I sometimes tweet clippings from my Sounds magazine archives, and recently posted a piece from 13/5/78 featuring “the woefully under-rated Newcastle post-punk band, Punishment of Luxury.” At the time, I loved Punilux and their unique, idiosyncratic quirkiness. Their imaginative soundscape melded punk with elements of proggier rock, underpinned by wonderful lyrical imagery, delivered in a manic performance style alluding to their origins in English fringe theatre. A semi-autobiographical novel I wrote in 2009, featuring my personal experiences of psych wards and the post-punk music that coaxed me back towards stable mental health, was entitled ‘BrainBomb’ (after a frenetic Punilux B-side).
This led to various exchanges on Twitter, not least getting introduced to Gary Alikivi, a North East English filmmaker/photographer. After explaining about the influence of Punilux on my writing, Gary was kind enough to share some links to his excellent website. The many eclectic projects documented include captivating photo archives documenting life on South Tyneside and interviews with authors like John Orton, whose 2022 novel He Wears a Blue Bonnet, set after Cromwell’s victory over a Scottish army at the Battle of Dunbar, gives insight into how POWs were treated in 1650 (many were sent to the New World colonies but 40 survived the notorious Death March over the border, arriving in ‘South Sheels’ to work in the salt panns).
Another interview was with artist Peter Dixon and writer/poet Keith Armstrong, who co-founded Northern Voices Community Projects in 1986 “to give people who are denied a voice a platform to express their views and experiences of living in the North East.” Keith has been a prolific writer celebrating everyday life in Northumbria, while Peter’s striking work caught my eye because he is the graphic designer behind some of Punilux’s seminal single and album covers. Peter got involved with the band after designing background scenery for The Mad Bongo Theatre Company led to singer Brian Bond making contact. He went on to meet Neville Luxury (guitar, vocals) and drummer Red Helmet. Their debut single ‘Puppet Life’ (Small Wonder 1978) was reviewed in Sounds by none other than Bowie and Marc Bolan’s producer Tony Visconti, who described Peter’s sleeve as sick (in that adjective’s original rather than contemporary context!)
‘Puppet Life’ was reviewed in Sounds by none other than Bowie and Bolan’s producer Tony Visconti, who described Peter Dixon’s sleeve as sick (in that adjective’s original rather than contemporary context!)
Gary’s website covers and extensive range of articles he has blogged about the film, music, culture and social history of North East England. He waxes lyrical about potency of music for uplifting spirit (a theme running through my own work like the legend inside a stick of Blackpool or Spanish City rock). “The adrenalin rush of the thunderclap from Icelandic football fans. The guitar intro to Alternative Ulster by Stiff Little Fingers. Kurt Cobain’s anger on the Nirvana anthem Smells Like Teen Spirit.”
Particularly impressive is his photography. Included is an archive of nearly 2,000 photos displayed on the South Tyneside History website, including Haven Point, Mill Dam, The Word, Seafront, Holborn, Market, North Marine Park, and many more. These arresting images highlight the ever-evolving face of South Tyneside over the decade from 2010-2020. You can easily lose yourself for a while as you head down a mesmerising rabbit hole of everything from ancient shipwrecks and the North Sea churning off Sandhaven to more prosaic shots of architectural renovations. This site is well worth bookmarking.
Keith Armstrong website: http://keithyboyarmstrong.blogspot.com/
Peter Dixon website: https://www.peterdixonart.com/
Gary Alikivi website: https://garyalikivi.com/
YouTube Channel: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCkW7F_6t-GNVMCYLT4BNHfg
Interview with Peter and Keith: https://garyalikivi.com/2019/05/15/pressing-issues-with-peter-dixon-keith-armstrong/
The power of music: https://garyalikivi.com/2018/10/25/sounds-alive-and-the-power-of-music/
I came across a recent Twitter post by Marc Riley, formerly of The Fall. He’d retweeted a link to a Guardian article by Daniel Dylan Wray, entitled Bring that beat back: why are people in their 30s giving up on music?, questioning why so many of his friends preferred wallowing in nostalgia to listening to new music.
