Wednesday, 16 February 2011

Music is really awful

I thought I'd write a blog today about music. Not musical comedy. In fact, nothing to do with comedy at all (though you may think different when I mention some of the bands I like)

I started going to comedy gigs around 2 years ago when I looked at the bands playing my local venue (Islington O2) and realised I hadn't heard of any of them. Most of my favourite bands didn't exist any more and I had no gigs to go to. I'm still rather out of touch with contemporary music now. I followed The Brits a little on Twitter last night and saw Mumford & Sons being slagged off, and I couldn't even join in because I have no idea who they are. The Kings Of Leon, Kasabian, The Killers.. I mean, I've HEARD of them all but wouldn't recognise them walking down the street. I have probably heard their songs and would know the song when I heard it on the radio, but I can't possibly match it to the band.

I think this must be a general thing that happens to 40-somethings. Pop music is not for us. But all the same, pop music today is SO BORING. Where are the current Sex Pistols, the new Nirvana, the contemporary Beastie Boys? The closest we can come to NWA seems to by Tiny Tempah (can't be bothered to check if I've spelled that right) - and he's a hip-hop guy that your mum would like.

Music is extremely important to me, and whenever I'm on a the move. I'm constantly plugged in and if I've run out of podcasts to listen to I have my iPhone set to shuffle on my carefully considered playlist. (I used to have whole albums on my phone but now I only have songs that I'm not tempted to skip)

Until I was 11 I wasn't that bothered about music. I remember liking Space Oddity and Long Haired Lover From Liverpool when I was about 5 and I would hear my big brother playing his Queen and Status Quo, and my step sister playing her ELO and Elton John and quite liked it, but never took much of an interest. I was too young to remember punk. In fact I don't think punk happened in the little Scottish seaside town where I grew up.

I can probably break down my musical education into specific sections, and there are certain people who have shaped this.

Gary Numan
1. The Numan years

This all changed in May 1979 when I saw Gary Numan (then performing under the name of Tubeway Army) performing "Are 'Friends' Electric?" on Top Of The Pops. (See, I even got the punctuation right!). He was so different to what I'd ever seen. He looked nervous, cold, he barely moved, and the music was unlike anything I'd ever heard with it's booming synths. Me and my friend Leslie were instantly hooked and would run home at lunchtime every Tuesday to see where he was in the charts. This was when a song would usually enter the charts at number 30 or so, then next week might get to 20, and it would take 4 or 5 weeks to get to number 1.

I became obsessed with Numan, but wasn't allowed to buy his records (or any records). This changed when I was 15 and spent a few months in a children's home - another story - where I bought 3 Gary Numan albums for £2 each from another boy. I played them constantly, analysing the lyrics, writing my own Numanesque songs.

Gary Numan - Are 'Friends' Electric? - Top of The Pops

2. New Wave

A boy at school called Spencer saw the latest Numan LP (Warriors) in a slightly see through John Menzies bag and wanted to become my friend. He lived about a 20 minute bus ride from me and I would go round his house a lot and listen to his records. He had a lot more than me, and rather more diverse. He told me that Gary Numan wasn't the best, and played me albums by David Bowie, Japan and Talking Heads. He told me that Numan was trying to copy Bowie which meant Bowie was better. OK, technically Bowie IS better than Numan, and although I liked him, I still preferred Gary. However my musical taste was beginning to broaden.

3. Thrash!

I was round at "Spenny"'s house another time (I guess 1987 when I was 18) and he told me he had to play me something really funny. t was Slayer's "Reign In Blood". We laughed so much - it was ridiculous - it was so fast, the guitar solos seemed completely random, and they were singing about Satan. For a Christian boy like me, it seemed so dangerous! I asked Spenny to tape it for me, and I would play a great joke on my cousin (I was sharing a room with him at the time as I was living with my Aunt and Uncle). When I got home I would play it really loud and pretend to him I liked it. Haha - this was gonna be great! I listened to it on the bus... and I actually started to like it! I was a thrasher! A few weeks later I was at Spenny's again and he let me hear Master Of Puppets by Metallica and Into The Pandemonium by Celtic Frost and the deal was complete.

Tom G Warrior - Celtic Frost
When I moved to England in 1987 I saw a poster advertising a thrash band called Dross (with an amusing Bros style logo) who were playing in a pub nearby. Now I had no idea that you could see bands in pubs, so I went along and loved it. They changed their name to Killing Faith and never got famous, but it was then that I realised that you didn't have to be famous to be in a band, or that you could happily be in a band without getting famous. I still have their demo tapes at home and still play them.

