Archives for category: Nostalgia

mbv

I took several stabs at writing about ‘m b v’ and still have a messy draft that I might attach to this once it is reissued in deluxe format in about 20 years but less than a year before I next write anything. This morning I opened my draft to find all the paragraphing deleted including the subtitles. It would happen for this album, wouldn’t it? The initial trouble with ‘m b v’ was other people (“they’re the worst!”) as every time I’d sit down to write about this latest musical event (for event read hype) of the year, someone else had beaten me to it by mentioning Stereolab, Spiritualized, Third Eye Foundation and many more little references. Reviews seemed to quote each other and, when read all at once, seem to blur into a multi-tracked buzz of excited riffing, just like the sound of My Bloody Valentine has always managed to do. There is something about the sound which makes music journalists reach for the thesaurus or even a guide to musical terms as agreed upon by the Melody Maker circa 1991. ‘Relentless helicopters’ was used somewhere and I like that. Just keep it simple but almost nonsensical…almost. After all, who is likely to read a review of this album as they think they might like it? Everyone who owns this album will already be a fan. The hype that has engulfed its release has ensured that anyone feeling a little left out must be totally alienated by the experience by now. Also, good sense would tell a music fan that it might be best to get into the early stuff first. This may be something that My Bloody Valentine now have in common with Bob Dylan and Neil Young among others.

The context is everything for this album. Is it just a matter of tidying up some old tapes that have remained unreleased for a long time? Is this the My Bloody Valentine equivalent, along with the ‘EPs 1988-91’, of Can’s ‘Lost Tapes’? If so, there will be no more to follow. So why announce live dates too? Surely this is then an old album that is finally seeing the light of day just like Dennis Wilson’s ‘Bambu (The Caribou Sessions)’ being tagged on to the excellent ‘Pacific Ocean Blue’ reissue of a few years back. Hard for the late Dennis to tour that release, but had he been around, you think he might have as it went straight into the UK top 20 album chart, something the original never managed. However, ‘m b v’ has been released at a price of $16 or 10 pounds rather than simply given to loyal fans who don’t want to shell out cash repeatedly or won’t. Either this is because the material is more important than a bunch of unreleased demos or the shields estate needs a serious cash injection and so ‘Odds and Sods’ MBV-style has been knocked out. No, maybe that was a possibility but surely not so soon after the remasters finally emerged. A third possibility then emerges that this is an album that shows signs of being begun over 20 years ago and really has only just been finished off after initially being discarded. Do we honestly expect a musician to have stepped into a studio 20 years ago, recorded various tracks for a few years that then get abandoned for almost 15 more years and for those recordings to not be similar to anything else that has appeared in the interim? Impossible! This album is a good, no excellent, version of what New Order’s ‘Lost Sirens’ is. It has been released by a band stepping back into the arena rather than one seemingly torn apart by infighting between its two most iconic members. It may reveal weaknesses in terms of some areas sounding a little dated but this should more than adequately balanced off against the nostalgia advantage that the album has. Is nostalgia valid in assessing new music? I would say it is but it can ruin things if allowed to run out of control. Any further MBV release would have to move forwards quite significantly or risk becoming their ‘Be Here Now’.

This then is a new My Bloody Valentine album that will be toured. If it sounds dated or unfinished, we don’t care as we’d rather not wait another 20 years for its completion. The only negative aspect to its appearance would be if it were to destroy a legacy, a mere shadow of the band hastily packaged as a cash cow from recording sessions that cost too much money to go to waste. It is interesting that the ‘Loveless’ sessions and New Order’s ‘Sirens’ sessions both seem to have cost a quarter of a million as did sessions for Keith Moon’s disastrous solo album. Looked at like that, My Bloody Valentine represent value for money. No more preamble…

m b v

Even the lower case letters are a 90s throwback. At least they’re not printed in the lower right corner and followed by an ironic question mark though their position is not far off the former. Even the album title has an ambiguity of either being tossed off demos without a proper name, or is it the definitive self-titled album that isn’t a debut? Did ‘blur’ get there first?

