Thursday, July 28, 2011
The Seventies had pillaged the Fifties down to its bare bones, and now that we were well into the Eighties the 20-year cycle meant it was time to dust off the Sixties. Needless to say, being totally obsessed with all things Sixties by this time, I was ready.
But not yet for Donovan, Woodstock, Carnaby Street and the man in the top hat rifling through military jackets in the King's Road, but more the post Fifties pre-Beatles Sixties, with its check shirts, quiffs, rock & roll and of course Levi jeans.
Did you buy into the whole Wonderful World, jeans-in-the-bath, Nick Kamen, standing-in-your-pants-in-the-launderette, Stand By Me black jeans thing? They were selling cool and I, along with millions of others, bought it. What a sheep, eh? A marketing man's dream. Still am. But it was all the rage and far more interesting than coursework. We plundered second hand shops - before they were called vintage - for leather and suede jackets and occasionally baseball jackets. But you had to get in quick. Everyone was at it.
Trips to London to the wonderful Flip in Covent Garden were in order too, where you could get all this US stuff - at a price of course, but it was worth it. And those ripped jeans to show a glimpse of your strawberry print seersucker boxer shorts. Ah, those were the days.
Not quite sure where 1969's I Heard It Through The Grapevine fits in, but it works.
A penny for you loafers?
Wednesday, July 27, 2011
It's early autumn 1990, and by this time I'm about six months into the flat from Hell (see 1990: Cover me in ecstasy). There was so much I wanted to do but being skint it was not an option.
But still, the future Mrs P and I would borrow my brother's car, soundtracked by this song and Show Me Heaven by Maria McKee, and visit the junk shops, jumble sales, car boot fields and bric-a-brac markets of London in search of that certain something to make our respective flats properly groovy in order to hide the grimness of hand-me-downs and deathly magnolia paintwork.
One journey we did a lot was the one to Greenwich Market. Great for batik cushions and Bob Dylan CDs, but not very good for much else. However, away from the covered market next door was what must have been an old service station, jam packed with great stalls selling Sixties and Seventies curious. We had struck gold. We bought a lot from there, and even though it wasn't that cheap that kind of stuff was far cheaper back then that it is now. It was perfect.
The flat was great: a large, three-bedroomed mansion block flat, airy and roomy but pricey and requiring flatmates. However, it never felt like my home or my own because it had to be shared and it wall went to hell. Shame really, beause it wasn't for want of trying and moving in was so promising.
Dad had very kindly done all the decorating, but the rest was up to us. So how exactly were we to fill it? Having come straight from renting I owned a record player and that was it. Furniture had to come cheap or as was mainly the case, donated by dead relatives. Auntie Maggie, a rather sad woman who never really left her flat after falling off a bus in 1972, despite having a pioneering hip replacement and who died a spinster shortly after we moved in, was the benefactor of a lot of furniture, crockery and linens. Big chest of drawers aside, and without looking a gift horse in the mouth, a flat that was furnished throughout with the cast-offs from an 80-year-old woman was not quite the swinging man about town image I was keen to cultivate. Uncle Bob, who'd died the year before, and with whose money we'd pooled to buy the flat, was the benefactor of lots of great bits and pieces, like copper fondue sets, Swedish etchings and cast-iron wood gnomes, but no furniture of note.
So thank God for Ikea. And wasn't it fun back then, laughing at the funny Swedish names for table lamps and rag rugs, getting a bit giddy over pine and having the meatballs in the cafeteria? Who knew a trip to Neasden could be so exciting? It was a proper day out. And it was cheap. The only drawback of course being while it all looks lovely in the showroom, cosy and dark and chicly Scandinavian, when teamed with your existing homewares it can actually look really rather random. Nasty black wood TV stands - what was I thinking? And the sofa took 10 weeks to come! Even when it arrived the cushions didn't fit properly. I've not bought a stick of furniture there in 20 years now, but you still can't beat their tumblers.
So to hide all this nastiness things were livened up with exciting objets, pictures and plants, hence the market trawl. It's a look we've carried through to this day, though all traces of Auntie Maggie and Ikea have been eradicated, to be replaced by things far more interesting, and if you've been to my house you'll know what I mean. There's still nothing more we'd rather do wherever we are than heading for the nearest flea market. Fascinating rhythm indeed.
Tuesday, July 26, 2011
The threat of not being able to go on holiday to the south of France had hung over me all term, so it was with great relief that a glowing school report meant I could go.
Not that I'm sure mum and dad would have parked me with a neighbour or worse - my grandma - but it did the trick nonetheless and so we had lift off.
In 1978 the south of France as still rather exotic, but not so much so that it was a closed shop. Some neighbours had been to the place we were going to and came back full of it, so on their recommendation we were heading for the Pam Beach Club just outside glittering St Tropez.
