The House Of Love ‎– “Destroy The Heart”

In my head, the picture is of me sitting looking at the sky, curled up cross-legged on a wall somewhere between his flat and mine, late at night, taking a deep draw on the cigarette in my right hand.

The House Of Love ‎– Destroy The Heart

The House Of Love ‎– Destroy The Heart

Except I never smoked, not like that.  Perhaps I was just trying to suck in the late summer air, trying to displace the feeling of unease permeating my body with the fresh breath of the warm night.  Dragging in oxygen, cleansing, trying to relax, to stop my heart beating quite so fast.

I was confused but yet not surprised.  I’d have been a fool not to see this coming, but yet it had wrong-footed me:  I’d thought it would be me to end it.  But I hadn’t had the nerve to see it through and now I was here on a wall outside my old school, of all places, inhaling the night.  I’d taken measures, perhaps subconsciously, to lessen the blow in advance, indulging my natural introversion; this mostly meant reading Joe Orton plays and listening to Bauhaus for days on end.

Breathe, deep.

The summer had started badly, illness, death, injury, descent into a ritual of mutual misery which doubled as an excuse to close ourselves off from the others.  That was fine as far as it went, but soon it became claustrophobic and I needed space.  He just needed continuous stimulation, and if I wasn’t there he’d seek it in a bottle or a packet.  I couldn’t compete so I found my own escape.

We saw less of each other.

Breathe, don’t crack, don’t cry.

After all, we’d been doing this dance for a long time, the tango of the long distance relationship.  Here (two three four).  There (two three four).   Intense but in bursts.  Time and effort invested, in practical terms alone.  I didn’t really know where it was going if I was being honest with myself, but that hadn’t mattered until now.  Now, decoupled, I felt small, ugly, exposed and terribly young yet old at the same time.  Still young and naive, but too old and scared to start over.

Breathe.  Tears started to tumble.

Out of nowhere Steve appeared.  The flatmate.  Spidery and sensitive, quiet Steve.

“You OK?”

“Hmmmm.  Not really.”

“He’s… gone a bit mad. He’ll change his mind tomorrow.”

“When he sobers up you mean?”

“Well, yeah, but.”

I needed more air.  It was finally dark and the lamplight stretched our silhouettes over the grass.

“It’s better like this, Steve”.

“He’s not in a good place”.

“Neither am I.  I can’t…”

I uncurled myself.  I gulped more air.

But I need him more than I need air,

Yes I need him more than I need air.

“I’m not going back.  It’s better…cleaner this way.”

I reckoned that was what you were meant to say, if you were a grown up.  In truth I felt like a child.

Tears smudged kohl down my face.  I was glad it was Steve, he wore as much make up as I did.  Steve understood.  Steve and I always laughed together when we weren’t being miserably goth.  He’d made mixed tapes up for me, like you did.  We used to dance, even in the flat.  We used to muse endlessly over lyrics, looking for the meaning amidst the pretention.  Searching for Satori.

Now he was stuck in the middle of a post-teenage drama.

“Don’t say anything to him.  Please.”

“Do you want me to walk you home?”

“Thanks, Steve, I’ll be ok.  It’s only five minutes.”

“Sure?  Give me a ring when you get in, I’ll wait by the phone so he doesn’t answer – if you like.  Just so I know you’re OK.”

“OK – thanks.  I will.”

If this had been a film he’d have kissed me, and I’d have healed in the arms of gentle Steve.

It wasn’t a film.  I ran home, plugged myself into my music and cried until I fell asleep.


Posted in 1988 | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Stray Cats – “Runaway Boys”

When I was 10 or 11 I used to go away for the weekend with my mate to his parents’ caravan. I was always happy to leave home. My mate’s dad would drive us to the caravan in his Ford Cortina. It was brown and shiny. My mate called it ‘metallic’.

Stray Cats - Runaway Boys

Stray Cats – Runaway Boys

My mate’s dad had some sort of building job. He worked from an office behind his garage that smelled damp and had rolled up plans and typewriters and envelopes and ashtrays everywhere.

My mate’s dad liked smoking. I never saw him without a fag. His fingers were brown. He could smoke and talk at the same time. Once I called round when he was in the bath and he came to the door wrapped in a towel with a fag hanging from his mouth.

My mate’s dad liked a drink. He would often have a glass of whiskey in his hand and would swirl the glass around. I liked the orangey-brown look of it. Sometimes my mate and I would drink his whiskey with lemonade in. He never noticed.

My mate’s dad always had a brown tweed jacket on. He kept his fags in the pocket. He smoked Peter Stuyvesant or Benson & Hedges. I loved the gold and brown boxes with their writing and paper. I loved the cigarettes inside. I loved the smell of smoke.

My mate’s dad had a thin brown moustache. He was a nice man. Even when he was angry you could tell he wasn’t. He was the only grown up who talked to us properly. He would ask us what we wanted instead of telling us what to do.

We didn’t see my mate’s mum much. She never came to the caravan with us. She sat in one of the downstairs rooms by the fire on her own. We played in the other room as we weren’t allowed to disturb her. My mate’s mum wore big glasses and long dresses and had her hair up in a ball on top of her head. I was quite scared of her. Sometimes she ate chocolates.

There was a picture of an angry Chinese lady with a blue face on the wall in my mate’s house. My mate told me it was rare and worth a lot of money. When I was younger I used to get confused and I thought it was a painting of my mate’s mum.

On the way to the caravan we would go to the petrol station. My mate’s dad would buy us bags of sweets for the journey. Halfway to the caravan we would stop and my mate’s dad would buy us chips.

