One of the great things about music, certainly if your tastes are fairly broad and forever expanding, is that you can carry on losing your virginity throughout your life.
Certain songs, albums, gigs and events open up whole new vistas, presenting you with previously undiscovered worlds to explore, constantly giving you new sensations of childlike wonder and curiosity.
I’m sure most of you will have variations on the experiences I’m about to share and I hope you’ll add yours onto this piece as a kind of ever expanding addenda, much like music itself.
I’m lucky that I was born into a family where music was both a constant and the result of a variety of differing sources – Mum was into 50s rock n roll and, later on in my childhood, Motown, while Dad preferred classical and jazz and my paternal grandfather loved the great crooners like Sinatra.
Certainly it was thanks to music that I learned to read at a precociously young age – well how else was a pre-schooler supposed to find the sounds he wanted to play on the radiogram from among the piles of 45s that his mum and dad amassed over the weeks and months?
As a child of the 60s I suppose it’s inevitable that the first band that I became consciously aware of was The Beatles, but I couldn’t tell you which song was the one that popped my Fab Four cherry as radio was, by and large, still stuck in a timewarp and playing a mixture of asinine ballads, light operetta and novelty songs.
My main Beatles memory comes from the day I started primary school at Towyn CP when I wandered into the playground and was immediately struck by the sight of a skinny little kid called Steve Harrington bawling out (I think) “She Loves You” on a plastic guitar.
We hit it off straight away because of our shared passion for this brash new music and for a couple of years we were inseparable in and out of school until it ended in fisticuffs – I like to think that his eventual metamorphosis into Steve Strange (yes, he of Visage fame!!!) was in some small way an emotional reaction to our falling out!!!
The first song that really made an impact on me was “My Generation” by The Who which I caught them performing on (again, I think) “Ready Steady Go”, watching it with my mum in our first family home in Kinmel Bay.
I remember Mum feeling really sorry for Roger Daltrey’s speech impediment – she was subsequently outraged by the fact that it was all put on – but I was mesmerised by the outrageousness of Keith Moon, maybe a sign of things to come.
Drummers in that period were undemonstrative, sitting behind their kit almost as if it was an office desk, and here I was suddenly being confronted by a yobbo who was flailing around and respecting none of the niceties of the contemporary moral code – yes, most definitely a sign of things to come!!!
There were two other keystone moments for me in the 60s, one in each year that followed on from Mr Moon’s impact on me and the dozens of biscuit tins that I demolished as I decided that drums were the coolest thing on the planet.
The first was a TV performance by the Rolling Stones of “Paint it Black” in which Brian Jones use of the sitar woke me up to sounds that were more exotic than the standard vox/ guitar/ bass/ drums line up, although Alan Price’s amazing keyboard sound on “House Of The Rising Sun” also had an impact there.
The second occurred one sunny afternoon, courtesy of the wonderful Radio Caroline pirate station which me and Mum now had on as our station of choice, as it played all the contemporary stuff that we both loved.
All of a sudden the opening instrumental salvo of a song intro almost literally burst out of the speakers, followed in by a voice quite unlike anything I’d heard before in terms of passion and abandonment.
The song was “I Was Made To Love Her”, the singer was Stevie Wonder and in a very real sense it was my introduction to what I guess we now call multi culturalism, something that was sealed as the 60s turned into the 70s via a raft of great soul and ska hits by the likes of Otis Redding, Wilson Pickett, Bob & Marcia and Harry J’s All-Stars on exotic looking labels like Stax and Trojan that were the absolute key to my becoming a vinyl junkie by the time I hit high school and a move to the dangerous Badlands of Holywell High.
The 70s were upon us, I’d hit puberty and so the musical “first times” came thick and fast at the start of the decade, primarily because of the bricklayers-in-warpaint idiocy of glam rock.
Yes it was idiotic, but so what? We knew in our heart of hearts it was ridiculous, but it was also bloody great fun and some of the supposedly throwaway fluff that the critics hated has aged rather better than any number of Tales From Topographic Oceans or – folly of “adult” follies – Rick Wakeman’s orchestral presentation of “King Arthur” on ice!!!
In the playground you were supposed to be either T.Rex or Slade, but I managed to maintain a foot in both camps – well how was an 11 year-old obsessive supposed to choose between “Get it On” ‘s sexy cool and “Get Down Get with It” ‘s football terrace belligerence?
Chuck in my obsession to synthesizer weirdness brought on by early Roxy Music and rock-as-theatrical-spectacle via Alice Cooper and my musical “firsts” were stacking up very nicely, thank you very much.
And then came 1974/75, for me the drabbest, dullest period in the entire history of music.
