APPENDIX: PROLOGUE TO HISTORY 1971 - 1976
Personal histories are a ragbag of memories, secrets and well-worn tales subject to myth making. Our memories are fallible things. Reminiscing and wrestling with the past you regularly encounter problems trying to recall how things were, pinning them down to certain dates and then putting them in order with the detail intact; the first person you kissed; what the field looked like before the new housing estate was built; the name of the cool seventeen year old killed on his motorbike.
In the deep waters of our memory it’s not so much a case of pinpointing a specific event as trawling through murky impressions. But if there’s one thing of which I’m certain it’s that on 29th June 1976 the Sex Pistols changed my life, the stifling tradition of my past turning to dust in favour of the new, the different and the reactionary. It wasn’t a pose. It wasn’t bullshit punk rhetoric. In my year zero everything really did have to go, the records I’d been listening to sold off because they were no longer relevant. And yet as the decades have rolled by, the more I’ve come to appreciate how the soundtrack to my adolescence prepared me for that remarkable night at the 100 Club, and how my musical rite of passage really began five years before.
I didn’t know it at the time but it’s a fact that anyone who’s likely to develop a love affair with music will do so by the age of ten or eleven, twelve at the latest. In January 1971 I had just turned eleven so was ripe for the picking. Preoccupied with football, motorbikes and getting through life in a new grammar school ten miles from home, I had never been interested in pop before. Alienated from the local secondary modern kids I’d grown up with, almost overnight the innocent pursuits of my childhood were replaced by the pubescent boy’s obsession with girls and music.
Barely out of shorts, my meagre pocket money was enough for a copy of Shoot magazine and a handful of Bazooka Joe bubble gum but not nearly enough to buy a seven inch single, much less an album. Instead, my first shaky steps on the road to pop nirvana came not from the original records, but from the Music For Pleasure label’s budget Hot Hits LP’s and their dodgy, oompah loompah cover versions of the top twenty. Optimistic and innocent, gloopy and sentimental, with oceans of easy listening, catchy pop reggae, maudlin ballads, novelty songs and the occasional rock hit, they were a fabulous introduction to pop and perfect for miming along to with my homemade, silver star, hardboard guitar. But even at my tender age, I knew there had to be something else, something more.
Amongst all the novelty schlock and dreck I was losing myself in shone a deceptively simple tune that opened the wardrobe door and slipped me into pop Narnia. Explicitly teen orientated, T. Rex’s ‘Get It On’ bought glam sharply into focus and kept me going back for more, the satin and tat, corkscrew curls and androgyny of Marc Bolan speaking in an entirely different language to the holiday camp singalongs I’d been listening to.
If Bolan was my first pop crush, his teen anthems the first records funded by a succession of paper rounds to feed my new addiction, on 6th July 1972, David Bowie sashayed onto Top Of The Pops to sing ‘Starman’, draped an arm around Mick Ronson and caused a seismic shift in my understanding of pop culture. For those who witnessed his appearance that night, the new world we were shown in those three and a half minutes violated every moral and social boundary, cliché and value we had been program- med with since birth.
Irreverent glamour verging on the sacrilegious, it was dark, dangerous and transformative. For me and thou- sands like me, music would never be the same again. It may have been confusing and vaguely disconcerting, but when you’re a callow twelve year old you take your cultural salvation any way it comes. Feeling useless, unworthy and out of place in a small minded, smalltown suburb, Bowie sowed the seed of discontent that gave me permission to accept myself and discover a sense of identity that had nothing to do with controlling mothers, despot teachers, hypocritical priests or their God.
Greedy for knowledge, I began listening to anything I could beg, borrow or steal from the handful of similarly disaffected strays and stragglers I knocked around with. That way I got to hear a whole bunch of records I’d never have heard otherwise. With an obsessive fandom forged in the white heat of adolescence, the colour, sex and rebellion of those records influenced everything from my feathered haircut to my stack heeled shoes. More than that, they provided a safe haven from the ravages of boredom, the shadowy nemesis of every teenager.
