Friday, 15 November 2013

REWIND: Musical Memories from 1994

(Continued from HERE: Musical Memories from 1984 - 1993)

You can only like what you know, and you can only know what you hear. Most of what I heard up until 1994 was complete and utter tosh. But if you're lucky enough to hear a good amount of truly great music at the right point in your life, then you'll realise that the stuff you'd heard before was rubbish. That's how music fans acquire standards. And that's how I dumped Meatloaf and got on board with Bowie. I made the right choice. A life changing choice. And my passion for the great music I'm lucky enough to have experienced is why I have since devoted most of my life to it in one way or another. I can safely say that if I didn't wake up to Bowie and The Beatles, or if I grew up with the chart music of a few years earlier or a few years later, then I'd have grown up with only a casual passing interest in music, and it would have been shit music too. 

I remember my Mum owning a tape of the 'Changesbowie' compilation and the music was an absolute revelation for me. The way this man continued to innovate and constantly reinvent himself over the years was fascinating, and these irresistible, diverse songs were in a different league anything I had heard before. It was at this point 'Under Pressure' became a David Bowie And Queen song rather than Queen And David Bowie. The local library rented out cassettes and every week I would ask my Mum to rent a different tape out, and if i liked it I would record it. One of the first times I did this was with a few Bowie albums borrowed from the library. One such album was 'The Singles Collection'. The first tape of the 2 tape set was easily the best thing I had EVER heard.


There was a VHS version of 'The Singles Collection', which contained all of Bowie's classic promo videos. A copy of it was loaned to me by my Dad's mate John Hanson, who I have mentioned in previous columns. Me and my brother became good friends with John's son Wilf, and on various days out I'd hear some incredible music on John's car stereo. It was him who got me even more into Bowie (soon to be obsessed), him who played me Radiohead for the first time ('Creep' was an in-car singalong for the four of us) and it was him who would introduce me to the music of a certain band who were going to change my life forever. But getting into Bowie was the beginning of a new era for me. This led to me buying what I think was my first record. And by my 'first' I mean the first record that wasn't bought for me as a present, or recorded onto a blank tape. As far as I remember the first thing I bought for myself was the 7" picture disc of Bowie's 'Fame 90'... Prior to this all the music I owned was either taped from my parents collections or bought for me as presents...


This was followed by me borrowing various Bowie albums from the local libraries and recording my own copies onto C90 cassette tapes. Of course the one that stood out most back then was ‘Ziggy Stardust’, a completely and utterly thrilling album with an eternal place in history. The electrifying glam anthems seemed to immediately embed themselves in my mind, while the more subtle moments taught me how to listen to music in a more thoughtful way and appreciate it on an emotional level. It was so good that after I heard it, music was always going to be my favourite thing. These songs made me feel so overwhelmed by their power that they made me start hearing things in a different way. After that, I began sitting downstairs in front of the hi fi with the headphones on, listening to my Mum’s vinyl copies of ‘Hunky Dory’, ‘Aladdin Sane’ and ‘Diamond Dogs’. But perhaps back in the 90?s I was too young to really understand what those albums were about and where they were coming from musically, not to mention lyrically. Perhaps back then, the familiar hits were having such an effect on me that I wasn’t really listening properly to everything else. Plus back then his most recent album was ‘Black Tie White Noise’, which I found to be rather boring at the time and nowhere near as thrilling as the Bowie I knew and loved. I think differently of it now though.

Meanwhile, school life usually consisted of making up rude or silly alternative lyrics to songs sung in our school assemblies, such as 'Yellow Submarine' being altered to 'Mouldy Tangerine'. Quite why, I don't know. I don't think any of us ever did. But playing the biggest musical part in my primary school life was the legendary Miss Drinkwater who wowed the class by being able to play acoustic guitar (at this point we felt like we were in the presence of a rock star... she could play guitar just like a famous person in a band could!). I soon joined her lunchtime guitar lessons but didn't get far because I was too keen on trying to play rock music instead of the "boring" basic stuff I was supposed to master at that level. But even though she tried to teach us the simple stuff first, she was definitely rock n' roll at heart. 'Yellow Submarine' being sung by the whole school in morning assembly was strange enough, but 'The Continuing Story From Bungalow Bill' being used as music for our interpretive dance classes? We were only 9 years old! Miss Drinkwater is probably in her 60s or 70s now, and I'd love to meet her to say thank you for being my favourite teacher in primary school as well as for warping our minds with material from 'The White Album'... 

By early 1994 I had discovered the joys of Bowie and The Beatles after my early childhood was spent listening to dodgy stuff like Meatloaf and Erasure. But liking a couple of great artists and not liking a few bad ones doesn't fully establish your taste, it just lays the foundations. What I needed was a scene to happen. A classic era of great artists that would change my life forever and set the standard for everything that was to come. In early 1994, that hadn't quite happened yet. I know this because D:Ream were top of the charts with 'Things Can Only Get Better'. That's not some sort of reference to the fact that the title of that song applied to my musical tastes and the state of the mainstream at that point. I mention it because of the fact that I was one of the people that took that song to number one. Not the best of tunes, but also not as bad as some of the horrors I listened to previously (see my 1992 and 1993 entries HERE).


