Thursday, May 31, 2012

Various: Memory Lane Round-up No. 2

So after those teasing vignettes (according to OP, anyway), here's a few more. Read into them what you will

1972: Crazy Horses/The Osmonds
All kids loved this cos of the electronic neighing. We'd sing it on our way to the rec hoping the swingboats, which we'd christened the crazy horses, would be free and not have big boy and girls on them.

1973: Sweet Talkin' Guy/The Chiffons
A rerelease of course, but it was never off the radio. It was on when I found myself on rather a long drive visiting a neighbour's sick aunt on the way to somewhere or other. We poked our heads round her bedroom door. She had an orange candlewick bedspread.

1977: Moody Blue/Elvis Presley
We'd sing it behind mum's back after she'd told us off. We were super-scared of her temper, but we still pushed it.

1977: Lonely Boy/Andrew Gold
Cleaning out my rabbit shed while telling Dad I was going to buy this record. I loved my rabbit. Yes, he had his own shed. I found him dead two years later lying out in looking all relaxed but stiff as a board. The next day we bought a new one from the Southampton Show. But it wasn't the same.

1978: Baker Street/Gerry Rafferty
On the way home from buying this I spotted a schoolmate. I got Dad to stop the car so I could show her what I bought. She looked bemused. But the conversation ended right there.

1979: Milk & Alcohol/Dr Feelgood
Richard Stead's stepsister.

1980: Silver Dream Machine/David Essex
Endless trailers everywhere, and the feeling that he was most definitely over.

1981: Under Pressure/Queen
A school trip to Paris. Actually, I could spin a proper blog entry out of this. *makes reminder note*

1982: Torch/Soft Cell
Breakfast time, sunny outside, bike at the ready for the hideous ride to sixth form.

1983: All Night Long (All Night)/Lionel Richie
A booze cruise with my grandma and a load of other pensioners to Calais. I bought this in a hypermarket. On the way back Doug, in his eighties, was struggling with a crate of beer on his shoulder. He died not long after.

1984: Big In Japan/Alphaville
A coach trip to Cambridge with my mum and my brother to stay with - yes! - Auntie Barbara. She lived all over the place, but now she was in Cambridge. I shared my secret love of the Scorpions with her daughters and we went round the crowded pubs of the town. In a matter of weeks, it would be uni time. The next day I bought a very nice - and very, very Eighties - checked shirt from Chelsea Man. Remember that store?

1985: Move Closer/Phyllis Nelson
The kitchen at 37 Newcombe Road. None of us liked that song. And isn't she funny

1986: Slave To The Rhythmn/Grace Jones
Apparently, everyone was listening to this 'in London', according to my housemate who'd been up there for the weekend. We thought he was a tit for saying it. I don't like this song.

1987: She's On It/The Beastie Boys
Driving to Kingston. We bought some mugs. It was overcast and a Saturday.

1988: Peek-A-Boo/Siouxsie & The Banshees
Getting ready for work. Simon Mayo championed it on his breakfast show and I always waited for it to come on, I loved it. It's one of my Top 10 most played on my ipod. I think it's a fantastic song. 

1989: That's The Way Love Is/Ten City
Having a fag in the loading bay of the bookshop I was working in while it rained Weeks later I'd be out of a job.

That's enough for today.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Various: Memory Lane Round-up No. 1

Rather than spin a blog entry out of It Started With A Kiss reminding me of being driven along the Romsey Road, I thought I'd do a quick round-up of songs that when I think of them a particular image or moment flashes into my mind, but would be far too dull to elaborate on.

So here we go:

1979: One Day At A Time by Lena Martell
My granny hearing it on the radio and saying, 'well that's what I have to do. Take everything one day at a time'. She lived for 25 more years which was all down to taking Lena's advice.

1982: House Of Fun by Madness
Popping into a furniture shop in Guildford on our way home.

2000: American Pie by Madonna
The number 77 bus.

1982: Senses Working Overtime by XTC 
Oxfam, Winchester one Saturday morning, hoping against hope to find some groovy vintage - or in those days second hand - clothes.

1971: Rose Garden by Lynn Anderson
Knocking over my grandma's sundail. She should worry - students nicked it in 1977.

