So this post has taken some time to come. Delayed of course by all of the other stuff that gets in the way and becomes more important. I can remember a time when I used to traipse around Norwich in my clothes from Head in the Clouds with my cherry red DMs undone and my army surplus bag full of spare batteries for my Walkman and countless tapes that I would question anyone even daring to suggest that there was anything more important than music but along with a growing waistline and a developing vegetable patch these seem to the the things that age brings to us.
The other thing was of course choosing the music to include. Five songs? Seriously? Five? I’ve heard three from my iTunes library (give the 15 year old me with his pockets full of C90s and AA batteries a glance at that phenomenon!) since I started writing that I’d include but I have five. Not necessarily my favourite five songs or indeed artists – although there are some in there – but five that have been there as I’ve grown, shaped me or stood out, or just bring back memories of times, people and places. They’re in no order other than the one that they came out in when I decided, sitting on Peterborough station, to say sod it and commit to a list and here they come…
Re-Educating Rita by Carter the Unstoppable Sex Machine.
I love Carter. I mean bloody love them. As a teenager they just kicked arse. Such cleaver lyrics and fantastic music and they just seemed to really enjoy what they were doing. I also loved the fact that you could play quite a lot of the songs pretty easily and singalong loudly after a good few cans of lager on a playing field in Brundall. I have a picture, literally and figuratively of one of my very best friends Jon Cudby hanging out of a school minibus on a trip to Yorkshire swigging from a can of coke that we had filled with Skol on the way up (lots spilt on the floor of the minibus, lots of deodorant sprayed to cover it, lots of suffocation for the rest of the journey) and it encapsulates everything about what we felt at that time. We were going to change the world and along with The Wonder Stuff and The Levellers , Carter were the writers of our anthems. And still continue to be. I went with Jon to their last ever gig earlier this year and saw the faces of people all around me who still clung to the passion and the thrill of the lyrics, who still wanted to smoke tabs and swig beer and chant. Even if the words were tinged with the sad reality that since they were written they are still as relevant because things haven’t changed in the way we thought they would, and we haven’t changed the world. We’ve just got older. got jobs and mortgages and our muscles have waved a little white flag.
Revival by Martine Girault
I was once told (probably by Jon cos he was smart and stuff like that) that I had a musical collection that would baffle Freud. I still don’t know quite what that meant but it is pretty diverse and I suppose it’s because I have lots of different musical interests and influences. A lot of this came from how diverse my friends and their interests were. I’ve bored everyone to tears with my stories of being a public schoolboy and,” how its not like you think honest and all that” but I really liked the fact that there were so many different interests and styles and things there and that you could be quite different without getting a smack so along with Jon who would seemed to have a mantra that once more than about ten people had heard of a band he’d go off them (I’m exaggerating but his diverse interests meant he kicked arse at Mike Reid’s Pop Quiz) I had another great friend Steve Grimmer who supplied me with hip hop, rap, R n B and acid jazz. I could have picked some Loose Ends for this slot, or De La or Tribe called Quest or maybe ‘There’s Nothing Like This‘ by Omar, which I still have on twelve inch and just love the sound of when the crackle leads into the opening bass line. But this spot goes to Martine Girault who seems, as The Wedding Present say with, “I haven’t heard this song in years, It never fails to start the tears,” (but thats Hobart Paving by St Etienne and a whole other world and blog post!) never fails to bring up memories of Great Yarmouth in the summer and hanging out by the arcades, playing Quasar and pretending to be basketball stars on the car park Steve worked in. This summer featured the dawn of the McFlurry with hot toffee sauce, biking down Regent Road to a seafront with killer hot dogs and a Radio One roadshow featuring East 17 and the Manic Street Preachers – both of whom seemed to be parody acts at the time – and who wouldn’t want echoes of that?
I think that Jerusalem encapsulates one of those inherent contradictions in life. Sung as a rugby anthem, the hymn of choice by many a public school (including mine) and yet written as a call to arms by a socialist who was basically saying no the lamb of God was not bloody seen wandering around England. It could be but you’ve got to do something about it and make it worthwhile. When Children in Need or Red Nose Day rolls around I always come off grumpy in the eyes of the kids by suggesting that these events are an indication not of how fantastic we are as a country, but rather that we are messed up to the point that we need these events to make a difference to people we should care about and look after as a matter of course. Not just as way to ease the conscience of businessmen who chuck in some cash and we can all look up to while they drive Ferraris around the countryside with Chris Evans or take Natasha Kaplinksi out for dinner. Blake had this nailed centuries ago with Holy Thursday, when the rich took the children from the poorhouse for a day and paraded them to show how generous they were in dressing them up but obscuring the rest of the year. £30 million to charity is fantastic, don’t get me wrong, but it’s about 50p per population head once or twice a year and if we all drank a pint less we could quadruple that on a weekly basis or even more and remove the need for Lenny Henry – a plus in itself surely?