‘she found now’
Begins with a gentle drum and everything’s soft, fuzzy and warm with it due to the characteristic effects of a womblike pulsing. Womblike pulsing? Why do MBV always have this effect on writing? This really is a simple opener which breaks no new ground except for being the first track on an album which people have waited 20 years to hear. It would fit well on the ‘Tremolo’ EP. The wash of warm fuzz acts as a portal into the world of the album. Background sound around the room, nearby traffic or a television across the way are now merged rather than drowned out, one might say they’ve been caught by the fuzz. Either way, attention is focused on the album as there is no other option. So many peers and alternatives to MBV have long become background music rather than dominating the actual background so effortlessly. Maybe that is a strength to the group that I have only just realised. So there we have a new album opening up something new in what we hear of a known band. This is no unreleased demo then.

‘only tomorrow’
Wonderful booming drum sound! Vocals and bassline surround them to create something slightly more forward-looking in approach, beyond ‘Loveless’. A wonderful, lazily discordant riff saws through everything else in a way that reminds me of Moonshake’s first EP…which, ironically, predates ‘Loveless’. So the overall feel has returned to Shoegaze ’91. There is no real progression just a development of the existing mbv stock sound. A simplistic beginners guitar solo adds another memorable track over the top of the familiar perhaps helping to disguise the lack of anything truly original. However, that guitar does serve to make the song memorable.

‘who sees you’
Now, surely this could be a ‘Loveless’ outtake. Everything about the opening suggests classic MBV. The drum intro leading into the uneasy drone which resolves itself into something familiar with repeated listens. It’s not that it’s bad, but it hardly acts as a memorable addition to what already exists. This could have turned up as a bonus track on the remasters and no-one would have noticed anything out of place. However, how repetitive can a band be if they don’t release anything for 22 years? That’s tha advantage of what used to be the problem with My Bloody Valentine. Expectation may have not been simply for more similar, formulaic material but almost anything would do. After a while of absorbing the fact that this track is not going to rewrite the genre, the listener may become beguiled by all the classic MBV hooks falling into place. It is dreamy and hazy again, like no band since. It does not, as some reviewers may claim, require drugs to be appreciated. Instead, it creates that soporific effect. We can just leave this alone as we’re simply happy that there is more. It would be great if Talk Talk, The Cocteau Twins and The Stone Roses could produce something unreleased that sounds this good but I doubt they can or will. The La’s might have something left in the can but Lee Mavers probably won’t let anyone ever hear it.

‘is this and yes’
Many MBV titles are meaningless but they usually make some kind of sense. An ominous gap may be exclusive to my download so I won’t over-analyse. The gap makes sense if we are to divide the album into thirds. The title may suggest something existed before and after its content – what ‘is this’? What is the question that is answered with ‘yes’? This is the part of the album that sounds most like Stereolab interlude though it is a tad long to be a mere interlude. The title might be explained by the words but I’m not sure there are any. Quite a mysterious little track that doesn’t seem to even feature a guitar as far as I can hear. Whether this sounded like Stereolab as they existed in the mid 90s is unclear, but what is clear is that this track heralds in a new sonic landscape to the MBV canon. Is this progression going to continue in the second third of the album?

‘if i am’
More new sounds. This time a distorted wah-wah that might have allowed this track to fit on to a Kevin Shields solo album around the time of his ‘Lost in Translation’ work. However, for all the joy of a new sound we seem to be developing a line and length approach to the pace of the tracks. This song seems to chug along at much the same pace as ‘only tomorrow’ and ‘who sees you’. Of course Oasis’ debut chugged along at a metronomical pace but there the Britpop links must end. Instead, this sounds like Echo Lake or The History of Apple Pie could have included a version on their recent albums and the original author never be discovered. After a couple of minutes this listener found himself asking ‘is that it?’ It seems it really is it and that I should just let my guard down and enjoy it for all its classic MBV broken walkman stylings. That broken walkman reference has certainly been used before, possibly about ‘Loveless’.

‘new you’
Dated like ‘Soon’ by the time ‘Loveless had appeared? This would be fine as a ‘Lost Tapes’ track but not really on a new album. A kind of MBV-lite go pop. Comparing it to The Farm as I read elsewhere seems to go a bit too far but maybe it is not too cruel to suggest that this lighter track may have paved the way for a Bilinda Butcher solo career had it appeared sooner than 2013. What makes this track irk? The warm fuzz has been reigned in. This would now not seem out of place on the weaker major label Cocteau Twins albums but in a more tidied up form. Might this have sat comfortably next to a less commercial Pulp had it arrived on schedule? It certainly could suit a Jarvis vocal. Now we pause to see if anything emerges on further listens…no, definitely a bit dull. It suggests that they may have had to come up with something that Island might have wanted to release. It fails. It’s saving grace is that it acts as a good counterpoint to all the fuzz. It signs of the predictable section of the album and leads us into the considerably more gory final third.

