Thursday, June 30, 2011

1987: If you're in confusion, here's the solution

Carefree student days were at an end, and after six weeks doing not very much when I should have been doing a great deal, it was time to move to London at last.

Some might call it rash, others bold, but I had no job to go to and was just going to try my luck. I didn't have any money either, but at least I had somewhere to live.

I'd got a room in a house through a friend who was also moving to London. Unfortunately she couldn't move in when I did so I'd have to brave it on my own. We'd been up to see this house, which was a nasty little terrace off the rather grand sounding but actually execrable Manor House in north London.

She was in a horrific mood, as was her wont, when I arrived to collect her and what should have been a fun road trip was fraught with tension. Not having driving in London before I found the whole stop/start gear-crunching routine to be a total nightmare, and after running over a huge cone and getting it stuck underneath the car in Upper Regent Street the car finally overheated and we were by the side of the road in a then desolate Fitzrovia for what seemed like hours. When Smokey Sings was on the radio every 15 minutes, and while it was nice to see ABC making a comeback the future for mum's beige Cavalier was not looking too promising.

We eventually got to Manor House and met one of the people we'd be sharing with, an old acquaintance of my friend who was called Andrew, was an artist and who looked like Jesus. He may as well have had a neon sign with the word 'knob' atop his head, but my moving in was weeks away. A quick trip to the landlord to register me and it was job done. I was sure it would be fine.

So on my moving in day I arrived at about midnight after leaving home - just a couple of hours away, at lunchtime. I got totally lost and circumnavigated London via the M25, eventually finding my way down past Barnet and Southgate and other mythical districts, known to me only from the Tube map.

Of course I had no key yet, and Andrew was not amused by my knocking him up after hours. This is when it was confirmed to me that not only did he have no sense of humour but he was also really mean.

The next morning I had to drive the car back and so got the train up to London. Mum packed me off with the remains of a moussaka and after forcing the temperamental front door lock I could finally unpack my room and settle in. First thing I did was plug in the stereo and tune the radio to Capital. I lived in London now. It was the law.

But my rear ground floor room didn't feel like home. Andrew and his Spanish girlfriend spent all their time in their room. They used the kitchen to silently and prissily prepare vegan meals which they would then eat in their room. I only got told off once for using milk and apart from that I never saw them at all.

It was grim. The phone was incoming calls only, there was no TV and no one else in the house. The front ground floor room was apparently inhabited by another artist whom I never met, but whose equipment was always assembled as if someone had just left the room. I'm sure it was staged. I once met someone on the doorstep when we were both locked out for about four hours until the key just suddenly worked. He was a nice guy, we got on. I went away for the weekend and never saw him again.

So I spent that first balmy night in that house lying on my bed listening to the radio, smoking and feeling the vibrations from the Piccadilly Line passing underneath, while this song cropped up on the radio time and again.

I had to get a job but had no clue what I wanted to do. But what I did know is that I didn't want to stay in this house.

Reader, I stayed two weeks.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

1984: I'll say you'll let me be your friend

With A levels just around the corner and UCCA forms filled out, I was invited to an open day at Cardiff University.

It wasn't something you could really do in day - though I'm sure I could have done it if I'd tried - so I went to stay with some friends of mum and dads in Bristol.

I'd known them all my life and they were terribly kind. A childless couple with a huge house they let out rooms in, though in a kind of Thriller, eye-looking-the-ceiling way, and seemed to go on forever. They made me very welcome, and I'd been to stay with them at winter half-term in 1982, packed off by my aunt. That's a whole other entry. So I was happy to stay with them.

Only now do I know they led totally separate lives, but put on this united front for visitors. Not that it ever seemed like they weren't a couple at all. My mum had met her when she was the Hoover demonstrator in a department store in Bath in 1962 and they'd remained friends ever since.

Anyhoo, my journey began in Guildford, where on my way to the station I was stopped and asked if I'd take part in some market research about beer. I duly complied, and found myself with eight free cans by way of a thank you. What was I to do them, I wondered? It didn't occur to me that I should drink them or take them as a gift, so I put them in the bin and carried on.

In Bristol we went straight for a curry and then I should prepare for the next day. This being merely an informal open day meant I should naturally be trussed up in a suit.

All I could think of that day was, why did I wear a fucking suit? Why didn't I just go casual. There were no interviews involved, it was merely a brisk introduction to the law faculty and no one would bat an eye. But that was me: told I should wear a suit I did just that and dreamed of being in my basketball boots. Did everyone think I was a major geek?

I don't remember much about the day, except I palled up with three other people, two blokes and a girl, and we spent the day in each other's company. We also all got the train back to Bristol and wondered if we'd see each other in September. Someone pointed out that we didn't even know each other's names. I can't recall them now, but who knows, it might have been you?

We didn't see each other in September, as things worked out differently for me. Not for the couple in Bristol. They're still together, ancient but still together. How and why is a different matter. Don't tell me.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

1982: Turning the joint upside down

All songs from our youth are evocative, whether they're good or bad. But some bring back such awful memories you never want to hear them again. And without wanting to bring you down or nuffink, this is one of those.

By rights, this piece of storytelling pop fluff, released as the summer holidays were just getting going and at the height of Kid Creole and the Coconuts' fame, probably reminds some people of the best of times. For me, it's the worst of times.

