10a – Across The Crowded Disco Room

June 18, 2011 2 comments

Life as a 6th Former, in my last year of general education, was an idyllic existence, spoilt only by the occasional lesson and an overdose of Jeff Wayne. But it proved to be one of the most memorable periods of my teenage years.
Having passed only four of the eight ‘O’ Levels I had sat back in Woking, it was deemed necessary to resit three of them at school in Germany. The main cause of this decision was my failure in Mathematics. Being one of the three ‘R’s I couldn’t not finish my schooling without an acceptable grade and this meant a C or above. The ‘E’ that I had received earlier would simply not do. So my main focus was set on Maths, with Art and German as secondary subjects. With only three subjects in which to have lessons, I had a lot of free time which was spent in the 6th Form Common Room.

And it was quite a room. Comfy chairs around the walls, tables for resting your arms, or head on and a record player. The atmosphere was invariably nicotine flavoured smog and there was usually a minimum of three or four students there at any one time, actively being common. Of the three or four, two would always be Ozzie and Linda. No matter the day or the time, if you went to the common room you could more or less guarantee that Ozzie and Linda would be there, in the corner, canoodling. I don’t think they actually did any lessons. In fact, they seemed to be considerably older than the rest of us. I was only sixteen and not very mature in many ways, but those two seemed to be in their twenties at the least and in retrospect I suspect they were just hiding out, escapees from the reality of adult life. So I just left them to it and got on with my strange new life of little lessons and copious commonness.


Meanwhile, back at the homestead in am Osthof in Dülmen, social life was looking up. The gods had looked down and taken pity on me. Back in Guildford I had gone to an all boys school and had lived in a secluded cul-de-sac, away from the maddening crowd, where there were only seven other families in residence. I obviously knew what a girl was, I just didn’t actually realise how many there were. Until I got to Germany. Now I was surrounded by them almost to the extent I couldn’t go anywhere without bumping into one or more of them. They were everywhere, from living next door and across the road to round the corner and down the street. Hells belles, my sister even brought them home! And to top it all, every Friday night, we were herded onto base to attend the weekly Youth Club D.I.S.C.O. where I could dance with them. The gods were indeed smiling at me. Although I think I heard the occasional snicker as well because, as the old adage about horses and water springs to mind, I still didn’t really have a clue what to do with them!


The weekly disco was, without a doubt, the most fun we had all week. It was a proper disco set up, coloured flashing lights, strobe, swirling bubble effect on the ceiling and walls, huge speakers and all topped off with a twin deck record layer with a slider button for fading one song out and another in whilst talking over it with a microphone.. But the best part was that it was left to us, the youths, to operate it all and to keep the place rocking and jiving. Which we did quite admirably. The Club possessed its own collection of 7” singles of which there were ample to choose from. Barry, the YC leader (and father of the girl next door) used to grab every single in the top 40 whenever he went back to the UK on leave. So, while our play list was finite, it was certainly extensive.

I’ve had to resort to asking for help with remembering some of the catalogue. Still being in touch with several friends from that time helps and they have come up with many songs that I’d forgotten. What follows is a small cross section of the music that was popular at the top of the Seventies. This is what we bored teenagers gyrated and smooched and rocked and rolled and jived and boogied and danced and bumped and grinded to.. Amy Stewart Knock On Wood, Bee Gees Stayin’ Alive, Chic Le Freak, Edwin Starr Contact, Gloria Gaynor I Will Survive, M Pop Muzik, Donna Summer Hot Stuff, Patrick Hernandez Born To Be Alive, Anita Ward Ring My Bell, City Boy 5-7-0-5, Dan Hartman Instant Replay, Boney M Rivers of Babylon, Brown Girl In The Ring, Kenny The Bump, Village People YMCA, In The Navy, Songs from Grease,  Golden Earring Radar Love and of course, a multitude of Status Quo songs. The list goes on and on for many more, too many for here, but thanks to Paul, Donna, Pam, Jo and Barry for your memories.


The Youth Club was obviously not the be all and end all of our disco experiences. There were other venues, other opportunities. One daring alternative for those old enough was the German disco in town. After much brain racking it’s been decided it was called the Tenne, pronounced ‘tenner’. This was a place where trouble could find you and where many of us ‘youths’ rarely went. What the YC did was to instil in us all an inherent urge to dance and have fun. The urge certainly never left me. I’ll get up and boogie to anything these days…I’ve always had the rhythm and I’ll never lose it. And if I keep telling myself that, then I’ll eventually believe it, just like everyone else. The late Seventies produced so much good music that was enjoyable disco-dancing sounds back then, but still invokes involuntary foot-tapping and muscle-twitching  today.

