Thursday, 11 September 2008

Ash - 1977 - Live at the Roundhouse.

I’m about 8.

I like Adam and the Ants. A babysitter brings her make up box, and for about 15 minutes before bed, I am Adam. Lipstick stripes on my cheek and everything.

I'm about 16.

I was very late getting into music. by this time, I have about 5 tapes, Kylie, Bros, Michael Jackson, and Hits 8 or some such compilation (it counts as 2) and a couple of 7inch singles. One of them is Alice Cooper's "Poison". Another is my dads, so doesn't count. I know my friends at school are into music, but I don't bother to ask them about it. I know Alf like Genesis (he's a drummer) and I remember Andy has all sorts of things written on his rucksack about Ned’s atomic dustbin, the levellers and EMF.

Music for me at this time is what I hear on top of the pops, recording the charts (being careful to press pause before the talking starts) and reading the reviews (but still not bothering to seek out the music deliberately) on teletext.
CDs are something other people can afford.

I'm 17.

Two of the girls seem devastated at the news that Kurt is dead. I have no idea who Kurt is. Even when I find out, I am mystified as to why it matters. They are in tears. Probably about 2 weeks later I get Nevermind (I’ve graduated to CD) and it becomes my angry music (replacing the aforementioned Alice cooper). I somehow get into Extreme, driving my girlfriend to my first proper gig (in Hammersmith) and falling asleep in a little chef car park on the way back, because falling asleep while driving is not a good way to keep a girlfriend. Living in rural Dorset, the choice of places to go to concerts was limited. My parents would point out that they took Martyn and I to see Status Quo prior to this, but that was their gig. (I still loved it though).

I'm 17 and a half.

It is the height of the Blur/Oasis battle of Britpop, and I'm throwing the same girlfriend out of the front of a moshpit at blur's showbar gig, while the crowd go worryingly wild to Girls and Boys. (This gig gets top billing in Alex James' autobiography as his homecoming gig. it is an "I was there" moment for me.)

I’m 18

Getting into music properly now. Plenty of Britpop, a bit of techno, Orbital, The Prodigy. I take photos at the Prodigy’s gig in Bournemouth. Fat of the Land tour – they are at the top of their game, and I touch Maxim Reality’s sweaty back.

I'm 18 and a half.

Young enough and old enough for the half to be important. I'm working a summer job at Salisbury hospital doing gardening. Not the last time I did manual labour for money, but the only time I stuck it our for more than a morning before walking out for my lunch break and never coming back (call me a snob, but people with degrees in Biochemistry should not be stacking shelves in Tesco. I think the fact that I earn 5 times what I was getting then by sitting on my butt all day shows who was right about that one). I have a walkman (remember them?) Think an iPod with only enough room for one album on it, and there was about a one in 10 chance that it would destroy its own music collection without warning if your pinch roller was a bit sticky.

My walkman is special though. No - not special like the poor souls who shuffled about in the bit of the hospital I was working in. the bit where I felt slightly uneasy when one of the crocodile of patients recognised me, called me by my name, and I later realised I'd worked with him the last summer, selling furniture at the Game Fair. "What happened to you?" I naively asked. "Oh, you know" he muttered. I didn't know. I still can't remember his name.

My walkman has a radio. CDs are something other people can afford. I listen to Radio 1. Simon Mayo has done the golden hour (always featuring Arrested Development - was he on their payroll?) and the daytime show is starting.

Guitars. Drums. It may well have been Jo Wiley introducing Ash, and she mentions that their album is out soon, called 1977 as that is when they were born, they are about to learn their A level results. So am I.

Girl From Mars belts onto my headphones. The sun is shining, I’m sitting on a wall, clipping a bush with secateurs, and a band made up of kids like me (or so I wished) are on the radio, singing about the girl they knew and still think of (ringing any bells – see my previous entries!) I’d been playing guitar for a while, I’d sung songs I’d written myself with Alf on drums, but these guys were doing it, and doing it well.

Girl From Mars got heavy rotation, and it was a massive boost to my day when it came on the radio. Looking at the chart of the year for `1995, it is dominated by Robson and Jerome, Celine Dion, Take That, Simply Red and Michael Jackson. Blur are there at 10, with Country House, but hearing a good song maybe twice a day on radio 1 was worth it, and Girl From Mars became the anthem of my Summer.

On arrival at university, I found myself in a house with 4 blokes of my age, who mostly (apart from Chris, and his continuous rotation of Deep Blue Something’s “Breakfast at Tiffany’s”) had great taste in music. I also found myself with a bit of money (I was one of the last recipients of the Student Grant, and the parents were good to me too), and Ash’s 1977 album – on tape (£4.50 on the day of release! Awesome!) Had to be done.

When you are young, and you’re music collection fits on a single shelf, you get to know it intimately. I can still sing Michael Jackson’s Bad in its entirety all the way through – every word and “hee heeee!!!” Extreme’s Pornograffiti visits once in a while like an old friend. Ash’s 1977 was similar, although not on such heavy playback, but the chance to hear them play it in full, 12 years later, had to be done.

Back to a 3 piece, after losing their 2nd guitarist, Ash’s last album didn’t do well. Put it this way, Lisa and I have all their albums, except that one. Free All Angels was probably the last album we bought 2 copies of, unsure at the time of our level of commitment. However – last Friday night, they were rejuvenated, as was the whole of the Roundhouse. We may all be 30(ish) now, but there is nothing like seeing your favourite band of your teenage years, playing their best album, like it was 1995 all over again.

I’m old enough to want to sit down for a gig these days, and Lisa is short enough to want to see too, so the balcony at the venue suits us fine, but if I could have swapped places with anyone in the seething mass of sweaty bodies below us, feeling and acting 13 years younger, 13 years more care free, and 13 years more happy to sit for 45 minutes on the Northern Line, stinking of BO and spilled beer, I would have done like a shot. Then I’d have worried about the wife getting elbowed in the head, and it wouldn’t have been such fun. Some responsibilities never change.

Oh – and they had Stormtroopers too. Cool.

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