Music and me

I want to do a couple of posts about music-related stuff, but I thought it made sense first to talk about music and me in general (apologies in advance – it wasn’t meant to be quite this long!).

I’ve been passionate about music for almost as long as I can remember. Listening not playing – the playing thing never really worked out – and I couldn’t sing in tune to save my life. I don’t recall Dad listening to much music when I was a kid, but I have vivid memories of Andy Williams when I was five or six, because Mum always played his album while she was cooking the Sunday roast. The first music in my collection (on vinyl of course) included the very sophisticated SuperWombling, Bugs Bunny Comes to London and Captain Beaky.

At the age of 11, although I was still singing along enthusiastically (but badly) to Disney tunes on eight-track and went to see Fame Live, I also loved Adam and the Ants, Haircut 100, Kajagoogoo, Blondie and Duran Duran. The first music I bought with my own money (vouchers for my 11th birthday) was XTC’s single ‘Senses Working Overtime’. My weekly pocket money always went on a copy of Smash Hits and the back-cover posters adorned the walls of my bedroom. Like kids all over the UK, I used to tape tracks I liked off Sunday night’s radio chart show.

As I got older, Tears for Fears, Big Country, U2, The Mission, The Cult, The Cure, Siouxsie and the Banshees, and Depeche Mode crept into my collection, although I still enjoyed a lot of chart music. My first proper concert was King in 1985 at Hammersmith Odeon. I was 14, so my parents drove a friend and me down there. In 1986, I saw Big Country at Wembley Arena; I saw The Cure there in 1987, as well as The Cult at Leicester de Montfort Hall. For all three, I went with a friend on organised coach trips from Cambridge; Mum picked us up outside the NatWest branch near the bus station, hiding her hair curlers under a headscarf as she waited in the car. I also went to local gigs at the Boat Race, Burleigh Arms, Guildhall and Sea Cadets’ Hall in Cambridge (the Corn Exchange wasn’t a venue back then) for Ozric Tentacles and Hawkwind and local bands like Stormed, Nutmeg and This Replica.

Life changed massively when I passed my driving test in June 1988, as I could then get myself to gigs. I’d fallen in love with All About Eve and saw them for the first time in February 1988. As soon as I could drive, I started travelling to see them in various places – and along the way discovered and consequently travelled to see Crazyhead, Balaam and the Angel, Ghost Dance, The Wonderstuff, Pop Will Eat Itself and New Model Army. I remember my first NMA gig – in Coventry in October 1988 – like it was yesterday. The more gigs I went to, the more faces I recognised, and I started to make friends of the people who followed these bands.


In September 1989, I went to Bristol University to read chemistry. One of the lads I’d met at Ghost Dance gigs introduced me to The Levellers during the summer holidays – not long after their first album ‘A Weapon Called The Word’ was released. This was the next major landmark for me. I played that amazing album pretty much constantly. My first Levs gig was in Peterborough in July 1990. It unexpectedly ended up as an acoustic set, as Jeremy the bass player injured himself playing football before the gig, but I was hooked. When it was announced that they’d be support for NMA’s Impurity tour in the autumn, I bought myself a season ticket and did all but the Scottish shows. I drove across Germany for the European leg of the Impurity tour in early 1991 and hopped across to Paris to see the Levs and then up to Holland to see Carter USM. Although I’d made friends at uni, I never felt more comfortable and ‘at home’ than with my following friends, and I fitted gigging and festivals in around my uni schedule (although sometimes the uni schedule lost the fight).


For the next two years of uni and the two years after I left, gigs were my main hobby – I could go to anything up to seven gigs a week. As well as NMA and the Levs, I followed Carter USM, Pop Will Eat Itself and EMF on tour, and I went to as many other gigs as possible – in the UK and Europe. I first saw Nirvana at the Bristol Bierkeller in 1991 – and I have an unused ticket for their gig at Brixton Academy on 4 April 1994, the day before Kurt Cobain died, which didn’t go ahead because he was missing. I was lucky enough to see Rage Against the Machine on their first full UK tour. I fell asleep through my first ever Nine Inch Nails gig at an indoor festival in Rotterdam called ‘Ein Abend in Wien’, where they played alongside Dinosaur Jr, Nirvana, Smashing Pumpkins and Jesus Jones, among others. On the subsequent two days, I saw NIN in Brussels and then Paris, where they were billed above Carter USM but under The Wonderstuff.


When we went to see PWEI in Ireland, we were on the last ferry to be allowed to cross the Irish Sea during a storm. The crossing was so rough that even the crew were ill, and the ground was still moving at the gig in Dublin that night. At the gig in Belfast the next evening, we chatted with the band about our horrific journey and Clint Mansell’s fear of flying. What started as a joke ended up with three friends and me swapping our four ferry tickets for the band’s four flight tickets. I boarded the flight using Graham Crabb’s ticket and we flew back in style – on a 20ish-seater plane with free champagne and canapes – before hitching from Birmingham Airport to the next gig in York. These were some of the best times of my life so far – I made some wonderful friends, many of whom remain so today, and I had some amazing experiences.


In late 1994, when my best gigging friend went travelling abroad and I started seeing a non-gigging bloke, I stopped going and lost touch with all of my following friends, although my love of music remained as strong as ever. Until I got back in touch with that friend again – after I had escaped from that relationship – I hadn’t realised what I’d missed during the previous nine years. As I started to go to the odd gig here and there, and caught up with old friends, suddenly a gap that I’d pretended wasn’t there started to be filled again. A couple of years ago, I decided to follow NMA again on a small tour.  I’ve lost count of the number of NMA gigs I’ve been to in total, but it’s close to 100 – still far fewer than some of my friends. I saw EMF again in 2008 (that was one hell of a gig), went to Carter USM’s reunion gigs in London and Birmingham in 2007, 2008 (with EMF) and 2009, and last year I also went to see The Cult, NIN/Jane’s Addiction, The Wonderstuff, Pixies, Depeche Mode and Blur and to Sonisphere. This year’s been a bit quiet due to my colitis, but I did go to see Prodigy/Pendulum at the Warrior Dance Festival recently and made it to two Fry’s Gigs and Sonisphere 2010 (more about these later). I couldn’t possibly go to as many gigs now as I did back in the 80s and 90s, but I’ll do as many as I can for as long as I can. Music and gigging are vital parts of my life; without them, I’m not quite the person I should be.


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