We got the Townsend Thoreson to Le Havre and drove through France just about in a day and a night, with one stop sleeping in the car in a field. I'd never been to France before found it fascinating, if perhaps rather primitive in places. I remember we stopepd in the middle of nowhere in the early evening at this restaurant, that was basically a huge mansion house with a really busy and brightly lit dining room. We had steak and chips. It may well have been horse, but dad wouldn't - and still won't - be much more adventurous than that, so if looked like steak and tasted like steak, it was steak. I remember TV was on, mounted on a wall, and it played the TV channel ident what seemed like every few minutes.
The next day I existed in a kind of half-sleep, waking every few hours and seeing snapshots of France. You know that scene in Midnight Cowboy where Joe Buck is travelling by Greyhound from Texas to New York, and he sleeps fitfully and every time he wakes there's something totally different to see out the window? That was me: Valleys full of statues, autoroute service areas, giant cathedrals, sculpted cliffs, fields of sunflowers and avenues of swaying poplars. It was quite something.
But was more than just quite something was that the place we were staying was a nudist beach. Well, I say nudist. It was optional and mainly topless. I'd just turned 13. It was a mix of mortification and fascination. I'm just glad I wasn't any older.
Our static caravan was just minutes from the beach, surrounded by discreet bamboo and frankly tiny. And hot. No big fat gypsy aircon in those days. It was self-catering too, and despite there being an on-site supermarket selling such exotic delicacies as La Vache Qui Rit and Orangina, we'd brought our own food. As it was a special occasion all the food came from M&S. I can still remember the gingham tin of corned beef hash.
But the real fun was to be had on the beach. It was very French, hardly any Brits. lots of tits and the sun shone for two straight weeks. We bought apple donuts from a tanned leggy lovely. 'Chi-chi! Beignet pommes! Demandez!', she cried twice daily. Then there was the English student who sold sandwiches and didn't little 'one for the money, two for the show' routine to announce his arrival. It was all going on among the silicon breasts - new to me, and obviously an eye-opener - and French bodies beautiful, except for Nob and Bob (see 1979's Isle of Wight entry).
When we weren't bearing all on the beach, we visited St Tropez, Cannes, Nice, Monte Carlo (Princess Grace was still alive), Grasse and a place that was all canals whose name I can't recall, but which provided excellent opportunities for throwing things into people's boats as they passed under the bridges across them.
We also added to our sugar collection. Everywhere we stopped we got sugar packets, collecting the sports ones initially then any, and this carried on for many more years until they all went solid and had to be thrown out. Why did we never snip the corners and tip the sugar out? We were always collecting something.
Anyhoo, this song by South African girl group Clout was blasting out of every beach bar, every car, every restaurant and bar wherever we went. It makes me feel warm inside, and hanker after pineapple ice cream. So many flavours, so little time.
Monday, July 25, 2011
What's your view on fairgrounds?
Personally, I used to love them, but I've not been near one in about 20 years. I prefer theme parks and I'm always mindful to keep away from anything that goes spinning round. Up and down, fine. Corkscrew, sudden drops, sudden jolts, okay. But round and round. Even writing this makes me feel bilious.
In the summer of '77, we went to the local fair. It was always a big deal when the fair came to town and we usually went at least three times. While small, it was jam-packed with waltzers, a really scary ghost train where, on exit, a man in a skeleton suit jumped out at you - properly scary the first time it happened as it came as a complete surprise - and other wonderful, death-defying contraptions.
The whole atmosphere was brilliant. The smell of candy floss and fried onions, the sounds coming from the arcade, screams from thrills-seekers, the whoosh of the rides, the alarms as they're due to start, the indecipherable fuzzy announcements and of course, the music.
This apparently Northern soul classic song really reminds of the fair, and it was a great place to hear all your current faves. I was praying the Dead End Kids' Have I The Right would be heard as we boarded the waltzer, and indeed it did. But fun was short-lived as the David Essex type in charge spun us round so often and so fast, that I could barely walk when we got off. I was so ill, that we had to postpone our holiday the next day because I was still suffering. Excuse me a moment *vomits into bin*. That's better.
So to this day I cannot and will not countenance anything that spins.
The only consolation is I did come away with a Roxy Music mirror. Thing is, I could never look in it.
Friday, July 22, 2011
Divorce. It was all the rage in the late Seventies.
Out of a class of about 30 people, at least half had divorced parents. There was a new one every week. Where I lived was the subject of a local news programme about how it was the divorce capital of Britain. It was the creeping menace that would come for you sooner or later.
My parents weren't divorced, but one cross word and I was convinced it was on the way. I remember seeing an episode of Crossroads where Rosemary Hunter received an envelope and put it on the mantlepiece. I asked my mother what it was and she said it was from the court. I asked her if it was from the divorce court and she told me it wasn't but I had a thing about divorce. And she was right. I was obsessed with it.
