1997: “S.C.I.E.N.C.E” – Incubus

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In 1997 the UK music press was busy trying to create a new genre to fill the hole being left by a dwindling interest in Britpop and a saturation of the market with a plethora of also-ran indie copycats. The uninspiring term Britrock was coined which sought to group together lots of completely unrelated bands into a neat little bubble. Bands such as 3 Colours Red, A, Placebo, Skunk Anansie, Feeder, Silver Sun, China Drum, Bush were suddenly all one scene according to Kerrang, N.M.E et al. Bands that were too noisy to be indie but not quite loud enough to be metal or punk. I admit I was into quite a lot of these bands at the time, particularly 3 Colours Red and A who appealed to my melodic sensibilities. There was also a band called Symposium who I became a bit obsessed with although I cringe at how dated they sound now. They were my age, the drummer lived round the corner from my Auntie and Uncle in London and they were becoming the talk of the music magazines for their refreshingly energetic and chaotic live shows. Looking back, although they did live up to this live reputation, their songs were pretty basic ditties of teenage angst wrapped up in a punky pop parcel. They endeared themselves to me in many ways, one of which was being an example of the possibilities of 19 year old kids like me being able to actually do it. i.e being in a band as a job, making records and touring the country. They were really my first inspiration of songwriting and emulation as ridiculous as that seems now.

Which brings me to January 1997 and the formation of my first actual band.

During a night out at our local rock disco during the Christmas holidays of 1st year university, myself and 4 friends decided we would give it a go. I would play rhythm guitar and my Toilet Duck compadre Stuart would play drums. Our friend Dan could play guitar and although he was into some music I found extremely questionable he could play some lead so he was in. Keith couldn’t play anything so we decided he could be bassist and we would teach him to play root notes a la Sid Vicious. A fifth member, Paul was added on totally unnecessary 3rd guitar simply because he was our mate and although he already played drums in another band he wanted an outlet for his guitar playing. We horrendously named the band Subliminal Hatred. This name was thought up by Keith based on the fact that the previous Summer he had inserted hidden messages/threats into his university application form to do with accepting him onto courses. For months we were a band in name only. We didn’t even all have our own instruments.

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July 1997. Oh Dear

 

In April Dan found an application form to apply for a grant from the National Lottery Arts Council. They had decided bands qualified as worthy of funding if you met the criteria in your application. We applied, thinking that a bit of help might enable us to get a bit of equipment or (with ideas massively above our abilities) fund some recording time for a demo. We filled in the form, sent it off and everyone went back to university.

In the summer we decided we better actually start writing some songs. I had bashed together a chord progression that would be our first song “Interplanetary”. Dan had been recording his own songs on a little 4 track recorder in his bedroom and decided that 2 of them would be our songs too. The only trouble was, we had nowhere to practice as a band, I didn’t have an amp as my little fender practice amp had died, Keith had nothing and Stuart had no drum kit. My grandma’s brother donated his shell of a drum kit from the 1950’s, I plugged my guitar into a karaoke machine. Paul acquired a keyboard amp from a family member for his guitar and Keith bought the cheapest beginner bass and amp combo from Argos he could find and we all went to his garage to practice. The only other drawback was that my great uncle’s drum kit had no snare drum or cymbals. Stuart’s solution was to use an upturned Quality street tin for the snare and the lid for a cymbal, which was suspended from the ceiling of the garage on a string!

We somehow managed to cobble together 4 songs that Summer with the aim that we would play our first gig in September at the annual Rock Open, a Battle of the Bands which was usually pretty well attended and more importantly all amps and drum kit was provided for everyone.

In July 1997 we heard back from the National Lottery Arts Council who told us that our application was successful and we had been awarded £1679! We were amazed and decided we would use it for recording a demo and CD production.  This news began a series of appearances in our local press with a constant tag of “lotto dosh winners” assigned to us whenever we were mentioned. This got old fast. Particularly as this put extra pressure on us to be good. Which we were not. Keith and Dan were like a 2 man hype machine, being as vocal to anyone in earshot how good we were despite only having 4 songs.

