Monday, January 30, 2012

1979: There are no words

No words, because this song is an instrumental.

It was only in the last year or so that I realised what it was after it turned up on a US compliation: Music Box Dancer by Frank Mills, a US Top Ten hit in 1979. It wasn't a hit here, but it's a tune we all know. Was it used in a TV series or something? Whatever, it always makes me feel rather emotional and I'm not sure why.

It's the kind of feeling I get when I think of ads for Atora suet, my grandma's living room, overcast autumn days in the 1970s. afternoon ITV from the same period, the song from the Gales honey ad that I haven't been able to find anywhere (think about the flowers, think about the trees, it goes) and One Man And His Dog.

A sort of rosy glow for times past that will never come again. A biting nostalgia for the times i think I felt most warm and secure. I'm welling up just thinking of this song. Indulge me.

Friday, January 27, 2012

1974: Peace came upon me

Recovering at home yesterday after the excesses of Wednesday's National TV Awards, I was soothed by watching Look Through Any Window, a marvellous documentary about that criminally underrated and often overlooked close harmony group The Hollies.

I remember them always being a presence in my childhood as mum was a fan, but until I explored their back catalogue further as my interest in Sixties music soared as a student, I had hitherto thought of them as some tired of bunch of has-beens wheeld out for the odd guest spot on variety shows and with only a couple of hits to their name, including The Air That I Breathe, a No.2 smash in this year.

It was only on closer inspection that their oeuvre captitvated me: Just One Look, We're Through, I'm Alive, the tried but failed pop-psych of King Midas In Reverse, the wonderful Listen To Me, the groovy Long Cool Woman In A Black Dress and countless others. Graham Nash and Allan Clarke, along with guitarist Tony Hicks are one of the greatest teams ever put together on record.

So why did I find this song such a dirge in 1974? Could it be that as nine-year-old only the shiny new glam pop of Gary Glitter, The Sweet and Suzi Quatro caught my attention? Probably. The Hollies were for mums. Slade for the kids.

I'm older and wiser now, and I think this song is one of the most beautiful and complex ever made, despite Graham Nash having long departed.

Let's all sing it together.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

1983: Should care

Just back from a brief and snowbound sojourn in New York. At the airport looking for something to read on the flight, and with no patience to start novels these days, I bought a MOJO special on The Smiths and the whole C86 indie scene of the Eighties. Oh how it took me back.

It's the Christmas holidays 1983, and I'm in London going to stay with a friend in Swiss Cottage. I'm a bit early so I detour to Oxford Street to do a bit of record shopping. IIRC Selfridge's record department was tucked away in a corner of the ground floor, and was awash with ex-chart hits at knockdown prices. Nestling among the Hold It!'s and Flaming Swords was This Charming Man.

I'd been intrigued by The Smiths since I'd seen Morrissey on TOTP doing this song, gladioli in the back pocket of his washed out jeans, big quiff and loose shirt and thought they were my kind of band. I didn't get round to buying the single when it was actually released but now was the time.

When I arrived at my friend's house we popped it on the stereo, loudly. It's such a wonderful tune, it's jingle-jangle rockabillyness is just made for dancing round the room like a loon. I've been doing it ever since.

New York, once awash with Tower Records, Sam Goodys, HMVs and Virgins is now barren of record stores. It's Barnes & Noble only, and there only seem to be two of those in the whole of NYC if you want something new. There are plenty of excellent second hand shops in the West Village and beyond, but we didn't get that far this time so it was off to B & N to reacquaint myself with The Smiths' back catalogue. Despite the less than comprehensive selection, I got what I needed.

I'm glad I did. They're not everyone's cup of tea, and Morrissey has proved himself to be a first class arse, but you've got to love the band. They changed everything.

Monday, January 16, 2012

1986: Your comfort

A quiet weekend at the student house. Eight of us shared a four storey Georgian thing right in the middle of town (more or less), which while having been renovated and modified, was a uniform shade of magnolia and had no central heating.

So when the snow came down around this time in '86 we were chilled to the bone. None more so than me, who had the basement (my choice - it had its own front door) and just a mattress on the floor (also my choice - I thought it was groovy. It wasn't).

