So Much Choice! So Much For Choice!
This is not a sermon. It's a set of questions. Questions that arose from someone asking whether I kept up with music. I promptly answered that I tried to, wanted to. Yet, thinking it through, I realised the real issue was how to. Where do you hear what would change your life, and where do you read all about it? I'm really asking.
I genuinely love the radio. I can map out my life by charting radio romances. Form religiously listening to Tom Browne running down the charts on a Sunday afternoon to Peel and the great forgotten Saturday afternoon Alan Freeman show where much punk stuff got an airing. How I remember hearing ATV's 'How Much Longer' and The Saints' 'Know Your Product' there. At the same time in the late '70s you had great 'specialist' shows on the local stations: David Rodigan's 'Roots Rockers' and Greg Walker's 'Soul Spectrum' on Capital and more reggae and rock'n'roll on Radio London.
Songs found in this way could stop you in your tracks. 'Gangsters' by Special AKA was one such moment when Peel first played it (and symbolically I remember going out buying it on the day Thatcher was elected for the first time) and 'Blueboy' by Orange Juice was another such moment, a later example would be Erik B and Rakim's 'I Know You Got Soul' when pirate radio seemed to mean you were spoilt for choice, and I loved LWR and TKO. Even when the pirates went legit things seemed fine with shows like Joey Jay's, Patrick Forge's, Giles Peterson's, Colin Dale's, Coldcut's, Mannessako's, on Kiss back then.
So what now? Locally it doesn't seem so bad. London Live has some tolerable shows of a night, like Ross Allen and Gerry Lyseight who championed the Bebel Gilberto LP. Even the much-maligned XFM has its moments with the adventurous Flow Motion and the acceptable John Kennedy, not to mention the risible Radio Four/Poptones affair. Young Joes Foster certainly gets through some accents for a Hendon boy.
Yet I do have this niggling fear that I am missing out on something. At least, in a way, I hope I am. Or, I hope that where you are there is a network to spread the words and sounds I don't come across.
For the words are certainly not there in the official music press. There is a truly horrendous passage in Fever Pitch where Nick Hornby talks about 'maturity' and collecting copies of Q. I have not reached that stage, yet most of my information about music and new releases come from either the Wire or Mojo. It seems absurd to consider buying the sole survivor of the weekly press. When I were a wee lad there was an awful song called 'Video Killed the Radio Star'. Well, it didn't. Nor did the Internet kill the weekly music press. The music press killed the music press. Once there were up to five or six music papers all with their respective merits (anyone remember New Music News?) plus Zigzag, The Face, then Jamming!
Once there were writers who could stop you in your tracks. It's too easy to look back though rose coloured lenses at one's youth, but I think I received a real education through the weekly flights of fancy from Paul Morley in the NME and Dave McCullough in Sounds. Morley's later media career is well mapped out, but McCullough is all but lost. He stopped writing as far as I know, and I guess my last memory of him is a review in lost London listings mag City Limits where he eulogised about Mod contenders Makin' Time at the expense of REM, and stated that Faye Haslam was god in the way a few years earlier he had written Vic Godard was god when 'Stop That Girl' came out.
In short though McCullough wrote (often first and best) about most everything that mattered from Vic and Postcard to 23 Skidoo, Clock DVA, Pere Ubu, Weekend, Specials, Scars, Nightingales, Blue Orchids, Felt, Crispy Ambulance, the Wake and even Wham! Yet now, apart from a few credits on a few LPs (particularly, hilariously, Dragnet) who mentions him?
I cannot contemplate any of the grim souls who contribute to the tabloid tainted NME now stirring up the same emotions. At the moment I am listening to the Life Without Buildings CD. It's a decent record. The music is almost non-descript, if refreshingly non-rock, but the vocal performances are unique and gripping enough to merit mentions of Mark Smith and David Thomas. Strangely Michael Stipe and Shaun Ryder also spring to mind, though it could be I remember seeing those gentlemen stalking small or no stages before they became circus acts, and their words were fired by spontaneity, seemingly.
It's a smart record, but would any words that may be 'officially' written about it make me buy it? Who is writing about it? For all I know, it could be gaining rave reviews left, right and centre. Which brings me back to the question about where words are being written now. I am not harping on about what was, but asking about what can be. You tell me, please!
In the meantime, I have to smile wryly about some of the most appealing shows on the radio being on Radio 2, particularly the Mark Lamarr and Stuart Maconie series on reggae and Northern Soul respectively. For when I was in my teens it was a wonderful defiant pose to say only Radio 2 upheld the punk spirit with its 'classic' soundtrack of everything from Sinatra and Gilberto to Bobbie Gentry and the Carpenters, and great shows from Benny Green's erudite musings to Ray Moore's slyly subversive way to start the day. Ah! Ray's sadly missed. I shall never forget the day of the great storm, and Ray getting to Broadcasting House to say 'plenty of space on the beach this morning.' These were the days of the Subway Sect's 'Parallel Lines' being dedicated to all those who hate Radio One. I guess when one hears Chris Moyles the old urge is still there. All we need now is a jazz station that actually plays some jazz. Until then, we shall have to make our own enjoyment...
© Kevin Pearce 2001