September 19th came around eventually. The night of our first ever performance. To say I was nervous is an understatement so vast, it would struggle to squeeze into the grand canyon and frankly would have have embarrassed anyone who used that word to describe me on that particular night. It suddenly became very apparent to me that I had to sing in front of people other than my 4 mates. And doing it in front of them was bad enough. We went to a pub across the road from the gig venue to try to calm our nerves before our set. Our 5th member Paul was already calm as he had been told he could not perform as they could only provide us with 2 guitar amps. I proceeded to calm my nerves a little too much and got completely drunk. Not too drunk to walk or talk but certainly too drunk to sing in tune or play guitar properly. We played our 3 songs. We did not progress from the heat into the semi-finals.

Whilst on stage I realised just how different playing a live gig is to practicing. Playing in gig conditions, through a PA, with monitors is the strangest thing when you first start doing it. At practice you just keep turning something up until everyone can hear it, the conditions are relaxed and you can move stuff around. On stage, playing a gig it’s like you are wrapped in a cocoon of sound that you don’t really have any control over. Some things are louder than others because what the audience hear is being controlled by what the sound engineer puts through the PA in what volume. I had no concept of monitors and having to be able to hear vocals coming back at you through them. It just felt like I was singing into cotton wool instead of a microphone. I also didn’t realise how impossible it is to pitch your voice if you can’t hear it. It was a massively gradual learning curve and something which in all honesty I never fully got to grips with even after years of playing in bands.

We did 2 more gigs that year. One the day after the Rock open at Keith’s friends birthday party supporting a covers band, and one in December at a charity gig with other local bands.

The album I’ve picked for this year which I’ve not even mentioned yet, I didn’t hear until the following year. I became aware of Incubus via the song “New Skin” which was a released as a single in 1998. At first I thought it was Faith No More but then realised it wasn’t, once the turntable scratchy breakdown started. 1996/1997 saw bands of the burgeoning nu-metal scene releasing albums and although I was aware of them, I was not interested. I just didn’t think I was a metal guy. Hearing Incubus though made me think they were worth checking out. They didn’t sound like bludgeoning metal and sounded like they might have some good tunes. They weren’t as brash or as inwardly nihilistic as a lot of the bands they were lumped in with and seemed almost hippyish in their aesthetic, but with distorted guitars and a bit of an overkeen turntablist.

S.C.I.E.N.C.E has dated a bit now in the 20 years since it’s release but not half as badly as most of the glut of nu-metal released around the same time. And most of it’s datedness is due the ever present scratchy twiddling of DJ Gavin Koppell. It would be his only album with the band and his successor Chris Kilmore seemed a lot more tasteful and to know when less is more. I can listen to the album to this day and still appreciate it even though is does remind me of the subsequent flooding of the airwaves with a lot of very bad music. It wouldn’t have been authentic of me to pick a different album for 1997 though as this was definitely in my top ten favourite albums for a long time after it’s release.

There are lots of great songs on it that rise above the genre. Singles “New Skin” and “A Certain Shade of Green” were rock disco staples and songs like “Redefine” and “Nebula” show just how good the musicianship in the band is. Particularly the rhythm section which has a lot of funk influence. Brandon Boyd’s singing style is clearly influenced by Mike Patton but his melodies show a strong pop sensibility on a lot of the tracks.

I didn’t escape the nu-metal scene completely. I have to admit that I did buy one album. Limp Bizkit’s “Significant Other”. It had a very short run on my stereo before I realised that I could not get on board with all the frat boy posturing and whining.

2 years after “S.C.I.E.N.C.E” was released Incubus followed it up with “Make Yourself” which was a much more widely successful album and seeking to distance themselves from the scene which they felt they had no musical affiliation with, the songs on that album had taken on a different sound, with a general calming down taking place. Not all of their fanbase was accepting of this and the band they became, but it was probably necessary as the members grew older and became interested in other sounds.

Here then is my song pick for the life playlist. It’s “New Skin” the first song I heard by the band and still got a belting chorus.

1996: “Pinkerton” -Weezer

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For the first half of 1996 I was studying for my imminent A-Level exams (Biology, Chemistry and French in case you were wondering). When I say studying I use the term loosely. I didn’t really start any revision until maybe 3 weeks before my exams. My time was mainly spent hanging around with friends and trying to keep from my mind the looming reality of several things which were going to change life as I knew it.

Firstly, September ’96 was going to be the time that my friends and i would begin University and be scattered across the 4 corners of the U.K. This did not sit well with me. It wasn’t so much the prospect of starting University which bothered me, it was the idea of essentially starting again with my personal relationships. These friendships which i had built up over the past few years felt too valuable to me to be prepared to wipe the slate clean and hit reset. This was dramatic of course but it’s how I felt. The bottom line was, I didn’t want new mates. I had friends who knew me well. Friends who i didn’t have to explain myself to or put work in to find out more about, or worry about making a good first impression.

