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.