I saw so many people's hitherto happy childhoods come to a difficult end, and despite what parents might think it does have an effect. People moved out of large houses into small ones, people reluctantly attended the second marriages of their parents or had a new partner move into what was once the family home. Money could be tight, they missed their dad, they were over-sensitive and difficult. Everything changed. I did not want this to happen to me.
Of course now I realise that you can have a blazing row and not seek the advice of a solicitor, but back then, because everyone was getting divorced I was convinced it was only a matter of time. I used to dread a sharp exchange between my parents - and there were many around this time, but it didn't come to anything by 1977 and they're still together nearly 51 years later. It's the bickering that keeps them going.
The swinging Seventies, and believe you me, they did swing where I came from, had a lot to answer for. That, and no one ever being allowed to test the water by living together and realising 15 years down the line that they should never have married in the first place.
Anyway, this song was prescient. Is that a pampas grass I see?
Wednesday, July 20, 2011
It's inconceivable that the student house of today should not be fully centrally heated, isn't it? However, all the student houses I ever lived in - and there were a few - were bone-chillingly cold.
That all changed in the last year when we found a newly refurbished terraced house located a convenient distance from the university, and even better, just minutes from Presto, Blockbuster Video and a Chinese takeaway. Who could ask for more?
Because me and another friend had found this house, we had first pick of the rooms. He had the upstairs back bedroom with ante-sitting room and sink, thereby making it en suite. I picked the downstairs front room with fitted carpet and gas fire. It had an original Victorian fireplace too, and was painted a calming shade of cafe au lait rather than the Arctic blue, tangerine, smoked trout and acid green of the other rooms. And it was double glazed.
The only drawback was that it was £25 a week. A fortune in those days for student digs, especially when you spent all your money on clothes, records, booze and fags. Priorities, you know.
But it was a great house, fully furnished, downstairs shower and upstairs bathroom, no queues in the morning, colour telly (ancient, but hey). It had it all.
Of course it didn't stay like that. By the autumn term end it was a shithole. My mum offered to come and clean up after Christmas, but when she saw the state of the kitchen her wretching got in the way. We never washed up. In the end we just threw the crockery away as no one was going to crack.
The bathroom was by now a biohazard, and I'd forgotten I'd left a shirt tie-dying in the aftorementioned en suite sink and the constant drip-drip of the tap over the holidays had ensured that the sink overflowed for three weeks, turning my housemate's record collection into nothing more than soggy cardboard. Thankfully, as I was first back, I whacked the heating on, it all dried out and he never noticed the watermarks. I would have, but that was the difference between us.
Halfway through that first term there we decided to have a party. Amazingly, I was quite happy to push all my stuff to one side and use my room as the dancefloor. Everyone smoked everywhere so that wasn't a problem, but trying to get the smell of Kestrel and black out the carpet defeated me. Not that I tried that hard. I just hoped for the best. Anyway, it was a roaring success, but I still feel faintly nauseous when I think about white wine, cat pee, lesbians and Indian takeaways.
Now, whenever I hear Driving Away From Home by It's Immaterial, Girlie Girlie by Sophia George, Sweet Freedom by Michael McDonald (at a party??) and Medicine Show by B.A.D. I think of that party, but the song that reminds me most of that whole period is Walk Like An Egyptian.
When I hear it I remember how glad I was at last to be warm in that chilly, suede jacket wearing, Morrissey-quiffed autumn, when all I had to care about was tracking down the person who vomited in the fruit cup.
Tuesday, July 19, 2011
For some reason I really liked German. It was kind of fun, and I didn't find much about schoolwork fun. It was all down to the teacher of course, and Mr King made lessons a laugh a minute, while sneakily making you learn stuff along the way. So when the next year we got a new teacher, it all came crashing down.
But not for long. At first Mrs Bunn - and that was her name - disliked me intensely. An incorrigible disrupter of lessons, her patience had worn wafer thin. So when it came to putting names down for the forthcoming German exchange to Frankfurt, it was no surprise to see that they weren't able to find any suitable match for me.
I was hugely disappointed, and mum thought they simply weren't trying hard enough. A swift word in Mrs Bunn's ear and all was sorted. They'd miraculously found someone. He was called Kai Deutschmann and lived just outside Frankfurt. It was still months away, and in this time, because I was going to Germany - or should I say, West Germany as it was at the time, Mrs Bunn and I started getting on. To this day she remains my favourite ever teacher. I wonder where she is now?
I was really excited about the exchange. It was over the Easter holiday for about two weeks. I was not yet 15 and had never been away from home for any length of time on my own. It was going to be quite an adventure. There were quite a few of us going, probably about 25 in total from two different years and two different schools, and it involved the boat to Belgium and then coach to Frankfurt. It seemed to take days, and every part of it was brilliant.