Marc is one of my favourite R6 DJs because he so effortlessly balances playing classics (everything from Bowie to Beefheart) to championing new acts. Earlier this year, his show’s opening tracks featured Iggy Pop and The Stooges seminal proto-punk anthem ‘TV Eye’ from 1970’s Funhouse segueing into 2021 psychedelic punk gem ‘I, Moron,’ by The Lovely Eggs from Lancaster, on which Iggy provides backing vocals. As R6 DJ and fellow Man City fan Mark Radcliffe once stated: “Never get too old to listen to something new!”
Wire, who were playing post-punk music long before most of their contemporaries were even punk bands, have released 17 studio albums in 45 years, the most recent Mind/Hive, being released on their PinkFlag label in 2020. Throughout their eclectic career they have steadfastly refused to rely on past glories. If you want to hear them play '12XU' you'll have to dig out their first album, the B-side of their debut single 'Mannequin,' or the compilation album, The Roxy London WC2.
Noel Gallagher has castigated Radiohead for experimenting with 'difficult' electronic soundscapes rather than playing variations of 'Creep,' and Harry Styles for releasing songs without writing middle eights for them. UK Subs, 999, Chelsea, Stiff Little Fingers, The Stranglers, and many other names recognisable to anyone who bought Sounds magazine in the late 1970s are still drawing crowds at 'punk festivals' in the 2020s. Roxy Music are embarking on their 50th anniversary tour later this year. And can you imagine a world where The Rolling Stones stop touring? The potency of nostalgia is a constant.
But surely one of the most incredible aspects of music is whether based on Western music's octaves of eight, seven-note scales (typical of Middle Eastern music) or pentatonic scales of five (traditional Chinese music), there are finite notes available. Yet this source material has allowed the creation of everything from Beethoven to The Beatles to Bowie to whatever song is currently bobbing around someone's head at this precise moment prior to being jammed, fine-tuned, then recorded at some point in the future.
Another post-punk legend, Mark E Smith, once put it to a heckler on The Fall's seminal live album Totale's Turns (Rough Trade, 1980): "Are you doing what you did two years ago? Yeah? Well, don't make a career out of it." So many performers have achieved career longevity by doing just that.
There will always be a place for nostalgia, but it's moving on and exploring the possibilities that ensure music remains so vital to the human spirit. What I love about BBC Radio 6, whether you're listening to Marc Riley, Mary Anne Hobbs, Steve Lamacq, Lauren Laverne, Iggy Pop, Tom Robinson, Craig Charles, Guy Garvey, The Blessed Madonna, Stuart Maconie et al, is that you are just as likely to hear something you've never heard before, but which might just blow your mind, as a track you're hearing for the Nth time. (Although listening to Captain Sensible's incendiary bassline introing 'Neat Neat Neat' on Craig Charles' 'trunk of punk' will always lift the spirits, Nth time or not.)
Difficult or catchy; rock or dance, here's just a snippet of the many acts I've been introduced to by this essential radio station:
Warmduscher, White Denim, Fat White Family, David Holmes, Floating Points, Crows, Life, Shame, Wesley Gonzalez, Ghost Power, Tame Impala, Father John Misty, Arlo Parks, Cat Power, Mattiel, Lucy Dacus, The Big Moon, Big Thief, Flossing, Courting, Simian Mobile Disco, Japanese Television, Unknown Mortal Orchestra, M83, B.C. Camplight, Broken Social Scene, Working Men's Club, NewDad, Anna Calvi, Anna B Savage, Anna Phoebe, Kelly Lee Owens, Thundercat, Porij, Porridge Radio, St. Vincent, Teleman, Jane Weaver, unloved, The Lipschitz, Bessie Turner, The Bug Club, Yot Club, Jon Hopkins, Katy J Pearson, Pale Blue Eyes, The Oh Sees, Animal Collective, LoneLady, Max Cooper, Mitski, Yard Act, Wet Leg, English Teacher, Dry Cleaning, Penelope Isles, Sharon Van Etten, Sports Team, Metronomy, Port Sulphur ...
Music is the most subjective artform of all, and musicians will always be compelled to consider fresh ways to express themselves, through innovative variations of those stock eight(ish) notes. That list in the previous paragraph. As the late, great Mark Hollis of Talk Talk sang in 'It's My Life' ... It Never Ends ...
