Tuesday 31 March 2015

55 From 55 - 1998

55 songs in 55 days - one for every year of my life...so far. 

A handy aspect of running a record shop based in such a small town was that the local press were always keen to support small businesses. If anything interesting was going on that I wanted to publicise or promote, I only had to pick up the phone and invariably, someone with a camera would be dispatched to record the event. I featured an example of this earlier in this series, when Donny Osmond came a-calling. Sometimes though, it was the local press who reached out to me. That's how I wound up writing brief record reviews in the newspaper for a couple of years. And every now and then, presumably during very quiet news weeks, they'd offer to run a feature piece on the shop. Here's a photo from one such piece in 1998. Times were getting tough though. I'm putting on a brave face. Either that, or I'm burying my head in the sand.


There were some excellent David Holmes remixes around in the late 1990's, his re-imagining of 'If You Tolerate This Your Children Will Be Next' by the Manic Street Preachers is one of my favourites.

Monday 30 March 2015

55 From 55 - 1997

55 songs in 55 days - one for every year of my life...so far. 

Real gone goatee. One last turn behind the mic, 1997.

Large Virgin Records and HMV stores opened in a town 10 miles away. Up to now my business had thrived on my ability to track down, order and receive any available CD quickly and efficiently. From 1997 onwards, the tide subtly turned. Any CD that anyone could possibly want was only a bus-ride or short car journey away - why would they wait? The writing was on the wall, but I was either too close to the wall to read it or was deliberately looking the other way. Those superstores, only 100 yards apart, became engaged in an ongoing battle to outdo each other and caused considerable collateral damage to the independent record shops in the town. 10 miles down the road, the ripples steadily began eroding my business away too.

Sierra Leone musician S.E.Rogie died in 1994, soon after recording what would become his final LP, 'Dead Men Don't Smoke Marijuana'. The album was finally released in 1997 on the Real World label. This is the beautiful title track, 'Dieman Noba Smoke Tafee'.

Sunday 29 March 2015

55 From 55 - 1996

55 songs in 55 days - one for every year of my life...so far. 

I had helping hands in the shop every now and then, but for the majority of the time I was a sole trader. This meant whatever the condition of my physical or emotional health at any given moment, I still had to be behind that counter, smiling at everybody who stepped through the door. It was particularly difficult to work through relationship upheavals, one of which occurred in 1996. My emotional trauma at that time also meant that I wanted to keep very busy after work, so I hit the gig circuit harder than ever before, running myself pretty ragged in the process. There are a larger quantity of surviving ticket stubs in the family archive from the period '96/'97 than for any other. And many more have been lost over the years.

I didn't get to the first UK Ramones show in 1976, but I was there to say adios amigos at the last one, 20 years later.

One man I've never seen in concert is Joe Henry. In 1996 he issued 'Trampoline', one of my favourite albums of the decade, probably of all-time. 'Trampoline' marked a distinct change of musical direction following a series of accomplished alt-country releases and the LP perfectly reflects the slightly woozy fragility I felt for much of the year.

Saturday 28 March 2015

55 From 55 - 1995

55 songs in 55 days - one for every year of my life...so far. 

Belting out 'Powderfinger' and 'Mr Soul' during a Neil Young tribute night.

By 1995 I'd been through Madchester, Rave and Grunge, now Brit-Pop was at its peak. I didn't know it at the time, but my shop was riding the crest of its final wave. Business would never be this good again.

 A few surviving ticket stubs from the year in question.

1995 was the year I first stumbled upon Chicago post-rockers Tortoise, via a marvelous 12" single 'Gamera'. The following year the band would release their groundbreaking 2nd LP, 'Millions Now Living Will Never Die' and they are currently working on their 7th studio album.

Friday 27 March 2015

55 From 55 - 1994

55 songs in 55 days - one for every year of my life...so far.

A while ago, I wrote a bit about about a band I and a couple of mates put together in 1980 (here). For my sins, I was the singer in that band. It's probably the greatest regret of my life that I never learned to play a musical instrument, so to make up for my lack of talent, I surrounded myself with people who could actually play and nominated myself as the person who would stand at the front and make unpleasant noises into a microphone.  In 1994, 14 years after the demise of my little band, from my vantage point behind the counter of a small record shop, I once again found myself in regular close contact with local musicians. I did anything I could to assist, encourage and promote their bands and solo endeavours at the time and it's a source of great joy to know that many of them are still making music today. Every now and then a local charity gig or private party would crop up and I'd ask a handful of those hugely talented young players if they'd mind backing up this old fool while he belted out a couple of good old good 'uns for old times sake. They invariably said yes, bless 'em. This explains why you'll be seeing a couple of shots of me clutching a mic over the next few days. Here I am bangin' out 'Like a Rolling Stone' at a friend's garden party in 1994. Note the dramatic return of facial hair!


