Tuesday, May 31, 2011

1991: Those who find themselves ridiculous

I embraced Baggy and the whole Madchester scene. I say embraced; I cut my hair like the man out of The Farm (myself) and wore the clothes, liked The Stone Roses and The Mondays but that's about as far as it went. I never went to a rave or anything. At 25 I felt I was a little old for all that. Of course I wasn't, but when you're the oldest of your siblings and everything's new you don't know what to think. Still, don't think I missed much.

But until the year before I had never been to Manchester. Mrs F-C (before she was Mrs F-C) and I took a trip to see some friends there, and do the now long-forgotten Granada Studios tour, where you could go down Corrie Street and visit other sets, most which I forget, though I do have a picture of me on the steps of Number 10 Downing Street. What was that for?

Anyhoo, that trip is most memorable for the journey up. Stopping for petrol I heard the news that Thatcher had resigned while paying. Everyone was just standing around stunned. It was a moment.

This song fell into that bracket, though but by mid-91 that whole scene was coming to an end. About this time that year I joined a friend and his housemates on a driving holiday in the Loire Valley. It was a hoot. We went everywhere, sampling the local brews as we went. Surprisingly it didn't end in tears so much as someone being bet !0 Francs to eat the contents of an ashtray, which they did.

Split between two cars for the duration, our driver, a bonkers housemate with a honk of a voice that would shame Adam Boulton had Sit Down on a loop. And I mean, on a loop. I once managed to get him to play my own compilation, but he drew the line at The End by The Doors. Too long. Too old. Not James.

So Sit Down we did, all through France. Amazingly enough I still like the song, and I did learn that the song wasn't a paean to Austrian go-to Nazi specialist Max Von Sydow.

Friday, May 27, 2011

1989: Am I only dreaming?

Hear that? That lovely soft-focus keyboard intro to Eternal Flame is the sound of my tears mixed with the sound of the rain falling down outside.

Yes, it's March 1989, I'm 22, Eternal Flame is rocketing up the charts and I've woken up on my first Monday without having a job to go to. I was totally devastated. Not because I liked the job - it was actually okay - but I was going to miss being with all my mates.

I worked in a large central London bookshop and had done for the past year. Everyone else who worked there was in exactly the same boat. Just left university with not much of a clue what to do next except to be in London. It was enormous fun. We went out every single night. In retrospect it was exhausting, but I wouldn't have missed it. Everyone there was on a temporary week by week contract that could come to an end at any time, all depending on the mood of the legendary owner, who'd sweep in once a week more or less unnoticed and pick at random.

So my day had come. What was I going to do now? If I hadn't been made to leave I might still be there now, it must be said. I'd be one of those unhelpful and rather bitter middle aged men who've lost all social skills except to raise a superior eyebrow and tut.

March became April and I remember rainy visits to the Piccadilly Circus branch of Tower Records, looking out the little window of the soundtrack department onto the street below and thinking how much I liked London in the rain. So rather than get despondent, I bucked up.

I spent the summer varying between relaxing and lying-in, lying to my parents that I was working full-time, signing on, learning to touch type, doing wine deliveries around London for a friend of a friend who ran a shop in Holland Park where I also did a bit of work, and where Ruby Wax lived over the road, all the while not letting being skint get in the way of having a buoyant social life. And we had a great flat overlooking Battersea Park, £45 a week all-in, including bills.

All the while I was applying for jobs. And then something turned up. But that's another entry.

(Can't embed from YouTube at the moment). Vid coming soon.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

1983: SOS calls caress you from market stalls

This song was all over Radio Bahrain in the summer of 1983. That was a long, hot summer, in a place I didn't really want to be. All my friends were back home, and now I had three months stretching ahead, with nothing to do but go swimming, listen to music and hook up with the odd pal I'd made out there, but for whom I cared little. Of course the thought of three months doing bugger all is like a dream to me now. But then as now, I wasn't a sun worshipper, and though we were never out of the pool I spent nearly all my time listening to Radio Bahrain.

It was great. An English-speaking station that was a cross between Radio 1 and Radio 2, with no discernable playlist. And, unlike those aforementioned stations it oozed silkily across the airwaves in crystal-clear FM, great for taping off. I spent hours poised over the record button.

Tim Manns, Bob McReadie, Ian Fisher, Adrian Ross (who we loathed as a family), etc. All DJs with (I think) little or no broadcasting experience just doing it because it was fun and because they could. They all had other jobs too, so once Tim Manns had finished on the breakfast show he'd go into work. I think he's on Jersey radio now. You'd hear all sorts of people you'd know popping up on phone-in comps which were really easy to get through to. We won all sorts of things: jet ski afternoons, buffet lunches at the Diplomat Hotel, endless T-Shirts, calendars, etc. I was known by name and by voice.

