Warning, this is a longer read blog post and not one about being a CIO, or maybe it is! Its about accepting differences and how relationships change you and how music and relationships evolve, how you grow and how your thinking evolves….
Why do tastes change and what causes them to? As a kid I grew up with headphones permanently attached to my ears; I was in love with music. Now when I look back through my musical life I find it amazing how much my approval rating of different styles of music has changed.
How much of an impact the people you are around alters the culture you are part of is something that fascinates me. I am at a time in my life both professionally and personally where I am the most settled and happy I have ever been and my taste in music, my approval rating of different styles, is at its most consistently wide.
This blog has become something of a labour of love, born out of a recent gig, my first gig in Ireland. I went with a new friend and the pre-gig conversation turned to ‘war stories’ of gigs we had been to, where we regaled each other of the good the bad and the ugly. I wondered what it would be like to try to put down in writing the twelve most impactful gigs on my life, not the best gigs, but the ones that were snap shots of a change in who I am.
Bananarama. There I have said it, I confess. The first gig on my list was Siobhan, Sara and Keren the original all girl super-group known as Bananarama. They were performing at Sheffield City Hall in May 1989. The gig was a family affair and supposed to be a surprise for me, although I can’t for the life of me think why! Regardless, I had found out about the surprise somehow and told some friends at school, one of them threatened to tell my parents that I had found out, so as any 15 year old with a promise of tickets to see three poster stars on stage would, I raced home to unplug the house phone before this person could ring my parents and tell the tale.
I remember they played a hit packed set, Robert De Nero, I Heard A Rumour and Venus, but Bananarama were not going to get me any cool points. It was before kitsch and pop music could ever be seen as cool and at 15 I was coming to all this a little late. I had to pretend that this was all about the band, not about the three ladies who in my memory out danced and outperformed anything that had gone before it, live on stage!
However within a few weeks the Bananarama posters came down. I needed to get more music in my life and I needed to grow up.
As I grew up I had a paper round, and every so often the round would change. In 1989 I lucked out and my morning round was changed to include a final house to drop off a Financial Times to the ‘most desirable girl in school’ (TMDGIS). Well not actually her, but her parents’ house. This was great for three reasons: number one it was near my own home so I finished my paper round and went straight home without wasting time; number two, TMDGIS had an older brother who had the NME delivered, which meant every Wednesday (except when something was free with it when it would come in a plastic bag) I could read the NME as I walked round delivering the morning papers and finally, the obvious one, this was a reason for me to be able to talk to TMDGIS.
And it worked, she talked to me. We were in the same classes but as she now saw me every morning as she said goodbye to her father it meant we could have a conversation. We struck up a friendship and her taste in music (and her brother’s) took me from Smash Hits to NME and Melody Maker. So the next two gigs are heavily influenced by this.
To go from the pop of the three girls to what is probably best described as the goth of All About Eve in six months tells me a great deal about the state of mind of a fifteen year old! November 1989 and I was off to my first gig without parental controls, which is not strictly true as they took me and TMDGIS into Nottingham. We had balcony seats to avoid the craziness of a full goth concert and had the most amazing time. A complete guitar ‘wig out’ to the last song from the album, December, as the set closer was a highlight and the first time I went to a bar and ordered a drink – well Southern Comfort if that counts.
So the 80s ended with me turning from Smash Hits pop to a gloomy rock fan. All About Eve, The Mission and Simple Minds were clocked up as gigs and my favourite day of the week would no longer be Thursday when Smash Hits came out but Wednesday when I could read NME on the way around my paper round.
My musical taste had already flitted around a great deal, and the peer group I was with at school had a wide ranging taste. This was the early 90s and soon there would be a colourful explosion of musical difference, but before we get to that my first musical obsession needs to be brought up, Prince! On the 20th August 1990, Prince released the Graffiti Bridge soundtrack and played Wembley Stadium as part of the Nude tour. And I had tickets with TMDGIS! Amongst my indoctrination into gloomy guitar music by her brother I had also started to listen to Prince. I loved Batman, there are scenes in Purple Rain that I can still recall word for word and despite the fact that he was one very odd chap I was enjoying the sheer volume of new music I could now listen to.
