Well Thatcher died.
And it’s all been pomp and circumstance and bowed heads and lowered voices round here – these London streets and grey brick buildings. They’ve sold it as a memorial for a mother (mutha) whilst forgetting the union flag and horse drawn carriages and coppers waiting to stave your head in if you feel like disagreeing. Or was that at Orgreave?
And it throws me back to that humdrum town. That did its best to drag me down – hold me down – spin me round. I was a teenager when the hair helmeted bag-clutching woman ruled the (air)waves. They were banning records under her then – but relax (don’t do it) that wouldn’t happen now. So an old tune fails to make the top spot – the BBC won’t play it – lives will not be changed – weren’t going to anyway, anyhow or anywhere.
It was an odd climate during the 1980s. You couple a selfish politics with a teenage angst and you get what? A rollercoaster ride with The Smiths and Rick Astley and Wham and the Bunnymen. If there’s a legacy from that era it’s the mixtapes and mis-purchased 7 inch singles from shops in precincts all over this green and pleasant land. As I’ve said before it was about taking sides (it’s what you do when you’re young – perpetual opposition to this and that) and feeling passionate about things – well that was just the teenage me – forever passionate - you’d wake up to a (beautiful) morning and fill it with everything she would set about dismantling – you’d read a newspaper or a book from the library – go to your comprehensive school with your friends from down the road - closing your door on that council house and make decisions. A great deal seemed possible then – a lot less seems possible now.
I don’t recall the moment I thought she was wrong. You have to remember I was 8 when she was voted in but it didn’t take Billy Bragg or assorted red wedgers to open my eyes to the inequality in England’s dreaming. It was there in the culture of the everyday. I was born looking at the furnaces. Which sound kind of blues – except our delta started on Frodingham Road – do ya get me? And if I’m honest I was born in Yorkshire – but hey hum you’ve gotta have a bit of artistic licence aintcha? And as I’ve stated before – it’s all about repetition, repetition, repetition - this isn’t some Northern rant about the values of Middle England and overpaid City types not caring about our New England. Believe me there were plenty who respected that woman in my own street.
It’s all muddled now – it was then those politics and industry. I’m currently reading How Soon is Now? By Richard King, a weighty tome – but an easy read about the ‘mavericks’ in the music business (in readiness to manage The Pale Blue Dots - that’s a lie – a possibility – but a lie nonetheless) Already his depiction of the world then so contrasts with the world now – except it still doesn’t listen. But you kind of had goodies and baddies – the ones you trusted and the ones you couldn’t stand. The Queen is dead, tramp the dirt down, Free Nelson Mandela, Reggae fi Blair and whose side are you on boys? You know where you stood. On solid ground – not sinking sands – I am not a changed man. I had a plan – I wasn’t waiting for it.
I hated hectoring, lecturing and holding forth. But I did it anyway. I once extolled the reasons why love didn’t exist in a lesson based on social mobility and class in A-level Sociology – I was fun to be around. Not knowing now how much that means when you look at your own children and wonder what you’ll do when they fly the nest (which they won’t – I won’t let ‘em) Or actually how much The Beach Boys can save your life when you’ve just been dumped and feel your heart would break. Nonsense the lot of it – but music finds its way to worm and wriggle inside you.
All the while sounds accompanied my moves as policies eroded my liberties. Trade unions diminished and people set about mistrusting each other – they might be HIV Aids ridden junkies or different in colour, pro abortion or Greenham common missile stompers, Argie sympathisers or flare wearing lefties. You were fucked with a beard in the eighties – unless it was designed mind you – you’re welcome with a fucking beard today - you can join Mumford and Sons and that. I was sifting through tapes over Easter – of interviews and live performances – of excitement and not knowing then what I know now. But it seems everything we did had a political bearing someway on what we do now. From small time fanzine writing – to starting chain letter collectives – and record labels and distribution channels – perhaps we were just mini Thatchers - perhaps we wanted the big time after all – I honestly wanted equality and art and aesthetics and understanding to rule the day. I was (not) naive I was thinking.
It just seems you can’t think like that anymore.
Which brings me to McCarthy.
McCarthy would have been massive had they had the internet at their disposable. The enraged would have inherited the earth. What is apparent is that not everyone wanted to play Live Aid – that music didn’t have to be over-produced and conveyor belt built – it could be both thought provoking and wonderful to listen to. I remember venturing over to see McCarthy in Leeds - the Duchess –it’s closed now – it’s got a shop in it – I’d been rehearsing a play all day – Andy Capp – in the sixth form – all cloth caps and pints – which is fairly reminiscent of today – but that’s another story. Made the train station just in time – my brother already there – long gone without me, mainly because The Impossibles were supporting. I wasn’t completely familiar with McCarthy at the time but I was happy enough to surround myself in melodic guitar and honest – yet brutal lyricism with these four comprehensive Barking blokes making that great leap forward in musical manifestos to the downtrodden and class divided masses.
At the time I thought they were massive – I mean they were on a tour – selling out The Duchess – they had t-shirts and that – to me their message was reaching the people (and more power to them). I found my meandering words about them from that time – my inept sermon on politics and pop (I’m continuing it now) – and I focus on the slide show – the cut up images and slogans that accompanied their set – and there’s a line – written twenty five years ago – and it states simply that – it would be nice to imagine that everybody in Leeds who saw them that night- woke up and realised that things could change – and in my own strange way I enjoyed it for that political element.
They confronted in jangles and rhymes.
Nicky Wire has said of the band: "McCarthy - the great lost band of the '80s they redesigned my idea of politics and pop, it could be intelligent, it could be beautiful. They were frail, tragic, romantic idealists. The songs soothed your body but exercised your brain. They were my education, my information and they are partly to blame for the realisation of the Manic Street Preachers.’ Once I would have considered that abhorent – but I’m glad Nicky Wire formed the Manics because of McCarthy. There’s always been a sense of opposition with the Preachers rock n roll.
Couldn’t fail to be really.
Maybe it was living through all of this and that – her sleights and mistrust of us – of an emerging selfishness in others – in ourselves maybe - in this Northern town that politicised and energised us – caused argument and offence – shaped outlooks and opinions. All this youth power – not divided by gender – or gimmick felt so very real at that moment. And then came acid house – and we forgot our anger – we organised and caused chaos with grins on our faces. But they had us by then – they had us all where they wanted.
There was no going back.
Thatcher’s dead. There’s no going back. So let’s listen to McCarthy – we’re all bourgeois now aren’t we?