruin one day......."

but there's an innocence about the times "before" , that suffuses the song with an uptempo optimism that belies the mood of the words....

"I found a picture of you, those were the happiest days of my life

like a break in the battle was your part in the wretched life of a lonely heart....

now we're back on the chain gang back on the chain gang......"

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