Archives for the month of: September, 2012

An early Echo and the Bunnymen memory comes from when I was off school sick for a day and spent the morning re-reading an Omnibus Press history of the band. I listened to two albums on tape a couple of times as I read – ‘Crocodiles’ and ‘Porcupine’. They were on tapes prepared for me by some friend of my Godmother’s sister and her husband called Dave (The Rave – yes that was what ‘they’ called him but the reality was that he was just a bland former DJ kind of a bloke who needed a stylist – they all do).  He had some kind of home taping set up which led to music being pretty clear but the crackle of library vinyl being clearer than anything else. Why have a good sound system and then spend your time getting vinyl out of the library to play on it? However, this set up did create a happy accident as ‘Going Up’ starts off ‘Crocodiles’ with a fade in, I still find that I don’t get the same buzz from hearing it on CD as the ominous emergence of sounds of space or whatever used to coincide with the presence of a crackling vinyl mosquito storm and it doesn’t do that anymore on CD…because…dey don’t do dat do, do dey? Sorry!

These two albums weren’t even on the same tape. Siouxsie and the Banshees were on the back of one and The Smiths on the other. They rank as the 8th and 9th tapings listed in my little green folder but all metal and other rubbish was removed in a list redrafting session at some point in 1987 so they weren’t among the earliest tapes I owned. Prior to these Bunnymen albums, my only ‘cool’ tapings were either by The Beatles or…Red Lorry Yellow Lorry! That was on the back of something else – presumably more gothic and taped over. As to when I received them, it really is quite hard to remember.

So, Crocodiles…

‘Going Up’ starts like a broadcast from space with a myriad of strange Pink Floyd-moon landing sounds before a pounding bass and drum backdrop fills in the gaps proving why Les and Pete were essential to the Bunnymen and the band’s returns have diminished without them. Not that anyone would have known that then. I feel the song lacks an amazing production sound but strives for it. It also aims to be the opening of the career of a great band and yet the lyric seems rather throwaway. This is the ideal song to set things up for a big fall without ever really delivering. It’s all build and fade with very little middle. It’s not particularly typical of a Bunnymen song or certainly not one of their album openers, yet it sticks in the memory of anyone who has spent any time listening to this album. Only when the listener sits down to try to assess what they’ve heard will they realise that the answer is ‘not much’ and yet this is not meant as negative feedback. It just translates as meaning that the whole album or even career of this group is about ascending to a level ‘above’ even if most of the time that is obviously not happening. Failure is irrelevant but it does remain an option.

Lyrically, the song seems like classic Bunnymen, or McCulloch overreach – sounds deep but really doesn’t seem to know what it means. I am convinced that this evolved into the seemingly arbitrary grab and go lyrics of Oasis and other Britpop-era bands and yet the Bunnymen retain a sense of mystery, even if they do rhyme it with ‘history’:

Ain’t thou watching my film
Analyzing me
Rusty chalk-dust walker
Checking up to see
If we should pull the plugs out
On all history
And all the mystery  –  hmm…deep?

It’s a bit like ‘The Wall’ with a teacher as a ‘rusty chalk-dust walker’ controlling ‘my film’ or it looks at censorship blocking the past as well as ‘the mystery’ – could this be an attempt to retain the mystery of Christ which Graham Greene bangs on about at the end of Brighton Rock? Hmm…The next verse, if it can be called a verse suggests things are going up…above and that we need to ‘get the hell out of here’. There is a final refrain which claims that the problem is that people are walking around without flowers in their hair. So, in conclusion, a song that begins with sounds of the psychedelic and moon landing era ends with the idea that all that is gone, finished or ‘going down’.

By its conclusion, the song does seem a statement of the band’s position. The 60s were great, really psychedelic and all as well as linking with the Bowie/spaceman idea but things aren’t like that anymore and authorities are in control again in a somewhat Orwellian way. It’s a little immature to say the least, a little half-baked but it really seems to suit the beginning of the 1980s and the beginning of the Bunnymen, at least on album.

‘Stars are Stars’ could never really make quite the impression of the opening but it does reveal an open need for stardom and fame even if stars shine both hard and cold. I rather like the idea that catching a falling star will ‘cut my hands to pieces’ and feel that David Soul should have probably worn gloves and got his pockets reinforced. McCulloch seems very up front in production but the song opens with what seems to be a jam resolving itself into a more traditional song structure.

‘Pride’ begins with that wonderful hacking sound of Will Sargent’s before also introducing a xylophone into the equation after a few lines about families. Again we seem to have a song about ambition versus expectation. No problems with teachers and society here, now families seem to be to blame as they wait in expectation for their offspring to achieve something or ‘do something we can’t do’. However, they also seem equally satisfied with waiting for (Ian’s?) failure.

So far we have control from society or teachers, ambition and family pride or derision. I can’t honestly say that was what grabbed me about the opening few tracks when I was younger. I was more fascinated how the songs, their music, their content and their characters all seemed rather odd to me in my position. I took more from the music as I generally don’t tend to remember lyrics well but also, on this occasion, as it sounded both like an accessible way to do something different with pop. It still had a throwaway quality and didn’t seem particularly self-reverential but it could be. The sound effects at the beginning and the resolution of the jam on ‘Stars are Stars’ could easily be developed for a stadium audience. However, those effects also gave a slightly out of date and eerie quality to the music overall. Throw in the vinyl crackle and I was hooked. Ambition seems to be apparent in all 3 songs though we start with ‘going up’ before going down and then two songs seemingly focused on falling. Doomed, they was doomed I tells ya!

‘Monkeys’. There must be a better reason for the title than a one word chorus where ‘come on’ sounds like ‘key-mon’ but I can’t really find one other than the idea that small children may be described as monkeys. I certainly was. It is a song of the playground with ‘bagsy’-ing and boys and girls but why would this schoolyard narrator suddenly declare: ‘I’m not a holy man’? It doesn’t seem to fit. It can also be observed that ‘monkeys’ may be a very negative depiction of the human race as either going backwards or certainly not making progress. However, the song doesn’t really suggest any alternatives. This does seem like one of those songs which has its subject obscured but not avoided, just as ‘Please Please Me’ never mentions the oral sex it is really about perhaps. What also seems clear is a lyrical retreat from the potentially gloomy atmosphere of an entire album made up of the concerns and failures of the first three songs. Musically, the guitars are what make this song. That chiming sound has been appropriated by so many guitarists since this album appeared. I’m sure The Edge still plays it regularly before being summoned back into the studio. That’s a particular beef of mine: that U2 stole the Bunnymen’s thunder and never fully acknowledged the influence – a bit like trying to save Africa without paying proper taxes in Ireland, so it’s in their character.

