Firstly – a confession or two.
One – I am as old as Rock’n’Roll itself – so there! Born in 1955, my little baby ears thrilled to the sound of Bill Haley rocking round the clock. Yes, some might say that this was the year that youth hijacked the world, so let’s thank the first of many youths and youthesses whose obstinate refusal to listen to their parents’ music created all the fuss. These days our lad’s band often ask me to identify some 60s/70s/80s music that they have heard on the radio of their stolen cars in Grand Theft Auto. Usually, I’ve got it on vinyl. Hah! We’ve carjacked their world now. But more of this later.
Two – I would not be writing this if John Harris had not thrown down the gauntlet (or this week – jewelled glove) by asking whether music writing has lost its way. Having smudged my inky adolescent fingers reading the 70’s finest music journos – Nick Kent, Julie Burchill and that bloke who writes proper books now that she was married to, oh and Charles Shaar Murray and Mick Farren – I feel qualified to answer that question. Yes, those were the days – a tale, a pose, a drug reference and then eventually some stuff about the music/band itself which was either the Future of Rock’n’Roll or shit. And that was the key – the great, hip, young (and-not-so-young) wordslingers really only wrote about themselves – the music was almost incidental. Narcissistic and trivial but beautiful and deep at the same time.
So here are some of my own personal recollections, structured in a way that offers sound advice (sorry!) for young, aspiring musicians like my youngest’s band. Meanwhile ask yourself – is this man the future of music writing? Find out by reading:
Mr Bizlike’s guide to becoming the Future of Rock and Roll
Buying booze the other night at our local Spar, I made a big show of pretending not to notice Richard Hawley who was buying his 20 Marlborough Lights. See him around he always looks the part in his grey drape jacket with the velvet collar, blue jeans with the bottoms turned up and with some good pomade on his quiff. Seemed a shame to ignore him.
Because I would have loved to tell him about the very first time I heard “Coles Corner” on a bus between fog-bound Manchester airport and Leeds-Bradford. I could have reminded him how that evening he told Radio 2’s Johnny Walker about his crazy days touring with the Long Pigs, whose record company he compared to the mad generals in Blackadder Goes Forth – sending them over the top to tour again and again. He might even have been impressed that I could remember him telling how his mum and aunty serenaded the Everley Brothers at the stage door of Sheffield City Hall, and how the Everleys joined in! Apart from other tales of US rockers his dad toured with – one in the habit of showering post-gig in his socks whilst drinking a bottle of whiskey – the really great stuff he told Johnny that night concerned the research he did for the album.
A popular meeting point for courting couples in the city in the 50s, the eponymous corner was overlooked by a café, into which one respondent to Hawley’s request for stories had gone in order to spy on and assess the desirability of his blind date. Finding the only free seat in a booth he struck up a conversation with the young woman there. They eventually realised that they were each other’s dates – she had had exactly the same idea – one thing led to another and they had recently celebrated their golden wedding anniversary! Nowadays I like to think I know a bit about storytelling but I never saw that one coming. And then they played the song…
So yes, maybe I should have told him about that night as we stood by the till in Spar. Because sat on that bus and listening to that song meant I really understood the Arctic Monkeys’ acceptance speech for that Mercury Prize they won at his expense:
“Phone the police – Richard Hawley’s been robbed!”
To my son, his band and all other aspiring musicians in our fair city and beyond, I hope the lesson is clear – know your music history. When they ask me about some old classic, I try to educate them: “Yes, that’s Joe Cocker – former gas-fitter from Crookes, great blues voice honed in the working men’s clubs of Sheffield, went to America, got fucked up on drink and drugs, wilderness years etc but brought back into the public eye when he duetted with Jennifer Warnes on “Up Where We Belong” the theme song to the movie “Top Gun” and you should check her out too – fabulous voice – she was a backing singer with Leonard Cohen – he wrote “Hallelujah” which John Cale covered for Shrek 1 and then that bird off X-factor did it…”
But I digress. I saw that Jarvis Cocker one winter in the departure lounge at Charles de Gaulle airport. Standing tall in his green Loden coat, an item of apparel I’d last seen worn by Douglas Hurd at one of the G8 summits in Switzerland, his owl-like glasses framed by his Beatle-cut, he was taking his nipper home via East Midlands airport. I pretended not to notice him, as well. Now, with the recent demise of Michael Jackson, Jarvis has been reminded of his infamous ’96 Brit Awards bumwiggle and that evening, back in Paris, I could have reminded him of my favourite moment shortly after his subsequent arrest.
Interviewed on some inferior chat show, the snide, oafish host made considerable fun of the Pulp frontman’s v-neck pullover – an item much less fashionable then than it is now. Jarvis recounted how, following his arrest, he was taken to the police station and questioned for three hours.
“What did they ask you?” said the interviewer.
“They wanted to know where I got my pullover” responded our local hero.
Tuning into Dermott O’Leary’s show a few Saturdays ago I caught Mr Disco 2000 (“that’s my pension, that is” he claims) performing one of his new Steve Albini produced songs. The song finished and Dermott’s first question was met with a muffled reply as Jarvis bent down to retie his desert boot. “I rocked so hard,” he exclaimed, “my shoelace came undone!”
Never one to be backward in coming forward (“My new album? It’s about fucking a lot of people”) Jarvis teaches us our second lesson – turn your history into music. He’s one of the common people but he’s in a different class.
So, if you check the link to their Xmas 2007 gig at the Highcliffe pub, Greystones (formerly a famous folk club where Billy Connolly, amongst others, performed) you’ll see our Declan’s band busy playing and paying their dues. They’ve studied the classics – they know their music history.
The band vocalist is a rugby-playing poet whose lyric-book, labelled “ONLY GREAT IDEAS”, rarely leaves his side. Hear their take on school and work – Learning Glasses. They turn their history into music.
As for me, well, who needs the NME when I’ve got Twitter and the net? I know my music history and I’m turning the past into the future through my rock’n’roll prose. So no, John Harris, music writing hasn’t lost its way, it’s just found a new one. Eventually everyone will be the Future of Rock and Roll for fifteen minutes, or even longer if they learn the lessons of Hawley and both Cockers.