As the year goes on I have more and more fun with the groovy kids from the Lower Sixth. We hang out, I get invited to their parties. Colin, a guitarist in his own right as well as a Kossoff admirer, forms a local band and I hang out at rehearsals. I would love to learn guitar and play rock, but as always I am just too inhibited to try. But Colin and I spend a lot of time together and talk music, the first person since Nigel and Michael who is on my musical wavelength. Colin lives in Goffs Oak, in a part of the village given over to market gardening and so his house is surrounded by greenhouses (they are mostly knocked down now, I think). He has a big attic room where we chill and listen to stuff or sometimes he comes down Cuffley Hill to my place. He has a motorcycle and occasionally he gives me a lift on it – I remember that freezing wind when hurtling down the hill.
Nigel has gone to Bristol University, and Michael to Christ Church College in Canterbury. I have long, newsy correspondence with them both all year. Nigel still has his letters from me apparently, although I no longer have his – would love to see them sometime. School is going well, life feels pretty good.
The summer before that school year, punk rock had become mainstream. 1976 was the actual year of punk – ’77 is the year it hits the charts. These days, thanks to iTunes etc, all different eras of pop co-exist simultaneously (sometimes within a single song!), because we have access to so much. Actually they co-existed for me in the seventies, but only because I consciously sought so much of this stuff out. As a result I knew what happened when, the trends in pop, things like the Brill Building, or when Spector got going, or how the blues influenced the Stones, or the birth of folk-rock, or when the Elektra label was founded. These days it’s such a massive world of music, that it is hard to imagine the Year Zero effect of punk in the UK unless you were there.
Overnight almost, everything seems to change. The NME embraces punk with open arms and starts to dismiss the “rock dinosaurs” it was championing a few months earlier. They advertise for two “hip young gunslingers” to join their editorial team. I think about trying to submit a writing example, but reason, finally, that a Brian Wilson fan is probably not a hip young gunslinger. Tony Parsons and Julie Burchill land the jobs and institute a “scorched earth” policy on pretty much all music that has come before (and a lot of what they see around them at the time – read their vitriolic book The Boy Looked at Johnny, very much a document of its time).
There is a brief moment when punk seems “pure” – the first few months of the Sex Pistols, Clash etc – which is the time I, as a bearded young suburbanite find it most threatening. Janet Street-Porter documents this period on TV – I remember being riveted by that programme. It caused a huge stir and amazingly, after all these years, is online for your viewing pleasure!
That moment doesn’t last. John Lydon was always a music nerd beneath the facade and reveals his love of a lot of pre-punk stuff in a radio interview. When I first hear Anarchy in the U.K. (on a pub jukebox during a youth hostelling holiday) it sounds curiously old-fashioned to me – I think the session player Chris Spedding is on it? Someone else would know. When I get more familiar with punk it seems more provocative, but I can also see the appeal. The Clash quickly broaden their musical horizons and the Pistols narrow theirs. And Stiff Records appears and punk mutates into New Wave with lots of zip, fun and wit – Nick Lowe, Elvis Costello, Ian Dury and the Blockheads. Parsons and Burchill come to hate Stiff with a vengeance. John Peel finds all sorts of interesting and amusing stuff to play and I love listening to his show.
After the initial shock of punk, I don’t find it difficult to reconcile a liking for Richard Thompson with a liking for Elvis Costello – and in fact they are fans of each other’s work don’t you know. But I am too nervous to go to punk gigs by and large. I do see Eddie and the Hot Rods at the Marquee (not really punk) and in the first year of University Siouxsie and the Banshees (supported by Cabaret Voltaire and Spizz Oil), but that’s about it. The Lower Sixth has one dedicated punk to my recollection. Hard work being a punk in Hertfordshire.
S– is now at Swansea University, but her elder brother R– does some DJ-ing at the school and elsewhere. Colin’s band play live at one of the discos and I do the lighting for them. When they decide they want to play again I suddenly find the chutzpah to think I might run the disco. R– agrees for me to use his kit, gives me a list of the current Top 50 and says he will order in what I like. I can’t remember which records I ask for apart from Ian Dury’s What a Waste (great record). R– shows me how to operate the kit, and it goes fine except the band have misjudged their choice of material (e.g. Deep Purple’s Smoke on the Water) and get booed off before their second set. My disco triumph is late in the academic year, by which time I am going out with L–!
L– is in the Lower Sixth, one of my selection of new pals. She has her eye on Colin but he starts going out with SP! So she turns her attention to me, something of which I am initially oblivious. In the end, Colin helpfully points out that there is a bit of interest here and despite my incredulity, in the end he facilitates negotiations and we start going out. L– is helpfully shorter than me (a rare trait). Petite with long brown hair, my image of her as school is generally in a long blue cotton pinafore frock and pale shirt, with the skirt swinging around. Nice girl – head teacher now. At the time she lives in Cheshunt with her brother, step-brother, her mum (lovely woman) and her step-father (another scary male role model, fierce-tempered).
You know how some people write about their former romances in excruciating detail? I don’t want to do that. I don’t have the other person’s permission, nor would I seek it. And it always seems to me like either showing-off or self-justification, so this is not the blog for that kind of thing I’m afraid. Not that I have much to show off about, in any case. I will simply say that romance blossoms, to begin with reasonably smoothly, and as my extra year of Sixth Form ends we have a lovely time.
I have reapplied to university and am hoping to go to Manchester. L– still has another year of school to go, so from my perspective (though not, it turns out, from hers) I see the romance as possibly short-term. Over the summer break I plan to reunite with Nigel, Michael and another friend Robert for a walking holiday in the Welsh borders, and with a little luck in the autumn I will be a college boy.