I thought it was time I rather self-indulgently put something considered on this blog to give a bit of my musical history as some background information, for all of those reading this eager to know more…
I come from a vaguely musical family, in that my dad used to play the double bass, even cutting a record with his jazz band. However, that was about as far as his musicality went, and he wasn’t all that into it in general.
I studied piano and then clarinet at school – both pretty underwhelmingly, soon realising that making music wasn’t for me. This was backed up when I rashly bought an electric guitar when I was in my early 20’s, but gave up on it very quickly indeed!
So, this piece is really looking at my musical evolution up until the end of 1987. I turned eighteen in February 1988, a crucial cut-off point as this is when I acquired my first CD player, changing the way I purchased and listened to it forever. I’m also going to use this article to remind myself of the bands and singers I’ve continued to love (or cast aside), and those who I’ve managed to see live, and those I’ve not. While this might miss out a few key influences over this period, hopefully I’ve covered the vast majority.
I bought my first record in 1979, when I was aged nine – a copy of Squeeze’s Cool For Cats. I’d like to say it was because I loved the song, but actually I really only bought it because I saw one of my cousins come home with it (Justin?), and it was a pink vinyl 7” single, something I had never seen before.
Still, it is a great record, and here they are performing it on Top Of The Pops:
The summer of 1980 brought a new family member into my life when my widowed father remarried. That led to a (very) few rock/pop albums coming into the household, as my dad’s collection was just classical. I don’t think the parental pop collection has changed since then, including Simon & Garfunkel, ABBA and the Chess soundtrack.
I then started to get into music partly through the radio (which would just have been Radio 1), but also largely via my sister, who is two years older than me. So, 1980 brought the likes of Pretenders (who I finally first got to see last year, see my review here), Blondie (who I saw at Shepherd’s Bush Empire in November 2003 for the then astronomical price of £36.50) and The Jam, all of whom I still enjoy.
The last of those three were a real favourite though, and that led me onto their mod progenitors, The Kinks and The Who (I’ve never yet seen The Kinks or any of them, but I got to see The Who at the Echo Arena in December 2014 – review here). I took to mod so much that by the mid-80’s when I was old enough to be allowed up to London on my own, and had some money to spend on clothes, I was frequenting Carnaby Street, picking up a stripy boating jacket to go with my Sta-Prest trousers, probably bought on the cheap in Romford, and Fred Perry polo shirts.
The end of that year of course brought the news of the death of John Lennon. I recall my sister rushing into my room to tell me the news. Shamefully, I responded “who’s John Lennon?”
1981 brought my first real musical passion with the rise of Adam And The Ants. I bought a fair few of their singles, including Ant Rap with its advent calendar-style flaps on the sleeve (as it was released on 30th November 1981). I was such an Antfan that I remember painting a white stripe across my nose in art class once!
I still love the Ants, much more so than another musical find of that year, Shakin’ Stevens. I also bought Ultravox’s Vienna and was also enjoying Kim Wilde, acquiring Olivia Newton-John’s Physical LP around this time also..
1981 also brought The Human League’s Dare album (seeing much of it live at Clarence Dock in Liverpool last year, reviewed here) into my orbit (again via my sister), with 1982 finally seeing me buy proper LPs, after a little earlier experimentation with cheap, dodgy Top Of The Pops covers albums.
I can remember visiting the Record And Tape Exchange in Camden when on a family visit to my uncle who lived nearby, buying up a few cheap (10p?) second-hand singles and being left with 50p to spend and a choice of the Ants’ breakthrough album Kings Of The Wild Frontier or 1966 compilation A Collection Of Beatles Oldies (But Goldies!), which I eventually plumped for.
This became the first of many, many Beatles records I was to acquire over the years – a habit that sees no sign of abating today. I probably got into The Rolling Stones around 1982 as well, buying their Still Life live album released that year. Other musical finds in 1982 were ABC, whose The Lexicon Of Love album from that year I got to see performed live at the Liverpool Philharmonic Hall in November 2015 (reviewed here), Haircut One Hundred and The Kids From “Fame”.
In 1983 I was enjoying The Police (courtesy of my sister) and Tracey Ullman, and starting to buy brand new albums, including Billy Joel’s An Innocent Man and Paul McCartney’s Pipes Of Peace. Fortunately, I’ve now managed to see Macca live on four occasions, and will definitely go and see him if he ever comes back to Liverpool again.
Around this time, I was first exposed to the greatest hits of the likes of The Beach Boys and Bob Marley, again through my sister. I’ve seen Brian Wilson live three times now, all of them featuring tonnes of Beach Boys classics, once doing Smile in its entirety and once Pet Sounds (review for that one here).