You could just phone up and get straight through to the DJ and ask for a request. Depending on their mood they might actually play it for you. Even so, you were as likely to hear The Belle Stars followed by Kenny Lynch followed by The Cure followed by Bob Seger. Hollywood Nights always makes me think of this time.

Any new entry into the UK Top 75 was flown over courtesy of British Airways and fresh off the plane they'd give them a Juke Box Jury-type spin to see what were the platters that mattered. For a music-mad 18-year-old missing access to the British music scene this was very exciting indeed.

Looking back, this, along with monthly tapes of Top Of The Pops you could get at the video shop (along with other British programmes taped off someone's TV) meant I wasn't missing very much, though because I considered myself rather alternative I thought I was. You could even get Smash Hits at the shop on the corner. Tsk!

So this sunny song reminds me of that summer, Malcolm McLaren created, in their odd tops and US football helmets, it was the soundtrack. Still love those African Hi-Life sounds.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

1979: Betrothed and divine

I'm not sure if it started before I was 14 or after I was 14, but I'm pretty sure that the school youth club was not on my radar until I was 14.

As a third year, we were now allowed to attend youth club every Wednesday. It was held in the school hall - preposterously named The Forum - which was the size of a smallish B&Q with a stage, dusty curtains and an upright piano. All this seemed to vanish on youth club night - or simply 'club', as it was known - and it was given over to hordes of teenagers drinking panda pops, smuggling alcohol, secretly smoking, snogging and shyly dancing to the hits of the day, all while trying avoid the teachers on patrol.

Anyway, as the autumn term began and I was now old enough I was dying to go. It was all the rage. One girl was furious that her grandfather's funeral clahsed with club. I wonder what she thinks about that now? But I had nothing to wear. I had just turned 14, I was still a geeky spod becoming aware of fashion. I'd stopped buying records by this time. I can't remember what put me off but I know that between The Smurf Song in '78 and Passionate Friend at the end of '81 I only bought two records: Up The Junction by Squeeze and Are 'Friends' Electric by Tubeway Army, both on the same day.

However, I still listened to the radio voraciously and followed the charts and there were many, many songs I really loved, but I just didn't have the inclination to buy, which considering the times was a terrible waste. I've filled all those gaps since of course, and after Passionate Friend I was back with a vengeance, making up for lost time and buying, buying, buying. I've not stopped since.

Anyhoo, the record that really reminds of 'club' is Into The Valley. This non-sensical, impenetrably wordy post-punk stomper was a club favourite. I recall my friend picking me up of the dancefloor and turning me over, Richard Branson-style. It was meant to be a larky, punky gesture reflecting youthful high spirits, but it just ended up with my money falling out of my pockets and red faces all round.

Pockets. I remember my jeans had holes in the knee and instead of buying me a groovy new pair mum patched them - with pockets from another pair of jeans. She thought it was trendy. Instantly I knew it was not and I wore them shame-facedly, past the fourth years checking you at the school gates in a threatening fashion, past the scary girls smoking, past the scrum at the tuck shop. This would never do. No one said anything outright, but it was wrong. As Auntie Barbara had remarked while mum was sewing, 'it's the beginning of the end!'. And she was right.

But that was the last time I went. And I never wore those jeans again.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

1970: Her hair is kind of wild and free

On New Year's Day, 1970, mum came into the room I shared with brother, drew the curtains and announced: 'It's 1970 today, boys". And from that moment, I became aware of life. I'm pretty sure it was snowing that day too.

I was five, and now it all started really going in. We'd always had the radio on, and I do dimly recally things like These Boots Are Made For Walkin' and Sunshine Superman, and was aware of groups like Marmalade and The Beatles, so much so, that I remarked to my dad that we'd not heard much from the Beatles lately and he told me they'd split up.

So songs like this today's featured tune were rammed into my young head relentlessly. This came out in February, 1970, and I was ready. The kid-friendly bubblegum nature of songs like this, Christie's Yellow River, Middle Of The Road's Chirpy Chirpy Cheep Cheep and The Pipkins' Gimme Dat Ding all made their mark, and whenever I hear them I get a warm glow of nostalgia and everything is alright with the world.

On another note, it was not unusual for songs to be sung about women called Barbara, Rosemary, Marie, Pamela, Jane, etc. To the modern eye it'd be like singing a song about Margaret, Edna or Maureen, names for - in the main - old women. Has the name song died out? I can't think of one in recent memory, unless you know better.

Monday, May 23, 2011

1985: We build it up and build it up and build it up...

It's early 1985, and I'm my second term at university and of course by this time I've dumped all my first term friends and found a whole new lot, which meant a much more exciting life.

It's unavoidable that, isn't it? You get thrown together with people early on and much as you like them they're perhaps not quite what you're looking for. You meet people over the course of the term who are much more 'you' and the deal is done.

