Monday, November 28, 2011

1982: Hush my darling

The whole concept of 'Guilty Pleasures' apalls me. I simply don't believe in them. All that ironic giggling over ELO - what have the Wild West Hero hitmakers go to be ashamed of? Just cos they're not and never were trendy. It's incredibly tiresome and has been hijacked now to mean any golden oldie, especially if it's British.

Perhaps it's an age thing. While I bow to no one in my love of everything from The Carpenters to The Dooleys to Five Star, there was a time when I would rather have died than let anyone know I was flouting the rules of my tribe and not just buying records by Southern Death Cult, Japan or anyone who was languishing in the indie charts.

But every now and then along came a record that you couldn't get out of your head and you just had to have, no matter how naff it was perceived to be. Tight Fit's thumpingly splendid and at times rather moving version of The Lion Sleeps Tonight was just one of those records. Everyone loved this record, and if you didn't you have no soul.

I slipped out a lunchtime on my own, went straight to Woolies and bought it. After lunch it was Human Biology with Mrs Savage. I never paid attention. Just wrote notes to Kate, the queen bee of the common room and an old family friend, whom I sat next to. She was a good musical sounding board and she admitted she too was a fan of the song. We laughed about it how they really were the world's naffest band after Buck's Fizz, and kept it to ourselves. Months later, her supercool boyfriend was sneaking I Don't Wanna Dance into his schoolbag. We've all done it.

I don't care what anyone thinks of my musical tastes anymore, and I revealed my true colours over the next few years. If I liked it, I bought it and to hell with the consequences. Guilty Pleasures? Just pleasures. Enjoy yourself; it's later than you think.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

1978: Come back and give me a chance

In my second year at school we found ourselves in a new home room.Tutor group we called it back then, and I have no idea what they call it now, but it's the one bit of the day when you're all together in your form for the taking of the register at the beginning of the day.

This room was a science lab, and we remained in science labs for the duration of secondary school. Our new form teacher was the peculiarly- and unfortunately-named Mr Polkinghorne. He was kind of eccentric and very strict, and there were to be no open jokes about his silly name.

Despite this warning, I coudln't help myself. I was terrible at school, very disruptive, easily bored, as a report after report stated, supercillious, only interested in making the class laugh and an all round bad influence. My parents were furious, but nothing could be done about it. If I wasn't engaged, that was the end of it.

Mr P was also my science teacher, and because I had little interest I was top of his shit list. His threadbare patience finally wore through one afternoon, as I (quietly, I thought) sang the opening acappella bars to the Darts' second superhit Come Back My Love. But I was caught. A board rubber hit my head along with some very harsh and very loud words. It wasn't the first time my navy blue jumper had the chalky imprint of a board rubber on it.

I was the bane of many teachers' lives. I would love to have been a fly on the staffroom wall, though on the times I'd poked my head round the door I neary choked to death in the thick fug of smoke that hung there. No fly would have stood a chance. I had letters home about just about everything, had the slipper and the cane and was known to the highest school authorities. The thing is, I wasn't actually a bad person. I wasn't Gripper Stebson, I was Tucker Jenkins. Wrong place, wrong time, can't rein it in, etc.

But I had to change my ways or there would be no holiday in the south of France that summer (see 1978: Hoping to see her). I spent the remainder of the year doing my best, and difficult as it was not to ask the teacher if she had a boyfriend or throw mud at the head from behind a high wall, I did it. At the end of the summer term, Mr P and I parted as friends.

Was I growing up at last?

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

1988: Slowing down

Have you ever been to the Isle of Man? Funny isn't it.

Quiet, rugged, bleak, not a lot there. I had my one and only visit to date in the summer of 1988 for a schoolfriend's wedding. She was only 22 and was the type of person who attached herself limpet like to men and never let go. I once made the mistake of lending an ear and never heard the end of it. I just had to stop returning phone calls in the end.