Happy 52nd birthday to Andy Bell of shoegazing pioneers, Ride. To the early 90s music press, 'shoegaze' described a fusion of poppy harmonies and lacerating riffs (still influencing the likes of Mogwai.) Here are three classics of the genre.
RIDE: Leave them all Behind (1992)
Although founder-member and guitarist Andy Bell has stated a performance by The Smiths provided the inspiration for forming Ride in 1988, their music went on a vastly different trajectory. The classic Byrds-esque harmonies were there in abundance, but Johnny Marr’s chiming guitar arpeggios were replaced by one of the singular absences in his style: power chords. In full flow, Ride were capable of conjuring a ferocious wall of noise to rival any metal band.
By the early 90s a support slot with Scottish baggies The Soup Dragons had brought them to the attention of one Alan McGee, and they were signed to his Creation label. Their debut album ‘Nowhere,’ released in October 1990, was hailed by Rolling Stone magazine as ‘a masterpiece.’ Befitting the looming wave on its cover, it dense songs saw them pigeon-holed into the burgeoning ‘shoegaze’ scene – an offshoot of alternative rock characterised by ear-bleeding riffs and layers of psychedelic guitar, propelled by a dizzying array of effects pedals.
My Bloody Valentine had provided the template for this style a while earlier, but Ride rode the crest of the shoegazing wave into the new decade (much as they resented the term themselves.) Their second album, ‘Going Blank Again,’ released in 1992, consolidated elements of their potent debut, but injected the overall sound with poppier sensibilities. Some tracks – ‘Mouse Trap,’ ‘Time of Her Hand,’ ‘Not Fazed’ or ‘Twisterella’ - were bouncy enough to encroach on the territory of label-mates Teenage Fanclub. But the opener, ‘Leave Them All Behind,’ released as a single that reached number 9 in the charts, is a shoegazing classic.
Clocking in at 8 minutes 17 seconds, it was ranked 273 in the NME’s Top 500 Greatest Songs of All Time. After the seductive intro of Steve Queralt’s bass, Loz Golbert strikes the drum cue for the twin guitars of Mark Gardener and Andy Bell to gatecrash any hint of something mellower than ‘Nowhere.’ From that point the track ebbs and flows like the swelling seas pictured on their debut album cover, heading towards a blistering crescendo, the vocals intoning: “I don't care about the colours/I don't care about the light/I don't care about the truth.” After a glorious wah-wah solo, the guitars thunder towards the finale, like that ‘Nowhere’ wave finally cresting and crashing onto a shore.
Within a couple of years, Ride lost their direction, grunge arrived from the US and a further Creation signing, Oasis, heralded Britpop. Ride have reformed a couple of times and continue producing interesting material, but it’s the shoegazing majesty of their early songs, epitomised by ‘Leave Them All Behind’ that truly resonates.
After a glorious wah-wah solo, the guitars thunder towards the finale, like that ‘Nowhere’ wave finally crashing onto a shore.
SLOWDIVE: Shine (1992)
Named after a single by Siouxsie and The Banshees, Slowdive were a mellower shoegazing proposition than Ride’s guitar-heavy dissonance. They were formed in 1989 by Rachel Goswell and Neail Halstead, who had jammed together since the age of 6 through various youth groups. In adult life, Goswell, now influenced by Iggy Pop, Joni Mitchell and Siouxsie Sioux, and Halstead, embraced the sonic tumult of the shoegazing scene.
Slowdive's self-titled debut EP, released in November 1990, received critical praise. By the following year, they had convinced Creation boss Alan McGee they had enough material for a debut album. Although they didn’t. Hurriedly writing songs, they eventually recorded ‘Just For A Day.’ Brian Eno was impressed enough by their ambient vibe to agree to collaborate with them during the sessions for the follow-up album ‘Souvlaki.’ But they suffered when the music press rounded on shoegaze. Their beautiful and ethereal output, at times reminiscent of the sublime Cocteau Twins, was unfairly labelled dull and dated by journos eager to extol the catchier virtues of up-and-coming Suede and the nascent Britpop scene. A Melody Maker reviewer wrote he’d “rather drown choking in a bath full of porridge than ever listen to Souvlaki again.”
