Back in the late 70′s Britain was in the throws of a musical revolution, and those thirsty for new aural experiences listened to maverick BBC DJ John Peel of a weekday evening.
At that time, my school friends and I, being caught up in all the excitement, would come to school singing whatever musical phrases had stuck in our heads from the previous night’s Peel show.
I clearly remember walking along the river on the way home from school one day singing ‘Alphaville‘ to my friends as we ambled along, horsing about, the only word I remembered from a particular song.
It wasn’t really a typical punk song – it was slow, relatively complex, and was sung in a suave, disaffected intellectual voice and contained bizarre but intriguing lyrics.
I must have forgotten about ‘Alphaville‘ as soon as Peel stopped playing it, and when I started buying records shortly afterwards, it didn’t feature in my purchases.
I think I’ve relayed this story once before in a blog entry, but it bears repeating as a prelude to further musical anecdotes.
Fast forward sixteen years to 1994 and I find myself in a friend’s apartment in Hiroshima, Japan, leafing through his voluminous CD collection.
I find some albums by a band called ‘The Monochrome Set‘ which immediately rings a bell. I borrow them, and like what I hear. Perhaps a year later, a new compilation by the band appears in a local CD store, and there it is – ‘Alphaville‘ at last, and it sounds just as good as it did all those years ago.
Now, last year saw two further rediscoveries at an even greater distance in time.
By 1979 I’d begun saving my pocket money and going in to the nearest city, Bath, to frequent Cruise In Records, an exciting ramshackle cubbyhole filled with the kind of underground vinyl I was after. One of my earliest purchases was a four-track 7″ EP on the wonderfully-named Sofa Records (tag line : ‘part of the furniture’) by Midlands band The Shapes.
This ensemble, minor by any standard, quickly vanished without even releasing a full-length album, but their slim oeuvre was unusual in its comic themes and featured the stellar bass playing of the improbably-named Brian Helicopter.
Stand out tracks on the EP were the parenthesis-heavy ‘Wot’s for Lunch Mum (Not Beans Again?)’ and ‘(I Saw) Batman (in the Launderette),’ tongue-in-cheek ditties revelling in their small-town Britishness and rightfully garnering the moniker ‘punk pathetique.’
I tried unsuccessfully for years to find out if this gem had made the transition to CD, but to no avail until a couple of years ago Brian Helicopter himself appeared on the web with an amusing history of the band and a CD collection of the their output. Last year it was finally in stock on Amazon and so, after a staggering delay of thirty-two years, I was once more reunited with the sounds of Leamington Spa’s finest.
Many of us are likely horrified when we hear the melodies of our teenage years, and nostalgic value aside, cringe at the pap we were obsessed with. Not me, though – immodest though it may be, I can honestly say that I had impeccable taste even in my early teens, and virtually everything I listened to then has stood the test of time.
Another tune that had been stuck in my brain since 1979 was a little number called ‘Paint it Black’ by an all-girl ensemble entitled ‘The Mo-dettes,’ who despite the connotations of the appellation, were not mods at all but purveyors of quirky pop, again with a stellar bass player.
Such were my punk credentials that I wasn’t even aware until many years later that ‘Paint it Black’ was actually a cover version of a tune by a well-known sixties outfit called ‘The Rolling Stones.’
I never bought ‘Paint it Black’ or an earlier single called ‘White Mice,’ both heard frequently on John Peel in 1979, something I’d regretted, as the band vanished without trace after one album, and until very recently barely a footnote in punk’s pantheon was to bear witness to their short existence.
I remembered them again last year when a friend ‘acquired’ some dubious digital transfers of these old songs, but before I listened to them, a quick check on Amazon revealed that their oeuvre had finally been unearthed and given a belated CD release, much to my joy. I ordered it immediately, at the same time as The Shapes album, and was again blown away by the quality of the songs I had waited so long to hear again when the goods duly arrived in the post.
So there you have it – good things come (back) to those who wait.
Some songs are so meaningful and evocative not only of a sentiment but an era, that being reunited with them after more than three decades only confirms the strange hold that music has over the lives of most of us.
Right, I wonder if ‘The Door and The Window‘ ever made it into the digital realm?