It's late one evening in Bahrain. Mum and dad are out. The phone rings and it's my grandma who, having studied the local paper's obituary column in forensic detail as she always did, has read about the death of our next door neighbour. He’s died of meningitis. At 15.

I'd never received news like this before. I couldn't really take it in. I remember instant tears. I was stunned. Our good friend and neighbour, someone we'd grown up with had died. I was totally floored.

Until this point it had never even occurred to me that a friend might die. Sure, we'd known people die but no one I was close to. We’d had the son of a friend of my parents die of a brain tumour at 20 a few years back, but I didn't really know him. He was older than me and he wasn't my friend. The odd relative had popped off, but I barely remembered Auntie Mary or my grandad. Uncle Ted was the last relative to die, in 1978, and though he'd been to stay a couple of times he'd lived in Canada for more than 30 years. It didn't count.

That day, everything changed for me. I became obsessed by death. It was something that was out of my control and I didn't like it. I probably thought about this every day for about 20 years. It now informed the way I lived my life.

This neighbour was only a year younger than me. He’d come home from school on the last day of term feeling ill. The doctor thought it was flu. When he started fitting an ambulance was called and it took countless doctors many hours to work out it was meningitis. By then of course it was too late, and the family made the decision to turn off the life support system.

I remember the day we moved into our new house in 1975. He was playing in the road and he offered me and my brother a go on his skateboard. A firm friendship was cemented, with him and his sister and the rest of the family. They could’nt have been more different to ours being intellectual, musical and eccentric. But firm friends were were and despite many fallings out with him and the rest of the neighbourhood kids over the years - one summer would be with them, the next spent with the three kids next door but two, then friends again for Christmas - you know how it was. But we were always going to be friends.

Just before he died, he became music mad, taping any song that came on the radio that caught his fancy. ABC's Poison Arrow and Graham Parker's Temporary Beauty were two I recall he played over and over again. The later is quite apt really. I can't hear it without thinking of him.

Without sounding melodramatic, I really think that the day he died was the day my childhood died. The end of the innocence and a massive jolt into the real world I was not ready for.

It’s nearly 30 years ago, but it’s still raw. My pain is nothing compared to what the family went through of course, but it’s pain nonetheless.

Monday, June 27, 2011

1979: What it don't get I can't use

It's the fag end of the summer holidays and we're on holiday with mum (dad had to work), in Ryde on the Isle of Wight.

In the back streets not far from the town centre we're renting Nob and Bob's cottage, in actual fact a terraced house but fit for purpose being minutes from the beach.

'We need to know more about Nob and Bob!', I hear you cry. Well, when my aunt lived on the island in the late Sixties they became pals with this couple Nobby and Bob. I can't ever remember known what her real name was, but they called her Nobby when she joined the WRNS because her surname was Clarke, as they did to everyone in those days. They must have been in their sixties even then.

They were hoot, and seemed to have plenty of money. The last time we'd seen them was at a nudist colony just outside St Tropez the year before. Knowing where to look had become a problem. But that's another story.

The holiday involved my brother and I being given some money each morning and going down to the arcades on the front to play pinball, the game in which the money's teetering as if on a waterfall - penny falls? - and other delights. We'd go back for lunch and then do the same again in the afternoon. Mum lay on the beach all day. We wanted for nothing it seems.

There was time for daytrips too, like tne day, we went to see Moonraker and mum dropped off (well, it's not great, is it), and there were trips to old favourites like Alum Bay for the coloured sands, Black Gang Chine for the dinosaurs, Sandown, Shanklin, Cowes, the zoo at Robin Hill where in 1970 mum had demanded the peacock fan its tail or we were leaving, which it did, to our utter delight. There was also visits to Gurnard, Ventnor, the wax museum and all the other delights the Isle of Wight had to offer. We were frequent visitors then. As it stands, I've not been back for 32 years.

One day, a friend of mum's and her daughter came over for the day from Southampton. The Isle of Wight ferry was frequent, short and cheap, so why not? The daughter was my age and had been in my class at junior school but now went to secondary in a rival catchment area. I'd probably not seen her for about three years but it may as well have been a lifetime.

I remember we walked the length and breadth of Ryde, and we talked whatever happened tos with old classmates and found common ground in music. Wherever we went we heard this song. Along with Duke Of Earl by the Darts, Gangsters by the Specials and The Prince by Madness, Money was pumping out of every tearoom, arcade and ice cream stall. It was most unusual with its post-punk electronic bleeps, deadpan vocals and stomping beat. Of course I had no idea it was a cover, but it sounded great at the fair. Then again, what didn't? This song still stands apart today.

Whenever I hear this song it reminds me of carefree late summer days. I had nothing much on my mind then. When school started in a few weeks' time Two-Tone mania was sweeping through, and there was going to be plenty to think about.

Friday, June 24, 2011

1985: Whoever said that elephants were stronger than mules?

As previously mentioned, I stayed in my university town for most of the summer of '85. I moved into a house where four friends were already living, and we were set to have a high old time.

But you can't do that on fresh air, so we all had to get jobs. Someone became a barmaid, someone did some manual labour and two of us signed up with a temp agency to see where that would take us.

If only we'd known.

After doing a week sorting out B&Q's show warehouse with another student who was back in his home town for the summer and who spent every lunchtime eating chips in his Mini Metro while I wandered up and down an A road, I could barely go on.