The gig was a very long day; a trip to Virgin records in Nottingham to purchase the new cassette, a long ticket master bus ride to Wembley, a desperate memory test to place the bus pick-up point in my head and then off to the gig. The previous tour had been an expensive affair and Prince had decide to strip back all of the theatrics and perform the hits without the Cadillac, set changes and basketball hoops, although a huge heart shaped bed did feature! The night finished with Prince and Rosie Gaines of the New Power Generation delivering an almost heart stopping version of Nothing Compares 2 U and I was hooked. No matter what music I now fell into for the rest of my life, right through to today, I will still always fall back to Prince to cheer me up and give me a sing along! Relationships built around a love of music can be challenged and as I grew up and found new friends me and TMDGIS drifted apart, but what a great memory to have.
When are the most formative years for a teenager? Personally I believe it’s as you start to make more and more of your own decisions, and that depends on the freedom you have as a kid. I also would suggest that freedom comes as rebellion sets in! The early 1990s was a musical revolution in the UK, the lines between rock, indie and dance music blurred and anything baggy became de rigueur. There are two gigs that most represent this time for me and they are so very very different, which reflects both music in the early 90s and the width of musical influence friendships and relationships have on you as you grow up.
The first of these two is Shakespears Sister live at the same venue as All About Eve some years earlier. In the late summer of 1992 a gang of us all squeezed into a friend’s Citroen 2CV and raced into Nottingham to see an ex-member of the already mentioned Bananarama and a wonderful singer who looked like one of the Robert Plant girls, perform an album that we simply had not been able to stop listening to all summer. The highlight of the gig was the encore when Dave Stewart who was married to one of Shakespears Sister came on stage and the whole band performed T-Rex’s Hot Love. In some ways it’s a shame when the audience leave a gig and the song they are singing is the encore which is a cover, but that was how it went.
I guess the second gig from that period of time really does show up that juxtaposition of musical impact even more and describes how the early 90s was such a melting pot for eclectic taste, or maybe it’s a fickle taste on my part!
808 State, were either known as a Manchester band, or a dance band, or a collection of DJs that made ‘evil’ acid house music. Whatever your take on the music they made, in 1991 they had released an album called Ex:El which had prompted me to discover a small back catalogue of music, buy the T-shirt and as 1992 turned to 1993 listen to all that they did. Why this change in taste and style? The two cool ‘kids’ in the sixth form common room. A chap called Saul and one nicknamed Ghandi. A whole group of us in my year looked up to this lad that everyone knew as Ghandi (I have no recollection why he was called this at all). He had a style with his long undercut hair, baggy shorts and band t-shirts proclaiming the latest achievable unknowable cool. Saul was an expert in all things dance music. Many a heated debate between the dance music group and the heavy metal fans would be led by Saul, who claimed metal was dead, long live Madchester! Saul provided a mix tape of rarities and remixes of this amazing new band called 808 State and in the middle of 1993, they played Rock City in Nottingham.
My first all night gig had to end at 2 o’clock through sheer nerves on my part. The music was amazing. Loud? It made your teeth dance. The people were all very lovely but I just didn’t have the guts to keep going alone. Having lost the guys I went with about 3 hours into the night I wandered around what is quite a small venue, but could not find them anywhere so decided to call it a night and head home in a taxi for one.
Music is a collective thing in my mind, something to be shared. Do you ever hear a song and want to turn to someone and seek an opinion on what it means to them? If there is no one there to share it with what happens to your taste, does it become truly yours or does it start to flat line? At the 808 State gig as a young man learning so much I simply didn’t know how to react without friends to influence me so I decided to go, a decision I now, confident in my own self, see as odd, but I guess that is part of growing up.
University makes you grow up doesn’t it? Well eventually I think it does but initially I think it is such a release for kids in the UK that the initial reaction is to regress. I had my Prince records and I had sampled but wasn’t quite sure about all the baggy Madchester stuff. The Brit-pop thing was just about breaking through, the first Oasis single and Pulp were becoming something more than a band for the coolest kids in the know. Back to that rebellion word, I wanted to do something different. I was at University just outside London and decided to investigate Camden Market on my own one Sunday morning where I picked up a magazine called ‘Straight No Chaser’. This event was to start a whole new chapter in my musical discovery.