We arrived in the dead of night, to be matched up with our respected families. Everyone was sorted out, with one person whisked off to Berlin with her family, but there was no sign of mine. Finally the penny dropped when I realised how they were pronouncing my name. In German every letter counts, and my surname to them was Pay-arker. So off we went.
It was all very different. A huge new town quite a way from Frankfurt. As we'd been told, everyone lived in flats, which were small, and I was to share with Kai. One look at him though, and it was clear we were poles apart.
Him: Really clever, really well-behaved, bouffant Leif Garret hair, wooden necklace, bedroom full of 'Nuklear Fission? Nein Danke!' stickers. The hippy was alive and well and living in West Germany. I was into Two-Tone and The Police. We'd never hit it off. And he looked much older than me.
As I dumped my stuff in his room he put on Peter Gabriel's Games Without Frontiers, already a hit at home. Unsure whether we should speak German or English to each other I said: 'Peter Gabriel' in a German accent, gesturing at the hi-fi. He grinned. I was all at sea. We decided to speak English for the duration.
The family were lovely. They embraced me as one of their own. The mother, with her European dyed-red hair and shiny long black plastic coat - she was like the dark one from Abba. The father, short, balding, spoke excellent English and worked for Zimmer, as in the frames. There was a little brother too, who accompanied us everywhere. At the first proper dinner they sat me down and apologised for the war. There was a lot of that from everyone. It was only 35 years ago after all and was fresh in minds. It's like if were today, the war would have ended in 1976. Chew on that.
We had to do endless trips with all the exchangers to castles on the Rhine, and the Taunus mountains, and we went into Frankfurt shopping and dodging beggars. One night in the rough part of town we had knife pulled on us. We went to see his friend Heiko who lived in a nicer flat and kept a rabbit that was allowed the run of it. It was all so different.
But I really got into the swing of things. That was me buying up anti-nuclear badges and car stickers and josticks and wooden beads. And this single by B A Robertson, which was taking the piss out of hippies. How appropriate. (I don't remember hearing any German music whatsoever. But I've more than made up for that now). I can't smell a jostick now without a) it reminding me of that time; and b) feeling sick. We lit far too many in an enclosed space. I can't have them in the house now.
I had a wonderful time though, and it seemed like I was away for ages. I made some lovely friends. Of course, when the exchange came this way, things couldn't have been more different. But that's another story.
But I did win the top prize for my scrapbook.
Monday, July 18, 2011
When I recently played this song to someone about seven years younger than me, he looked baffled. He'd never heard it. Ever. I couldn't believe it. At the time it was all over the radio, and it wouldn't be out of place to hear it on the Radio 1 breakfast show. It was a big hit after all. It reached No.2 in the charts. Then again, in 1981 I was 16, he was nine, so it's understandable.
But doesn't it just show how soon we forget? That song was unique in its length, composition, subject matter - everything about it. It was chilling and creepy. It was a real one-off by a woman known more for her performance art credentials than having chart hits. But there you go. It's now as distant a memory as Clare Francis or Stars On 45.
Anyhoo, this song reminds me of getting ready for school, autumn '81. Living with a friend and his family and it's not going to well. They're skint and we've got nothing in common anymore. How quickly we found that out. A shame though, as I think fondly of him now. But they did get the Radio Times and TVTimes delivered on a regular basis and I was all over that. Oh, and Meg left Crossroads. It was a grim time.
Rather than the Laurie official vid, here's Zoo. You HAVE to see this.
Friday, July 15, 2011
There were no such things as 'guilty pleasures' musically in those days. Well, they weren't called that. You either liked something or you didn't. Everyone had their tribe. That said, there were of course things one could never admit to liking, except to only the closest of friends.
I've always believed in liking what you like, and I've been playing my ELO and Dooleys records for years. Nothing got tucked away with me because Lloyd Cole and the Smiths came along. My non-Maltese roomie at school counted Air Supply's All Out Of Love and Twiggy's Please Get My Name right among his favourite records, while to the outside world those people did not exist. But I wore my cheese on my sleeve.
However, even I drew the line at admitting my absolute adoration for this record at the time. It was okay to like Boney M and Abba, but the New Seekers??
Right from the word go they were naff, and no matter how Lyn Paul tries to reinvent them today as some kind of debauched collective drinking and drugging their way around the world, it's too unbelievable to give credence to. They were squeaky clean, did Eurovision and were all eyes and teeth. Quite like Lyn Paul's solo single It Oughta Sell A Million. It bombed, and at the time I thought she was trying that bit too hard. Poor Lyn. You can catch her in reruns of 3-2-1.