There were only a few things to choose from: an abatoir (the smell so awful I can barely even think about it), the Mr Kipling cake factory which I sadly didn't ever get to, BBC South canteen (not nearly as glamorous as you'd think, if you think BBC South sounds in any way glamorous), clearing out old offices of junk and best of all, working in an insurance company.

Some days there would be no work, though if you didn't hotfoot it out of there right away the woman in charge might spot you and bundle you into her minibus and whisk you to the meat-packing plant.

Insurance was far more civilised. Me and my housemate must have done about a month there, though we both phoned in sick at least once a week because it was so boring and you know, we had stuff to be getting on with, like endless 21st birthday parties, not going with my housemate to Live Aid (she had a spare ticket given to her), because I'd never heard of it and looking forward to our bargain holiday in Corfu, which is another entry in itself.

I did do actual proper work though, kind of, and joined in the office bitching about head of department Margaret, a large woman with curly black hair and who never stopped talking. One day she arrived really late, and being a major stickler for punctuality everyone was ready to pounce as she'd not phoned in.

When she breathlessly arrived she apologised. She and her husband had matching red faux silk bomber jackets and she'd put his on by mistake and taken his keys to to the petting zoo he managed and he couldn't open up. So there was a mad dash back to Bishop's Waltham. That's all you need to know about her to form a picture.

Her second in command was Kelvin, a peroxide blond, mulleted school-to-work local who wore a light grey suit, light grey shiny soul slippers and white socks, who though initially frosty became fascinated with students, and used to pop round unannounced to have a look through my record collection and come to the pub.

And while all that was going on, this was on rotation, beloved by the household and turned up full volume to annoy the aged sisters next door who heard every sound and every word you said, though who were very kind when my bike was stolen.

Though the Around The World In A Day album isn't really a patch on the previous year's Purple Rain, it pricked something in me that made me really want to explore the music of the Sixties, so thanks Prince for opening that door to me. Paisley is very evocative. I was soon to become obsessed, even though it was Jeepster by T-Rex and She Sells Sanctuary by The Cult that were also played to death that summer. Now where did I put those love beads?

Thursday, June 23, 2011

1983: Where did the feeling go?

What a turnaround from this time last year.

Far from dreading going to boarding school with all my heart I now couldn't wait to get back. And I mean, couldn't wait. Terms always stared far later than other schools, so after a very long, very hot, very boring summer in Bahrain in which I did very little but make mix tapes and go swimming, I was dying to return.

School had been brilliant, and it was to be all change on my return. At the end of the previous term we could request which house we wanted to be in and who we wanted to share with, and this was already in place. The olive leather-clad Malteser was leaving, and though we didn't hang out together or were ever really friends, we did reach an understanding and the day he said goodbye was quite sad one after all. He swept his after shave collection into his expensive luggage, boxed up his Eurohit collection including things by Fischer Z and Italian women I'd never heard of and moved on. I wonder what he's doing now?

The new term would bring new possibilities and lots of new faces, clearing out a sizeable chunk of the Nigerian/Arab population and bringing in a whole load of fresh British and European meat. Did I mention this was school was mixed? Good times were ahead.

But in the meantime I was preparing a new me for a new school year. Three months away can be a lifetime when you're a teenager, and it really dragged. The friends I'd made the year before were no longer around, and though my cousin had moved to Bahrain by this time in search of a new life following her redundancy back home, she was a older than me and had her own life to lead, which she did, in spades. There's someone who never looked back.

So there was nothing much else going on for me than my music, with fortnightly trips to the supermarket to get a prized copy of Smash Hits before they all went, and taping the latest chart entries off the radio. The one song that reminds me of this impatient period was this Big Country song, which though is about rain-soaked humdrum towns was just as apt for a hazy, dusty, low-evening sunsoaked oil-rich Gulf state.

Of course, the day I arrived back at school three songs I'd not even heard yet were on everyone's record players: Modern Love by David Bowie, This Is Not A Love Song by PIL and the new number one and Red, Red Wine by UB40, which is a whole other entry in itself.

Until then, enjoy this Eurohit. Is that Aramis I can smell?

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

1982: Hard times

Pure and simply, this song reminds me of going to an outdoor disco in a supermarket car park. It ended while it was still light.

Yes, I danced.

No, I don't want to talk about it.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

1986: And where were all of your laughing friends?

It's this time, 25 years ago. Year two of uni was done, exams over and I'd just turned 21. I was in no rush to get back to Bahrain, and I had a month or so before we were going en famille to Bangkok and Phuket, which in those days was as exotic as it got. Phuket was but a fishing village, not the Benidorm it is today.

So I'd decided to stay down post-exams, renting a room in a friend's house. Thing is, the friend was not there, she was up in Chester, so I was rattling round in this really rather nice little terraced cottage that her father had bought for a song all on my own. But that's okay, I like my own company and besides, everyone else was staying around for the summer, weren't they?

It seems not. Last summer I'd done the same thing, five of us sharing a house which was a hub of social activity and we had a very memorable summer. But this year, where was everyone? You could count them on one hand. It was not what I'd had in mind. Everyone chipped off as the weeks went by until there was no one left but me a guy on my course whom I barely knew but who kept popping in unannounced. It got so I had to keep the curtains drawn and the TV low.

