Put the needle on the record…
Carla’s wearing black, of course. It must be rock’n’roll. Head bowed as she adjusts the tuning of her guitar. Or so I imagine, I’m not really looking, barely paying attention. Imagination is based on prior knowledge, just as prior knowledge inspires complacency. Michael has just suggested that I leave my pack in the dressing room, so I’m busily loading a fresh roll of film into my camera. The film I just bought down the street from the club.
I’m tired, I barely slept last night. Another near dawn experience hitching fromBirminghamtoGlasgow. Half an hour’s nap on a kerbside at one of the service stations, can’t remember which one. Another half hour nursing a coke downstairs before Terri walked in. The barman asked me if I was alright, probably thought I was drunk. So I haven’t decided if it’s safe for me to start drinking again yet. At least I’ve eaten. Sat alone in a Pizza franchise with a book, killing an hour.
If rock’n’roll is an adventure, then it should be lived as such, at least once in a while. Three days on the road and I’m going to make it home tomorrow night. Maybe. Just travelling, hanging out in city centres, watching a band you never heard. And who knows, Maybe I’ll fall in love tomorrow.
‘Hey, Key’s here!’
‘Hi, Kev!’ Four more voices chorus through the PA. I grin and sling my pack to one side. This is cool, this is a good day, this is Saturday. All for this, I have travelled. And this is what happened, some of the time.
It began on a Thursday lunchtime. Or maybe two Thursday lunchtimes, just depends how far you want to go back. Really it’s only fifty-two hours earlier, though it could have been six years. Six years from the time my colleague on Employment Training, Guy Sherrocks, came back from a weekend in London with a CD he’d picked up, by a band called The Walkabouts. Never heard of them? No, neither had I, but the CD was on Sub Pop Records, who were putting out a lot of the best music of that summer, bands like Mudhoney and L7 and Soundgarden, and you might have heard of Nirvana?
It’s soundcheck time in The Hop & Grape venue of Manchester University SU. The Walkabouts are on the stage calling out to me as I walk in, so I tip my cap, and say ‘Hi.’ They’re playing bits and pieces, the intro to one song, the last chorus and end of another, as a whole and as individuals, adjusting levels and tuning instruments. Nothing unusual tonight so far, but I’m still hoping tor a surprise or two in tonight’s set.
‘So you made it then?’ Terri Moeller drops off the front of the stage and grabs a bottle of water. The past three days have been incredibly hot, and we’ve all been suffering. ‘Did you get some sleep yet?’
‘Oh yeah.’ Last night I left theGlasgowshow with a promise to be here tonight only if I managed to catch up on some sleep. ‘I found some bushes to sleep under, beside the ring road.’
‘Hey, you are having an adventurous time aren’t you?’
‘That’s the way I am, sometimes.’
‘Sometimes?’ We laugh.
Three days off work? Yes and no. I had to work Thursday morning until 1.00pm, and I had to be back at work in time for a 3.00pm start on Sunday. So a little over 72 hours isn’t quite the same as three days, but I had plans to make the best of it.
Hit the road about 4, running late as ever. What the hell, I should easy makeBirminghamin 4 hours. And the sun was out. It went well, three or four hitches to Sandbach, the junction rather than the MG Services but it turned out right there too. I think she told me her name, but I can’t remember it. Sorry, but thanks for the ice lolly.
The Jug Of Ale is a venue I’d never been to before, but my final lift took a minor detour and dropped me at the door. Thanks, once more. Is it just luck, or are people naturally generous? In some ways I wouldn’t like to think it was just for me that these people take such trouble. I was grateful though, that I didn’t have to walk too tar with my pack in that heat, just up a flight of stairs. At the top I paid my entry, just a fiver, and discovered the identity of the tour support act, The Dear Janes.