It felt like something was about to end which I suppose it was. I obviously shouldn’t have worried so much. The friends who meant the most to me I would make the effort to ensure that our term time locations had no effect on our friendship. As would they. We would visit each other and nothing changed. But also more than that, other than my best mate Stuart who I’d known since I was 11, it would be the people who I met after university who would turn out to be my all time friends.

Another curveball which I was thrown in early ’96, just at the time when application forms were being filled in to determine which universities I was hoping to receive course offers from, was the diagnosis of my mum with myeloma, a type of blood cancer. I was obviously terrified. I had no idea what this meant or what was going to happen to her or how soon. Suddenly leaving home and going to live somewhere miles away seemed absolutely out of the question.I had applied to York,Nottingham,Hull and Sheffield universities but i decided that if i got an offer from Hull, which was the closest, then that was the one I would accept. And I would live at home and commute every day. I didn’t want my mum to know the reason so I think I just made up something about not wanting to move away yet.

Anyway, thankfully it turned out that they had caught it in mum very early. She was only 40. They would just take her blood and test it every 3 months to keep a check on it. This turned into every 6 months and now 21 years later she has still never needed any treatment.

Music was my obvious outlet for dealing with all my building insecurities. Listening to, and attempting to play myself.

My guitar prowess was progressing very slowly. The first song I learnt to play all the way through was Green Day’s “Basket Case” closely followed by “Seether” by Veruca Salt. This song had a guitar solo. I had no idea where to begin with lead guitar so i learned it by ear, putting my fingers in the easiest places for my unschooled hands to make a rough approximation of the sound. I was still just one kid playing alone in his bedroom however. I started to experiment with singing and playing chords at the same time, recording myself with a basic tape recorder and playing it back to see how it actually sounded when I wasn’t concentrating on playing it. It was hardly jaw dropping but it roughly sounded like the songs i was trying to play.

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Me in Summer 1996. Denim heavy

Then in April 1996 I went to watch 3 of my friends’ bands play at a pub in my hometown. This was the turning point in me knowing that despite my natural introversion and timid nature, I had to start a band. The Cosmos, Penguin and The James Benedict Arnold Revival were the bands playing that night. They all played a mixture of covers and their own songs as every teenage band does.The fact that they were able to write their own songs blew my mind and gave me a huge amount of admiration for them, particularly The J.B.A Revival who had the whole deal. They played in suits, they swapped instruments, they had a masked dancer on each side of the stage, (named Swifty Ranger and Creation B). Their songs had names like “Get in that Bronco O.J and drive”, “Obi-Wan” and “I Like Dinosaurs” They were brilliant. My friend Dan played guitar for them and wrote the music. Dan whose sister’s music collection we had pillaged for our first grunge explorations.

At the end of final band The Cosmos’s set they played a cover of arguably Nirvana’s best song “Aneurysm” and the J.B.A.R drummer invaded the stage at the end for the “she keeps it pumping straight to my heart bit” and as they rolled around on the stage I realised I wanted a piece of that action.

My best mate Stuart had made tentative steps into learning the drums over the previous few months, receiving pointers from our friend Paul who played in the Cosmos. We decided we would start trying to play covers together. He set his drums up (a borrowed kit from Paul) in his girlfriend’s kitchen extension and I went down there with my little practice amp. We knew we needed some bass so we asked our friend Dave to do it. He bought the cheapest bass he could find and we were away.

I still have a cassette of us trying to play Foo Fighters, Therapy? and Compulsion songs under the ridiculous name of Toilet Duck. It sounds like i had not learnt how to properly tune a guitar yet.

Sadly Toilet Duck would never leave the practice space to play an actual gig before everyone left home for University but it gave me my first experience of playing with other people and the concept of trying to play in time.

So in September everyone scattered for University but before that there would be one final blowout for us college friends. Reading Festival 1996, my first ever music festival. I am aware I have not even addressed this year’s album yet but a lot of stuff went on this year which i feel is important to get down!

Reading ’96 started the annual tradition of Reading or Leeds Festival attendance which finally was ended by me in 2013 when my daughter was born. The line up in 1996 was a mixture of post grunge punk rock, the tail end of britpop, acceptable dance for the indie crowd and a couple of curveballs (Ice T). Rage Against The Machine, Rocket from The Crypt, Garbage, Sonic Youth,  The Offspring and Ash were my main draws, but most of all I was excited about seeing Weezer.