But by this time she's sorted herself out and was marrying a soldier. Very young to do so even then, but marrying she was. And in the Isle of Man too.

I had no money. I had no chequebook, no chequecard, I worked in a job that paid me in cash - and not much of it. What was I going to do? I know, why don't I get in touch with another old schoofriend and family friend of the bride and see if there was anyway I could cadge a lift, despite not having seen or heard from him in four years? No problem. All I had to do was get myself to Billericay and we'd drive up.

It was going to be fun, made even better by being told on arrival I had Morrissey hair, which was just the ticket. So after a nightout in a rather subdued Billericay we set off for the Isle of Man ferry north of Blackpool. All the way up it was Touchy! by A-ha, every hour it seemed. Lunch at that groovy space-age Forton services on the M6, when you could still eat in the tower, then onto Heysham.

It was only as we were sighting land that I realised I'd left my suit hanging on the back of the door in Billericay. Again, no problem. His parents, who were flying up, had spotted it and packed it for me.

We had a great room, lovely see view and a day to kill before the wedding. We palled up with two sisters who were also invitees and hit the, er, town, which wasn't even Douglas, IIRC. I can't remember what it was but it was tiny. But there was a record shop in which Rush Hour was playing, and which always takes me back to walking along the seafront, ducking into the deserted aquariaum and breathing in air so fresh I've never experienced its like since. A more incongruous song/situation combo there has never been.

That night we went to a club with all the groom's army mates as a kind of stag do. It was a hoot, dancing to Damien's The Time Warp in something like a suburban bungalow with French doors out onto a garden. Everyone was very well-behaved - no squaddie fights here. The only hitch was the decision to throw the groom down a riverbank which involved his spraining his ankle and walking up the aisle on cruthces, much to his mother's absolute fury. And it poured with rain. But it was great fun. I'm dying to return to Man.

Anyway, they're divorced now. And I still owe my mate a tenner. I've not seen him since.

I'm unsure as the point of this story.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

1983: Feeling browbeaten day after day

Much as I'm rhapsodising about boarding school here - and my memories are for the most part overwhelmingly rosy - it wasn't all beer and skittles.

In fact, sometimes it could be really cruel. At times, it was lonely, cold, miserable, desolate, hurtful, spiteful, childish, wicked, boring, especially and almost exclusively at first.

This song reminds of the very first weekend back after Christmas ready to start my second term there. It was cold but the sky was clear and blue. School was meant ot start on Mondy and I arrived back on the Saturday to find about three people there, three people I wasn't particular friends with. But needs must and we decided to go into town together. I bought this record. I actually really dislike it now.

It makes me think of a quite a lonely time. I can't quite put my finger on it. I may well have fallen out with someone, and the first term had been a rollercoaster of passions, fights, bitchery, gossip, friendships, new discoveries and adjustments. It was perhaps the most turbulent time of my life.

I'd been away from home for a while now, but had only been boarding since the previous September. To be away at school with your parents in another country and any close family far away took a bit of getting used to. Perhaps about half-an-hour. The real test was making and hanging onto new friends. Teenagers are a difficult, fickle bunch and I was no different. You make and break friends at a rate of knots, you have a nemesis and an unattainable apple of your eye and someone you target for friendship. At least you have goals to work towards.

I'd done all this. Some of it had worked out, some of it hadn't. And this was only the first term. So arriving back for term I was expecting more of the same. I wasn't disappointed. And I wouldn't have had it any other way.

Monday, November 21, 2011

1975: Sweet sugar dumpling

I'm amazed this song wasn't about before it was a hit in '75, as it seems to have been the playground insult song of choice for as far back as I can remember, and I was just as guilty of using this as the rest of us, being thin as a pin until I was bout 19. I couldn't do it now of course, that would be a case of glass houses.

Long forgotten now, Fattie Bum-Bum was the tune by which to insult any fat person, child or adult, in a comedy Terry Scott schoolboy way. Today, you'd probably be done for bullying or being sizeist, and I doubt it would even get played on the radio. In fact, I don't ever recall hearing it on the radio at all, but like that other early Seventies novelty Nice One Cyril by the Cockerel Chorus, it was in our collective conciousness.