I enjoyed a couple of tunes from Failure's debut album, 'Comfort', in 1992 and third LP, 'Fantastic Planet' in 1996, but, for me, 1994's 'Magnified' is by far their best effort. The band's sound on 'Magnified' packs a massive droney wallop, particularly impressive when you consider Failure were a three piece. I caught a memorably deafening performance at the tiny Borderline venue in London, a few days after the album's release.

Thursday 26 March 2015

55 From 55 - 1993

55 songs in 55 days - one for every year of my life...so far. 

In September 1993, Virgin Records chose Madame Tussauds in London as the venue for the retail launch of Belinda Carlisle's new LP, 'Real'. As was the norm for these events, the alcohol flowed, the nibbles kept coming and the album blasted from a specially erected sound system. There was no sign of Belinda though. After a while, several small groups of shop managers and buyers fell into individual conversations around a large central room. A man appeared with an expensive camera hanging around his neck and gradually made his way around the room, stopping to arrange each small gaggle of people into a group pose, while not actually taking any shots. We were slightly baffled. He arrived at our group and we asked what was happening. 'Belinda's on her way...' he replied, grabbing a couple of us by the shoulders '...you stand there...and you stand there....' And he was off to do the same to the next group, standing a few feet away. After a few minutes, the photographer re-emerged, this time accompanied by Belinda Carlisle herself. As they moved from pre-posed group to pre-posed group, Belinda paused momentarily at the front of each, just long enough for the shutter to click, then moved on. She walked up to us, beamed at the camera, 'click', and walked away without saying a word. That was it. 'Real'? Surreal more like. Then again we were at Madame Tussauds, perhaps she thought we were waxworks.


From the final Gun Club LP, 'Lucky Jim', here's the sad and beautiful 'Idiot Waltz'.

Wednesday 25 March 2015

55 From 55 - 1992

55 songs in 55 days - one for every year of my life...so far. 

The album launch. Venues would vary from record company to record company and from artist to artist; Genesis at the London Planetarium, Black Crowes on a roof in Kensington, Garbage in a Soho wine bar, a long forgotten indie band on a Thames-side barge, but essentially the aim was the same. Ply us with drink and nibbles, wheel the band (or at least a band-member) out to meet and greet us, play the album super-loud on very good equipment, then take our pre-release orders while we're vulnerable! These occasions were also a great opportunity to meet and socialise with fellow indie retailers. It was sometimes a lonely business running your own, erm, business.

 Can't find any 1992 photos of me, so here are a few surviving ticket stubs from that year.

One album launch remains head and shoulders above the others though, and not just for the quality of the music. In 1992, after the success of their wonderful debut LP, The Sundays were signed to Parlophone and their second album 'Blind' was launched at the Abbey Road recording studio. I get shivers just thinking about it. The playback actually took place in Studio 2 (Studio 2!), though we were free to wander into the other studios and have a nose about throughout the course of evening. As a music nerd, it was an overwhelming and emotional location find myself in. Foolishly, I didn't take a camera with me to record this once in a lifetime event. I wish I had.

(The volume is very low on this one - crank it up!)

Tuesday 24 March 2015

55 From 55 - 1991

55 songs in 55 days - one for every year of my life...so far. 

It's 1991, I'm 31 years of age and the shop is ticking along. Several evenings per week, as soon as I've locked the door I dash off to a gig, somewhere in London or the South East of England, driving home through the wee small hours. During Bob Dylan's Hammersmith residencies in 1990, 1991 and 1993 I catch all the shows, working each day then driving there and back every evening. It makes me tired just thinking about it. Where did all that energy go?

One of the bands I caught in 1991 was Throwing Muses. I'd seen them a few times by this point, the earliest in 1988 with The Pixies in support, but the 'Real Ramona' LP and 1991 shows would be the last with Tanya Donelly. Here's her standout contribution to 'The Real Ramona', 'Not Too Soon'.