 

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Categories: Chapters

9 – Guten Morgen Deutschland!!

June 5, 2011 9 comments

When I was seven, I was living in Cyprus. Amongst the many memories I still have from that time are the trips we used to go on in dads old Morris Traveler car, all around the Cyprus country side. And of those trips, the thing that springs to mind most was the singing. Whether or not the car had a radio I really can’t recall, although I doubt there would have been much worth listening to, considering our location. So on the long trips, the four of us used to sing such delights as ‘She’ll Be Coming Round The Mountain’ and ‘In The Stores.’ If we got really desperate, we would occasionally burst into ‘Ging Gang Gooley Gooley’  or the one who’s title eludes me but ends something like ‘..catsanella bogen by the sea.’  But we enjoyed it, and it kept us occupied, because lets face it, bored kids on a long car journey is just asking for trouble.

 Fast forward about ten years. The distance from Brussels, Belgium to Dülmen, Germany was about 150 miles and probably took us around three to four hours, in a FIAT 124 of all things. Perhaps there was no radio and perhaps we were the English von Trapps singing our way across Europe. I prefer to think I sat moodily on the back seat, studying the passing scenery in quiet contemplation of my imminent new life. Perhaps we did sing and I have mentally blocked it for I have no recollection whatsoever of that journey except for our arrival at our new home in Dülmen. Or perhaps I’m suffering from post-traumatic stress because the reason I remember our arrival so well is that on exiting the car I reached back through the open door to retrieve my jacket at the precise moment my sister decided to close the door, with my arm still inside. My first words uttered on German soil were raw Anglo-Saxon.

 We had arrived in am Osthoff. It was the main area of military accommodation for English families in Dülmen. Running almost the length of the street down the left hand side was a continuous terrace of houses, staggered into rows of three. About half way down was ours, No. 12. On the other side of the road, going off at right angles were four more terraced rows of five blocks of two houses each, making a total of about fifty houses for the families of the NCO’s (Non Commissioned Officers). At the far end of the street was some of the Officers housing comprising another six abodes. A short walk through a recreational area of kids swings and slides took you to an area of apartment blocks where there was probably somewhere in the region of another one fifty to two hundred housing units. What this all boiled down to was an enclave mentality. This is where we had to live, like it or not. All English, piled in next door to each other and surrounded by Germans and all things German. There was no class or cultural differences, no north-south divide and there was certainly no pressure to conform to one particular ideal, whether it be sport, music or political orientated. We were all there due to forces beyond our control where everyone knew almost everyone else, and we were accepted regardless.

At the entrance to am Osthoff, facing down the street, was the NAAFI (Navy Army Air Force Institutions). This marvelous establishment was basically a supermarket that sold a little of everything from daily groceries, electrical goods, alcohol and cigarettes (both of which you needed a ration card to buy) and, most importantly, it sold records.

Within the first two weeks of our arrival I had visited the NAAFI and, flying the flag of eclecticism at full mast, bought Blondie’s Parallel Lines and Black Sabbath’s Never Say Die, both of which were new releases that month. Into the basket also went the eternal Bat Out Of Hell  by Meatloaf, which had been released almost a year earlier but was still riding the charts.

           

When I bought those albums, I think maybe I was sending out signals. Here I was, the new kid in town but hey, I’m into good music so I’m cool. Maybe that was the subliminal message anyway, but the albums were awesome. Parallel Lines was Blondie’s second album, featuring such classics as Heart Of Glass  and Hanging On The Telephone and represented my lingering affinity with the punk generation. Blondie weren’t really punk but they rose to fame riding high on the new wave of punk inspired groups, helped along in their popularity amongst the male teen demographic in no small way by the presence of the gorgeous wet-dreaminess of Debbie Harry.

The same, however, could not be said about Marvin Lee Aday, or Meatloaf as he was better known, but boy could he sing! The album did not fit into any particular genre. It was just what it was but it was one of the most popular records ever. In the UK alone it stayed in the charts for a massive 474 consecutive weeks (a feat only surpassed by Fleetwood Mac’s Rumours with 478) and still sells over 200,000 copies a year today. The absolute energy and power generated by his singing was almost hypnotic and the lyrics just had to be learned and sung along to whenever the record was played.