1986: Sancitfy Yourself by Simple Minds
Falling down an escalator in Tyrrell & Green, a branch of the John Lewis Partnership.

1985: Friends by Amii Stewart
Findus Crispy Pancakes, Batchelor's Cup-A-Soup and Golden Wonder sausage & onion crisps for dipping.

1974: Kung-Fu Fighting by Carl Douglas
The school bus to swimming.

1983: Twisting By The Pool by Dire Straits
Being locked out of my room, but it didn't matter, it was a sunny evening.

1983: Christian by China Crisis
Du Maurier cigarettes. All the rage in the smoking room.

1987: Magic Smile by Rosie Vela
Lying with my cheek against the deep pile clay-coloured carpet in my student bedroom and finding it most relaxing.

1990: This Is How It Feels by Inspiral Carpets
Watching Top Of The Pops and waiting for my friend to come over.

1981: Dancing On The Floor by Third World
My very first time in Bahrain, me and Dad driving up the empty highway with this on the car radio.

That's enough for now.

See, told you it was boring. But that covers them off. Feel free not to comment.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

1984: A Form Of Inspiration

Technology, eh? How it moves on.

I remember thinking I was at the cutting edge when I chose my new birthday present this year.

I'd struggled back to school from Bahrain carrying an enormous - well, let's call it a ghetto blaster, even though I could never bring myself to use those words. It was loud, had lots of twiddly knobs, had FM radio and best of all had a double cassette deck. That's right! You could do tape-to-tape taping. It was amazing.

So goodbye turntable, and hello taping everything. I'd buy a record, tape it and play it death at my leisure. And of course there was always taping off the radio. 

Being the first one back I had the room to myself so cranked up Radio 1 to catch up with all the new music I'd missed hearing while I was away in the dusty Middle East. Coming through crystal clear was the hot new sound from OMD (Locomotion, which still sounds great today) and the latest from those Pointer Sisters, the catchiest, summeriest, bounciest new song of the moment, its use of out there production techniques highlighted wonderfully by this new machine. I'm not sure anything had ever sounded so good.

But what didn't sound great? Everything from Prince to OMD to Matt Bianco took on a new lease of life. This machine served me well for the next two years and may well have been my favourite piece of music equipment ever. Until the ipod was born.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

1979: Don't give a damn

The NWOBHM was alive and well in 1979, especially in our maths group. Wait!, I hear you cry. What does NWOBHM stand for? The New Wave Of British Heavy Metal, of course. But you already knew that.

Back then the charts were awash with Motorhead, Thin Lizzy, Rainbow, Saxon and others riding this sudden wave of accessible pop rock. People were made for it, especially teenage boys. Two out of three hessian rucksacks boasted a badly drawn Motorhead logo, and leather jackets were studded so you could vaguely make out the name of Iron Maiden or Judas Priest, though you had to squint in a certain light if it was ever to make sense.

Our maths group - three out of five - took a turn away from the Police, Gary Numan and Showaddywaddy for a moment, when at the start of the autumn 1979 we welcomed a new arrival. He was Scottish and most interestingly his father was a prisoner officer at Parkhurst on the Isle of Wight. He was properly into his rock: AC/DC was a favourite, as well as old warhorses like Deep Purple, Led Zeppelin and Black Sabbath. But it was this new wave that was really captivating him, and which rubbed off on all of us.

Being in the deep south, we didn't have that many Scots around. He was a curio indeed, but mainly because of his heavy metal credentials rather than anything else. Not like when an Austrialian boy joined our class in primary school and we all gathered round to ask him if he'd ever seen a koala or a duck-billed platypus.

The Scot was a funny guy, disruptive like us all and lessons were a laugh-a-minute. Our teacher - Mr Hinde, Mr B Hinde (seriously), a smallish man with a big ginger beard wanted to appear strict but encouraged the banter, the singing of advert jingles (Oxo's Three Steps To Heaven pastiche always springs to mind) and the re-enactment of the Citizen Smith opening titles.

We laughed at his Reliant Scimitar car, what with it being from the makers of the Reliant Robin, and all waited for my brother to walk past the door and wave during our double period. This reached fever pitch eventually, so Mr Hinde would hover by the door and pull the blinds down just as he approached.