Monday 23 March 2015

55 From 55 - 1990

55 songs in 55 days - one for every year of my life...so far. 

The dream was to own a record shop with an attached small label and put out singles by local bands. I seriously looked into it at one point, but in reality I was never going to have the available dosh to fund such a venture. I promoted a couple of small local gigs (including the early psyche-pop era Shamen), but the town was simply too small to truly allow that idea to flourish. Instead I established contacts at several East Anglian venues and organised coach trips to concerts. This was quite popular for a while at the end of the 1980's and the early 1990's. We ran coaches to The Wedding Present, Waterboys, Wonderstuff, My Bloody Valentine, Sugarcubes and The Happy Mondays and more. The Stone Roses at the Norwich Arts Centre was a particularly memorable evening. After the gig a bunch of us spent half an hour chatting with the band, much to the waiting coach driver's annoyance. I also ran trips to both of Nirvana's Norwich gigs, a minibus to the Arts Centre in 1989 and a mid-sized coach to The Waterfront in 1990. I usually went to every show I sold tickets for, but those two were extremely popular even then, so I let others go in my place - d'oh!

Today's musical selection is the brilliant Weatherall & Farley mix of 'Abandon' by That Petrol Emotion. Shoot me down in flames if you like, but give me this over 'Loaded' any day of the week.

Sunday 22 March 2015

55 From 55 - 1989

55 songs in 55 days - one for every year of my life...so far.

A few words about the title of my business. I was the third (and final) incumbent to run a record shop on the site, the previous two people, both of whom I knew, had plumped for hanging their given names above the door, i.e. Fred's Records. I was keen to break away from the tradition and wanted to call my shop 'something', rather than another '(insert name here) Records'. The business title I'd chosen was 'Rhythm Collision', inspired by the 1982 Ruts DC album of the same name.

Looking sleepy in 1989.

A couple of weeks before I was due to take over the business in 1986, I had a series of meetings with a very helpful small business support company, who provided free advice and contacts for new starters. The first piece of advice they gave me, however, was to ditch my chosen business name, arguing that by putting my own moniker above the door, I would establish an immediate personal identity within the small community. I reluctantly allowed myself to be overruled and '(Insert my name here) Records' it became. They were right I suppose, I did become well known in the town fairly quickly and for a while it seemed that everyone knew my name. Rhythm Collision would've been far cooler though.


'Torch' is my favourite track from my favourite Psychedelic Furs LP, 'Book of Days', issued in late 1989. If you like the song, try to track down 'House', the only UK CD Single from the album, where you'll find an otherwise unavailable stripped-down version of 'Torch' as one of the b-sides.

Saturday 21 March 2015

55 From 55 - 1988

55 songs in 55 days - one for every year of my life...so far. 

My shop was located in a town that's a little off the beaten track and so I missed out on most of the personal appearances occasionally granted to fellow indie stores in the area. In October 1988, however, Donny Osmond, then in the middle of a clutch of comeback singles on Virgin Records, dropped by to say hello. It was intended to be a quick low-key visit, where he'd sign a bit of stock before being whisked off to the next port of call, but sensing the chance of a little free publicity, I alerted the local newspaper who duly dispatched a photographer to record the event.

If you're thinking that this isn't a particularly flattering shot of The Swede, you'd be dead right. But you should have seen the one they published - on the front page of the newspaper! It was truly awful! Donny was, as you might expect, an absolutely charming guy, who spent most of his short time behind my counter quizzing me about reggae, a genre he was newly discovering. I carried precious little reggae in stock, but had a couple of my own compilation tapes to hand, from which I played him a few brief selections that he listened to intently. He was particularly taken with 'Warrior Charge' by Aswad as I recall.

No Donny on today's playlist, but flick back to the 1972 post (here) to hear him and his Brothers rocking up a storm. Instead, this is 'Carolyn's Fingers', my all-time favourite Cocteau Twins tune, taken from their 1988 LP, 'Blue Bell Knoll'.

Friday 20 March 2015

55 From 55 - 1987

55 songs in 55 days - one for every year of my life...so far. 

My predecessor had certainly made a good job of running down his business. On the day of the handover, in the Summer of '86, we did a joint stock take. The count didn't take long and the value of the remaining stock was so low that we eventually agreed on a nominal sum of £1 for the lot. I had no stock of consequence and no record company accounts. Oh, and the shop was painted bright yellow, inside and out!