And lastly, the Sabbath album. Their eighth, but my first, and the last to feature Ozzy. He had actually quit the band before it was produced but returned after some of the tracks had been written with, coincidentally, Dave Walker of Fleetwood Mac fame, but refusing to do those songs until they were rewritten. But Never Say Die was, I felt, the death knell for Sabbath. Once an original member leaves a band, it is never really the same again, especially when it’s the singer. And that’s how it was with Sabbath. I never bought another record of theirs after that one, but have often added one of their earlier ones to my collection as and when the opportunity to buy one arose. The album did however accelerate my appreciation of all things metal.

There were two major occurrences that started within those two weeks of arrival too. The first was school. As previously mentioned, I had sat my GCE ‘O’ Levels back in the 5th form at Woking, but I had only passed four of the eight I sat, namely English Literature and Language, History and Geography. I failed French, Art, German and Maths. I had to go back to school to resit them, if only just for the Maths. But I decided to retake Art and German as well. And so I became a 6th former. The elite. The pinnacle of classroom status. And the subject of a future chapter.

The other was Friday nights, which we soon learned, were the nights when all available youths between the ages of 12 and 18 were rounded up and herded aboard an army issue bus and then transported onto the base, to attend the weekly Youth Club. And the mainstay of any YC night, as any teenager should be able to tell you, was D.I.S.C.O.


I was about to be plunged back into pop purgatory, but this time  I already had my lifeljacket on. I went in with eyes wide open knowing that what I was experiencing every Friday night was what had to be done.

Categories: Chapters

8 – Time Travel Is Just A Tangent Off Of A Thought Process

May 28, 2011 2 comments

Before I go any further, I feel I need to take you with me on a brief tangent of a journey, back through the hazy mists of time, to a place of childhood innocence where nothing mattered.
Come with me, back to Belgium again, to the summer of 1971.

We moved to a small town called Herentals, not far from Antwerp. This was dads latest posting and although it was only to last just over a year I have many vivid memories from this time even though I was only nine or ten. This one concerns the inception of cognitive awareness of all things musical.

Such was the military way that when you moved somewhere you very likely knew somebody that was already there. The army moved its people around in a finite world so meeting up with people you had previously met was bound to happen often. That’s how it was for dad anyway. He was still working his way up through the ranks but he had made a lot of friends and acquaintances on the way and on arriving in Belgium it soon became apparent that he wasn’t a stranger here. It turned out that the wife of one of dads old squaddie buddies was the Akela of the local Cub Scout pack for us army kids, and it just so happened that their summer camping trip was just about to set off. Without so much as a by your leave, I was sent off to camp with a load of kids I’d never met before.

Once we arrived, it wasn’t so bad. It turned out we weren’t actually camping out under canvas. We were in what seemed like a huge old chateau type building and most of us boys were in a large dormitory bedroom. It was a very loud and chaotic experience, but we soon settled into a routine for the few days we were there. The chateau was set deep in a forest, somewhere in the Belgian outback. I really do not have a clue where we were, but it was great fun. We were right at the edge of a large lake in the middle of this forest. We used to run through the trees and around the shore of the lake just shouting stupid stuff for which we would be admonished by Akela. One day as we ran around, we came across a dead frog. Not dead as in died, but dead as in killed. It had been skewered to the ground with a sharp twig and we were perplexed as to who could have done it, or even why. Perhaps this trip was meant to be more intuitive than I ever imagined.

 It turned out we were not alone in the forest. The whole area was actually crawling with boys from various scouting organizations that had come from far and wide for a Jamboree. But we just carried on running around the lake and shouting stupid stuff, although a little quieter than before. Then one day, toward the end of the week, I had my first ever meeting with a guitar playing demigod.

Running through the trees, unable to see what was ahead, we almost ran into someone. He was sitting cross legged, back against a tree trunk, and he was playing a guitar. I remember him vividly, short blond hair, thin face with high cheekbones but most noticeably he had deformed fingers on one hand where his index and middle fingers were fused together. But he was playing guitar, and very well too. It was just such a random occurrence and totally unexpected. He was probably about 15 or 16 and obviously with one of the scout groups, but playing there in the forest he was alone. I think we engaged in some small talk whilst he strummed some more sounds from his strings, but we soon tired of it and were off again. I didn’t see him again that week.