Listening to it, however, it's actually quite a sweet love song about how size doesn't matter, though I would imagine anyone calling a potential suiter Fattie bum-bum would get short shrift. Still, it's got a lovely lilting melody hasn't it?

Stuff your face and enjoy.

Friday, November 18, 2011

1983: Wherever you go now I wanna be there too

Tracey Ullman: all the rage in '83, perhaps at the peak of her powers. Singing, dancing, acting, comedy - she could do it all. I already loved her on Three Of A Kind, and then her songs struck a chord too, especially this one, which reminds me first and foremost of sitting in a hotel lobby waiting for a taxi to take me and Hels back to school as we'd missed the minibus. Taxi! Well, really. I think she must have paid.

I'm reminded of this because I've recently started watching Ullman's 1985 sitcom Girls On Top, which I have to say kind of passed me by at the time. I'd totally forgotten it also starred the late, great Joan Greenwood, Jennifer Saunders, Dawn French and Ruby Wax. Is that Ruby Wax's one and only acting job (apart from her public persona which we all know is very different from her private one)?

Anyhoo, Tracey Ullman not only sings the theme tune, but also steals the show with her very Eighties London girl on the make, with a string of unsuitable boyfriends, fake tan, over-the-top outfits and huge mane of peroxide-blonde hair. She's a hoot. And she's a natural fox. I used to have such a thing for her, especially during and after They Don't Know. That must have made Kirsty Macoll pots of money.

And now she's resident Stateside and we barely see her. I believe she was here recently for something, but you'd never know. It's a shame, as she's a totally gifted comedian, her voices and accents are second to none. I never really took to her US show, with its all-American accents and embryonic Simpsons inserts, I preferred things like Roz the trustafarian hippy from Three Of A Kind or any character on the B-side of They Don't Know. I miss her. Let's remember her in all her glory.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

1986: Healthy, you know

Around this time, perhaps a little earlier, we had our one and only student house party.

There were five of us sharing what was actually a really nice house. It was a terrace in back street (weren't they all), but it had recently been redecorated and we moved into lime green walls, salmon carpets and cheap second hand furniture, though it did have central heating, which after two years living in places that didn't have any sort of heating whatsoever and nearly dying from hypothermia on numerous occasions, was a total godsend.

But now our nice new house was going to be ravaged by a party. My room, downstairs, at the front, fawn shagpile, non-working but rather nice fireplace was to be the dancefloor. I didn't mind a bit. I was in charge of the music after all. This pleased me, as whenever we went to any parties I'd take my own music and insist it was played. I cringe when I think of this now as it's incredibly rude and controlling. If anyone tried this at my house today they'd be shown the door. But I was a different person back then. For me, the louder and more crowded the bar, the pub or the part, the better.

How times change. I can barely hear a thing if there are no soft furnishings, and if the music is above level two I'm reduced to lip-reading and picking up keywords only. And as for crowds - if i don't get a seat you'll see me leaving by the nearest exit if I actually enter the building at all. So usually, once it gets too loud, I make my excuses.

But student parties were another matter. Who didn't go to one where someone - maybe even yourself - took a dump in the fruit cup, or got arrested for dancing on the roofs of parked cars or threw up from a tower block window or woke up in someone's front garden covered in dew with a chronic red wine hangover? That's what it was all about. We'd trek miles to a party, and the feelers would be out in the pub as to where there was one we could crash, if that is we weren't invited.

The thought of a houseparty now is like a nightmare to me. In fact, I can't even remember the last time I went to one. When I moved to London we would go to the ends of the earth - well, Plaistow or Mill Hill or Streatham or Crouch End - to attend parties thrown by old college mates or new work colleagues. And then, suddenly, all that peters out, and if someone does have a do it's in a bar or a pub as they turn 40, or more often these days, 50. I don't mind those.