Never Ending Song Of Love is a triumph, though, and this song, a No. 21 smash, was just hitting the charts as the summer holidays were kicking in. I've often thought it rather melancholy, a song of yearning and loneliness, a young woman forging her way in the world but so far to little effect, trapped by life. It's the anti-Modern Girl. Then again, I could be mistaken.
Love those harmonies though, and no Lyn Paul on this one. Their last single ever too, and a cover of an Australian song by Procession. That's here for you pleasure as well.
Thursday, July 14, 2011
Corfu. Island of dreams. Sort of.
Strangely - for students - a housemate found a villa for rent; in The Lady. Okay, but it was two weeks, really reasonable, on the largely unspoiled west side of the island and was perfect. Except for one thing: it had no electricity.
This being the Eighties there were no panics about where to plug in ipod speakers or mobile phone chargers. Someone was taking a largish cassette player, or boom box as they were cringe-makingly called back then, and we'd be out at night so it wouldn't matter about lights. And besides, isn't candlelight magical?
So off we went.
Too poor for taxis we got the bus from Corfu Town. The flight was jam-packed with Wham-haired wide boys and wine bar strumpets in peppermint mini-skirts, but they melted away on arrival. They were going to the town, we were going to the country.
It took ages to find. We got off the bus at dusk in a deserted, lemon-scented hamlet in a clearing in a wooded valley. This was the nearest 'town', but from there we had no idea. A few locals later and we were dragging suitcases up the steepest of hills, not looking over the edge, passed often by teenagers screeching by on mopeds.
Finally, at the top of one of those hills was this amazing house. All in the dark of course, but it was huge. It had no windows either, just metal netting to keep the mozzies out, but it was dead quiet. Oh dear, ruminated a bunch of 19-year-olds, all wondering where the action was likely to be.
We didn't have to look far. In the morning we could see the beach down the other side of the hill, and what looked like a few buildings. I had been absolutely forbidden my mother to hire a moped, as someone at school had to be airlifted home after coming off theirs in Heraklion and breaking just about every bone in their body. It was irritating, and I was tempted, but in the end we walked down and hitched back, it was much more fun, and far less dangerous. Those hillroads with their sheer drops. Brrrr. No one really wanted a Princess Grace moment.
The beaches were kind of busy, but it was all very laid back. Every morning we'd go down, lie on the beach, go swimming share a Walkman earbud to hear song of the moment She Sells Sanctuary. I still get a tingle at that intro. We always had lunch at the same place on the beach and it was the first time I'd had Greek salad. I had it every day. With chips.
In the evening the place to go was a bar that turned into a disco called The Pink Palace. It's not a name anyone would choose today, but it was great. Full of Americans travelling around Europe but we can overlook that. The music was always the same every night: Started off with (Don't You) Forget About Me, followed with Burning Down The House, then the Slits' version of I Heard It Through The Grapevine. It worked. The dancefloor heaved.
It was a great holiday. For once I tanned lightly and didn't get horrifically sunburnt. I ate under trees laden with lemons. I got a new girlfriend. I saw one newspaper: Simon Le Bon ran into trouble in Drum and there was a massive air crash in Japan.
Almost three weeks later we returned to Luton Airport. Madonna was number one with Into The Groove, which I'd never heard, and UB40 and Chrissie Hynde were up there with I Got You Babe, also new to me. And who was this Princess creature?
Back then you'd come back feeling like you'd been away for ages expecting the world to have ended. A proper getaway holiday is a thing of the past now. Even I'm checking the BBC News website each morning. Sometimes I wish the internet had never been invented. Then again...
Wednesday, July 13, 2011
Though we hated Little Jimmy Osmond, we demanded our grandma put this on the jukebox for us. And every time we visited, she'd put it on - as long as it was current, of course.
Not she wasn't some Seventies hipster with a Rock-o-La in her games room, she ran a country pub. Well, I say country, it was just where the city meets the country but it may as well have been in the middle of nowhere for all we new.
If mum told us we were going to see grandma, we had two venues to choose from. Her home, or 'the Arms'. Home was fine, but the Arms was really exciting, as it meant the pub. I don't ever remember going during opening hours and of course back then the pub was shut all afternoon, so we'd go just as she'd called last orders.
We loved it. She'd give us fizzy drinks and Animal Bars and always put songs on the jukebox. Even better was that she'd buy the old records from the jukebox man for sixpence a half dozen and split them between us and our two cousins. So from the late Sixties until the pub was sold in 1973 we had hit after hit.
Still got some of them too - the Israelites, Yellow River, Sweet Caroline, Give Me Just A little More Time, Grandad, Devil's Answer, All I Have To Do Is Dream - the list is endless. My cousins got things like Living In The Past and That Same Old Feeling. Between us we had the entire hit parade for years.