Stuart Braithwaite, of Scottish post-rock band Mogwai, who had far more in common with Slowdive than the Britpop bands who copied the same retrospective Merseybeat template: “There is a lovely moral in the fact that Melody Maker’s crumbled but Slowdive are playing to thousands of people a night. I think that’s the good guys winning for once.”
‘Shine,’ the b-side of their first single ‘Catch the Breeze,’ is a highlight of Slowdive’s mesmerising output, 5 minutes 23 seconds of beautiful, shimmering dream pop, Goswell’s translucent voice intoning a plaintive two-note melody.
Slowdive are still writing and performing their captivating music.
Stuart Braithwaite (Mogwai): There is a lovely moral in the fact that Melody Maker’s crumbled but Slowdive are playing to thousands of people a night. I think that’s the good guys winning for once.
NOTHING: Dig (2013)
Nothing, from Philadelphia, are an alt rock band whose 2014 debut album, ‘Guilty of Everything’ drew comparisons with everyone from My Bloody Valentine to Smashing Pumpkins. The shoegaze elements are certainly present and correct – towering, distorted guitars, soaring falsettos and snare-heavy percussion. Stephen Carlick of online review site Exclaim! said: "Nothing evoke Slowdive’s biggest moments, albeit with more passion."
Nothing are so much more interesting than a sum of their many influences. Actually, they are fortunate to be anything at all. Founder Dominic ‘Nicky’ Palermo grew up in the crack-addled Kensington neighbourhood of Philadelphia. While playing in hardcore band Horror Show he got in a fight with a rival crew and stabbed somebody, receiving a two-year jail sentence for aggravated assault and attempted murder. In May 2015, he was set upon by muggers after Nothing gigged in Oakland, leaving him with a fractured skull and eye socket. While making the band's third album, ‘Dance On The Blacktop,’ he was diagnosed with likely Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy, a degenerative brain disease that can only be fully confirmed post-mortem.
Nothing’s dense but deeply touching sound can’t be heard outwith the context of Palermo’s titanic stuggles against adversity.
Pitchfork’s Ian Cohen has described Nothing as "loud, distorted and heavy, but not aggressive.” The sleeve of their first LP Guilty of Everything is reminiscent of English post-punk veterans Wire’s stunning Pink Flag debut, although the banner in this case is white. In 2015 a special vinyl edition was released, featuring the flag altered to rainbow colours, with 50 cents from each purchase going to the LGBT+ charities New Alternatives (an organisation dedicated to helping homeless LGBT+ youth in New York City) and the It Gets Better Project, empowering LGBT+ youth.
Nothing’s dense but deeply touching sound can’t be heard outwith the context of Palermo’s titanic stuggles against adversity. ‘Dig,’ their first single, sounds like a heavier version of The War On Drugs. (A video for another track, ‘Bent Nail,’ featured a cameo by former WOD guitarist Kurt Vile.) It’s an excellent showcase of the foreboding sound of Nothing.
When Two Sevens Clash: Andrew Watson's gripping coming-of-age novel, set in the eye of the storm of 1977’s punk revolution
2022. Our oxymoronic ‘United’ Kingdom celebrated Queen Elizabeth’s Platinum Jubilee (the street parties held in many areas conspicuous by their absence in others.) The backdrop to Andrew Watson’s joyride of a novel When Two Sevens Clash, originally published in September 2018, is the Silver Jubilee that similarly polarised the nation in 1977. On the 45th anniversary of the Sex Pistols' inflammatory single, 'God Save the Queen,' let’s turn the clock back.
Decades before alleged relationships with trafficked underage girls, Prince Andrew is second-in-line to the throne and supposedly Her Majesty’s favourite. As an institution, the monarchy is embedded in British public life. Against this backdrop of bunting-festooned streets a cultural tsunami has been gathering pace since the tail end of the previous year.
In December 1976, Britain’s first ‘punk rock’ records were released. The Damned’s ‘New Rose’ was followed by the more incendiary ‘Anarchy in the UK’ by The Sex Pistols. Although the latter were dropped by their record company, EMI in the wake of a shambolic interview by Bill Grundy on Thames Television, this sealed rather than impeded the Pistols position in the cultural zeitgeist. Proto-punk may have been making waves across the Atlantic for considerable time, courtesy of Iggy Pop and The Stooges, New York Dolls, and The Ramones et al, but now the UK tabloids could delight in sensationalising this teenage craze manifesting in Blighty.