So me and my new pals are at a post-pub house party in what I recall was a very sumptuous student house, so sumptuous that it had one of those stand up record players, where you front loaded your disc and could see it playing. They didn't last long but as a space saver it was a marvellous idea.

Anyhoo, they only seemed to have two records. You Spin Me Round by Dead Or Alive had set the world alight and was hurtling towards the number one slot, while this little gem (see below) also went Top Ten, probably because we played it so many times that night it got in everyone's brain and they went out and bought it. I know I did.

It was a great party. I got horrilby drunk, we danced our heads off to just these two records in rotation and a good time was had by all. I remember red velvet curtains and heavy furniture.

The next morning however, I woke up on someone else's sofa and had flu so bad I was in bed for a week. I drank so much Just Juice I almost turned into an orange. And we had no central heating. Times were hard.

Friday, May 20, 2011

1982: I'm gonna learn how to fly

Who wasn't caught up in the Fame bug of 1982?

If I remember correctly the Fun Boy Three kicked it all off. No, stay with me. With their leisurewear look, string T-shirts and vests and trackie bottoms everyone was looking like they kept fit, even when they did no such thing. Being 17 when they were at the height of their powers, I was doing this too, though to not such great effect despite my best efforts.

But everyone was doing videos that involved aerobics: Girl Crazy by Hot Chocolate, Work That Body by Diana Ross. It was at fever pitch.

 I really noticed this was all the rage when I came up to London to meet my dad who had jetted in to meet me and take me back to Bahrain for the summer, where we lived at the time.

Everywhere you looked, London was like one giant Pineapple dance studio - in the early 80s non-Louis Spence way. So it's fitting that the song I heard everywhere I went was Fame by Irene Cara. People were practically dancing in the streets, or at least, through a 17-year-old who never failed to be wowed by London cool it certainly seemed like it. So I went straight to HMV Oxford Street and bought the record. And I got a nice pair of new tracksuit bottoms too.

The Terry Hall haircut, inspired by a picture in a Bayswater barber's window was however not a success. Passing on the bus, I glimpsed this great but impossible do that I just had to have. So I went in, pointed to the picture and died inside as my lustrous locks were transformed by knife and fork into a pompadour. I wanted the lazy plant pot look, not to look like Liberace. Dad was horrified. It was flat by teatime.

Hearing fame will forever remind of a sunny, vibrant, exciting early-summer London, a place I wanted to be and would be a few years later, though nothing was ever quite as in the moment as it was then.

And this was also the day I met Trio. But that's another story.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

1977: That horn belongs to Little Boy Blue...

A new blog. The other one is dead, having run out of steam, so here's a new one, inspired largely by this excellent blog

It's a trawl through my life, a song a day (hopefully) and all the memories it evokes, but this is going to be slightly different - that is, it won't be in any chronological order.. So without further ado, let's begin.

As a starting point, let's go back to the first record I ever bought for myself, in February 1977, aged 11 (and a half). And that record is Jack In The Box by The Moments.

For years I told people my first record was Hotel California, as I thought it sounded less nerdy. But not believing in guilty pleasures or anything silly like that, it's time to 'fess up. Thing is, when I did buy it, I didn't really want it.

We were staying with my aunt in Dudley for half term. My dad was on business up there so dropped me and brother off to stay with her.

She had a major house in the middle of nowhere - but it had a swimming pool. Sadly it was February so that was one avenue of pleasure already closed to us. But she did her best, taking us to Warwick Castle (the setting for the opening passage of the novel I'll never write), Stratford-upon-Avon (the buffet at the Hilton was lovely, but she didn't take her Edwardian-style motoring helmet off once) and no trip to the Midlands would be complete with a trip to the very scary Bullring in Birmingham.

This record however was bought in Beatties which I think was in Dudley, but I've never had this confirmed. I was getting into music thanks to friends and neighbours and started having Noel Edmonds' Radio 1 breakfast show on in the mornings and was gearing myself up to becoming a member of the record-buying public.

I'm not quite sure what tipped me over the edge, but I found myself in the record department. In those days, more often than not, you had to ask at the counter and - feel my pain - I was rather embarrassed to ask for a record called Daddy Cool by Boney M.

So instead I asked for Jack In The Box. I supposed I quite liked in a kiddie way, but it's totally unmemorable. I asked for it by chart position. All the singles were displayed this way - and that's always the way it should be. So after buying it and realising I really, really wanted the Boney M one I found a hitherto untapped well of courage and went back and asked for it. By chart position. So I can actually remember what the first two records I ever bought were.

That night back at my aunt's, we played the records with our older cousins. They raved about the Boney M one. But they didn't much care for Jack In The Box.

And to think, punk was already around the corner.