That weekend there were only three of us there. It was chucking it down with snow and not a good day to do anything much. But we all needed food and one of them had a car, so why not a trip to Sainsbury's?

This was exciting. Usually it was the veggie co-op on the way home, a ragged place run by ex-hippies and the odd crusty which sold nasty looking mishapen vegetables at quite a cost. But this being the Eighties and a student area it was OK because it was a right-on thing to be a) working at; and b) shopping at, or a convenience store.

Being students, veg wasn't top of the agenda so more often than not it was that convenience store that totally lived up to its name, though the food was suspect. Someone bought some Just Juice there once and it had gone off in 1984.

As far as supermarkets went, there was a Presto (which I noticed recently was now a Waitrose), was the only real place for all your Pot Noodle, pork pie, Fray Bentos and cheese & onion slice needs. Or if you were feeling really flush you might get a Findus shitbox platter from the local Londis. Whatever, there was never anything fancy.

A trip to Sainsbury's was a different matter entirely, however. There was a large on on the outskirts of town that I remember visiting with my grandma when I was but a tot. They did those breakfast rashers that were made of something other than bacon but which were totally delicious and the orangeyness of the whole experience made me feel all warm inside. Every time I have grilled spam on toast I get that feeling.

The only drawback to Sainsbury's though, was that it was expensive if you were a student. But that didn't stop me stocking up on all sorts of things that I had to eat before the house filled up again, or you'd not see it for dust. Remember those shared kitchen days? What a nightmare. That said, I didn't baulk at nicking milk or eating crisps then disposing of the evidence outside the house.

So off we went. I don't know why I remember this particular instance as being a standout moment in my life, but getting to the supermarket that day, the snow pummelling down and skidding all over the place in someone's rubbish Mini with no heating and steamed up windows while this song came on the radio will stay with me forever, unlike the steak and kidney pudding and cans of Kestrel I had that night.

Friday, January 13, 2012

1991: Hanging around

I never bought into the whole acid house movement. In fact, I remember feeling very downcast when it started infecting the charts properly in about 1988. I knew a seachange was coming in music and we were about to enter a terrible period. All those house parties and raves were not my scene at all.

So I greeted with dismay my flatmate getting a job at HMV and immediately changing into a roaring drugs monster DJ obsessed with all this dreadful music and even worse, making his own. Friends from school who went through uni together and now on our second flatshare after a gap of three years, we were very quickly drifting apart.

I had my new girlfriend and lots of different friends. He had his HMV chums and was a mainstay of the party scene, coming in e'd off his tits most weekends with an entourage in tow whom I'd find sitting in the living room on bright summer days in a fug of smoke with the curtains drawn all 'chilling out' and coming down. That, coupled with my other flatmate - my younger brother - and his dreadful band cluttering up the place day and night, the once so promising flat we'd bought was an ash-strewn post-student drugs den buried under piles of washing-up. It was not uncommon to come home and discover someone in my bed, or to find everything that could be used as an ashtry used an ashtray, if they managed to actually get the ash in it in the first place. And my prized singles collection was being used and abused. I was at my wits' end.

Towards the end of the year my brother suddenly decided he didn't want the responsibility of a mortgage anymore and promptly moved to Maida Vale to be a booker for bands at a venue. I was relieved. It meant that when I put that key in the door it would be locked - no one was in. I had one night a week, a Tuesday, when I could guarantee time to myself and I'd come home after the publishing course I was doing at night school, order my pizza and have a bit of quiet time to myself, rather than sit tensely wondering when the door would bang open and the music would go on. I don't think I slept a wink for about two years. Hopefully there would be no more of that now.

So it was time to find another flatmate. We found a jolly New Zealander called Sue who fitted the bill. I assumed being an Antipodean in London she's always be out. Sadly, work aside, she barely left the flat and had her boyfriend round all the time. Sweet as she was it was intolerable, even more so when her boyfriend and my druggy flatmate hit it off and he went down that road too. Now it was doubled.

But it wasn't long before we went our separate ways. Realising we had little in common and as fed up with complaints from the neighbours about his decks as I was, flatmate moved out. We're still in touch, though I've seen him once in 18 years. He's an estate agent now. So that just left me and Sue who had now split up with the newly Madchester Mike.