Weezer’s first album had been the joint soundtrack to my 1995 along with Rocket from the Crypt. It’s an “alternative” rock classic. No matter what they have become nowadays the Weezer of 1994-1996 song catalogue is solid. I knew there was a new album coming out in September and was excited to hear some of the songs from it played at Reading.

They played 5 songs from Pinkerton which made it obvious they had not lost any of their mojo for songwriting. “Why Bother?” was my favourite new one they played that day but there weren’t any I didn’t like. We were all in agreement that the new album was definitely going to be one to pick up.

In September I started University in Hull and commuted each day from home as i mentioned earlier. I would bike each morning to my Gran’s house about 2 miles away and then leave my bike and walk to the bus stop to get the coach to Hull Bus Station. Once there i would have to take another bus from the city centre to the university. Then repeat the whole process in reverse at the end of the day. It was a massive ballache. On top of that I was still working at Mcdonalds on Fridays and Saturdays so on Friday evenings I would do this ridiculous journey back home and then have to be at Mcdonald’s from 7pm until 12.30 am. That didn’t last long. 2 months later I had bailed on the Mcjob so at least my weekends were my own.

I picked up “Pinkerton” from the now defunct record store chain Andy’s records in Hull City centre one day when i was early for the bus. I walked in for a browse and heard “Why Bother?” playing on the stereo. Annoyingly I had to wait until I got back 2 hours later to play it. Although it is now considered a classic, the album got a critical kicking on it’s release and i just don’t know why. It’s not like it’s even that different to the debut album. I definitely didn’t find it a massive departure in sound and liked it straight away.

It has a definite rawer sound then the Blue Album but the songs are still melodic and hooky despite being a bit darker lyrically. I think it benefits from the lyrics being from a more personal place even though Rivers was embarrassed by them after the panning the album took. It must have been that which resulted in Weezer becoming a much more superficial band over the course of the next few albums with the lyrics taking a massive backseat to just simple catchy power chords. I fluctuate between which is my favourite Weezer album depending on the mood i’m in but today I’m definitely swaying towards “Pinkerton”. It’s got more dynamics, it’s more passionate and honest and it’s still stacked to the rafters with tune after tune.

My favourite song is “Across The Sea”, Rivers’ ode to an 18 year old Japanese fan who wrote to him. It’s got a few painfully honest almost cringey lines that Rivers would regret very soon after, comparing them to spilling your guts while drunk and feeling good but then waking up the next day and thinking “What have I done? I’ve made a total fool of myself”. Taken completely on a musical level it’s a brilliantly written song. A memorable melody, peaks and troughs dynamically, a great solo and a good intro and outro. The lyrics just make Rivers seem like a real person instead of the cartoon character he would become. I felt like I could relate to his nerdy angst, in particular when it came to relationships. All my friends seemed to be getting girlfriends whereas i still felt pretty invisible and like a sidekick to the more vocal characters in my crowd.

So there we have 1996. It was busy year. Lots of things changed. Some things stayed the same. But I still didn’t play in a band.

1995: “Scream, Dracula, Scream!”- Rocket From The Crypt

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1995 was a good year. I’ll avoid the overly cheesy Bryan Adams quote, but it was the year I received my first guitar. In hindsight it was probably also the last year in which I genuinely had nothing really to worry about. A-Level work doesn’t count. I was still living at home, I had no responsibilities of any great size other than turning up to college and not being an arsehole. Noone in my family was sick or had died and in fact I’d never even been to a funeral. The biggest worry I possibly had was remembering to do my French literature homework. That would obviously change, as it does for everyone once life hits them in the face with a major reality check, but for now, wrapped safely in the warm fluff of 1995 I was able to float about my business of not very much at all with reckless abandon.

The first guitar that came into my posession was found in a family friend’s attic when they were clearing it out. It was a Stratocaster copy made by the company Zenta who I’ve never heard of since. It had 3 rusted strings and the input for a lead was practically hanging out but that didn’t matter as i had nothing to plug it into anyway. This friend had heard that I was interested in learning to play so they gave the guitar to me rather than take it to a car boot sale. Obviously I needed to put strings on it before i could do anything so I asked my college aquaintances what I needed. “Just get 9’s and you’ll be alright” I was told. Yeah fair enough I’ll just get 9’s. Just one problem. I have no idea what that means at all. Is it a brand? Is it a pack of 9 strings? I only need 6. Are 3 spare?