‘in another way’
Distortion, that familiar Beatlesey drum loop, grinding sounds at the higher end and we’re off. This track feels like another era of the group altogether compared with the first 6 tracks. This and what follows feels like it belongs together with other similarly confrontational material while the rest of the album was almost an attempt to produce something Island could handle. This track has a beautiful chopping rhythm mixed with slightly dated keyboard sounds. This is the beautiful noise that we craved. This instantly puts cynicism at rest. This is what Paul Weller thinks his last album sounds like. It doesn’t. Noel Gallagher will have become instantly jealous of this sound too. Countless shoegazey bands, both past and present (should the present wave be described as Shoegazi?), have tried to capture this sound. Those from the past will be envious while those from the present may now go back to college. Really, what this song does is fairly simple and is not as earth shatteringly profound as these words may suggest it is. However, we can be sure that the emergence of this melody was not simple as it took 20 years to arrive. Still, making the complex sound simple and the simple sound complex is another great trait to My Bloody Valentine that always left mere imitators seeming laboured in comparison.

‘nothing is’
Barring certain moments in ‘You Made Me Realise’ and ‘Feed Me With Your Kiss’, this is the most aggressive sound MBV have achieved yet. It’s a shortly held record as they surpass all three in the following track. For now though, this is altogether rather heavy with looped drums and everything else. This brings in the aggression that Loveless kind of lacked when compared with those earlier sounds. This marks MBV out as a band that could have got heavier, darker and closer to American alternative music. It’s a thrash and a highly enjoyable one. As another almost interlude, it seems that more than just a solitary track should follow it. Does the ending we are building to then point a way forward into new material? Could this happen in the not too distant future, maybe in 10 years or so?

‘wonder 2’
Another loop? Are we now under attack? It sounds that way as the “relentless helicopters” song kicks off and maintains its onslaught throughout its full 6 minutes.It feels like everything is speeding up and slowing down simultaneously. Is that possible? Vocals emerge, which rhythm are they supposed to follow for a cue? Well anyone ever work out the lyrics? This  is chaos. This does not sound like Third Eye Foundation, this is more primal. This is wonderful. Beautiful and, yes, relentless. Smooth and choppy like a large washing machine with helicopter blades. What on earth does that even mean? This would blow the listener away on large speakers and will be ferocious live. It already sounds like it needs remastering. Towards the end it gets even louder and the washing machine helicopter thing seems to transform into a plane and disappear over some magical horizon after its highly enjoyable bombardment. This wins back drone attack from the United States airforce in the name of music.

There, done it. Have tried to avoid references to shimmering/cascading cathedrals/towers of sounds. Sorry about the washing machine helicopter thing. I kind of did the summing up in the beginning. Of course it’s excellent, what more do people want? Over to you, Talk Talk and The La’s but best leave it alone reformed Stone Roses.

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HMV opens on Oxford Street, 1921

HMV opens on Oxford Street, 1921

I imagine a number of people would be mystified as to why I would care about HMV going into administration. They would assume that my tastes in music would lead me to alternative and independent record shops. Sure, put me in Shrewsbury 20-odd years ago and I wouldn’t immediately seek out HMV, it would be Rainbow Records, Durrants and Cobweb – even Virgin before HMV. Chester, would see me head straight to Penny Lane. Bristol? Replay and Revolver and London seemed limitless for other options. In fact, it is even quite hard for me to recall the great albums or singles that I may have purchased from HMV and I do have clear memories of some classic purchases – Love’s ‘Forever Changes’ on vinyl from Our Price in Shrewsbury, Miles Davis’ ‘Kind of Blue’ remastered on vinyl and on sale in Penny Lane, Chester and many, many more. HMV played a different role in my life and it would be far more important now if I still lived in the UK. Though I can’t remember my first HMV purchase for the life of me, I did get Frank Ocean’s album in the Birmingham New Street branch last summer along with a few other things that must now be the last things I will buy there.