4. Punk Rock - Nirvana & Husker Du

In 1988 I had started my first job, working for the Meteorological Office, and I shared an office (yes in those days we didn't have open plan - it was amazing) with a younger lad called Simon Osborne. He was pretty geeky with a big mop of curly hair, but sort of awkwardly cute, and he knew SO much about music. He played guitar - jazz guitar mind, and thought nothing of spending nearly £1000 on a Paul Reed Smith. He also talked a lot about American punk rock. Now, this eventually became to be known as grunge, but I didn't and still don't like that term, so I'm gonna stick with punk. 

He mocked me for my devotion to thrash metal. I would play him an AMAZING Megadeth guitar solo and he would look non-plussed. He would ask me where the emotion was, he would explain that there were no dynamics in the music and eventually he made me a mix tape. This mix tape would change my musical life again.

I wish I could remember exactly what was on it, but it certainly contained Negative Creep by Nirvana, some Mudhoney, Jesus Lizard, Sugar, Nomeansno as well as others. I would play this over and over again but couldn't find any of these band's records anywhere. They were the first group of bands I got into that just weren't famous enough for Our Price to stock their records. Simon told me of an independent record shop in Camberley (where I lived) called Rock Box that I visited, where I bought an album from my favourite band on the tape - "Bleach" by Nirvana. I wore this record out, and when I found they were about to release "Nevermind" I pre-ordered it and became a HUGE Nirvana fan. They soon became huge, and I would visit Camden Market looking for the latest bootlegs of their gigs that you could buy on cassettes of varying quality from stallholders there - this was in the years before YouTube, or even the Internet.

Simon asked what I thought of Sugar and I told him I wasn't that keen because the singer's voice reminded me of Phil Collins. Looking back I can't see that any more, but he persisted and told me that if it wasn't for Bob Mould's previous band Husker Du, then Nirvana would never have existed. He taped me the whole Husker Du back catalogue and for over a year Husker Du were my favourite band of all time.

Husker Du - Live 1981

5. Industrial and Alternative

For a few years I was seeing this lad called Greg and he would ban me from playing my beloved Gary Numan or Nirvana whenever he was round. At the time he would play Nine Inch Nails, Ministry, Meat Beat Manifesto, Nitzer Ebb and other bands I considered a racket. Again though, my musical tastes started to expand as I appreciated what NIN were doing.

Trent Reznor - NIN
I think I was converted to industrial music when, as a birthday treat, I bought Greg tickets to see Consolidated at a venue somewhere in London. I fully expected to be bored by this, because as well as being industrial-based, they also incorporated hip hop and dance.

Fuck - I loved it!

Again through Greg and his friends I discovered bands such as Faith No More and Alice Donut. A whole world of bands were opening up - Primus, Green Day, Rage Against The Machine, Revolting Cocks, and Sheep On Drugs, leading me to rediscover the greatest and funniest Canadian punk band ever - Nomeansno.

Nomeansno - It's Catching Up - live

The Jesus Lizard - Puss (live)

Now through all this time, I still loved all the other music I had discovered. I hadn't cast it aside, though I put thrash metal on the back burner until about 3 years ago. I formed my own band, Mouthfull and we played together for around 5 years. We were a "queercore" band, which was a scene which had splintered from the Riot Grrrl movement and we played with bands such as Sister George, Pansy Division, and even Tom Robinson. We almost had a residency at the only gay alternative club in the UK at the time, Club V - again remember this was way before clubs such as Popstarz, and before it became acceptable for gay lads to be into any sort of indie music.

Mouthfull - No Limit (live)

I discovered a plethora (good word!) of little bands that no one had ever heard of, and probably never will. - Sleater Kinney, Team Dresch, Gertrude...When that band ended in 1999 I started losing touch with the music scene, and didn't see my band friends as much as I used to.

These days I'm stuck in the 90s. I'm happy with this. I have a great combination of New wave, industrial, thrash, alternative and punk on my phone, and don't HAVE to listen, know about or even acknowledge the dreary dreary dreary mum loving music that passes for pop today. Big thanks to Spencer, Simon, and Greg!

Finally, a little Spotify playlist for you all so you know what the hell I'm on about !


  1. Excellently put :)

    I've been working in an office for two years now where we don't have a radio on. Consequentally, I have no clue what the kids are listening to these days. With this in mind, I listen to what makes me happy. Which is what's important, right?

    Oh, and it's spelled "Tinie Tempah", but pronounced "Stupid Fucking Name".

  2. Ah thanks for clearing that up. Normally I wold go back and re-edit and change it, but I can't be bothered...

    We have a radio on but I hear the same songs being played and the same bands being mentioned but I don't know which one's which...