My mate’s dad liked pop music, unlike other grown ups. In the car we listened to tapes of Bat Out Of Hell by Meat Loaf, Absolutely by Madness and the Stray Cats. I liked the faster Meat Loaf songs. I loved all of Madness. I liked the Stray Cats too; best of all the three singles, Stray Cat Strut, Rock This Town and Runaway Boys.

Meat Loaf was fat. Madness were funny. The Stray Cats looked cool. On the cover of their album they looked really annoyed, like you’d just interrupted them and you weren’t welcome. I would stare at them for ages.

When we got to the caravan my mate’s dad would go to the golf club for the weekend. We would play by ourselves and do what we wanted. We’d throw stones and start fires and climb on equipment at the power station. We could go to bed when we liked and we never had to wash or change our clothes.

When we were hungry or cold we would go to the golf club. The golf club was smoky and warm and noisy and full of happy grown ups who were always nice to us. My mate’s dad would be playing the fruit machine and drinking whiskey. He would pull the handle at the side and then lean against it and close his eyes as the reels went round. I loved the sound of all the money coming out when he won.

My mate’s dad would buy us coke and crisps and give us money to play Asteroids and Galaxians. I always lost. My mate’s dad would tell me not to worry. He’d give me money for the juke box. I’d put on Runaway Boys. As the record played I’d spin round and round until I was dizzy – faster, faster all the time.

Slip into the alley with the Runaway Boys.


Posted in 1980 | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Bronski Beat – “Why”

It had been a good day. A day off, so we had a decadently long lie, slowly and lazily enjoyed the depth of the morning. I counted my blessings, a daily ritual that helped me get through. Loved and lover, brothers, friends, family. Health and wealth, alive if not quite kicking. A different year with a different outlook.

Bronski Beat - Why

Bronski Beat – Why

I eased myself out of bed, showered and dressed then cooked a good early lunch for the two of us. Nothing fancy, nothing too much, just simple food for a simple, sunny day.

We went for a walk and I coped well with being out of hospital again and adapting once more to the new life in the new town. In fact nothing was quite so simple anymore; I remembered long walks, I remembered running away from trouble, playing football, hockey. I remembered striding up the hills. Now it was an achievement to walk into town and the hills and glens would be for other people. Maybe I didn’t miss it. If golf was a good walk spoiled, a good walk was an afternoon ruined. Perhaps I protested too much but hell, post-rationalisation was my new philosophy. Make the most of what you have, not what you’ve lost.

After all it was a beautiful day, a shiny azure reflective day of the transient Scottish summer, and we walked by the river, occasionally taking a seat to admire the view and to allow me a rest. Dogs ran amok chasing frisbees, children threw and kicked and jumped and climbed, parents worried and fussed, older couples strolled and we sat and watched. Perfectly content, together, knowing the world could be a beautiful place.

In the late afternoon I passed my driving test, albeit to drive an automatic car, but this meant a lot to us both as it gave me a new level of freedom and independence. We went for a meal to celebrate; I risked having a small drink as things seemed to be coming together, slowly and finally. I didn’t want to risk being unsteady on my feet: control was everything these days. Control was suddenly like growing up, the ability to restrain myself. Control was what finally let me put one foot in front of the other.

A taxi home together, laughing and holding hands in the back seat, gazing into each other’s eyes as much to say “everything is all right” as to declare any intent for the late evening, even if I did intend. I paid the taxi driver, tipped him well, and we headed into our flat.

As we went through the communal door, we saw immediately things were not all right. The word “AIDS” had been spray painted in orange across our door. The letter box was surrounded by charred wood: they had posted fireworks through our door too. They weren’t that clever: the fireworks had burned the ransom-styled note which had also been posted, although the collaged word “faggots” could still be made out. I extrapolated the rest in my mind, then put it in the bin.

He silently cleaned up the door and I got the paint out. After all this wasn’t the first time, and it wouldn’t be the last.


Posted in 1984 | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Elvis Costello and the Attractions – “Good Year for the Roses”

From Costello’s album of country covers came this single, which seemed to me at the time almost a novelty record, with a video pre-dating Awkward Family Photos. I couldn’t imagine who bought it, but someone must have as it got to number 6. I wasn’t really aware of country music, having experienced it first through my mother’s favourite, the indescribable Sidney Devine, and his west-coast (of Scotland) yodel, and I still associated it with his spangly polyester catsuits. (Like Costello, Sidney was a voracious consumer of genres, and had a “western” period ;).)

Elvis Costello and the Attractions – Good Year for the Roses

Elvis Costello and the Attractions – Good Year for the Roses

These days, country in its more credible, rootsy incarnation has crossed over into the contemporary scene, with authenticity amid the glitter, but there is an old-timey feel to this track; originally made not at all famous by George Jones, and an appropriate Costello cover. The wry wordplay, blue-collar mise en scène and melancholy of country are a perfect match for Costello, and this song’s protagonist is particularly suitable, struggling to conform and finding himself inadequate. He seems in a state of inertia, devastated yet apathetic, unable to change the trajectory of his relationship from order to entropy.

Typically, the song sounds more like the original than the original; the chocolate-boxy arrangement, with the sugary, chiming harmonies and the plangent wail of the pedal steel, is at odds with the mordant lyrics. I always found the schmaltzy sweetness of the sound something of a guilty pleasure, but was too young to really empathise with the lyrics.

Now the song sounds particularly bleak, using the breakdown of one marriage to illustrate the stifling conventionality of relationships, the comforting monotony of the thousand tiny tasks and duties required to maintain them, the pain of abandonment, and the absence of alternatives.