The title track really does define that scratchy guitar sound and also shows that it may have come from Gang of Four’s Andy Gill too. Still, it’s a wonderful sound and appears regularly across my record collection except when previously smooth bands adopt it in desperation or in disillusionment. It’s bright, choppy and angular. It really brings things to life again after too much time reflecting on McCulloch’s self-supposed lyrical genius. Lyrically there are more references to ups and downs as well as ‘crocodiles’ being linked with crocodile smiles rather than tears. Also, Ian seems happier with his ‘crocodiles’ rather than someone who has ‘alligator shoes’ who – perhaps rather conveniently – has the blues. I’m not really sure that can be called an environmental message.

‘Rescue’ apparently begins with a musical version of Morse code for S.O.S. Do I really have to know how that works to write about music? I mean, it’s a fairly weak idea to throw into a song called ‘Rescue’. I obtained this information from someone called ‘Willywonty’ – which might not be their real name – writing on the wonderfully desperate sounding website songmeanings.net.* Willywonty reckons the song is about addiction and a desire for intervention. Maybe this song aims to write about addiction but from an outsider’s, or more likely a dabbler’s, perspective. Others might say that it’s about love as a form of rescue. We might also consider the idea of love as a form of rescue from potentially losing control. This certainly worked for Macca; at least it did for 20 years before his marriage finally collapsed. It is quite easy to notice that he may have been right if we look at his career since 2003. Lyrically the song has the classic Bunnymen hallmarks of reaching for depth but never particularly convincingly. This is what makes them great. A guy from the North-West trying to get something across using his intellect rather than simply letting words hang together for the sake of it and claiming the songs don’t mean anything like Noel Gallagher has done. However, it’s the middle ‘breakdown’ of the track where McCulloch does tend to slip in lines from bands he likes**. So are we to consider that music is his rescue and that’s why the tribute appears in this song? Following up a theme from before, it can also be noticed that we are invited to come ‘down’ to his rescue again. Yet more ‘down’ imagery but at least coupled with some hope of salvation this time. If ‘Rescue’ remains a song about love it does seem a desperate one as rescue cannot really be a sensible motivation for love if it’s going to work in the long run. However, to have a handsome guy like Ian was sing “first I want a kiss and then I want it all” could be perceived as tempting to anyone even if he sees it more as “give me an inch and I’ll take a sodding mile” (Ian McCulloch 1989, quoted in Turquoise Days)

‘Villiers Terrace’ is a more obvious drug song as people crawl around on carpets and ‘medicine’ is mixed up. The keyboards sound like vintage Ray Manzarek but don’t ruin the overall effect for me like Ray does for many a Doors tune. Once again, the guitars are understated but never absent and the rhythm section keeps everything pounding away in a slightly lumpen manner that might have been downplayed here to enhance the sense of mystery. The lyrics are all pretty obvious and point towards a drug den or Hitler’s bunker…yes, Hitler’s bunker. I can only quote this:

“I was 19 when I wrote that. A kid…it was about Adolf Hitler. That was an idea that I got from my brother, as many were on Crocodiles. He actually coined the term ‘Villiers Terrace’. ‘I’ve been up to Villiers Terrace/I’ve been in a daze for days/I drank some of the medicine/ And I didn’t like the taste’. I had nicked it slightly from Dylan, but it was actually about Hitler throwing a wobbler and chewing the carpet, although the song obviously hinted at drugs. Hitler had this meeting with all these Heads of State and he’d had to make a compromise on his position, which he wasn’t happy about. He was so cheesed off that he had a fit and started chewing the carpet. That’s what my brother told me and I built it around that, although I think I prefer the interpretation that it is about being off your cake on drugs.”  Ian McCulloch 1994

It’s hard to really add anything to the above interpretation of the lyrics and perhaps a shame too, except to say that it is a shame the song wasn’t used for Der Untergang/Downfall/La Caida. I would also like to meet Ian McCulloch’s brother for a pint or two and a story or three.

Essentially the album has become more mysterious and only now really brought in the idea of drugs being used – or Hitler or whatever. Previous songs aim for a more intangible quality in lyrical content as if to avoid censorship. Censorship would affect the album but apparently possible drug references were considered okay as opposed to possible swearing that wasn’t in two songs that were ditched for the British version of the album, ‘Do It Clean’ and ‘Read it in Books’. Personally, I feel the album has a stronger impact for their exclusion.

The debut single came next. I have always regarded ‘Pictures on my Wall’ as one of those false start debut singles that fails to make the impact that a group deserves. It does have that sense of mystery that pervades the album and perturbs the listener but the lyric seems a little under-developed to say the least. Musically it is quite easy to tell that this is a re-recorded song as the keyboards sound a lot smoother on this track which perhaps takes away from the mystery to some extent, particularly the little swirly fill they give before the final verse and continue through it. That Ray Manzarek influence would rarely irritate quite so much as this – not until the hideous ‘Bedbugs and Ballyhoo’ on the untitled album and the inevitable Doors cover that also helped to fill it.

‘All That Jazz’ fares better with Northern Soul being perhaps suggested by the opening drums – something that can be heard in a lot of Fall songs if you ask me. McCulloch says the song is about being led much like the simplicity of the monkeys in, err…’Monkeys’. The song seems to insinuate that a lot of people sound up for the battle but then retreat or hide when war comes, or it supposes that. However, the lyrics also admit to everybody being the same in this, even the persona: ‘No matter how I shake my fist I know I can’t resist it/No matter how you shake your fist you know you can’t resist it’. If the song does raise issues of groups both left and right sacrificing individual intelligence for a herd mentality, then the persona seems to be a part of it. The ominous aspect is that the sky will one day turn black and then I guess we’re all doomed.

‘Happy Death Men’ certainly sounded psychedelic to my ears; in fact it was one of the oddest songs that I loved in my early development of a musical taste. It was certainly weirder than anything I’d heard by The Doors or The later Beatles in my opinion. The NME of 1980 described it as ‘a rambling closer which goes nowhere’. They were wrong as well as a bit harsh on an album that doesn’t last much longer than half an hour.

Lyrically speaking, it is very simplistic – military types are happy death men and they keep on doing what they do – well, whenever there’s a war on, presumably. So, why the camouflage image Ian? Why lines like ‘Take ‘em to your heart’? Essentially, the Bunnymen show a fascination with war that seems far more pro-British than the Joy Division approach. In interviews and some abstract lyrical references, McCulloch may claim to criticise the herd mentality, fascists and war but the reality is an album which seems to be awaiting bombardment which also takes a peek at Hitler in his bunker. ‘Happy Death Men’ suggests yet another schoolboy who had his imagination stirred somewhat by the First World War poets. He was not alone, but he generally seemed to enjoy English literature as he used its influence on many occasions.

Musically, a psychedelic piano impinges on a fractured beginning that only seems to find its groove once Pete DeFreitas discovers his cymbals. For once, this does not mean a Doorsy keyboard riff. As momentum builds, the music heads for the overblown and epic yet seems to lack the substance. Could it then fully recreate the disillusionment of war that McCulloch previously thought he had nailed elsewhere? I don’t want to go into Shakespearian clichés of sound and fury signifying nowt but it strikes me as a happy accident at the end of a remarkably accomplished debut album.  The final climax of discordance allows Will Sargent to fully demonstrate his unique take on guitar playing and how self-taught will often beat away self-doubt. Prior to this the song featured his unique rhythm chop with a wonderfully enhanced riff over the top which also sounds like, with the right pedals, it might be as easy to play as a lot of this album. I can’t state that last bit from experience but can only be fairly sure it must be the case.

