The Green Inc Co-Founder chronicles the songs that shaped his life 5 years at a time for an Australian webzine’s version of Pitchfork's 5-10-15-20 Series.
ROBERT MELLIN and GIAN-PIERO REVERBERI ‘The Adventures of Robinson Crusoe Theme’ (Original Television Soundtrack October 1965)
I don’t remember too much about my early childhood, but I do remember being dragged along to the local Odeon by my maternal grandmother Dolly to watch whichever film musical was doing the rounds. At the time she would have been in her mid-fifties working in the packing department at Huntley & Palmers, so musicals like My Fair Lady, Mary Poppins, Half a Sixpence and Oliver must have been her way of escaping the daily grind for a couple of hours.
In 1965 the big musical was The Sound of Music which funnily enough is still my go to film when I’m feeling down. Bearing that in mind, ‘My Favourite Things’ or ‘The Lonely Goatherd’ could easily have featured here, but the one melody that reminds me of the sixties and my childhood more than any other is the haunting theme to The Adventures of Robinson Crusoe TV series. For some reason I can’t quite define, the thirteen part adaption of Daniel Defoe’s classic had a profound, lasting effect on me when it first appeared on BBC One in 1965. It would also become a part of my teenage with repeats running well into the mid-seventies.
RAY STEVENS ‘Everything Is Beautiful’ (Single A Side March 1970)
At first glance, in a self-sufficient, latchkey kid kind of way I guess my childhood could be considered idyllic. Free to do whatever we wanted once we returned home from school due to our mother preferring her teaching career to childcare, from a very young age my brother Joe and I learnt to amuse ourselves, initially on the tree covered circle outside our house in Avalon Road, Earley, then, as we grew older, by venturing further afield to Maiden Erleigh Lake, the River Loddon, Bulmershe woods or the derelict Woodley Aerodrome. No-one ever asked us where we’d been or what we’d been up to.
The one exception was Sunday, a day our parents dedicated to worshipping their God. Unlike the other six days of the week, on Sundays we were imprisoned within the confines of our own home apart from the morning visit to Sunday School in our Sunday best clothes where ‘Everything Is Beautiful’ was adopted by the right on, Jesus-loves-you students doing their best to teach us about peace, love and understanding. Given that in 1970 I was a football crazy, ten year old boy with no interest whatsoever in church, Jesus or pop music, Ray Steven’s message went unheeded, although I do recall it being marginally more enjoyable to sing than the turgid ‘Bridge Over Troubled Water’ or ‘Let It Be’, the other popular Sunday school songs of the day.
DAVID BOWIE ‘Golden Years’ (Single A Side November 1975)
The years between my football obsessed, ten year old self and the music obsessed, fifteen year old version were filled by all manner of pop chancers, glamsters, misfits and one off geniuses but most of all they were filled by David Bowie. Not only were Hunky Dory, Ziggy Stardust, Aladdin Sane, Diamond Dogs and even David Live absolutely essential cultural documents of the times, if it hadn’t been for Bowies seal of approval I might never have discovered Roxy Music, Mott The Hoople, The Velvet Underground, Lou Reed or Iggy & The Stooges. Coming after the disappointment of Young Americans fake plastic soul earlier in the year, the November 1975 release of ‘Golden Years’ signalled not only Bowies return to form but my first serious relationship and the start of a reckless, typically teenage rite of passage that seven months later would lead to Johnny Rotten, the Sex Pistols and punk.
THE LINES ‘Nerve Pylon’ (Single A Side October 1980)
1976 was a seismic moment in popular music, a history destroying year zero after which everything changed. Before punk, music was a diversion, the making of which was far beyond the capability of a mere mortal. After punk, music was something you had to get involved with, whether it was learning three chords and forming a group, writing a fanzine, putting on shows, running a label or anything else you fancied. What you did and how you did it was irrelevant. It was the doing it that mattered.