By 1987, thanks to help from Dad and a visiting Cousin, the outside of the shop was painted blue. It wasn't ideal, it was too dark, but, on the plus side, it wasn't yellow anymore. I'd also accumulated most of the main record company accounts and had gradually been increasing my stock levels. It was tricky. I was a very small business in quite a small town, so I tried to offer a smattering of everything without becoming too esoteric or blowing my buying budget. Mainly, I relied on my knowledge and the ability to source customer orders quickly and efficiently. This was how my reputation grew.

Behind the counter. 1987.

I ploughed practically every penny back into the business in those early years, but every now and then I allowed myself a treat. In 1987, one such treat was the debut import 45 by an Australian band called God. 'My Pal' played at max volume, was the perfect aural onslaught for cashing up and sorting out at the end of the day. The quality of the song is such that it all but overshadowed the rest of the band's brief career and it still sounds electrifying today. A heads up - the repeated guitar motif will worm its way into your ear and staple itself to your brain. You've been warned.

Thursday 19 March 2015

55 From 55 - 1986

55 songs in 55 days - one for every year of my life...so far.

I'd vaguely stayed in touch with the guy who'd been my first manager at the record shop in Ipswich, when I started working there at the back end of 1979. Not long after I'd moved on to manage my own store in 1981, he left the company to open his own business - a little one man record shop in a small seaside town. By 1986 he'd had enough and was running the business down and trying to sell up. Meanwhile, in addition to managing my own store, I was now also clocking up the miles every week in an Area Manager capacity - and there was talk of even more branches to come. After a period of anxious consideration, I made the decision to go it alone. I purchased my former manager's tiny business for next to nothing and left behind  the relative security of the indie chain after seven years. It was a nerve wracking time. I was confident in my musical knowledge and customer service abilities, but could I run a business? And do all of these things by myself?

This is 'Strangers When We Meet', track one from The Smithereens' cracking debut LP, 'Especially For You'.                                                                           

Wednesday 18 March 2015

55 From 55 - 1985

55 songs in 55 days - one for every year of my life...so far.

A momentous change in my life lay just over the horizon, but for now, from 1985, here's another twofer. The Moffs were an Australian band, heavily inspired by all things paisley and psychedelic. The catalogue they left behind was slim, though if you can only track down one piece of plastic by them, make it this one. It's an import 7" single on Citadel, 'Another Day in the Sun', coupled with 'Clarodomineaux'. I can't separate the two songs. Turn off your mind, relax and float downstream.

Tuesday 17 March 2015

55 From 55 - 1984

55 songs in 55 days - one for every year of my life...so far. 

The move in December 1983, took me even closer to London. It meant that the time it took from locking up the shop to arriving at a gig could be as little as an hour, depending on the venue, even less on a really good night. In 1984 my car could almost have done the journey down the M11 on auto-pilot. A wave of American bands, dubbed 'The Paisley Underground', began releasing records and traveling to our shores to play well received concert tours, while expensive, guitar drenched imports hit our racks from the far distant lands of Australia and New Zealand. All in all, there are any number of tunes I could choose to represent this busy musical year.

Here's one - the terrific 'Bad News Travels Fast', US import debut 45 by The Fuzztones, which for a time was a hugely popular racket behind our counter. With at least 50% of the staff anyway.

Monday 16 March 2015

55 From 55 - 1983

55 songs in 55 days - one for every year of my life...so far. 

In April 1983, I took a couple of days off work and went back to Ipswich to celebrate my 23rd Birthday with as many chums as I could rustle up. It was a poor show, everyone I called was unavailable for the actual evening of my Birthday, though one of them did offer to pick me up during the day to head out for a couple of lunchtime pints and a bit of a drive around out in the sticks. We eventually arrived back in Ipswich in darkness and before running me back to my parent's house, my pal said he had to quickly stop off at his own place for a moment. As we entered his house the lights came on and there were all my mates, suited and booted - they'd arranged a surprise party for me. The Mother of the pal who'd been in charge of keeping me out of the way all afternoon had cooked up a massive amount of food and everyone else provided the all important booze. It was a long and glorious evening, one I'll never forget.

At my surprise Birthday bash. April 1983.