While 1977’s punk revolution never threatened to topple the nation’s pop darlings from pole position (Cliff Richard, Boney M, Fleetwood Mac, and Barry Manilow remained the bestselling artists by far), it did herald a significant moment in British pop culture. That new bands are still labelled ‘post punk’ is testament to the enduring influence of that initial detonation.
The singer was like one of those blokes ranting at Speaker’s Corner and he sounded like he came from London. And the stuff he was going on about: getting what you want, shopping schemes, council tenancies. It was out of this world but it was very much of this world; it made no sense but it made complete sense; it was wonderful.
Many captivating histories, biographies, semi-autobiographies, and novels have described punk’s impact. John Robb’s Punk Rock: An Oral History, Jon Savage’s England’s Dreaming, John Lydon’s Rotten: No Irish, No Blacks, No Dogs. Eve Libertine’s Clothes, Clothes, Clothes. Music, Music, Music. Boys, Boys, Boys. John King’s Human Punk. There are many more. When Two Sevens Clash is a worthy addition, a novel based on the first-hand experiences of an impressionable youth ripe for the Damascene moment of being drawn into the nascent punk scene.
A 15-year-old from a tower block on an East London housing estate, Billy Monson is poised on the cusp of so many of life’s challenges. He is in his final school year, exams looming that will decide whether he might follow his father into the local biscuit factory or get an office job. (In 1977 only one-in-seven went on to further education, as opposed to today’s one-in-three.) Family life is fractious. After his mother’s death, he doesn’t always get on with his father, especially when a new girlfriend, the Elvis-loving Shirley ‘twinset’ appears on the scene. His wayward sister Deborah’s boyfriend, Mole is also far from trustworthy. Bullies prowl the playground, the estate, and the local football ground, their lumpen violence often an extension of moronic far-right political persuasions. (In the 1977 Greater London Council election, the neofascist National Front were the fourth-largest party, gaining 5.3% of the vote.)
Monson seeks solace in reading (George Orwell’s 1984), and listening to his David Bowie LPs. Snapshotting 1977 - Monson’s ‘annus mirabilis/horribilis’ - each chapter is a chronological monthly progression. A cathartic moment occurs in January when best mate Kev plays him a single he’s just bought by The Sex Pistols, “the punk rock group that swore on the local news before Christmas.” This is described thus. “A crash of deafening guitar, a roll of thundering drums and a threatening voice intoning, Right, now! followed by a demonic cackle. The singer started saying he was an anti-Christ and an anarchist and that he wanted to destroy passers-by … and he kept saying he wanted to be anarchy and then he listed things I heard on the news, like MPLA, UDA, IRA, and then he mentioned the NME and then he said he wanted to get pissed and then it all came to a shuddering and chaotic end.”
Billy is transfixed. “Excitement. That was the feeling Kev’s record had given me. I had never heard anything like it. It was out of control. The singer was like one of those blokes ranting at Speaker’s Corner and he sounded like he came from London. And the stuff he was going on about: getting what you want, shopping schemes, council tenancies. It was out of this world but it was very much of this world; it made no sense but it made complete sense; it was wonderful.”
He watches a TV documentary featuring an interview with The Clash. “The youngest one in the band (Simenon) said the school he went to was no good and the kids learnt nothing … most of his mates were working in factories and he looked angry and sad as he said it. A light had come on in my head; not a light, more an illuminate sign. What the sign said was unclear – the letters were blurred – but it was there and was shining brightly.”
Monson succumbs to this light’s allure, getting his hair shorn, ditching ubiquitous flares for straight-legged trousers, customising his shirts with spray-painted and marker pen slogans and band names. In April he travels to a youth club out in the suburbs, in Bromley in Essex.
“I knew two good things about Bromley. It was where David Bowie grew up. Secondly, I had read in Sounds about a goup of people called the Bromley Contingent who were the first fans of the Sex Pistols.” In between ‘Play That Funky Music’ and Rose Royce, he pogos to the Pistols with mates Kev and Lorraine, only to be forced to leg it from punk bashers. On the last day of the Easter Holidays before going back to school he sneaks out to a punk club where X-Ray Spex are headlining. “The guitars were fast and loud and the saxophone wailed at the same speed. I was used to hearing saxophones on Bowie’s records but they never sounded like this. It was wonderful.”
