Archive for the ‘Pop music’ Category

3. Fetisch, X-mal Deutschland

July 13, 2017

Or: I was a teenage goth.

I was a teenage goth

As soon as I picked this out of its cover, I thought: I bet I don’t like this as much as I used to like this, and I was right. It all seems quite the dirge now – same pace (plodding), same drum beat (pounding), same guitar (fuzzing)– and I don’t really remember what any of my standout tracks were then. I can barely muster a standout track now.

It seems laughably downbeat today. Sample lyrics from ‘Young Man’: “Young man may die” (repeat three times). All this gloom and death was a natural progression from macabre-obsessed early adolescence: reciting the Lord’s Prayer backwards, witchcraft, spontaneous combustion and the part-work The Unexplained. Maybe being a goth was just about coming to terms with your own mortality.

Being a goth was definitely about coming to terms with your own sexuality. What does pop music do for adolescent girls and boys? They say it’s about belonging, being in this tribe, not that one. It’s also about separation. Pop let me to quantify my difference and protect myself, projecting a self that was something else. It let me to keep the world at arm’s length while I tried to understand it. Being a goth and a punk and a psychobilly were place markers along the track to the biggest difference of them all. I’d made it clear I was weird already. They’d get used to it.

So would I.

To like Scottish-German industrial bands made one a sore thumb in a world of Wham! (never liked them then, don’t like ’em now).

It’s also why I sound a bit posh, when I’m not a bit posh: little gradations of separation. It’s no coincidence that in my old goth circles there were plenty of us who ended up L, G and T.

Which one of these do I wish they’d play at the disco? I have no recollection now of what song I wanted to dance to but I do remember the kind of disco I wished I could dance at.

One day, me and my friends were were sitting on some steps by the beach, on a sunny afternoon (it’s hard being goth at the seaside: so much physical activity; so many healthy glows), discussing what we’d call our nightclubs. I don’t remember what theirs would be but mine was going to be called the German word for “prison”, whatever that was. I didn’t know what the German word for prison was but I knew that it beautifully captured what a disco should be.

Now I have a working knowledge of the language and I do know what the German word for “prison” is, I know damn well it doesn’t. (Look at those lyrics though! More hilarious gloom: ‘Verrachte dich/mishandel dich’, a snippet from ‘Kampfen’, one of the numbers I think I liked best then, though don’t ask me why.)

I only dipped my toes in the rusty waters of industrial pop. No Einsturzende Neubauten for me (though I know these were the most interesting and enduring), only Xmal and the disco-din of SPK. My heart really belonged to Siouxsie and Peter Murphy.

Would I buy this record now? Hell, no. Sex moans, echo chambers, pulsing drums – at best, it sounds like a series of Bauhaus b-sides.The cover is a po-mo delight though, with gorgeous typography. I would copy it over and over with my calligraphy pen, with dreams of being a record cover designer.

Fetisch by Xmal Deutschland

Label: 4AD.

Release date: 11 April 1983.

Chart position: This didn’t trouble the upper or the lower reaches of the album charts

Run-out message: Bubo Tapgore (?)

PS: The band were quite pretty.


2. Baggy Trousers, Madness

December 28, 2016


Along with every other pupil at a state school in 1980, I loved Madness with a passion. I walked like them, One Step Beyonding up and down the back garden, and the chewing gum-grey concrete schoolyard, and the deep purple pile of the front-room carpet.

I loved their cartoon antics and their black-and-white clothes. I wanted Doctor Martens; I did not not get Doctor Martens. I wanted monkey boots; I did not get monkey boots. I got 2-tone plastic badges from the stalls at Swansea Market. I played my sister’s copy of One Step Beyond… repeatedly, pretending the lamp was a microphone stand. I joined the preteen cohorts at the Studio Cinema to see a matinee of Take It or Leave it in 1981. I wished I was a Nutty Boy. I looked like a Nutty Boy, in a trilby hat and borrowed wraparound sunglasses.

‘Baggy Trousers’ was the first Madness record I bought. All my classmates loved it, too. In this song, Madness were talking to us, a bunch of scruffy ten-year olds that nobody had addressed directly before. Even if we weren’t participating in the mitching and misbehavour, we were surrounded by it. The fights with other schools: Brynmelin Park, 3.30pm. Waun Wen boys against St Josephs. The oddballs who lurked about the neighbourhood: the school handyman who grabbed a boy by the ankles and dunked him in an oildrum full of water. When I was ten, Madness was my band and this was my song. I was a sometimes-naughty child, an always shy child (yet also a show-off) in an inner-city school that my grandmother had gone to (left school at 12) and my mother had gone to (left school at 14; shouldn’t have) and now here was I, with a life ahead and no map for where it would go. And now here were some musical hall minstrels singing about all that.

The song is nearly 37 years old. It was released the year Ronald Reagan became president and the Rubik’s Cube came out. It is as old as the St Paul’s Riots in Bristol and the Moscow Olympics. It marked my last year in junior school and turned me to towards the terrors of secondary school: a place where the older girls flushed your head down the toilet on your birthday, they said. Where people played chicken on the railway lines and stole the detonators off the tracks.

The 1980s were the days when everyone sold records: Woolworths, WH Smith and John Menzies, the Co-op and Debenhams. The place I actually bought it from could not have been more fitting: over the counter, at Boots. I probably bought it on the day it came out, (5 September) because I have a clear recollection of standing in its record department (Quadrant Centre, first floor, next to the exit for the bridge to Debenhams) and having to ask for it. I didn’t like doing that at all, because my shyness made ‘Baggy Trousers’ seem like the most embarrassing words you could say ever.