Towards the end of the year I was on the move again, this time to open a brand new branch of the indie record shop chain, for whom I'd now worked for 4 years. We were due to open within a busy Essex shopping centre in early December and I was given very little time by my boss to recruit the staff and stock the shelves, though after two days of solid interviewing I was fortunate to find three great people to work with. In the days leading up to the opening, we put in long hours sorting and filing dozens of boxes of records, after which I slept on the shop floor as I hadn't had any time to find myself digs in the town. All our hard work paid off though, we quickly became the busiest shop in the chain.

Today's song is from that most perfect of pop bands, Altered Images. 'Bite' was their final album and, in my opinion, their strongest overall, with great production, just the right amount of smooth sophistication and tunes to die for.

Sunday 15 March 2015

55 From 55 - 1982

55 songs in 55 days - one for every year of my life...so far. 

From now on, I can't guarantee that a photo of my ugly mug will accompany every single post in this series. There will be more to come here and there (including the return of facial hair in the 1990's), but I can find none at the moment, for instance, taken in 1982. I do, however, have a cracking musical selection for the year in question. In the baking heat of July 1983 I would see The Beat's final UK show, supporting David Bowie at Milton Keynes Bowl, meanwhile though, back in 1982, Ranking Roger from the band joins forces with a young Pato Banton on the marvelously inventive 12" mix of 'Pato And Roger (Ago Talk)'.

Saturday 14 March 2015

55 From 55 - 1981

55 songs in 55 days - one for every year of my life...so far.

After 18 months working at the record shop in Ipswich, I was offered the chance to manage my own branch 40 miles away. When I arrived in town, we actually had two branches, which my boss wanted reduced to one. So among my first acts as a manager was to tell one of the staff that their services would soon no longer be required. Mr Popular I wasn't. The move nearer London afforded me even more access to live concerts, culminating in all 7 nights of The Clash's legendary stand at the Lyceum Ballroom in October.

Back at home for Christmas 1981. In this photo, Dad is 4 years younger than I am now.

Exactly one year earlier I saw The Piranhas for the one and only time, supporting The Jam at Newcastle City Hall. At the end of 1981 they issued my favourite of all their singles, 'Vi Gela Gela'. All I could find online is the 7" version, but check out the extended 12" if you get the chance, it's an absolute joy.

In 'Vi Gela Gela' the Piranhas reference a 'tune from Af-ri-ca' they'd heard, couldn't get out of their heads, but were unable to buy over here. This is the song that made their backbones 'quiver and quake', '...listening to Western Jazz'.

Friday 13 March 2015

55 From 55 - 1980

55 songs in 55 days - one for every year of my life...so far.

Skinny as a rake and honing my people skills behind the counter of the record shop in early 1980. After leaving home my diet consisted mainly of beans on toast and beer. The moustache was not long for this world.

In mid-December 1979, The Clash released my favourite LP of all time, the mighty 'London Calling'. In 1980 the band hit the road on the '16 Tons' tour to promote it. I caught a number of shows that year, where The Clash were supported Joe Ely, who was introduced by Mick Jones as 'the new Hank Williams', and the 'Dread at the Controls', Mikey Dread. I already knew Mikey from his brilliant 1979 dub album, 'African Anthem' and in the Summer of 1980, to coincide with his raised UK profile, he put out the great, 'Rockers Delight'.

Thursday 12 March 2015

55 From 55 - 1979

55 songs in 55 days - one for every year of my life...so far. 

One of the guys at the office rented a large house just off Christchurch Park, a pretty nice part of Ipswich. He took the biggest room and sub-let the rest to friends and co-workers. I'm not sure how legal the sub-letting actually was, now I come to think about it. When one of his 'tenants' gave notice, he made it known at work that he was looking to fill the room. Without thinking too much about it, I said I'd take it and that evening, told Mum and Dad I was leaving home. I'm utterly appalled at my younger self for the way I dropped this bombshell on my parents. They knew the day would come, but were clearly hurt at the blunt way I broke the news, something my immaturity couldn't comprehend, yet to their immense credit they still helped me considerably when the day of the move came.

Don't say I didn't warn you about the 'tache! 1979

It was at the end of 1979 that I started working in a record shop. I wrote about those early days on the other side of the counter a couple of years ago (here). Earlier in the year, around the time I was leaving home, I bought 'Telegram' by The Monitors, a glorious, jangly little thing that I love dearly. I loved it so much that I also bought it again a couple of months later, when the single was reissued on a major label. Over the years, when times have been hard and money short, I've reluctantly exchanged bits of my record collection for cold hard cash - and usually regretted it. But I've never regretted anything quite as much as selling my original Monitunes copy of 'Telegram'. What a fool I was.