Indeed, I wouldn’t see him again for a good few years. But with the retrospective introspection previously mentioned I have come to the conclusion this ‘chance’ encounter was pre-ordained.

Categories: Chapters

7 – 101 Things To Do And Smirk At In Brussels

May 28, 2011 2 comments

Brussels was a beautiful city. We arrived at the right time of year to enjoy a glorious Belgian summer, in the early July of 1978. As welcome guests of my Aunt Lynda and Uncle Richard we moved into their top floor apartment in the Avenue des Coccinelles, located in the Watermael-Boitsfort suburb of the city. This was to be our home for the next two months before we could head out to Germany once military accommodation was available there. Dad had to leave us in Brussels as he had already started his new posting, so with nothing to do but just enjoy life we got on with living it.

The apartment block was only a very short walk away from the nearest tram stop. For the purchase of a single ticket you could travel all day, on and off the trams as many times as you liked, so trips into the city centre were always looked forward to. My sister and I often went on our own, but the most enjoyable ones were when we were accompanied by Lynda and Richard who knew their way around and were also fun to be with. We did the whole tourist thing with them. The Grand Place, (pronounced Plass), the Atomium, (big silver balls on tubes), Waterloo, (no NOT more bloody ABBA but the memorial site of the actual battle) and of course, the Mannequin Pis, (bronze statue of small boy having a pee). I was also introduced to Stella Artois before it became a fashionable drink in the UK, a few years later and I sampled snails for the first time, served in a dish of spicy sauce, which I found very tasty and have eaten them again since. We were also introduced to two renowned Belgian delicacies, although not at the same time. The first was frites with mayo, which is basically a bag of chips (English version, not American), but cooked in such a way the taste is just amazing especially when topped with a good dollop of mayonnaise. The second specialty was waffles. I spoiled many a shirt with the drooling just from  thinking about their sweetness and taste.

But for a sixteen year old, the highlight of each tram ride into the city was when we stopped at a particular station. Richard alerted me to it as we approached for the first time, he obviously being well aware. As we pulled into the station, over the intercom would be heard the name of the station, Kunst-Wet. It never failed to raise a snigger or a guffaw, and if you don’t know why, well sorry but you will have to remain in the dark as decorum prohibits me from explaining, without smirking again.Two months in a foreign city had its ups and downs. It was obviously not really financially feasible to go out every single day, so we spent a fair amount of time back in the apartment as well. Being top floor, although only three stories high, there was quite a good view of the surrounding area, which was mainly housing. Set further back in the distance were some impressive high rise blocks of flats, many floors higher than our little abode and I would spend hours peering at them through Richards binoculars after he assured me he had once seen a woman topless sunbathing on one of the high up balconies. I never did see her.

There was a TV in the apartment, but I’m sure you can imagine how riveting programs, in French and Flemish, in 1978 were. Yes, you got it…not very! There was, however, an interesting interlude one weekend when we invented the worlds first ever TV remote control device. It was essentially two bamboo sticks tied together with a pencil eraser attached to one end. In those days when the TV channels were changed by pressing a button on the front fascia this innovative device worked incredibly well, and had we patented it we could possibly have been millionaires by now. Unfortunately it slipped down the back of the sofa and is probably still there to this day. Forgotten and fluffy.

 

Which just left the record player. The only problem being that all my records were packed in an MDF packing crate, in transit somewhere between Guildford and our future home in Germany. But I was in luck. Lynda and Richard had the semblance of a record collection and I managed to scrimp some of my earnings together to buy one of my own..

For some strange reason, Brussels seemed bereft of record boutiques. I’m sure that in this modern age you could probably walk down the main shopping street and come across the Belgian equivalent of HMV or Virgin Megastore, but in 1978 you just couldn’t. With hindsight perhaps I missed out on another millionaire-making patent opportunity but forward thinking has always been one of my shortfalls. I did however eventually stumble across some sort of musically aware shop in the murky corner of a dark alleyway. Amongst the racks of musty records by obscure foreign artists and long forgotten crooners was the object of my desire. A bell rang in my head. Visions of swaying bodies and flying hair sprang to mind as I recalled the energetic dancing at the disco a few months earlier. The record was there, waiting for me, and I had to buy it.