The only place to buy records was Reading town centre which, apart from the concrete monolith of The Butts Shopping Centre, still looked pretty much like it had in the fifties. Anthracite and grey, the town’s industrial heart of the Courage Brewery and Huntley & Palmers vast biscuit factory belched smoke and stench, producing a fog that gave a surreal, ghostly sheen to buildings and citizens alike. A short, number seventeen bus ride away, we spent our Saturdays looking for girls to impress, insulting rival school gangs and making a cappuccino and cheeseburger last two hours in The Rafina café before finally getting down to business in old fashioned music shops like Rumbelows and Hickies where, informed by our weekly dose of the NME, we would stand in a sound proof listening booth to hear as many new releases as the miserable, middle aged assistants would allow. Sirrell’s secondhand shop along the Oxford Road was another, equally important stopping off point where precious, long deleted gems like The Doors Weird Scenes Inside The Goldmine and The Velvets White Light/White Heat awaited discovery beneath piles of discarded Rick Wakeman and Gilbert O’Sullivan LP’s.
Curiously, despite living in a town known for its annual music festival, without a decent venue to call its own there was no chance of seeing any of our favourites live, and at thirteen or fourteen, travelling to London always seemed like one adventure too far. The only groups we got to see were local, teenage hard rockers with names like Silver Fox or TNT. No more than human jukeboxes, their sole aim to match the sound of the original records, which goes some way to explaining the lack of musical ambition and artistic self-belief in the mid-seventies. Nonetheless, it still didn’t take too much persuading for me to join a similar teenage outfit who were just starting out.
When a trio of nerdy fourth formers asked me to become the drummer in their band, I faced something of a dilemma. Discarding my ridiculous, self-defined notion of cool wasn’t a problem, nor was the small matter of never having drummed in my life, but their excretable taste was. So I set to work immediately, naming them Midnight Creeper and drafting in my Rod Stewart lookalike mate John to sing before weaning them off their rotten Beatles set list to incorporate David Bowie, The Stones, Mott The Hoople, Lou Reed and Alex Harvey. Rehearsing as often as we could in bedrooms and garages, we wrote a few songs and played a few sparsely attended shows in out of the way village halls. At fourteen and fifteen years old it was a brilliant grounding in the mechanics of being in a group, and yet despite our endeavours providing a sense of purpose, we had no real belief that we had it in us to be any good.
The distraction of playing and listening to music helped keep the thought of being an adult and accepting responsibility at bay, and yet by 1975 that terrifying prospect could no longer be avoided. In what turned out to be a turbulent twelve months of O Level exams and serious discussions between my parents about my future in which my opinion was never sought, I took the only form of resistance left open to me and started bunking off school, all day, everyday. I longed to escape but had no idea how I was going to do it until a week before my sixteenth birthday when, much to my mother’s disgust, I was discreetly asked to leave. Two weeks later, I signed on for £9 a week. With a secondhand 50cc FS1E to get me around and Natalie my first proper girlfriend in tow, I felt as free as I’d ever been.
A raggedy blonde with hazel eyes, I understand now that I’ve built her up into something she almost certainly never was, but over the winter and spring of 1975/76 our infatuation with each other was so consuming and our typically smalltown rite of passage so intense and at times so wild and reckless, even now I shudder to think of the possible consequences. Pushing our limits physically while unconsciously seeking some kind of truth and meaning to cling onto, we seized the day and the night in our crazy, chaotic lust for life.
With her by my side I felt like I could take on the world, so when she left me for the local bad boy loser and his Ford Capri, I felt completely lost and abandoned, aware that an important chapter in my life had ended but with no idea of when the next would start. How ironic then that a little over a month later I would find exactly what we’d both been looking for? Possessed by burning youth, as friends disappeared to become estate agents, insurance salesman, shop assistants and teenage mothers, Johnny Rotten lifted the lid on a brave new world that would empower me to cast off the shackles of the past, venture forth and start again.
