Friday, August 31, 2012

1979: Life was in a ruin

I love it when summer turns to autumn, don't you? The weather is warm yet cool, a back to school feeling hangs in the air as the leaves wait to turn from green to brown. In fact, I think it's one of my favourite times of the year.

It's usually mainly relief that a) I don't actually have to go back to school; and b) I can't really do hot weather so I can now look forward to things cooling down considerably.

Today I can look back at those far off schooldays through a rose-tinted lens, but it wasn't always the case. I think that while it was good to have some order back in one's life, who knew what the new term would bring?

You may have seen some of your mates over the summer, but supposing you'd been away... What might you have missed? What's changed? Will anyone still like you? What will it be like doing new subjects with new teachers in new groups? A mixture of dread and excitement.

Walking home on the first day back, mulling over how so-and-so had changed personalities as well as wardrobe, and how Miss Whatshername was still a complete cow despite being engaged and dreading the first PE of the year tomorrow, the weather was more often than not very much like it is today, if not slightly warmer.

Welcome back. 

Here's a proper back to school song by a proper back to school artist, something that had been a hit over the summer and threw up lots of lines that everyone liked to quote. We now know who Johnny Fruin is. I love BA, don't you? Took me ages to track down his greatest hits, but when it came, it was well worth it.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

1982: I think I'll lie here and think of you

 I'm almost getting to the stop-me-if-you've-heard-this-one-before stage with this blog, but I realise there is one song I've never blogged about, and it just happens to be my favourite song of all time.

It's The The's Uncertain Smile. No, not the album version with Jools Holland's ghastly honky-tonking all over it which totally ruins it - in fact it totally ruins any song, but the original 7" version released late in 1982.

It was one of those songs I read about endlessly as it was meant to be so amazing, and saw it week after week in Our Price and wondered if I should give it a go. You could do that in those days. There was no sampling, and you'd be hard pressed to ever hear something like this on daytime radio. So I took the plunge.

What I found was a song that even to this day sends a little chill down my spine. It meant a lot to me then and it means a lot to me now.

It's dark in tone, his low voice like rain against the window, the perfect soundtrack to a moment where things were not going well at boarding school. You know how kids are at falling out with each other, but these things cut very deep when you're that age. I don't think I'd ever felt so alone, and I'd been through some pretty lonely times the past.

Let's have a look at the lyrics. When the second verse kicks in with the howling wind bit and there's that key change - that's the bit that always gets me. That's the way I felt. Alone in my room tacked onto the side of the house, not even in the main body of the house, the lamplight coming through the window as the rain fell and wondering how I was going to get through this... 

Peeling the skin back from my eyes, I felt surprised
that the time on the clock was the time 

I usually retired to the place where I cleared my head of you;
but just for today, i think I'll lie here and dream of you.

I've got you under my skin where the rain can't get in,
but if the sweat pours out, just shout I'll try to swim and pull you out.

A howling wind blows the litter as the rain flows,

As street lamps pour orange-coloured shapes through your window,
a broken soul stares from a pair of watering eyes,
uncertain emotions force in an uncertain smile...

I've got you under my skin where the rain can't get in,

but if the sweat pours out, just shout I'll try to swim and pull you out.

Of course it all turned out alright in the end, but there's nothing as self-indulgently satsifying as wallowing in your own misery is there? I used to make lots of sad song tapes to play when things weren't going my way, and thoroughly enjoyed pushing myself into a dark place. But one grows up.

Still, at the time, after only having been a boarder for a couple of months and finding that human relationships of any kind at such close quarters were a minefield and that I may  not, after all, be everyone's immediate beverage of choice, this song came along just at the right time. It never bothered the charts though, despite rereleases. It's a classic now. I even heard it every day in Vegas. I had a wry smile.

Love the album Soul Mining too, and a line from the song This Is The Day is one that sticks with me when I hark back to times like these:

You've been reading some old letters
You smile and think how much you've changed
All the money in the world
Couldn't buy back those days

Friday, August 24, 2012

1979: It seems so long ago

There are some songs from my youth that I hear so often they no longer register.

The Human League's Don't You Want Me (or Don't You Want Me Baby as everyone insists on calling it these days) is one such song. It does bring back memories of pre-Christmas 1981, with a vague recollection of WHSmith's record dept and mum doing the most decent she'd ever done at that point and marched me into Top Man and told me to choose some clothes and she'd come along later and pay for them (I recall some burgundy Sta-prest trousers and a Charlie Brown cardigan). But I've heard it countless times over the years and it's sort of lost its impact, and I really don't care if I never hear it again.