‘Crocodiles’ is possibly the most completely formed of the Bunnymen albums even if its limitations prevent it from being the best. It is not a concept album but going down a lot, people being a bit like machines and war and army and stuff seem to be the main themes. Essentially this is a working class poet taking the words of his upbringing and creating something intangible from them that becomes a higher art. One article I read in the build up to this piece suggested that McCulloch was like the Pre-Raphaelite poets but that too may be over-reaching. Essentially this album does what all albums should – it reaches for the stars even though it knows it can’t touch them…and their hard….and cold…la.

‘Crocodiles’ aims for depth but fools the listener. This is no bad thing and shouldn’t be used as an excuse to scoff at popular music. Rather, it is Echo and the Bunnymen in a nutshell and it is what makes them great. If I’d preferred U2 (as I did for a bit in 1984), I would have become utterly bored with them by now. Sadly, the Bunnymen comeback has produced diminishing returns which have cheapened the legend somewhat but 1978-1985 is what counts for this band and they should have never bothered after that point. Well, I like bits of that 5th album but it does have those terribly wanky Doors moments. I know I liked it then but I was only young and misguided. Now, I’m 40 and still misguided enough to spend a few hours putting this together. Maybe I could take it further at some point; maybe it needs considerably less in its content. Maybe I need to stop now and eat something.

*Whilst it may sound desperate, this website does produce some interesting responses alongside it’s less valuable material. Willywonty is definitely an example of the former whereas the people adding “This is a great song” are definitely the latter. I hope my efforts are the former in an attempt to get beyond the latter.

**He also does it in ‘Crocodiles’ and ‘Do It Clean’. Why the debut album tracks?

Bibliography

Well, I should credit the Omnibus Press book on the band but it’s at me mum’s house somewhere so I’m working from memory on that one…

Turquoise Days: The Weird World of Echo and the Bunnymen – Chris Adams (Soft Skull Press 2002)

I don’t actually own this book and it’s well over-priced on Amazon but you can flick through bits of it at Google Books and probably elsewhere too.

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These two albums have never been bought at the same time by anyone except my Gran.

An additional memory to ‘The Lost Years’ (pretentious ass!) would have to concern my grandmother. It was only much later at some point in the 1990s that she revealed that she used to buy The Melody Maker when it first came out in the 1930s and mostly covered jazz in a style of language that is now slightly out of date…in that it was generally hideously racist in every way imaginable.
Anyway, at some point in 1986, my gran discovered that I was getting into music and decided to try to buy me some from her local rural shop for Christmas. She chose a 7″ of ‘U-Vox’ with The Chieftains which was utterly dreadful and two cassettes which have never been bought together at any other point in history: Secret Affair’s ‘Glory Boys’ and The Very Best of The Ink Spots. Top that anyone who claims to have eclectic tastes. Mum insisted we send them back immediately. I have never since listened to The Ink Spots or Midge and the boys, but I did buy a vinyl copy of the Secret Affair album at some point in 1993 and still retain a soft spot for its mod revival tunes – basically it sounds like a bunch of kids have just seen Quadrophenia and then decided that they’d like a piece of the action. Cheers Gran.

This has taken a while to produce – you try writing about simultaneously seeming to like AC/DC and Bronski Beat…hmmm, yeah, I can hear how that sounds now. Or take Judas Priest and the Pet Shop Boys…ah!  Prince and Motley Crue? Frankie goes to Hollywood and Queen???

Christmas 1983 saw the arrival of my Sinclair Spectrum – a whole 48K of memory. It heralded a hazy patch in my musical tastes as I became more interested in playing games on the computer as well as a lot of sport in my spare time. It is clear from a list of artists that I purchased around this time that I had lost all sense of image and was clearly – I mean, Bryan Adams’ ‘Reckless’??? Really James! I can understand how my interests changed in this period as a result of being more attracted to what would today be gaming. Therefore I can see why music these days is a less intense experience for the youth. Can I get away with ‘the youth’? I and I hope so.

In 1984, Queen were my favourite band*. I thought ‘Radio GaGa’ was ace and was deeply confused by the ‘I Want to Break Free’ video. They were ‘rock’ and therefore the excesses of Mercury were acceptable. I wanted to grow my hair like Brian May. Roger Taylor seemed like a cool guy somehow and John Deacon was…well, just kind of ‘there’ really. I seemed to like them a lot then and cringe about it now. There are many more cringeworthy bands in my past but, as a personal favourite, Queen really have so very little to do with my psyche. So what if I bought The Darkness album? They were funny for a bit. At 11 or 12 years old I wasn’t exactly picking up on Queen’s ironic humour was I? To me it was real and even fashionable. Oh Lord!

My favourite band in 1985 became The Damned. That sentence sounds inverted; it isn’t. Think about that. Anyway, I thought…I don’t really know what I thought, they were no longer punk and seemed more like a gothic pop group. I have few memories of why I liked them but do remember a summer job sorting intact bricks from broken ones for 50p an hour where I would sing ‘The Shadow of Love’ and ‘Grimly Fiendish’ all morning long as I gained experience in child labour in a place called Rhydycroesau which I have just learned how to spell now. A 7” of ‘Wait for the Blackout’ – the reissue, was the first record I ordered by post – not exactly a statistic that’s up there with the first manned space mission, but then none of this twaddle is. This would develop a lot over the next few years mostly through Rhythm Records of Cambridge. I also liked ‘Eloise’ – now I prefer the original. I bought their next album in 1986 and thought ‘Anything’ was punk. Anything but ‘Anything’ might have been. They really were not a very good band in that era and hard to take seriously in any genre which is a bit like a needy village kid perhaps.

It’s probably a good thing that my interest in metal was fading though late interest in Motley Crue suggests otherwise. Really, it was their debut album which I liked as it was good acoustic metal for the most part, like ‘Women and Children First’-era Van Halen. I think I was actually getting towards liking blue-collar rock and linked the sound of early Crue more with Springsteen and Bryan Adams than anything metalesque. However, by the time of the ‘Theatre of Pain’ album I bought, they were clearly a different, unlistenable beast. In mid-86 AC/DC made appearances in my purchases alongside The Smiths which is really quite something of a double bill. I’m still sure that Johnny Marr would have wiped the floor with Angus and his three chords but I may be in the minority there.