OK, ’75 saw me pop my live gig cherry when I saw Sparks at Liverpool Empire (very good they were too, and the event certainly fired up my lifelong obsession with live music), but the real saving grace for me was my discovery of proper roots reggae.
I picked up my weekly copy of the late, lamented Sounds music paper one week and the cover looked like one of those “Most Wanted” posters that Interpol and the FBI used to issue – nine black guys, most of them with this long, weird, matted hairstyle that looked completely alien to me.
Inside, I discovered that they had strange names like Big Youth, Prince Far I and Dillinger and, most importantly to the vinyl junkie in me, recorded on unheard of labels like Joe Gibbs, Vulcan and Grounation.
Although most of these discs were difficult to get hold of – I was more Mostyn Dock than Montego Bay, don’t forget – I persisted and was rewarded with sounds that were unlike anything I’d come across, particularly in the areas of dub and toasting.
By the time we got into 1976, so-called white music was in a very sorry state indeed, but once again it was the Sounds newspaper that came to my rescue.
A journalist by the name of Jonh Ingham ran a double page feature on an unsigned band by the name of the Sex Pistols and to say it peaked my interest would be a massive understatement.
The singer was as articulate as he was transgressive and, best of all as far as the hormonally-overloaded 17 year-old me was concerned, they played their gigs in places like seedy strip clubs, dirty basement bars and rundown old cinemas.
I was primed for what became known as punk before I’d heard a note so I thought I knew what to expect by the time they made their infamous TV debut on Granada TV’s “So it Goes” in the September ……except nothing prepared me for the brutishness of Jonesey’s guitar, the sight of microphone stands getting kicked over and chairs getting thrown across the stage and, most of all, that final glare at the camera by little Johnny Lydon – venom, contempt, challenge incarnate.
Forget about the McLaren-ringmastered pantomime that the band became, that was my moment – if we all remember our best ever sex, that was my best ever musical shag and my worldview literally changed overnight.
I became a nightmare for my parents – well you try being a Sid Vicious clone in a small mining village – but punk, and more importantly post-punk, brought me any number of “first times” that have formed and moulded the somewhat worn around the edges person that I am today.
The Clash made me realise that music and politics could be intertwined (and they still remain the best, the most incendiary live act I’ve ever witnessed), The Slits made me realise that being a sexist dickhead was not cool in the slightest (and “Cut” remains my favourite album of all time), the Au Pairs influenced me for life with some great live gigs and a long chat in the dressing room at Manchester Uni about their flexisex manifesto, while Joy Division reignited my love of poetry via their lyrics – John Cooper Clarke also had an influence there, albeit from a different perspective (let’s face it, I can’t imagine Ian Curtis penning “Twat” anymore than I could see JCC writing “Atmosphere”).
Enough “firsts” for a lifetime you might think, but not so – if punk bequeathed me one quality above all else it was to turn me into a voracious consumer not only of music, but also of literature, art, history, EVERYTHING.
Perhaps one of the key moments for me in 1977 had the square root of bugger all to do with punk, occurring as it did in The Schooner in Rhyl, a place that was a typical-for-the-period nightmare of flocked wallpaper, sticky carpet, brutish doorstaff and a cloying smell of over applied Brut 33 and spilt Pernod.
I was stopped in my tracks – literally – when a two second wash of what sounded like an air fan being turned on gave why to a metronomic drum snap, waves of synths that sounded as if they were emanating from a distant planet and, eventually, a female vocal that sounded as if it was being sung in the afterglow of the most amazing sex ever – yup, I was hearing Giorgio Moroder and Donna Summer‘s game-changing ” I Feel Love” for the first time.
It was my initiation to the concept that dance music is every bit as inventive, as credible and as eternal as so-called rock music and I don’t think I’m exaggerating when I state that it primed me for every mutation and change that dance music has gone through in the ensuing decades.
It means that “first time”s like NWA‘s “Straight Outta Compton”, Turntable Orchestra‘s “You’re Gonna Miss Me”, Phuture‘s “Acid Trax”, A Guy Called Gerald‘s “Voodoo Ray” – game-changers all – were “first time”s that I was ready to embrace and which are every bit as important to me even now.
Music’s greatest beauty lies in the fact that it never stands still, it never stops innovating and reinventing, and so it’s given me 60+ years of innumerable “first time”s.
I don’t know how many years I have left on this little lump of rock, but I do know that music will continue to give me more “first time”s right up until the moment my funeral tunes (Joy Division‘s “Atmosphere” and Stone Roses ” I Am The Resurrection”, pop-pickers!!!) play out across the Marine Lake as I’m floated away on a blazing pedalo – yes, I’m insisting on the Rhyl equivalent of a Viking funeral!!!
I’ve shown you mine …….. now show me yours!!!!