Wednesday 11 March 2015

55 From 55 - 1978

55 songs in 55 days - one for every year of my life...so far. 

Two hugely pivotal events in my musical life, occurred in 1978 - within the space of 24 hours. On Friday July 14th I traveled to Bury St Edmunds and finally saw The Clash in concert for the first time. As I've reluctantly admitted previously, on this monumental night I was wearing both flares and a moustache - ouch. Flares were ditched from my wardrobe not long after, though the ill-advised moustache remained resolutely above my top lip for a further 18 months. What was I thinking? The gig came towards the end of the 'Out on Parole' tour, where at the early shows, Suicide occupied the support slot. By the time The Clash rolled into Suffolk they had a new opening act, The (Coventry) Specials.

Just prior to the appearance of the dreaded moustache. April 1978.

I couldn't hang around for too long after The Clash had completed their set, as I had an prompt start arranged for the following day. Bright and early the next morning, a hired minibus, driven by the hippy husband of a woman I worked with, pulled up outside my house. I got in. We were off to see Bob Dylan at Blackbushe. From a few hundred people at the Bury St Edmunds Corn Exchange, to 200,000 in a Surrey aerodrome within the space of 24 hours.

Souvenirs of Blackbushe.

I'll no doubt write in a bit more detail about these two massively important gigs one day, but for now I'm just marveling at the ongoing ramifications of that 24 hour period. Over the next 6 years I saw The Clash a further 21 times. And Bob? So far I'm on around 56 shows - and of course I'm still hoping to add to that tally, next time he comes to town.


One of the self-imposed rules for this series is to exclude my all-time favourite artists, so no Bob or Clash tunes today. Instead, here's 'Where Were You?' by The Mekons, one of the truly great singles of the period and another song introduced to me by the late great Johnny P.

Tuesday 10 March 2015

55 From 55 - 1977

55 songs in 55 days - one for every year of my life...so far. 

In 1977, finally, a year later than practically all my friends, I got my first job. I also purchased my first ever suit, a mandatory requirement at the office. I arrived home from work at the end of the long first day, head throbbing from all the new information I'd absorbed and feet throbbing from my new leather shoes that weren't yet worn-in, and immediately ran upstairs to change into the comfortable familiarity of jeans and t-shirt. Mum was horrified. She'd been thrilled that morning, to see me dressed smartly for the first time in living memory and had been poised with a camera, awaiting my return, in order to document the moment. Before she would hand over any dinner, she made me go upstairs, change back into my new threads and pose for a photo-shoot outside the front door. This was the result.

At the end of the month, I received my first pay slip - £92! At lunch time, a friend took me to the bank and showed me how to cash a cheque, I hadn't got a clue. I took out £10 and headed straight to the record shop to purchase 'Live! In the Air Age' by Be Bop Deluxe - after which I still had £7.50 to spare. So began the lunchtime ritual of propping up the counter at the record shop, which would ultimately result in me getting a job there. Hidden under the counter was a 'Punk' singles box, available to peruse upon request. After hearing The Only Ones' debut single, 'Lovers of Today', on John Peel's programme one evening in the Summer of '77, I rushed into the shop the following lunchtime with the title scribbled on a scrap of paper, asked for the box, rifled through and found it. How great is this?

Monday 9 March 2015

55 From 55 - 1976

55 songs in 55 days - one for every year of my life...so far. 

I mentioned in the last post that at the time of our move to Ipswich in 1975, Dad had no job to go to and I had to get stuck in at my new school pretty quickly to stand a chance of having any success in my forthcoming O-Level exams. In the event Dad was quickly taken on by Debenhams as their new warehouse manager, while in 1976 I unfortunately flunked most of my O-Levels, eventually staying on for an extra year in an attempt to salvage something from the wreckage of my education.

 An ill-advised early attempt at a moustache. 1976

In London, Punk was starting to happen. Meanwhile, in Ipswich I was busy catching every band that came to town, regardless of musical genre. So while the Pistols & co were causing chaos in the capitol, I was grooving to Brand X and Isotope, headbanging to Black Sabbath, Judas Priest, Uriah Heep and Widowmaker, stroking my chin to Barclay James Harvest and Fruupp and tapping my foot politely to Andy Fairweather-Low and Kiki Dee.