The album I bought was strangely prophetic in itself. It was the fourth studio album by Status Quo, named Dog Of Two Head. The front cover featured a picture of a dog, a British Bulldog no less, with two heads. It didn’t actually feature the song we had danced ‘the cave’ to, but track one, side one, was a song called Umleitung which is German for ‘diversion’. The Bulldog connotation was obviously symbolic of me, especially having two heads as I am a Gemini. And Brussels was indeed a diversion off our route to Germany. It was an album I connected with immediately and I played it to death back at the flat. It was also the record that started my life long adoration of the Mighty Quo. But more of that later.

From my lovely Aunt and Uncles small and insignificant record collection were just two that were totally significant at the time and for many years after. They were both albums I had never heard before. Although I had listened to Deep Purple to some extent, their Stormbringer was new to me and I found this album to be exhilarating. Probably what drew me to it was the connection of the title with a series of science fantasy books I had read by the very prolific author, Michael Moorcock. In one series the main character, Elric of Melniboné, wielded an enchanted sword with the same name. Other musical influences would become apparent in the following years that could also be attributed to Michael Moorcock, or at the very least, have a connection with him.

The other of their albums that gave me enjoyment through my Belgian diversion was Mike Oldfield’s Tubular Bells. The range of instruments played on the album was incredible and the composition and actual sound was, I thought, fantastic. As an aside, there is much I was unaware of concerning this album right up until this very moment of writing. I was always of the impression that the voiceover reeling off the list of instruments was Mr. Oldfield himself. It turns out this was actually a chap called Vivian Stanshaw who was given the credit of  ‘Master of Ceremonies’ on that album. He was also known for a lot of similar work with the oddly named Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band. I was also unaware that Tubular Bells was the first album released by Richard Branson’s Virgin Records and that he (Branson) later named two of his aircraft Tubular Belle. But enough of this Umleitung.

Brussels was an enjoyable time. I came away from it enriched, both cosmopolitanly and musically. I was ready in mind and body and soul for all that Germany could throw at me.

Categories: Chapters

6 – The First Electrifying Experience Of A Gig-Going Virgin

May 23, 2011 2 comments

By the time May of 1978 came around, punk was old hat. I had witnessed day zero and would live to tell my grandchildren about that wondrous time, but it was becoming repetitive. A new wave of bandwagoneers was already emerging and the sound was very samey. The Stranglers released their third album, Black and White which proved to be the pinnacle of my interest in punk music because of one song. When the album was first released the original marketing plan was to press the first few thousand copies in black vinyl for the A side and white for the B, but that was going to prove too costly and difficult so instead the album was produced as a normal black pressing, but as an added extra freebie in the first 70 thousand or so copies there was included a 7” single in white vinyl. On the A side of this little gem was their cover of a Dionne Warwick song written by Bacharach and David, Walk On By. I still play this track today. It is probably the best song the Stranglers ever recorded and therefore, would not be bettered. By the time it was released I was already listening to lots of other music that I hadn’t experienced before and hearing Walk On By merely confirmed my suspicions. Punk was dead, so death to all but metal! Yes, I had seen the light. Jesus H tap-dancing Christ, I had seen the light and it was my mate Paul, who everyone called Ben, that flicked the switch.

I think our friendship started on the bus to school every day. He wasn’t in my form at school. I believe he was of the J (for Justly) variety, so I didn’t actually have much interaction with him there, but on the half hour or so ride between home and school there was time and we soon became good friends. One of the pastimes we used to engage in on the bus trips was scrabbling around on the floor under the seats looking for dog-ends of discarded cigarettes. When we had enough we would break them apart to get at the remnants of the tobacco and then roll one of our own. They would taste absolutely foul but it saved having to buy them.

With my birthday being in June I was one of the youngest in my year at school and as a result could only look on in great envy as several of my friends acquired mopeds as soon as they turned 16. I was always the kid that had to plead to have a go at sitting on it, and revving the throttle if I was lucky. The most popular bike by far was the Yamaha FS-1E, commonly called the ‘Fizzy’. By the time I turned 16 my days in England would be numbered and it would be pointless in buying one. Consequently I would miss out on a very important foundation for the culture that I would eventually end up immersing myself in.

Ben/Paul was no exception, except he did things differently. He had a bike, but it wasn’t a fizzy, being more of a hybrid mix of moto-cross and road, with his own paintjob. He also had sideburns too of which I was intensely envious, not that I would ever let on. Something else that made him exceptionally cool in my eyes was that he owned a computer game! Now, bear in mind we’re talking about 1978 here so when I say computer game what I’m actually referring to is one of the very first consoles that were made by Binatone. You know the one, where a square ball bounces around the screen and you have to maneuver your paddle up and down your side of the screen in order to hit the ball back across the screen to your opponents side. If you missed it and the ball disappeared off the edge then you lost a point. There were lots of variations that could be played, all as mind-numbingly monotonous as each other. And this was all in glorious monochrome too. But the best thing about going to Ben’s to hang out, was the music he introduced me to.