Queen, Foreigner, Marillion, Mike and the Mechanics, Genesis, Bronski Beat AFTER Sommerville!, Simply Red’s first single?, the 2 Phils’ number one – so very, very bland! Peter Gabriel again! Paul Hardcastle and Harold Faltermayer! Dr and the Medics!!! Truly, this was a disastrous time for my taste even if I was developing impressive abilities in Manic Miner as well as a bit of pace for my seamy bowling of the time. 1986 really was a weird year: Xmas 85 I made sure I received 6 heavy metal albums – bought in heavy metal country: Wolverhampton, no less…and ‘West End Girls’. In January 86 I bought a Bronski Beat single and the Big Audio Dynamite album and by June I was a confirmed Smiths fan; in the Autumn my Fall obsession had started. Somehow Mike and the Mechanics and got a look in in-between. In May and June I bought the Doctor and the Medics novelty number one, my first Smiths single, not to mention AC/DC and Peter Gabriel – who does that? I don’t understand me back then although it’s nice to see a bit of eclecticism rather than being different by liking music that all sounds the same – that stage was yet to come!

Out of this, from somewhere or nowhere, it’s hard to tell, grew some kind of an interest in alternative music. Apart from ‘Spirit in the Sky’, Dr. And the Medics were very much an unsuccessful little indie band, albeit a shockingly dreadful one. The Damned were a gothpop group and may later explain a move towards The Mission and The Sisters of Mercy – Floodland was my first CD – and even some Nephilim on tape. Sigue Sigue Sputnik were not supposed to be as bad as they turned out to be and might have been cool had they delivered on their original hype. You can tell this by considering their still impressive sounding debut single title, ‘Love Missile F1-11’, and comparing it with the title of their last single ‘Grooving with Mr Pervert’. I liked a tape I had of various Beatles songs, I got this from a mod in 1985. I think I liked The Alarm a bit. It seems cool to like the Pet Shop Days these days, but it wasn’t particularly cool in 85/86. I seem to recall buying The Pet Shop Boys ‘Please’ and Prince’s ‘Parade’ on different Saturdays that were fairly close together in 1986. On both occasions, I managed to buy them when with my dad as part of a day out to The Gay Meadow to see Shrewsbury Town after giving up on the misery of Oswestry Town. Yes, I bought a Pet Shop Boys album on my way to the Gay Meadow. Do keep up.

However, some music from this period seems more comfortable among what I listen to now. Bruce Springsteen’s ‘Born in the USA’ was a favourite at the time if not now though I seem to be developing more of a taste for Springsteen these days. Talk Talk – The Colour of Spring is still something I listen to. I bought The Smiths complete box set which isn’t complete and so I even downloaded the missing bits. Prince became one of my favourite artists mostly thanks to ‘Parade’.  Then I heard ‘Living too Late’ by The Fall through a crappy little medium wave radio with terrible reception because were on early summer holiday or perhaps even a summer half term in Torcross, Devon. This is where I decided I was a fan of Mark E.Smith and haven’t really changed that opinion since. Somehow I was into The Fall and The Smiths now, as well as Paul Hardcastle.

I also liked U2 at this point in my life, so lets not get too carried away. They seemed important. I still think ‘The Unforgettable Fire’ is one of the best attempt at atmospherics by many a rock band, but that was all Eno’s doing in my opinion. It seemed a very impressionistic album even at the time – though I might not have understood what that meant exactly. However, it still seemed to appeal to me a lot – especially in cold weather and no central heating. Also, Larry Mullen’s cheekbones were definitely something to aspire to. He seemed to be popular with girls at the time. He didn’t have brown curly hair.

I’d already started to pay attention to Echo and the Bunnymen, The Cure and Siouxsie seeming to act as a bridge towards my goth flirtations into a less undead world were people didn’t cover themselves in flour. Big Audio Dynamite were an early purchase in 1986 and possibly the first influenced by a best albums of the year list – 1985, from The Record Mirror. So everything’s moving neatly towards the present is it? No, for around the same time I also purchased ‘Hit That Perfect Beat’ and Bronski Beat seemed to oddly overlap with heavy metal as 1986 was the year when I demanded 6 LPs for Christmas and began getting into Metallica and a bit of Rush. A check of the charts of the time reveals that this was the era of A-Ha which therefore takes me into a music-class-muck-about hero moment of which I was quite proud – sorry Miss Lloyd.

I recall that we had a music lesson in December where we were all allowed to bring our own music into class and Miss Lloyd would play them and the class had to noted down how many time changes there were in the song. Clearly, Miss Lloyd came out of the prog-music teacher era and I imagine some Van Der Graf Generator might have really blown her mind but I would also probably have been punched quite hard too. The immediate reaction was not one of relief at finally being allowed to bring in our own music and embrace our own counter-culture, instead everyone wanted to work a plan to get records with swear words in them played. Many people simply forgot or didn’t bother. Miss Lloyd sniffed out a copy of ‘Frigging on the Rigging’ rather quickly and banned it. A second copy cunningly hidden inside an A-Ha sleeve was also thrown out. I think literally this time. I managed to go for the obscurity angle and so brought in a home taping (from where or whom, I cannot recall) of a song I declared to be called “Err…Animal?” when asked by Miss Lloyd just as she was about to hit play. It was in fact “Animal (I F**k Like a Beast)” by W.A.S.P. which stood for ‘We Are Sexual Perverts’ rather than the more disturbing white Anglo-Saxon Protestants. The song lasted for a line which I think Miss Lloyd heard: ‘I’ve got pictures of naked ladies tied to my bed’, before the tape was removed and thrown at me. I think we managed one time change in the brief time it was allowed on for. I also feel that we could have possibly had a class discussion about lyrical ambiguity as I’m always unclear as to whether Blackie Lawless of W.A.S.P. either had a) pictures of actual women tied to his own bed in hopefully a rather disturbing bondage ritual or b) he had actually abducted them and tied them up or c) pathetically attached actual pornographic pictures from magazines to his bed so that he could pretend to be with them…well, you know. So, turning to ethics now, which option would be more acceptable in modern society and why?

Music lessons at school were a mostly wasted opportunity. There was a memorable occasion when Hitler walked into class and started dancing jauntily to ‘Relax’ by Frankie Goes to Hollywood. Sadly, ‘Hitler’ was the disciplinarian German teacher, hence her name – she also had a little moustache as well. In another music lesson we were told that The Beatles released their last 3 albums on the same day, something which I knew even then to be utterly false. I kept quiet as the teacher was not only scary but a scary neighbour in my village, however I think Adam Roberts may have been sent out for his protests – big Beatles fan and mod, I think he may have provided me with my random Beatles tape mentioned earlier though I’m not entirely sure on that memory.

Oh crap, I’ve forgotten The Eurythmics, oh no wait – that’s a good thing, Simple Minds too. Never did get around to buying any China Crisis and never bought Level 42 because the bass player is ‘really good’. Big Country – argh, yes, yes guitars like bagpipes – check! Yes, this was not a particularly promising time, a time in fact which would suggest I would soon tire of music and give up listening altogether by about 1992. Except Big Audio Dynamite and sometimes Prince sounded like they came from way beyond that year to my ears.