ASHTON, GARDNER & DYKE ‘Resurrection Shuffle’ (Single A Side January 1971)
The first record I could call my own was Hot Hits 4 picked out from a revolving rack at my local Martin’s newsagent. Featuring twelve iffy versions of recent chart hits, to a naive eleven year old boy yet to hear the originals, songs like ‘My Sweet Lord’, ‘Chestnut Mare’ and ‘Right Wheel, Left Hammer, Sham’ sounded fantastic. Greatest of them all was the foot stompin’, ball breakin' ‘Resurrection Shuffle’.
ERIC DONALDSON ‘Cherry Oh Baby’ (Single A Side May 1971)
Sue lived two doors down. I’d known her my entire life. And yet as young as we were we still had stories to tell and memories to share. A year older than me, she had graduated to late sixties/early seventies pop reggae hits and misses by Desmond Dekker, Johnny Nash, Jimmy Cliff, Dandy Livingstone, Dave & Ansil Collins, Bob & Marcia and my own favourite, Eric Donaldson’s ‘Cherry Oh Baby’.
JOHN KONGOS ‘He’s Gonna Step On You Again’ (Single A Side May 1971)
In the first six months of 1971 my pop education went through a hugely transformative stage, moving from ‘Resurrection Shuffle’ and toe tapping dross like ‘Me And You And A Dog Named Boo’ to a different kind of pop thrill, long haired, South African, Jesus freak John Kongos thundering tribal classic a significant halfway point.
T. REX ‘Get It On’ (Single A Side July 1971)
What an incredible thing to line up at the start of puberty with the glam of Bolan, Bowie, Roxy and Mott The Hoople as the tape playing in your head. Gatecrashing the party at a time when pop was in desperate need of something new to galvanise a generation who didn’t know or care about The Beatles or the crooked myths of the sixties, glam screamed if you’ve got it flaunt it and if you haven’t got it cover yourself in stardust and fake it. Blessed with a talent for twisting a couple of basic chords into pop magic, Marc Bolan was at its heart from day one banging out an irresistible new single every couple of months for the hordes of kids eagerly awaiting their own teenage dream.
DAVID BOWIE ‘Lady Stardust’ (The Rise And Fall Of Ziggy Stardust And The Spiders From Mars LP June 1972)
When I look at my iPod or Spotify playlists I know for sure that without The Rise And Fall Of Ziggy Stardust And The Spiders From Mars they would look entirely different and so much worse. The first thing you could call art I consumed in its entirety, while it changes all the time, and anything from Hunky Dory, Aladdin Sane or Station To Station would serve just as well, there’s something about ‘Lady Stardust’ – a solitary, piano led moment of relative calm kicking off Side Two – that hit the spot in 1972 and continues to do so; my own secret Bowie tune.
MOTT THE HOOPLE ‘All The Young Dudes’ (Single A Side July 1972)
On the verge of calling it quits after years as the archetypal British failure suffering tour after tour of grotty provincial ballrooms, B&B’s and service station fry ups, Mott were saved by Bowie’s gift of ‘All The Young Dudes’, a song that has come to encapsulate my generation almost as much as ‘God Save The Queen’.
GARY GLITTER ‘I Didn’t Know I Loved You (Til’ I Saw You Rock’n’Roll)’ (Single A Side September 1972)
Now he’s personae non grata in extremis, yet there was a time when Gary Glitter really was the leader of the pack. Simple, flash and wrapped in Bacofoil, the strange, stupid genius of his early seventies glam stomps not only resurrected the hit single, they injected some much needed fun into the pop mainstream.