HMV was there! Last summer, in central Birmingham, I found very few shops that I personally would want to head for. I did my research in advance and found that HMV was the ONLY place to buy music in central Birmingham. There were a couple of places in the suburbs and I did find another place that seemed to claim the Swordfish name, but it was nothing like that wonderful shop used to be back in the early 90s (Primal Scream’s ‘Come Together’ 12″). Oxford Street was always a nightmare for crowds but a shop like HMV would be one of my oases of calm along with Virgin if I had time to kill. Obviously, I’d rather head down to Soho for Selectadisc, Sister Ray, Mr. Bongo or Mr. CD and Rough Trade in Covent Garden was not too far away and not to be confused with rough trade in soho which meant something else entirely.

HMV had big sales. Really big! Bargains were there to be had, or possibly not as that may explain why I can’t remember what I bought in there on so many occasions. Cheap DVDs could be found, music books at reduced prices and even a Hong Kong Phooey t-shirt (Chester). I could kill time happily by deciding I would get 5 CDs for £20 and then spend an hour compiling a long list before selecting about 8 or 9 and then trying to use logic to whittle them down to 5 and then usually discovering another ‘must have’ (translation: ‘rarely listen to beyond that week’) at the last minute and either starting again or walking out with 10 CDs for £40 and realising that I’d spent money originally intended for clothes or even groceries.

"You won't be carrying any of that awful 'jazz' that's ruining me, will you?" - Elgar on the far left at the HMV opening luncheon.

“You won’t be carrying any of that awful ‘jazz’ that’s ruining me, will you?” – Elgar on the far left at the HMV opening luncheon.

HMV has history. The first branch was opened in 1921 by Elgar! Elgar, for chrissakes! I must admit I only discovered that today and it kind of blows my mind. Incidentally, don’t think of pomp and graduation themes, instead listen to his first symphony (this is a rare example of my classical music knowledge so I have to use it while I can). It grew out of EMI, it took over Waterstones and merged it with Dillons, Fopp and the dreadful Zavvi shops too. It may have been rather an arrogant shark if the truth be told and the mergers have certainly help to homogenise British high street shopping but nevertheless, if it’s gone then so have all the previously mentioned brands. This is clearly where they went wrong. HMV attempted to take over the high street book, CD and DVD market just as Amazon and iTunes had managed to take people off the high street. HMV bought something that would have made them billions in the 80s or 90s but would only produce diminishing returns in this decade. Surprisingly, record sales are back on the rise but nowhere near the amount required for an organisation like HMV which explains why certain well-run independent record shops seem to be thriving even if more provincial ones are closing down than ever. HMV failed to move with the times and, when they opened, Elgar was going out of fashion too.

Nipper!

Nipper!

HMV had Nipper, the little Jack Russell that peered into the gramophone horn with curiosity as if to say “This Armstrong cat sure can swing it, now pass me some legal cocaine so I can like listen really carefully.” Apparently, Nipper wasn’t a pure bred Jack Russell but that didn’t concern me as the attraction was that he looked like my dog, Tuppence. Maybe this was the first thing to pull me into my obsession with music? From looking at the cute little dog to seemingly infinite Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy albums in just a few decades. Thus a name for a blog involving my two dogs was born. So that’s just nostalgia then.

So, it looks like HMV will disappear and it will be even harder to get me into a high street for very long. If Waterstones closes then there will be nothing to keep me out of the pub – a function society might regret on a national scale….obviously, I include other people in that statement and not just me on a national high street crawl. HMV was by no means the greatest shop in the world but I will miss it and wonder what on earth these groaning gaps in high streets will be filled with, or will they be abandoned like so many derelict city centres in the USA. Maybe we need to look to attempts at regenerating the likes of Detroit or Baltimore for answers and try not to dwell too much on what we assume from The Wire – no longer available as a box set from a high street near you.

Goths at the beach.

This short article picks up the thread of previous articles ‘Music of a More Innocent Time’, ‘Heavy Metal and I’, ’84-86: The Lost Years’ and ‘My Gran’s Contribution to the Lost Years’. I promise that the music gets better from here on in but only if ‘here’ is the end of this article rather than the beginning.

Did I ever seriously believe myself to be a Goth? The curly hair didn’t help. It would require daily ironing and thus, in becoming a Goth, I would be committing myself to a lifetime looking awkward waiting my turn for straightening  sessions in hairdressers. Where did it all start or nearly start? I think the Damned’s ‘Grimly Fiendish’ incarnation are to blame. Sort of cartoon Goth, Addams Familyesque almost.  For the sake of I don’t really know what, this article will refer to things being Goth rather than Gothic as that would suggest a more architectural and generally 19th century image as opposed to the poor quality copy affected by 80s teenagers, sort of like a tidy Woolworths opening next door to Harrods.