I can still smell the pub, it's mix of fag smoke and beer, the spooky frosted glass door of the billiard room which made it look like Autons were playing snooker. I daren't even look at it it was so scary. The names of the regulars like cleaner Blance, who grew prize dahlias, farmer Dickie, his daughter Linda and other various colourful characters.
The pub was owned by a friend of my grandma's, a man who'd been long widowed and then pursued her. She was happy to help out in the pub but she didn't want to go any further. And when he died the year before she stayed on to run it but it was too much for her. It was a pit of secrets, some of which I'm only finding out today. It would make a great novel. But for now it's just a blog entry.
The pub is apparently still there, but I don't think I want to go back. I'll just remember this song echoing round the empty saloon bar.
Posted by Jon Peake at 1:59 AM
Tuesday, July 12, 2011
So after shipping out of Manor House and all the way over to Twickenham to share a flat with a friend, job hunting had to begin in earnest.
He'd paid the deposit on the flat, what with me having no money. It was a nice flat in a quiet road by Twickenham Green, just a few doors down from celebrity retirement home Brinsworth House. This I only discovered the other day on an odyessy to Twickers to look at my old haunts. I had no idea what it was at the time.
Job hunting in 1987 involved looking in the paper or going to an agency. Fortuitously - or not is turned out - my flatmate's sister worked in an agency on Oxford Street and we rather hoped she was going to set us up with something amazing, which was only a matter of time, with us having absolutely no experience in anything whatsoever.
But after taking a trip to the West End to see Wall Street one Sunday afternoon, we decided that we wanted to work in the City. The Yuppie thing was all the rage, the money was the stuff of dreams and despite having no interest in figures, selling or the markets, I wanted to be opening bottles of champagne in a wine bar of a Friday night. And just think: £12,000 is all we'd need to want for nothing.
So after but a few days we did indeed get jobs - at the same place, in Shoreditch, so it was sort of the City. In those days Shoreditch was a desolate nothingness, full of old warehouses and pubs with lunchtime strippers, and not the uber-trendy chi-chi shopping and dining destination it is today. We were above a launderette opposite Elvisly Yours.
We worked for a company that 'sold' financial services. Dressed in my new suit bought by mum who'd shed a tear when I came out of the changing room, and with Filofax in hand we got the 'drain' with all the other drones and headed off to our pretend bit of the City. I remember noticing how everyone folded their broadsheets in order not to irritate their neighbour.
This job was a strange one though. It was commission only for a start. When I told my dad he was horrified - how was I going to live? This hadn't really occurred to me. Any money you made you wouldn't see for 13 months. It was run by three ex-City wide boys who dished out advice to us every day. It involved a lot of cold calling from the phonebook to set up appointments. That, and exploiting your friends and family first and foremost. No one I knew was remotely interested. Suddenly calling someone you've not seen for years and then springing an investment plan on them sent them packing. You could hear them recoil. This was not good.
The bosses said things like, 'when you call someone say: "I'm in the business of taking people out to lunch"'. This terrified me as I had no money, and my flatmate had set up an appointment with a woman who ordered an £11 salad at Harvey Nicks' cafe. I didn't even have a cheque card. I tried it with Nina Myskow, at the time the Sun TV critic and self-styled Wicked Witch Of Wapping. I got straight through. She toyed with me, but it went no further. Their most lasting piece of advice, however, was that your socks should always match your tie. Well, it was 1987.
After a few weeks of this and having set up one appointment where someone asked me all about different types of mortgages and I couldn't answer their questions, my dad pressured me to move on and if you didn't get results to show off about in the weekly meeting you were on a sticky wicket.
So after a summer of no money but having quite a nice time - we all started together and were all quite good mates by the end of it - I left. And I wasn't the first. We'd all realised this was not going to work, no matter how hard we tried. And mysteriously, when someone did have a guarantee of regular monthly mortgages the bosses were less than helpful. Hmmmm...
So this song soundtracked that hot summer, when London was exciting and new and I was, briefly, a Yuppie. Up next, the next job. What had I done to deserve that?
Friday, July 8, 2011
It's topical, so let's go with it. This song by Madonna was all over the radio the week I started at The Sun in December 2002. That's right, I worked at News International! Don't hate me; I was only too thrilled to be there.
I had come from a contract publisher and done under two years of being features editor, attending launches, interviewing US stars and cramming four weeks work into one. It was a hoot but it wasn't going anywhere. A friend had gone to be features editor on The Sun's TV Mag and needed a deputy. So I got the job.
It was daunting. The News Corp building, Fortress Wapping was vast. It took 20 minutes to walk from the front door to our office, and that's without the 10-minute walk from the Tube.