I’ve chosen Billy’s version though because he has been instrumental in shaping my sense of music and identity for a long time and not least recently when it was my detracting from my current boss that led her to tell me to clear off and listen to my Bragg albums or come and see her and be part of something. I’ve always struggled with the idea of a national identity and get regular grief from friends for clinging to my Irish heritage (“How can you be bloody Irish, you were born in Great Yarmouth?!”) during the same rugby matches where I have to point out the origins of what they are singing – and that’s without getting near ‘Swing Low’. I suppose I’ve always just been uncomfortable with the darker sides of patriotism that seem to go alongside a celebration of being English. Clinging to a notion of Empire that the Waterboys had spot on with ‘ Old England’ and it’s “heroine eyes,” a nation that turns against you for sounding, looking, or acting different, a country that fails to recognise that it’s stronger and more beautiful because of the influences and nationalities that have visited its shores. A nation that to paraphrase Billy, and in turn, Kipling talk of an England and only England know. But reading Billy’s autobiography as part of my own search for belonging has made me feel that there can be a new patriotism. a progressive patriotism with no place for nationalism and segregation, but a place of celebration and integration, where the white keys and the black keys come together to make beautiful music (thanks Mr Agard). and we recognise that we’re all half English just like morris dancing, Morrissey and our patron saint. I think it’s some way off and I’m still the descendent of immigrants in the, “no blacks, no dogs, no Irish” era so I’ll always be sceptical but I’d get behind a St George’s Day celebration with that at it’s heart.
I also wonder what Billy (in some ways along with my friend Giles Barrow some sort of a conscience for me) would make of me and my role in a free school and as part of an academy trust. I like to think that he’d recognise, as someone that said he always saw that you could affect more change from within the system and trying to bring about change that way. that that’s what I want my work to be and that we won’t reform education by burying our heads and ignoring the changes or just shouting without taking real action to exercise our influence but I do equally think he might look at me and worry that I’ve, “turned from red to blue.”
Wednesday Morning 3 am by Simon and Garfunkel
“Talent Borrows, Genius Steals.” The Smiths nicked that from Oscar Wilde and while I haven’t stolen the influence of Simon and Garfunkel from Billy Bragg (he was 21 years when he nicked that song!) I was certainly buoyed and felt a sense of kinship when I read about his passion for them. This particular song stands out for me because of the back of the record cover that talks about the revolutionary spirt that they felt when writing their music and how they weren’t understood by those around them. Seems funny for a couple of folk musicians but Carter were folk musicians (and I’m sure Jim Bob is as much of a fan and a filthy half incher of ideas from Paul and Art as Billy – The Only Living Boy in where…?) and they caused a stir – at least in me and my contemporaries, and for more than knocking Schofield over (3.30 but you should really listen to the song)!
The record cover sticks in my memory because I remember reading it to my mum after dad had told me off for playing music so loud and making a racket with my guitar and asking why, in my misunderstood just expressing myself teenage way, they who had bought these records could own them and not understand what I was trying to express by playing Carter’s cover of This is how it Feels at top volume. Man. I was of course being an absolute dick and probably would have been quoting Larkin if I was that well read at that age and now look back as embarrassed as I would have been for having an acoustic guitar and thinking that it made me a protest singer! More recently with dad having his cancer diagnosis and taking him to chemo appointments Silver Haired Daddy has more resonance and reinforces what an absolute pain in the arse I was but this has better words and plus I can play it on the same guitar I have that he grabbed from me and threw down the stairs when I was once more terrorising the house with it. Wish he’d done it with that bloody violin I experimented with for a bit.
This Night has Opened My Eyes by The Smiths
Come on, you were waiting for Morrissey to turn up from the second you started reading. All along there were hints and allegations but this is where we’ve ended up. As I said at the start these aren’t my favourite songs or even my favourite songs by the artists in question but they are songs that stand out for me. ‘Hatful of Hollow‘ (that moment when ‘William…’ kicks in… oh my god) will always be my favourite Smiths album, not because I think it’s the best (‘Meat is Murder‘ takes that spot my friends) but because it was the first I heard and it opened my ears as well as my eyes. I remember taking it out of Great Yarmouth library (imagine borrowing records from a library! Imagine libraries…) and putting the needle on the record player that was under the stairs at home and hearing Johnny Marr’s guitar and Morrissey’s voice for the first time and having a feeling that I won’t try to put into words but anyone who had a heart would recognise and share. As soon as I played it I knew that the band would be part of who I was for years to come and now they sit there in my list of longest relationships (1. Mum and Dad, 2. Best friend Al, 3. Brother James, Barber Steve, 4. The Smiths, 5. My wife ) and one that I can’t see coming to an end at any time soon. You know those bands who when you hear a record you feel entranced, the world moves in slow mo and you have to stop everything else and listen? That’s The Smiths every time for me and ‘This Night…’ was the song that I remember listening to on my Walkman in the back of the car on the tape I’d recorded the record on after borrowing it (don’t judge me you all did it!) and driving through town in the dark knowing that in the world there were people that felt the same as me and I always had somewhere to go and someone to talk to.
So that’s it. My five. Like I said not necessarily my top five and not necessarily the five I’d come to next week or next month. I might include The Milton Brothers that I used as my first tab when it was my turn to teach Guitar Club a song, I might go for some Wedding Present that I first had played to me by a boy a couple of years above in the room you had to go to if you weren’t doing games or Don’t You Forget About Me that was played at the party I got invited to as a result of being there. I would probably include the Leonard Cohen song that I still listen to on cassette to hear the point where the tape got caught up and both I and my friend Darren launched out of our freezing caravan bedrooms into the kitchen heated and lit by the gas cooker we had left on for warmth and saved the tape from being destroyed by the cheap radio we had for entertainment. My mum would wonder where U2 (or The Lads as she calls them) had gone. But this is where I am today, this is the account I’ve dragged together on a seven hour journey from finishing delivering training in Bradford to my current position about fifteen minutes from Great Yarmouth where my wife, a beautiful song all of her own, is waiting to pick me up.
And yeah, I cheated but whatcha gonna do?!
Lots of Love