Punk has so often been described through the prism of England’s art scene of the mid-to-late 1970s, with Vivienne Westwood waxing lyrical about outlandish fashion trends for aspirational outsiders. Watson’s semi-autobiographical approach tells of a demographic far more ripe for its DIY ethos of customising clothes, learning three chords/starting a band, opposing racism and sexism: disaffected kids from inner city housing estates.
There is the thrilling backdrop of collecting inspirational new singles. “I had bought the Sex Pistols’ ‘Pretty Vacant’ and ‘Sheena is a Punk Rocker’ by The Ramones, but it was the singles I had by small groups like The Users, The Cortinas and The Adverts that really excited me.” He is also galvanised by literature giving ‘angry young men’ from working class England a voice, like Allan Sillitoe’s The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner and Saturday Night and Sunday Morning.
Later that summer he finds himself swept up in the crowds opposing a National Front march. By September he is going down the well-travelled path of forming his own band, shortlisting names: The Mysterons, The Bored, Rebel Rebel, Daktari, The Useless. The following month, The Sex Pistols (now signed to Virgin) release their long-anticipated debut album Never Mind The Bollocks. The snotty outsiders are now being lauded as one of the biggest bands in rock ‘n’ roll, although their decision to sack songwriting bassist Glen Matlock for Johnny Rotten’s iconic but hopeless mate Sid Vicious has already sealed their fate.
He heads to Croydon to watch Siouxsie and the Banshees supported by The Slits. “Mags had mentioned they had done a session on John Peel. They had sounded frantic and sang about stealing from shops and obsessive boyfriends. The Slits were fantastic, chaotic and energetic.” In November, settling for Mormon in Chains, covering The Ramones and penning their own ditties, Billy’s band gig but an issue with borrowed gear has far-reaching consequences.
When Two Sevens Clash paints a vivid picture that will resonate with those of us, well into middle-age, who can empathise with Billy’s lightning rod moment of hearing The Sex Pistols for the first time. Punk has so often been described through the prism of England’s contemporary art scene of the mid-to-late 1970s, with Vivienne Westwood waxing lyrical about outlandish fashion trends for aspirational outsiders. Watson’s semi-autobiographical approach tells of a demographic far more ripe for its DIY ethos of customising clothes, learning three chords/starting a band, opposing racism and sexism: disaffected kids from inner city housing estates.
This wonderful semi-autobiographical novel give us the point-of-view from the small knot of fans who fell in love with the original punk wave, pioneers drawn into the vortex of a scary but inspirational storm, witnessing early gigs by The Clash, X-Ray Spex, Siouxsie and the Banshees, and many others; musicians (often only just) and artists driven by a fierce urge to express themselves and rise above the grey banality of 1970s Britain.
As the Silver Jubilee becomes Platinum, perhaps a key point is the extent to which little has really changed. For all the indie hopefuls who sprung up as punk’s quickly extinguished firework display evolved into infinitely more ambitious and exploratory post-punk, the charts are still dominated by mainstream musical tastes. The UK establishment remains as indomitable as ever, with devious Princes quietly shifted into the background with hush money. Nevertheless, When Two Sevens Clash seizes a golden year and, without a shred of sentimentality, provides a fabulous snapshot, preserving this moment for posterity. Dripping with authenticity, anger, naivety, hope, pathos, disillusionment, but driven by optimism, it shows how cathartic moments can shape young lives.
When Two Sevens Clash is available as a paperback as well as a Kindle.
#punk #Bowie #TheClash #London #newfiction #comingofage #70s #seventies
This excerpt from 1976 is set inside the Intensive Psychiatric Care Unit of the Royal Edinburgh Hospital, where I'd been sectioned after a violent breakdown in November 1987. Although surrounded by other patients, I'm consumed by loneliness, trapped inside depression. Then an occupational therapy session sparks long-dormant memories... of punk... and Iggy...