John Hanson was one of my Dad's friends, and me and my brother often used to go out on day trips with him and his son Wilf. I have great memories of those days, the laughs we used to have, and the brilliant music John would have on in the car. That's where I first heard Julian Cope and Jeff Buckley's 'Grace' album. He also played a lot of music by a singer called Matthew Sweet, one of Mick Jagger's solo albums and more importantly an Essex band called BlurThey had released an excellent album called 'Modern Life Is Rubbish', and something about these songs struck me. It was smart, intelligent and very catchy indeed. Every note appealed to me in a major way, and I was fully aware what I was hearing was a work of genius. I remember being so impressed I asked John to record me a copy onto tape, with tracks from Blur's first album 'Leisure' on side two. I didn't know it at the time, but lots of others were also discovering how awesome this band were, and something was beginning to happen. Something that would soon change the direction of popular music and inspire a generation of people to form bands...

About the same time my dad was working as a bar manager at a pub in Bowerhill, Melksham and the owner of this pub had offered him the chance to manage one of his other establishments. Bentley's was originally a sports and social club but with the bar bringing in many different types of Corsham people, it had become more of a pub by day. But with Bath's nightclub's being near, a lot of clubbers were going to Bentley's to begin the night before moving on to the big clubs. Seeing a potential to attract a younger crowd, my dad had started to hire DJs every Friday and Saturday, and instantly the place seemed more vibrant. This seemed pretty cool, my Dad running a nightclub. "One day maybe I could be a DJ there" I thought. That actually ended up happening sooner than I expected. But not in 1994. 

1994 was the year I first encountered the music of The Pogues. My Dad had been to a gig at The Bear in Melksham, which back then used to host gigs by local bands, and seemed somewhat overwhelmed by a band called The Boys From County Hell who he'd seen that night. Attempting to describe their sound to me he explained that they were heavily influenced by a group called The Pogues. Being unaware of this band's music I soon bought a cassette copy of their 'Best Of' album, and became immediately engrossed in the songs. Lyrically this stuff was rawer and darker than anything I had heard before, and I was somewhat surprised my parents let me listen to songs about some poor soul getting pissed and ending up being "spat on and shat on, and raped and abused" while having to sleep rough. 

But my Mum and Dad knew the songs were amazing, and knew that one day I'd be mature enough to fully understand the meanings of Shane MacGowan's lyrics. But I certainly enjoyed those words back then, particularly the brilliant 'Rain Street', which had a verse that ran: "I gave my love a late night kiss, I tried to take a late night piss, but the toilet moved so again I missed...". Genius. There was also something extremely appealing about the rough edged and enjoyably shambolic vocals. It was far, far away from being squeaky clean, that's for sure. But as well as the dark, raucous and dirty side of their music, there were more reflective moments blessed with humble romance and an enchanting melodic magic, such as the outstanding and truly moving 'A Rainy Night In Soho'. The slow songs were ideal for mass singalongs and so were the uptempo numbers, but one thing was also certain: all these songs were perfect for pub jukeboxes and getting pissed seemed to go hand in hand with the music. Of course being 10 years old, I didn't yet know what being under the influence of alcohol was like. I had a feeling that when I was old enough to be getting drunk, I'd probably be doing it while listening to The Pogues. And I was right. 


But mind you, one of the things that prevented me from ever being an alcoholic was seeing the state MacGowan got himself into and deciding that it probably wasn't a good way to be. At that point in 1994 The Pogues were without MacGowan, who had been sacked for his constant drunken misbehaviour and was now releasing solo records with his backing band The Popes. It would be many years before I'd see a reunited classic Pogues line-up play live, but that Boys From County Hell group would soon be providing me with a more than satisfactory alternative. Another group from the past who I became interested in that year were Led Zeppelin. After hearing 'Stairway To Heaven' voted the greatest song of all time during a week-long Top 500 countdown on local station GWR FM, I noticed that my Mum owned two of the band's albums on vinyl. It was also around the time that Robert Plant and Jimmy Page had reunited for an acoustic MTV 'Unplugged' show, the resulting 'Unledded' album being something that I was bought as a birthday present. 'Gallow's Pole' was my favourite.

Because of the location of my Dad's club near a block of flats for the elderly, they were refused a late licence. But it was more of a pre-nightclub place where people from Corsham would start the night at before moving on to the bigger clubs that opened till the early hours of the morning. But even though the DJ sets there consisted of mainly commercial dance music, it was something I took an interest in. I liked the idea of being a DJ. The sound of the clubs appealed to me as well, and the light displays and sheer vibrancy of the dancefloor was something that I wanted a piece of. Away from the commercial side of things, there was some incredible stuff going on in the world of dance music, with Orbital, Leftfield and The Orb all at their peak. Coming to think of it, later that year I bought my Dad a copy of The Orb's 'Little Fluffy Clouds' single on tape as a Christmas present. Of course, I probably ended up playing it more than he did. At another point I also hired out a copy of their bizarre 'Pomme Fritz' album from the library, an utterly baffling record for any ten year old to encounter. But it was the house music and club anthems that soon became my sounds of choice over the following year, since I thought that they would make me the sort of DJ that I wanted to be at that point.