Anyway as it turns out my friend Dan had started learning guitar the year before so he could at least give some very basic pointers. We strung the guitar and he showed me 4 chords and gave me a book with the finger placement diagrams for each of them. And so began my journey of learning to make sound come out of a guitar. The 4 chords Dan showed me were the 4 needed to play “Live Forever” by Oasis and I spent many afternoons sat strumming the first chord and then painstakingly moving my fingers into position for the next one and strumming that. This resulted in the most long and drawn out rendition of “Live Forever”. It should have been called “Last Forever”. “Last Forever and sound like a muffled muted piece of crap”. But gradually the gaps between the chords became shorter and the notes sounded clearer until by the start of the summer break between year one and two of college I could pretty much play the song all the way through at the right speed. But By God was I sick of it.

Basically I just wanted to be able to play Green Day songs, but they would require me to learn how to play the magical barre chord. Or so I thought. I was yet to learn of the existence of power chords. So I borrowed a Play Rock Guitar book and set about trying to do the impossible. It was like starting again. I was again filled with jealousy towards all my peers in bands just effortlessly bashing out covers of Nirvana and Green Day. But I stuck with it.

While all this was going on lots of other musical stuff happened. Most importantly, I went to my first live gig. A company called Solid Entertainment used to run a coach service to gigs in other cities. You bought the gig ticket and the coach ticket from them at the same time. As my friends and I were only 17 most of us were still in the process of taking driving lessons (not me, I was a late starter with that as well) or the ones who had recently passed, you would not want to get in a car with and dive onto a motorway taking your life in your hands.

In June 1995 Northern Irish band Therapy? were touring their about to be released 3rd album “Infernal Love”. Their previous album “Troublegum” was a staple amongst my group of friends and we were all very ready for another Therapy? album. 5 of us went to Leeds Town and Country Club (Now the O2 Academy) on the Solid Coach. The first thing I noticed when the first support band Schtum started was the volume. Feeling the bass and the bass drum in my chest. I’d never heard music played that loud. The band were fairly unremarkable but the second band Skunk Anansie  we all really liked. Looking back now, that band have not dated well! Therapy?’s set was brilliant and well worth the 2 days of ringing in my ears afterwards. Looking back, that band have not really dated well either, but “TroubleGum” and “Infernal Love” will always have a place in my heart and they set the ball rolling on a lifetime of watching and playing live music. It was a real time of burgeoning freedom (not that I was oppressed at home in any way) and friendship and firsts and it’s a period of my life that I remember very fondly and it’s only really now that I realise how important a time it actually was. Much more than when I was actually living it.

But now for this year’s album..

Early on in the second year of college a friend turned up one day with a red LP under his arm which he proceeded to shove in my face saying “you need to listen to this band”. The record was Hot Charity and the band was Rocket From The Crypt. I’d never heard of them. I think I meant to check them out after his recommendation but never got round to it. The name faded away in my mind. 

Then in February 1996 they were on the front cover of the NME looking like the last gang in town. My memory kicked in and I remembered I was supposed to already know what this band sounded like. The next day I asked to borrow my mate’s copy of Scream Dracula Scream, their most recent album. 

It was exactly my cup of tea. Punky with plenty of attitude and character but also just the right amount of tunefulness. The band looked cool and like a gang which I liked, including the whole nickname shtick of every member. They had a whole package deal going on of sound and looks. Like a 50’s rock n’ roll band updated for the 90’s scene. They had a saxophone and a trumpet which they managed to make sound cool and necessary, not like cheeseball ska punk. To my ears, the urgency and all round incendiary nature of the music just sounded amazing. The swagger and soundbite providing nature of songwriter John “Speedo” Reis’s every sentence is something which would usually switch me off from a band but he does it with such charm and clear tongue in cheekness that it’s endearing rather than irritating. He remains to this day one of my musical heroes. Every band that he has created (and the list is long and varied: Pitchfork, Drive Like Jehu, The Sultans, Hot Snakes, The Night Marchers and of course RFTC) is influential in their genres and all have albums among my favourites ever. Some people can’t get on with his scratchy voice. I can appreciate that he has a vocal sound that could potentially be off putting but I never had that problem. I think it fits perfectly.