Acid Jazz was a record label, and yet it became the name for a whole scene, clothes, music, places, history maybe even an outlook on life. As a teenager getting ready for the big bad world I had flitted around a great deal and not quite landed on a style or taste, easily influenced is what my school report would have said. Straight No Chaser described something new, something no one else was talking about back in my university digs, something I could make my own.
The bands involved in Acid Jazz as a scene were diverse enough to allow my ‘flighty taste’ to be challenged. Ranging from Snowboy, a Latin drummer with a salsa kick, through to Urban Species, a laid back, instrumented hip hop act on to my three favourites, Corduroy, Mother Earth and the Brand New Heavies.
The gang I was in a house with at University started with diverse taste on the day we had moved in – a Beatles obsessed southerner, a rock-indie fan from Essex and a Boyzone fan from Bradford. So it made obvious sense for us all to jump in an old Renault 5 and head to the Alexandra Palace extravaganza that was to become known as Blur at the Ally Pally.
Blur, Pulp, Supergrass and the afore mentioned Acid Jazz band Corduroy playing wonderful sets, all before the term Brit-pop became a negative thing to say and whilst a resurgent mod-scene seemed to be where the bands were landing. As a new bunch of friends we had the best time. Even now the fun we had is easily remembered as on the live video of the gig you can vaguely hear a chant of ‘lets all have a disco’ started by us as a rallying cry for an encore by the headliner Blur. A great outcome of this gig though was my friends now also got to see this Acid Jazz band I had been raving about for six months and Corduroy fever took hold across a group of friends and an obsession with all things Acid Jazz.
We followed Corduroy all over the south of England, seeing them in small cafes, large London venues and after much lobbying in our own student union. My Prince obsession was momentarily cured as I had a new band to fill that hole. I could ‘sing’ every song, and given there is a great many instrumental Corduroy songs that was no mean feat!
So a musical nature setting the scene for someone growing up I think starts to be really clear, I felt like I had a home, a tribe to belong to. But all things must pass, and after the Brand New Heavies, Jamiroquai and Freakpower made it to the mainstream some of what the tribe was about seemed to lose its mystique. Maybe you can have too much of a good thing!
Having a completer-finisher nature can cause you problems when you are a music fan. As your taste evolves as a completer-finisher you feel the need to hear more, have more and go to more gigs. Leaving university and moving to that first job changes you. At last you have some disposable income so that you are no longer a little bit guilty of the decision to have an extra pint or buy the latest 12 inch single of the month, things become more affordable and do-able. This was at a time when music was hitting a plateau, or so I thought. Brit-pop had become Dad-rock and the new sound wasn’t really fresh anymore.
I was leaving Nottingham and the family home to work in Birmingham. New people, access to funds, near to a big city and near to a festival site. The being near to the site bit was important to me. I didn’t want to camp I wanted my bed and a real toilet each night but as a completer-finisher it would allow me to access a huge amount of music in a short period of time. The Virgin Festival was officially a 30 minute drive from my front door; I could go to the whole festival and still be in a real bed each night, how very grown up.
So every August over the next four years the festival would come around and off a group of us would go, with different experiences each year dependent on the weather and the company. There are two moments that stand out from all those festival attendances – very different moments.
The first is in blazing hot sunshine, sat on a hill above the stage with a very great friend of the time listening to Gomez, a band we had both enjoyed a great deal turning to each other and agreeing that life just didn’t get better than that, that cider was quite good and that we really should try to keep doing this kind of thing forever. A promise we let life take away from us as time went on and we grew into the people we were to become, with life responsibilities and the perception that perhaps music is something for kids.
The second is a very different experience, rain pouring down but a large group of us insistent that we wanted to see both Fountains of Wayne and the Chemical Brothers. This decision required us to simply dash from one stage to the next trying to see as much of both bands as possible, in one long chain of hands connecting people, causing absolute mayhem to the whole festival site! Laughing so hard we had to stop. The festival bug was there, a perfect excuse to investigate a huge amount of music beforehand under the guise of ‘research’ and, when the weather is right a great way to share music and grow friendships and an experience I still relish every year, although at more grown up festivals than the V festival.