Another song in this vein is Video Killed The Radio Star. You hear it everywhere still, and it's the track that'll never die. But that's not to say I don't like it. I love it. I love it much more than I'll ever love Don't You Want Me. With that one I just groan when it comes on and move on, but with this one a small part of me always remembers what a breath of fresh air it was when it first arrived. I'd never heard anything like it. No wonder it was such a smash. It was the beginning of something new in music, something I was going to fully embrace from thereon in.

But there's no amazing memory attached. It reminds me of winter, break times spent inside, but most of all it reminds me of being in our semi-darkened kitchen, lit only by the under-cupboard lighting, and I'm in there making my sandwiches for school the next day: Peanut butter (every day) and picking a Cup-a-Soup, probably the watery chicken & leek one with the old woman on the front of the box which was my favourite. In the next room, the rest of family is watching something on the telly. But all is calm.

The song is dark in tone, what with lying in bed and tuning into the radio, something I did every night, one earpiece in listening to Radio Luxembourg. So while this song has sort of become wallpaper, it's the one in that category I don't ever mind hearing again and again.

And that's that.

Monday, August 20, 2012

1987: Has made you wish

Australia: So near and yet so far. Nearer now perhaps, though I've never made it, but back 30 years ago it was absolutely the other ends of the earth.

What did we know about it? Rolf Harris, Skippy, the Seekers, Olivia Newton-John... those were the only known cultural exports from this far off island that were known to me.

So when Down Under reached the top spot in early '83 this really was an eye-opener, not just for me it seemed, but for most Brits. And once we'd heard this curiosity was pricked to see what other type of music was coming out of this far off, primitive land.

Icehouse were up next with their jaunty Hey Little Girl, and throughout the Eighties little bits of Australia permeated Britain like London smog through an ill-fitting window until we were fully up to speed with what was going on down there and no longer viewed the place as being 10 years behind. Well, that's what they used to say.

I remember one sunny afternoon in the garden at home, perhaps it was about 1973 and Mum and Dad were perusing a load of brochures on Australian cities. (One was called Moomba City and only recently did I realise this was but a nickname for Melbourne and for years and years I was unable to locate it on any map).

This worried me, living somewhere that was 10 years behind. Would we have a car? Would we have a washing machine? It's almost the American view of England: Do we driving around in carriage pulled by horses? Do we live by gaslight? Do we know the Beatles, etc.

But it was just a passing thought. It never happened. My interest was properly piqued when Neighbours took off, so much so, that a friend and I set our sights on going travelling around Australia when we finished university, mainly so we could find out what was going on in Neighbours, as they were about two years ahead and everyone was hungry for info.

So forget men at work. If it was anything that put Australia on the world stage other than Paul Hogan in Crocodile Dundee it was the glorious Bicentennial, but before that, in Britain at least, it was Neighbours. It wasn't until I saw Muriel's Wedding that Australia has a culture all its own. Look at Kath & Kim.

Anyway, this song was a jukebox favourite at the local pub where we played pool of an evening, and it got me all fired up about going to Australia. 'It's an outdoor life,' warned my mother. 'You'll have to learn to play tennis'. Of course it was never going to happen. I didn't have a bean to my name and as the time got closer getting a job was more pressing. But I did dream and continue to do so, though I'd much prefer a visit in 1967.

Over the past couple of years I've totally thrown myself into Australian music, exploring all I could find from the Sixties to the end of the Eighties. INXS and AC/DC may be their most popular exports, but we shouldn't overlook this gorgeous song by Hunters & Collectors, or bands like Goanna, Australian Crawl, Mondo Rock, Daddy Cool, Russell Morris (excellent piece of psychedelia) and Axiom. There are some proper gems from Down Under that never found there way here, sadly. I recommend the documentary series A Long Way To The Top if you want to explore this parallel musical world further.

I'm thinking about Australia today as a former colleague and friend died on Friday. She was Australian. She once saw Skyhooks in concert. I bombarded her with questions. The first song is for her.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

1977: I heard the announcer say...

Elvis died 35 years ago today. Hard to believe it's that long ago. Do you remember it?

I remember it well. Elvis was certainly on my radar. I wouldn't say I was a fan per se, but I we enjoyed his films which were sometimes shown in the mornings during the school holidays and I knew the odd song. He was in the charts constantly right up to his death, and I think we'd just seen off Moody Blue. It was a song we sang after Mum told us off, which was often, but obviously when she was out of earshot. We were much more scared of her than we were of Dad.

So when Elvis died it was a big deal to everyone. Some people were devasated. I glimpsed my brother through the window watching some Elvis-related show a few days later. He was crying. He was nine-years-old. I was 12. Elvis was 42. Old to me then, but younger than I am now. But people looked so much older back then, didn't they?