I can report that the party was a success. Well attended, with even the neighbours popping in. I think I might have gone over the road for more wine with two lesbians whose house reeked of cat pee. It's all a fug.

The music was a hit, and I remember poking my head round the door to see two girls getting the dancing started to this song. My bedroom had become Studio 54 for one night only. I had to almost wring the carpet out the next day and never really did get rid of the smell of beer. The thought of it makes me want to vomit. Never again.

Who's for another Kestrel?

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

1989: Lost them all like a homework excuse

Perhaps it's just me, but I used to find things like the ITV Telethon Comic Relief and Children In Need nights quite exciting.

It was the only place and the only time of the year where you'd see people doing things they didn't normally do, a host of stars incongruously coming together and a whole night of fun and laughter. I'd make sure I was in for it and sometimes, like on the day in 1989 I'd actually go round to friends to watch it. I must have been on something...

Now of course, I can't think of anything worse. Forced fun, newsreaders doing the Can-Can and the cast of Waterloo Road doing Bohemian Rhapsody, all presided over by dependable Wogan doing his reverential best and the ghastly Fearne Cotton flailing like a leaf in the wind and the fact that we're all meant to think it's beyond reproach.

Ever since Angela Rippon revealed her dancing skills and those legs on the Morecambe & Wise Christmas show and all those newsreaders dressed up as sailors to do a musical number we're expected to be amazed, more than 30 years later, that these people have these hidden talents and other strings to their bow. Alas, there are no surprised anymore. Ann Widdecombe goes on Strictly, people bare all on I'm A Celeb..., etc. There are no secrets. It's just the norm.

I hate it.

I do love this song, it always reminds me of late autumn, but every time I hear this song I'm reminded of perhaps the last time I properly engaged with Children in Need (and the time we travelled all over south London trying to find someone's party in the days before mobile phones and got stared out of a really rough pub in Streatham). I don't know why it all ended at the dawn of the Nineties, but I pride myself on knowing when the joke's over.

Monday, November 14, 2011

1981: No one knows I'm here for sure

It was meant to be one of those days the world ended. But of course it wasn't, and I never thought it would be. Who in their right mind would?

I was far more preoccupied about a daytrip to London to see my cousin who'd recently moved there. Back then, London did seem awfully far away. Strange, exotic, exciting and scary all at the same time. He was seven years older than me and quite obviously now a grown-up with a job and a flat and a life. How amazing.

The reality was not so glamorous, far more workaday, but still to me, a 16-year-old from teh sticks beyond thrilling. SO on a dark November day in this year my aunt and uncle set off with me and my grandma and a vat of 'curry and rice' as it was always called, not just curry - the rice bit was an add-on - to London. My uncle had a reputation as the slowest driver in Europe, so setting off early meant it took at least four hours to get there. And with this being pre-M3days, it was a big old trek.

I'd been London a handful of times before, but now I was of an age where the big city was an alluring temptress I was taking far more notice. This is where it was at, after all. Sort of. My cousin lived above Shoppers' Paradise in Kentish Town Road, in a tiny flat which was more of a bedsit really. But hey, at least he was there.

The major drawback with that flat (to me), was that the previous tenant had died there and not been discovered for about six weeks. They had to freeze the body to remove it. This didn't faze my cousin at all. It fazed me.

Kentish Town Road, though even more down at heel than it is today, was a treasure trove of London-only delights: Sketchley, Underwoods, a Kickers store that you could rollerskate into. It was a different world.

On the way home in the dark, I gazed out the window, taking it all in and knew that one day, it would all be mine. This Soft Cell song, in the charts at the time, though bleak and forbidding still offered promises of a different kind of life, one only lived in lonely cities where no one would notice if you had died or not.

No, there would be no bedsitter for me.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

1984: Find a better prize

Ah, autumn '84, and the springing out of bed song for the entire season at our halls of residence was Together In Electric Dreams.