When his back was turned notes were passed around, and plans were constantly made to meet up under the Eiffel Tower on July 1, 2000, which seemed an awfully long way off back then. I was to bring the chicken drumsticks. We talked Top Of The Pops, Tomorrow's World, Not The Nine O'Clock News and Monty Python. But music was our first love, with Susan who sat over the aisle to my right the object of my affections, mainly because she wore mod shoes and laughed at all my jokes. 

I learnt nothing in those lessons. Nothing to do with maths, anyway. But what I did learn was how to love heavy metal. This Rainbow song was a huge hit, and it opened the door to other stuff I'd been afraid of. This all sounds like pop now anyway, doesn't it?

I didn't see the Scottish guy once we'd left in 1981, though I did back into his mum's eau de nil Mini in a pub carpark in 1986, but that's another story.

Monday, May 21, 2012

1977: Then softly leave

One bored afternoon back in 1977, I decided that I would join a fan club. At the time, as a 12-year-old, my favourite groups were Boney M, Abba and The Bee Gees. I bought How Deep Is Your Love and adored the whole Saturday Night Fever soundtrack, despite never having seen the film. But everyone loved it. I was no different.

In the days before the internet it was really quite hard to track down info on your favourites. I bought Record Mirror and Look-In, though I thought I was getting to old for the latter. I had asked my newsagent to order me the Abba magazine, but it never turned up, so I realised that the only way I could keep abreast of what was going on in the lives of the bands I loved was to join their club.

There was no Boney M fan club listed in Look-In, but there was a Bee Gees one. So I wrote off, did the whole stamped address envelope thing, got mum to post it and waited. And waited. And Waited. Nothing ever turned up.

Oh well. I was reminded of this today was I was driving to work. In place of his usual Golden Hour, Simon Bates was playing a selection of Bee Gees songs to mark the passing of Robin Gibb. I'm sad about this, as only in recent years have I truly come to appreciate how utterly amazing the Bee Gees actually are.

Like everyone else, I loved them in the Seventies, went off them in the Eighties and never gave them much thought. Of course, I had my favourite songs like Massachusetts and I've Gotta Get A Message To You, but I'd totally gone off the whole disco era stuff and, if I'm honest, feel it's been played out. Night Fever is guaranteed to see me exit the dancefloor.

But their pre-SNF stuff, especially at the turn of the Sixties, is a goldmine. How Can You Mend A Broken Heart, Melody Fair, Jumbo, Idea, IOIO, the Odessa Album. What's not to like?

So in tribute to Robin Gibb, we won't have How Deep Is Your Love. That was just a hook to hang it on. We'll have my very favourite I Started A Joke. It's possibly one of the oddest lyrics I've heard and I've mulled over the meaning in my mind. I guess I'll never know. A bit like Saturday Night Fever. To this day I've still not seen it.

Friday, May 18, 2012

1978: Your fantasy

While we were having our extension built, this was a minor hit. But it caught my imagination.

As the plaster dried to a darkish grey colour, I'd slink into the upstairs room that was to be my extended bedroom and imagine I was some sort of rock sex god, throwing myself against the walls in an suggestive, yearning fashion, rolling around to sing this song - to me the very pinnacle of eroticism in music - into the camera in my imaginary head-to-toe leather gear like I was indeed the lead singer of Exile.

I was 13. I was wearing turquoise polo neck knitted by Auntie Maggie and ghaslty too long for me wildly flared denims my dad had got wholesale from a discount warehouse somewhere in Somerset. But you have to fill your pockets with dreams, right?

I'm not sure I really heard it again until 1998, when I was the passenger of an ancient chain-smoking Granada TV on-set photographer zipping across the M62 from Coronation Street, where I'd had a 15-minute window to present the similarly chain-smoking Anne Kirkbride with a magazine award (amazing legs), to Emmerdale, where I was to do a similar thing with some other cast members I cannot now recall. Lisa Riley and Claire King may well have been involved.

It all came flooding back. I died a little inside and took another cigarette. I've since discovered Serge Gainsbourg.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

1980: Should have stayed at home

If a classmate collapses drunk in a pub and is promptly expelled from school seemingly overnight and you never, ever see them again, did it really happen?

Not that it was a school for scandal, but you used to hear about all these awful things happening to people sort of second hand. Whether I walked around in a haze or not is open to debate, but I remember hearing all sorts of things which were never confirmed one way or another, though I'm sure were true.