LOU REED ‘Walk On The Wild Side’ (Transformer LP November 1972)
With Ziggy Stardust as my role model, I’ve never considered any other records to be particularly abnormal or weird. And yet, released just five months later, the wonderfully sleazy, dark cabaret of ‘Walk On The Wild Side’ still sounded completely out of sync. Not quite a teenager, I knew nothing of Andy Warhol or Factory stars Holly Woodlawn, Candy Darling, Jackie Curtis and Joe Dallesandro, but the poetry of Lou Reed and Transformer painted a picture of the New York netherworld that was so wonderfully exotic and enticing I had no choice but to find out more.
SWEET ‘Blockbuster’ (Single A Side January 1973)
Not everyone could be as talented as Bowie, Lou Reed or Bryan Ferry, but even when the production line chancers moved in to serve up groups like the Sweet, the music and images remained incredibly exciting. In 1973 I was still so fabulously young and naïve that I believed the frenzied, cartoon rush of the Chinn and Chapman penned ‘Blockbuster’ to be the greatest pop noise ever.
ROXY MUSIC ‘Pyjamarama’ (Single A Side February 1973)
Over forty five years later it’s impossible to understand just how futuristic and fantastical Roxy Music really were. Before them rock was a drab, dreary, dismal affair, but looking and sounding like an unashamedly post-modern, retro, sci-fi version of the future, Roxy were clearly very different. The hanging chord intro to ‘Pyjamarama’ and a Top of the Pops appearance was all it took to get me hooked before For Your Pleasure became the first album I bought with my own money, a landmark moment I literally couldn't afford to get wrong.
ALICE COOPER ‘Generation Landslide’ (Billion Dollar Babies LP February 1973)
It’s easy to forget Alice Cooper’s impact as a group of authentic rockers straight out of Detroit as opposed to a reformed pantomime villain swinging his golf clubs with the showbiz stars. Too young to notice ‘I’m Eighteen’ and nonplussed by ‘Schools Out’, there was no avoiding Billion Dollar Babies. Brilliantly packaged as a green, snakeskin wallet, songs like ‘Hello Hurray’, ‘Elected’, ‘No More Mr Nice Guy’ and ‘Generation Landslide’ mirrored the dream of decadence, outrage and rebellion I was craving.
THE FACES ‘Borstal Boys’ (Ooh La La LP March 1973)
Rod Stewart and The Faces loomed large in the early years of my teenage, my best friend John inheriting Gasoline Alley, Every Picture Tells A Story and Never A Dull Moment from his older sister when she left home. To his eyes and ears the mildly irritating Rodney was as cool as they come. In fact, while my hair followed the unruly, Keith Richards model, he spent a fortune on his carefully cut and coiffured homage to the lead Faces thatch. He also played the albums a lot, so much so that to this day I can still remember the words to every song.
IGGY & THE STOOGES ‘Gimme Danger’ (Raw Power LP March 1973)
I liked Iggy more for the way he looked on the massive poster in my bedroom than his music, Raw Power just another album to buy on Bowie’s say so. The nihilistic appeal of ‘Search And Destroy’ and the title tracks ‘dance to the beat of the livin’ dead’ weren’t immediately obvious to a thirteen year old still debating the relative merits of Lou Reed, Roxy Music and The Sweet, but I couldn’t resist the seductive sleaze of ‘Gimme Danger’, the title alone the epitome of teenage intent.
THE WAILERS ‘Kinky Reggae’ (Catch A Fire LP April 1973)
It’s weird to think that within the microcosm of my white, rock orientated world I would ever get to hear Bob Marley much less see him, but on 1st May 1973 The Old Grey Whistle Test aired The Wailers playing ‘Concrete Jungle’ and ‘Stir It Up’ from their first major label LP Catch A Fire. The following Saturday I went out and bought a copy in its nifty, flip top Zippo sleeve, my first taste of the duppy conqueror and roots reggae.