One day, however, unnanounced, my brother arrived and told me he was moving back in, and this time he had his bad news girlfriend in tow. I might add that I grew to like her a lot eventually, and one day she would be his wife. Only for a year or so though. She ran off to be a lesbian with a female camerawoman in 2000 and is now an accountant in Epsom. I've not seen her since.

Sue decided she couldn't handle this and moved out, leading to a succession of utter nightmare flatmates, including God squad theives, drug-addled junior doctors and a drummer who wore nothing but a grubby vest at all times. In October 1992, I was leaving them too it and moving in with the future Mrs P.

So of that time, whenever I hear this genre of music, I'm chilled to the bone. It reminds me of a time of frustration, anger, being skint and utterly pissed off living in a complete dump that had once been a fresh and lovely living space.

However, I quite like this song. It reminds of one of old flatmate's parties, and I demanded we play it again and again. Though doesn't it sound tinny now?

I tried, I really did.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

1974: A glittering end

While we're talking about cinema, who remembers their first James Bond experience?

It was 1974. There were a few cinemas in the surrounding towns, but no multplexes or anything of that nature. In Southampton we had the ABC, which used to have a balcony and do proper food and more often than not seemed to be showing The Slipper & The Rose. There was the Classic, where I saw my first ever film The Jungle Book in 1968 (so I'm told), the Atherley, which was near my grandma and had steps up where we saw The Sword In The Stone, Bedknobs and Broomsticks and Mary Poppins, among others and the daddy of them all: The Gaumont.

This behemoth seemed huge and doubled as a music venue. Over the years I saw the likes of Duran Duran, The Human League, Madness, Joan Armatrading and Rik Mayall and Ben Elton there. Today it's the Mayflower Theatre and it's where they do panto and ghaslty regional productions of No No Nanette starring Anne Charleston, Patti Boulaye and Peter Polycarpou or Bonnie Langford, Sonia and Gina Yashere doing The Vagina Monologues.

I think the cinema bit died out when a lot them did in the late Seventies, but for the full cinema experience there was nothing like The Gaumont.

We loved James Bond, what we'd seen of it. The pre-opening credit high drama set piece, not to mention those opening credits themselves with nude women diving off gun barrells and silky silhouettes of their breasts. That was a racy as it got. Which made it a bit of a problem taking grandma along.

A lifelong prude who thought the word bloody was the nadir of bad language and had no idea her own brother was gay, despite holidays in Morocco, a house in Brighton that he shared with a long-standing partner and a prediliction for Ethel Merman. When she watched the Naked Civil Servant with my other grandma while they were on babysitting duty at ours one time, she had to have the whole concept of homosexuality expalined to her. She simply had no idea such a thing existed. She was that naive, and easily shockable.

So there was much shuffling and twitching from the opening credits onwards, with lots of distracing comments aired, like 'isn't that the Yangtzee River?'. My dad was eye-rolling for Britain.

But at least we were in. The queue went around the cinema almost twice. There was no pre-booking in those days, you just had to suck it and see. We all remember queueing around the block. When was the last time you had to do it. We saw all sort of friends and neighbours in the line, all trying their luck.

Though I now know it not to be Bond's finest hour, it was enormous fun. I've been to everyone single one since. I'm a fan. I think I like Roger Moore best. I'm surprised however, that Lulu's theme tune wasn't a hit at all. I remember hearing it all the time, but it cleary never took. Anyone know why?

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

1978: Why don't they understand?

While we're on a musical tip, and thanks to Drakeygirl for jogging a memory, let's talk about Grease.

Forget punk. Was there ever anything bigger in 1978 than Grease? Saturday Night Fever was so last year. Grease was the word.

I was 13, my brother was 10 and whatever the certificate as on that film was probably low, an A perhaps, as we went to see it en famille. By the time we went we already knew the songs, or most of them, with You're The One That I Want and Summer Nights and Hopelessly Devoted To You already hits and implanted in our brains for all time.

But as to the story. Well, it took me a long time to work out that Sandy and Danny had had a summer fling, which explained why he was so cool with her when she rocked up at high school that autumn (sort of). I totally missed the references to Rizzo's unwanted pregnancy, not getting any of the meaning behind There Are Worse Things I Could Do, and as for the Sandra Dee number, I thought it was so risque as to be unbelievable it could even be shown. I was so naive. I remember my mum saying afterwards to my dad that most of it went over our heads and she was right. It was only when I was given a little book that went frame by frame through the film with speech bubbles that it all clanked into place. (Do you remember those picture novelisations of films? They were all the rage back then).