It was late in 1994 when I heard Oasis for the first time. These refreshingly no-nonsense northerners reminded me of a modern day Beatles, lots of beautiful melodies with an exciting rough edge. They seemed more serious than Blur, and certainly seemed to be coming from a different place musically. I didn't know it at the time but two equally cool exciting bands and a few others coming along at the same time makes a scene, and that scene was to become Britpop. Even if Blur, Oasis and Suede were all completely different musically and stylistically, it became obvious that Britain was producing some phenomenally good bands, and a golden age had begun. I bought a cassette from Woolworths in Chippenham, the Oasis single 'Whatever'. At that point I hadn't even heard their previous four singles, but there was something majestic about this song. An absolutely joyous encapsulation of the giddy excitement that the mid 90's held. The b side 'It's Good To Be Free' was a rattling, electrifying contrast that revealed to me the band's swaggering attitude. It certainly wasn't to be the last Oasis single I ever bought... Another hugely significant group had stepped in to my life, and things were never quite the same again. 

And with Britpop rising, and a number of students frequenting the club, my Dad saw an opportunity to attract this growing indie crowd. So a student night was organised, although I can only ever remember two of them taking place. One was an amazing indie disco night, where I fell in love with 'Fools Gold', 'Loaded' and 'Blue Monday'. The other student night I remember well involved a live band, who played that Oasis song that I loved, plus other stuff that I'd probably recognise now.

A 1992 Radio 1 Roadshow and watching a covers band at a rugby club bar were not things that I could really class as my first gigs. Especially after learning that my mum and dad had once been to see Slade. As well as spending most of his time behind a bar, my Dad would frequently visit other clubs and pubs, sometimes going out to seek out local musicians that he thought might be able to attract crowds to his own club. One day I remember him picking us up from school and enthusiastically raving about a band that he had seen the previous night at The Bear in Melksham. Have I mentioned this in a previous column? I think I have, because it was also the moment that I became alerted to The Pogues, a group that my Dad said were similar to the one that he had seen the night before. They were a lively six piece band from Calne who went by the name of The Boys From County Hell, and rabble-rousing folk songs were their speciality. Impressed with their ability to rouse a crowd, my dad booked them to play Bentley's. They did two gigs there, and from what I can remember the first was in 1994. I'd become familiar with their songs after listening to their demo tape titled 'What'll Ya Have?', but hearing them live absolutely thrilled me.

They were more than just a Pogues tribute act though, even though on the surface there were obvious stylistic similarities. The biggest difference was the style of the lyrics, which weren't as history-tinged or politically poetic as MacGowan's. The stories that the Boys sang of were more concerned with bar brawls, rowdy antics on sea ferries, sex with New York prostitutes, and their never-understated fondness for a pint. Complete with a raucous kazoo solo, 'Face Only A Mother Could Love' was about "going to bed with Pamela Anderson and waking up with Bet Lynch (from Coronation Street)", while 'The Card Game' concerned a game of pub poker that descends into drunken warfare. After a priest enters the scene, someone knocks his pint over, and "Father Flynn" grabs the culprit "by the balls". Then comes the priceless line: "So Father Flynn he jumped in to stop the fighting session, and with every punch he threw he said "I'll see you in confession..."". 'Drinking Man' was about a guy called Micky, who loved the booze so much that because alcohol wasn't allowed beyond the pearly gates, he chose to spend his afterlife in hell instead. 

Their storming rendition of the traditional 'Jesse James' was miles better than the one The Pogues did, and plenty of MacGowan and co's numbers would also be included in the set, 'Streams Of Whiskey', 'Waxie's Dargle' and 'Sally Maclennane' to name a few. In hindsight, they could have done with less cover versions and more of their own hugely enjoyable material. But I didn't care about that when I was excitedly watching them play. All the songs would often be punctuated with cries of "come on you bastards!", and there can't have been many (or in fact any) there that weren't enjoying themselves. After the gig the singer Dave Mehaffy gave me one of his old tin whistles, in fact the same one used on their recorded version of 'Jesse James'. Don't have it any more though. What I do still have is a BFCH t shirt, an excellent memento from my first proper gig. 

They played there a second time not long after, when the guitarist was wheelchair bound after falling down the stairs pissed the night before... a few years ago it was revealed to me that in return for playing the band were offered either their usual cash fee or a night of free drink. They opted for the latter, as a supposedly "cheaper" option for the club. However, by the end of the night the entertaining drunkards had consumed three times the amount in drink than was intended, working out not so profitable for the club. The band managed to pack the venue out on both occasions, so soon my Dad was aiming to book other high-standard acts... and the best he could follow that with? West Country crooner Fred Wedlock, that's who.... and I WASN'T in attendance at that one.... 

As Christmas 1994 arrived, East 17 were at number one with 'Stay Another Day', and some of my presents that year were cassette copies of greatest hits albums by The Beautiful South and Bon Jovi. One of those bands I absolutely cringe at now. See if you can guess which one. 

Next time I'm going to be moving into 1995, an absolutely glorious year...

(continues HERE)

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