The chronology is almost impossible to work with on this period. There are chart websites which help, but they only help you remember things that were bought when they were actually in the charts. Back then, records would slowly rise and fall in the charts. Music was less immediate. It had time to develop in the head and the consciousness. That could make the irritating stuff very irritating but it also meant that the good stuff could be better appreciated within the collective consciousness than it can now. A Smiths or U2 album would see an initial rush of attention but it would also last for a long time afterwards and more lyrics would be remembered or chords learnt.

Music faded into the background and then faded back in again. At roughly the same time, my interest in sport intensified but started to die out for a few years at the end of the 80s because Morrissey didn’t like sport and also partly down to Ipswich Town being dreadful for the second half of the 80s.

Who is this person? I must confess that looking back to these early teenage years of mine that surprises emerge all the time. I just take a random date in 1985, look at the charts and remember…(hang on I’m doing it now)…Good Lord! Frankie by Sister Sledge was a number one single! I forget that happening, presumably part of the trauma of owning the record below it – ‘Axel F’. Even the most desperate to be liked elements in my psyche are not going to try to draw a line from ‘Axel F’ and ‘19’ to my love of The Aphex Twin, drum and bass et al. Here are the other top 40 tunes that were lingering around that I bought, taped or listened to that week: Bruce Springsteen, Eurythmics, Marillion, Commentators, Simply Red, The Damned, The Cult and that’s about it…oh, alright, Paul Hardcastle. More on him is to come from when I worked in a record shop. The Cult’s ‘She Sells Sanctuary’ was possibly my favourite dance tune of the time as it involved trying to chicken dance everyone else into submission as also happened in the ‘verses’ of Wipeout – a pre-Pulp Fiction moment of cool? Or just desperate teenagers trying to be hard…in Morton and Llanymynech as I recall. The influence of The Smiths was some way off and Keats was just a kid whose parents didn’t seem to care if other kids got drunk at his parties.

Perhaps I can now move into properly writing about the music I actually like. My first Echo and the Bunnymen purchase in November 1985 seems like a good starting point and so probably won’t be the starting point that I get around to.

*Interestingly the word ‘tit’ emerged as a typo right when I was trying to communicate that Queen were my favourite band. I find this significant.

Metal and I seemed to begin as a way to fit in with friends in the village. Not those my own age, the older harder ones…and Cabbage. Obviously, liking heavy metal in one’s past should be embarrassing but as the other kids in my village would literally hunt the only mod in the village (I’m not making this up) down from time to time, it was the only option. However, I am still not entirely sure if that was the original impetus or what was. I was certainly still in primary school when I developed an interest in metal as I clearly remember wearing my light blue body warmer to school emblazoned with a Deep Purple and Gillan patch – possibly Saxon too. However, I did not own music by those bands.

It comes as no surprise that my inspiration has dried up when trying to write this section. Heavy metal seems to suggest just that. My bands are heavy and the lyrics are all balls – leave me alone! What was this all about then? Pre-pubescent rage over something I had no control over? Perhaps, or maybe it just sounds good to a 10 year old. It’s loud, seems dangerous and it naturally leads towards Dungeons and Dragons…which sadly it did. I think that I may have taken the idea that one had to choose to be either a mod or a rocker in order to enter secondary school. There were no primary ‘faces’ in Pant (my village with the ludicrous name – you didn’t need me pointing out that last bit, did you?) and the rockers seemed a bit scary so I probably thought it best to be on their side rather than attempting to confront them on a moped. Also, my primary friends were all off to a rival school while I and the children of my village joined together in going to Croeswylan. Perhaps if my mum had sent me to the village school in the first place, I may have ‘liked’ metal earlier or possibly come up with some better ideas about fitting in rather than basing it on Iron Maiden and AC/DC.

My first metal purchase would have been the ‘Heavy!’ compilation on KTel for my new Toshiba tape player. It came out in 1983 and the tape player was definitely from the first half of that year so – primary but only just. This was a time when I was slowly getting to know actual friends in my village for the first time having previously been an internal exile on the lawn of Rose Cottage in an effort to stop me socialising with children who –gasp- lived in council houses, which was seemingly a crime in my mother’s eyes. Well, they were okay if they were polite to her, did her cleaning or went to church and some of the women could have been nice but their husbands were lazy and so that dragged them down. Many were just considered thick. Many didn’t listen to heavy metal either, so why go on? Well, heavy metal seems to have uncomfortably been shoved into my tastes for about two years and this may have happened due to the slightly unnatural development that my internal exile had produced. Through being cloistered, I became someone who lacked early socialisation and so much of what has come since has been marked by distancing from those around me, inappropriate choices or behaviour and, for a while at least, heavy metal seemed to be an outburst of freedom from within my bedroom where I could listen to it. Heavy metal seems to be getting a bad press here and yet it is merely the first of many forms of music which really took hold with my personality. It gave me a sense of belonging to some extent, but it was more the poring over Kerrang and wondering what Accept sounded like that took hold. Had iTunes existed back then, I would have got in way deeper. I’m not entirely sure that is a good thing. I’d need to ask a cloistered 11 year old who likes metal and I don’t currently have access to one. Lets’ be honest, I wouldn’t want to meet one either.

So, ‘Heavy’, it featured some metal and some rather softer rock before finishing with southern rock. Like moist K-Tel compilations, it didn’t stick to the plot and there is no way that ‘Don’t Stop Believing’ by Journey was ever heavy regardless of its later re-emergence via The Sopranos and then Glee. ‘Wheel in the Sky’ would have fitted this tape so much better. However, it did have Maiden on it and Motorhead and well, not a lot of ‘real’ metal. Some choices were just bizarre as it seems that not even the Internet knows who the Ian Campbell Band who performed ‘Only One’ were and I have absolutely no memory of the song either except for discovering it on the tracklisting of this compilation. Who the hell were they? Is this actually giving me a buzz in much the same way that random tracks from endless tapes of John Peel still do? Probably. It is a worry that my interest in music seems to be sacrificing quality for obscurity at a very early stage. The compilation ended with Lynyrd Skynyrd and I like southern rock these days but thought it uncool for a very long time. Foolish boy/man, the Skynyrd should have been the track that I followed up on through the likes of Molly Hatchet who did make it into Kerrang along with AC/DC who also transcend the narrow trappings of metal to become classic rock – though the latter turned into a cartoon once they hired that Geordie with the funny hat.

Iron Maiden’s revolutionary ‘Piece of Mind’ tape came next. It was revolutionary because no mere mortal could get the tape out of the box because the artwork was printed back to front and the box opened backwards. This is probably not coming across to clearly…it opened from left to right instead of the other way and this somehow suggested that Iron Maiden were mad or radical or something. Either way, I liked ‘The Trooper’ because it was about war and stuff. I listened to this album endlessly but could not hum a single ‘tune’ from it now, even ‘The Trooper’. The only bit I can remember is the weird backwards voice at the start of one track. Apparently it was a studio joke aimed at the people who thought heavy metal contained subversive messages from the devil. What I really find hard to believe about this album is that it was recorded in the Bahamas. How on earth can a band be or feel metal if they are in the Bahamas? Either way, it has apparently been voted one of the best metal albums of all time and I have little or no memory of the music contained within its idiotic backwards tape box. Says a lot really. Another first from this era was Judas Priest’s ‘Screaming for Vengeance’ – my first vinyl album and possibly bought from Preedys though I can’t accurately recall. I think I quite liked it, nowadays I can’t remember why.

