An occasional series of posts in which any semblance of my credibility is blown out of the water.
As die-hard anti-capitalists, it’s curious how often music bloggers end up stuck in the rut of expanding their cultural capital. Yes yes, you saw it first, you know more, you have more records, you have a better analysis, you’re The Man. And always so tasteful.
Few find the time to write about aspects of their lives which might detract from their cred. Even the “ten records hiding at the back of your collection that no grown man should own” meme ended up being an exercise in wacky popism rather than abject embarrassment. Because we’ve already purged our collections of the really awful stuff – as part of the process of reinventing ourselves as dashing young things rather than spotty teenagers.
Maybe it’s time for a potlatch?
An envelope full of totally bonkers memory-recall turned up recently. Little squares of paper with dates and band names on them.
Squares of paper from a time in my life where I changed from being a polite boy who toed the line, into a polite teenager with a head full of weird ideas. Who wasn’t quite so sure about that line he’d been toeing…
I grew up in St Albans, a relatively well-to-do commuter belt town famous for its roman ruins. St Albans is about 45 minutes north of London by train on a bad day.
In the autumn of 1980 I started at a comprehensive school which had still had delusions about being a grammar. For example, they didn’t let girls go there. My parents thought this would help me to concentrate on my school work, but instead I found all sorts of other stuff to distract me. It was in many ways a classically nerdy childhood – comics, computer games, mates, science fiction… and music.
School was tribal. In my first year, you were either into two-tone OR heavy metal. Friends from primary school were suddenly all into heavy metal and so of course was I. At least to the extent of wearing a Judas Priest badge, but not knowing any of their songs. I liked Madness and The Specials more, but couldn’t admit to it. I liked Soft Cell and The Human League even more than that, which would have united both rockers and rude boys against me, had it been made public knowledge.
Later that year, I was given my first transistor radio as a Christmas present (Jonah Lewie’s “Stop the Cavalry” is the first song it played me – I was thrilled). At some point a clunky mono portable cassette player followed, which meant I could record my favourite tunes by pressing its tiny built-in microphone up close to the radio’s tinny loudspeaker.
I remember especially liking Tony Blackburn’s Saturday morning radio show for kids. He’d play novelty tunes like Captain Beaky, but also proper hardcore stuff like Grandmaster Flash and Furious Five’s “The Message”. In a parallel universe, hearing that record turned me into an instant b-boy with a catalogue of credible teenage experiences. In this one, it was just another great tune.
I’d spend Sunday nights polishing my shoes and making a vat of sandwiches for my school packed lunch for the whole week. (4 sets of which would then go in the freezer and be thawed out each night. Yes, they tasted disgusting, but I couldn’t be arsed making fresh sandwiches every morning.) During this weekly ritual I’d listen to the Top 40 rundown on Radio 1, occasionally rushing up to record something or other. I didn’t feel like my home taping was “killing music” because I was also spending virtually all of my money on music. Even, at times, money which my parents had given me to buy clothes.
The first album I bought was Adam and The Ants – “Kings of The Wild Frontier”, on cassette, from Woolworths. Many more followed, but I was always really excited by the idea of seeing bands in the flesh, alongside a mass of like-minded fans…
It is fair to say that my first gigs were not by people whose music has aged as well as Adam and The Ants or Grandmaster Flash…