SLY & THE FAMILY STONE ‘If You Want Me To Stay’ (Fresh LP June 1973)
STEVIE WONDER ‘Higher Ground’ (Innervisions LP August 1973)
WAR ‘Me And Baby Brother’ (Deliver The Word LP August 1973)
While individually we had our own favourites, until latecomer Gary appeared in our midst, my handful of friends tended to share the same likes and dislikes. A mild mannered, lanky, streak of piss from central Reading rather than the suburbs like the rest of us, his specialist subject was funk and soul. To us Neanderthal, white boy rockers, that meant the Chi-Lites or Stylistics hamming it up in their shiny, satin suits on Top Of The Pops, so his passion for such stuff was met with much amusement and confusion.
During our weekly ritual of swapping albums, Gary would stand to one side bemoaning the fact that no-one wanted to borrow his coveted vinyl until one week, severely underwhelmed by the option of Wings Red Rose Speedway or Van Morrison’s Hard Nose The Highway, I borrowed Fresh, Innervisions and Deliver The World and became intoxicated by some of the most perfectly crafted, radical and galvanizing music I’d experienced thus far on my hitherto rocky rite of passage.
DAVID ESSEX ‘Rock On’ (Single A Side August 1973)
His appearances in That’ll Be The Day and Stardust and the dark, percussive dub of ‘Rock On’ suggested that David Essex was a major talent wasted because the screen and music businesses could only think of him as a pretty boy. Sometimes good looks can be a curse as well as a blessing. His late period 19th century gypsy attire certainly was, a questionable fashion statement we gleefully adopted to aggravate the local yokels.
HAWKWIND ‘Urban Guerrilla’ (Single A Side August 1973)
Catchy and subversive, ‘Urban Guerrilla’ was the ‘Anarchy In The UK’ of 1973. Suffering the unfortunate synchronicity of being released during a period of sustained IRA violence and bombings it was soon withdrawn, but not before I found it in a Boot’s bargain bin for 10p. A thunderous sonic squall of noise, it was my first peek into the warped mind of vocalist Robert Calvert with scarcely a whiff of Hawkwind’s patchouli oil soaked ancestry.
NEW YORK DOLLS ‘Jet Boy’ (New York Dolls LP August 1973)
Less obviously arty than The Velvets, and with more conventional, genuinely great songs than The Stooges, The Dolls were a strictly no frills, sexually ambiguous bunch of New York misfits living out their own debauched version of the rock’n’roll dream. In many ways the perfect next step for a mixed up kid schooled by Bowie, the sleeve alone caused my mother to seriously question my sanity!
ROLLING STONES ‘Dancing With Mr D’ (Goats Head Soup LP September 1973)
Bowie aside, The Stones were the one constant in my youth; from Sticky Fingers in its real zip sleeve being handed around the classroom and Goat’s Head Soup (the first Stones LP I bought with my own money) to the blowouts, blowjobs and break up’s soundtracked by Black and Blue at a time when we were playing out our boys own, rock’n’roll fantasy for all it was worth. Hell, we even dressed in our mothers fake furs and had our own Anita Pallenberg and Marianne Faithfull in tow, fifteen year old versions naturally! Oh how I miss those years when no-one gave a fuck about The Stones except us.
BRYAN FERRY ‘These Foolish Things’ (These Foolish Things LP October 1973)
Bizarrely, it was probably because of my staunch, socialist upbringing that I was so captivated by Bryan Ferry’s fantasy of aristocratic high jinks, one in which I played the bright young aristo upstairs even though I knew for a fact that my ancestors had been the spotty footmen and buxom housemaids downstairs. The son of a farm labourer, Bryan Ferry had that same feeling except he managed to turn his dream into reality. I had to make do with Brideshead Revisited.
THE SENSATIONAL ALEX HARVEY BAND ‘Next’ (Next LP November 1973)
Deep down I always knew I didn’t come from the safe, provincial world of tea and cake, mowed lawns and Hi-De-Hi niceness my parents created. But it was only when I spotted Alex Harvey on The Old Grey Whistle Test in a soiled hooped shirt and tail coat singing a Jacque Brel song about army brothels, queer lieutenants and gonorrhoea that I knew for certain my roots must have come from somewhere older, darker and riper.