As you have read though, my taste in music has evolved, sometimes due to research, sometimes due to a suggestion and sometimes due to being a follower. The next chapter though all came about from a free CD on a magazine, obsession is probably the right description for what happened next.
Ben and Jason were the band that should have ‘made it!’ (whatever it is?). Out of all the music I have ever heard this band still confuses me – how can music so good not be in every household in England (Did I say this was an obsession)? Select magazine, a music magazine that no longer exists, gave away a free CD in 1999 with a selection of songs it suggested were the unsung heroes of a new musical style about to change the nation’s perceptions of the singer songwriter scene. And I immediately loved the song You Shaped Hole. Upon hearing the song I did the usual, which was go to the local record store, Our Price, and find the album, the second was a new thing, I looked up the band on the internet.
I had wilfully avoided the digital revolution in music – I wanted to ‘have’ my music. I wanted the music collection to be in genre and chronological order not on a black box that I did work on. So coming to this late in the day I was overjoyed to discover that there was a Ben and Jason internet group (Yahoo Groups, where are they now?), a place where you could ‘talk’ to other fans and unbelievably Ben and Jason themselves! A revelation!
Then to go and see them support a relatively unknown called David Gray just a few weeks later, they played a short set but I was completely hooked, and they were sat in the bar, and I could go and speak to them! The courage it took to go and say hello was huge, I had never been good at putting myself in front of famous people but this was different, I had been ‘talking’ to them on line for the weeks in the run up to the gig. This started a great few years. I think I saw Ben and Jason perform around twenty times – I joined them on stage in Liverpool with a huge bunch of others to sing a Beatles song at the end of an Acoustic Roadworks roadshow, I saw them in the Cavern in Exeter, large venues in London, Manchester, Cardiff, Birmingham, Leeds and Bristol and sadly at the last gig they did at the Jazz Café in London. Every time Ben and Jason played live they hit a different emotional note, an ability to transpose the audience to a remote place where the songs spoke directly into you.
As Ben and Jason fever (in my house at least) reached its height, a number of other bands came to the fore that the music media labelled, the New Acoustic Movement. One of the bands to be pushed into the scene was a little known band who happened to be playing Exeter when I was visiting for work.
Coldplay had just released Shiver, a few inches had been written about them but not too much and the Exeter Cavern was a great venue small but perfectly formed (except for dingy toilets that is) it was ready to play host to a gig that would start a band off to global domination. I went with a friend, we had been and purchased the EP at 5:30pm had some food and then waited, and waited, and waited. My strongest memories of seeing Coldplay for the first time in such a small venue are two fold, they had so few songs they played Yellow twice and they didn’t come on until 11 o’clock and we had been there since 7:30pm. However the reason the gig does make this list is that then over the next few years, not through a desperation to see them but almost by accident I saw Coldplay quite a few times, and out of all the music I have ever seen live these guys are the ones that have evolved the live show the most.
The thing with Coldplay was that every time I saw them they had the worst support! Even at the amazing Arsenal football ground gig in 2012 the lights on the audience’s wrists were more interesting than the support acts! Which follows to how my next important gig went.
Ryan Adams was someone I had recommended to me by several people on the Ben and Jason group, so this was a whole new world, an artist I explored through the internet initially and then through the purchasing of every sound he had made. The first time I saw Ryan Adams play though was the Royal Festival Hall in London. I arrived late and only managed the last three songs of the support act, a chap called Jesse Malin who was outstanding and set a trend for me trying to not miss support acts in case they were ever as good as this again! The thing with seeing Ryan Adams over the next few years was you were never sure who would turn up – Ryan who comes on stage and spends as much time telling funny stories as singing, Ryan who comes on stage and plays loud guitar and nothing you have ever heard of before, or the current incarnation who comes on stage and plays ‘hit’ song after ‘hit’ song with a ferocity of love for the music he is making that has no parallels. I have seen Ryan Adams now maybe 15 times, and each time the experience is something different and like a good wine, as he gets older (and he is still the same age as me) he seems to be getting better and better.
