LOST IN SUBURBIA (1974)
SPARKS ‘Falling In Love With Myself Again’ (Kimono My House LP May 1974)
My parents were part of that blurry region in British society that encompassed the educated working class; the socially precarious petite bourgeoisie and what could be called the uncomfortably well off middle class; the professional or small businessmen whose income never quite matched their aspirations. So I wasn’t dragged up in a two up, two down terrace with a toilet in the yard as they had been. I was born in a three bed semi on the borders of Reading in a new suburb built on the ghosts of olde Albion, which was all fine and dandy except as Peter Laurie found when he contrasted three generations of teenagers for his book The Teenage Revolution, like most of the generation born between 1931 and 1936, my mother chose a life of greedy, resentful conformity.
An opinionated, judgmental, brusque woman incapable of showing her children any sign of affection, she raised us for a life of sacrifice, servitude and sufferance; to be fearful of our elders and betters (with her at the top of the list), to serve her God and any other self-righteous cunt holding the stick of authority above our heads. The long term ramifications of all that were immense, yet that’s how my childhood was until I hit puberty and much to her disgust and fury immediately rejected all that she held dear, whereupon she packed me off to be ‘fixed’ by a man in a white coat. Given how love was in such short supply in our house, when I finally began to discover a sense of my own self-belief and identity through the empowering records of my teenage, I wasn’t ‘Falling In Love With Myself Again’, I was falling in love with myself for the first time.
READING FESTIVAL (1975)
HEAVY METAL KIDS ‘The Cops Are Coming’ (Anvil Chorus LP August 1975)
For someone who has lived within a couple of miles of one of the UK’s major festivals for almost his entire 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 anywhere gives me the horrors, suffering shit band after shit band in a field, usually in the rain with hordes of young blokes drinking themselves stupid in a slop of mud and piss. What’s there to like about that?
The one time I made it was 1975 when Lou Reed was due to play my hometown on 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 dismal Zzzzzaturday afternoon. Having suffered the long forgotten Zzebra, Babe Ruth, Snafu, the Kursaal Flyers and a mildly sufferable Thin Lizzy, it was left to Gary Holton and his noisy, irreverent proto punk Heavy Metal Kids to save our miserable souls. With the ghastly Supertramp and headliners Yes to come and only the equally terrifying prospect of Wishbone Ash, 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.
GYPSY BOYS (1975)
DAVID ESSEX ‘All The Fun Of The Fair’ (All The Fun Of The Fair LP September 1975)
On the surface a gang of 15 year old lads latching onto a teen idols concept album about fairgrounds wasn’t a natural move, but in the mid-seventies we had to get our inspiration wherever and whenever we could. So with a natural urge to brighten up our humdrum lives, for a couple of months we took to dressing as 19th century gypsies; big gold rings in our ears, scarves knotted at the neck, waistcoats, the lot. Part David Essex, part Keith Richards (or so I liked to kid myself), especially when we topped off our tatty attire with our mothers moth eaten fur coats, we were ridiculed everywhere we went, chucked out of pubs and threatened by pissed up regulars convinced some real gypsy boys had ridden into town.
BOOGIE NIGHTS (1975/76)
BRASS CONSTRUCTION ‘Movin’ (Single A Side March 1976)
Soul and funk was as much a soundtrack to my teenage years as my more glittery, rockist favourites, so as we edged closer to 16 The Calcot Hotel on Mondays, The Top Rank on Saturdays and The Peacock cellar bar on Fridays became regular hang outs. Entry was strictly over 18’s only but rarely did I see anyone of that age there, licensing law enforcement being so slack that it was perfectly possible to be a raging alcoholic by the time you were 15. 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 tended to be 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 what would soon be known as Disco. Thick with the fug of weed, the predominantly black clientele would groove the night away to awe inspiring, rarely heard cuts from the likes of The Ohio Players, The Fatback Band, War, 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 some moves of my own to Stevie Wonders ‘Superstition’ and James Browns ‘Sex Machine’ but that was about it. I was no dancer. I was just happy to be there furthering my musical education.
VIOLENCE FOR A FIX (1978)
GENERATION X ‘Kiss Me Deadly’ (Generation X LP March 1978)
Generation X broke most of the punk conventions and were ostracised for refusing to be anti-success as so many others pretended to be. Such was the nature of the game for punks, for whom selling out represented failure. I knew from the first time I saw them at The Roxy in January 1977 that they were in love with rock’n’roll, yet paradoxically they were also one of the few to detail what it was really like to be a regular punk kid on the streets of seventies Britain. Generation X was their one undisputed masterpiece, the standout ‘Kiss Me Deadly’ painting a vivid, albeit romanticised picture of the teenage thrill seeking and casual, often extreme violence that was par for the course on a night out not just in South West Six but in towns and cities across the land.
MUSHROOMS AND PATCHOULI (1980)
GONG ‘Opium For The People’ (Live Floating Anarchy 1977 LP April 1978)
I can recognise now that there was a great deal of hurt and damage disguised in punk which took me decades to resolve. Some of it was standard teenage stuff, the kind of issues we all have in our struggle to be heard above the roar of the machine, but much of it was not. Yet that doesn’t excuse how someone who believed so absolutely in freedom found himself at 20 years old within the self-constructed prison walls of a wife, a mortgage and a new job.