Anyway, having just taken delivery of my first cheque card there was nothing much to do but spend money. This is all very well if you have money. After having my card declined on my fifth trip to the M&S foodhall and seeing my cheques to my landlord bounce down up and down the country another avenue of pleasure was blocked off and my tenure was shorter than expected.

But it didn't stop me while it lasted. In those days my cashpoint limit was £25 a week. This could go quite far if you weren't a fritterer like me. Hopeless with money until about 2003, I didn't know - or didn't want to know - when to rein it in. I bought endless records, clothes, books - you name it, and had to make that tricky phone call to my dad. (Thanks Dad!). Not everyone has that safety net. Perhaps if I hadn't I'd have been more frugal.

But looking back I did quite enjoy my short time in this little house in Dover Street. It was super cosy, and as the weather wasn't that great, despite it being the height of the World Cup, I was quite content to stay in making mix tapes and watching Brookside and the odd interesting match. The only draw back was how creepy it was at night. I was often too scared to go downstairs to the loo, and put if off as much as possible. Never piss in a carrier bag was a lesson I learnt far too late.

Anyhoo, this strange record reminds me of this time. I'd never heard it before I bought it, but I think it may have been Record Mirror's single of the week, all about the death of Brian Jones. The lead singer is now a non-gender specific person, by the way.

Monday, June 20, 2011

1982: There's been a change inside my life

The summer was over. Surprisingly, it had been a great summer. I'd worked in my dad's office - publishing, so quite interesting, we'd been to New York, San Francisco and LA, back to England at the height of Come On Eileen then back to Bahrain for a month until it was time to finish off the sixth form at a boarding school in the heart of the countryside. Back down to earth with a bump. I was dreading it.

As September dragged on Bahrain was cooling slightly, getting a hazier outside, Big Blue Marble on the telly, days drawing in. I'd never felt so unsettled.

I was seen off at the airport by the family and faced the whole experience on my own. I loved flying having done it a lot, and I had my little routines. I didn't want to speak to anyone, I'd plug in to my state of the art Walkman and listen to Tin Drum on a loop. To this day Japan's version of All Tomorrow's Parties soothes me when things get a bit rough on planes.

At the airport I'd spotted odd, rather ancient woman of indeterminate nationality who looked just like the Ruth Gordon character from Rosemary's Baby. As we cleared customs she shuffled up beside me linked my arm and asked me where I was travelling to.

'London,' I said, trying to be as taciturn as possible in the hope she'd get the message and go away.

No such luck. 'And I, to Paris', she said, theatrically. 'Come, we shall sit'. My plane went on from Paris to London. In those days, depending on your route, you always had to change. This made it doubly exciting for me, as I got to wander round aiports like Schipol or Zurich or Kuwait. Nowadays I'd just want to get there, but back then I was in no rush to be anywhere.

So I told her I had to go to the Duty Free shop and never returned. I saw her later and she pursed her lips at me. She finally got the message. I often think of her. She was probably fascinating. You couldn't have made her up. No one spoke like she did outside of films. I probably missed out there.

But I needed to gather my thoughts. I was being met by the school at Gatwick and was told to look out for the sign. I was leaving my old life behind and going to join a bunch of squares stuck in the 1970s. My life as I knew it was over.

And I was right. There were two others being picked up along with me. A fat boy with greasy hair and a sullen Nigerian. The school was full of expats' kids like me, rich Nigerians and Arabs and a smattering of other nationalities. Big Blue Marble indeed. There was no uniform, you called the teachers by their first names, it was two to a room and you could smoke. Should be great, right. But I was still dreading it.

The minibus ride to the school was tense. The windows were steamed up. No one really spoke. The woman who was known to all as Matron was jollying things along. I wasn't in the mood to be jolly.

We arrived in time for tea. And there was... just the three of us. We'd all arrived a day before school started. We tried to make conversation over sugary donuts and milky tea, and I realised they were returning and I was the only new boy. I was relieved when it was time to be distributed to our various houses.

Mine was a 10-minute minibus ride away in a large house built to look like a Norman castle. Would my record player be there? Would it have survived the summer after being dropped off by me and mum what seemed like years before?

Indeed it was. Thank God for that. My room was on the edge of the main house, but not actually inside it. It was actually a really great room. It was at the foot of the housemaster's back stairs, and at least one member of the family would thunder down with their dogs thrice daily.

It was cold though, and I was feeling slightly lonely. This brief respite As I lay there on the bottom bunk I was wondering when my roommate would arrive - and what he would be like. All I knew was that he was Maltese and he'd already been there are year.

I didn't need to wait long. The door burst open and in a blaze of olive green leather, stonewashed jeans and Kourous he came. Curly-haired Eurotrash who never stopped talking. I knew instantly we'd have nothing in common.

He spotted my record player, opened his suitcase and put on his favourite song of the summer...

Friday, June 17, 2011

1978: He thinks he's tough

Teachers and music never crossed over when I was at school. I've heard tales from those only a few years younger than me about teachers doing compilation tapes for pupils or lending them their albums. I cannot imagine anything like that ever happening when I was at school, and if it had it would have been met with a) derision; and b) mortification. Plus, I doubt any teacher would trust any of their charges not to wreck their records.