One other story of Ryan Adams dates back to September 2006, I had got tickets to see him play Rock City in Nottingham, back to reminisce at some great nights spent there, I dragged a friend from Yorkshire along with me but I got there early to go to some old record buying haunts. Who should be in Select-a-disc but the one and only David Ryan Adams. Even now I remember so clearly how excited I was, he had a pile of back catalogue Lemonheads CDs, from before they mellowed and were still quite punk rock. I followed him around the record shop trying to act all nonchalant that my ‘hero’ was n front of me when eventually I gave up and said hello to him, his response, ‘nice shirt’! It was a Ben Sherman cowboy shirt and I still have it to this very day.
I think as I have written this I have proven to myself that your life changes your taste in music and that your musical taste changes your life!
The trajectory that my life is on today was changed by music! I had a Smiths poster in my office, just something to make it feel more ‘homely’ as I spent so much time in there. One day a very lovely lady walked in and asked me about it – pretty cool way to meet your wife I now think!
My friends used to groan if I was in charge of the music at this point, as mostly it was slow, miserable guitar music. I enjoyed nothing better than a glass of red wine and a Red House Painters album so I could wallow in my existential melancholia. I still love a bit of Red House Painters and the like today, but this new love in my life helped me re-discover that music was as much about having fun, laughing and dancing, and that’s what the last two gigs focus on.
The last two experiences are both on the white island of Eivissa. Separated by three years and a wedding on the same island.
The first was a Sunday, a trip from the magical side of the island into the thick of it, sunset strip and the legendary venue Café Mambo. It was August 2012, we had booked a table and were off to do what you do in Ibiza, watch the sun drop into the sea to the best soundtrack you will hear anywhere in the world. We had no idea who Solomun was when he started playing, but a few hours later we had heard some of the best house music I have ever heard and I was hooked. Although, an odd and emotional experience was a house DJ playing Imagine by John Lennon as the sun dropped into the sea, and all the dance music fans singing every word, how music connects tribes of people of any geographic location never ceases to amaze me.
I collect my top 20(ish) songs each year on a playlist. Up to 2012 on average there would have been two or three songs that anyone could describe as dance music in the 12 years prior. In 2012, my top 22 songs had 10 dance music tracks in the list, by 2014 it was about 75% of the music. How one evening with one very special person can change your outlook so much, and not just musically, as we did decide to get married on Ibiza right there that evening!
Dance music is easy to write off! And what is dance music anyway? There are as many genres of dance music as there of all other music put together I think. In the last few years some would say I have regressed, and certainly my parents wouldn’t give me the choice of the music anymore! The music I like the most in 2015 is what we call in our house, Ibiza Music. In other words, melody driven house music, stuff you can dance to or nod your head to, dependent on your mood. By being quite genre specific for so long, wanting to be part of a tribe, has meant I have missed all manner of music from different genres. That is a lesson learnt but also an opportunity to go back and discover some things in history that I had missed.
The last gig for this blog was last spring (2014), on the same island at a place called Ocean Beach. A great concept, club quality music played during the sunshine hours, out across an exclusive playground for grown-ups, a pool area straight from a James Bond film and a feeling across everyone that a good time was going to be had. It rained but it didn’t matter. I will remember dancing on my sun lounger under an umbrella to the Bonobo remix of a London Grammar song forever. Me and my partner in crime had the best day enjoying the food, the drink, the view, the dancing and some amazing tunes. We can’t even be sure who the DJ was at the points when we were enjoying it the most, but we didn’t care as it was all about the grin from ear to ear and the realisation that life does begin again at forty, happy, the beat not stopping and a glint in your eye you’re not sure you really deserve.
And so that is it, probably more than 12 gigs mentioned in reality and quite a spectrum of styles. The one thing this journey has taught me though is a need to be open. I love the music I listen to now so much, I can listen to a miserable guitar song, a euphoric rock song, a deep house melody and a banging hip-hop tune. Why?
Because when you accept differences and changes and be happy, music can take you anywhere!