The Grease phenom lasted the whole year, and for Christmas we got the soundtrack. But really by that time it was coming to a natural end and the hits were drying up. But on my wall now was Olivia, so breathtakingly hot when she morphed from geek to chic at the film's end, with her bad girl leather jacket, satin trousers (see entries passim) and - gasp! - a fag. She was my first proper pin, replacing Charlie's Angels and pre-dating Debbie Harry by a matter of months. I still have a soft spot for her and hasn't she worn well?

As has the film. I saw a bit of it the other day, and it's still enormous fun. I love the Summer Lovin' sequence. Musicals leave me cold on the whole, but I'll go the extra mile for this. I even went on a work trip in about 1993 to see it on the London stage, starring Craig McLachlan and Debbie Gibson, with Shane Richie as Kenickie. Not sequenced like the film, but fun nonetheless.

And yes I did want a leather jacket like Danny's, however someone in my school had one and the day he got it his mum was putting her car away in the garage with the exhaust running, banged her head on the garage door and died. At least, that was the story at the time. So I went off the idea.

Anyway, I have to say I tired of most of the songs long ago, but I still like this, especially when coupled with these opening credits:

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

1975: Facing the world

The school play: who didn't want to be in it? Well, me, actually.

It had been announced in the autumn of 1974 that this year's school play was to be the Wizard Of Oz and everyone in the class had a part. I was in the fourth year at primary school, and both us the fifth year class would be taking part in some form or another, whether it be acting or producing or set designing or whatever.

The year before had been the first one they'd ever done and it had been Aladdin and was a roaring success with Michael Bernard-Jones stealing the show as Widow Twankey. Yes, the dame is always played by a man but this was a an all-boys school and a catholic one at that. But they still knew how to have fun.

So now it was our turn to be involved. So when the headmaster, (our form teacher and a Christian brother whose wandering hands landed him in court some years later), read out who had got which part I sat hoping there was no place for me. I didn't want to be in it at all. In fact, I couldn't think of anything worse. So when I was announced as the Wizard I shot my hand up and said I didn't want to be in it. Brother looked stunned. But okay, if that's what I wanted so be it.

Needless to say as the weeks went by and everyone got terribly excited about it and could talk of nothing else I felt hugely excluded. What had I done. It actually looked rather fun. That was that: I wanted in.

I asked Brother if I could have a part after all and the only one going was that of bold Munchkin girl. Well, it was better than nothing. I wasn't proud. I would be one of three 'girls' who represented the Lullaby League and welcomed Dorothy to Munchkinland. A singing role and brief too. But hey, I was in it.

So the preparations began. Mum put out feelers. We borrowed a long diaphanous blue dress from Auntie Barabara's daughter, a hairpiece and a mob cap (for some reason) and the outfit was complete. Oddly, when I showed Brother, he told me I wasn't allowed to wear any underwear undeath the dress and made me stand on a table in front of a window so the light shone through. A teahcer was present, who must have thought it rather odd that this should be the case, but there was the problem. This filfthy perv had been getting away this kind of behaviour for years. But no one said anything, it was just allowed to happen. It took a teacher almost 25 years to finally pluck up the courage to report him but when none of the parents would believe her she was sacked. But she did get her day in court eventually. Shame so many young lives were touched in such a sorry way by who was essentially a paedophilic monster. But that's the catholic church for you, I'm afraid.

Anyhoo, the show must go on.

That Christmas, I saw the film of the Wizard Of Oz for the first time. The whole class was glued and when we came back in January we had four weeks to get it polished and professional. Endless rehearsals and dress rehearsals and meetings, all taking place after school. But what fun it was to be involved. The roar of the greasepaint, the smell of the crowd. We were word perfect by opening night.

Three nights only, parents came, neighbours came the whole thing was a triumph. Nicholas Wood shone as Dorothy, carried off the solos with aplomb and looked very comfortable in blue gingham. I wonder what he's doing now? But in the blink of an eye it was all over.