It was quite intimidating. The Sun newsroom was plastered with giant sized famous front pages, like Gotcha! and Freddie Starr Ate My Hamster. Our office was through there at the back, separate, with no windows, off a tiny corridor which connected The Sun with The News Of The World. We were never bothered by anyone. Phone hacking may well have been going on all around us, but we beavered away on a good-natured TV magazine given away free with the Saturday paper. We ploughed our own furrow. R.I.P. the TV Mag.
It was an interesting place to be. Everyone's heard of the publication you work on and you did get a lot of special treatment. It was a fantastic name to drop if you were having trouble with deliveries or had a faulty fridge - just say you work for The Sun and your problem is solved almost at once. I had to be smart too - no more jeans!
It was great experience and we were a tight-knit team. But two years later, having spent all of 2001 and 2002 in a windowless office, having done hundreds and hundreds of interviews and written about three features a day during all that time, and having seen an election, 9/11 (the newsroom went wild), the rise and rise of Big Brother and countless other moments in history, it was time to move on. No regrets.
People could be odd about it though. Access was generally brilliant, but as many people who'd bend over backwards for you would also refuse to have anything to do with you, especially celebs from Liverpool. Understandably so. Feelings run high even now.
But it wasn't just stars. I went to a wedding soon after I started and a person on my table told he he'd have asked to have been moved if he'd met me a few years earlier - and possibly would have punched me. Why? Becuase I was a journalist working for The Sun. He told me he was a doctor. So all doctors are like Harold Shipman then?
I heard it all the time: What was I doing working for that scum, etc, etc. It was very waring having to justify your job all the time.
That's why I feel sorry for those on the News of The World today. Most of them weren't even there in 2002 - don't punish them. It's a hard enough existence as it is being at News International, and I can see how the pressure was on for exclusives all the time. It was have been exhausting to be on those papers. But the tone is set from the top.
That said, it was great for the CV. Not so sure about that now though.
Thursday, July 7, 2011
Do you remember your first day at school? Not the very first day, but the day you started secondary school aged 11?
Chilling isn't it? Well it was if you were me. I'd been at a private school for the past two years, having left the local school and gone further afield. I'd never seen any of my old chums at all in those past two years, but I did see the odd person around and heard reports from neighbours who stayed on.
So when I started I saw a whole lot of old faces I'd completely lost touch with, as well as a sea of completely new ones. When we were all split up into the groups we'd be with for the next five years there were a couple of old favourites and we soon got reacquainted, but I remember that first day well.
I walked in with a former neighbour, a one-time friend I'd grown apart from. Meeting that morning it was quite apparent just how different he'd become. He swore like a trooper, and for me having spent two years at a strict Catholic school where anything more than uttering 'gosh!' would see you sent straight to hell, I was shocked. And I'd heard tales of newbies having their heads flushed down the loo and being beaten up on the way home. It's safe to say I was utterly terrified.
It was never that bad of course, and it would be two years until Grange Hill would start. But when it did it rang totally true.
It was proper back to school weather on that first day. Hazy sunshine on the quiet walk home, all feeling a bit lonely and a bit sad.
I've done a lot of schools in my life, and it never got any easier being the new boy. I was never the only one, but it sure felt like it. The feeling didn't last long and by the week's end it was business as usual.
I remember that first week watching Top Of The Pops. Dancing Queen by Abba was number one, and this was in the charts, though hardly setting them alight. However it was never off the radio, and mum and dad returned from America saying they'd heard nothing else but. It's well remembered, despite never reaching the Top Ten, and at the time I found it strangely comforting in those stark new boy days. Most of all it reminds me of building a damn in a stream.
This country-tinged slice of AOR is now top of everyone's guilty pleasures list. Why feel guilty about something so soothing? I disapprove of guilty pleasures. Like what you like, and bathe in its warm glow.
Wednesday, July 6, 2011
If you were a chart buff like me, and devoured Smash Hits and Record Mirror like I did, then you'll remember all those songs and bands you used to read about but never heard. White & Torch was one of those bands.
The only place to hear things like that was the David Jensen show on Radio 1. Post Peter Powell and pre-John Peel, it was the soundtrack to homework, and while not much work was done ears were fully engaged to hear exciting new music that you could like before anyone else did, which was incredibly important in those days. You were there from the start. Jenson would usually be way ahead of the game. For some people it was John Peel, but he was too late night for me at that age, and I preferred to go to sleep with Radio Luxembourg fading in and out.
On the erstwhile Kid's show you'd hear all sorts of things you'd never hear in daytime, usually stuff from the indie charts like Placebo (not that one), The Mood, the Pale Fountains, Haysi Fantayzee, the Higsons, the Farmers Boys, Mari Wilson and basically anything on Cherry Red records or that wasn't Adrian Gurvitz.
Some things might eventually get into the Top 40, while some foundered in the bottom reaches of the Top 75. Other never made it out of the indie charts. My record collection is brimming with these non-hits, the ones that got away but which still have a special place in my heart.
