This is my musical story of 1988 – a follow-up to my previous similarly self-indulgent article about my early musical journey (see here).
However, I must first rectify a major omission from that piece. I hadn’t mentioned a cassette made for me by my school friend Graham as I had thought I hadn’t got it until 1988. I was shocked to realise, on digging it out again, that I actually received it in May 1986.
Graham’s Selection gave me my first proper introduction to many bands at the gothier end of the indie spectrum – Bauhaus, Balaam And The Angel, the glorious Half Man Half Biscuit, The Cure, The Cult, The Jesus And Mary Chain and U2.
I never bothered to buy any Balaam And The Angel, while I have had a bit of a love-hate relationship with Bauhaus over the years. I now ignore their sheer ridiculousness and just enjoy some of their songs. The Cure were a fairly important band to me in the late 1980’s, though I’ve somehow never managed to see them live.
The Cult were represented on this tape by a couple of songs off their 1985 Love album, which I obviously enjoyed enough to pick up their 1987 follow-up Electric on cassette, by which time they had embraced their harder rock side. That’s not an album I continue to own on any format.
I went on to buy a number of U2 records over the years, without ever really loving them. I went to see them at Wembley Stadium in August 1993, supported by BAD II, sadly missing the opening act, PJ Harvey (though I had already got to see her/them four times live).
The two acts from this tape that have stayed with me the most are JAMC, who I got to see twice (the first time with Graham, his future wife Vida, and my best mate Kris at the Brixton Academy in December 1988), and HMHB, who I am going to see for only the third time later this year.
Back to 1988, and my first gig of the year (and third ever, according to my pretty good records) was on 13th January, when I went to see Fantasy Dogs for the third of eight times. If you missed the earlier article on this blog, they were the band of my friend Graham’s mates, who played local halls in the heart of Essex.
On this occasion it was a free show, supporting Fat And Frantic, who actually released quite a few records. Also in attendance were my two other main musical explorers of the time, Kris and Stu.
We were all also together a couple of months later, when Fantasy Dogs supported another Essex band, the much rockier The Storm Angels, at another Billericay venue, this time at the princely cost of £1 for a ticket.
This is one of four of their shows that I still have a cassette recording of, as well as The Storm Angels’ set this time around.
January brought me a compilation of Peel Sessions on tape, presumably from the recently-released 12” singles of classic and more recent sessions. So this cassette includes Joy Division, The Wedding Present, New Order, The Triffids, T. Rex and The Damned, all bands I still retain much fondness for.
I went on to see the Weddoes seven times to date, most recently in December 2016 (as reviewed here), while I have managed to catch New Order live on three occasions. I’ve never managed to see any incarnation of The Damned, and am too young to have seen either Joy Division or T. Rex.
The Triffids will reappear in a later 1988 article, as they headlined the first ever proper professional gig I attended.
Coming back to The Wedding Present, they released a couple of singles that year, at least one of which (Nobody’s Twisting Your Arm from February) I must have bought as a CD single this year. However, as all the tracks were later compiled onto other things, I no longer still own them. The debut album George Best had been released in October 1987, and I originally bought it on cassette, almost certainly in 1988, before replacing in on CD, and then an expanded CD in December 1997!
Having discovered my diary from the 1987/88 school year, I can see that I was already paying notice to what sessions John Peel was broadcasting – including the double bill of A Witness and Close Lobsters on 19th January, though I don’t seem to have recorded either on this occasion.
Unsurprisingly, I don’t have all that many tapes left that I first recorded or acquired in 1988 – largely because I went on to buy many of the records on CD, if they were any good. A very quick stock take leads me to guess that I still have around 450 tapes, gathering dust and gubbins in the garage, but not many are from 1988.
One I do still have is another Graham-sourced item from that February that backs The Sisters Of Mercy’s Floodland with Babble by That Petrol Emotion. I never really loved the former, with this second album being at the bombastic end of goth. I still have a soft spot for TPE, eventually picking up this sophomore release on CD in 2001, as well as seeing them live twice (firstly later on in 1988).
That same month brought me another tape I still have – The Damned’s The Light At The End Of The Tunnel double compilation album from Stu.
John Peel broadcast two special shows on the 22nd and 23rd February, and my tape deck was in overdrive recording a load of ‘world music’ that stretched from Antipodean indie from the likes of The Jean-Paul Sartre Experience, The Birthday Party and The Saints to Jamaicans Culture, Eton Crop from Holland and the marvellous Japanese all-girl combo Shonen Knife.
In these pre-internet days, I had to rely on being able to understand what Peel said when announcing the records he played, so my tape of these shows has them listed as Shonen Knock! I’ve actually got to see the Knife three times live, most recently in May 2016, as reviewed here. Another ‘world’ act I was getting into at the time was The Bhundu Boys from Zimbabwe, whom I first heard on the 1987 Festive Fifty.