That said, there was one occasion when a teacher revealed that he actually listened to music - the music we listened to - and it elevated him to almost legendary status among my peers by the final bell. With everyone but me that is, because he was a PE teacher and PE teachers disliked me as much as I disliked them.

This guy was probably early twenties (ancient!), had a beard and longish hair, a Hampshire accent and wore a powder blue Adidas tracksuit that would make Sue Sylvester green with envy.

It was the time of Jilted John, John Shuttleworth in punk parody period at the time when punk was already doing that itself. A great comedy tune with lots of great lines that were quoted to death by all, especially the 'yeah, yeah, it's not fair' bit, and it had risque words in it like puff, tart and - yikes! - moron.

One lunchtime, as this was being reenacted for the zillionth time, this PE muppet walked by, chuckled, and remarked, 'yeah, but on the other side he's going steady with Julie'.

He knew what the B-side was! Everyone marveled at this revelation. It struck us that teachers were human too. Well, some of them. I bet Miss Ogg liked Sandy Denny.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

1990: Cover me in ecstasy

This year was a bit of an annus horribilis for me. I had a flat I couldn't afford, a mortgage I was about to defualt on, nightmare flatmates, a job I hated at a law publishing company that was dry as dust and at which I was totally hopeless as it was too boring to hold my attention, a horrible boss and I was as skint as you can imagine. People in Winter's Bone had a better life than I did.

Okay, First World problems aside, it wasn't really that bad looking back, but at the time it was pretty grim. You get a bit stuck and think there's no way out. Of course there always is and I found it eventually, but you've gotta go there to come back, right?

We had a great flat, three bedrooms, mansion block, corner of a park but it was horrifically expensive. For me alone it was about £700 and when I was only earning about £900 a month back then, times were tough. Then my brother, with whom I'd bought the flat, decided he didn't want the responsibility of it and promptly moved out, leaving me to deal with it. A succession of flatmates from Hell followed.

Still, at least at the end of July I had a holiday to look forward to. While my brother was being held at knifepoint in Morrocco, I was off to Jersey to stay at the home of the future Mrs F-C whose parents were away. With another couple of friends, we went for a week to a place I'd not been since 1974, when Hughie Green was the star guest at the Battle Of Flowers. It was boiling too, and we made the most of it.
We even went to a rave.

Well I say rave. None of us were ravers in that sense, but there was one being held at the now sadly demolished Inn On The Park. It wasn't really a rave - just a disco that played acid house, with psychedelic projections on the walls and a green apple on each table in the bar area. I wore all white. We danced till dawn, especially to this song, my one big holiday reminder. Never liked it then, don't like it now, but in this week-long window I could sort of forget about work and the flat and having no money. Back to work on Monday.

But first I had a wedding to go to in north London. About six or seven of us had become super-tight at work - the only saving grace, and we're still friends now. We were all about the same age, but one of us was getting married - at 25! How young does that seem now? The wedding was a grand affair, but it hadn't even crossed my mind to buy a gift but having no money there wasn't much I could do about it. However, I learnt new dance skills watching people younger than me frug to Loaded and Kinky Afro and I'm Free by The Soup Dragons. It was new dawn. And it was boilingly hot.

Oh well, back to work on Monday, and on one told me what irritations and hysterics awaited me. Only another five - long - years to go then, until I joined the profession I'm still in today...and finally found something I was good at.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

1982: Look at mother nature on the run, in the 1970s

As I've mentioned here before, I really, really didn't want to go to boarding school. But I had no choice in the matter. Circumstances dictated that in the autumn of 1982 I would have to go and finish sixth form there.

So at half term in early June, Mum came over from Bahrain and we went to visit the school I would be attending. Most important of all, I'd be dropping off my record player.

We'd seen loads of brochures for schools, and there wasn't one of them that didn't have a picture of a group of rather dull looking youths sitting on the grass in their flares reading books. I was horrified. Was this what my leisure time would entail? Would these people be my friends? Where were the New Romantics?? I would be leaving my semi-urban but to me very modern life and would be incarcerated in the heart of the country among the cast Survivors, and not in a good way.

The school we chose was in the middle of nowhere outside Guildford. It looked like Hogwarts, a rather forbidding Victorian gothic mansion converted from private house to private school and a far cry from a purpose-built Sixties block on the edge of a conurbation. It was all going to be very different.

That day we drove up it was blindingly sunny day, House Of Fun was number one but one song that kept coming on the radio on the drive up was, as I have since discovered, a re-release of a Neil Young song covered by folkies Prelude that for some reason was back in the charts. No one mentioned the F word back then, and this was probably the first real folk record I'd heard outside of The Lightning Tree and Daytrip To Bangor. Folk was square with a capital S, and it was clearly the sort of music that would be beloved by my new school chums. There wasn't a bit of cut-off leisure wear in sight. (These days I'd kill to be lying in the long grass listening to Curved Air or Fairport Convention, but that's another story).

The school was empty, what with it being half-term and as we deposited my record player in the headmaster's office his expression was one of 'you'll never fit in here'. With no students around it was hard to tell what it was really like, and the pictures of them in the corridors just made matters worse. Did no one else have a record player? Did they spend their time at the chess club? I spent the summer not thinking about how awful it was going to be.

Thankfully I couldn't have been more wrong. Not a flair in sight. The best days of my school life were just about to happen. And I love this song.