I certainly owned a few of the records and even some of my earliest CDs were Goth in nature. In fact, the first CD I ever purchased almost a month before I could play it on the CD midi hi-fi I would eventually own. ‘Floodland’ by The Sisters of Mercy in all its Jim Steinman produced glory. In fact, I think it was this superior production that persuaded me to buy the album on CD and simply wait for my Xmas 87 present. ‘Children’ and ‘God’s Own Medicine’ by The Mission were my only other Goth CD. They really weren’t very good. They were also my only Goth live experience at the Manchester Apollo. They split on stage though this may have been rehearsed for the occasion. I travelled there and back in the boot of a Vauxhall Cavalier, thankfully it was an estate. The Mission did serve some purpose in my future listening as their cover of ‘Like a Hurricane’ may have been my earliest exposure to Neil Young.

Typical Goth gig transport?

I also liked Siouxsie and the Banshees who had certainly gone a bit Goth by the mid 80s and also The Cocteau Twins who were liked by Goths though never really considered proper Goth. Mind you, their early pre-greatness material does suggest big Goth influences. Maybe, Goths used to buy the later releases in all their ethereal beauty and complain about the lack of misery and spiders.

The Cure also had a role to play. I think I developed a love of The Cure around the same time as my lifelong love of The Smiths developed. One inspired me to read and write literature. The other inspired me to consider lipstick, not comb or wash and to like insects. I recall discussing The Cure quite regularly during biology lessons along with Siouxsie and the Banshees, obviously I mean that Siouxsie and the Banshees were also discussed rather than they, Siouxsie and the Banshees, were my lab partners. That would have been interesting though.

So why did Goth not really take a hold of me? I guess that The Smiths handled the awkward teenage years far more suitably to my tastes. I also considered horror a little childish and the Gothic obsession with spiders could have been an almost boyish draw towards playing with insects. It must also be said, that a humorous disposition and inability to take things seriously would never sit well in the Goth world. As doom-laden introductory music would announce A Goth band’s arrival on stage, I would be thinking that things just seemed like the beginning to a Simpsons ‘Treehouse of Horror’ episode rather than the more existential attitude that pure Goths may have thought that they gave off. How could one ever take this movement seriously? Dracula has always had the allure of the exotic but, coupled with the setting of Whitby and the fact that the name itself comes across as a proto-Joycean pun, it does all seem rather ridiculous.

What remains of the unfortunate yet ultimately half-hearted Goth flirtation? I think black is still my colour though these days that might only serve to highlight my grey hairs. The Goths that I stumbled across often liked The Cocteau Twins and I still do. There’s the ‘witch house’ that’s around at the moment. I’m sure my enjoyment of Zola Jesus and Grimes stretch back to Goth. Post-Goth I also briefly liked Cranes but not for long before I cottoned on to the irrefutable truth: that they were shit. I also once fell asleep in a graveyard on top of a burial vault but it was no deliberate pilgrimage of doom, the graveyard was merely equidistant between the bar and the kebab van. It also happened in Reading and that’s not very ‘Goth’ at all really.

Back in the summer of 1988, strange things were happening to my musical taste which was otherwise hell-bent on a C86 indie obsession that wouldn’t let up. However, I had also bought ‘Trout Mask Replica’ and developed an interest in Rubble. The Rubble series of compilations of mid-late 60s obscurities seemed to attract me because of the naiveté of the whole experience, much like the C86 fanzine thing. The lyrics of these 60s tunes could be obscure, the production terrible but certain qualities shone through which appealed to me. The first Rubble album I bought was volume 14, ‘The Magic Rocking Horse’. However, before even getting around to buying a Rubble album, I stumbled across a cheap sampler album from the same label, Bam-Caruso, in Shrewsbury’s dependable but unappealing branch of Our Price. Actually, all branches of Our Price were fairly dependable but unappealing much like the bland suburbs and towns where they could be found. If the shopping was so-so, then the town shall have an Our Price; if the shopping were slightly better then there will be HMV!!!

The sampler in question was called ‘It’s Only a Passing Phaze’ (Ha-ha! ‘Phaze’ not phase! Like, wow, man!!!) and cost but a mere couple of quid. At the time this seemed good value to my tightly funded existence of the time, but on reflection it may have led to countless further vinyl, CD, box sets and now faulty downloads being purchased. It may still be the only place where John’s Children’s version of ‘Hippy Gumbo’ can be found on vinyl even though Bolan did it later with Tyrannosaurus Rex. Not that anyone cares.

