Tuesday 14 February 2012

Songs that saved my life part 1:Ned's Atomic Dustbin-Happy

And suddenly, like a moons silver peeping through grey passing clouds, it was time to stop being that kind of boy at school. You know the sort, too bland to be bullied, but not good looking or self projecting enough to be part of the celebrated few, who at the time were classed as 'in' . A situation which suited me perfectly. I went through school with my head down, just keeping things ticking over. A way, I suppose, some people would tackle a spell in prison. Its a way to deal with life that im yet to shake off.
Despite the endless cycle of walking coldly and dew eyed to school with the taste of toast and cold tea in my mouth, and walking home with spirits a little dented even still and the dull smell of sweat and ink, I was doing pretty well. Being outside of the circle left me to go about the daily grey drudgery of the school day at my own pace and in my own world.

Externally, nothing had changed. I still knew enough about football to hold a conversation, (a skill that can never be underestimated in the world of the male) but never slouchily arrogant enough to be thought of as anything but another pupil, another lad. I was still in trouble with teachers, but not enough to really count, hardly any of them remembered my name. None of the girls in my year gave me a second look, rightly thinking me boring and maybe a bit quiet. I was shy to the point of constant silence. I used to enjoy talking to a girl called Laura, we were always the first into the form room. It was idle chit-chat really, but whats telling is the way I would go quiet once the room filled with the other kids, with the stench of deoderant on their jumper and huge Adidas holdalls over their shoulders. In a very quiet way I was still kicking gently against the system. I still refused to wear hair gel. I didnt enjoy calling people Gaylord or Spaz. But on the inside it had all changed. Music had provided me with an undercover code. A way to be involved and to belong. Together, Trigger and I devoured as much music as our minds would digest. We watched video taped episodes of The Beat, the gigs and studio recordings giving us some kind of calling, a merky touchstone to hold on to.On his chunky grey ghetto blaster, we made tape after tape after tape in his bedroom, talked about music and girls to an almost autistic degree and desperatly tried to make our hair grow. Like coins on a station platform we gently dropped band names into converstions in the form room and waited for someone to pick them up.

One spring morning, a friendly girl called Kirsty (who's boyfriend was in the year above and in a band) heard us talking and handed a newspaper we thought we may like. The paper was the NME. Like a christian studying the bible, we read and re-read every word on every page. There where articles and mentions of bands we had heard of and liked. Kingmaker, Thousand Yard Stare, Inspiral Carpets and Cud. We loved the live reviews and adverts for mail order t-shirts and records, but what really got our imaginationsto flow was the live ad section at the back of the paper. All those bands, all those cities, all those gigs. It seemd like a dream, standing in front those people on that stage and hearing those songs. Though we never mentioned it in such grandiose terms, we knew that something was begining to stir within us. Something was calling us home.

And so started the ritual. NME every week and Select every month, purchased with saved up paper round money from Browns corner shop on the way to school every wednesday and forth friday. Its difficult to describe how valuble, what a life line, these publications were to us at the time. Like rock Robinson Crusoes set adrift on the desert island of a small town drudgery and silence, they seemed to sort of pluck the daydreams of bands and music and make them tangible. Thanks to them we knew that Wiz Mega City Four looked like a dreadlocked brickie, Loz from Kingmaker like a contestant from university challenge. But more importantly we knew it wasnt just us. If there were magazines like this, there must be other people who were just as into music reading them. Now all we had to do was find them.

Word must have got back to Kirsty's boyfriend. It must have been a treat to have two young bucks cutting their musical teeth. He recomended bands like The Bridewall Taxi's, who we were not having, and bands like Ride and The Charlatans, who we most definately were.
"Do you go the Fridge?" he asked? We looked at each other, then at him, baffled. What the fuck was he talking about? He laughed then explained The Fridge was a night club. A nightclub that played 'our' music. We were in. He told us to grow our fringes. He told us he would see us there friday, he would be wearing his new Suede t-shirt.