Another key influence in this era was Channel 4’s The Tube, a Friday night show that made TOTP seem the tame but still essential programme that it was. Sadly I never managed to get to go to a taping, which was an option as my step-grandad tuned the pianos for the show!
I found several new artists in 1984, most of whom were not long-term loves, including Frankie Goes To Hollywood and Nik Kershaw. I bought the debut albums by Bronski Beat, Howard Jones, Matt Bianco and Julian Lennon, the last indicating my blooming obsession with The Beatles that was now encompassing their solo and other associated material.
We took a family trip to Liverpool for the International Garden Festival in the summer of 1984, my first time in the city. I took it upon myself one day to set off on my own to track down key Beatles sites, which was in retrospect quite ballsy at age fourteen with nothing bar some kind of map, as these were obviously days long before the internet. Just as impressively, my family managed to find me partway through my pilgrimage (trying to find Ringo’s birthplace in the Dingle, if memory serves), having decided perhaps I needed some adult accompaniment!
It was the year of the Macca Give My Regards To Broad Street film, which I saw at the cinema, and of course I also bought the accompanying soundtrack album, not his finest hour by any stretch of the imagination. I was also buying Jimmy Savile 60’s compilation albums on Music For Pleasure and so hearing a load more music from that decade, such as The Hollies (a line-up of whom I got to see in April 2015 at the Liverpool Philharmonic Hall – see here), Manfred Mann and Gerry And The Pacemakers, whom I saw at the Phil in November 2010.
It was probably around this time that I dived into original 50’s rock ‘n’ roll. I remember having a double cassette compilation featuring the likes of Eddie Cochran, Gene Vincent and lesser lights like Danny & The Juniors. Sadly, I can’t recall exactly which album it was. I was especially taken with The Everly Brothers and Buddy Holly to begin with, growing to love the likes of Chuck Berry and Little Richard.
I also got into forgotten popsters King that year, with my Beatles fixation continuing as I went to see Water at the cinema, a film made by Handmade Films that also featured brief cameos from George and Ringo. Sadly, I never got to see George in the flesh, but saw Ringo as part of Liverpool’s Capital Of Culture celebrations in 2008.
The Smiths had a top ten hit in 1984 and then a number one album the following year, but I considered them to be dull and depressing at that time, only getting into them as they split up in 1987, rapidly becoming one of my all-time favourites.
I was also collecting the Fab Four’s 7” picture discs that were being issued around the twentieth anniversaries of the original releases, with some of them even hitting the Top 40 again, while I was slowly getting hold of all their LPs, EPs and singles (especially those with tracks not on the albums). I was even buying up compilations such as Love Songs and Rock ‘N’ Roll Music, even though I already had all the songs on other releases.
13th July 1985 was a big day in our household, though sadly that was because we were hosting some kind of garden party for the church, meaning we missed seeing much of Live Aid live on TV, although it was finished in time for me to see Macca struggling with his faulty microphone. Relive that moment here:
I turned sixteen in 1986, a year that added records by Pet Shop Boys, The Housemartins, Peter Gabriel, Bruce Springsteen, The Communards and Depeche Mode to my musical repertoire, as well as a new Macca album in Press To Play.
The Boss is probably top of my list of big stars I want to see live – I got to see PSB live twice, once headlining in Liverpool and then as support to Take That (!) in Hamburg, and I saw Peter Gabriel when he did an anniversary tour for So in December 2014 (see here).
As well as the Press To Play album, I also picked up an array of singles off it in various formats, including a 10” version of Press, Pretty Little Head on cassingle and a third single, Only Love Remains¸ that I was convinced would see him return to the number one spot for the first time since Pipes Of Peace. Sadly, it only made it as far as #34!
I’d also bought quite a lot of solo albums by the other Beatles over the mid-1980’s, from the highs of George’s All Things Must Pass and John’s Rock ‘N’ Roll to the lesser merits of Ringo’s Stop And Smell The Roses.
One record I bought in 1986 that I’m less proud of was Nick Berry’s Every Loser Wins. Yes, him off EastEnders. Other finds that year were The Bangles, Suzanne Vega and Sam Cooke, who came back to prominence thanks to a Levi’s 501 advert.
1987 was a key year in my musical journey with a series of firsts and discoveries, alongside my ongoing love affair with The Beatles. This led to me buying Paul’s All The Best! compilation and George’s brand new album Cloud Nine – both on cassette and on the day of release in November. I moved from vinyl to tape at some point around this time as I had stopped listening to vinyl for fear of damaging it, instead taping my records and listening to the cassettes. So, I simply decided to skip a step.