The album Scream Dracula Scream is Rocket’s classic. I love all the albums but there’s no filler track on Scream. And the sequencing of the track order, something which is almost completely overlooked these days is perfect. Middle, Born in 69 and On A Rope sound like they were written to follow each other. My brain automatically starts the following song whenever I hear the others. 

It’s not all hell for leather though. There are dynamic peaks and troughs. “Used” sounds like it could be on the Happy Days soundtrack during a summer montage. The album closes with the groovy blues of “Salt Future” and the brooding “Burnt Alive”. In fact it’s probably Rocket From The Crypt’s most varied album. They had a brief period of ultra popularity around August/September 1996 with the release of the “On A Rope” single and headlining the second stage at Reading Festival (my first festival) but then stopped touring the album and went to write the next. They would not reach the same widespread appeal again.

At the end of 1995 on my 18th birthday i received my first actual own guitar. It was a red Encore Stratocaster copy with a fender practice amp. I felt like i’d got the world. Now i could actually hear the terrible noise I was making. I wished I was able to even badly play Rocket From The Crypt songs but they were still far out of my grasp. But the barre chord was coming on gradually.

For my playlist it was a tough call between 2 songs from the album but in the end I’ve picked Young Livers. It was the first song I bought by the band and it’s got a good (ridiculous) video.

1994: “Dookie”- Green Day

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School’s Out. Forever?.. Well, technically yes, but whilst my GCSEs were taken and I would have no further reason to enter the corridors of Thomas Sumpter Comprehensive School again, (except to collect my results in August) it was never really in question that I would stay in education for at least another 2 years to do A-Levels.

Goodbye school, Hello 6th form College. It was like another world compared to school. Whereas at school, my like minded friends and I had been by far the minority musical taste wise, here at John Leggott College it was as if we were the norm. Or at least a good 50%. There’s another essay to be written there on the relationship between educational level and musical taste but certainly only by more controversial and pretentious people than me.

College was also the first time I had experienced people of my own age starting bands. Every Wednesday afternoon at college no academic lessons took place but your attendance was required to partake in what were known as Extension Studies. These were a variety of extracurricular activities and subjects chosen at the start of term to fill up your timetable. Examples were Video Production, Cookery, Sport related activities, and something called Rock Workshop. Rock Workshop was basically “Band Practice” for students who played guitar,drums, bass and sang. It wasn’t always as structured as that though. What happened was, a group of mates went to some huts on the college grounds and larked about on instruments unsupervised. It was regularly known for students not involved in Rock Workshop in any way to skip their own extension studies to go and hang out and watch their friends make a racket. This was me on occasion. Only rarely though. I was far too concerned about getting into trouble to do it often.

But I was insanely jealous. Why had I never learnt an instrument? I had always been an avid music fan but I’d never learnt how to make music myself except for the obligatory tinkerings on a Casio keyboard. I could pick out a melody on one of those by ear and that was about it. I put this lack of musical prowess down to A)it just never having occurred to me in primary school as i had no friends who played anything (save for a few meanderings on the aforementioned Casio keyboard). And anyway, what do you play aged 10 to sound like Michael Jackson. You just want to throw your arms and legs around like a maniac to “Smooth Criminal”. Then there was B)Financial Reasons. My parents would never have been able to afford private lessons and/or instrument purchase then anyway.

But as I sat in Rock Workshop watching my peers hammer through renditions of Nirvana, Therapy? and Smashing Pumpkins songs i cursed my lack of foresight. I assumed that I had missed the boat. I had no frame of reference for how long was needed to practice to be able to make these sounds and assumed my new mates must have been playing guitar since they were old enough to hold one.

Then in October 1994 I saw an American band I’d never heard of on Top of the Pops. The song was “Welcome To Paradise” and the band was Green Day. They looked insane. Like 3 crazed maniacs twitching about the stage after having taken God knows what. (I had no drug reference either.)But they were playing one of the catchiest songs I’d ever heard. It didn’t sound very complicated either. I thought maybe i COULD learn to do that.

My friend bought “Dookie” the following week and I loved it. It was my first proper experience of music that sounded like that. I knew nothing really of punk but I knew melody and “Dookie” had that in plentiful supply. Right from those first two little hi-hat Chik-Chiks in “Burnout” it’s an explosive pop rocket covered in piss and vinegar on a collision course for your ears sweet spot. I still loved the grunge stuff I was listening to but Green Day were like a high energy breath of fresh air to blast away all the moody introspection. They were still self-deprecating weirdos but sounded more pissed off and seemed to be having more fun telling you about it.