After a couple years of doing just that in a handful of noisy punk groups with names like The Kaotix, Gilly & The Videos and Jesus Fucks, in 1980 I set up X Cassettes, a strictly DIY venture that involved the photocopying and folding of hundreds of covers, gluing on labels and hour upon tedious hour of copying C60 cassettes in real time on a rudimentary double cassette set up. Distributed by post and publicised by word of mouth and the nationwide fanzine network my efforts proved relatively popular, the most successful selling in excess of 500 hand crafted copies. And yet, vinyl remained the Holy Grail.
Having released a couple of singles in the late seventies, The Lines were established members of the early independent record scene that had emerged post punk. Along with other underground ‘names’ like the English Subtitles and the Dogma Cats, I contacted them asking for a contribution to a cassette compilation I was putting together. Thankfully they all obliged, The Lines Rico Conning offering bucket loads of encouragement and practical advice which ultimately gave me the confidence to start planning my first vinyl venture, No Cure Records. He also sent me a complimentary copy of the brilliant ‘Nerve Pylon’ into the bargain, a record that even now can bring memories of that gloriously naïve period flooding back.
BONE ORCHARD ‘Princess Epilepsy’ (Princess Epilepsy EP 1985)
Within the chaotic, day to day running of an independent record label, it was a known fact that many of the groups they pursued would end up signing elsewhere. At Criminal Damage we kept a list with as many as ten names on it and in the summer of 1983, soon after the release of our first two singles by The Stunt Kites and Twisted Nerve, Brighton psychobilly goths Bone Orchard were top of that list. Brought to my attention by a memorable Peel session, we went to a couple of their shows and declared an interest, but ultimately it was not to be and they signed to the bigger, more experienced Jungle Records instead.
A couple of years later, in the autumn of 1985, I bumped into Chrissy and Mark again at one of their Clarendon shows on Hammersmith Broadway. As spellbinding as ever, while I was aware that their association with Jungle was coming to an end, frustratingly I was in no position to offer them a deal as we had been turfed out of our Fulham Road base by our backers Illuminated, despite being owed thousands of pounds in unpaid sales. The brilliantly avant-garde, bastard blues weirdness of ‘Princess Epilepsy’ is a permanent reminder not only of Bone Orchard, but of the hundreds of like-minded, noisy upstarts from the mid-eighties who were there one minute and gone the next.
RENEGADE SOUNDWAVE ‘The Phantom’ (Single B Side October 1989)
When I finally gave up running Criminal Damage it was liberating for all sorts of reasons, not least because I regained the freedom to listen to whatever I wanted. No more amateur indie dross for me thank you very much! The only one of the labels former artists I kept an ear out for was Karl Bonnie and Renegade Soundwave, partly because they were the most visible, but also because trad rock groups were rapidly becoming passé as music culture was dragged kicking and screaming into a guitar free, dance zone.
Hidden away on a B Side, ‘The Phantom’ had a phenomenal impact as an early example of a breakbeat track that arrived just as acid house was evolving into its own UK variant. While Danny Briottet claimed it as his own, the sonic hand of Karl was all over it, from the clattering drum break to the unmistakable, Paul Simonon approved loop of ‘White Riot’, Clash fanatic Karl’s nod of respect to punk’s DIY spirit and Joe Strummers incendiary fervour.
MASSIVE ATTACK ‘Karmacoma’ (Single A Side March 1995)
Massive Attack’s music brings back all sorts of memories, usually of precious, quiet and isolated moments that stuck in my mind. And yet, to this day the stoned immaculate sound of ‘Karmacoma’ reminds me when, amongst many other delightful tasks, I was still emptying bins of fish guts and scraping up roadkill for a living. Soundtracked not by the Britpop hits of the day, but by artists like Bjork, Polly Harvey, Portishead, Black Grape and most of all by Massive Attack and Adrian ‘Tricky Kid’ Thaws, 1995 was also the year when I felt like I’d finally hit rock bottom. Brow beaten and battered by illness and a poisonous, destructive marriage, Massive Attack and Tricky’s hypnotic, introspective songs provided a much needed speck of light in the gloom.