It was Elvis all the way for the rest of '77 really. Way Down was number one for what seemed like ages. I didn't like it at all. I thought it was a shit song, and I still think it's a rather workaday Elvis also-ran. Like Starting Over, it only got to number one because it was in the charts and everyone needed to buy it in case there was never another Elvis record released ever again, or to assuage their guilt about not having bought it in the first place. Chartwatchers will recall how the Lennon song was plummetting down the charts when he was shot and then rocketed back up the charts, from No.21 all the way to No.1 if memory serves.

And once all that was over there was this awful tribute record by this Dutch guy with the made up name. They played it to death on Radio Luxembourg. The day the music died indeed.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

1988: What we are not now

By 1988 I was properly obsessed with all things 1960s, and nothing was capturing my imagination more than hippy mudfest Woodstock.

I had the album, I watched the video about 100o times, knew all the songs off by heart and watched the older part of my record collection outnumber anything new. I papered my room with all these pictures of long-hairs putting flowers down the barrels of guns held by nonplussed soldiers, helicopters landing in Vietnam, had posters saying things like What If They Gave a War and No One Came? and generally immersed myself in the whole thing. At times, I physically ached to be there. Oh why wasn't I born a few years earlier? Why couldn't I meet a girl like Michelle Phillips? Why is it 1988 and not 1969?

Not that I looked like a hippy. Far from it. I had a job in a shop that required me to wear a tie. You weren't going to find me with a dog on a string. I had some friends who lived a semi-crusty life, but of course you could only really afford that luxury if you were a trustafarian. I met very few crusties who didn't have a comfy cushion of some sort behind them.

Then again there were the scary, squattery ones with their dogs on strings who the trustafarians enjoyed slumming with, but they all grew up eventually. One of them was fortunate enough to inherit £100,000 and move to a caravan on the coast of Scotland where she carried on living her life. And to think, she had done an accountancy degree and used to wear drindle skirts.

I still know of someone, now a single mother, who travels fairs selling her own jewellery and the son of a friend of my parents who's the same age as me and has white dreads, tattoos and fells trees in (naturally) the West Country. The same boy who cried hot, angry tears when I fell off his skateboard and took a chunk out of it aged 12 during their post Christmas visit on their way from Exeter to see an aunt in Herne Bay.

But as I've previously stated, I wasn't a risk taker and had no intention of going down the Swampy route, though I did wear stringy bracelets and lovebeads (the latter weekends only). I was just daydreaming. I still do it now, hoping against hope that I pull up my bedroom blinds to find it's 1969...

The music has stayed with me, however, and I'm still a huge fan of CCR, Melanie, Tim Hardin, Joan Baez and Canned Heat - the opening Woodstock construction scenes with Goin' Up The Country playing over them still give me goosebumps, as does this song, written about Stephen Stills' affair with Judy Collins and perhaps one of the most joyous love songs ever written.

Soak up the sunshine, man.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

1968: Yes, I think to myself*

 Wouldn't it be great to be writing a post about what a particular song reminded me of in 1968?

If I had only been born about 18 years earlier, I'd be filling this blog with my memories from the Swinging Sixties, and rather than Hole In My Shoe by neil it would be the original by Traffic, perhaps reminding me of the time we spotted Twiggy buying sunglasses in Bourne & Hollingsworth or when went on the M1 for the first time. Sigh.

I do have a memory of 1968, however, as it was the year my brother was born. I'd apparently been sent to stay with my Aunt for a couple of days around the due date. I adored my cousins who were a good few years older than me, but of course they were at school all day. So to fill oru time she took me to Winchester with her while she did a bit of shopping, and to her horror I asked a shop assistant if she was fat because she was having a baby like my mummy and sang Winchester Cathedral all the way down the high street at the top of my voice. I don't remember that at all. But I do remember meeting my brother for the first time.

I was taken into this dimly-lit room to see him and on the cot was a present for me. It was Captain Scarlet's car. I was mad on Captain Scarlet, though I found it scary (the gunshots and Mysterons in the opening credits). This was a stroke of genius on my parents' part, as here was a new thing coming into our house that bought me presents. Consequently, I never remember being even vaguely put out by any attention the new arrival had lavished upon him.

My brother was born at home, dad buried the afterbirth in the back garden, a yellow rose bloomed outside mum and dad's bedroom window that day and this song that gets no less lovely with age was number one.

We'll just have to make do with the Seventies onwards.

NB *Boringly, I realise I've told this story before. I need some new material