Anyway, this song is one of those songs, a sweeping, epic Walker Brothers homage that should have been a massive hit. If Midge Ure could hit paydirt with No Regrets then why not this?
I'm reminded of this because I heard it on the radio the other day. Except it wasn't White & Torch it was... Welsh X Factor nutjob Rhydian!. Well, the White & Torch revival starts here.
Tuesday, July 5, 2011
It was a Tuesday lunchtime. What did that mean? That's right, it was new chart day.
Jonathan Murgatroyd came rushing out of the double doors between the library and the forum - the rather pretentiously grand name given to our assembly hall - onto the multi-levelled concrete playground that was designed for sitting and chatting only and bellowed:
"Guess what's Number One! That girl. The one who's 17. Katie Bush!"
We were all rather shocked. I'd heard it a few times and found it rather odd. Kind of impenetrable but haunting all the same. Once I became used to it I got to love it, and today I'm a major Kate Bush fan. But it did take some time.
I never bought any of her singles. I was six months away from buying my final single until 1981, with a small pitsop at Tubeway Army and Squeeze's Up The Junction in 1979, but I didn't ever buy any of Kate's. I've got the lot now, but at the time her music, though catchy and interesting did not move me to buy it. I liked Wings.
Some of the videos she's done over the years are either hot (Sat In Your Lap) or bonkers (that one on a variety show where she's writhing daftly on a peacock chair doing December Will Be Magic Again), but you could never call her boring. She's always surprising, always different, forever unpredictable and to be around at the birth of her career and remember how everyone greeted the news of her number one record with amazement is quite something really. She became a huge star and rightly so.
It wasn't only that though, it was the way we used to be desperate to hear the charts on a Tuesday. It was a really big deal and remained so (for me) for years and years. Not now of course - I'm lucky if I've ever heard the current chart topper, even though I have heard of the bands I've never heard their music. Not knowingly, anyway.
Why did chart-watching become a dated concept? It's such a shame. Along with records shops it's a thing of the past. Sigh. At least I enjoyed it while it lasted.
Oh look, here's that mad vid. She's wearing silk pajamas.
Monday, July 4, 2011
Art was the only lesson in which we could have the radio on. But only when we got to the fourth year and not in pottery with the fearsome Mr Wilson. Mrs Harrison, in her rainbow jumpers and handmade shoes and Mrs Sandoval in her floaty smocks and airy fairy sundresses didn't mind at all. In fact it was encouraged.
Unfortunately, those lessons were always at time that meant we got half of the Golden Hour first. Now that would be ideal listening, but back then I wasn't interested in the old. I wanted the new.
We did get some new of course, and you'd wait and see if your favourite came up or it would be a chance to hear something new. Vienna by Ultravox got its premiere in an art lesson, as did Fade To Grey to Visage and Piece Of The Action by Bucks Fizz. But it's this McCartney tune that sticks in my mind most. It was shortly after his Tokyo drug bust and so when he sang the line 'I need love' we gigglingly substitued 'I need drugs'. Oh, how we laughed. Anything not to have to do any work.
Though I liked art, I was never great at it. I could do still life no problem, but figures, forget it. Same goes for cartoons or perspectives. I'd usually draw delapidated old houses and run-down street scenes, things I'd spotted out of coach windows on daytrips to London. But it kept me busy and I enjoyed it.
My dad is a marvellous artist and used to have a nice sideline in drawing children for neighbours. He had a design scholarship with Sanderson though National Service put paid to that. Needless to say it was of great disappointment to him that I wasn't superhot when it came to art. But I did get the O level, and I know what I like.
Friday, July 1, 2011
It wasn't too often you got bands on Blue Peter, but this is one that really sticks in my mind, mainly because at the time it seemed so incongruous.
Though I preferred Blue Peter over Magpie, I was aware that it wasn't in the least bit trendy, despite Peter Purves' flares and slimfit shirts. It was like watching three teachers. But I couldn't be doing with the garish Magpie. Mick Robertson - an early crush of my wife's, I'm horrified to report - was just painful.
With his curly, unruly hair and denim he always looked like he was trying too hard. Watching him at work now he's got zero personality and the show is no less worthy than Blue Peter ever was. Whole episodes devoted to canals; right up a nine-year-old's street.
Crackerjack aside, pop didn't really seem quite at home on BBC Children's television. It was much more ITV, where you'd see Lift Off With Ayesha, the Marc Bolan show and the Bay City Rollers show. Pop was mass-market, cheap, brash, everything the BBC was not, until Cheggers started playing pop a few years later.
So it was a surprise to see Gary Glitter's erstwhile backing band popping up with their first hit and what was considered such a staid show. This rocking, stomping glam rock tour de force against the bare white of the BP studio clearly lodged itself in my brain. That, and it's a corker.