In January 1969, when I was only 6 and a half, Messrs Page, Plant, Jones and Bonham released their self titled debut album, and a legend was created. It took me another 9 years before I would eventually listen to the album in its entirety and that christening was one of many epiphanies I have experienced. The first track itself Good Times, Bad Times was to become synonymous with my whole life and the band went on to become a mainstay in my musical evolvement. I am of course talking about Led Zeppelin and their first album Led Zeppelin.
Ben had most of their albums, certainly the first four, which will always be their masterpiece set for me, and these were the ones we played over and over. Their second album, titled just II  opened with the ageless classic, Whole Lotta Love which had also been in long term use as the opening theme tune to Top Of The Pops on TV, so it was a tune I was already familiar with. But perhaps the most famous of their songs was track four of the fourth album, strangely enough entitled IV. I was drinking a glass of cheap cider and smoking a rollie in Bens bedroom when I heard Stairway To Heaven for the first time ever. Punk might have woken me up, but it was rock that stuck its fingers in my nostrils and dragged me head first from my bed.
Other bands soon followed. There were just too many to listen to but I did what I could to cross them off the list. Black Sabbath, Deep Purple, ACDC, Alice Cooper, Ted Nugent, Thin Lizzy and Judas Priest to name but a few, were soon bands that I avidly listened to at any given opportunity. Which, when you put it all together, made the band for my very first gig, a somewhat baffling choice…

Some things get hazy over time, others will remain firmly entrenched in memory. My first ever concert is a bit of both. I shall certainly never forget the actual gig, but the events that led up to it are the hazy bits. There were a bunch of us going, five or six I believe, but I can’t recall who organized it or who bought the tickets, or even who suggested it. I don’t remember where we got the tickets or how much they were, although thinking about it I have the ticket stub somewhere so that will tell me some of what I’ve forgotten. But in June of 1978, a few days before my 16th birthday we got on a train at Woking station and headed off to Wembley Arena to see The Electric Light Orchestra, still going strong on their Out Of The Blue world tour that had kicked off a few months earlier.
The atmosphere was incredible and, dare I say it, electric. The laser lighting effects were truly astounding and the music riveting. It wasn’t Zep or Sabbath, but it was still rock and a whole lifetime away from the poptastic crap I had been listening to in purgatory. I was converted, not only to ELO who would go on to play a major role in the following years, but also to live music. The experience was life changing.

Two other things happened around that time that would also change my life.
The first was when I sat my GCE ‘O’ Level exams at school. I took eight subjects and passed four of them with ‘B’ grades.
The other was in July. We packed our bags and belongings once again, and left England’s green and pleasant lands behind us as we set off for yet more pastures new.
We were moving to Brussels, for a short two month stay with relatives there, before heading to our ultimate destination in Germany.

 I wished I’d paid more attention in my German classes.

Categories: Chapters

5 – The King Is Dead, Long Live The..Er..Anarchist?

May 19, 2011 2 comments

1977. My last year in pop purgatory. Like a condemned man about to be cast out from the society that had nurtured and protected him, I was allowed a few last months to cherish all that I was giving up and leaving behind. So I got into what all red blooded young lads of my age did – I became a fan of the Rock Follies on TV. This was a comedy musical drama about three girls in a band called ‘Little Ladies’ and all about their trials and tribulations as they tried to make it big in the music world. Perhaps one of the most ironic things about this situation was the cast, in particular the character Anna Wynd. This was played by Charlotte Cornwell. A surname shared with the lead singer of the Stranglers, namely Hugh Cornwell, who would also figure greatly in my life of musical appreciation. Julie Covington, another of the lead actresses, released a single from the show, the very powerful Don’t Cry For Me Argentina and later turned down the role in the stage show that featured that song, Evita.