 Concert ephemera from the period. (Click to enlarge)

The changing musical times were making their mark on my record buying habits though. The fantastic 'Live at the Marquee' EP by Eddie and the Hot Rods, for instance, was rarely far from my turntable in the Summer of '76. Today you get two tunes for the price of one.

Sunday 8 March 2015

55 From 55 - 1975

55 songs in 55 days - one for every year of my life...so far. 

We moved from Walthamstow to Ipswich on May 3rd 1975. It was a brave move on the part of my parents, Dad had no new job to go to and I had to settle into a new school just 12 months shy of my O-Levels. I quickly gravitated towards the fellow music lovers in my class. One of those I met during my first day at the school and would go on to share many musical adventures with, is still my best mate today. I'm also Godfather to one of his children.

Exploring the wide open spaces of Ipswich in 1975.

Ipswich was on the national gig circuit, with a major live venue little more than a mile from my house. Before long I joined my new pal in checking out virtually any touring band that came to town. We saw a lot of shows, not all good, though I soon realised how fundamental live music was going to become for me in the future.


Those of a similar vintage to me will no doubt remember the Sounds weekly music paper and may even recall its 'rock' corespondent Geoff Barton. Barton was almost single-handedly responsible for pushing the awful American band Kiss onto an unsuspecting UK public, thanks to his incessant promotion of the risible double LP, 'Kiss Alive'. 'Greatest album of all time' my arse! He also shares the blame for the rise of the appalling NWOBHM. It's not all bad news though. In 1975 Geoff Barton introduced me to Mr Big's debut LP, 'Sweet Silence'. (No, not that Mr Big!) It's a real mixed bag, where metal meets cockney knees-up and glam meets noodley prog. It doesn't all stand the test of time, but when it's good, it's very good indeed.

Saturday 7 March 2015

55 From 55 - 1974

55 songs in 55 days - one for every year of my life...so far. 

By 1974 we'd all enjoyed singles by Dave and Ansel Collins, The Pioneers, Bob and Marcia, Greyhound, Dandy Livingstone and several other reggae performers. I'm pretty sure that no-one in my circle of friends had heard anything quite like 'Ire Feelings' though. The song literally reverberated around the school playground, everyone was talking about it or singing along to it.

Suddenly shooting up again in 1974.

Producer Rupie Edwards used the rhythm and some vocal elements from Johnny Clarke's 'Everyday Wondering' to create a remarkable dubwise mash-up, with an unforgettable refrain. You'll be singing this for the rest of the day.

Friday 6 March 2015

55 From 55 - 1973

55 songs in 55 days - one for every year of my life...so far. 

At school, we'd all got to that stage of personalisng our exercise books, in my case with T.Rex song lyrics. One afternoon in geography our teacher, the wonderfully named Mr Milton-Polly, holding a pile of marked homework, was shouting out names and passing comments on the quality of each individual student's work as we trundled to the front of the class to collect it. He got to my exercise book, called out my name and while I walked down between the desks with all eyes on me, Mr Milton-Polly looked at the cover and sighed heavily. He'd spotted the lyrics to the current T.Rex single scrawled boldly in felt tip pen by yours truly. As he handed the exercise book back to me he boomed, 'I don't care if you are a Groover honey, please don't...........' I didn't catch the rest of his sentence to be honest, drowned out as it was by the gales of laughter from my classmates. It was a very long walk back to my seat.

In 1973, Walthamstow had a selection of record shops in which to hang out, good, bad and indifferent, but invariably independent. Right at the very top of the market though, in Hoe Street, was a modest sized HMV. Back then HMV wasn't the massive corporation it would become, but it was noticeably more formal (and organised I suppose) than its indie counterparts. One thing HMV did have over its rivals was space for window displays. One Saturday, I summoned up the courage and asked if I could have a poster from the current window display when they had finished with it. The sales assistant told me to come back the following week and he'd see what he could do. So it was that seven days later, I walked the mile from HMV to my house with a 3½ft tall cardboard centrepiece of Marc Bolan, astride a tiger, tucked under my arm. And, 42 years later, I still have it.

