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.