Martin, my dealer, runs a small record shop in Kendal, competing with the likes of Dire Price and Woolworth’s. To survive he has a fairly good folk section, a good jazz and blues section, and the right attitude. Unlike the bigger chains, he knows at least a little bit about his stock. For me, at least, he’s not afraid to say that he thinks the new REM album is not their best by a long way. To prove his point he plays it to me, and I don’t buy it. It’s actually no loss to Martin because I buy a Tortoise CD instead, and some other sheep will buy the REM next week or next month. In fact Martin frequently hasn’t stocked the things I want, but neither have Dire Price, and Martin doesn’t go blank when I ask. He’ll look it up and he’ll try to get it for me, even to the extent of phoning one of his German mail-order customers and arranging a swap deal to get me a single from the continent. He’s also cheaper on many items, but that’s besides the point.
It frequently comes down to connections. I can’t remember discovering Green On Red or Husker Du. I do recall being bought a copy of Kate Bush’s The Hounds Of Love for my 21st birthday. This is an excellent album, still a favourite of mine a decade later, but I already had it. So I took the new copy back to Woolworth’s in Kendal to exchange it. Perhaps it was because it was a gift, and thus costing me nothing, maybe I felt it ought to be something surprising, or possibly I was just more receptive inspiration that day? I came across a Long Ryders album in the rack and it reminded me of a review I’d read, of R.E.M.’s Reconstruction Of The Fables which concluded by saying that ‘The Long Ryders are better.’ So I bought that album, The State of Our Union, and loved it. Out of the blue I had discovered a country music that I could. get to grips with.
I’m a little rough around the edges, scruffy but passionate, I think. Glossy, glitzy, Nashville/Vegas rarely fits well with me. (And for all that I love Jimmy Webb’s songs, but that’s so different I could never tell you why.) So I got into The Long Ryders, and somewhere I saw Lone Justice on TV and read some reviewer comparing Maria to Janis, which was good enough for me. Add in Green On Red too, and eventually I did get into R.E.M. too. So I have a certain fondness dating back to formative years for some of John Denver’s songs, so at the same time I love Jason & The Scorchers’ driving raw spiky romp through ‘Take Me Home Country Roads.’
Another connection lies in lust. Ain’t it always so? True confessions of all the bands I’ve bought records by because some woman I fancied had let her liking for them slip out, the list would be horrendous: Meat Loaf for Nikki, Prince for Rowena, and Machine Head for Anne; and those are -just the successful ones. Bands I liked rather than women got off with, of course. There are others I probably won’t admit to, especially somewhere that Alison Freebairn might see. I’m talking far worse than Take That at this point in time. There was the night a woman played me one of the sexiest records ever made over some iced vodka, then showed me to her spare bedroom. A personal moment that makes “Son Of A Preacher Man’ a personal record, for me, and who knows, maybe for her? And maybe there’s still a chance with one of these women…
It is serious, really. I like music, and I’m always looking for new things. Do you want to know about this month’s purchases? About how many records I bought this week? Yes, I said records. Good old vinyl, black discs, and other colours, 7 inches across. As substantial as they are vulnerable, like the songs themselves. Of course, I don’t expect anybody out there to know who any of these bands are. (Okay Alison, you can put your hand down now. And you, Tim.) No matter, why should you. You probably don’t go out looking for these things the way I do, and even I hadn’t heard of one of them.
And for me the looking is part of the fun. The adventure, as Paul Williams calls it, and sometimes I don’t have a map. Sometimes there are just a few cryptic clues.
I don’t currently have a working radio. When I moved rooms I didn’t get around to re-fitting the aerial. Tomorrow, definitely. I have a portable but reception is variable, so I don7t listen so often. And the hours I work don’t help that. So I don’t get to hear much great new music on the radio. No matter, nor does anybody else. Not to the extent that daytime Radio One FM is ever going to play Jon Spencer, Jane Siberry, Dymaxion or The KY Jelly Babies or (c) or The Walkabouts. All fine acts unheard of by the mass of Woolworth’s shopping CD buying public.
The theory is that what’s popular is what’s best. Radio plays what’s in the charts, people like what they hear, buy it, and that puts it into the charts. Then there’s another factor, reinforcing all of this. People buy what is in the charts, allowing their tastes to be dictated by the charts. Dumb sheep they maybe, but that’s just why charts work.