Looking back, its easy to see why my mum would refuse to let her fifteen year old son go drinking in a nightclub where she knew weirdo's hung out. There would drinking, there would be fights. Maybe even drugs. Really, she was just being my mum. But at the time it seemed like the most unfair betrayal. I sensed this was my time, my moment. Chance and fate had finally danced sweetly into my life, and was not prepared to let them waltz away. This was my time, my chance and knew it.

When asking permisson to go fell on deaf ears, I begged, I pleaded and I sulked. But its where my mates go! I wont be part of the gang! They'll think im a square! I wont get into trouble I promise mum. For four whole days I refused to relent, pestering as she cooked, as she watched telly, as she read, from the moment she walked into the house until the moment she left again. I must of drove her mad. After a while she finally snapped. "Go ask your father". This was a small surrender. My mum not only knew what was best, but also that with the right approach, I could get around my dad.

It was always best to discuss things with dad after he got in from the pub, when I heard him singing to himself and smelling of warmth and stale hops later that night, I sat him down to talk to him man to man. With great patients and calm, I explained where I wanted to go and what I was going to do. Who I was going with and how I was going to get home. And, most importantly, how much it would cost.

"You'll be having a few pints will you?" A trick question. A denial of drinking would seem implausable. Too much would get him in trouble with mum. Just enough would appeal to his sense of our kinship as men.

"No more than two. I promise."

"Let me have a word with your mother."

After lenthy debate (I knew they nearly had quite a falling out over me going out to nightclubs. She had dad under a certain amount of control, and she was worried about not only my well being but the possible, hyperthetical shame I could bring on the house. I was their first child, their first attempt at puting their parenting skills to the test. They didn't want to fuck this up.) and few quiet moments remembering when they too where young, a compromise was reached where I would be allowed to go, so long as I was in the house at midnight. I was disgruntled, but it was a victory, and I took it as such with great enthuiasm.

Of course now, I realise it was great parenting. The idea was if I could walk in the house without being pissed out of my skull, drugged up, arrested and without my head being kicked in, then the next week I would be allowed out until half twelve. It was quite brilliant really, a build up of trust both parties could be happy with.

Friday came around, and with a stern word in my ear off mum, a knowing wink and a tenner off my dad, I set off with a pocketful of paper round wages to Triggers house. It was still early, so we played football for a while and talked of the night ahead. We would meet with some people, a few girls from our form and a few lads from the year ahead in a pub called the Three Fishes. I wore my new Neds t-shirt, black jeans and, in luie of D.M's. a pair of black trainers. The air seemed thick with promise, but we both hid our excitement under a somewhat pathetic layer of knowing cool. But secretly we both knew this could be the best night of our lives.

The Three Fishes is a medeivel, tiny pub in Shrewsbury town centre that has toilets that are impossible to enter without banging your head. That friday night, the place was packed full of people who seemed older and cooler. As walked in, I passed a bloke in t-shirt depicting a face shot of a pudding bowled Shaun Ryder with a fag dangling from his lips. I felt way out of my depth, but it felt good. Trigger and I stood at the bar having a paniced discussion about who should order our two pint of lager. Despite my hight advantage, Trigger could actually grow facial hair (the first in our year to do so), and was thus deemed the most likely to get served. When it was our turn at the bar, we were served by the smiling face of a girl in our form. The relief was more intoxicating as than the watered down lager. We were in.

We sat down the girls from our form who were being quite blatantly chatted up by the lads in the year above. Dressed in band t-shirts, short skirts, black tights and boots and smelling that eroticaly exotic scent of perfume and booze, they all looked beautiful, a fact that seemed to glow brighter after my second and then third pint. I wanted to tell them, but thought it prudent not to do so. As everyone seemed to live near Trigger, it was me how was the new boy, and was gently mocked as such. In fact, many were suprised to see me out, the quiet lad from school, but I soon got on chatting with the older lads, my new friends, about music.