Am I really going to go through all the music I owned when I liked metal? Good lord, no! I should really have been listening to The Jam like other sensible young people of that age and era. Heavy metal had no real effect on my music collection other than a reticence to buy or even listen to anything that seems to link back to that era of my life, even Motorhead. There are various reasons to attend therapy sessions, but re-establishing my childhood link with heavy metal probably isn’t one of them.

I can only try to sum up the positives as I’m a bit confused by this era myself. Metal got me into obsessing over music and I still do that. Metal actually made me aware of what I was wearing for the first time in my life. Metal reappeared as an influence if nothing more in my love of alternative hardcore, grunge and some post-rock music too.

Metal also made me yearn for long hair and realise yet more frustrations with being curly haired – maybe this is why I gave up on it, still curly mods don’t really work either. I don’t know if this is a positive or a negative. My dad always claimed that my hair was curly because I never combed it properly as a child. It’s a good job he never became a hairdresser in Brixton.

Maybe I just liked it because my mother hated it and it was generally anti-church. It was a desperate attempt to become an outsider. I also became an Ipswich Town fan for life just before this time. I chose to support a team further away than London and where no relatives had ever lived…hmm…

Metal stopped me getting into The Smiths, New Order and Echo and the Bunnymen earlier and I do still kind of resent that even if Rush may have led me to Trans Am on some level. As for southern rock, choogling was to come much later. What teenage girl is going to be impressed by some spotty kid who reckons he’d like to eat grits and wears a confederate flag? Far better to listen to music about orcs and wear denim. Err…

I think that’s run its course really. Still too anecdotal by far, but how can I write seriously about myself at this time. You know, it would be much better if I’d just stayed away from music for a few more years and concentrated on being a football fan.

The following never got finished…properly…probably?

I have a wonderful way of obsessing over music for far longer than it merits before actually making a purchase. The thrill may lie in this part of the process as the music seems far less interesting once it has been purchased and also then belongs to a narrower feed. Lists and post-its in front of me detail about 200 albums and a clutch of eps that I will happily buy but they are obviously not all going to make the cut. I could always start downloading for free but this opens up the risk of slowing down this turgid laptop even further as well as it not being actually possibly to ‘get into’ 200 albums per month or so. iTunes limits me by charging money. It limited me more when hooked up to the UK version at £7.99/$175 an album, but now I use the gift tokens in Mexico where it’s a more reasonable $120/£5.50 or even a ludicrous $90/£4.10 in some cases. The Chris Robinson Brotherhood album is really one of the great surprises of the year and I downloaded it new for about £2.75. Surely that’s not too much to pay but just enough to keep me thinking?

So, how about actually obsessing over some actual music? Too easy? In that case I’ll obsess over things I’m waiting to buy but have yet to actually buy the tokens for. First up would have to be the new Ariel Pink’s Haunted Graffiti album Mature Themes. It took me a while to warm to this artist as, when he first appeared on my radar some 7 years ago, it seemed like a cult already formed, another private club that a few people in the know already belonged to but which might be wary of welcoming outsiders in. Also, the reviews didn’t help as they tended to suggest Prince meets Hall & Oates when, in reality, they sounded more like The Pastels in a playground. Don’t get me wrong, I like the earlier lo-fi stuff now, but at the time it didn’t sound quite so earth moving as had been claimed. Only with the 2010 album, Before Today did things finally click for me as they worked with an actual producer for a while and, more importantly, an actual studio. Thus fuzzy, half-realised and poorly edited ideas from earlier albums got the sheen that they needed to realise their ambitions more fully. It still sounds pretty odd in places but the hiss had gone along with the unrealistic key changes and impossibly long pop songs. Essentially it is that sound which indie kids and music journalists will attempt to assure the world is perfect pop and would be number one everywhere if it weren’t for fascists or something, but it isn’t that at all. Has anyone tried forcing a tweenie to listen to any of Ariel Pink’s albums all the way through? Would it not be a good idea so that we can get over this crucial first hurdle: THIS IS NOT MAINSTREAM MUSIC NO MATTER HOW MUCH YOU MAY CLAIM IT IS. This is quirky guitar music that references pop in a similar way to Talking Heads. It seems to be verging on aggressively anti-intellectual unlike T’eads, and yet the appeal lies in the echoes and hints of various 80s pop luminaries or even some of the more disposable pop of the 70s and, going back even further, it leads to crate-digging Rubble from the 60s. This is probably where I come in with my interest as I love discovering yet more obscure mid to late 60s failed pop/psyche/prog tunes of a slightly ridiculous bent. Basically, go away and listen to The Attack’s Neville Thumbcatch and we might be on the same page. A rambling paragraph reflects a rambling introduction into Ariel Pink and this surely serves as a sign of an artist I can really care about despite his seemingly disposable facade.

So, is this just more 21st century ironic pop-referencing bullshit? Shouldn’t we all be listening to Pussy Riot instead and keeping it real? Well, no, the facade is merely a surface to be scratched away like the masks on Pussy Riot, Adam Ant’s pirate gear, whatever Haysi Fantayzee were supposed to be, calling yourself Rotten instead of Lydon because it sounds better or calling yourself Sting because you are a cock. But those are just costumes and names and don’t refer to the actual music…except maybe Adam Ant and that’s surely not a method for lasting success and artistic merit that we should follow….certainly not as far as Puss in Boots. Is it acceptable for the music itself to use a semi-ironic masking in order to work on any kind of serious level? Well, it doesn’t help and yet it only restricts viewpoints rather than the artists themselves. Let’s see which names spring to mind when thinking of artists locked into their themes: Funkadelic, Hank Williams, Jim Morrison, The Clash, Morrissey and The Eagles represent a rather wide appeal. Throw in a few groups who have taken a scattergun approach to this and tried many weird themes and perhaps we are in Ariel Pink territory: Adam Ant again, Duran Duran and Kate Bush. I thought I claimed this wasn’t mainstream music?

Perhaps some reviews offer some context to the album or perhaps I could just get on with downloading the darned thing as there’s a lot of great sounding new stuff to get through this week. “Get through” – I should never write that again, it’s a pleasure to do this and not a trial so I should avoid phrases like that along with the lame opinion that something is ‘boring’ or even lame – am I still quoting? So, to the reviews…

I have stopped reading when we got to the phrase ‘deconstructionist free-for-all’ as it seems far too contradictory to be even remotely true – does it just mean random destruction? ‘1970s AM pop’ etc. Well, I’ve only managed a few paragraphs and can quite categorically state that if anyone has a problem with Ariel Pink, then it is one created by music journalism. In a an attempt to describe music that takes in many ideas seemingly simultaneously whilst also trying to lock into accessible melodies, music journalists seem to have created a monster who sounds utterly insincere and wacky for the sake of it. It’s as if one man’s artistic vision has become ‘Rentaghost’ – which it did on some level but surely that’s not Ariel Pink’s aim. I think the impurity of rounding up all the reviews to form an impression is never going to succeed and it is time to turn to the actual album itself…or maybe the one before.