Two girls got up the duff, one a nice, quiet girl who was going out with some geek and who kept themselves to themselves. Now we now what they were doing with their time.

The other girl was a bad girl with a reputation and a horrible boyfriend who I was scared of. Both those babies were girls - the bad girl called hers Donna Siobhan - and would be over 30 now. Gosh.

Then there was the guy who collapsed in the pub. He was a hoot in my history class. (He loved this song too, which always reminds me of history lessons as we were allowed to discuss what it meant, what with it being about the war and everything). At that age (15) I'd never set foot in a pub as a drinker. In fact, I don't think I'd ever even had a drink. I was certainly shocked to the core to hear he had a drink problem and that he was expelled immediately. Makes you wonder just what was going on at home.

Let me be clear - I was no angelf myself, but I was more Tucker Jenkins than Gripper Stebson. I had the cane and the slipper endlessly, but for silly things like flooding toilets or being mean to Ian Pearce (which I regret to this day). But I didn't run with a fast crowd, more's the pity.

Then there was the school heartthrob, a couple of years above me, who one evening was apparently killed in a motorbike crash, witnessed by a girl in a our class who was his girlfriend. I remember hearing how his ear was completely scraped off as the skidded headfirst into a lampost. I don't remember seeing it in the paper or anything, but it definitely happened.

And what about the the girl who was robbing the till at the tea room where she worked? That one was in the local rag, as was the older boy up the road who got into a fight in a pub.

Let's not forget either, the kid from my maths class whose mother was felled by a rogue garage door and was asphyxiated by exhaust fumes (see entries passim), or the father of a boy in my year I didn't care for who was killed by a runaway horsebox on a deserted country lane.

Growing up where I did which, scary big boys at the rec aside, was a rather gentle place to be, I was surprised by these events but remained curiously unaffected by them. Perhaps because if I thought about it too much something awful might happen to me. Or pehaps it was in one ear and out the other. Or perhaps I'm just a psychopath.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

1992: This is the song that we played

There have been some duff years in music, but none so much as 1992.

When I was going through the charts from start to finish - bear with me, it's for a project - I couldn't believe what I was seeing.

I've been trawling through the years recently, seeing if there's any Top 40 stones I've left as yet unturned. And while there are probably about five songs from 1968 I physically either can't my hands on or simply can't bear to hear because I'm sick to death of them, in 1992 the number is about 20 times that but the reasons are very different except for the can't bear bit. The main reason I don't have them is because they're dreadful.

Along with Whitney Houston and some ghastly early Nineties soul, then morphing into the RnB we know and loathe today, are endless faceless producer-fronted rave novelties like Poing, The Bouncer, Sesame's Treet and other utter bollocks. I have never skimmed a chart so quickly without pausing to download a gem as I have 1992.

Also, I don't remember much about the year that stands out except a trip to Israel (another thread entirely), and a trip to Boston/New Hampshire for a wedding. Twenty years on and husband left wife for some toothy Hamptons popsy despite married couple having gone through the heartache of IVF resulting in twins followed by another baby the natural way. And I thought he was so boring. They met whale watching for God's sake. I hear he's got a drink problem now and her back's murder. Shame, as I quite liked him, but that's 1992 for you. As disappointing back then as it is to look at now, musically at least.

Perhaps I'm being unkind. I suppose there's the odd thing that sticks out. Bell Bottomed Tear by the Beautiful South is one of the loveliest songs ever made (more from them later), The Wedding Present did that single a month thing, Right Said Fred did Deeply Dippy which always reminds me of a visit to Barcelona that year to see a friend who taught English and whom I'm convinced was leading a double life, Def Leppard asked us if a rock was out of the question and Curtis Stigers and Richard Marx were the Vince Hill and Des O'Connor of the moment.