Roses are a common image in country songs, and here they are symbolic both of the happy ending and its illusory nature. By framing the central metaphor as a platitude, the song has its cake and eats it, both employing and undermining the sentimental cliché. It’s knowing, and grown-up, and the seemingly inevitable failure of even modest hopes is more profoundly heart-breaking than any histrionics.


Posted in 1981 | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Bauhaus – “The Passion of Lovers”

I didn’t know why she had invited me to this party and now I was regretting it. I felt sick. I knew I had to look the part but the Saturday job only paid £12 a week, scarcely enough for two albums. I had black jeans and a pair of suede boots I’d got in the cheap bucket at One Up so that was ok. The top was something indeterminate, something dark but not black. A panda blaze of black eyeliner, applied with the expertise and subtlety of a drunken clown. My hair was unsaveable. I’d tried to dye it but it was shaggy and I hadn’t a clue what to do with it.

Bauhaus - The Passion of Lovers

Bauhaus – The Passion of Lovers

Well, who dares wins.

I sneaked out of the house.  My parents knew I was going, but I wanted to avoid the teenage fashion critique.  Her flat was only ten minutes walk so I strode on with the pretence of confidence and my heart pounding the whole way. I rang the buzzer and trembled.  “Come on up!” breezy, friendly. The three flights to the top seemed too much, too high, with the thudding of her music echoing my heart.  She took me in and got me a Coke.  The flat was dark, the music loud and not many people had arrived yet, so she introduced me to someone she thought I’d get on with.

I wanted either the floor to swallow me up or for the rest of the world to disappear. He was – well it was like someone had gone into my dreams and carved out a man for me.  Tall, very tall, skinny long legs clad in black trousers, a T-shirt advertising some band I hadn’t heard of, leather jacket and shoulder length unruly black hair. Silver rings in his ears, silver rings on his fingers. Deep, dark eyes, set in a slight scowl.

How was I ever going to speak, not just now but ever again?

I sat down, but I didn’t know what was expected of me. He seemed surprisingly nice, and once the scowl broke he talked a lot, animated and enthused, which meant I didn’t have to. He knew a lot about music, a lot about the bands I’d heard on the radio. I didn’t hear a lot of it, I simply sat and beheld him, listened to him – he had a slight drawl in his accent which I couldn’t place. To break my gaze I apologised and went and got a beer.  I’d never had a beer before, Top Deck Shandy my limit, but I needed something more than Coke. The beer tasted horrible but I couldn’t flinch in front of him.

In turn he excused himself, got up clumsily and said he’d return.  My eyes followed him away, then I looked round the room and wondered where the hell I was.  Punks and goths,  post-punks and new-wavers, all older, all cooler, all more knowledgeable.  A fug of smoke, a faint sweet smell indicating more than tobacco, mixed with incense and spirits.  A portrait of Marc Bolan sitting in a field surveyed the scene, taking in the sight of a competing David Bowie poster.  Glam Wars across the walls.  But when I thought of Telegram Sam and Ziggy Stardust, I visualised another band entirely.

She looked across, having abandoned me.  “You alright?” she gestured.  I nodded in a rather non-committal manner.  I nervously played with the can of beer, focussing my attention, wondering where he’d gone.  She changed the music to something she knew I’d like.  It didn’t help me to relax: the music fitted in, I didn’t.

Licked her lips and turned to feather…

When he came back, he looked at me slightly oddly.  I thought I’d done something wrong, but he read my expression and cut it dead, said we should go to see a band, that I’d like it, and could he make me some tapes up? I wanted to scream YES YES YES.  Instead I tried to be cool, but not too cool. I managed “desperately awkward” instead.

I had to go and speak to her for a while so that I didn’t actually implode, but I couldn’t stop looking back. Some of his friends came over to him, chatted, laughed, drank, smoked. He seemed more perfect than any of them, more polished and shiny somehow. More of a rock star than the others. I was already in love, that sweet teenage sudden love, that crush which you know will end in a horrific embarrassment of unrequited desire.

But what the hell, he walked me home that night and I didn’t sleep from the pure joy of that alone.


Posted in 1981 | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Talking Heads – “Once In A Lifetime”

After the party I drove her home. Day was breaking as I stopped outside her flat.

“Thanks for the lift,” she said.

I lit a fag.

She paused, “Come in if you like”.

I exhaled. I pretended to misunderstand. “Thanks, but coffee’s probably the last thing I need. Gonna head home”.

She looked me in the eye and touched her hair. “OK”. She opened the car door. “‘Night”.

I watched her walk from the car to the tenement, fumbling in her bag for her keys. She went inside without looking back.

Talking Heads - Once In A Lifetime

Talking Heads – Once In A Lifetime

I drove to the beach and parked at the front. The clock read 4.55. I wound down the window and lit another fag. Already I could feel the heat from the sun on my arm. I leant on the windowsill and contemplated my reflection in the wing mirror as I smoked: my fringe across my eyes, the curve of my mouth, freckles on my nose. I imagined what it would be like to feel the softness of her hair, the smooth press of her skin, the sour taste of beer on her warm mouth as I kissed her.

Later I lay in bed. The summer seemed endless. I was single; free of work, college and possessions. I slept most of the day and spent nights driving aimlessly. I stared at the sea and the sky. I had never felt so at ease. This is how life would be from now – free of all commitments.

Outside I could hear cars and people; the beginnings of another day. I slept.



Eh? I had been watching the shadow of a branch on the wall of a building moving in the summer breeze. Having observed nature for over 40 years, I was now pretty sure that it existed independently of mankind and was at best oblivious to humanity’s pointless affairs.

I turned to face a room of people for whom I was responsible.

“Sorry. Tuned out there for a minute.”