Comments on one of the reviews seem to reveal a bigger picture. Either Mr. Pink is a hipster douchebag or he mocks hipster douchebags. He also inspires contempt but that might be okay. One comment linked him in with Love and barouque (sic) music from the 60s. That seems to make more sense as he seems to have come from the same L.A-centric background that spat out Arthur Lee and the music is not afraid to go in many different directions within the space of an album or even just a couple of tracks from the earlier stuff.

Well, plans to continue on this theme have really taken a diversion as I’m now obsessing over Yabby U’s King Tubby’s Prophesy of Dub after it provided some inspirational sounds for walking the dog and now I’m back with it again after listening to the excellent Harmonic 313 album from a good 3 or so years ago. Some dub just washes over you where as other material is primal and gets you in the groin and spine. – You can tell I really lost it at this point.

Back to Pink. After a few listens it is apparent that the album seems a slightly self-conscious step away from the more polished sounds of Before Today – something that is clearly announced in opening track, Kinski Assassin with its frankly ludicrous lyrical content and limited production values. However, plenty of songs do point towards a more mainstream sensibility lurking beneath the surface and this is something that the earlier lo-fi albums also managed to do. Perhaps Mr. Pink feels more comfortable with this album than what he produced on his first ‘proper’ album for 4AD.

Well, it could have been worse but could have been considerably better. The obsessing over music without getting to the point is ably demonstrated by what follows. Sorry if you’ve read this far…why did you do it?

Music of a More Innocent Time (197?-1982)

In reality there were plenty of innocent times to come but this entry seems to stem from a pre-aware time where cool did not matter and neither did a genre. There may be some overlap with other eras and a similarly bland period also arose in-between metal and indie and , arguably, the Britpop era lacked that aloof quality although I did pollute that ‘music for the people’ time with numerous obscure drum and bass 12”s among other oddities.

This is an attempt to try and look at the earliest musical influences on my soul. Some were purchased by others, a couple by myself but others were from television and many of those examples remain forgotten. I can remember the silver jubilee of 1977 but punk was a long way from my consciousness at that time. Pretty sure all these memories come from my primary school years though I’m not sure that that’s really an influence. It may even be that these memories stop long before my final year in primary as I am pretty sure that my heavy metal years had started by then as suggested by my light blue body warmer to which was attached a Deep Purple, Gillan and Saxon patch – 3 for 1, bargain!

The earliest remembered record is ‘Remember You’re A Womble’. It’s hard to say when this was bought as at its chart peak in May 1974 I was not yet 2. There was something about the chorus that made myself and a friend wait outside the lounge at Rose Cottage before we burst in when it reached a crescendo – I say burst in and yet that sounds too anarchic. My mother would have been there and so bursting consisted of merely waving hands and jerking about a bit without the possibility of any devastating minor ornament damage. However, these memories surely didn’t occur in 1974 and so my earliest musical memory is already a back catalogue affair, bursting or otherwise. As an aside, had my mother or father selected a different single from the time that ‘RYAW’ was at its chart peak of 3, they could have come home with ‘Waterloo’ (number 1), some Stevie Wonder or even Bowie’s ‘Rock nRoll Suicide’ – but the latter especially would have been rather unthinkable. Also new on the chart that week at 34 was my favourite Motown single, R.Dean Taylor’s ‘There’s a Ghost in my House’ but I’m pretty sure that my parents weren’t really into the Northern Soul scene. The song later peaked at number 3 in June thus equalling the Wombles’ achievement, something that our R. no doubt aspired to when he started out as a performer if not before. It can also be noted at this point that The Wombles must also be the first example of my liking for artists with an abundance of hair.

I guess most early exposure to remembered music would have come from childrens tv. I don’t wish to get too deeply into 70s nostalgia here but will just briefly mention a couple of notables here. A foretaste of later desires for fuzzy and generally flanged guitars in the name of various genres and sub-genres from garage punk to shoegazing probably stemmed from the Roobarb and Custard theme which also somehow verges on children’s blues once the harmonica kicks in. But, come on, does it really ‘kick in’? Hmm…  It turns out that the show was always called ‘Roobarb’ and only managed one series in that seemingly vital year of 1974. Again, I’m sure I’m dealing with repeats here. Also, my later jazz and acid jazz tendencies were preceded by a love of the original Tomorrow’s World theme music by John Dankworth – a Brit jazz journeyman and husband to Cleo Laine. The opening titles of the programme varied a lot but I do recall being fascinated by the idea that the yolk of eggs in the future might be fried into the shape of an ‘l’. Oh, one more, ‘The Flashing Blade’ – I could even remember some of the lyrics to this and it always seemed to be on television in the mornings for school holidays. It is of course a pop-sike classic from 1967 despite being French and was called ‘Fight’ by The Muskateers. It might have been a late 60s hit if it had been about peace instead of being about honourable fighting – again, despite being French. Similar shows include other future pop references as a mad person from southern England once taped me the theme for ‘White Horse’ and another show was of course Belle And Sebastian.

Essentially, from here one could disappear into a nostalgia trip coated in brown and peppered with references to Spangles and Vimto but that’s not the aim. Instead, I aim to understand a bit more about myself and my relationship with my parents through this writing and so, as one gets a mention, perhaps some background is wise. My mother’s favourite word might be ‘moderation’ or ‘sufficient’. Music was something religious to her or it might have involved The New Seekers. Harry Secombe was also part of this seemingly alliterative experiment but sadly not Eek-a-Mouse and happily not Deacon Blue – though I think she thought that Raintown was nice many years later. It’s rather disturbing that I managed to cross paths with that album – I blame my Prefab Sprout obsession for that.

Where was I, ah… mother would sing along with Songs of Praise along with her mother and I wouldn’t. Though encouraged to sing and go to church, it never really took hold – much like ecstasy didn’t properly grip me in the early 90s. I think the idea of owning more than 5 records may have been some kind of sin in her eyes, much like the sin of making too much noise – something which the best music is prone to do. Occasionally, there are snatches of a musical consciousness beyond light classical that emerge, a recent observation she shared with my wife that I was singing ‘Build me up Buttercup’ and the frankly turgid cover versions of Eva Cassidy.

Anyway, my mother may have been behind my godmother’s purchase of a single for me at some point in 1977. My godmother can never really think beyond Marks and Spencers in terms of presents and so occasionally needs a push to get something that the receiver might actually like. This once led to the wonderful gift of a Gabriel Garcia Marquez novella being offset against the hilarity of her enquiring after ‘Memories of my Melancholy Whores’ at a local bookshop which is surely right up there with my mum asking for N*****s with Attitude in Woolworths.

