Friday, 23 March 2012

I think I can help you get through your exams

It has been one of those endless swirls of fatigue and the refusal to sleep. Of [high] tension [lines] and mis-directed thoughts as men with suits swamp corridors and judge. It has not been one to relish. And in between all that a daughter growing older with cakes and ponies – so much more real than ideological battles over assessments and attainment.

When I was younger – and was schooled rather than running tings. I rushed heady into the exam period with a fevered joy that Summer lay ahead and I was coming of age – a more positive Kes you could say. I still had an anorak but no bird of prey. There had been a soundtrack to my waking and dreaming hours that had got me through good times and bad – and those periods of indiscriminate nothingness that teenagers have.

I once had a photograph taken with a bootlace tie and my Rock n Roll singles – Paul took one of his Adam and the Ants 45s. A passion he and now my children have today – not taking photographs but Adam Ant. So it will come as no surprise that I had rituals and ways of getting things done.

I would play the same song before every exam. It helped like that. These simple rituals and superstitions. I am an athesist – I have no belief in a God – or an afterlife – but I do get reassured by ritual. It makes no difference – what difference does it make? I had rearranged the ‘dining room’ – sounds grand but it wasn’t – fold out table, sideboard, redundant chairs and nets at the window – into where I would do my revision. I was revising – learning stuff to pass examinations – it’s how you get ahead [I couldn’t get ahead] and I would secrete myself behind the door – fold out table part folded out and work through notes and ideas and thrust myself back into lessons and learning.

Music [and girls] provided the breaks in study. I would let myself play a Sea Urchins song or a Mary Chain screech to satisfy the rebellious spirit I had sort to engender along the final months of the fifth year. I have seen photographs from those final years – it’s as if the teachers felt the weight of the very steel of the town and simply allowed us to be who we wanted – to give us an out. Not regiment and force our compliance – rather let us be – whilst singing words of wisdom from the old wooden desks at the front – let it be. Revision was punctuated by sun and walks and songs and words. It’s what gets me through the day these days. I wasn’t really viewing the revision as a means of acquiring the stuff I needed to answer the papers rather as a reason to treat myself to a tune.

And before each exam I would take the trusted walkman – I think it was a Boots one – it recorded as well -and play Handsome Devil so that Morrissey would ‘help me get through my exams’. Marr direct guitar matching the bursts of knowledge stored in my brain – all ready to come tumbling out in ink and showed workings when I sat at those lonely seats with just me and the paper and pen in my pocket. This tradition continued through my A-levels and most possible my degree – but I was wrapped up in fog and fury by that time.

But I still had my walkman.

There is more to life than books you know – but not much more.

Monday, 12 March 2012

At this stage in my life.

I had somehow gotten on to the stage – and was awaiting my turn to jump off.

As I have stated previously – I am not a friend of the mob but here I was indulging in sheep like behaviour. A push and a shove and the stage is ours. But here I was – on stage – well I had stepped up a foot or so as the crowd had surged and shook to the twin guitar action from Blake and McGinley and everything flowed into that moment of bewilderment and sudden realisation that I was amidst the group. Not performing but most likely ruining some else’s enjoyment. To feel self conscious at this point – does not make for a good exit. To catch the eyes of your friend and be certain that this was not what we ‘did’ only added to the awkward nature of it all.

I once tried to get onstage whilst Morrissey sang of our adolescent ills – but was harangued and prevented by burly Scottish men in shiny bomber jackets. It wasn’t that the bomber jacket had taken off as a fashion accessory de jour in Scottish cities and streets – this was Showsec and boots and snarled faces and grimaces.

To be fair they saved me the embarrassment of stumbling on stage and dancing awkwardly – or attempting to strike up a conversation whilst Johnny jangled to the left all white demin jacket and seaman’s cap.

When I was younger and what was then a regular concert goer – as ticket stubs seem to testify - there was a hardly a week without some live action. You get me? And without fail there would be a moment of sloppy looking youth jettisoning themselves from stages into the arms of the crowd – in an endless tide of arms and holed jumpers. I never really had the urge to want to do this – to impinge myself on proceedings in that way. I was more with the Keith Richards school of thought – get off my stage you fucker – and understood why you would use the telecaster to keep them at bay.

There’s a thing about the stage. Its openness and space – where performers come to share their wares with easily excitable audiences. Unwritten rules that say that you can look but don’t step up front – this is not where you are welcome. Those moments when you heave yourself up and glance at the setlist for the night – knowing what’s coming next but enjoying it even more because of that dramatic irony. Or shout at some roadie to pass the list to you after the lights have come on and revealed the stage as a mess of leads and dust – no glamour just organisation.

But here I was caught in a moment of youthful exuberance – as Snub TV cameras filmed the chaos. It had been one of those oddly organised bills – the Manics opening – all sprayed shirts that made them look like militant darts players – as me and McGee talked about the Clash and honesty. I didn’t appreciate the Manics at that point – it turned out they were an honest bunch. Then Swervedriver - another band with guitars and voices. I can’t remember Swervedriver if I’m being truthful. I saw them several times – none of it sticks. Finally the Fannies making music with harmonies and guitars. Slowly igniting a change in the right direction for all independent [bowl]heads.

