Monday, 9 July 2012

Rock n Roll and wearing a bootlace tie in Doncaster

In my line of work you often come across the emerging tribes, the cults and fashions of the young and ridiculous. And I cannot fail to acknowledge the obvious fact that that once was me – all dressed up with nowhere to go – but putting on a show anyway. It transpires that the mid-eighties in Scunthorpe was part of a large scale sociological experiment where by all sub cultures were allowed free reign in schools and on the streets.

I mean I used to go to school in a tweed jacket topped with a quiff – we had a uniform – but it didn’t seem to matter as Patrick jackets collided with Donkey ones and doc marten boots. It was a free for all in the playground. It was a freedom we don’t always get under Gove and his return to the headmaster ritual of the 1950s.

I still look at clothes. I can’t fit in them but I still look at them. I’m no hipster – do you get me? I may have to start dressing like Tad to make up for my inability to sustain a healthy diet. These flirting with fashions fit snugly alongside our falling in love with sounds. I’m not sure whether it’s the clothes that lead to the finds or the songs which dictate the style – which takes me back to those pre-adolescent moments of developing a look to match the eclectic tastes being shaped through radio, film, television, friends and records, an older brother, record shops and market stalls.

I wore a bootlace tie. It was purchased in Scunthorpe Market. It may well have had a skull on it – or something rockabillyesque. I bought it because I liked Showaddywaddy and Matchbox. There was a rock n roll revival taking place – the late seventies a throwback to the fifties. All crepe soles and blue suede. A friend even had a drape made.

He was ten.

He would wear it at our first year disco in Secondary school – I wore pleated trousers and a grey mesh vest. By then the bootlace tie had been discarded and Visage and the new romantics were taking hold – the beginnings of my love affair with the synthesizer carved out in tributes to Bowie and Berlin. I have vivid memories of venturing to Doncaster. A city. It didn’t make Scunthorpe seem quaint or backward. This was not cosmopolitan.

It was larger and just as violent.

We never seemed to turn out the bands like the North West did. There is no equivalent of The Beatles this side of the country. Our ports brought in fish not rock n roll. Doncaster. Like any good city had a shopping precinct. All concrete and glass with punks and that, sat around smelling of glue and cider. I had come with my mum and brother – I am not certain why. I would wear my jacket – it had a Shakin’ Stevens patch and a Stray Cats one on the back. I would wear my bootlace tie too.

I was scared of the punks.

I thought they wouldn’t like the rockabilly clothes that I wore with pride. These names pinned to my back to mark me out as a fan. If I am honest they didn’t even notice me walk by. Those moments of dwelling that blow up but don’t go pop in your (inner) mind (y’all.) As I have said before rock n roll music – which any old way you might choose it – has always been coursing around the fringes throughout my life. And dressing to demonstrate your idols on t-shirts and badges and patches and bags is all part of that allegiance and defiance of youth. I would always buy a t-shirt at gig. Sell the fanzines in my bag and give the loose change to the t-shirt sellers or invariably the members of the band at the beginnings or ends of set filled with shimmers and jangles – feedback and attitude. And my t-shirt said ‘I understand – I get all of this’.

Whilst wearing the patches of rock n roll across the concrete streets of Doncaster and Scunthorpe – I thankfully had not gravitated towards the wearing of my idols on fabric so close to my skin. I did not own a Showaddywaddy t- shirt – although I would wear one now – postmodern maaaan. I think the first t-shirt I bought to ‘rep’ the band was The Smiths. A black Hatful of Hollow one from the Meat is Murder tour – Sheffield City Hall – five pounds well spent.

I wore it till it frayed.

And then came countless other t-shirts – at first mainly Smiths ones – The Queen is Dead, Shelia Take a bow, Shoplifters – the list goes on. And The Primitives ‘Stop Killing me’ black and white number, The Groove Farm, The Cure and and and. I still wear them today – in a nod to the allegiance and cultural belonging that liking pop affords. I have an Edsel Auctioneer one, various Brian Wilson ones, My bloody Valentine ‘Feed me with your Kiss’, a Primal Scream ‘Ivy Ivy Ivy’ one, Public Enemy, the Pistols and the most recent purchase a grey one with Metroplex records emblazoned across the chest. These emblems of safety and tribal belonging have shaped the fan world since they cottoned on you could get the kids to part with more cash if you but a name and face on it. Okay so the The Sidddleys never had a pencil case made but I swear my brother and I contemplated the Brian Wilson dressing gown that was available on the ‘That Lucky Old Sun’ tour. It would have gone nicely with our Smile bags – mine is currently gathering dust in a cupboard.

It is unlikely that I will ever seize the zeitgeist again and rock up a look with patches and badges – not that my rock n roll tributes were ever of the moment. I may occasionally venture out to Sainsbury’s proclaiming my love for the valentines as the young folk busily stay hip to music’s ever changing moods.

They’re wearing the crepe soled shoes again. They are as yet not modelling The Edsel Auctioneer gear.

This is The Edsel Auctioneer – they were/ are from Leeds – I will write about them at some point in the future. I did like them so much that I bought a t-shirt – so they’re worth a listen. Kind of like a northern Buffalo Tom – but much better.