Our downstairs neighbour was dumped by this silly girl from New Zealand and played One by U2 and Walking On Broken Glass by Annie Lennox at top volume for about six weeks, XTC brought out the marvellous Nonsuch album, the Sisters of Mercy had the soaring Temple Of Love, a tune made for driving really fast down the A2, Erasure did that rubbish Abba tribute, the Manics were just getting started, the Lightning Seeds were bringing out records that were just this side of catchy classic pop - don't know what it is but it's missing a vital ingredient, Wet Wet Wet followed up a number one single I couldn't hum if you held a gun at my head with the brilliant Lip Service, the only song of theirs I actually care for, and there were some corkers from Thomas Dolby, Cyndi Lauper, the Shamen, Inspiral Carpets, Tasmin Archer, Crowded House, Suede, Bizarre Inc and Mike Oldfield. I already own these of course.

Let's not forget the lovely Drive by REM, Go West's brilliant Faithful, and poor Betty Boo tried a comeback which didn't work, but if you listen to Let Me Take You There it's not all bad.

Worse song of the year that wasn't a rave novelty: Would I Lie To You by Charles & Eddie. Hate it with a passion.
Second worse song of the year that wasn't a rave novelty: Stay by Shakespear's Sister

But I did do some downloading. Sixteen songs, including Buffy Sainte Marie, Nirvana, Altern8, Mr Big, The Cure, Clivilles & Cole, Morrissey, Bruce Springsteen, Arrested Development and k d lang. Still not a vintage year though.

Here's the Beautiful South with the best song of the year:

Monday, May 14, 2012

1971: Stars will be shining

Remember the days when the singing stars of the day would get their own weekend variety shows?

Many's the time I remember sitting down to see Cilla Black, Shirley Bassey and countless other easy listening greats of the moment hosting their own TV shows. I especially recall The Cliff Richard Show fondly. He used to intersperse the singing with comedy skits, more often than not involving Olivia Newton-John.

One that still makes me chuckle quite a lot when I think about it is when Cliff came on with Olivia who was dressed as a wardrobe. Said Cliff, 'We've just been shopping and bought Olivia a whole new wardrobe'. I'm laughing now. Of course, if you think about it, it's not really that funny, but to a seven or eight year old me it was the height of hilarity. Say what you like about Cliff, he had a gift for comedy.

So what happened to the singer-turned-TV-host?  Some people will have grown up oblivious to the fact that Cilla Black has one of the greatest voices of all time, has had a string of truly excellent Top 40 hits and has worked with some of the biggest legends in the business. To them, she's just the host of Blind Date, Surprise Surprise or Moment Of Truth, who just happens to have been around for a long time.

The last person I can think of who had a Saturday night show was Lulu with that ill-fated lottery-encompassing bollocks Red Alert. But it's not like she hadn't hosted her own shows before. Then there was Charlotte Church's chat show, but it was on the wrong channel. She'd have been better just doing an all-singing, all-dancing comedy chat programme on ITV that would have pleased everyone from tots to teens to OAPs, rather than try to be an edgy Jonathan Ross type aimed at the post-pub crowd.

So who of today's crop of singers could happily be at home hosting an hour of variety on BBC1 on a Saturday night? And moreover, would they want to do it? Is it a move that seen as a kiss of death to a singing career? After all, none of the above are seen as exactly cool, are they and, Cliff aside, none of them were troubled by too many Top Of The Pops appearances once they'd moved over to TV.

We've had the odd special from Michael Ball and Michael Buble, but they're not in the same mould as those old Seventies shows. Whither Barbara Mandrell, Julie Felix and others of those ilk? Adele could be just what we're looking for, but let's give it a few years. In them meantime, Buffy Sainte Marie can't be busy. I bet she's a hoot. 

We won't have Something Tells Me..., we'll have this instead. A big favourite of mine. Ladies and gentelmen, Miss Cilla Black *rapturous applause*

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

1982: Cry behind the door

I don't know why, but there is no song more comforting to me than All Tomorrow's Parties by Japan.

It's like pulling a blanket over you when you're cold, or getting into a warm bath. That feeling of security and peace. In times of trouble - no matter what it is, from turbulence on a plane to the London riots - this song always pops into my head and I must seek it out and hear it at once. And then I feel better.

I first became aware of it at the beginning of 1982 (though it scraped the Top 40 as as single in early '83), when I was mad about Japan and snapped up their entire back catalogue. On their Assemblage album - one I can't recommend highly enough, by the way - is this gem of a Velvet Underground cover. If ever a cover was better than the original, it's this.