Whatever happened at that concert resulted in me somehow bridging the artist and audience divide. I have a friend who talks about his brother’s love of The Specials and how they transcended the whole rock ‘n’ droll thing of performer and those to be performed at. How Terry Hall would simple have a look that reinforced that there was no difference – that The Specials were both me and you – and we were all welcome to a moment in the lights. Norman Blake didn’t exactly welcome us on the stage – but he didn’t kick me off either – I just sort of shuffled my way back –to the beer sodden floor and where I felt I belonged. I do remember watching Iggy Pop – on television – simple work the crowd into a frenzy – a unit – a platoon that he commanded. It was one of those supercharged moments where you could see the 60s Iggy in his eyes – all confrontation and hostility. But it resulted in lots of middle class white kids – kinda bopping with boots to Asheton’s guitar growl. All off kilter and really knowing they were ‘part of something’ – you know like it was a Glasto moment and Kitty and me were like soooo near Iggy and …and…..and.

The crowd wouldn’t spit on them in 1969. But Iggy handled it. Inviting them on. Stopped the show. Told them to get off. Which they did. You know you’re only visiting the stage. It’s not yours.

In some ways I still cringe about that moment. I had gone to the concert with James – I returned with James.

We did not discuss the stage incident – it would never repeat itself.

Teenage Fanclub: Everything Flows with me somewhere in the audience.

I’ll play mine if you play yours.

The snow came tumbling down last month. I was out and about getting wet, wet, wet as the metropolitan city ground to a halt and I ended up staying over at a top soul brother’s residence.

Not getting home to the kids.

I guess there’s a presumption that because it’s the city you can get straight home – that somehow the snow won’t wreck the plans of commerce and pleasure. But it does and it will. So stood drinking and discussing George Harrison’s Electronic Sound and the reverb set ups created by Larry Levine – we didn’t notice that the snow was settling that little bit faster and traffic was slowing up and coming to a standstill – The Pineapple can have that effect. It’s a wonderful public house The Pineapple – a stone’s throw from the Imperial War Museum.

Back in Scunthorpe – getting home meant a walk if it snowed – wet trousers and cold feet – falling over and falling in love as you negotiated the ice around Britannia Corner and over the railway bridge. Through bends and drifts hands held and helping hands. Here it was wet concourses and low level announcements – basically a mild apology but a certainty that you’re not getting home.

No headphones – just cold ears and the beers that I’d drunk swishing inside – well cider – you know me – I am a cider drinker.

But as we were wont to do in that flat – we played music. Not overly loud – you know we’re in our forties – we get on with our neighbours – we’re not a bunch of ravers – diddlee di di sharing tunes and experiences late into the night with brandy and cigarettes. Over the years I have found myself in rooms with friends playing songs that cheer the heart as the head begins to hurt. Those morning moments that lead to a find that stays with you forever – where once it was 7 inch singles revolving on stereos or 12 inches on 1210s – it’s mostly digital digging that we’re doing – but with the same outcomes.

Richard played me Nilson. I played him Euros Childs.

We marvelled at the simplicity of music to bring us to our knees. It seems that music has a habit of running at you head first in the dark – when it’s different outside – when the curtains are drawn and you know you should be sleeping. It’s that hazy appeal as your head fights the inherent tiredness creeping into your bones but you feel alive as the tune brings a rush of energy sweeping through those old [and in this case cold] limbs. And this post could be about so many of those late moments – in cars, in clubs, on tapes and vinyl as people played tunes that would you would never tire of listening to.

But this one is about the mamas and the papas.

Paul and I used to travel to Leeds and other northern towns in search of heady inspiration. And as we would often be found waiting – after Kaleidoscope Pop had shut its doors – for a milk train to take us back to the old town we would sometimes end up at kind soul’s house. Two Scunthorpe waifs and strays – avoiding the return to the industrial streets and skies. That house was invariably on Harold Avenue – the home of pop – past the menacing streets of Sutcliffe’s stalking to inviting cups of tea – or take out bottles and Big Star’s Third or Dinosaur’s first. We sat and talked with like minded fellows about this and that – as tiredness crept in but the tunes would flow and somehow I knew I would make it in on time to college the next day – because I had heard ‘Kangaroo’ and that would keep me going – as it still does.

But Ian of Pale Saints placed a simple greatest hits record on the downstairs dansette – and out of the speaker came that simple strum and build of Twist and Shout. Yet this wasn’t the cacophony of Lennon and company in full leather and volume. No this was all delicate chiffon and corduroy and harmony and yearning. I don’t think at that point I had quite got the mamas and the papas – but in that sleep deprived moment – it worked. And I haven’t been able to escape it since.

The simplicity in slowing it all down and turning that twisting and shouting into romance and wanting – as John Phillips tells us that she’s got him going – like she knew she would. And the harmonies build and fall and lap over one another until we’re wrapped right inside the song. That walk for the train as the dawn exploded in Leeds was a joyous one as Mama Cass rang in our ears and our hearts.

Whenever I’m stuck as to what should come next on a compilation tape [ok – CD – we don’t make tapes anymore or should it be some sort of ‘playlist’] then this seems to worm its way on to it. Too be honest it’s obvious why. Those late night moments hang around – I find I can’t do them anymore. I mean it took days to recover from my night ‘on the town’ with Richard and small children waking in early hours means that listening in daylight can be hard enough.

So here’s to the beauty of one person playing something different to another. It’s called sharing and the world is a better place for it.