The year produced some of the best music I would eventually listen to, but I was oblivious to this as I sucked up such dross as David Soul’s Don’t Give Up On Us, The Floaters asking us to Float On with them, more ABBA and even the Brotherhood of Man bouncing back for more after their previous years victory in Eurovison with a new hit, Angelo. We even had a touch of country from Kenny Rogers getting on his knees for Lucille. Baccara told us Yes Sir I Can Boogie, the Jacksons Showed You The Way To Go and the year culminated in the awesomely gruesome Mull of Kintyre from Paul McCartney’s Wings.

While all of this was going on, other forces were at work, trying to attract my attention. My sister introduced a boyfriend who was somewhat older than her, and me for that matter. Soon I was listening to Genesis, but only when he visited, and to this day I still prefer their older stuff. The only two albums I recall him bringing and playing were Nursery Crymes and The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway, which was the last to feature Peter Gabriel and may also explain my preference for their older work.

Somewhere along the way I attended a party/disco to which a whole load of lads from school went. Two things stick in my mind from that night. The first was ‘doing the cave’ being the dance motion one makes in time to music by Status Quo.. hands on hips, bend down to the left twice, straighten up an swing shoulders twice then bend down to the right twice, straighten up and repeat ad infinitum. The mighty Quo did not unfortunately make a musical impact on me that night, that would come soon, it was just the incredibly energetic dancing that engaged me. The other moment from that night was Brown Sugar. My first introduction to the Rolling Stones, and the only thing of theirs I have ever liked. I have never bought a single Stones record, and never will. I just never somehow connected with them, but Brown Sugar was just…loud and brilliant. You can’t please all the people all the time eh?

It was about this time that I also discovered the joys of classical music. Well, not ALL classical music obviously but from that time three remain firmly entrenched in my mind as ‘must have’ music. Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture, Elgar’s Pomp and Circumstance March No.1 Land of Hope and Glory and Strauss’ Also Sprach Zarathusa. I could play all these just as loud as my most raucous punk or metal and enjoy them for their rousing qualities just as much. Over the years I have added such delights as Holst’s Planet Suite, Katchaturian’s Sabre Dance and Verdi’s Four Seasons. There are others no doubt, but none will move me the same way as these have done.

To top it all, punk music finally got a grip of bored teenagers everywhere. Although beaten to the release by the Buzzcocks, the Clash and the Damned, in mid April the Stranglers, fronted by the aforementioned Hugh Cornwell, released Rattus Norvegicus, an act that although significant to the extreme passed me by until friends started talking about it. The song Peaches in particular. Apparently it was so lewd that it was banned by the BBC and an edited version had to be made before it was aired. I was desperate to hear it. Of course, what made the Stranglers even more popular, for us at any rate, was the fact they came from Guildford. I could have rubbed shoulders with them in the street, not that I would have known. But we felt kind of special to be associated with them, albeit in such a small insignificant way. It wasn’t until years later that I learnt they were only based there, not actually from there. It just so happened the drummer, Jet Black, ran an off-license which the band used as a base in their early days

But what all this boiled down to was that I was being bombarded with music, of all genres and styles, from all directions. Without realizing it, I was becoming the most musically eclectic teenager on the planet and I was in dire need of definition, identity and direction!

Perhaps the catalyst came in the summer. On August 16th Elvis Presley was found dead at his home, Graceland in Memphis. To say it was the end of an era would be an understatement, but the king of rock ‘n roll was dead and the world of music was going to change irrevocably for ever. I remember hearing the news but not feeling anything particularly emotional.

The penny finally dropped for me in September. I’d turned 15 in the June and was now in the 5th form, 5M, at Woking Grammar. I had also started a Saturday job working in a bookshop in Guildford town centre for which I was paid the princely sum of £5 for a days work, but to add injury to insult I was paid monthly into a bank account! Still, it helped me buy a fair few records in the following months.

On September 23rd the Stranglers released their second studio album, No More Heroes. I was captivated the minute I heard the opening riff of the title track and by the end of the month I’d been to Woolworth’s and coughed up the two and half quid and bought my first real record. Hugh, JJ, Dave and Jet were the posse that pulled me from the depths of pop purgatory although I was going to have to wait until the following May for their next album

My outlook on life and music changed dramatically. I began buying the weekly music newspaper Sounds, a paper I much preferred over the more established NME (New Musical Express) and I started feeling the urge to rebel against the conformist life I had been brought up in. I wasn’t a very convincing rebel though… I think I was about 42 when I finally got a Mohican, and there was no way I was going to get away with wearing plastic bin liners, chains, ripped t-shirts and safety pins trough various parts of my anatomy. I recall visibly wincing while watching a friend having his ear pierced with a safety pin, by his girl friend at the youth club one Friday night. Hmm.. no thank you.