In blissful denial, I chose to spend the first part of the year in a trippy, hippie, magic mushroom haze, wandering around the fields and villages of beatific Berkshire with a clan of spotty, long haired boys and beautiful girls hunting down the mystic shroom before retreating to a cottage where one of their Mum’s served up mushroom tea, mushroom cake or just a plate of freshly picked mushrooms.
The whole world turned mushroom as we ruminated on our inner selves, free love, Gong, Jonathon Livingstone Seagull, the Floyds Animals and moving en masse to live in a tepee in deepest, wettest Wales. Providing a sanctuary of sorts it only ended when Mummy Mushroom and her urchin brood violently refused to return my loaned drum kit until I threatened to smash up their house. The spell they had cast lifted and I was wrenched from my literally vegetative state to look elsewhere for the answers to the questions clogging up my head.
C30! C60! C90! (1981)
AZTEC CAMERA ‘We Could Send Letters’ (NME C81 Cassette January 1981)
The power of the music press in the seventies and eighties was remarkable. Never before had the future of so many depended on the scribblings of so few. The unholy trinity of the NME, Sounds and Melody Maker ruled absolutely, every self-respecting music lover rushing to their nearest newsagent first thing Thursday morning to discover what was in and what was not. As a result C81, the cassette only compilation pulled together by the NME and available to readers for a bargain £1.50, was hugely popular and influential.
Featuring a host of fiercely independent groups and labels who defined the first phase of post punk, C81 was important in a number of ways. Not only was it an acknowledgment of the emergence of cassette culture which the NME had been supporting via its Garageland column, it proved that as viable artistic statements in their own right, cassettes didn’t have to mean hiss infested, home recordings and shoddy cut’n’paste artwork. As someone determined to raise both quality and creativity via his own cassette label, much to the disgust of my fellow DIY enthusiasts, I couldn’t have agreed more.
ALTERNATIVE CHARTBUSTERS (1984)
THE MEN THEY COULDN’T HANG ‘Green Fields Of France’ (Single A Side October 1984)
The indie eighties has been rewritten ito become some kind of nightmarish cult of innocence, a revolt into childhood dominated by groups with names like The Soup Dragons, The Woodentops, The Railway Children and Talulah ‘fucking’ Gosh! But that wasn’t my eighties. In my eighties there was no sign of anything so twee or precious, the indie charts just as likely to be filled with one off strokes of genius like The Men They Couldn’t Hang as a bunch of sensitive boys and boyish girls singing their weedy songs.
The short lived, Pogues inspired interest in folk was a strange, unexpected one but underlined how close British folk music sailed to music culture and its innate ability to reach out over the decade’s to connect with new situations and generations. Even at the time the simplicity, sadness and beauty of ‘The Green Fields of France’ was significant and sobering, even to a 24 year old Goth aficionado more likely to be found at a Sisters Of Mercy show than in the back room of a pub with a bunch of beardy ale drinkers, but since my son’s death in Afghanistan, Eric Bogle’s tribute to the courage and sacrifice of the young soldiers who fight and die for their country has taken on a new, all too painful meaning.
THE SOUND OF THE FUTURE? (1985)
BIG AUDIO DYNAMITE ‘Medicine Show’ (This Is Big Audio Dynamite LP October 1985)
For a microscopically brief moment in the mid-eighties Mick Jones was the hippest ex-rocker around, grafting together a collective that defined the musical spirit of west London in a way that hadn’t been done since his old group relocated to America. But whereas the Clash’s most celebrated work looked to a past of tried and trusted musical roots, Big Audio Dynamite took a step into the unknown with a sound heavy on the crafty samples and minimal beats of electro. Representative of a time when the possibilities of technology seemed boundless and hearing scraps of film narrative felt genuinely ground breaking, This Is Big Audio Dynamite is a reminder of how the future once sounded.
CRIME INCORPORATED (1986)
THE REDSKINS ‘Keep On Keeping On’ (Neither Washington Nor Moscow LP March 1986)
So conceptually perfect they seemed like a group someone had made up, Criminal Damages promotional arm Crime Incorporated put The Redskins on at a packed out Majestic Ballroom in the spring of 1986 with our own Mighty Ballistics Hi-Power supporting. The Ballistic lads were an intense, highly politicised bunch themselves, but they were nothing compared to Chris Dean & Co.
A trio of Socialist Worker Party skinheads playing hard edged punk soul with a head full of ideas about youth culture, Trotskyism and the power of wearing the right trousers, The Redskins were fully comitted to the revolution. In 1984/85 they had played every miners benefit going, the problem being that the strike came to define them so completely that once it was over, effectively so were they. As MB Hi-Power would discover later in the year, there was a rapidly fading appetite for politics in music once Thatcher had battered the country into submission.
In fact, I well remember The Redskins brilliant, high energy show and righteous rhetoric feeling very much like the end of an era and wasn’t in the least bit surprised to hear they had split up a matter of months later; the fire in their belly dampened, their unfulfilled fantasy of revolution intact. For Chris Dean that meant withdrawing into a reclusive future living with his mum. For the rest of us in dumb Britain it meant a life without the possibility of real change, the occasional voice of dissent drowned out by a tidal wave of intolerance, greed, corruption, consumerism, Adele and Ed Sheeran. Whoopee-Fucking-Doo!