My interlocutor spoke again.

“What do you want to do next?”

Once In A Lifetime juxtaposes images of freedom, and nirvana – into the blue again; ending and slipping away – after the money’s gone with those of continuum – water flowing underground. Musically this tension is evoked by a glittering, celestial synthesiser grounded by relentless, heartbeat bass.

In this context the hapless narrator’s persistent questioning – absurd, philosophical, existential – is to no avail and serves only to reveal his own inconsequentiality and transience. Vaguely aware that he is somehow part of a greater whole, he nevertheless seems powerless to control his destiny. The birth-like surge at the start of the song is complemented by the scything guitar at the end, suggesting a fleeting life.

Once In A Lifetime seems the perfect description of my bemused atheism. When I hear it I think of summer 20 years ago: of youth and age; freedom and stasis; the silver light of a new dawn; the car door still unopened.


Posted in 1981 | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Half Man Half Biscuit – “Trumpton Riots”

As one of only two girls at school who admitted listening to John Peel (we never actually discussed it, but I knew her by sight) I suppose that’s where I must have heard this. A group of geeky lads in the year below mine were avid listeners and each day on the bus would direct me to the highlights of that week’s shows; sometimes forcibly lending me records. They were not impressed by the deeply unfashionable sixties and seventies music that I insisted on liking (Dickie Davies Eyes spoke particularly to me, but I’m not sure it was saying anything very complimentary) and actively pushed alternatives.

Half Man Half Biscuit - The Trumpton Riots

Half Man Half Biscuit – The Trumpton Riots

I’d forgotten until now, but at the time there seemed myriad bands lasting two weeks on one joke, lazily referencing children’s television or forgotten D-list celebrities in a bid for some sort of obscure profundity. Half Man Half Biscuit were a sharp cut above this formulaic crowd, immediately distinguished by their genius nihilistic whimsy. Dukla Prague Away Kit struck me as a surreal take on My Perfect Cousin (although the footie references passed me by, pretty much as I used to skip past Billy the Fish in Viz). I was however, always drawn to the unfashionable or overlooked, and Half Man Half Biscuit seemed to share this frame of reference, and use it to actually say something; their songs were accurately observed and intelligently crafted, mixing humour and pathos in the right proportions to avoid sentimentality. I was completely unnerved on first hearing the line in The Best Things In Life about writing on the sole of your slipper with a biro, which conjured somehow the particular powerless, aimless ennui of childhood. Obviously I would hate myself if I used the word ‘Proustian’.

Growing up, pre-Google, in an area more rural than suburban, Peel and the music papers were windows on a world that seemed totally unattainable; there was little access to culture either mainstream or alternative. Music was all-important, but the kind of confidence and flair involved in putting together a fanzine or starting a band, even one as lo-fi and left-field as HMHB, would have been as alien to me as aspiring to be the next Madonna. Despite this, or maybe because of it, just listening to the music of your choice felt like some kind of triumph. I have the Trumpton Riots EP – bought for me by my eldest brother with a caution against pretension and on the condition that I did not interpret the giving as an endorsement of the gift itself.

By the time I escaped to a Big City years later, life had taken over and somehow along the way I forgot to keep listening to music, or that I had ever thought it important. (Adults used to do this, I think.) Work dominated my life and I had conformed so successfully that I wouldn’t have recognised the funny wee misfit girl I once was. I didn’t even own anything other than a radio on which to play music. In the earliest days of Xfm, I heard (don’t laugh) Belle and Sebastian, remembered what it felt like to discover music that was more than wallpaper (from Belle and Sebastian to Arab Strap and Mogwai; Keith Cameron’s show was a must) and in doing so, remembered myself.


Posted in 1986 | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Frankie Goes To Hollywood – “Two Tribes (Annihilation Mix)”

Beware the savage jaw…

They got us right worked up about it, they did.  Big Brother, Winston Smith, Oceania, Room 101, dystopian future, Orwellian nightmare, under Thatcher it seemed ever so likely that at the chime of the Hogmanay bells, 1984 would tick in, jackboots would break down the doors and we’d all descend into the totalitarian state of erased and altered histories.  It was going to be hard.

Frankie Goes To Hollywood - Two Tribes (Annihilation)

Frankie Goes To Hollywood – Two Tribes (Annihilation)

Oh yeah.  Well ‘ard.

Maybe we did, maybe we didn’t.  The clocks were striking thirteen and we got the film and we got the Eurythmics single.  We also got a triptych of singles, a series of T-shirts and more 12″ vinyl than you could have ever imagined.  Sex, war and religion.  It summed up the mood of the year whilst slapping you in the face with the arrogance of it all.

Frankie Says….

Fear.  The big disease with the little name, there was that for a start.  We were sold the “gay plague” as an easy way of directing the fear into anger, anger against a scared minority, yet here were these two, this scally singer, this clone dancer, being gay right there in your face.  Or they would have been if the video hadn’t been conveniently banned, behind Mike Read’s po-faced pronouncements on Radio One.  Don’t do it.

Then there was the mad US president with his finger on the red button and that suspicious new Soviet premier.  We’re all going to die.  Nuclear annihilation.  Mutually assured destruction.  Proliferation.  The real weapons of mass destruction.  Four minute warning.  Dancing With Tears in my Eyes.  The (post) apocalyptic drama Threads was broadcast in 1984 and scared us all into drink and drugs: let me be under that bomb when – not if – it comes, let me die quickly and not survive.  No future, once more.

Meanwhile Thatcher, renewed confidence from re-election, started her own war with the miners, a crippling war which destroyed more lives than our imaginary nuclear destruction.  The north started a long bite back against this new totalitarian regime.  The Brighton Grand hotel was bombed by the IRA with her inside: she arose from the ashes even more determined to crush us all.