VELVET UNDERGROUND ‘White Light/White Heat’ (1969 Live LP April 1974)
In the spring of 1974 I came across two records definable only in their opposition to the status quo of glam hand me downs, dreary rock and virtuoso prog. The Doors Weird Scenes Inside The Goldmine and The Velvet Underground’s 1969 just didn’t fit, which in 1974 was unusual in itself. The pictures Jim Morrison painted with his words made me want to write. The Velvet Underground made me want to take up the drums and join a band. If Mo Tucker could do it so could I, although in the end I found out that actually I couldn’t. A sublime, shambling racket of Lou Reed standards played to what sounds like ten reluctant bystanders in a pub, it remains the most informative introduction to the Velvets there is and the greatest live recording of all time.
SPARKS ‘Amateur Hour’ (Kimono My House LP May 1974)
As glam moved into its late period baroque phase, I became fascinated by Sparks and the genre juggling brilliance of Kimono My House. Tapping into the smorgasbord of influences from their LA childhood, sinister Hitler clone Ron and his cherubic, younger brother Russell distilled The Sound of Music, Doris Day, Philip K. Dick, Cabaret and Groucho Marx into a work of stunning pop genius, and in the process turned themselves into the most unlikely teenybop idols of the 20th century.
COCKNEY REBEL ‘Psychomodo’ (The Psychomodo LP June 1974)
Oozing arty sleaze and decadent decay, Steve Harley’s embrace of literate composition, kitsch and the avant-garde turned our teenage heads. Proving our devotion by penning the Cockney Rebel logo on our arms, we ignored the abuse of schoolmates openly mocking us for liking such a ‘mincing dummy’. But there was nothing mincing about the vaudeville madness of The Psychomodo or The Best Years Of Our Lives when ‘Make Me Smile’ turned Steve Harley into a bonafide star idolised by the same kids who had ridiculed us so mercilessly.
JOBRIATH ‘Ooh La La’ (Creatures Of The Street LP August 1974)
Cockney Rebel were the first in a handful of artists (early Queen, Be Bop Deluxe, Fox, Heavy Metal Kids, Doctors Of Madness) admitted into our exclusive, members only club expressing an ideology which somehow said we were different. Jobriath, otherwise known as plain and boring Bruce Campbell from the fabulously named King of Prussia in Pennsylvania was another. Hyped as the American Bowie and gorgeous enough to stir a strange fancy in our hearts, Creatures Of The Street was pleasingly bereft of testosterone and tiresome, macho posturing even when it rocked.
BRETT SMILEY ‘Va Va Va Voom’ (Single A Side September 1974)
As someone who grew up on Top Of The Pops I believed in the myths and legends of pop as much as anyone. I loved the glitz and the glory, the wetting of knickers and the debauched deadly lifestyle. Equally, I loved the one hit wonders, the penniless, slightly crazed, forgotten nobodies who ended their lives anonymously behind the closed curtains of their council flat. One of glams great, lost stars, Brett Smiley never made it onto Top Of The Pops and his only single was never a one hit wonder, but I still remember its strutting beauty as if it was yesterday.
ENO ‘Third Uncle’ (Taking Tiger Mountain By Strategy LP November 1974)
Everything Eno did best was on the two albums he knocked out following his departure from Roxy Music. Wonderfully ramshackle he was certainly no singer, but by taking the raw, early spirit of his former group and turning it into songs of simplistic whimsy, he tapped into something that was both stupidly catchy and wonderfully experimental.
GENESIS ‘Carpet Crawlers’ (The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway LP November 1974)
LED ZEPPELIN ‘Trampled Underfoot’ (Physical Graffiti LP February 1975)
With limited knowledge of either, I was introduced to the records of Genesis and Led Zeppelin over the course of one summer when I befriended a boy whose family lived in the old servant’s quarters of Bere Court, a mansion house a few miles west of Pangbourne. With the entire top floor to ourselves, we spent many a weekend messing about with old motorbikes and shotguns, listening to his rock and prog collection, drinking his father’s potent, home brewed, red wine and sleeping where we fell. On the cusp of young manhood, it was one of those brief yet enchanted summers soundtracked by a handful of unlikely and unexpected records I would not hear again for another thirty years.