The compilation album seems to be a dying art these days as downloading tracks for under a quid means no-one is going to realistically believe that they will want everything on most compilations and so instead they take the pick ‘n’ mix approach presumably as they can no longer have that experience at Woolworths, so people download for nostalgic reasons…well, I am talking about downloading a 1970 album which I heard a track off when I was 16 and now want when I’m 40, so yes! Anyway, compilations used to be significant if they were good – ‘C86’, ‘Pillows and Prayers’, ‘Doing It for the Kids’ or ‘Lonely is an Eyesore’. Often they were rarely attempted by a label but would then be sold for a few years afterwards as an introduction to their wares. Creation Records managed several legendary compilations before they disappeared into Oasis-dullness. These compilations led people, well…me, into exploring more Creation bands, these bands might then have greater sales of their next release and so the compilation had done its job.

If the above model for the Creation compilation is the norm, then presumably each record buyer will easily be able to select their favourite compilations by simply judging how many albums they bought by artists on said compilation. ‘In Love With These Times’ was a Flying Nun label compilation that has meant that I automatically look favourably on independent music that comes from New Zealand, Sub Pop 200 did the same for Seattle and probably inspired more than a million further sales. Though ‘It’s Only a Passing Phaze’ may have had a more limited impact on the wider music world, it directly led to my purchase of 10 albums featuring some of the 15 songs on it. That’s a pretty good ratio. Other comps tended to feature at least a track or two that I already owned but not this one. This one led to my rather strange and anal obsession with late 60s obscurities like ‘Tamaris Khan’ by The Onyx and, most importantly for this piece, ‘When You’re Dead’ by The Ghost.

Now, a little research (err…thanks brumbeat.co.uk) tells us that The Ghost were a Birmingham band set up by a former member of The Velvet Fogg, joined by a local folk singer and the drummer would later end up in Wizzard. All highly fascinating stuff – have I really spent almost 25 years searching for a recording featuring the drummer from ‘I Wish It Could Be Christmas Every Day’? Apparently I have and am now deeply concerned for my mental well-being. Roy Wood of Wizzard once entered a record shop in Shrewsbury where a friend worked, my friend rather pathetically said: “Are you going to be releasing your Christmas single again this year, Roy?” to which Roy Wood replied “F**k off!” and left the shop never to return. Let’s be clear, I sympathise with Roy in this anecdote. Ramble, ramble, ramble…

Right, back on task again, The Ghost track stuck out to me from the rest of the material on the compilation for sounding so other-worldly, in part due to its poor quality mastering, presumably straight from vinyl once their original Gemini label disappeared in a fog of joss sticks. It’s an up-tempo number led by an eerie 3 note Hammond organ motif and almost a Motown drumbeat. Most of the rhythm section is recorded in an inaudible blur and the vocals distort during all the multi-tracked harmonies. Part of the reason for the blurred sound may be the overwhelming hum of a Hammond high in the mix. Essentially, it feels like listening in on a secret recording of witches, albeit witches jamming in a late 60s west coast style. To this day, I cannot decipher more than the odd word from the lyrics – something about “Jonah”? The guitar emerges for a west coast solo but otherwise remains buried with everything else in the mix. The overall effect is hypnotic and slightly bewildering as the listener is left thinking ‘who made this and why?’ or possibly ‘who bought this and why?’ The song begins on an offbeat but at full speed which is maintained and even intensified by the time of the equally sudden ending which causes the song to almost disappear during what should have been its glorious finale. It’s all ominous build which ultimately leads us nowhere. If all prog sounded like this, it would never have been described as boring.

It sounds a little reminiscent of ‘Evil Hoodoo’ by The Seeds, only faster and with the fun and the style taken out. Perhaps ‘Silver Machine’ also sounds similar though recorded slightly later. It seems defiantly anti-commercial and cultish as if a wannabe Manson Family have got it together to record an album in their barn but for some reason set the instruments up outside the barn…in a different field.

‘When You’re Dead’ was the first song from this area of music that I truly loved. Many more were to follow once I’d fully explored the Rubble catalogue which I now have on 2 10CD box sets. The Ghost set me off on a long line of similarly unsuccessful groups from Wimple Winch to Fire and songs as hopelessly ridiculous as ‘Neville Thumbcatch’. However, none really matched The Ghost’s sole single for genuine weirdness then or since.