And so punk music woke me up to what lay beyond pop. It wasn’t to become a way of life but it gave a meaning and direction. I whiled away the rest of the year listening to and buying albums by such greats as Eddie And The Hot Rods Life On The Line, Ian Dury New Boots And Panties,  and the self titled The Boomtown Rats to name a few. Highlight of the late year releases was of course the Sex Pistols, under their latest and final label signing of Virgin, with their absolutely legendary Never Mind The Bollocks..

After that, for me, punk was dead. It evolved. It had to because it could not surpass an album like that. It was the ultimate in crass and I began to seek new satisfaction and found it in many places, as a new wave of punk rolled in, and also as I began to realise there was other musical talent out there that was tickling my ears. My appreciation really started to diversify.

1978 was going to be a loud year.

Categories: Chapters

4 – Yea Though I Walk Through The Valley Of Pop I Shall Fear Not Punk

May 14, 2011 2 comments

Unbeknown to me, momentous things were afoot during the early parts of ’76 that carried on through the sweltering summer months. I do remember it being very hot around that time, but according to Wikipedia it was actually the hottest summer in the UK since records began, with temperatures well into the eighties for most of June and July and, for 15 consecutive days it was over ninety degrees F. Hot! And as England cooked, a new breed of music which had been simmering since early in the year, reached a boiling point and exploded on an unsuspecting public.

Under the management of my saviour, Mr. Malcolm Mclaren, The Sex Pistols began their rise to notoriety with a series of gigs that usually ended in a fracas of mayhem,  violence and destruction. Their first major gig was as support act to Eddie and the Hotrods, which ended in the aforementioned chaos. The journalistic review of this gig was the inspiration behind the formation of another band, The Buzzcocks, by two guys who traveled from Bolton to track the Pistols down. The Sex Pistols built up a hardcore following, including such names as Billy Idol, Siouxsie Sioux and Steve Severin or, as they were dubbed, the Bromley Contingent. They began touring bigger venues such as the Marquee and the Nashville but were soon banned from both of these. Early July saw them headlining gigs supported by the newly formed Clash and the Damned. Joe Strummer of the Clash had been the singer in a band at one of their earlier pub venues and seen something prophetic in their performance. He saw the coming of punk, in the guise of the Sex Pistols. On July 20th they performed their anthem tune for the first time, Anarchy In The UK.

Meanwhile, back in the zone, I was happily engrossed in the cuteness of Kiki Dee duetting with Elton John as they knocked Demis Roussos off the number 1 spot with Don’t Go Breaking My Heart. I was still in pop purgatory. But on the bright side, possibly inspired by Ms. Dee, I had started to notice the attraction that girls had. Well, one in particular.. another denizen of the TA flats and younger sister of one of my two friends. She went by the name of Fiona and I think she had ginger hair. The relationship was sweet but never got past the holding hands stage. I think what killed it was when I learnt she did a paper round at stupid o’clock every morning and expected me to accompany her. I managed it once and that was enough. The heatwave and long drought finally broke in the September, just in time for the return to school. ABBA’s Dancing Queen gyrated its way up the charts as the rain fell and fell, and the Sex Pistols began a tour of Britain. In October it still rained. Pussycat toppled ABBA with Mississippi and on the 8th EMI signed the Pistols to a two year contract. Anarchy In The UK was released as a single in late November, not long after Chicago’s impassioned blackmail of If You Leave Me Now chased Pussycat off the top spot.

December 1st and one of the most defining moments in British TV, and music’s, history was witnessed by many outraged viewers. The Sex Pistols, and some of the Bromley Contingent, were invited to appear on the live TV evening show ‘Today’ on Thames TV, hosted by Bill Grundy. Goaded by the host who claimed to be drunk, and after a somewhat lewd exchange with Siouxsie Sioux, the guests were encouraged to say something outrageous. The words sod, bastard, fucker and fucking were said in consecutive sentences by Steve Jones. On live TV. The Upright Public were apoplectic and next morning the whole school was buzzing with it. I was suitably shocked and impressed in all the right places when hearing it being retold numerous times by those that had actually watched it.

My days in purgatory were numbered. Punk hadn’t been born. It had been ripped, screaming and cursing from the hearts of disillusioned youth and it was going to be my lifeline.

Categories: Chapters