“Basket Case” was released at the end of November and then they were everywhere. It only intensified my annoyance at not being able to play anything as every single band of teenagers in the land added the song to their repertoire of covers. My household finally entered the world of the CD player on Christmas Day 1994 when my brother and I both received one. “Dookie” was one of the CDs that came with it (along with “Definitely Maybe” and “Parklife”). If my friend who I introduced “Siamese Dream” to became the Smashing Pumpkins guy then I suppose I became the Green Day guy. I had the T-shirt, I went to Record Village and bought the previous 2 albums for extortionate import prices. I did what I always do when i discover a new band. I hoovered them up and went all out.

If I had to pick a favourite track on “Dookie”(and I do) then after a struggle of narrowing it down, it would have to be  “Burnout”. “Having A Blast”comes a close second with it’s killer chorus melody but “Burnout” just edges it with that opening salvo.

After “Nimrod” in 1997 my obsession with Green Day faded. By 2000 when “Minority” was released I had moved onto different musical pastures. But “Dookie” had a massive impact on my life and without it I definitely would never have (eventually) got a guitar, started a band and done half of the things that I did over the next few years. I can still listen to it with as much appreciation as I did back then. And it’s follow up “Insomniac” for that matter.

So here’s “Burnout”.  ChkChk Baddabap! Baddabap!

1992 : “Angel Dust”- Faith No More

faith_no_more_angel_dust

1992 was a kind of overlap year for me musically. A transitional period from the world of chart pop into the unchartered territory of the rock and indie world. It was very gradual. At the beginning of the year I was still thoroughly surrounded by a pop bubble. Still a weekly Smash Hits reader and tape recorder of the Top 40 countdown on a Sunday night. However i was becoming more aware of other types of music that were available for my ears. More rock sounding things were creeping their way into the singles chart and certainly into the playground talk among the cooler kids at school. “In Bloom” by Nirvana was released in November 1992 and Smash Hits printed the lyrics over a photo of the band. I finally had a picture to put to the band I was hearing all the talk about.

I’m sure I’ve mentioned it in a couple of previous posts (I’m not going to scroll back and reread everything so apologies if i repeat myself!), but on my 15th birthday in November 1992, I had my 4 best mates over to watch a rental copy of Wayne’s World on video. My friend Dan brought round a cassette with “Blood Sugar Sex Magik” by Red Hot Chili Peppers on one side and Side A of “Bleach” and Side A of “Nevermind” on the other.I have no idea why only Side A’s were recorded. Neither did Dan. Anyway upon hearing these bands, I realised that this was the kind of music I wanted to be listening to. I was going to have to change my information sources to find out more. Smash Hits was no longer going to cut it.

Faith No More were going to have to wait their turn to receive my attention in the resulting tornado of bands heading towards me after the initial storm of Nirvana. They didn’t seem like something I would be too interested in. I imagined they were part of the hair metal brigade that the grunge behemoth was trying to destroy.

I had first seen Faith no More back in April 1990, when they performed “From Out of Nowhere” on Top of the Pops. I had no idea what i was watching. I was a Michael Jackson and New Kids on the Block fan at the time! But when I first heard Angel Dust I remembered that night at my Gran’s house where I stared at the T.V in utter bewilderment at the hairy bunch of misfits and wondered how it was the same band. It’s funny what a bit of perspective can do.

“Angel Dust” changed my opinion of the band immediately. “Everything’s Ruined” performed live on late night pop culture show The Word was my entry point. It was incredibly catchy but also different to everything I had heard. And the band members all looked like they should be in different bands. The album is all over the place really but Mike Patton’s voice holds it all together. That’s not to say that every member isn’t vital to the overall sound of the band. Roddy Bottum’s keyboards (what other alt-rock back had such a prominent keyboard sound?),Bill Gould’s bass, Mike Bordin’s drums and then Jim Martin’s metal throwback guitar on top. It’s as if all the band members are fighting to be the most important part of the songs and somehow ending up finding the sweet spot where everything slots perfectly into place. Having said that it’s not a perfect album. It gets a bit flabby round the middle. I would argue that Malpractice and Kindergarten could easily be dropped to make a better album. The songs that are left still stand the test of time though. “A Small Victory”, “Caffeine” and “Everything’s Ruined” are my favourite songs. They really show the range of the album: A melodic chugger, a metallic gruntfest and a funky honky tonk pop blast. As an aside, I always thought the “It! Shouldn’t! Bother Me!” section of “A Small Victory” was “Eat! Shit! Bolognese!” It wouldn’t surprise me if Mike Patton had sampled that particular dish at some point.

