Tuesday, 24 September 2013

I'm digging your scene (in between)

It’s been a mixed up, muddled up sequence of months. I can’t seem to find the in to write about sound. There’s old Junior Boy’s Own mix CDs in the car, back to back with a compilation of Horrible Histories numbers – all wonderfully sung and set up and they are jostling with three separate CDs for the kids  - hand picked for the holidays – Adam Ant, The Pale Blue Dots, Dion, Floyd, The Mamas and the Papas, Euros Childs, The Wellgreen and The Velvets and The Ramones – their choices – not mine – and I don’t need to buy them childsize t-shirts to prove a point – they just like the tunes  - and they are competing against downloads of every Festive 50 from 1977 with J Peel’s dulcet tones telling me that Mega City Four are at number 47 and all that. And then chancing across a Planetary Assault Systems Archives Two CD in a second hand shop in the ‘village’ – all adds up to a mixed up muddled up month of this sound and that.

So where to begin?

Sam Knee has a book coming out – book, well collection of photographs and interviews and recollections. It’s called ‘A Scene In Between’. It documents in colour and print this heady mix of youth rebellion neither post-punk nor grunge – not acid house or Britpop. It documents those that existed out there in cities and towns (guaranteed to bring you right down) dressing in secondhand clothes – not ‘vintage’ – we weren’t trying to start a fucking fashion trend. We weren’t stockpiling and ebaying as a business – it was what we wore. We had no money.

The clothes in Oxfam, The Salvation Army, Banardo’s and piled high on jumble sale tables – smelling faintly of death –reflected our 1960s and 1970s mentality. Not mining our past but repositioning style in an age of rampant commercialization and greed. We didn’t pay over the odds for our fabrics and fashions – it was a 50p t-shirt and an old fella’s anorak. Preferably brown.

We had home cut hair and found Chelsea boots in Shoefayre. It wasn’t a scene you could get just off the peg. There wasn’t ‘Urban Outfitters’ – you couldn’t even get it at the time in one place – not Topman nor Clockhouse (note intentional 80s referencing) We did not want to dress like Spandau or Duran Duran. We just wanted something that little bit different – shaped by our musical musings – our attentions drawn to the screech of feedback and threat of rock n roll.

And I guess – as Sam documents so well – it was a scene.  A whole freak scene – this in between lark. We were like minded youth dotted across the country. Of course there was that odd emergence of brutal working class thuggery – I remember in the final days of The Smiths – coach trip to Nottingham – when football chants merged with the chords of The Queen is Dead. Or those throwback misogynistic ogling and bellowing at the blonde singer in whichever ‘shambling’ band was hitting the charts that week.

Now I haven’t seen Sam’s book yet. I’ve read about it – and I hope you have too. I was goint to get myself along to the ‘release’ party – all private invites and nods and winks from publishing companies. It’s hard to imagine that photographs of bowlheaded youth and bands playing the Hull Adelphi and Kool Kat’s in Nottingham suddenly becoming worthy of a private launch – but here we are. Those photographs of an emerging scene – The Pastels or My Bloody Valentine snapped on cheap cameras (110 film anybody?) with cube flashes attached suddenly winging their way around the world into your arms.

But they are.

Sam’s got Stephen Pastel deejaying down at Rough Trade – ba baa ba ba ba baaa (that’s love). Heaven’s above.

It will be a great night I’m sure. I can’t get there. Other commitments. It’s what happens when you get older – but my photographs are in there. I guess yours are too. But seeing those snapshots of past times and fond crimes (against fashion and hair) had me return to the sounds of those singers and strummers of independent pop music. Music on the outside – yet to reach the charts. As I said earlier – way back at the start – my brother managed to get hold of the Peel Festive fifties. Ranging from 1977 right up into the 1990s. And I haven’t listened to it all – I never will – if I’m being honest. But I can read the entries – you don’t have to wait for each night when Peel played them. It’ a simple stream of songs. I  never voted in the Festive fifty. I remember a form in the NME – I think – it may have been a different end of year thing. Anyway you could fill in your choices and send then to John Peel. He would compile and count them. I believe he genuinely counted the votes. You’d just make it up now – you’d have a phone vote and rig the results.

Apologise, take the money and carry on regardless.

But it was that scene – the one from in between – that 85, 86 and 87 thing. Peel’s fifty begins to hint at the crossover – where in between becomes mainstream. Now don’t get me wrong there’s nothing untoward in being popular. Every artist wants the recognition. Just on whose terms is where the line is blurred. But you can sense the change – where Mega City 4 and The Weddoes becomes The Roses and De la Soul. I like the change. But you can we were entering different times. Flares were coming back. I don’t think you’ll see a pair of flares in Sam’s book. You might. Duglas was a true hipster – so you never know what to expect.  Yet I have a feeling I won’t see a pair. That was a scene too far.

Yet I was one of those bowlheaded youths in Sam’s book. And the connections made in the past resonate in the present.  We were all out of time and step with the modern world. We weren’t trying to recreate a sixties – we were just having our phase of experimentation with jangling guitars and stand up drums. It was a backlash to mass production. We were sick of style over substance – of that wake me up before you day-glo sheen on our screen when the Tory government were tearing down everything the spirit of ’45 had overseen. You know common sense prevails in the face of socialism – because it just wouldn’t work. Oh well – better listen to the Sea Urchins then – takes your mind off the fact the factories were closing and you were on free school meals. Or it just might have focused it.

Different strokes for different folks see. 

Sam’s book is a majestic affair – an affair of the heart. I can see why we all contributed those photographs from the past. Because back then it mattered. It felt we weren’t just part and parcel of a system that serves to commodify and homogenise culture. We were politicised – we talked about equality – we wanted a different system.

My Bloody Valentine feature in the book, you know that Dave Conway era – slightly airbrushed and rewritten now. But MBV offered something different beneath it all, and the Mary Chain, and The Pastels – and  and and.  MBV can’t even get nominated for an industry award these days – because they’re still on the outside looking in – well actually not looking in – looking away.

Looking the other way. Just as we did back then. Here’s to more scenes in between – they unite the fray(ed) and the fucked up.

As it’s been a while here are three songs to listen to.  They represent the scowl and the menace – the aesthetic and dedication to find glamour in the faded towns we all grew up in.