Monday, June 13, 2011

1972: Er...

If I put a heading in here, I'd be giving the song away, seeing as it's Mouldy Old Dough and the only words are indeed mouldy, old and dough.

This honky tonk piano led knees-up pub singalong was a surprise hit in 1972, a surprise that is to everyone but me. Not that I was remotely aware of charts or anything aged seven, but I do remember this song very well, and it's imprinted in my mind like all the other bubblegum hits of the period. Child-friendly novelty stuff that caught on with the nation as a whole and has stood the test of time, albeit as a slice of can-you-believe-those-crazy-Seventies!

This was played at every kids party from its release right up until we were too old and too self-conscious to be bouncing around to plinky-plonky silliness played by - gasp!- old people. Lieutenant Pigeon were a motley bunch whose numbers included a Mrs Mills-alike, a man with a beard (mother and son, IIRC) and other bizarre specimens. It was apparently written about the introduction of decimal currency the year before by the men behind that kid's TV mainstays and non-hitmakers Staveley Makepeace, and I remember thinking it was ever so slightly rude and therefore must be sung at the top of one's voice.

After Desperate Dan dented the Top 20 to leave not a mark on anyone's soul, no more hits for the Pigeon were forthcoming, sadly, but I do own I'll Take You Home Again Kathleen, which is exactly as it should be. The bagpipe extravaganza that is Amazing Grace was the other big instrumental number one hit of the year, well-remembered by us as Grace was my grandma's name, so everyone chuckled whenever it was mentioned. Still do.

So it's November 1, 1972 and we're at a schoolfriend's seventh birthday party. This record is on a loop as we marvel at the father's train set, taking up an entire conservatory with town and country in miniature. We played what's the time Mr Wolf, ate cake from Paul's Patisserie (THE go-to place for party cakes, then and now) and got pear-shaped balloons to take home. It was All Saints Day we were told, it was dark and cold and so much fun. Nothing mouldy about it.

And that's how to spin out a split-second memory, TT.

Friday, June 10, 2011

1980: Such a digital lifetime

It's a chilly January,1980. It's meant to be all silver spacesuits and food in pill form by now, and the only people recognising this fact are the obviously way-ahead-of-their-time and imaginatively spelled New Musik, pointing to a bleak, faceless future, with this ice-cold slice of jangly, strangely sad electronica.

In the real world, meanwhile, we're in the fourth year and we're allowed to stay in at lunchtimes. No more huddling against the wind behind the metalwork block in duffle coats and fur-trimmed parkas for us. It's the warmth of the French and German rooms, the radio on, swapping badges - and illicit gambling!

It's the height of 2-Tone mania, and those rooms are a sea of black, red and blue Harringtons covered in cod-mod badges, skinny black ties orderered from the back of Smash Hits with the Madness logo printed on them, tassled loafers and black brogues ('This is all very smart,' trilled my mum when we went to get some Sta-prest trousers. 'I think it's a mother who makes up these fashions.').

When you're 14 going on 15 and you earn £3 a week from your morning, evening and Sunday morning paper rounds, money doesn't get you too far. So gambling it away every lunchtime was not really an option. That said, it was so hard to get into a cardgame and plonk your tuppence down that it didn't really matter anyway. Watching was as interesting as playing.

I say 'cardgame' - it's hardly Boardwalk Empire. Think Grange Hill with one eye out for the caretaker. It was also the height of Grange Hill mania. Hadn't Madeleine Tanner just gone shoplifting with Cathy Hargreaves? If so, it was the talk of the town.

That said, I remember lending a really mean boy 2p, which he swore blind he'd pay back. I knew he had no intention of doing so. When I bravely asked him for the money back out side the newsagents he pushed me, said he had no idea what I was talking about and slashed my bicycle seat. He looked like and behaved like bowl-haired bully Michael Doyle. I think he went to jail eventually, and if he didn't, he should have. Embarrassingly, his sister was all over the local paper that year after nicking from the till in a restaurant where she was a waitress. Obviously ran in the family.

This little fad didn't last very long. I can't remember why it died out. Perhaps this illegal ring was overturned by teachers or perhaps everyone simply lost interest. But though 2-Tone was the thing, Living By Numbers provides the soundtrack to my underground activities.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

1988: All we've got is this moment

So it's autumn 1988, I'm midway through my year at the bookshop, living in a lovely little flat in Kennington minutes from central London when suddenly I find myself homeless.

Well, not suddenly, but homeless definitely.

In late May I'd 'temporarily' moved in with a friend who offered me the room in her flat for £50 a week inc. bills until her proper flatmate arrived from Italy in September. The friend had a new job as a stewardess on cross-channel ferries (think Kate O'Mara in Triangle - no, really), and would only be in the flat perhaps one day a week.

It was perfect. Minutes from work, and out every night without a care in the world. But as usual for me back then, I didn't do anything about thinking beyond September. It was a summer that seemed like it would never end, probably the most fun summer I ever had, with just one party after another with a bunch of like-minded friends who all just happened to work together.

But then it came. The new flatmate was arriving next week and as agreed I was to move on. I asked around, and a friend offered me his flat for three weeks while he went to Barbados on a holiday which he'd won in a competition. What a contrast. A bedsit in a hideous yet large former boarding house with no bathroom and which overlooked a graveyard. In Leyton.

