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