Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Part 1 - Music Was My First Love…But It Won’t Be My Last

Music has been pretty much a constant in my life.

My two earliest memories are:

i. trying to protect my infant brother in his pram from a marauding bee that
had invaded the back room of our house in Aston, Birmingham

ii. hearing The Move’s “Blackberry Way” on the radio in that same house

Those two things occured somewhere between the ages of 31/2 and 6 years, given my brothers birthdate and the release date of “Blackberry Way”, even though they now feel like they may have happened at the same time, on the same day even. But my brain does strange things with time and still does to this day. It also means that I remember the 1960’s, which, as popular legend claims, could mean that I wasn’t there and those things never happened; hmmmm.

I tumbled into this world in December 1962, on the same day that NASA's Mariner 2 became the first spacecraft to fly by Venus, and the same day that American porn actress Ginger Lynn also took her first tumble on this earth. The winter that enveloped my birth is also known as the Big Freeze of 1963. According to the Central England Temperature record, which records temperatures back to 1659, it was the most severe winter since 1683-84 (oh, and apparently 1739-40 was a bit parky too, but not significantly so). My Mom tells of how there was still a foot of snow and ice on the ground in March 1963 and how I had to sleep in her bed from birth so that I didn’t freeze to death, 1960’s housing not yet having been commonly introduced to the concept of central heating, thanks Mom.

At the time of my birth my Dad’s occupation, as listed on my birth certificate, was musician. How cool is that ? I think my son’s birth certificate show’s me up as being either a shop assistant or unemployed (sorry son). My Dad was a drummer in dance bands. They played at weddings and parties and dances at Co-Op clubs and US military bases on the continent. So they had to know everything from a Viennese Waltz through to the pop hits of the day. Dad still proudly attests that on first hearing The Beatles his considered opinion was “they won’t last”.

Dad was a toolmaker by trade, apprenticed at Lucas in Birmingham, and grew up in a family where music was important. His Mother, my Nan, sang all the time and she and my Grandad encouraged their children to be musical. Dad chose the drums, his brother, Uncle Bill, studied the French Horn at the Birmingham School of Music and Dad’s sister, my Aunt Sandra, studied ballet and dance and became an actress.

Mom and Dad met on a blind date, decided they liked each other and, when Dad’s band got themselves a tour of the continent, they got married and sashayed off on tour until my arrival was foretold (returning with great tales about having digs in a French Bordello). Again, how cool is that ? It does however leave open the possibility that I was very nearly born French; that was a close one.

So, as is becoming evident, my pre, and early formative years were very musical, maybe holding portents of things to come. I even have musical regrets from those very early years. I recently discovered that on a family holiday to Skegness I was left with the holiday camp babysitters while Mom and Dad went off to see the house band in the camp social club that week; THE KINKS ! I could have been the coolest kid in class during the “what I did on my holidays” reports when we went back after the summer holidays:

Teacher: “And what did you do on your holidays Michael”
Michael: “We went to the beach and went paddling and built sandcastles Miss”
Teacher: “And what did you do on your holidays Jenny”
Jenny: “We played catch and I ate so much ice cream I was sick Miss”
Teacher: “And what did you do on your holidays Russell”
Me: “I went to a club to see The Kinks, Miss”

So close but so far.

My parents pulled a similar trick a few years later. By the time I had reached the age of 10 my Dad had got a full time job as a trade union official and the whole family had upped sticks and re-located to Derby. By this time my Uncle Bill (remember him from earlier on, French Horn, Birmingham School of Music ?) had taken to playing keyboards and joined a popular Birmingham beat combo known as Wizzard. Now I know from more recent experience that although Wizzard had a single in the charts they were obviously touring on a tight budget as one morning when my brother and I came down to have breakfast before going to school, a bunch of large hairy men had appeared in sleeping bags on our living room floor. No hurling TV’s out of the window at the Derby Holiday Inn for these popsters.

It became apparent over Rice Crispies (it may have been an alternative breakfast cereal but snap, crackle and pop will suffice at this point) that there had been an event the previous evening (one that I now know of as “a gig”) and myself and my brother had missed out on the opportunity of attending our first pop concert. To this day my brother cites this breakfast meeting with hairy muso’s as being key in his deciding at a startlingly young age that he didn’t fancy a proper job when he grew up but wanted to be a musician and spend his life waking up on metaphorical living room floors.

My first gig was still a few years off (5 of the devilling things to be more precise. We’ll get to that soon enough). First was the excitement of singles.

The first single I owned, as I had recalled, was bought for me, by whom I now know not. It was Dion’s re-released chart hit from 1961 “The Wanderer”. But…I think we have encountered another of those instances of my brain doing strange things with time, as, on investigating a little further, that particular record was a UK hit in 1976. Now I definitely remember buying my first single. It was the mighty Slade’s epic glam rock howl “Skweeze Me Pleeze Me” which was a number 1 hit in July of 1973. Much cooler as a first single than Dion I think you’ll agree.

Now here I was going to write a section about the magical properties singles held for me over many years; how their release and purchase at times consumed a young man’s every waking thought; how collecting enormous numbers of them seemed the most important thing in the world; how some singles evoke memories both happy, sad even traumatic; but another of those instances of my brain doing strange things with time interrupts me.

My first traumatic experience with a single happened while we were still living in Derby. I had purchased a copy of the T.Rex coupling of “Solid Gold Easy Action” and “Born To Boogie”. For those of you who have never had the pleasure, the purchase of a new record of any kind was a very exciting thing. Between shop and home you had the time to take in everything about it apart from how it sounded. How it looked, how it smelled, what was written on the sleeve, the labels and scratched into the run-out groove (would it be a “Porky Prime Cut”*** or would something else be etched on that groove ?).

*** George "Porky" Peckham is a British record cutting engineer. His master discs, and the records pressed from them, are known as "Porky Prime Cuts" and often bear the epithet "A Porky Prime Cut" etched into the run-out groove.

So there was I, walking home with my newly purchased slice of glam rock, taking it all in. It was on T.Rex’s Wax Co. label, housed in one of those deep blue paper sleeves with T.Rex written across the top in vivid red lettering and a 2 tone, red and blue, image of Marc Bolan staring out at you from the bottom right corner. On the label itself, the same deep shade of blue, was again written the red lettered logo of T.Rex next to another image of Marc Bolan staring out from the disc and, as I drank all this in, the way I was holding the record caused it to slip from the sleeve, bounce gently on the ground and slide a few feet along the gravelly, tarmacadamed pavement before it came to a skidding halt a few feet in front of me.

One side of the record was, of course, scratched and gouged beyond salvation and this could explain why, even now, “Born To Boogie” is one of my favourite T.Rex songs (with or without Bolan’s Christmas message to fans wishing us a “super funk Christmas”). That was the side that survived and got played to death.

So why” I hear you enquire “is this another example of your brain doing strange things with time” ? Well; the “Solid Gold Easy Action”/“Born To Boogie” coupling was released in December 1972, a full 6 months before Slade’s “Skweeze Me Pleeze Me”. So I tell you what, I’m going to ask you to agree that my T.Rex purchase was made from one of those bargain boxes sometime after the original release and that way, I can say that the first record I bought was the one I want it to be (Hey! This is my story, if you don’t like it go write yer own).

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