It was a big year, but the summer would always belong to Frankie.  Nine weeks at number one, endless Horn remixes with the chilling words of Adolf Hitler signing off his treason trial (“for she acquits us”) nuzzling alongside Patrick Allen’s “Protect and Survive” narration.

If your grandmother or any other member of the family should die whilst in the shelter, put them outside, but remember to tag them first for identification purposes.

Light hearted fun: even Big Brother was scared off.

Frankie Says….

Relax, it’s only a nuclear war.

Jan & Adam

Posted in 1984 | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Public Enemy – “Night Of The Living Baseheads”

Popular music did not have much impact on me as a child. I attribute this to the fact that 1970s pop was universally dreadful. Moreover, my limited exposure to it was either via light-entertainment programmes such as the Two Ronnies, or through children’s TV such as Crackerjack. The former would feature the likes of Dana and Elaine Page; the latter, pop groups featuring terrifying, heavy-set, middle-aged men in drag. Men who looked like they had just set down their shovels and hods before applying make-up – the legion cohorts of Jimmy Savile. As for the Bay City Rollers, well, they looked like the kind of yobs I saw in the streets, throwing bricks at the police.

Public Enemy - Night Of The Living Baseheads

Public Enemy – Night Of The Living Baseheads

My youthful conservative disapproval extended to the music which I found universally maudlin and inane. I remember with particular clarity vomiting blood to Save Your Kisses For Me. OK, I was in hospital at the time and had just had my tonsils removed, but I recall the grim satisfaction and sense of catharthis.

It was business as usual in 1977 with one of my most hated songs of all time – Rock Bottom by Lynsey de Paul and Mike Moran. There was no escape from this song. It was on the radio, on the television; my father would sing it incessantly and get the words slightly wrong. In researching this piece and playing the song again it immediately reminded me of the boredom and powerlessness of being a child. Worse, I realised that my misanthropy had begun much earlier than I imagined – aged 8, I wanted to destroy the world. Rock Bottom is music for people who don’t like music; who think that music should be jolly and fun; people who would never entertain the idea that vomiting blood to Brotherhood Of Man could be pleasurable.

But it was also 1977 when I finally realised there was an alternative. However, it was not the Sex Pistols or the Clash – the system was completely and utterly effective at censoring such music and it was not until the early-mid 1980s that people in Northern Ireland first heard about punk. No, my road to Damascus moment was, of all things, Black Betty by Ram Jam. I saw this very performance on the television at the time. I vividly recall my hot confusion at the band’s thrusting impudence; it felt immoral and dirty; even blasphemous. I felt ashamed that someone might learn that I had unknowingly seen the clip. The riff scythed around and around in my head.

On or around the same time I also saw Elvis Costello playing Watching The Detectives on Top Of The Pops. I was watching it with my babysitter and I recall asking her who the silly sweaty man was with his silly glasses and why was he silly and did he know he was silly? He was so silly – was he an idiot? But something about the performance made an impression nevertheless; I remember realising that he was telling an important story and that better still, neither he nor the music was in any way jolly.

Ten years later I was stepping out of the lift when I heard a dreadful noise. Was it a car alarm? I walked along the hall and looked into the bedroom. A bloke was sitting on the bed. ‘Alright man?’ he said. ‘What IS this?’ I said. He smiled. ‘Public Enemy, bruv’. He turned it up further. It was Rebel Without A Pause. It was a godawful racket. It sounded like the end of the world. With car alarms. It was the least jolly and most impudent music I had ever heard.

Figure 1: A Bodhran

Figure 1: A Bodhran

Until that point I thought I was cool. I had always liked hip hop (or ‘rap’ as I thought it was called), from The Message onwards. Only days previously I had been playing Mantronix’s superlative Who Is It? in my bedroom when a fellow countryman of mine had wandered in. ‘Dats not music,’ he opined. ‘Dats just a computer’. In my memory he is actually holding a bodhran as he says this. Maybe that is just an embellishment added by my brain that reflects my own prejudices, but whenever I see someone with a bodhran, I feel the urge to play Mantronix at them really loudly.

Later that afternoon I went into town with my new friend – Dan. We walked around Affleck’s Palace and I recall buying a white vinyl copy of the Damned’s Phantasmagoria. Perhaps if one put were to put a CD of Rebel Without A Pause into an Opposite-Making Machine, a white vinyl copy of Phantasmagoria might come out the other end. I recall Dan’s genuine and polite interest in, and complete ignorance of, the Damned, and my faint embarrassment and dawning realisation that my music was anachronistic, as was its format and the very concept of record collecting.

Nevertheless I had the wit to buy It Takes A Nation Of Millions To Hold Us Back when it was released. It’s hard to imagine now the outrage this record created; I think white America would gladly have lynched all of Public Enemy – the USA’s standard response to creativity, intelligence and honesty in art. It’s also hard to imagine a record being so noble; individuals being so willing to stand in the eye of the storm, or a band so on top of its media game.

Night Of The Living Baseheads is my favourite track from the album. Aside from being sonically brilliant from beginning to end and honest and righteous in its subject matter, Public Enemy also produced this astounding video which subverts every stereotype going and even mocks the band.

Chuck D - Discusses and Debates

Figure 2: Chuck D and a pint of T

14 years later I found myself sitting with 499 other white guys in their early 30s awaiting enlightenment at ‘an evening with Chuck D’ during which, we were promised, Chuck would ‘discuss and debate’. Eventually Chuck ambled onstage, holding a beer. I guess I had been expecting Louis Farrakhan. Instead we got someone a bit like your mate Dave who has come round with a 6 pack to watch Top Gear and unexpectedly found himself on Parkinson. Chuck was incredibly lacking in opinions; down to earth; bemused even. So much so that I cannot remember one goddamn thing that he said. Perversely this made me warm to him all the more.