February saw a failed driving test, and my diary also reveals on the 16th of that month a planned trip to London “(with Kris if he can be bothered to get up)” – not sure if he did!
I got my first CD player for my eighteenth birthday at the end of February, a huge and (to this date) permanent change in how I bought and listened to music from that point on. My parents also bought me (I think) four CDs, two of which I still own – a pair of The Smiths compilations in Hatful Of Hollow and the American Louder Than Bombs, despite their being an eight-song crossover between the two.
So, right from the very off, I was happy to pick up imports in order to get the tracks I wanted. Less memorably, I also got Sinéad O’Connor’s debut album The Lion And The Cobra, that had been released in November 1987. I can still recall hearing the first single off that, Mandinka, in the kitchen in my parents’ home in Upminster on the old Roberts radio, and the DJ pronouncing that it was the least impressive track off the long player. He was wrong.
The other one I got was Peter Gabriel’s self-titled third solo album (as opposed to his self-titled first, second or fourth albums!), which I somehow sold at some point, for goodness knows what reason, as it’s a classic record, and one I repurchased in October 1997. I finally got to see PG in December 2014 (as reviewed here).
My eighteenth birthday fell on a Friday, and I ‘celebrated’ it by going to see Southend United and Grimsby Town play out a goalless Third Division draw, as I was a fairly regular visitor to Roots Hall around that time, as I had so far only managed one trip to Anfield.
My best friend Kris was amongst the people to come round on the Saturday (my diary says “my do 7:30-11:30”, which is fairly vague), possibly to see and hear the wonder of a CD player! He brought another welcome birthday gift in Joy Division’s second album Closer, still a doom-laden classic. I didn’t acquire the debut Unknown Pleasures on CD until two years later, but I must have had a copy of it on tape. I would assume that this was because Kris had it on vinyl.
A crucial new release for me was The Fall’s new album The Frenz Experiment which came out on 29th February. I almost certainly bought this (on tape) on the day of release. While far from their greatest ever record, it’s still an excellent Fall album with such killers as Athlete Cured, Bremen Nacht and Guest Informant.
The NME’s charity covers record Sgt. Pepper Knew My Father that featured the likes of Billy Bragg, The Fall, The Triffids and Sonic Youth on it was released in March, combining my burgeoning love of indie with my die-hard passion for The Beatles.
I’d probably have sent away for the tape if the only band I’d been interested in on it was The Fall, as I was already obsessed with them, having first experienced them through their The Peel Sessions 12” released in June 1987. Less hip bands on that NME tape were Wet Wet Wet, Hue And Cry and The Christians (two of whom I’ve gone on to see in concert!).
March also brought me a couple of tape recordings from Graham that I still have, in Iggy Pop’s 1986 hit album Blah-Blah-Blah and the excellent singles compilation by The Cure, Standing On A Beach.
Morrissey’s solo debut Viva Hate was released in March. I bought this on cassette shortly thereafter, replacing it with a CD in February 1995. I just missed out on seeing The Smiths live, but I have got to see Moz three times. Also out that month was Talking Heads’s eighth studio album Naked, which I also got on tape at around that time.
Also about now I got a well-designed, brown-paper-packaged recording of McCarthy’s highly political jangle-fest of a debut album from 1987, I Am A Wallet, from Stu.
My only surviving tape from April 1988 is the Strum + Drum giveaway with the short-lived Underground magazine. This featured The Wedding Present, Miaow and The Housemartins.
I sadly never got to see Chilton before his death in 2010, but I managed to twice catch The Go-B’s in the 2000’s after their reformation, as well as Robert Forster in solo guise on two other occasions.
One final discovery I can pinpoint to April 1988 was King Of The Slums, through a Peel session that included the classic Venerate Me Utterly:
New Order’s Blue Monday 1988 was released in late April, which I bought at some later date, but certainly enjoyed when it first came out.
A key event in May for me was the very disappointing FA Cup Final, which I watched on TV (as I always did), but the mighty reds were somehow beaten by Wimbledon. For some reason this is remembered as an act of giant-killing, despite it being played between the sides that finished first and seventh in the top flight that season.
I was getting busier in recording radio sessions, firstly with Pixies (whom I went on to see twice the following year, and then again when they reformed in 2004) in May and then The Jesus And Mary Chain, Eton Crop and The Pooh Sticks Peel sessions remaining in my tape archive from the following month, together with a Danielle Dax one from the Liz Kershaw show.
Wire’s second comeback album A Bell Is a Cup… Until It Is Struck was issued in May, but I don’t think I got hold of a copy of this until later, though I was already aware of the band, seeing them live for the first of three times to date at The Leadmill in Sheffield in May 1990.
It’s at this point that I shall pause this look back at 1988, having covered the first half of the year. So, you guessed it, another related article will follow later in 2018.
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Below is a playlist of some of the songs and artists referenced in this article, both great and so-so.