I'll never forget the pain of that hairpiece though, and the pot of Pond's cold cream mum gave me to take my clownish make-up off each night. It took forever. Who'd be a woman? More trouble than it's worth.

The drive home always involved this song by Pilot popping up at some stage, cold and pitch black outside, the excitement subsiding as we got nearer home, but a big sense of fun all the same. It was brilliant, but I've not trodden the boards since.

Monday, January 9, 2012

1977: I nearly lost my head last night

Now that TOTP has glided into 1977 the memories are really kicking in.

As the very first entry in this blog explains, I was now on the very brink of being a fully paid-up member of the chartwatch brigade and record-buying public. What we see on our screens from now I was watching religiously back then, though I have to say some bits are sketchy. For example, I don't remember that Clodagh Rodgers song charting at all, though I was warmed to see that when this episode was shown she was trending on Twitter. Now THAT'S the kind of world I want to live in. Boney M were dreadful too weren't they? That orchestra has a lot to answer for.

What really jolted me though was the inclusion of Don't Give Up On Us by David Soul. My next-door-but-one neighbour, a girl a year older than me from a family of well-to-do if rather showy butchers - they had an ironing machine and went on the QE2 - we were fast friends with was mad mad mad on him. She played this record to death. On the Private Stock label, B-side Black Bean Soup. We heard it so much there was nothing we didn't know about it. She wasn't the only one going mental for him though. It was a classic case of girls wanted him, boys wanted to be him. Not so with Starsky, though Mrs P has confessed a soft spot for him over Hutch.

It's hard to imagine now unless you were there, but Starsky & Hutch was massive, wasn't it? I mean HUGE. No time was wasted in spin-off merchandise either, and my brother and I had annuals and toy cars, etc. However we never once bought the records. They didn't appeal. Soppy ballads in the main, though of course Silver Lady's a corker, suffering from weak production, but the rest you could keep. Especially this one. As '76 became '77 their fanbase just got stronger. But IIRC, by the end of the year fashions had changed.

Still, in the interim we never missed an episode. Saturday nights were Starsky & Hutch night. I don't remember many of the eps, except one in which Starsky's girlfriend died. Watching with our friends, the three siblings - girl, 13, boy, 12, girl 11 and my 11-year-old brother and 11-and-a-half-year-old me along with the teenager from their dad's shop sent to babysit us for the evening, the room became a river of tears. The babysitter looked rather uncomfortable with it all. It seemed it had got us right in the heart. Or were we just following the crowd? Anything the eldest did, we did too back then. At that moment I felt rather foolish.

I don't think I've ever cried at a TV show since. I've certainly never seen Starsky & Hutch since its first airing. Is it actually any good? Is there singing in it? It's one of the rare things I'd like to leave frozen in time. I can't imagine it's aged at all well, much like David Soul - and his music.

Friday, January 6, 2012

1983: Mother smiles she did it too

The Woolies, WH Smith and Boots singles bargain bins were ace, weren't they?

Any shop that sold singles that they then discounted once they dropped out of the charts was a treasure trove. There were those singles you never got round to buying. The ones you liked but not enough to buy at full price. And most intriguingly the ones that hovered outside the Top 40 and those that floated around the lower reaches of the charts that you had seen, read about but never heard. At such knockdown prices now was the time to buy. The ex-jukebox singles on the newsagents' counter was rich vein too.

Among many such gems I discovered this way was this Marillion number. The anti-thesis of everything I stood for at the time, I had always liked the cover. I knew they were rock, and I wasn't really into metal back then. That's what I thought they were, though of course they're not metal at all. Modern prog if anything at all, with their jester imagery, etc.

But for 20p it was worth a punt, and I was instantly enraptured by staccato pace and Fish's soaring vocals. I was pleasantly surprised. It took me a while to work out that it's the biggest class war song going, the garden party of the title up for derision rather than celebration, though the whole tone of the record is so upbeat it's an easy mistake to make.

I've had a soft spot for Marillion ever since. I was kind of pleased and disappointed when they hit big with Kayleigh. They were my discoery, my semi-secret crush and now everyone loved them. Ah well, nothing good stays hidden forever. Since then they've proved to be by turns dull, ludicrous and forgettable, sometimes even embarrassing, but I'll forgive them.