They were all hammered. I met a lad called Duncan, who was into the Wedding Present and Joy Division. With one eye on the girls' legs he told me a way of getting out of the getting in at midnight problem. Next time, he explained, I should tell me parents that everyone else was getting a lift home at two a.m. off someones dad, and if I didnt get it with them I would have to walk home on my own. This I did with astonishing results. It was a solution that appealed to my dads sense of being out on the town and my mums maternal worry. It was in short, genius.

After a while of sitting in the fuzzy hum of the Three Fishes, the girls decided it was time to go the Fridge. This was met with howls of derision from the older lads, who thought it much to early. Camped at the bar, they would be having a couple more then moving on. It was a clear split between two camps. We decided to go with the girls and told them so. This got knowingly raised eye brows and drunk smiles from the lads. We were not in their league yet and they knew it. There was an order and we were still puppies. In no time it would be us who hung around for another two pints laughing at the new kids, but that was in the future. Apprentiships needed to be served first. I finished my pint, helped a girl who had drunk too much Thunderbirds to her feet and walked outside to face my destiny.

Its funny, but I remember duel feelings that night. Walking around the town that night, our voices louder than usual, our normal restraints and hang ups put to bed for the night, it was joy to drink in the feeling. I remember the air being thick with possiblity and freedom. A freedom only a teenager let of the leash can trully taste, savour and enjoy. It was intoxicating. Thats said, without the cocoon of the pub, the beer in my belly suddenly changed my state from being happy and carefree to anxious. What if i didnt get in? Did i look old enough? A girl from my year called Jo told me (quite curtly I thought) not to worry. Everything will be OK. Anita, a very pretty girl from the year above told me it would be fine, they go there all the time and the doorman knew them. I was still unconvinced. I hatched a plan with Trigger, that I would go in at the back of the queue. That way, if I didnt get in, I wouldnt have the shame of walking past everyone else in the line to walk home.

We walked up the stairs to the Fridge suddenly hushed, as to not seem to pissed. With each step my heart grew louder, and my legs got wobblier. We formed a line, the girls at the front, to be inspected by the doorman. He was a short old bloke, in a 80's sport jacket my grandad would wear and haircut that is best described as ill advised.*
He let the girls in with a smile and a hello. Then it was Triggers turn.
"Two pounds" he said, the palm of his massive hand just off Triggers chest. Money duely paid, he strolled in without a backward glance. And at once, I felt both envious and chuffed that he had got in. That he had made it. Good old Trigger I thought. Good lad.

Then the doorman looked me in the face and must have sensed my panic.

"I.D."He said.

I.D. Two simple,innocent letters that grabbed my stomach and heart and dropped them both to the soles of my trainers.

"I havn't brought any with me" I offered. This was of course true, because I didnt have any.

"then you cant come in then"

"But my girlfriends already in there"

I had no idea where that one came from. I didnt even have a girlfriend for a start. I didnt even think it. I just heard it suddenly come out of my mouth.
He looked me up and down, sighed and and shook his head with a look of bitter emapthy.

"two pounds"

I have never to this day been so happy to part with my money. I could have kissed him. I planted two pound coins in his huge hands, and with the sound of 'bring it next time' ringing in my ears, I walked through the freshold. From boy to man for a mear two pounds. I was in.

The Fridge was small and very dark. Its walls had band posters cut up and pasted at weird angles (a look I tried to recreate in my bedroom with pretty poor results). The carpets stuck to your feet like velcro and there were no chairs. It was full of bodies lieing or sat on the floor, holding desperately to their plastic pint glasses lest they got knocked over. The bar was at a right angle to the mens toilet, so as you ordered your drink, all you could smell was stale piss.
I was in heaven.

The music was strange, heavy and loud. Men (fully grown men, I noted) wearing tight blue jeans and faded black t-shirts with sleeves hanging at the top of their skinny arms head banged with greasy long hair to rock songs I didnt know**. I bought a pint of lager and walked around in a delighted daze, trying to take it all in. It was here really, this very second, that my life really began. Just as I started to obsorb all of this, to my shock I felt a hand grab at my ankle. Looking down, I saw it was a smiling Trigger beckoning me to sit down. Everyone seemed suprised, but genuinely pleased that I had made it past the doorman. Ive never felt so welcome. Trigger looked at me with a grin of the truely possesed. We made it my old mate. We're in.