I must have asked for it, or made my mother ask for it, because I have it and it is glorious.

The artwork is beautiful, Humphrey Ocean’s pencil drawing of the band outside Cairo East underground station. Over the years, while I still wanted to be an artist and design record covers, I would copy it with increasing skill. I also catalogued this one using my own system (be gone, Stiff’s own BUY 84!: this one is NUT -145 – NUT for Nutty Boys, 1 for the first single of theirs, 45 for a single. So there.)

The B-side is ‘The Business’, a nice enough piano-driven piece with some echoey dubby bits. I have listened to that track three or four times at most.

‘Baggy Trousers’ never got to number one in the charts, only number three. A crime against pop music.


(7”, Stiff Records, 1980). B-side The Business

Matrix signature: A – WE HAVE LIFT-OFF B: WIND ME UP

Baggy Trousers by Madness.

Label: Stiff

Catalogue Number: NUT-145

Run-out message: A – WE HAVE LIFT OFF B- WIND ME UP

Release date: 5 September 1980

Entered charts: 13 September 1980

Top chart position: 3

1.3 My record collection

November 21, 2016

My record buying career started early – very early, in the mid-1970s. I am always flabbergasted when people my age say the first record they bought was Duran Duran or Madonna. Madonna? She didn’t release anything in the UK until 1983 and, my dear, I was picking singles from the bargain bin when I was in short trousers.

I am cursed/blessed with a remarkable memory, so I can recall minute details of what I bought and where I bought it. Purchasing each bit of plastic is a little historic moment for me. I remember what we wore, the crackle between the grooves, which one sticks, who I leant it to, who never gave it back.

1.2 My parents’ record collection

November 20, 2016

Jazz, jazz. More jazz.

1.1 My grandparents’ record collection

November 14, 2016

My grandparents never got rid of their records, even though they didn’t have a record player that I ever remember seeing. A radiogram is what Annie and Ivor Cooze would have called it, if they’d had one. Many of my schoolmates did still have these teak-effect electronic sideboards that took up half their living rooms: even though we were firmly in the smoked glass, shag-piled, high-fidelity years, we still looked and spoke and decorated our homes as though we lived in the post-war decade. We still sang songs on school trips about German bombers in the air and the RAF from Swansea, RAF from Swansea, RAF from Swansea shooting them down. Shooting them down.)

The only musical equipment my grandparents had was a large leather effect radio (not Roberts) that took an enormous six volt batter, a single-speaker tape recorder and, as far as I could see, one Jack Jones cassette and one Frank Sinatra.

They never listened to their records (how could they?) but they didn’t get rid of them either. I was fascinated by the thick brittle density of the 78s – much heavier in your hand than they should have been and a bottomless black. I imagined they’d taste like Callard & Bowser liquorice toffee. There weren’t many of them in their collection but Enrico Caruso definitely featured (my grandfather’s taste, I think). I don’t know where these records are now.

I’d like to have them. I would add them to the column of vinyl leaning against the living-room wall that I always see, out of the corner of my eye. These records anchor me to my past and made me who I am. They mapped out ambitions to be a pop star (still holding out for that one), poseur, photographer, journalist, poet, artist, archivist (I devised my own cataloguing system at the age of 11 it seems, from the biroed codes in the corners of the covers). They armed me with knowledge that I’d take through life (I didn’t have a book-lined study but I came to know Walt Whitman through Fame).

The records that now slouch in the corner? I listened to them constantly, obsessively, so that I can pre-empt every gouge and scratch (I know that the Selecter’s Too Much Pressure will stick on the final drum roll of ‘James Bond’ – and that it always sounds flawed in its pristine digital version) and Tom Tom Club has been played so often and mishandled so much that it songs are barely audible beneath the fuzz).

Then I played them inconsistently and, latterly, not at all.

I’m not a geek. I won’t spend half my wages on a rare pressing of anything – but I would spend all my pocket money on this twelve inch or that picture disc. I’m just a dilettante. I loved vinyl when it was mainstream, although my tastes didn’t often run to that. (I once finished with a girl because her favourite artist was Billy Joel). There’s no Now! in my collection nor Wham! and my singles and albums and disco mixes barely show the 80s they love on Friday night compilation TV.

I was just a girl for whom music was everything for a bit of a life.

Slide the record out of the sleeve. 45 rpm.

Pop life.

November 13, 2016

Fizz, swizzle, bump.

Fizz, swizzle, bump.

The needle is stuck in the groove and though the song is over, the record never ends.

Fizz, swizzle, bump.

Fizz, swizzle, bump.

Fizz, swizzle, bump.

The fuzzy clicking signalled so much: the best of nights, too drunk, too tired, too happy to get up to switch the record player off. The start of love: too busy kissing, too busy undressing to pick the arm up and place it back in its cradle. The end of love: too unhappy to move, too miserable, the crackly repetition going round and round like your mind’s going round and round too, stuck in the groove of a dead affair.

Fizz, swizzle bump. Fizz, swizzle, bump. Fizz, swizzle, bump. Fizz, swizzle, bump. Fizz, swizzle, bump. Fizz, swizzle, bump.

Do you miss it?

But before the record ended, it had to begin. A warm, crackling hum beckoning you in to a new world, unheard, or heard and now possessed.

Let’s play.