I spend most of my time in the lounge, passive smoking hundreds of cigarettes. Beyond a galaxy of fag burns on the carpet tiles, the focal point is the TV. After the evening meal, chairs are arranged in rows before this altar. Although I watch for hours, news reports and drama plots just wash over me, like the shimmering backdrop beyond a goldfish bowl.
Sportscene does stand out on what must be Saturday. I overhear a nurse chatting during the highlights of Celtic’s 4-0 trouncing of Dunfermline. He was there, in the Jungle. Andy Walker showing how to take penalties. Twice. Frank McAvennie scoring his fifth since joining from West Ham in October. He mentions McAvennie being the club’s record signing. Three-quarters of a million. Souness approached him at last year’s World Cup in Mexico. Wanted him to be Rangers first Catholic signing to signal his bold new direction.
Obviously, Macca knocked the fucking Huns back. Signing a token Uncle Tam’s not going to stop the legions singing The Sash.
Later, a nurse plonks himself down. Winks at me. Jangles his keys. All the staff carry keychains for this locked ward. But his subtle clinking is code. This is how the staff communicate without any of us understanding. I watch him swap the bunch of keys to his other hand. When his keys are delved into a pocket, it’s the cue for another nurse to stand up. Yawn and stretch. Exit.
What messages are being relayed? The longer they keep me trapped in here, the more chance of me cracking their code.
The chairs have been stacked against the walls. A teenage girl places a bulky cassette player onto the carpet. Smiles at the nine patients, introduces herself as Susan, an occupational therapist. For this morning’s keep-fit session we’ve to follow her movements and she’ll allow us plenty of opportunities for breathers. She pokes a button. I recognise Olivia Newton-John’s ‘Physical.’
I can’t remember when I last paid attention to music. A chasm opened during the summer. After being passionate about the subject, buying albums and singles, playing in bands that performed gigs, recorded demos and albums, even being broadcast on Radio 1 and Radio Forth, I lost all interest. Despite an enthusiasm coursing throughout my teens and into my 20s, I became more comfortable with silence.
It dawns on me this cheesy song, with its dance-lite beat, insipid lyrics but catchy melodies, is the first time I’ve listened to music for months. Closing my eyes, Olivia’s voice implores there’s nothing left to talk about unless it’s horizontally.
Lust is such a prevailing undercurrent of pop music yet individual songs have always been vilified by the Mary Whitehouses of this world. Typified by the BBC banning Gang of Four’s rubbers you hide, or Frankie Goes To Hollywood when Holly Johnson sang about avoiding coming.
While the eradication of sexual desire from my own radar has been an obvious symptom of my depression, I now recall how Anne used to say one ex, Louise reminded her of Olivia Newton-John, especially when she dyed her hair peroxide. That notion does spark long-suppressed emotions. Puts me in mind of another song entitled ‘Physical’ that was way more intense. By Adam and the Ants.
Long before Adam’s chart-topping, swashbuckling shtick, sporting the hussar tunic worn by David Hemmings in The Charge of the Light Brigade, he was reviled by the music press. Prompted to write ‘Press Darlings’ in reply. He was supposed to be a punk but refused to tow what had now become the conformist, anti-establishment line. Ignoring anarchy, fascism and boredom, his songs celebrated bondage, sadomasochism, dominance and submission. Ant music for sex people.
I snigger at everyone following Susan’s lead. Gyrating from side to side. Stretching. Straining to touch toes. Groaning at the unfamiliar muscle strains. Hesitant about participating, I step forward. Now we’re marching on the spot. I stomp my feet up and down.
You can’t help but laugh at the incongruous way we express our love of music by dancing. Moving to the beat. From Polynesian villages to Detroit house clubs to a locked psychiatric unit, the way music inspires self-expression with synchronised movement is one of the most wonderful human instincts.
In the doorway, I spot two nuns nodding to the beat. I’ve no idea how often nuns visit the ward, but one patient has RFC inked into his neck. I wait for the inevitable reaction as he snaps out of exercising to utter something poisonous. He’s too busy jogging on the spot.