The last bargain bin I regularly visited was in the basement of the Sloane Square WH Smith, which I'd get off the bus specifically for on my way home every Monday when it was replenished. They binned singles in 1991 and that was the end of that. Another pleasure bit the dust. CD singles were never the same, though I'll cherish doing even that when there are no longer any record shops on the high street whatsoever.

What sort of world will it be for the next generations where one is unable to rummage in record shops? Unthinkable.

Anyhoo, I've never seen this video before.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

1981: Never mind, someday, maybe

I've had many style icons over the years: David Sylvian, Lloyd Cole, Morrissey, that bloke from The Farm. Even today I look to Hugh Laurie or Daniel Craig to see what the stylish fortysomething man about town should be wearing. Naturally I could never look that good but I'm not quite ready for John Lewis menswear or Dunn & Co., so it's still worth a try.

But we have to go back 30 years to see where it all began. When I seriously started taking in interest in the way I looked, a later starter at 16 perhaps, I'd pinpoint Haircut 100's Nick Heyward as the man who kicked it all off.

My first term at sixth form, living away from home with family friends and I had decided I really needed to reinvent myself from the shy and awkward lank-haired teenager in the blue Harrington jacket I was still rather unfashionably wearing from the previous year after seeing hundreds of teenagers going the full Human League and wanting desperately to be a part of that.

Step one: I parted my hair and let it hang over my eye.

Step two: The charity shop trawl and a visit to Top Man

Step three: A new me

Haircut 100, with their thick-knit Arran pullovers, suede jackets, ski jumper, those peg trousers and brown cords, not to mention the lace-up brogues and checked scarves was all so late '81, so now. For some reason it really appealed to me. Though I was rocking the Phil O hair, I was not about to do the same with the Steve Strange make-up. I had found a style to aspire to which was much more comfortable, much more me. If only I had learnt that lesson there and then. KLAXON! Legwarmers! But that's another blog entry.

So how did the 100 get their hair like that? There was no hair gel in those days that I could find. If you wanted to make your hair do something it shouldn't then it was soap or flour and water, neither of which was ideal for longer than about three minutes. That tousled look would escape me for some years to come.

When I interviewed Nick Heyward about 10 years ago (he was in the bath - relax, I was on the other end of the phone), I confessed my admiration for his look at which he was amused but unsurprised. Half the fun of that band was their image. There wasn't a lot else. Look at them now - they look like a bunch of surveyors. But it was a look that was copied countrywide. It looks largely dreadful now - I'd openly mock were I to see someone wearing some of this stuff in the street today.

I didn't quite pull it off of course, but it certainly felt better. Amazing how much confidence you get when the caterpillar becomes a butterfly. Girls look at you. And you never look back.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

1989: You're lookin' good today

Happy New Year!

In the post-Christmas slump of January 1989 I knew that while I was having a whale of a time in my responsibility-free shop job and was enjoying my relatively new flatshare at the foot of Albert Bridge overlooking Battersea Park, something had to give eventually. This carefree life couldn't go on forever. And indeed, this was to be a year of change.

Music was changing and I'd not embraced the whole acid house thing. This Neneh Cherry hit was hangover from the end of '88 but was really getting into its stride now. It was incredibly new and fresh, and challenging in a good way. Was she British? Was she American? It was hard to tell. What's she like, anyway? The Eighties would be ending soon and my love affair with the charts would soon to come to an end more or less. It had sort of died off anyway. I was so busy living my life I'd barely bought a record or seen a TOTP for about eight months. At one time this would have been unthinkable. I'd also bought my last Smash Hits and Record Mirrors that summer. At 23, it seems I was finally moving on.

This song was soundtracking the post-New Year comedown, though it wasn't too much of a comedown. I couldn't really wait to get back to work. It was such enormous fun. But by March I'd be job hunting again and the situation I could happily have had frozen and lived in forever would soon come crashing down (see 1989: Am I Only Dreaming?).

Nothing lasts forever. But in hindsight that's a good thing. If I hadn't lost my job who knows what dead end thing I'd be doing for a minimum wage now? At least I made the most of those last three months. Make hay while the sun shines. Let that be our maxim for 2012.

PS Bored of the Olympics already though.