MICK RONSON ‘Billy Porter’ (Play Don’t Worry LP February 1975)
When Ziggy broke up the band, The Spiders went out on their own only to discover that the perfect sidekicks should stay just that. Remaining loyal solely because of the Bowie connection, ‘Billy Porter’ was the only Ronno song to approach the brilliance of his former master.
IAN HUNTER ‘Once Bitten Twice Shy’ (Single A Side April 1975)
It didn’t seem to matter that Ian Hunter was a 35 year old ale drinker from Shrewsbury because he understood instinctively the mystery of rock’n’roll, his songs for Mott The Hoople possessing that rare indefinable otherness that only comes along every so often. The rabble rousing ‘Once Bitten Twice Shy’ was no different, transmitting that same feeling to me, a bewildered lost boy high on the energy and passion of youth yet imprisoned by the mind numbing boredom and crushing expectations of his surroundings, Ian Hunters ordinariness giving me faith in the belief that there really was a better life out there somewhere.
KRAFTWERK ‘Autobahn’ (Single A Side April 1975)
I’d love to say that I recognised Kraftwerk’s genius from the moment I heard ‘Autobahn’s repetitive, electronic pulse, but I’d be lying. In reality it was no more than a pleasingly eccentric novelty to be played for a couple of weeks and then discarded. Hovering somewhere between glams last stand and the genesis of disco, my sonic comprehension hadn’t yet stretched to the pioneering exploits of a quartet of German machinists five years ahead of their time.
HAMILTON BOHANNON ‘Disco Stomp’ (Single A Side May 1975)
When I first ventured out at night disco was less a genre and more a place to go on a Saturday night. A fusty church hall jammed with excitement starved kids high on Woodpecker cider and ten Number Six dancing to the hits of the day, it was as much about Elton John, ELO and Abba as it was about Barry White, KC and The Sunshine Band or Hamilton Bohannon’s long forgotten and impossibly hard to find ‘Disco Stomp’.
FUNKADELIC ‘Get Off Your Ass And Jam’ (Let’s Take It To The Stage LP July 1975)
Raised on a diet of chart records, the strange and fantastical world of George Clinton’s P-Funk felt as weird as it sounded. Sure I’d heard plenty of Stevie Wonder and Sly Stone before, but it was nothing like Funkadelic’s raw, slower than sludge mess of grunts and groans. Arriving with immaculate timing at a point when I was bored with everything rock’n’roll had to offer, Let’s Take It To The Stage provided a handy staging post dripping with funks carnal energy yet still littered with devastating rock riffage.
RAS MICHAEL & THE SONS OF NEGUS ‘None A Jah Jah Children’ (Single A Side August 1975)
JUNIOR BYLES ‘Fade Away’ (Single A Side September 1975)
BURNING SPEAR ‘Marcus Garvey’ (Single A Side October 1975)
When Quicksilver Records opened in the autumn of 1975 in Reading's Butts Centre, Reading we suddenly gained access to a host of obscure reggae imports that were never going to find their way onto the High Street and shops like Rumbelows or Hickies. A major label mountain of cash away from Bob Marley & The Wailers sweetened, ‘rock’ reggae, I knew nothing of Jah, Rastafari or Marcus Garvey and never pretended to. And yet, just through hanging around on a Saturday afternoon, it didn’t take too long for me to find out that the power and directness of mindblowing records like ‘None A Jah Jah Children’, ‘Fade Away’ and ‘Marcus Garvey’ was all-encompassing as a physical experience and a spiritual lesson.