I'd just gone to live with my aunt and uncle for six months, who lived in the neigbouring town to the sixth form I was at. All my friends were changing, everyone was drifting apart and finding new groups, I felt adrift and for a while, quite alone. 

This song touches on that feeling, thinking of what might be - all those parties I wanted to go to but never did and thought I never would. This song's got such a sad vibe. It sends shivers down my spine just to think of it.

Things didn't turn out that way in the end of course, so perhaps that's why I find it such a comfort. Everything will be alright eventually. It usually is.

Friday, May 4, 2012

1979: Bitter

Was there anything quite as mortifying as being spotted out shopping with mother when you're a teenager?

I remember dying of shame when we pulled up at a traffic light and I was spotted by the person I sat next to in maths, him on his bike in one of those shiny green bomber jackets, me with mum's shopping basket on my lap. This song was all the rage at the time. Cool for cats, but not cool for me. It took years to live that one down.

Or the time when we went into Jill's Wools. While mum was loudly asking me to choose a wool for a jumper to be baggily knitted by the dreaded Auntie Maggie, and using my hideous mouthful of a name at every opportunity, the Saturday girl, a smirking great heap with a weaved lurex scarf and big jumper, arms folded, trying to contain herself, was drinking in my acute embarrassment. Of course we laughed about it on Monday morning. Or rather, she and her friends did.

I can't remember when I called a halt on such extra-curricular duties, but they got beyond the call of the duty eventually. In town I'd be at least five steps ahead, and shame of having to buy clothes and being treated like a living doll in front of mean-spirited shop assistants who knew your pain but relished it nonetheless was too much to bear.

We compromised eventually that I'd choose and she'd come and pay, which made me feel much more grown up and make me worry less that I'd end up as some anoraked milquetoast who'd live with mother, accompanying her on coach trips to ruined churches and visits to garden centres until the day she died like something out of an Alan Bennett monologue.

Even now I'm not mad about it, though it's incredibly rare. I can't help thinking I'm going to bump into a bunch of schoolfriends who'll spend the rest of the term mocking me. That said, we all had to go through it, didn't we?

Love the girls in this vid.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

1985: Like the sun coming out

When I left Tracey Baxter's copy of Hounds Of Love at a Southampton bus stop in 1985, Kate Bush was not the rare beast she is today. A new album? Not to worry, there'll be another along in a minute, a bit like the bus we got on not realising the bag we'd put down for a just a moment was never to be seen again. Kind of like Kate today really.

So yesterday I nearly died when I actually got to see this most enigmatic, magical, wonderful of creatures IN THE FLESH.

I've always been a fan, but I've become much more so in recent years. I thought Aerial was amazing, and I'm still getting used to 50 Words For Snow. That said, there was a time when Lionheart or The Kick Inside were never off my turntable, and I comfortably own everything she's ever released in this country and beyond, some of it I've paid a small fortune for too. But of course, that's what you do when it's Kate. You have to get what you can when you can. She's inventive, creative, never boring, always surprising. The fact she doesn't court publicity makes her all the more fascinating. 

Anyhoo, I knew she was nominated for a South Bank Sky Arts Award for best album, along with Adele and PJ Harvey, but I never dreamed for a moment that even if she'd won she'd actually turn up. But turn up she did. I didn't see her arrive, but when Tom Jones announced she'd won she had to come all the way up through the room from the very back, and seeing as my table was just at the foot of the stage by the only steps up, she had to brush right past me. I was but feet away. I resisted the urge to touch her or shout out how much I love her - I'm a fortysomething year-old man, after all - and I'm very rarely starstruck, but that was one of those moments.

The room was packed with the likes of Michael Frayn, Felicity Kendal, Lynn Ramsay, Lenny Henry, Tom Stoppard, Jane Asher, Claire Tomalin, Brenda Blethyn, Rob Brydon, Jason Isaacs, Dominic West, Felicity Jones, and everyone else from the highbrow arts world - only on Saturday night was I at the British Soap Awards, and frankly there's no crossover -  but I only had eyes for Kate. I savoured the moment. I drank her in. I'm almost 100 % sure I'll never see her again. In fact, the 300 people in that room are among only a handful of the public at large who have seen her in the last 20 years.

Of course, she could have brushed her hair and her leotard days are far behind her, but hey, I've seen Kate Bush. Another ambition realised.