Strangely moving even today, it was the soundtrack to mornings back then as it rocketed up the charts, blaring out of my double tape deck/radio thing at top volume for the whole landing to hear as we all went about our morning ablutions, the view from the windows misty, semi-dark and the lawns covered in a blanket of red, gold and green leaves.

The song was never off the radio and though the theme to a film it, rather than this film which no one has seen, has stood the test of time. But which radio was it never off?, I hear you ask. Well, at this time, where was everyone getting their radio from? Why, Laser 558 of course. It didn't matter that it was longwave - Radio 1 was on AM anway - but it did matter that it was all the hits, all the time, it was a pirate station yapping at the heels of the British radio establishment like an annoying terrier and was a pied piper to the youth mainly because of one thing: no DJ banter.

How suddenly I'd tired of DJ banter by this time. Only about six months earlier me and a group of friends had practically stalked Mike Read. We knew, though I don't know how we knew, that he lived in a lovely Victorian Gothic house just yards down the hill from my boarding school in the heart of the Surrey downs. So we'd often talk a walk down there to see if we could spot him. And we sometimes did: getting in or out of his car, opening the front door in his tennis whites, etc., but we'd never actually you know, gone up and spoken to him.

One day though, me, my mate Jim and two girls took a walk down there with the soul intention of ringing the doorbell. There were no gates or any security to negotiate, you could just walk right up to the house. So we let the girls do it. The door opened and in they went. They were gone for quite some time, and the next day we had a request on the breakfast show, in which Mike explained that these two girls appeared on his doorstep to ask for a request. Then he played Nik Kershaw's Dancing Girls. It was about a quarter to nine, and I had to leave my tape deck running to catch it. I've still got it somewhere.

It makes me think though; which celebrity in their right mind would let two teenage girls into their house today? Oh, the innocent Eighties, it didn't even cross our minds! It cleary didn't cross Mike's either. He was charm itself apprently, and they reported that his house was full of records. I had a pang of envy that I never got to see it.

But how thrilling it was to hear one's name read out by Britain's number one breakfast show host, and how fickle the audience can be that by the end of the year they've tuned you out for a fuzzy no-talk all-music station. But how soon they were back when it was wall-to-wall Jim Diamond and Carless Whisper ever three songs. Novelties always wear off. You always go back to what you know.

I'm still not a major fan of DJ banter - I'd rather hear music. However, I am a fan of DJs who know music. So it all depends doesn't it?

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

1982: Don't need you anyway

Was there ever a phrase invented to chill one to the very core as 'jazz funk'?

It conjures up wine bars, gold-chained lotharios, big-haired 19-year-old dancing round their handbags in peppermint miniskirts, Malibu and Coke, fake palm trees, nightclubs called Raffles or Boogies or Fridays and baggy-trousered floppy-haired trumpet players in white socks and soul slippers.

Which in 1982, was exactly what it entailed. Many a nightclub did I attend where all that and more was going on. And nothing sums up that whole world to me more than a coach trip to Windsor to see a friend's brother's band doing a few numbers in spring of that year.

I remember it mainly because I was so desperate for the loo on the way up that I almost considered going in a carrier bag, but settled for semi-kidney failure instead and had my grey box jacket stolen.

But what of the band? From what I recall, Boys White Teeth, as they were called in the Haircut 100 style of the time, weren't that bad, and came on after an evening of You're The One For Me by D-Train, The Chinese Way by Level 42, endless George Benson and Easier Said Than Done by those doyens of the scene, Shakatak. They wore peg trousers with short-sleeved shirts tucked in and the odd skinny tie, their hair had that flicky soulboy look and they didn't move much on stage.

The dancefloor was filled though, as people put down their Bacardis and Harp lagers and grooved on down to the band. My firend's brother was the saxophonist - was their ever a more Eighties sound than that? - and was very good. I thought we might be seeing the birth of the new Modern Romance.