 

1988: “Surfer Rosa”- Pixies

1988

 

Belinda Carlisle was number one with “Heaven Is A Place On Earth”. The British charts were full of Australian soap stars assisted by the production of Stock, Aitken and Waterman and the first boy band of my childhood, Bros. These were the sounds I was hearing in my primary school disco.

I had started to record the Top 40 Countdown on a Sunday evening on cassette, but my ears were becoming a bit more discerning. I wouldn’t just tape the whole thing. I sat poised with Record and Play depressed while my fingers hovered over the Pause button, waiting for the first sound of anything good. Kylie Minogue no. Belinda Carlisle and The Bangles yes.

But I’m sure I was not yet ready for what is now my favourite album of 1988, “Surfer Rosa” by the Pixies. Like many, I didn’t even hear the Pixies’ name mentioned until I discovered Nirvana in 1992, and I didn’t actually hear their music until a friend at university lent me a tape 6 years later. That tape bizarrely had half of “Surfer Rosa” and half of “Recovering The Satellites” by Counting Crows on it. I liked “Surfer Rosa” immediately. It sounded so weird but so listenable. It was at the same time brilliantly melodic and catchy but loud, angry and chaotic.

I bought the CD in Newcastle while visiting a friend, and got a lift back home with another friend’s mum. We played “Surfer Rosa” in the car and during the instrumental break in “Vamos” where the guitar squalls like a seagull, the friend’s mum turned to me and said, “Martin,what on Earth have you bought?!”.

That’s precisely what you want to hear at that time in your life and I was in both barrels with the Pixies from then on. As is usually the case, once I started listening to the entire back catalogue, I began hearing their songs all over the place. Waiting for bands to come on at gigs/festivals, in the background on tv programmes, on film soundtracks.

All the albums are great but I disagree with most and prefer “Surfer Rosa” to “Doolittle”. It just edges it.

Here’s “Bone Machine”. The song which kickstarted my Pixies love.

1987: “Sister” – Sonic Youth

1987

When you’re 9 years old, the music you listen to is the music you’re exposed to. Simple as that. Either by your parents playing it, songs on the radio or TV, or the stuff you already have on cassette or records. (Well, CD now i suppose.)

So surprisingly enough, in 1987 I wasn’t trawling independent record shops for the latest American lo-fi no wave indie rock. No. I was listening to “Bad” by Michael Jackson and “True Blue” by Madonna. Over and over again.Like most other kids my age. And I was also watching Top of the Pops on BBC 1 every Thursday night without fail. In fact this programme is where I would get my first listen of a lot of bands and artists well into my teens.

I heard Sonic Youth for the first time in 1993. A year after my ears had been opened to the tidal wave of alternative rock coming from America. Sugar Kane was the first song I was played. It was the single on 7 inch pinched by my friend from his older sister’s bedroom. We heard a lot of music this way. The song was an easy road in and I liked it. Little did I know it was pretty much unrecognisable from their early material.

Anyway in April ’93 the legendary video “1991:The Year Punk Broke” was released which documented Sonic Youth’s ’91 European Tour and included performances by them plus many support bands including Nirvana. A friend of mine had taken the audio from the video and put it onto a cassette which he played one saturday on a portable stereo while a group of us hung out in  a local park. A live version of “Schizophrenia” is the first track and it caught my interest straight away. “This is the Sugar Kane band?!”, I remember thinking.

I didn’t dive straight into their back catalogue, which was probably a good thing because I don’t think my aural taste buds would’ve been ready for that yet. But I did watch the documentary and get a copy of “Dirty”, which I loved and I followed them from that point forward. It took a while for my palette to appreciate the more abrasive and experimental songs on each album but I got there eventually. Probably around the time of “A Thousand Leaves” in 1998, which is weird because that is my least favourite album.

“Sister” though is my joint favourite along with “Daydream Nation” and “Dirty” (It might be their most commercial, but come on it’s bloody good). And it’s definitely my favourite album of 1987.

This opening tom tom beat and chiming chord intro will always get my hairs standing on end. It sounds like discovery and a world of musical investigation opening up to me. Here’s “Schizophrenia”