Let’s get something straight from the start, I’m a nobody, I have no relevance. In fact, I’m a tame genius, something a teacher once described me as. When he first said it, I thought, there’s probably a compliment in there somewhere but when I dwell on the gravity of the statement now, I think it’s pretty offensive. He did have a stupid moustache so there is some justice, and he’s probably dead now too. But maybe that’s what I really am. You see, in my own mind, I’ve always been destined for greatness. But it’s tarnished with laziness, the reluctance to make that bold step and convince the world it needs to sit up and take notice.
One of my strengths though (without making it sound like I’m in an interview situation) is I remember things. Well, everything, to be precise. Sometimes it’s a curse, a penance in life that I’ve had to accept and use to my advantage. But I do however have certain distinct opinions on my memory. Firstly, I think it’s nice that I’m effectively living my whole life (to date) simultaneously. Everything I’ve ever done is still fresh in my mind like an eternal snapshot, constantly on loop, so subsequently my age is merely a number, a rather deceptive calibration of me physically, but certainly not mentally. I’m as much still a child as I am an adult. Which also explains why men behave like adolescents the whole time and women are the serious bunch that take on responsibility and actually make decisions. Women are in charge, we all know that.
But I’m getting side-tracked by thoughts of females, which can so often happen, and of course the often deadly concoction of hearing a favourite song in the company of a favourite member of the opposite sex needs addressing at some stage, but another time maybe. My second point is, in the musical sense, because of this age-bridging phenomena going on in my head, old songs to me are not old songs at all. One of the things that bugs me most is when some people dismiss music they used to like because it was a while ago. To me, if I like a song, I like that song forever. Time does strange things to people’s brains, but not to mine.
So why am I writing this? Is it for my own amusement? Well, partly, but I feel the world must know about the contribution I should have made to it. You see, this is all about music. For the sake of argument, music is not about some young upstart who happens to have a good voice being spoon-fed to a nation, it’s about being somewhere random when you suddenly hear a song you haven’t heard for a while and it all starts to come back to you. The broken heart, the darkness and then the uplifting renaissance. It’s about feeling happy and sad at the same time. I can’t think of another medium that does that to the senses. Occasionally a film will do it but even then it’s partly because of the soundtrack, subliminally attacking the subconscious.
Now, I have never claimed to be one of those people that likes every genre. For example, when being forced to listen to RnB I may at times become very agitated and want to violently attack several inanimate objects. What I strive for in life is ‘perfect pop’, and by that I don’t mean the completely mainstream end of the spectrum with every voice auto-tuned to death with the nearest available online vocoder. I mean it in the all-encompassing sense, it’s not just the sound of the song itself, not even the lyrics alone, it’s a combination of those two key things granted, but also the video, the image, whether you fancy them or not, the placement of the artist in modern society, the passing of a magazine stand when you spot your favourite band on the front cover, the sleeve designs, the font of the band logo, the colours, Top of the Pops (if applicable), the advert on TV. Pop is not about just the song, anyone can write a song (well, I can, maybe it’s not that easy for others), but a song is like a documentation of that moment in pop culture. And it’s all about the moment. I’m very big on ‘the moment’, it will be a recurring theme. The irony is some pop is designed to be disposable, but sometimes those are the songs that last a lifetime, you can’t control which will stand the test of time.
So when I do suddenly hear a song randomly enter the airspace wherever it may be, these are all the things that flood my mind. A cacophony of media, a myriad sensations, all happening at the same time. It can be overwhelming. And that is also why I write songs, not because I have an ego (I don’t think?!), not because I crave a life of wealth of fame and fortune (although more money in some capacity would be nice) but because if one single person, somewhere, at some time in my paltry lifetime hears one of my songs and experiences what I have just described, I can rest easy.
So consequently, this story is also about a band that forgot to be famous, until now maybe. A band that was created by the essence of perfect pop at its peak yet manifested itself in the mind of its creator only, reflecting on culture in a lonely, solitary, introspective manner, waiting for the day it can be released into the wider world.
That time is now. There was no internet when this story really began, there was no way of finding and connecting with compatible people around the world. The glory of this facility is perhaps greater than people appreciate, cyberspace allows everyone to get out of it what they want, but it also creates a wonderful escapist world that people like me thrive in. Everybody can be a genius, everybody can be a real expert.
I’ve spent a while deciding how to best write the series of impending blogs that will follow. In the end I’ve come back to how my life is arranged and compartmentalised in my head, and by playlists on my iTunes; by years, chronologically. As mentioned at the start, I’m blessed with remembering pretty much everything, but I obviously can’t recall things from when I was toddler quite as well as latter years, so the first true Memoir of a Pop Anorak will be 1979.
As a prelude to that, my first memories of songs and bands flit between the crazy combination of ABBA, Bay City Rollers and The Wombles?! Throw in a bit of David Bowie and being aware of glam rock, and I feel rather fortunate to be born when I was and could get all that out the way in time. By the late 70s, punk had been and gone but lingered sufficiently, new wave was in full force and there was a growing electronic sound, which would end up having the biggest effect on me. And then of course there was disco.
One backdrop I should explain to all this, one of the strongest memories of the late 70s, is being in my dad’s shop. It was a family-run menswear business and at that stage had branches in the most affluent parts of London, namely Brixton, Peckham, Harlesden and where my dad was based, Balham. Now, Balham of then is not the same as Balham of now. A constant sense of intimidation hung around whenever being in the shop, even as child it was obvious. The area around the shop was run down and horrid. People would always be arguing. In later years I would help out in the shop at Peckham, which was considerably worse, in fact one of the staff members there was stabbed and subsequently died whilst my cousin was lucky to just have been beaten with a metal pole in the attack. But…aside from all that urban tension (and this was just before the Brixton riots, where my usually feeble uncle protected his shop there with a baseball bat, blind faith, and a crazy hairstyle), there was always music on, generally the local radio stations, but a rotation of disco, reggae and soul. Not always the actual good stuff, Boney M instantly jumps out at me when I think of that shop. But nevertheless you can’t control what you remember, even if it tortures you eternally.
But one key knock-on effect, and this is why I’m prattling on about this godforsaken shop, is apart from being scared shitless by the downstairs room that never had the lights working and was full of menacing showroom dummies, my dad seemed to have a constant source of people bringing him soul and disco music, which he was actually a big fan of. I’m sure he was trading these for heavy reductions on Farah Staypress slacks and other items of stock. Well, the stock that hadn’t been stolen. One of my duties was to straighten all the trousers on the display rods, which actually fitted in with my OCD for neatness and order, but it also meant I was the messenger when there were glaring gaps and some chancer was dancing around the streets of Balham in a pair of trousers far too tight for them and with the labels still attached.
So the upshot is at home and in the car I heard a lot of soul and disco. Even then a lot of the soul music bugged me, it’s ok in small doses, but I think it’s genuinely interesting that the sound of disco appealed even as a child. Of course you don’t realise the social context when you’re that young, you just go with what it sounds like, but the four to floor beat, the distinctive open hi-hats, the funky guitar riffs, it all became lodged into my subconscious, I’m pretty sure. I will address this further when I get to 1988 and the start of acid house and the return of disco! Plenty to get through before then!
Ok, I think that’s a long enough introduction?! On with the show, stay tuned for 1979, literally, and the start of our journey together through pop. Part of the inspiration for finally writing this is I’ve recently spoken to a lot of youngsters, who pleasingly love late 70s and early 80s music but they obviously wouldn’t experience it at the time, so I hope the following blogs help to paint a more detailed picture. And for others, I hope it triggers shedloads of nostalgia
SYIC (See You In Cyberspace)