I moved into the sixth form towards the end of 1986, which brought me into closer contact with more musical influences in the shape of friends Stu and Graham, as well as an absolutely crucial brother of another classmate (called Shahirah, I think), whose influence probably really came into its own during 1987.
However, my main musical influence then (and still now, I’d say) was my friend Kris, whom I’d met on my first day of senior school in 1981, when we immediately became best friends, back before music was an important part of either of our lives.
We both benefited from Shahirah’s brother through whom I think we both got to hear the likes of The Velvet Underground (the debut album I think, but I fairly soon picked up VU on cassette), Brian Eno, Roxy Music and Patti Smith. Out of those seminal acts, the only one I’ve got to see live so far (surprisingly) is the Velvets, at The Forum in Kentish Town in June 1993.
Together, we discovered the band who remain (just behind The Beatles), my all-time favourites, The Fall. When trying to piece together my history with them due to my guest appearance on two Fall-themed Trust The Wizards podcasts (listen here!), I decided that I must have first encountered them by buying the 12” of their second session for John Peel, recorded in November 1978, that was issued in June 1987.
I would have come across their name in the music press, as I was by now at least occasionally buying the likes of the NME, Melody Maker and Sounds, or when I occasionally listened to Peel. However, I was definitely not really familiar with them when I bought the Peel Sessions ep, from a shop in either Romford or Wickford (a town with no redeeming quality I can recall other than a good record shop near its train station!), as Kris and I were making regular record shopping trips over the summer holiday prior to the start of sixth form.
The Fall rapidly became an essential part of my listening, and I certainly must have heard a repeat of their eleventh Peel session from April, later in the year. This featured the fantastic Guest Informant and Athlete Cured, and is possibly their greatest ever session. I had probably acquired cassettes of their three most recent albums (Bend Sinister, This Nation’s Saving Grace and The Wonderful And Frightening World Of …) by year’s end.
I first saw The Fall live in September 1988, with my most recent time being in January 2017 being my nineteenth Fall gig (review here).
1987 also brought me bands such as Hipsway, probably discovered through Record Mirror magazine, which I was buying pretty regularly, having moved on from Smash Hits that was my reading matter of choice earlier in the decade.
Kris became a big fan of Talking Heads around this time, something I joined him in. That run of their first five albums is still possibly the greatest consecutive sequence of LPs from a band’s start ever. We also dived into Joy Division together. I remember buying him a copy of the double half-live Still album for his birthday one year, if memory serves correctly.
I also started dipping my toes into the waters of classic 60’s singer/songwriters such as Leonard Cohen and Bob Dylan. I distinctly remember looks of disdain verging on horror when I put the cassette of Bringing It All Back Home (still my favourite Dylan album) on the sixth form common room music system one break-time, as he was probably as far from hip back then as it was possible to be. My biggest musical regret is not going to see Leonard Cohen live when I had the chance. At least I’ve got to see Dylan twice, most recently in May 2017 (as reviewed here).
Other discoveries around this time were The Triffids, Japan, Elvis Costello (who I first saw live at the Phil in June 2015, as reviewed here) and a couple of others who I picked up off my sister (probably her last real musical influence on me) in Redskins and the Bard of Barking himself, Billy Bragg, who I just saw live for the fifth time to date (see review here). The Triffids were actually my first real gig seeing a professional band, at the Dominion Theatre on Tottenham Court Road in September 1988.
The end of 1987 saw my first two proper gigs, seeing Fantasy Dogs, the band of my friend Graham’s mates, who played local halls in the heart of Essex. I still have cassette recordings of three of their shows.
The final huge part of my musical coming of age in 1987 was listening to (and recording) my first ever Festive Fifty, the annual best-of-the-year as voted for by John Peel listeners. I still have the tapes with all of the shows from that Christmas, which featured the likes of The Sugarcubes (who I got to see in December 1988) and The Wedding Present, who I saw for the seventh and most recent time in December 2016, as reviewed here.
The shows also gave me my first exposure to the likes of Public Enemy, Sonic Youth, Butthole Surfers (with the challenging but wonderful 22 Going On 23 off Locust Abortion Technician), The Colorblind James Experience and The Gun Club. I got to see all bar the Buttholes live in the next few years, with PE being the most recent (see here).
And so 1987 came to a close, with Pet Shop Boys’ cover of Elvis Presley’s Always On My Mind at number one in the charts. Also in the Top 40 that week were The Pogues and New Order (the latter of whom I have subsequently seen on three occasions live), both of whom I was on the verge of getting into, with both Macca and George also on the chart.
1988 would prove to be another momentous musical year for me, which may well be revealed in further article(s?) across 2018!