All I can remember of the evening is some bloke from Peterhead continually asked Chuck questions in thick Doric, much to the annoyance of the crowd who a) wanted him to shut up and b) kept having to translate for him. At one point he asked Chuck if he would bring Public Enemy to Aberdeen. ‘I’ll see what I can do man.’ said Chuck.’ ‘Nae you willnae,’ replied the heckler, ‘you all say that’. ‘OK man,’ said Chuck, ‘I promise you the next time we come to the UK we will play Aberdeen. That’s a promise, man.’

The show finished. We trooped out, unenlightened.

A year later at breakfast I opened the NME with my usual theatrical weary sigh. On page 3, under the rubric ‘Public Enemy Announce UK Tour’ was the date for 13th April – Aberdeen Music Hall.


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Irene Cara – “Fame”

We were running down the road, partly in panic and fear, partly in some idiotic joy. The two of us did a lot of running in those days, mostly out of bars and through the streets. They didn’t like our type and I had a smart mouth, smart enough to attract trouble: maybe not so smart, then. But I was a lover, not a fighter, which in practice meant I was going to get laid with a broken nose, and not for the first time.

Irene Cara - Fame

Irene Cara – Fame

Down the hill and into the park, arms and legs spidering everywhere, coat billowing behind me, checking over our shoulders that they weren’t following us any more, stumbling on uneven ground, past the swings and over the brow of the hill where we then hid, stretched out flat as snipers and looking back to where we’d come from.

We were safe, at least for the moment.

Blood was still running from my nose. It hurt badly, but it would pass. I sat up and tried to stem the bleeding. “You should just shut up sometimes” and laughter was all the sympathy I got. I noticed brilliant red spots peppered over my brand new white shirt. Damn.

They had been big guys, big bruisers straight out of the pages of stereotype. Beer guts hanging over straining belts, tabs hanging from yellowed fingers, pints of bitter and a bitter attitude to match. No-one could pass them without their commentary; lecherous, lewd, libidinous to some, damning, disrespectful and downright disgusting to others. I was a good bit taller than them all which, as we passed, somehow attracted foul comment. I ignored it, as it was relatively mild and only directed at me. I’d heard far worse from my own father.

We joined our friends for a drink and Mark ordered a gin and tonic, which was where the trouble started. Real men don’t drink gin. There were six of us and three bruisers, which they obviously saw as a challenge. We ignored them, which was the next challenge. So far, so usual. Some jostling, some ignorant comments.

It was summer, and I was at the height of happiness, that blissful time following finals when the study is over, the reward achieved and you’re just waiting around for the rest of your life to start. No deadlines, no responsibilities, no rules. I had a great job lined up to start at the end of the summer. My relationship was loving and stable. I had a future. I ruled the world. I didn’t need this aggravation.

I’m going to live forever, I’m going to learn how to fly – high.

We sang along, in mild mockery of the sentiment and the TV programme which we all openly despised but secretly watched. The one the teenage girls had adopted, along with the songs and the fashion sense and the impossibly beautiful and talented teens.

I can catch the moon in my hands. Don’t you know who I am?

A bridge too far. Real men don’t sing along in bars. More jostling, more comments. Threats, veiled, then unveiled. The mood moved from restraint to aggression, with an overt threat, not towards me, but to him. My smart mouth and then the blinding pain across my eyes, which still didn’t stop my mouth from going into overdrive. And then we were running.

Remember my name.

I wouldn’t be running much longer.


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Faith No More – “We Care A Lot”

He’d played this often when I first got to know him, a few months earlier. Sprung from a sheltered upbringing impossibly innocent, and with a yearning for excitement, I suppose I was something of a mark.

Faith No More - We Care A Lot

Faith No More – We Care A Lot

I was so beguiled (and inebriated) I can’t actually remember what, if anything, was on the turntable, but I regret (amongst other things) that it wasn’t Breakfast or Song to the Siren.

Like a remnant of shrapnel, buried and forgotten, until years later, on an early train south, watching from the window a storm offshore and listening for the first time to You Are The Quarry. Morrissey sang Come Back to Camden as if he really meant it, against that big fake string arrangement, and I wondered if I’d ever wanted anyone so acutely. Admiring the great thunderclouds far out at sea, I remembered.

At the cinema that evening, I saw 2046, which spoke to me about the impossibility of substitution. In the days afterward, I realised that I’d spent years trying (and failing, of course) to recapture something of that intensity. In the days after that, I realised that I should have been alerted by his bloody awful taste in music.


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Depeche Mode – “Never Let Me Down Again”

Depeche Mode started as a bit of a side attraction in Smash Hits to the more straightforward girl-fodder of Duran and Spandau, with tinkly electro hits like Just Can’t Get Enough and New Life.  Dave Gahan, at that time, seemed so much younger than Le Bon or Hadley (2 years younger than Tony, fact fans).   But yet for me there was something about the songs of Depeche Mode that didn’t quite sit in the same way as the decadence of Rio or Gold (always believe in your sooooo-ul).   Something I could relate to, or grab on to, that attracted me more than the pretty boy pop, although Alan Wilder was plenty pretty enough for me to be getting on with.