The rock records had ceased to a crashing halt, so next was the turn of the goths. Men in wearing black tight cloths, including waist coats and with their nails polished and girls wearing wedding dresses, red lipstick and kohled eyes clicked the heels of their pixie boots to 'Temple of Love' by Sisters of Mercy. They danced in a trance, with their eyes closed and hands raised upwards as if receiveing some healing prayer. One lad was obviously a goth apprentice. He wore his school trousers and a white shirt buttoned up to the neck and a haphazardly applied layer of lipstick. He seemed to have trouble remembering all the the lyrics to mouth along to which made me feel oddly protective of him. The elder goths danced around with him all the same. They always seemed to get tagged as miserable the goths, but when ever ive seen them out, they always seem to be having the best night out of everyone.

We sat on the floor drinking and shouting coverstion between ourselves over the din as the punks took their turn to pogo to 'Holiday in Cambodia' by Dead Kennedy's and 'Pretty Vacant'. One bloke had a full proper mohican and a fur coat over his bare chest. As I sipped my pint thoughtfully and Trigger fell in love with the punks girlfriend I suddenly felt glad my parents were not here to witness the madness.

I was elbowed in the ribs as the older lads staggered in just as the meloncholy opening bass chords of 'Happy' by Ned's Atomic Dustbin strained into life. It was our turn to dance. We jumped up and down, swayed and I soon copied a dance which involved jumping from foot to foot with your hands behind your back as you shook your fringe while looking at the floor. The Music was intoxicating. The Pixies followed Carter which followed Belly which followed Pop Will Eat Itself. I drowned happily in the sounds and in the shine of the three spotlights which illuminated the dance floor. Lost we were. Lost to the music and the celebration of being young and alive. This time was ours.

Then just as quick as it started, we rushed off the dance floor as the skinheads (real skinheads. Real green jacket, tattoos and aggro skinheads.) took to the floor to shuffle their eighteen hole ox blood Doc Martens to Madness and The Selecter. Daring not to even look at the skins girlfriends, I got chatting to girl called Catherine who was at Sixth form. In her lovely, slightly plumby voice, She told me how much she loved Suede and The Sisters of Mercy but felt a bit self contious about dancing with the goths. I told her about watching Neds and my opinons of music. things I had been practising in my head for months. She listened with seemingly genuine interest as she looked me in the eye and stroked her long black hair. The fear of not getting seemed a million miles away, i lifetine ago. I was happy, drunk and chatting up a Sixth form girl. My day dreams were coming true, and it was all thanks to music.

Then to my horror, Trigger bounded up woozily to me to tell me that it was 11:42. It was time to go. I gave Catherine some tale about having to go as I had work in the morning. She seemed let down and said she hoped to see me next week. I said my goodbyes to everyone who smiled drunkenly and waved me goodbye. And to the sounds of Lloyd Cole, I walked past postman Pete and down the steps again. I ran and ran and made it home at four minutes past twelve.

My dad was waiting up for me and proudly made me a sandwhich, asking me about my night. Yes I had fun. No, I didnt see any trouble. He set off upstairs telling me to be quiet as went to bed as mum was asleep. At home I was still a boy, but out in the world of beer and music I felt like a man.

"I hope i see you next week" she had said.

The night had popped me out of my shell like a pea. I made sure that I would be.

*we now know the man as postman Pete. He supplemented his mail income by puting on an alternative night. He's actually a nice bloke, but at the time seemed absloloutly terrorfying. There were a few time we would see him doing his rounds and have to flee so he didnt see us in our school uniform

**I have since found out the songs were 'Lil' Devil by the Cult' and 'Rock and Roll by Led Zeppelin

1 comment:

  1. This is great reading, thanks! Part 2 later today.