BANBARRA ‘Shack Up’ (Single A Side December 1975)
BRASS CONSTRUCTION ‘Movin’ (Single A Side March 1976)
Soul and funk records were as much a soundtrack to our teenage years as our more rocky favourites, The Calcot Hotel on Mondays, The Peacock cellar bar on Fridays and The Top Rank on Saturdays becoming regular hang outs as we edged closer to sixteen. Entry was for over eighteen’s only, yet rarely did I see anyone of that age there, seventies licensing law enforcement being so slack that it was perfectly possible to be a raging alcoholic by the time you were fifteen. A step up from the out of the way pubs we had been frequenting, discotheques and nightclubs were basic and unsophisticated by today’s plush standards, but to us they were the height of luxury and excitement.
The majority of records played at these places were selected from the top thirty, but upstairs at The Top Rank was The Night Owl, a club within a club for the slightly older, more discerning connoisseurs of funk and what would soon be known as disco. Thick with the fug of dope, the predominantly black clientele would groove the night away to awe inspiring, rare cuts from the likes of The Ohio Players, The Fatback Band, The Isley Brothers, The O’Jays and Brass Construction. The only time I really engaged with underground club culture, I wasn’t averse to pulling a few moves of my own to ‘Superstition’ or ‘Sex Machine’ but that was about it. I was no dancer and I knew it. I was just happy to be there furthering my education.
PATTI SMITH ‘My Generation’ (Single B Side April 1976)
Purchased on the off chance from the Quicksilver import rack, in hindsight it’s easy to hear how Patti Smith’s live mauling of ‘My Generation’ was a portent of punk. And yet, despite her anger and frustration chiming with my own, I was too busy unpicking the final few threads of childhood conditioning to believe that my future was unwritten and remained entirely within my own hands.
HEAVY METAL KIDS ‘Hey Little Girl’ (Single B Side May 1976)
For someone who lived within a couple of miles of the infamous Reading festival for most of his adult life (in the eighties I lived literally two minutes away), it’s incredible to think that in all that time only once have I been sufficiently motivated to attend. To this day the concept of a three day festival gives me the horrors, suffering shit band after shit band in a slop of mud and piss with hordes of youngsters drinking, drugging and fucking themselves stupid. What’s to like about that?
The one time I did make it was in 1975 when Lou Reed was due to headline the Sunday night, except he didn’t because the bastard cancelled. What made it worse was that we didn’t find out until midway through a dreary Saturday afternoon. Having suffered the long forgotten Zebra, Babe Ruth, Snafu, the Kursaal Flyers and a tolerably enjoyable Thin Lizzy, it was left to the Heavy Metal Kids (named after a gang of street kids featured in William Burroughs Nova Express and not the music genre) Gary Holton and his noisy, irreverent, Artful Dodger, Clockwork Orange persona to save our souls. With Supertramp and ghastly headliners Yes to come, and only the equally terrifying prospect of Wishbone Ash, Soft Machine, Robin Trower and Mahavishnu Orchestra to look forward to on the Sunday, we fucked off after The Kids and didn’t bother going back. And I’ve not been back since.
DILLINGER ‘Cokane In My Brain’ (Single A Side May 1976)
In the spring of 1976 you couldn’t walk past any pub or club without hearing Dillinger’s nonsensical ‘a knife, a fork, a bottle and a cork’ booming out. Based on the loping rhythm of the People’s Choice hit ‘Do It Anyway You Wanna’, it was everywhere.
JAMES BROWN ‘Get Up Offa That Thing’ (Single A Side May 1976)
Apart from seventies disco staple ‘Sex Machine’ I knew little of James Brown’s illustrious life as Soul Brother Number One, but it was impossible to ignore the glorious dancefloor rush of his last truly great track? Of course ‘Get Up Offa That Thing’ would disappear from my life almost as quickly as it arrived, yet the irony of popular records is that while they are often poo-pooed and dismissed as the most ephemeral, trivial and temporary of art forms, no matter how old you get, as the songs I’ve written about here prove, they are sure to return at some point.