Depeche Mode - Never Let Me Down Again

Depeche Mode – Never Let Me Down Again

Then there was that Martin L. Gore.  Your mum warned you about people like that, he didn’t look “quite right”, took to wearing leather dresses and black lipstick, and we all know about people like that thank you very much.  My mum actually took down a poster of Gore from my room, and she’d never done that before*.  Soon he was luring those young girls who hadn’t fallen for the manly charms of George Michael into the sub-Einsturzende of People are People, then, to the horror of all right thinking parents across the country, “Master and Servant”, bringing S&M overtly into homes that had only just recovered from Relax.

The album from whence it came, Some Great Reward, was argued by Simon Reynolds as one of the most truly subversive records to hit the top 40, because it took industrial-esque, electronic music about S&M, suicide and OTHER DARK STUFF to the largest audience without quite generating the FGTH mock horror of the moral guardians.  Because I quite liked DARK STUFF I devoured this album, from the urgency of Something to Do through the frailty of MLG singing Somebody (naked, don’t you know) and finally to breaking my heart (and God’s) with Blasphemous Rumours.

This era launched them into the Championship, if not yet quite the Premiership, and they started to sell out stadia, particularly in the US.  Black Celebration continued in the same path (though BLACKER, obviously), and then the album Music for the Masses came along, dared to be not quite so successful, and containing the beguiling single that was Never Let Me Down Again.   When it comes on I still want to stand up, for no explicable reason other than it commands my subconscious to do so.  It invites you softly in, then donk!, the emptying-out-the-garden-shed synths arrive, with the straight counterpoint of a more traditional electro-piano sound.   Much of the early part is eerily fronted by a near monotone of a vocal which drags you inexorably along.  It also contains one of the most criticised “naive” MLG lines: “promises me I’ll be safe as houses, as long as I remember who’s wearing the trousers”.  Personally when I hear that line I always have a mental picture of Gore with a smirk.   It’s pop music, dahling, not Shakespeare.

Finally, the sound expands and throws you out into the arid wilds of Nevada, riding in a black convertible towards Reno, just because it’s far seedier than Vegas.   I’m taking a ride with my best friend.   I hope he’s left the leather dress at home this time.


*(well there was the AC/DC incident of 1981, but that was a T-shirt, to be fair)

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The Human League – “Don’t You Want Me”

When I fell, I fell hard. Call me Lucifer; everyone else did. I strutted into that bar, all attitude, all skinny jeans, smokes and sexuality. Love was the drug and I needed to score. That’s when I fell. There’s that moment in Jaws when the shark eats the kid, and there’s a dolly zoom on Brody’s face. It felt like that, albeit without the shark and the blood, though to be fair I wouldn’t have noticed.

The Human League - Don't You Want Me

The Human League – Don’t You Want Me

Usually loquacious, especially after a drink or three, I suddenly had no words. I muttered, stammered and apologised. We ended up talking about vodka, a somewhat limited topic and not exactly leading to where I wanted to be led, and yes, for the first time I wanted to be led.

As the heavenly chorus sang and the stars shone down in celestial approval, as my life perceptibly changed, as I fell hard, the soundtrack echoing around the bar told of a love story which was far more cynical. A band I’d followed from their “trendy hippy” (copyright Lydon) Sheffield roots told a tale of a power struggle, the “you needed me” – “no you needed me” argument. Apparently she was working as a waitress in a cocktail bar when they met. I didn’t care. I didn’t care that she’d met success and then dumped him. But that damnable yet perfect pop song followed us around, through the Christmas of that year, and sent us on our way.

I fell in love twice in the 80s, and never again.


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Love And Rockets – “No New Tale To Tell”

And do you remember? When too much time was mine…

When I was a teenager, I liked nothing better of a Friday evening than lying on my bed, listening to Bauhaus. Periodically my father would fling open the bedroom door and – his oft-professed atheism notwithstanding – forcefully instruct me to ‘turn that bloody racket down, for Jesus Christ’s sake’. When I had lowered the volume sufficiently, he would then berate me for my sullen, ‘hang-dog’ expression, lack of brio and the fact that I wasn’t out fighting, drinking and shagging like my peers/like he had in his youth/like every man in Ulster has done since the dawn of time, except me.

Love And Rockets - No New Tale To Tell

Love And Rockets – No New Tale To Tell

Once he had departed I would lie back down. A silent black wraith would glide downward from the ceiling and pin me to the bed with its claws. Thus immobilised, the dark, urgent pretension of Bauhaus became the perfect accompaniment to my teenage despair.

Eventually I escaped all that. I became determined to never look back. Freedom was like a drug. As if sensing this change in me, my favourite band had also undergone a transformation: the blind pupa of Bauhaus, crawling around wretchedly in the shadows had emerged into the light as a butterfly.

A beautiful, selfish butterfly called Love And Rockets.

The relationship of Love And Rockets to Bauhaus can be challenging for the uninitiated, so I have prepared this Venn diagram to help explain:


Figure 1: The relationship of Bauhaus to Love And Rockets

There is a famous clip of Bauhaus, in their final days, on Top Of The Pops, playing Ziggy Stardust. Towards the end of the song, the bastards from Love And Rockets move inexorably forward and push the hapless lead singer, Peter Murphy, off the stage; a clear statement of intent.

I viewed this as a direct signal from the band that it was time for me to cast off my self-pitying teenage temperament and move forward into a new era of unrestricted selfishness and hedonism.

Love And Rockets concurred. In their almost entirely meaningless and superficial lyrical canon, they espoused a vaguely Eastern philosophy. Unlike most Eastern philosophies, however, theirs was wholly selfish. Every other song deployed the word ‘Heaven’. They perpetually demanded nirvana, paradise, white light, beauty, transcendence; but it was quite clear that they were not prepared to suffer for it.

