Tuesday, 18 August 2009

The Power Of Independent Blogging

When I wrote the entry 3 or 4 weeks back about my first band `Age Of Berlin', it was largely to mark the occasion and get some of that nostalgia I am regularly plagued with out into the world. Certain significant dates in my life will always be there lurking in my memory, and will always be marked or remembered internally at least. There are many people I've met who place no value on what they did ten, twenty, thirty years ago, live for the day and take no delight in retracing old steps, but for me it is not only a source of quiet joy, it helps provide an understanding of how we all got to where we are now. It helps to make sense of things, and much amusement comes from memories of just how different things were back then.

The piece actually became a catalyst for some of the people from those days finding the motivation to get ourselves to the same place at the same time for 2-3 hours and spend a sunny afternoon reminiscing, jogging those memories and indeed seeing how we all turned out. So it was that last Sunday last I found myself in the Cleveland Bay Hotel in Redcar East, having hot-footed it up from Harrogate, anticipating the arrival of 3 friends who I hadn't seen for 10, 26 and 28 years respectively.

Rich Sanderson has lived more than half his life in London now, and was on a two week annual trip back to Teesside with his family, (he wasn't in Age Of Berlin, but his presence was felt at the time) the other two, Spib and Sandy, are in the North within striking distance, so it was the ideal opportunity to make it happen. They set it up, and I was happy to join them. Their histories together go back far further again than my mere thirty years, they formed their first band `Solaris' in 1974, so it was amusing to feel like the newcomer in their midst. The three have known each other since infant school, but had not all seen each other for some 17 years.

It was a special and affectionate 3 hours which only lifted the lid on detailed conversations which could have lasted days. I'm sure it won't be another 17 years before it happens again.

L-R Mark (Sandy) Sanderson, Mark (Spib) Spybey, Rich Sanderson

Saturday, 8 August 2009

Tunes I Never Tire Of #6: Public Image Ltd `Death Disco'

I am one of those music nuts for whom bands can lie dormant in the collection for long periods, only to bloom in all their glory once again, triggered by a single track, or a magazine article, becoming an obsession once again for a few weeks to the exclusion of just about everything else.

As I wrote my previous entry, I inevitably dug out a bit of PiL to refresh the senses. Here I am a couple of weeks later driving everyone in the house mad with `Careering' at 8 o'clock in the morning, and the criminally ignored and vastly superior single version of `Memories' for elevenses. It's one thing to catch up with a band via their recordings when their prime has slipped past (on account of not being born soon enough in the case of too many of the artists I love), but quite another to live through a band's development in real time, and between 15 in 1978, and 20 in 1983 when I left home, and they lost it, Public Image Ltd were one such band for me. Their debut single in late '78 had been a corker, and despite sniffy `king's new clothes' jibes from journos hell bent on hearing the Sex Pistols mkII, (yawn) the debut album acquitted itself pretty well, without being a masterpiece, it was certainly a statement of intent, and it certainly wasn't "goddam awful rock'n'roll either" as John Lydon would say.

However, nothing could prepare anybody for the shock of `Metal Box' as it slowly unfolded over the pivotal year of 1979 via advance singles and a couple of legendary TV appearances until it finally arrived as 3 x 12" 45's in a heavyweight film cannister towards the end of the year. It was £7.49 which I couldn't afford, so I taped it from the scary acquaintance who had once thumped me for liking Yes (see previous entry !). I eventually bought the LP version`Second Edition'. It wasn't the same, but at least it didn't turn to rust like the boxes apparently did, although that in itself was pretty cool really I suppose.

The calling card was `Death Disco' which emerged in the summer. A true cacophony was the only word for it. When I first heard it I wasn't sure if it was the worst thing I'd ever heard or the best, but I had to have it. The incredible thing about it was that it was played on daytime radio. Imagine that ! I don't think many of the poptastic DJ's of the time greeted it with anything other than indifference or incredulity, but played it certainly was. It reached the Top 20 ! Economics dictated that it was the 7" single I bought, which came in a scary picture cover with, strangely, the slot to get the single out at the bottom of the sleeve rather than the top. I never knew if this was deliberate or not.

There had been chart songs before about dying (the sickly sentimental `Seasons In The Sun', the comic strip `Leader Of The Pack' or `Tell Laura I Love Her') but nothing like this. This was a catharsis of stark, honest, harrowing reality as John Lydon lost his mother to cancer. "Watch her slowly die, sorry in her eyes. Choking on a bed, flowers rotting dead"; to a disco beat, with a bastardisation of `Swan Lake' as the guitar theme ! For sheer subversion it must be the greatest thing ever seen on `Top Of The Pops'. What a glorious racket, and note Jah Wobble's frankly deranged grinning throughout. These people were genuinely frightening.

Check It Out here:

P.S. Speaking of `Check It Out', PiL's July 1979 appearance on the dismal Tyne Tees `yoof' programme of the same name, is possibly my TV highlight of all time. My brother and I watched in awe (twice !), in the pre-VCR days, my Mum was less than impressed. Most of it is viewable across these two links, although neither are complete despite claims to the contrary.


The hapless berk with the `Sid The Sexist' hair arrangements is one Chris Cowey, who rightly disappeared into obscurity very shortly after this farce. Hang on, no he didn't, he became the producer of `Top Of The Pops'. You couldn't make it up...

For the full story/transcript behind events which led to what you see here, have a read of this from the magnificently authoratative `Fodderstompf' PiL fansite.

PPS: A couple of years ago I was down in London to see Van Der Graaf Generator with my friend Russell. I was in the midst of my last major PiL `phase' and had been hammering `Death Disco' having discovered the full 10 minute take which had just been issued. Being a cheery sort of soul, who knows how to show somebody a good time, Russell suggested a walk in the enormous cemetry between Archway and East Finchley in North London. As we ambled along chatting I was somewhat stunned, when out of thousands and thousands of graves I came across this one quite by chance: "In Loving Memory of Eileen Lydon. Wife and Mother. Sadly Missed".

Life can sometimes floor you.