The more immediate concern for Susan is Martha, who has materialised behind the nuns in her dressing-gown. Her agitated speech rises above the music. Appreciating her furious four-letter outbursts against God would faze the most dutiful of his servants, a nurse ushers her away. I feel a weird irony performing star jumps in front of nuns, stretching my limbs like St Andrew’s crucifixion. When Susan tells us to take five, a tall bloke approaches me. Someone new to the ward. A nurse or a fresh patient? He answers this by asking if I think I’m Jesus Christ. When I tell him I’m many things, but not the Messiah, he pats my shoulder. Tells me this is just as well. Because he’s Jesus Christ.
A balding guy in a shapeless cardigan overhears. Demands to know if my inquisitor just claimed to be Jesus. When this is affirmed, he announces he is God. The lad shakes his hand with exuberance. Hiya, Dad!
We resume jumping on the spot. Closing my eyes, I’m reminded of pogoing. Taken back to my youth.
Clouds is rammed with tousle-haired kids. Clothes spraypainted. Festooned with pins and chains. My white T-shirt, the one I wore to PE last year, marker-penned with band names.
BUZZCOCKS. DEAD BOYS. THE CORTINAS. JOHNNY THUNDERS AND THE HEARTBREAKERS. EATER. MENACE. CRISIS. ATV. ULTRAVOX! THE SAINTS. WIRE. THE FREEZE. SCARS. GEN X. CHELSEA. THE CLASH. 999.
The heat has plastered its cotton to my skin. My Harrington is tied around my waist, revealing ANTZ: ANTMUSIC FOR SEXPEOPLE daubed across my shoulder blades. The Ants’ London gigs draw cult followers wearing fetish gear, PVC masks, reflecting their song titles: ‘Beat My Guest,’ ‘Whip in My Valise,’ ‘Rubber People.’ Does fantasising about Servalan from Blake’s 7 in her black leather uniforms make me a sex person?
The lights cut. A pregnant pause. Everyone craning towards the stage. Before me, two punkettes, brunette and peroxide blonde. Arms linked. Perfume potent, an intoxicating aphrodisiac. Hair sculpted with egg whites into Statue of Liberty spikes, like Adam Ant’s onetime collaborator and occasional backing singer, Jordan. The blonde in a torn blouse. The brunette a fishnet vest revealing her bra. Homage to The Slits. Unlike the rock bands I’ve seen with my schoolmate Kenny, Blue Oyster Cult and Judas Priest, where the audiences were overwhelmingly denim-clad lads, there are hordes of female fans in this seething mass. Ensuring a frisson of sexual tension courses through this thrilling new music scene.
Thinking of Kenny makes me chuckle. We have frequent debates about the merits of this new wave compared to the boring old farts he still champions. The last time he was round, we arsed a half-bottle of Smirnoff. In the finest spirit of ‘if you can’t beat them, join them,’ he was leaping around my bedroom to The Vibrators’ live B-side, Stiff Little Fingers.
Prescient. A roar from the front, gathering momentum until everyone is cheering, whistling. The stage lights ignite, revealing Stiff Little Fingers. In a gruff Belfast brogue encapsulating fury at the decades of mindless sectarian violence instigated by the partitioning of their homeland, Jake Burns barks, Inflammable material planted in my head, it’s a suspect device that’s left two thousand dead!
They’re so fast. I throw myself into the melee, leaping up and down, the pricks near the front launching salvos of spit. Through the confusion, I glimpse one of the schoolmates I came in with but lost, Ross. He started a band last year. The Accidents. Earlier they touched base with the lad who’s going to be their new guitarist, Graham. He’s a chef in Goldberg’s. His hair is dyed green. I clock several green barnets bouncing in the middle of all this.
Although I’ve got school in the morning I don’t care. An uncertain future might be yawning before me but there’s nothing beyond this moment, and the music’s passion and energy.
Susan presses ‘stop.’ Like everyone else I’m breathless, my heart thumping. I’m visualising the flat-line of my depression starting to pulse again. Tightening my fists, I savour this heartbeat. My life’s relentless drum. I imagine this as the rhythm of so many songs I’ve long forgotten; the records and tapes that have been gathering dust in my bedroom for months.
I need to listen to them again. All of them. Every single and flip side. Every album track, from polished studio cuts to the raw recordings capturing the essence of live performances.
Somewhere inside there’s still the essence of a naïve 16-year-old punk. A disciple of Iggy Pop. Lusting for life.