1981 and I’m existing in a musical wilderness. Finding your music is part of finding your identity and I was wearing cords and brown velor tops. Sometimes you need outside help and mine came in the big, rock hard shape of my cousin, Tommo.
I remember it like it was yesterday. I was listening to The Flying Pickets, or it might have been Adam & The Ants. Whatever it was, the fifteen year old Tommo was not impressed.
‘You need to listen to these.’ he said, dumping a big box of records on my bedroom floor. In my memory he turned and walked out of the room, without another word. But I also vaguely recall a cape and that can’t be right. Maybe he sat there, watching as I flipped through the boxful of albums. Maybe he chose one for me. What I know is that I suddenly had some new stuff to play on my stereo, which had flashing blue, red and green lights inset in the speakers. Proper class!
The first vinyl I picked out had some bronze work soldiers on the front, because I was eleven and I liked war stuff. I put the needle on the record and I don’t think it’s overstating things to say that a whole lot changed for me in an instant.
I’ve still got Setting Sons on vinyl, in the ‘Can’t Ever Sell On Ebay’ section. It’s not the Jam’s best album, by a long shot (Eton Rifles was the only big hit off what was, essentially, a concept album) but to me it holds an significant place in my musical background (at the risk of sounding like a muso twat.). All the Jam albums were in the box, apart from The Gift, which came out a year later and would be the bands last album. It also featured my favourite Jam tune.
Next one out of the box had a big fat bloke on the front, dressed in what looked like a pair of pants and Doc Martins. Not sure why I chose this one, as I’ve never knowingly had a thing for big fellas in skimpy pants. Ska ‘n’ B was Bad Manners debut album and featured most of the tunes you’ll know ‘Lip Up Fatty’, ‘Wooly Bully’, and ‘Monster Mash’. The one that stood out for me was this-
Bad Manners were never one of my favourite bands. They got on my nerves pretty quickly, but ‘Special Brew’ is another tune that stuck with me, I love the Ska rhythms and the simple sweet love song (I know it’s about a beer). If I ever get married, this might be the first dance.
What was next out of the Box? (the box has aquired a capital B now, as if I’ve imbued it with magical properties) I hear you cry. Well, it was actually time for my tea…
Madness caught my imagination completely and they were probably on the Little Disco player more than anything else. It’s purely perfect pop. I can’t think of a band since that has managed to release as many consistantly good records over such a long period of time. And their videos were always brilliant.
I’ve got to be honest, I didn’t have ‘James Bond’ by The Selector at the time. I heard it later on, at some lads house. He switched the lights off in his room, put this on and scared the absolute shit out of me.
‘Stop your messing around, time to think of your future’
I saw the Specials live recently and when the punching in the crowd had died down (Monkey Man has that effect) I was taken back again to the first time I heard them, lieing on my bed, squeezing a zit or something. They make great stomp about tunes, swathed in some of the best ska melodies you’ll hear. They were also the nutters band of choice, if I remember right.
Musically, as well as in real life, it’s impossible not to be influenced by other peoples tastes. I look back and it seems like I’ve always had people around me who have slammed down (metaphorically, in most cases) a box of records and gone ‘You need to listen to these’. Like Darth Vader and Obi Wan to my Luke, they’re fighting to bring me to the light or the dark side. I reckon I’ve made a lot of bad choices, musically, but it’s all part of the whole, mistakes and all, that makes you. Everyone that’s turned me onto something new has played a big part in my musical life, which in turn means they’ve played a big part in my life generally. That’s pretty ace.