Curiously, this single seems to have stuck in my memory as my first single. Worryingly, this suggests that either my mum, dad or nan owned the Wombles single. I suspect dad here. So, what epic slice of seminal genius has stuck in my memory as my first ever owned 7”??? Mull of Fucking Kintyre…Mull of fucking Kintyre. Christ I hate that record. Tediously nice, number one for ever during the punk era and even featuring one of my most hated instruments. Do I have to mention it or should I say them? No, I can’t. All I can say in my defence, is that I recognised that the b-side was not as bad but wasn’t exactly wonderful either. What this also demonstrates is that, in 1977, I clearly didn’t like music at all. Further evidence of this might be provided by my mysterious ownership of the ‘We’ll Take More Care of You’ flexidisc from British Airways adverts. You received it along with a badge by joining some aeroplane geek club but the most important aspect of it is that the flexidisc itself would become a format so frustratingly impossible for most, that I of course had to love them in the late 80s as they were usually filled with the music of tweeness and often made by Shalala which would later morph into Sarah Records or a pre-Caff records flexi which was released by Bob Stanley of St. Etienne.

More background? My dad liked calypso and boogie woogie. This paints rather an interesting portrait of him which is at once both ridiculously untrue and grossly inaccurate or maybe that’s synonomy right there. He could also memorise song lyrics, but only if they were disgusting rugby songs which caused him and remarkably few others to laugh loudly. He claimed to have the original 78 of the test match theme but may have been confused here as Booker T and the MGs didn’t make 78s in as much as my father would never have bought an album on Stax. He also remembered hearing Elvis doing ‘Hound Dog’ when he went for his first curry in the first Indian restaurant in Oxford. My dad, not Elvis. Did Elvis like curry?

Dad and music are a very hazy memory at Rose Cottage. I seem to recall a Christmas Top of the Pops broken up by another row over something trivial between the two of them and so I focused intently on playing Connect 4 on my own and whistling along to Peter Gabriel’s ‘Games Without Frontiers’ and somehow feeling jealousy towards the children in the video who got to dress up and eat a big turkey whilst Gabriel lurked around them. If my parents had been there, they would have been in tears and Gabriel would have walked off – so every cloud and all that. The single was around in early 1980 and yet my wonderfully warm Xmas TOTP memory makes me 8 when this happened. This must have been the second Christmas after dad moved out. The first one would have been less grim and more memorable if either parent had invested in the recently released ‘London Calling’, but there was never much of a chance of that happening.

My dad also introduced censorship into my musical world. He banned me from watching ‘Y.M.C.A.’ on Top of the Pops when it was number 1 (early 1979…but it had been around for a while already) as it was considered “both cheeky and disrespectful”. I wonder if it was the gay thing? I’m not sure that he would have picked up on that entirely. I think he probably hated Rod Stewart more. Thankfully, the ban didn’t have the usual reverse effect that these things have and I also think that he started to respect The Village People once they appeared to be a little ‘cheeky and disrespectful’ towards the navy in the follow up as he seemed to share their derision – especially towards submariners as it would later turn out. I have no idea what he thought of ‘Macho Man’ and I don’t really want to know if that was when he realised that there may be sexual issues going on below the surface. In the middle of all of this ‘Mary’s Boy child’ was also a hit for Christmas so it was a fairly confusing time for all. Funkadelic even scraped the top ten at this point in history with ‘One Nation Under a Groove’ but my father presumably didn’t get down just for the funk of it even if I later loved this tune despite preferring their earlier ‘druggy’ efforts when Ed Hazel was around . I seem to recall my father being more supportive of another big hit of the time even if he probably did not share the political views of its performers, Ian Dury and the Blockheads. I think he was keen on the concept of hitting people with sticks, rhythm sticks or otherwise. ‘Car 67’ was soon to become a top ten hit and possibly the only one whose performer’s London flat I have crashed in but that was much later.

Later in February 1979, The Bee Gees’ ‘Tragedy’ arrived in the charts and I vaguely remember singing a rude version of this at primary school but this is oddly mixed with memories of a girl called Sian presenting me with the lyrics of ‘Geno’ by Dexys’ Midnight Runners – which, of course, came out the following Spring – cut out of Smash Hits. She didn’t like them and moved to Swansea. She also liked Adrian Matthews, not me and was very, very blonde…translucent even though not albino. Either way, I lost the lyrics or ditched them because I agreed with her…or ditched them because I thought agreeing with women was the best way to get on with them, ‘even then’ you may wryly add.

What next?

The first single that I ever bought with money in a shop – actually, I think it was in Manchester airport bizarrely or at least on a day when I visited Manchester airport to look at some planes and the shop was nearby – is a slight improvement on one of McCartney’s experiments in reaching new nadirs, but may be a nadir for original fans of the artist in question. It was also pretty poor indeed and yet I had a curious reason for selecting it. Through hearing this song on the radio in the car in the morning, I had managed to design my own black country version of it. I am not from the black country…and neither is Steve Miller. Yes, The Steve Miller Band – Abracadabra was my first purchase. I thought it was hilarious to sing along in a black country accent and produced the following:

Eyebrow, eyebrow Kid-eye* Brow

I want to reach out and gribe yow.

* – clearly the first ever reference to Kid A and knicked by some lesser lyricist with a wonky eye.

It’s not bad for a just turned 10 year-old, but it’s not great. The b-side, ‘Never Say No’ also sometimes still creeps into my consciousness which is strange as I didn’t realise that until just now when I looked up what the b-side had been. What is going on here? Things could have been worse, ‘Happy Talk’ was at number one and my mum liked that even if the singer had been a punk once.

Another single followed at almost the same time – clearly the makings of my later binging on vinyl and cds…and downloads for that matter. The Beatles movie medley was a hodge podge of Beatles’ movie songs that at least got me into the b-side which is a far more lovely prospect – ‘You’ve got to Hide your Love Away’. One wonders if mum, put off by the brash American world of Steve Miller, had managed to push for this release. Or was I just able to remember to buy two records in a fortnight?

Anyway, what startles me is this jump from 1977 to 1982 in terms of record buying. I had not realised that there was such a large gap in my musical interest. Can it be explained by football? Was it something to do with the final and inevitable collapse of my parents’ marriage. To me there separation and eventual divorce was something natural as the idea of them wanting to be together seemed so profoundly unnatural and painful for anyone who had to share the same space as them.

Another pre-proper interest memory of 1982 is the phenomenal revelation that ‘Night Birds’ by Shakatak made me feel genuinely nauseous or possibly it was car sickness in hot weather. Either way, the idea of Night Birds by Shakatak still makes me feel a little sick in much the same way that mashed potato does.

Going back to conclusions because doing so doesn’t make sense (???). The music contained within this memory seems desperately uncool. Never mind things I might listen to today, it seems uncool for the time. This suggests that far from a hipster of my age, I really was just a kid from a small village with little idea that music would become the main thing in my life that I could not be without and certainly no sign that this would happen within 5 years of the end of this piece.