When I was born, the year of Bloody Sunday, Glam Rock and Watergate, life wasn’t any simpler, it was just closer. The chances of me having contact with the rush of the rest of the world was slim. It was a decade before I left the confines of the North, to travel to England. Not that I am complaining about this, I am setting the scene. We weren’t rich, The Troubles were in full flow but life goes on, it always does.
Not many years later, we moved from the ever-present helicopters overhead to the country. A different arena, not one that lent itself (nor still does) to anything other than staunch conservatism. I remember the pickets when they opened the swimming pool on a Sunday, and that was well into the late 80s. Or the (successful) ban-this-sick-Satanic-filth-from-our town movement, to stop some band from playing. It was ELO. I laughed.
I laughed as my mother brought me up on music, playing me the Beatles, Bowie, Bolan, Cream, Pink Floyd and the like. (I don’t remember hearing any Stones, so not sure she was in to them. I should ask her.) So I have always listened to music, and fell in with the chick who worked in the record shop in the next town along, as we didn’t have one. She would order me in stuff I asked for, the one copy to sneak into this buckle in the Bible belt. I bought the NME every Thursday, as it took an extra day to reach the colony. So I was aware of the achingly hip skinny white blokes with guitars. For we are now sitting solidly in the mid-80s.
I even remember having my vinyl Dead Kennedys confiscated from me in school, to be given back to me at the end of the day. But that was later. I want to stick to the mid-80s. This area I lived in was pretty much a denim-and-bubble perm metal place. Which might, if you know me, make you realise why I (still) don’t like metal. As every one else loved it. Yes, I recall being told, while it being spun in a friend’s bedroom, that ‘Holy Diver’ was the pinnacle of music.
So here was me, a confused proto-indie kid in a backward, bigoted, discriminatory country, struggling to get the music he wanted. A few trips on the bus to the Big Smoke, and sure, there was more choice, and I brought new stuff back, but even so, it was all of an 80s English variety.
Let’s keep on ignoring chronology here, and leap around. Next you’ll find me in London, on my way to France, stopping at some motorway cafe. It was summer, bright, and my accent was woeful. Norn Iron accents really don’t travel too well. I don’t think anyone has ever called me backward, but there were quite a few raised eyebrows when me, on seeing, and hearing, some commotion on the grass wandered over. Poor little country mouse me, sauntering over to a group of urban, sophisticated, street-wise black girls, with ghetto blaster and attitude. I probably only caught every other word they said to me, and they even less of mine. But I wasn’t interested in flirting with them, I only wanted to know about the music. Sure, I had heard some of the more commercial hip-hop, but nothing as…raw as what they were listening to. It was, before I knew the term, a mix-tape.
Amid them laughing at me, not with me, as I was very much out of my depth, with no cultural context between us, I got to find out what the music was. As it turns out, they weren’t English, but American, Valley girls, and found me somewhat an odd proposition. As I amn’t English either. The outcome was they gave me one of their mix-tapes, all brutal (though it is probably all quite tame now) hip-hop, rap and beats.
That ended well, they ended up laughing with me, rather than at me. I think as I was paying no attention to any social norms they understood. As there was, in childish hand, the names of the groups on the inside of the tape, I was able, when getting home, to special order some of these, which annoyed many of my friends, for they didn’t understand the music at all. (If I were unkind, I had several friends whose musical tastes could only be described as ‘old’. Irish country music old.)
Let’s leap around the time lines a bit more, too. Let’s jump to the first night I moved to England, for my student years. I had arrived a week or so before term, for no other reason than the room was empty and they let me. And what does a boy do, on his own, first night in a new country, starting a new life? Sure, head in to town to see the big lights. But before I got there, I bumped in to a chap. Huge chap. Big shoulders, all baseball hightops and gang colours. With a ghetto blaster, pumping out a few tunes. Old tunes, five years old by that time.
It would have been remiss of me not to stop him, and chat about the excellence of the music. This….took him aback. But hell, what he was playing was what I had been given by the American chicks years before, and even though it was (relatively) obscure, the shock of a white bloke knowing it, and worse/better, a white bloke from the depths of a country stuck in the 1950s, didn’t stop him talking to me. Never saw him again, but for a few minutes, totally different cultures combined in the love of music. A cultural musical movement that really I have no claim to, other than in the general underdog way. My life experiences were different from theirs. But there is no hierarchy of victims
That encounter was also the first time I ever was bro-fisted, too. He showed me how, the follow up. It was a fine meeting, and a great way to start my English journey.
These days, of course, life isn’t any simpler, but it is easier to find out about trends on the other side of the world. But that makes it sound like I am trying to be a hipster, and I certainly amn’t. Does it tell me anything about the world, races mixing, music, life, or anything? God no, just a story from my bank of stories, a story from someone who doesn’t know better, and will generally talk to anyone. There doesn’t have to be a point. Live life, people, just live.
I am not sure what the point of this post was, I certainly amn’t bragging about being ahead of the curve, just also slightly round the corner from the mainstream. Which, given where I come from, was a bit more difficult.