Beggars were in no position to be choosers. I remember Orinoco Flow for the first time on the Jonathan Ross show, and Sherlock with Michael Caine was a hot new mini-series. I rearranged the furniture, attempted a bath and lit the gasfire. It was alright. But that too had to end.

I did a few days on floors, but the wheels were in motion with two other friends to find a place. Eventually we did, an amazing mansion block apartment at the foot of Albert Bridge with views of Battersea Park, and all for £45 week including bills. I wonder if that still happens now?

That was a tricky time. I did three weeks in Greenhithe, Kent, at the home of a friend's brother who was never there, middle of nowhere, dying for a wee on the train from Charing Cross, then walking in pitch darkness to the house, then up again at 6 in the dark and off back to work. My God it was grim. And tiring. Bluewater is there now, but I remember the grocery shop where you still had to ask for groceries. Archaic even then.

I'll never be going from sofa to sofa again, but looking back it was quite adventurous if not rather stupid. But hey, we've all done it, right?

So the one song that reminds of me of cold dark October/November mornings as the clock radio clicked into life is this one. It was a toss up between this and Kylie's Je Ne Sais Pas Pourquoi, both are huge reminders of this time, but Need You Tonight won out. It's that familiar riff I heard endlessly coming from the pub jukebox before I knew what it was. It's firm favourite, and a reminder of a time of thrilling uncertainty I'll more as likely never see again. I hope.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

1981: We were two souls torn apart with bitter ages

At least I think that's how it goes.

I couldn't bring myself to listen to Imagination's debut hit Body Talk for ages, as it always reminded me of doing my O levels. Yes, exam time, and because you're ensconced in your bedroom, ahem, "revising' you hear a LOT of radio.

This, Ai No Corrida by Quincy Jones and There's A Guy Works Down The Chip Shop by Kirsty MacColl are the three songs that most remind me of this dreadful time.

This was an unsettling period for me. Dad had gone to Bahrain in November 1980 to start work, with mum and my brother due to follow once my exams were out the way. I'd spend the summer there and then..?

As a 16-year-old, who would be too old for the school in Bahrain, what other options were there? Relatives were not an option, mum wasn't going to stay here just for me and I absolutely would not hear of boarding school. So a schoolfriend suggested I move in with them and after a few phonecalls it was all sorted out. But it was unsettling. What might the future be like in a post-parents world?

I'd only been away from home once, on a 10-day German exchange in 1980 (blog entry coming soon, BA Robertson fans), and although I'd loved every minute of it, there was an end in sight. Not so this time.

By the time May and June came around I was in full-on non-revising, badly prepared, head elsewhere mode, and exams were just an interruption and inconvenience to my day. We'd moved out of the catchment area which meant a really, really long walk from home to school and vice-versa, and my only thought during exams was to finish them as quickly as I could and get home sharpish. But it did take me past the record shop. However, as previously explained (see entries passim), I was not in a record buying frame of mind, the only one I ever bought was You Drive Me Crazy by Shaky for my brother's birthday. It had a yellow pop-out centre. (What do you call those middles of records?).

Consquently, results were not good. But that's another entry.

So this song, reminds me of waking up to the Simon Bates show, it was hot, this was always on and while it is to me now a rather languid, exotic-sounding Rnb slow burner that just oozes sex, to me back then it was the sound of uncertainty and worry.

Nothing like being a bit dramatic, is there?

Since then I've met Leee John, who shoved a signed photo of himself inside my shirt at the launch of Reborn In The USA, and then again at the birthday party of a friend who'd hired Imagination to do all their hits. I learned to love this song at last.

Everything turned out alright in the end, as it always does.

Monday, June 6, 2011

1979: And the turnips don't grow very high

One of my most embarrassing moments involves this song. I was caught singing it at the top of my voice by my brother and his pals.

To set the scene, I was in the garden hunting down the back door key from the greenhouse - we were latchkey children, you see - and with it being such a catchy song and everything I just couldn't help myself. How they laughed! Luckily it never really got round the school. I think everyone secretly loved it.

You don't get songs like this in the charts anymore. Quite apart from the fact that Britain has been kidnapped by RnB, when was the last time a bunch of schoolkids had a hit together?

That's not to say that's a bad thing. In fact, children hate singing children. We used to think Lena Zavaroni was a precocious devil doll, and as for Bonnie Langford! Of course Bonnie's a joy today, but a singing, dancing, showbiz child - neine danke! Eyes and teeth, darling, eyes and teeth.

We used to passionately loathe the Why Don't You? gang, derided Ben the Birds Eye beefburger boy, wanted to take a machine gun to the Junior Showtime crew and wipe out St Winifred's School Choir. Sickly. Yet strangely touching of course.

So who were the Ramblers? You tell me, as I can't find a thing about them anywhere and this appears nowhwere on CD. I have it on a single I found in a charity shop in Malpas, Shropshire, in 1996. Considering the song only ever got to No.11 and there was no charting follow-up, they're probably content to lie low. They must have been a school choir though. Any guesses?

Friday, June 3, 2011

1975: You're in that city far away

When I was a 10-year-old, despite living not half an hour from the coast, abrorad seemed an awfully long way away. I was obsessed by flags, maps, anything to do with other countries. My dad would test me on the capitals of the world and there was nothing I enjoyed more than burying my head in an atlas for a day.