My musical horizons were expanding rapidly throughout 1973. I remember buying Led Zeppelin's 'Houses of the Holy' on the Saturday after its release, The Stooges' 'Raw Power' too. Tangerine Dream's 'Atem' was a blissed out favourite as was Fripp & Eno's 'No Pussyfooting'. And the wait between Emerson Lake & Palmer's 'Trilogy' in 1972 and 1973's 'Brain Salad Surgery' felt like an eternity. One Saturday afternoon, I was round at my mate John's house, admiring a new poster on his wall. It was a photo of a group of pyramids. I asked him where he got it and he explained that it had come free with a new LP, which he then dug out and played for me. That was the first time I heard 'Dark Side of the Moon'.

'Frankenstein', a single by The Edgar Winter Group, was a big favourite with me and my pals.

A later appearance by the band on the Old Grey Whistle Test, found me crouched in front of the telly, microphone in hand, desperately shushing my parents, as I recorded the frankly astounding performance on Dad's reel to reel tape recorder. Even Whispering Bob was quite excited by the end of it.

Thursday 5 March 2015

55 From 55 - 1972

55 songs in 55 days - one for every year of my life...so far.

So at the very end of 1970 I was given a record player, then for my birthday in 1971 I received one of those new fangled cassette tape recorders. It felt like I'd achieved almost total independence - could life get any better? Meanwhile, in 1972, a ridiculous amount of great records were being released, some became the soundtrack of my life then ('Virginia Plain', 'Silver Machine', 'Take Me Bak 'ome', 'I Can See Clearly Now', 'Rocket Man', 'School's Out', 'John I'm Only Dancing', 'American Pie', 'All the Young Dudes', 'Mother & Child Reunion', 'Walk on the Wild Side', 'You Wear It Well' and many more), while others I discovered retrospectively, the following year or even later. In fact I'm still bumping into great music that I've never heard before, from 1971, 1972 and 1973. It was a rich period.

And of course, in 1972 there was T.Rex. Read about my first LP, 'The Slider' (here) and memories of my first gig (here), (here) and (here).

Let's leave music momentarily though, to discuss the thorny subject of my waistline. The eagle eyed amongst you might have noticed from the photo in the previous post, that by 1971 I had started to fill out a little, but by 1972 my growth spurt had temporarily stopped, erm, spurting - in an upwardly direction at least. I continued to grow in an outwards direction though - just look at this black and white Polaroid, taken in November 1972! Count those chins!

So as I'm spoiled for choice when it comes to selecting a song to represent this pivotal year, I thought I'd throw in a bit of a curveball. In addition to being a big year for several of the names I've already mentioned, 1972 was a massive year for Donny Osmond. 20 years later, I met Donny Osmond and i'll tell that tale one day, but for now I'm not focusing on the mawkish monster solo hits, but his parallel career as a member of The Osmonds. The Brothers had a run of three rockin' singles during this period, which made me and my pals briefly sit up and take notice. The third was 'Goin' Home', issued in 1973. In the middle is the one we all know, 'Crazy Horses' from October 1972. The first of the run, 'Hold Her Tight', came out in the Summer of '72 and, though I didn't know it at the time, tips its hat very strongly towards Led Zeppelin's 'Immigrant Song'. Ignore the date on this brilliant clip, it's definitely 1972 all the way.

Wednesday 4 March 2015

55 From 55 - 1971

55 songs in 55 days - one for every year of my life...so far.

Our story actually begins a few days before the start of 1971, on Christmas Day 1970, when I received this from my Parents!

No other single present in my whole life had the same seismic effect as that one. Freedom. The freedom to listen to what I wanted, when I wanted. To begin with, I spirited away some of Dad's records to play in my room, along with the small handful I'd been given as presents here and there. But I soon became anxious for more.

Filling out. All dressed up for 'Big School'. 1971

Do you remember the days when all kinds of different places sold records? In Walthamstow High Street everyone was at it. Market stalls, clothes shops, newsagents, junk stores - look in the corner, there'd be a rack of LP's or a cardboard box full of singles. And that's not even counting the half dozen legitimate record shops within walking distance of home. I started at 'Big' School' in 1971 and opposite the school gate was a little parade of shops comprising a newsagent, a hairdressers, a chippy (very popular at lunchtimes) and an electrical shop*. Looking through the window of the electrical shop one day, I spotted a box of singles on the counter and ten minutes later, after a quick rummage and at the cost of just a few pence, I walked out clutching this.

* Remarkably, the electrical shop is still there. I'm sure the business must have changed hands at some point over the past 44 years, but looking at the exterior on a photo I found online, it appears that the decor is frozen in time (see here).  I wonder if there's still a box of singles on the counter?

Greatest Hits