As I was new to the whole obscure 60s crate digging concept back then, I assumed that The Ghost would be fairly easy to buy. After all, another of their album tracks, ‘The Castle Has Fallen’ turned up on my first Rubble compilation mentioned earlier and purchased in Cirencester. However, at around the same time that I was discovering their old Rubble releases, the Bam-Caruso label seemed to be going through some of the financial problems which many small labels experienced back then when distribution networks would collapse from time to time. The Ghost album which they reissued seemed entirely impossible to get hold of within 6 months of its release though it did reappear on a slightly different label in 1991. Since then nothing seemed to appear on my radar though there was a vinyl reissue in 1999 which I missed before the album reappeared on vinyl from the original Gemini label and CD from Mellotron of Italy. However, my Mexican iTunes version is credited to Tam-Tam Media 2009 and it doesn’t work properly.

I heartily recommend getting hold of the title track but am sad to report that the iTunes version of the whole album seems incomplete as the promising sounding ‘Night of the Warlock’ is cut short and it is possible to detect a classic needle jump on one track. iTunes were most efficient in helping with this problem and did provide a full refund which is appreciated though the album remains as elusive as the horse in The Byrds’ ‘Chestnut Mare’. However, from what I can tell having listened to the album a couple of times, nothing on there comes close to ‘When You’re Dead’ for sounding so of its time and so unique too.

I suppose I must have had some consciousness of The Fall as far back as 1985 from mentions in the Record Mirror. ‘L.A.’ might have been the first Fall song I heard but the memory didn’t take hold as much as a later encounter. An early summer holiday in Devon in 1986 led to me having just an AM radio for company at the point where I desperately wanted to hear and absorb more new music. I can recall a Thursday night – possibly the night we arrived at the seafront house in Torcross – and a radio reception that made lots of interesting high-pitched sounds due to the proximity of the sea. At least, that was always how I understood it. I’ve been looking around for an appropriate word or phrase for these ghostly sounds but have failed to find one. Googling ‘ghostly AM radio howling’ just leads to lots of hackneyed lyrics related to memories which are of course vastly inferior to a piece of writing like this. I always hoped ‘wow and flutter’ might apply, but it doesn’t. This was always worse when there was no music and so John Peel’s usual seemingly random mutterings seemed to almost encourage single syllable words for clarity. That may be why I made out the name ‘The Fall’ amidst a description of the next song and some half-remembered reference made me stay listening.

The song was ‘Living Too Late’ and when I finally got it on the cassette of ‘Bend Sinister’ a few months later, it was obvious to me that I had liked something which had a tune I couldn’t remember. I may have just liked the line ‘crow’s feet are engraved on my face’ which might have been mentioned in a review I had seen. It’s hard to tell as I clearly just got a feeling from this listening experience and that would be a familiar feeling over the next 26 years. That summer seemed to allow the idea of a tune or a style to grow. The trip to Devon would not see any further development of Fall-love but did also see me by the double 7” of ‘Some Candy Talking’ by the Jesus and Mary Chain in the Dartmouth Woolworths. Why, when we went on holiday, did we always have to visit towns where I spent hours wandering backwards and forwards around John Menzies, Woolworths and the inevitable Our Price? – and they didn’t even seem to have them in Devon . I think a review also prompted the JAMC purchase though the novelty attraction of a double 7” certainly did no harm.

Come September, I wanted more obscure records than Oswestry would ever provide – well, at that time certainly. During the previous school year I had ordered a 7” single through a friend at school: Wait for the Blackout by The Damned. Now I decided to take this further and ordered a further couple of 7” singles: ‘Almost Prayed’ by The Weather Prophets (a classic possibly also first heard in Devon with added AM effects possibly provided by the sea, the atmosphere or even the ground according to my brief bit of radio wave research) and ‘Mr. Pharmacist’ by The Fall.

‘Mr Pharmacist’ excited me. It came in a really interesting sleeve with little bits of information and obscure references all over the back, as did all Fall releases in those days. It was certainly a beguiling way for me to be enlisted into this cult of fans – look, James!…lists of things and stuff! Yep, that hooked me. I can recall looking at it while awaiting a check up at the dentists on Salop Road. That set out like it was going to be a profound memory and yet it really isn’t, just a small moment stored away ever since.