By this time I had been abroad only once: to Majorca in 1972, where we stayed the rather exotically named Bahia Del Este Hotel. This was the golden age of the package holiday and being the two-car, deep freeze, radiogram, family of the Seventies that we were we embraced it.

We went with another family and we all had a super time, but the photos are reminsicent of Carry On Abroad or any comedy set on a package holiday in the Seventies: Coach trips to glassblowing factories, donkeys ostensibly pulling families in carts but really just stopping to graze by the side of the road, barbecues on islands, sangria on boat trips, Mum and Dad dancing to Mamy Blue by Los Pop Tops. Even now I can hear middle-aged women getting over-excited and singing inebriated versions of Yi Yi Yippee Yippee Yi on the boat back from Formentore or whatever it was called.

In May of this year, we'd go back to Majorca, this time with Mum and Dad's racy American friends. But it would turn out to be a game of two halves with the Hotel Son Baulo in Cala Bona not proving to be up to scratch. My mother was horrified that people went down to dinner in curlers. Though it had a great private and empty beach, it was seemingly a bit of a hole, so we were transferred to somewhere far more exclusive in Alcudia. All I remember is lots of palm trees, that smell of drains and those sorbets that came in plastic oranges, the height of culinary sophistication when you're 10. And we did go and see Uncle Gilbert who was on holiday with his new paramour Irene in a hotel a few doors down. But they wanted to be alone.

So it was the year of the foreign song. When I hear this Wogan-endorsed favourite now - the last time being when Gilbert Becaud died, I think of the days when anything continental was seen as exotica of the most topline kind, when jetting off to Paris was a true adventure.

This song always has me fantasising that's it's 1975, and we've just touched down in Paris, it's raining, slightly chilly, but Paris looks great and we're en route to a wonderful hotel on the Left Bank. It's the hight of luxury and terribly exciting. That feeling should never leave you.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

1984: Pure as the driven snow

The summer of 1984 I seemed to spend mostly at the home of a friend in London. When you're a teenager it was by far the most exciting place to be.

I stayed with this school friend while waiting for yet another trip to Bahrain, so with nothing much to look forward to there, I was busy making the most of it here. I recall it involved meeting up with other friends and going to a lot of nightclubs, specifically The Hippodrome and The Empire in Leicester Square. Why we didn't go somewhere trendier was anyone's guess, though I think it had a lot to do with my friend being a bit of a soul boy. That said, they always played Two Tribes, which remains the hardest song in the world to dance to.

When I think about this it's so ancient, that we may as well have been taking in the supper show at The Talk Of The Town. It's that long ago. Those cavernous, multi-floored clubs with their chrome trimmings and mezzanines and cocktails and Wham-haired clientele. I'm glad I was there.

Anyhoo, apart from Change Of Heart by Change and Somebody Else's Guy by Jocelyn Brown, the one song that really reminds me of this golden time in my swirly short-sleeved shirts and white basketball boots is White Lines. If I'm totally honest I had no idea what this song was actually about until someone pointed it out to me and gave the words a good listen. I was awfully naive when it came to drugs. Initially I thought it was about staying in lane while driving. The sniffing sound affects passed me by. However, I loved it, though it too is hard to dance to.

The next time we meet, we'll give it a go.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

1984: Eight flights of stairs to a basement flat

For some reason I can't comment on my own blog, or post YouTube embeds, but thanks everyone for your interest. I'm finding it all rather cathartic.

So it's May 1984, just about the time it is now, sixth form time is swiftly coming to an end, and who knows what the future holds? All I know is that I want to look like Lloyd Cole.

I first heard this now classic song while browsing in HMV Guildford. I think it's French Connection now, but back then it was the focal point of all trips to the town. I was at a boarding school in the heart of the Surrey countryside. Every Wednesday we had the afternoon in Guildford, so we could stock up on fags (smoking was allowed, teachers were called by their first names, no uniform, etc - it was all very progressive. But not THAT progressive), mags and most importantly, records.

By this time I was a devoted Smiths fan, and would by turns irritate and delight those who were or weren't fans by sticking a flower in my back pocket and swirling my arm around my head just short of my quiff to This Charming Man of an evening. Each weekday evening between 7.30 and 9.30 was prep time - that's homework to normal people - but it didn't involve any work.

Me and roommate played records, over-discussed the girls of the school (despite being mixed, there weren't that many), tried on each others clothes, sneaked into the TV room to watch The Young Ones (the only programme apart from TOTP and The Tube I every regularly watched in two years), and generally pissed about. It was the wonderful time of my life up that point. I'd recommend it to anyone.

Anyhoo, the Morrissey look was bumped for the Lloyd Cole look. The only setback? I was fair-haired, mousey. Lloyd had a sweep of lustrous jet black hair. Thankfully the Body Shop made a hair gel that made your hair black. But my God it was thick and rock hard, and you needed so much of it, it was a two jar a week situation. But I had the polo necks, and I'd carry this look on to uni in the autumn. God I'm such a chameleon! David Bowie's got nothing on me. Is that a song?

Anyway, this song gripped me by the throat the moment I heard it. It's jangly, rolling jolliness, it's upbeat and sunny and right up my street. Would it be going too far to say it's like a smile in a song? He's never bettered it sadly, but the Rattlesnakes album is a classic of sorts.