Once upon a time, a long, long time ago, there was a young boy who grew up wild in a large overgrown garden. Bows and arrows tipped with nails, bamboo spears with launching thongs, nuts and bolts filled with match heads; he had a grand old time jumping from branch to branch from his tree house to the one overlooking the road and using a bicycle pump to fire water at passing cars. Oh how we laughed.
He had two brothers who were quite a bit older than him, and were away a lot. He used to listen to their music when they were out, so grew up on the Beatles, Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin, Free, Ten Years After, Jo Jo Gunne, Creedance Clearwater Revival and the like, but also mixed in with a bit of Big Band music from the 1930’s, French popular music, and various other eclectic selections. He also loved to watch film musicals on TV with his mother as her enjoyment of the music and dancing of Fred Astaire and Gene Kelly was so infectious.
After moving up to Secondary school, he stopped using home-made bow and arrows and climbing trees. His new friends weren’t into that. What they were into was long, greasy hair, milky tea and hot buttered toast. They wore Army & Navy surplus greatcoats that were already too heavy to wear comfortably, but when it rained and the water soaked through the coat’s material, it was like wearing an iron box with a few dozen chains draped around it.
Every Saturday he and his mates would meet at the cafe in town for more milky tea and toast, then decide whose mother’s carpets were going to be ruined by 3 tonnes of water dripping from their greatcoats. At the chosen house they would listen to the albums that they had recently purchased; bands such as Deep Purple, Free, Yes, Vangelis, with Pink Floyd being our young hero’s contribution. Of course there was much more to listen to, the whole Northern Soul and Glitter movements were all around, and Saint John Peel had won another Reggae convert when he played Misty in Roots’ “How Long Jah?” one wonderful night.
He joined the school theatre group, probably to get some girls attention, and during all the waiting around for his part to practise, helped out with the sound and lighting. Some of his friends had other friends who were in a band. He started hanging out with them and helped out with the lighting when they put on shows. Their style was typical of the mid-70s in that it was a sort of self-indulgent jazz without any freestyle. Each piece of music went on far too long, a sort of inferior grade of what he and his mates were listening to in each other’s bedrooms on their shared Saturdays.
One day he was walking to a practise session with the Dutch keyboard player and Welsh drummer, who said that they were getting into something new, and had he heard of “Peaches”? He said no, who were they? They laughed and told him that it was a song by a group called the Stranglers. He told them that he knew of the group as they should have played Bangor Students Union a few weeks back, but the drummer had been sick. Our hero tried to go to most gigs at Bangor, as they were fun nights out even if he had never heard of the band playing before. The Stranglers had promised to come back later and play the cancelled gig – if you had a ticket for the cancelled gig, you’d get in. The two musicians nearly killed each other in trying to buy the ticket off the hero, but now his interest was piqued. They walked on to the musician’s practise session and played him the song “Peaches”. It was so different from what he’d been listening to, it was a revelation.
Later when he saw the Stranglers live at Bangor Student’s Union, it was like coming home. The queue of people without tickets trying to get in went around the block.
By the time he finished Secondary school and left for University, Punk was in full swing and the brief but intense Ska movement had just started. He had chosen Newcastle-upon-Tyne because of their expertise in his chosen subject, but luckily the town also was a perfect match for Punk. The collapse of the national shipbuilding industry, the shrinking coal work, the local council corruption scandals of the 60s and the resultant concrete public buildings, the wastelands of terraced houses running down to the Tyne, created a jobless, moneyless desperation that Punk thrived on. Black was back, whether in leather or in bin-bags.
But our friend had been, if not exactly a hippy, then pretty close to it when his friends played their Yes albums. Some of the colour of the imagery remained, so he painted his black bovver boots with pink toenail lacquer, and wore some garish ties instead of the de rigueur black and white ones at the Ska dances. But maybe that was influenced by the Big Band music along with Bing Crosby and Gene Kelly rather than hippydom.
Even his black leather jacket was a soft grey colour, and underneath that his favourite shirt was a fluorescent pink with black tiger stripes and no arms.
His best mate at college was a lanky Southern poseur, who made his mum take in his jeans so they showed off his legs, wore mascara, and was always pulling at the collar of his leather jacket. Together they went to every band that was playing in the North East. They saw the Clash three times, they got invited to Ian Dury and the Blockheads’ after-gig bash, they booked the Police for the Uni Christmas Ball before they got famous, Stiff Records called the college one of their favourite venues and one of their promotional tours had Elvis Costello, Lena Lovitch, and a girl called Rachael Sweet who didn’t turn out to be Kirsty MacColl later in life as our hero confusedly thought at one point. They even travelled to a Sunderland secondary school to watch a great Penetration gig so that his mate could write a pretentious piece about them and try and get a job with NME. Which he failed miserably to do. Our hero did go to a few gigs by himself, as his taste in music was catholic enough to encompass Talking Heads, David Bowie, Van Morrison, Nick Lowe & Dave Edmunds (who together made up the best pub rock band, ever: Rockpile). When attending Rockpile’s gig at the Polytechnic, he found that he was accidentally wearing the exact same outfit as Dave Edmunds: black trousers, black shirt, pink tie.
Once, a group of his friends made a bet who could dress with the worst taste. They met up in a workingman’s pub for Sunday lunch and our hero won hands down. All the others were wearing offensive t-shirts, while he was wearing plaid; red plaid lumberjack shirt, brown plaid jacket, even a plaid tie. Nothing quite matched, and he was soon asked to leave the pub as he was making the other customers queasy.
Once, just to fool people, he bought a nice grey pinstripe suit, but it came with a free turquoise tie that rather spoilt the effect. He later on got married in the same suit, but thankfully had lost the tie by then. He found a pair of two-tone shoes to go with the suit and was quite pleased with the result, as long as he didn’t wear the tie.
Before leaving college to run away to South America, he found his favourite trousers of all time: jeans but with thin alternating black and pink stripes running vertically. Shirts were mainly t-shirts, and many of them were of bands. His Southern poseur of a mate turned out to be friendly with a band called The Birthday Party with an Aussie singer called Nick Cave, and his mate had designed their first album cover and had it made into t-shirts as well. While in Brazil, in something like 1982, he went to a Brazilian version of a punk party wearing the jeans and the BP t-shirt, but added some colourful braces and that is when the photo was taken. All the Brazilians turned up wearing purple makeup, and the music was mainly Bossa Nova.
The 70s – don’t knock ‘em.
(c) 2009 Matthew Meade