For example:

  • If there’s a heaven above, let it be near to me
  • Give me what I’ve always missed, give me a good time
  • Give me heaven, because heaven should be mine
  • I’m only interested in paradise; I’m only interested in pure white light

And my personal favourite:

  • Beauty can only ever be skin deep. But if I’m honest, that’s all I ever really need

At that time, British music journalists hated any band that wasn’t political. As you can imagine, they particularly despised Love And Rockets’ lazy cod-mysticism and the band was vilified on a weekly basis in the press. Doubtless this impacted upon the bands domestic success. Upon my arrival in England I saw them in concert. There were about 19 other people in attendance.

Love And Rockets’ response was the album Earth, Sun, Moon. Although their third LP, it was the definitive break from their origins. Visually and sonically the ghost of their former band was completely exorcised; the clean, white cover a salutary erased de Kooning to the frantic dark scribblings of Bauhaus. Predictably, it was a complete and utter flop in the UK. It was quite clear that the British did not want the type of enlightenment Love And Rockets were offering. Seemingly it was quite clear to Love And Rockets too – they left the country, never to return.

I was also seeking a definitive break at that time. Like Love And Rockets, I wanted a life absolutely free from responsibility and The Man. The UK was too oppressive and parochial. I wanted comfort and convenience. I wanted more of everything. I wanted it all, and I wanted it with fries to go. I wanted the American Dream.

As summer approached, the stars aligned. I managed to fail my degree course; I came into some money; some Americans invited me to visit them. My exit from the UK was assured.

I followed Love And Rockets to the USA in June 1988 with a bin bag of clothes and my copy of Earth, Sun, Moon. The USA immediately exceeded my expectations in every possible way. The taxi I got from the airport was an air-conditioned Cadillac; fags were 80¢ a packet; you could get fresh coffee in the middle of the night; gigantic cop cars were everywhere; it was just like being on the telly all the time.

I stayed with a friend and her flatmates in an apartment with a balcony on an interestingly busy road and spent the entire summer indulging in the hitherto unknown American concept of ‘hanging out’. Hanging out involved a lot of lying around, smoking fags, tripping around town at night, lying on the sofa, playing records, lying on the floor, sleeping in, lying in the park, contemplating beauty, watching the dawn come up and feeling the sun on my face.

Earth, Sun, Moon was the soundtrack to this hive of activity. Lyrically it was inane as ever, but nevertheless it all seemed profoundly significant. Every song encapsulates a moment:

  • Sparking a fag to my reflection as the dark rush of Mirror People heralded the start of another evening’s activity.
  • The languorous of swirl of The Light, coiling around a room full of the smoke from 100 joss sticks.
  • Night time visual and sonic disorientation to The Telephone Is Empty, chewing my acidic tongue.
  • Rainbird, a melancholy aubade: lying on the floor as dawn filtered into the room, my head on a girl’s lap, looking upwards. Above me, another girl in an armchair blew bubbles into the air, her face hidden from view. The iridescent stream flowed over smooth curve of her calf and foot; bubbles would rise briefly into the light for a moment before falling wetly onto my face.

Fate decreed that I didn’t stay in the US after all, but Earth, Sun, Moon and its experiences catapulted me into a decade of inactivity and under-achievement, not all of which was entirely regrettable. Not so for Love And Rockets who, with their warm-molasses, chart killing monster So Alive, went on to straddle the world like skinny colossi. Give me some money, you bastards, I occasionally thought during the 1990s and then for many years I never thought of them at all. When I finally heard them again they were still singing about heaven, but by that stage I had a job.

No New Tale To Tell is the catchy, poppy, strum-along-on-your-air-acoustic centrepiece of Earth, Sun, Moon. The lyrics describe how the individual seeks recognition and significance, either through acceptance or contrariness, but finds ultimately that the cosmos is uncaring; he is just a tiny cog in a greater whole. Whether stuck in one’s bedroom in Belfast or playing to 40,000 adoring fans at Lollapalooza for 100 grand, it’s all the same thing – no new tale to tell.

Or so I console myself anyway.


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New Order – “Blue Monday”

Unusually topical for 80s45s; today is supposedly Blue Monday, the bleakest day of the year. It was invented to give newspapers something to report at this time (as opposed to actual news) either by identifying non-existent trends (The Nation’s Favourite what? Day to Top Itself?) or debunking tales of their own creation, and preferably both in alternate years. The nonsense idea behind it being that the third Monday in January is a perfect storm of Bad Things; too many days without sunshine, extreme depletion of funds and the comedown from Christmas excess.


New Order – Blue Monday

The song by New Order, on the other hand, is a confluence of wondrous things: the chilly futuristic power of electronica versus the glittering retro warmth of disco. Put them together (with a bit of deadpan Mancunian swagger) and… the ice melts.

I’d love to say that I first heard it in some ill-reputed club, that it soundtracked the drug-fuelled adventures of my youth, but the reality of our tinytown existence meant my friend Eve borrowed a copy from an older guy in the village. (No longer with us, he was a gentle, music-loving soul who worked on the golf course, and used to get into bother with the greenkeeper for stopping the lawnmower to move earthworms out of the way.) Blue Monday sounded vastly superior to anything even remotely like it and we just listened to it over and over again for a few weeks until we had to return it. Given the saturation of the Joy Division/New Order/Factory myths in our shared consciousness, it hardly matters. Those implanted impressions are quite as potent as the actual memories of just sitting around in my bedroom, burning violet incense and listening to music.

Even if I heard it for the first time today though, it would sound every bit as arresting as it did over thirty years ago. All the best dance music is (of course) a bit melancholic: Happy Blue Monday.


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