They never made it. They died with the whole jazz funk movement. The world only ever needed one Light Of The World.

But I did get my jacket back.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

1983: Let's meet and have a baby - now!

It's rare for me to buy a record on sight alone today, but as explained in the previous post, I used to do it a lot.

But what about those records you'd seen in the shop for years, looked and looked at the cover because for some reason it caught your eye but you'd not read anything about the record, knew next to nothing about the band and had no concept about the music?

One day, on our weekly afternoon outing to Guildford to stock up on fags, Record Mirror and the singles you'd been coveting, I took the plunge.

I'd seen the covers of the four B-52's albums in the shops for a couple of years and their stark Sixties kitschiness rang struck an immediate chord. Doing the whole thing so much better than Mari Wilson there was something about this I knew I was going to like, being totally obsessed with all things from that era. So that day, I bought their first self-titled album. Would I regret it? I'd read about Rock Lobster, but I'd never actually heard it.

Its mix of dangerous exotica mixed with new wave sensibilities was an instant hit, (though Lobster remains one of my least favourite songs) and I applauded myself for making the right decision. Wild Planet, Mesopotamia and Party Mix all swiftly followed, and I was a fan. I thought that was it for them, but suddenly I heard - gasp! - their new single on the Peter Powell show and rushed to buy it. Yet more space age bleepery and daft lyrics all set a frantic beat. An other album followed. But I still knew very little about them.

In those pre-internet days you had to go to the ends of the earth to find out the info you wanted - wasn't that much more fun? I sent off for their fanclub info but it was all too complicated to pay for something via international money order, plus I didn't actually have the money. Now I know all about their tragic history.

Success came pretty late for them, which is a shame, and I think it's a shame that Love Shack is what they're best-known for, though it epitomises the party-loving band that they are. Their last album Funplex was a corker. I never got to see them - booked tickets twice and twice had them cancel the gigs. Never knew the reason why.

Oh well. Perhaps I'll run into them if I ever decide to go and stay here, though I worry that the clientele may be a bit Blue Velvet.

Here's one of their many fine songs, and one of my faves:

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

1982: Men wearing lipstick

Blue Rondo A La Turk.

Was there ever a more pretentious name for a band. It's SO 1982, isn't it? One of those bands you read endlessly about because they were so cutting edge and cool, never heard their music at all, but eventually caved in and bought the single on a whim, perhaps while it was full-price chartbound or probably more likely when it got discounted into the Woolies record bin.

I did this a lot. Gave in, that is, and bought at full price. I was no stranger to the bargain bin though, and always made time to flip through the ex-jukebox singles on the counter at the newsagent once a week. Some gems to be had there. But at that impressionable age, if I was told something was brilliant again and again I'd believe it and eventually have to have it. This what happened with Blue Rondo A La Turk.

They were held up by countless magazine as the epitome of the new. With their retro look adapted for the New Romantic sensibility of the time that could be found in parts by regular trips to War On Want, and their latin-infused jazz funk pop they were yet another in a long line of Next Big Things. They never were of course, though it must be said this song is a corker, despite the dreadful production. With Blue Rondo, it was a case of fur coat and no knickers, style over substance and we saw through that. Though not immediately; I bought their next two singles as well.

Another of this ilk was Weekend. The amount of times I stood staring at their album cover in the record shop. I never heard their 'hit' The View From Her Room but thought that perhaps I should just buy the album instead, and I wasn't a big album buyer at all in those days. But I did resist and forgot all about them until I came across TVFHR in a junk shop about seven years ago. I couldn't wait to hear it. It was lilty and forgettable with sub-Marine Girls vocals and laden with whimsy. No great shakes then, as I should have known. I'm glad I saved my money. If only I'd done more of that at the time.

That said, if I hadn't been that way inclined, I'd never have discovered what was to become my favourite single of all time, Uncertain Smile by The The (the non-album, non-Jools Holland version). That song was written about my life. Just thinking about it gives me goosebumps. But that's another story.