Tuesday, 3 July 2012

He played records and we danced

Last week I was in Clerkenwell – all gastro pub and the rubba dub dub as old friends discussed eventful weeks and weekends. And I fell into talking about [not] going out, about the 1210s and nights of simply turntable celebration. I have been fascinated by the spinning decks for years. Those early formative years in school discos and clubs as DJs spun 45s on mobile systems. It wasn’t like this was Kingston and we were in Tivoli Gardens skanking to DJ Coxsone and those heavy heavy sounds.

We were in Scunthorpe. We were at teenage discos.

This was playing records for steelworkers kids. We liked Wham, Adam Ant, The Sweet, Duran Duran and Tina Turner’s Nutbush City Limits. We weren’t yet grooving to our own choices. You made a request to the DJ – if he had it he might play it. If he didn’t he wouldn’t and if he thought that your taste was questionable he told you so.

But we also had the Baths Hall in Scunthorpe a sanctuary from what I considered the mainstream at the time. But this was just as mainstream in many ways except you heard The Smiths or The Fall playing. It was all escape from the grind. No different to the beer monsters at Henry Afrika’s [I kid you not - all garish fibre glass models of explorers and natives outside – we’ve come along way since the Windrush docked] We just wore more black than the sport Billies back then and got to dance to a different beat rather than the drummer’s – it was and is the same as it is then as it is now. Put your hands in the air and wave them like you do care – you care far too much – as I’ve said I was the type to dance to my tunes and slip from the polished floor when the sounds moved me no more.

But talking about wanting to go out and hear a DJ brings those moments flooding back. This post could detail countless nights getting ready for the dancefloor – waiting for the ‘jam to start pumping’ but I think I’ll make it about John Peel. John Peel was a regular visitor to the Scunthorpe Baths Hall. A veteran of Doncaster Road and all that walked up it. He would play and talk – not exactly MC – with tunes from his bag and always finish with The Undertones Teenage Kicks. The Baths Hall was like a rite of passage for all alternative teens in the Scunthorpe scene. It was where you went to be part of it all. Drink cider and sway – cadge cigarettes and be sick on the streets and steps. It was for the argy bargy with burly bone men on the door and the thrill of the getting in when you were far too young. I remember once that Paul was turned away – even though he was eighteen and they let me in when I was three years younger. It’s what you do – try and pull a fast one – because we were a generation going nowhere fast – so the antics of youth were all we had.

And every year John would appear. This familiar sound in the flesh. That voice from the radio – a real DJ – but one of us. The every man with a record collection we all wanted. You can visit his records now – not in person – you can’t turn up at Peel Acres and riffle through it – it’s virtual and photographed – it’s arrrtttt maaaaan - it isn’t meant to be a shrine – but it’s a dead man’s vinyl. Sometimes listening is not possible anymore. But you can see the dedication – the connection he had as he gently sorted the Ds from the Es. Shelia’s going to get rid of them - you can’t leave them lying round the house forever. Yet every year he would sort through the ever growing collection that rules from the centre of the ultraworld – well Great Finborough actually – to find tunes that would make teenagers rock [in Scunthorpe]. And I believe he thought about it – what new ones to bring and which Fall ones for Pete Lazenby – because you knew he was going get on the dance floor.

He would arrive without fanfare John that is – not Pete – Pete would arrive with fanfare. This was not a ‘roadshow’. It was not a show at all. It was the selection of records to make you dance – to jump about with joy and abandon and forget the morning and work ahead. Be it industrial or school. It was escape. Peel knew this – he didn’t mock us – he escaped every night with the spin of the turntables – in his studio or at home. Here in the echoing hall of the revamped municipal baths - beats would bounce of walls and bass bellow in corners as we glanced and romanced and dreamt and danced on carpet and wood to the sounds of the underground – made overground by our very own vinyl womble.

I don’t necessarily want to go out and listen to this – although the Baths was good – sensible opening and closing. The conversation in Clerkenwell was about Derrick May – he played last week – a set in a series from the innovators of Detroit – he was number one – Juan’s coming and Kevin. And there was a realisation that the sets would start late and end in the early hours. I can’t do it. I can’t do that. They should play from 5pm till 9pm – I could fit it in then and get a decent night’s sleep. Still completely stomp it – but sleep too, without losing touch with reality and being there to help in the morning.

Families not forty fives come first – I guess.

Instead I will select for the kids. My kids until their taste is foisted on me. I remember Paul and I asking my dad to play a Nick Cave live cassette on the way to Scotland – to Edinburgh. It didn’t go down too well – I don’t think it helped his concentration – what with the poor quality recording - the hiss and the malevolence inherent in Cave’s performance. Still Blind Lemon Jefferson would still make it on to my playlist.

But that pull of the DJ to select and make a crowd rejoice – to join together for whatever the length of the tune is a pleasure that I will always crave. I may not witness this again in a club setting but I can still tap into those teenage dreams – so hard to beat.

This is the recording of the single - something different - if you wan to hear the song you can look it up - it's everywhere.