SO SOLID CREW ‘Oh No (Sentimental Things)’ (Single A Side 2000)
You never hear anything about them these days but there was once a time when So Solid Crew were enormous. In the year 2000, most weekends I could be found driving my son and his mates to football in my trusty Astra van, sometimes with as many as six squeezed in the back. On the way they’d play all this UK garage stuff they’d taped direct from pirate radio and So Solids proto grime, pop single ‘Oh No (Sentimental Things)’ together with its ultra-minimalist B side ‘Dilemma’ always featured. For the fourteen year old boys in my van, that one record turned So Solid Crew into the twenty first century’s first version of the Sex Pistols, a heady mix of musical anarchy and cultural disruption that would inspire them to form their own crews, make their own music and play their own parties, something I never thought I’d witness again.
LCD SOUNDSYSTEM ‘Losing My Edge’ (LCD Soundsystem LP January 2005)
James Murphy’s rant about getting older, becoming irrelevant and passing the mantle onto the kids ‘coming up from behind’ was my most played song of the noughties by far. Freaking out at being forty five years old, and completely clueless about whatever hip new trend was in at any given moment, I wasn’t just losing my edge, I’d already lost it. And yet, I still insisted on raging against the dying of the light when in truth I knew it was a waste of time. What’s more, it was James Murphy’s hilariously funny yet poignant history of the hipster that helped me see how pointless my struggle really was, and how getting older and losing your quotient of cool is just another fact of life. Besides, as I would discover soon enough, forty five was a breeze compared to what came next!
GONJASUFI ‘Sheep’ (A Sufi And A Killer LP March 2010)
Like any faith, religious or otherwise, I have questioned my devotion to music on numerous occasions over the years, the most notable being in September 2009 when my 23 year old son, Corporal Richard Green of 3 Rifles Recce Platoon, departed for his third tour of Afghanistan. Not surprisingly, the importance of music instantly faded into irrelevance once I weighed up the very real, life threatening dangers he was bound to face. And sure enough, not only did he face those dangers on a daily basis, six months later on 2nd March 2010 he was shot and killed by a Chechen sniper hired by the Taliban to create havoc amongst the British forces.
The strange thing is that while I had barely listened to any music in his absence, upon his death it became the first thing I turned too, despite feeling horribly guilty about doing so. In what felt like a perfectly natural if futile attempt to navigate my way through the paralysing onslaught of grief and sadness, I downloaded Gonjasufi’s A Sufi And A Killer to find some vital crumbs of comfort within its shamanic musing and beat heavy prophecies, ‘Sheep’ in particular, with its vague and contradictory metaphor about wanting to be a sheep instead of a lion, taking on a meaning and significance far beyond that of a relatively simple, four minute, pop song.
DONNIE TRUMPET & THE SOCIAL EXPERIMENT ‘Sunday Candy’ (Surf LP May 2015)
In hindsight it’s easy to see how Rich’s death dominated my twenty tens and how I sleepwalked my way through the first five years, with much of my time spent wallowing up my own arse. Admittedly, my mind wasn’t exactly focused on work, and yet in 2015, my employer of 27 years added insult to injury by suspending me on some trumped up, bullshit accusation of wrong doing. Thank God then that Donnie Trumpet and the Social Experiment’s wonderful Surf was around to ease the worry and cut through the crap, their ridiculously joyful yet fiercely moral songs like Chance The Rappers ‘Sunday Candy’ enough to bring a smile to anyone’s lips. As for my employer, six months later, with no evidence forthcoming and my natural unwillingness to return, they had no choice but to make me redundant with a huge financial package that essentially set me up for the rest of my life.
JAMES BLAKE ‘When We’re Older’ (Covers EP December 2020)
A lot of folk get to my age only to tune out and slip back into the comfortable music of their youth. But one of the few things that continues to excite me is the evolution of music culture and the exhilaration, experimentalism and otherness that still characterises its best moments. OK, so maybe I don’t follow artists in quite the same way as I did when I was seventeen, but together with Frank Ocean, Kendrick Lamar, Chance The Rapper, Damon Albarn, Young Fathers and M.I.A to name just a few, James Blake is someone I’ve got a lot of time for, his self-explanatory reworking of Beyoncé’s ‘Otherside’ reminding me once again how lucky I am to have the real, honest to goodness love of my beautiful Claire, and how that love has and will prevail no matter what. All you need may not be love, but it sure helps!