The actual song itself (finally!) also excited. It felt like slow punk rock or like slow punk rock was supposed to feel as I understood it then: less frantic than a shouted manifesto lasting three minutes and yet more sure of itself and defiantly militant – yet decidedly apolitical. It felt ominous as well as fun to be involved in, though that may just be my idea of fun. It was drugged but not druggy despite seeming to be about a dealer or just a pharmacist selling over-the-counter ‘legal’ highs. The production sounds like it was an afterthought, but any Fall fan soon gets used to that. After all, this song was from an album that was mastered from a C90 cassette and probably an extra-brown ferric Memorex cassette at that. What impresses me most about ‘Mr. Pharmacist’ is that it manages to sound exactly like the original by 60s garage band The Other Half and exactly like a Fall song at the same time. It brings to mind the classic John Peel quote about the group:  “The Fall: always the same; always different.” This also points to the fact that the song sounds like it belongs in 1986, a garage band from the mid to late 60s and yet its punk spirit oozes the late 70s. Of course it would also sound at home in the future within the later sounds of The Jon Spencer Blues Explosion and the inevitable White Stripes. Now, it could be the sound of yet another Ty Segall single, if he could summon up the undercurrent of malice suggested by Mark E. Smith’s vocals. In The Fall’s version of this song, you suspect the pharmacist might get done over for his product if he doesn’t comply with the singer’s wishes whereas the original suggests the group might be chased off by an ageing pharmacist wielding a broom or shaking a fist at those cheeky monkeys. The Fall’s pharmacist would of course be a chemist and therefore probably wondering why this sarcastic-sounding Salfordian fiend is addressing him as ‘Mr.Pharmacist’ while his band members are in the background throwing items from the shelves at each other. It’s the scene in the shop from ‘This is England’ without any racist overtones – you can’t technically be racist if you feel contempt for everyone as it sounds like MES does, it’s a more universal version of unpleasantness.

The opening syllable is uttered without the band, they come in on the second. This is the same on the original yet here it sounds deliberate rather than ramshackle, or possibly deliberately ramshackle? That seems almost a neat summary of The Fall’s entire recorded history. As a result of the band’s late entry, they seem to spend the rest of the first half of the song trying to catch up with the vocals. They almost seem to achieve this with a slight reggae lilt to their developing competence. Of course, in reality, being in The Fall generally meant trying to keep up with Mark E. Smith and his whims and sometimes having to do so while he tried to unplug the bass guitar…live…mid-song.  Maybe the reggae lilt is false confidence or an attempt to skip a note of two as the band only truly sound comfortable during the sped up break in the middle – as perfect for an indie disco wigout as it would have been for the 60s version possibly first experienced via The Count Five’s ‘Psychotic Reaction’. The Other Half’s original borrows the wigout and adds the customary garage band harmonica (something for the singer to do while the real musicians are playing?). The Fall have no harmonica, punk rock generally shuns them. Once we get back to normal speed, it seems like the band have caught up with the vocals and the song really does seem to have developed its swagger now and so it ends. I can’t imagine MES tolerating a band swaggering behind him for long without a good kicking being administered. The song ends as it began – this seems to be dictated by Mark E.Smith and the sudden, shuddering stop suggests his absolute control.

The original song sounds like some guys hanging out and having a joke and some fun, The Fall’s version doesn’t. The original song sounds like it was recorded for a keg party. The Fall sound more like they have been taught to follow using this track and maybe it was a way of introducing new drummer Simon Wolstencroft to the methods of his new band or, more pointedly, his new band leader.

I could go on to discuss the b-side, but that’s never a sentence opening designed to encourage readers or audiences to declare “Oh please do!” unless sarcastically. Also, said b-side appears to be one of the few Fall songs I don’t own digitally but the title alone backs up my points about malice or the threatening tone of The Fall: ‘Lucifer Over Lancashire’.

Liking The Fall became a badge of mine very soon after this point. Liking The Smiths seemed easy, but this lot of Mancs were a different kettle of fish and suggested a private club rather than the Salford Lads Club. There was definitely an element of pretension there but a worthy one. Better to be pretentious about music like this than many of the other 80s options. I shudder involuntarily at the hint of a memory of once considering Lloyd Cole ‘deep’. Of course, Lloyd Cole’s brain and face are actually made out of cowpat, everyone knows that – according to Mark E. Smith in one of his more famous putdowns.

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.

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.