Music has always been a big part of my life since I can ever remember. Over the years I have held an appreciation for many styles and sub-genres. I guess people may associate me with various flavours of rock and alternative music, particularly metal, punk and goth. However, upon reflecting back on the musical landscape which shaped me, there are some influences which may come as a surprise to some. Since I recently reached a certain milestone in my life, I thought it might be fun to document which music, bands, places and people have influenced me throughout my life.
This first period covers from when I can first ever remember music to any degree up until the first gig I attended.
My dad and uncles were a huge influence on me when I was a kid, exposing me to music from a very early age.
Long before my appreciation of noisy guitar based music, the very first artist I ever remember being exposed to in a big way was Stevie Wonder. I was born in the mid-seventies so I was too young to remember Stevie’s heyday (which was pretty much all of the seventies). However, the first album I remember hearing was 1980’s “Hotter Than July”, which contained the famous hits “Master Blaster (Jammin’)” and “Happy Birthday”. One of my favourite Stevie songs is also on this record, the ballad “Lately”, which I have been known to destroy on a karaoke from time to time!
Anyway, my parents bought me a cassette recorder at an early age and my dad copied a few of his LPs for me. Three very prominent Stevie records from this time for me were “Innervisions”, “Music of my Mind” and “Songs in the Key of Life”. Stevie’s music became a big part of my life and I went on to explore the rest of his catalogue, from the sublime albums “Talking Book” and “Fulfillingness First Finale” to the experimental “Secret Life of Plants”. There was nobody quite like him. Listening to Stevie Wonder taught me about emotion and different feelings in music more than any other artist at the time.
We always had the radio on at home in the late seventies / early eighties, which was a pretty good thing at the time. The first band I remember getting excited about was Adam and the Ants. I used to sing along to the singles on the radio, so much so that my parents bought me the Prince Charming album on LP (which I still have to this day). I remember the first time I listened to the album at my grandma’s house and being confused about there being other songs on the album other than the ones which I had heard on the radio. I was only 5 years old and the concept of album tracks had not yet reached my understanding. The LP was duly transferred to cassette as I was a bit young to be handling vinyl. My dad was very particular about this and taught me to have great respect for it. Later in my life, I revisited Adam Ant and collected more of his music but Prince Charming will always be special to me. Aside from the obvious single tracks, the song “Five Guns West” remains embedded in my memory from this time.
Many people look back at the pop music of the eighties with a mixture of amusement and ridicule. A band I remember enjoying at the time was Wham! OK, it was pop music of its time, it was cheesy and I was only a kid listening to the radio. I do still have a soft spot for Wham!. However, I do rate George Michael as a singer and songwriter and the “Listen Without Prejudice” album he later released was very good indeed (this album contained a brilliant version of Stevie Wonder’s “They Won’t Go When I Go”. I fondly remember a lot of the pop music of the time. I collected the “Hits” compilation tapes (I had volumes 1-5) and like many other kids, used to wait for the charts on the radio on Sunday evening so I could tape songs from the top 40. One band which I particularly liked was Frankie Goes to Hollywood. My dad bought the 12-inch single of “Two Tribes” and I listened to this a lot. I guess it was this record which first introduced me to the idea of extended remixes, which was very much an eighties thing. I later got the “Welcome to the Pleasure Dome” album. Trevor Horn’s production was so dynamic and the songs were quality.
Between the ages of 9 and about 12, my musical taste was mostly inspired by my dad, which was often inspired by his friend and colleague Paul. Each week we used to go to the library, choose a number of CDs and discover them together or he used to borrow music from Paul. Socially, I was a bit of a loner and music was my main companion I guess. Paul was a massive influence in my life and later introduced me to lots of weird and wonderful music. One album in particular which changed my life was “Trespass” by Genesis. There is something special about this album; it’s a unique mixture of light and shade, evoking pastoral scenery with sinister undertones. Peter Gabriel’s voice is sublime and the guitar work of Anthony Philips, coupled with Tony Banks’ keys and Mike Rutherford’s multi-instrumental talents was mesmerising. This was an important album to me. To date, it remains my favourite work by any artist and started my love affair with Genesis and exploration into the world of progressive rock.
About this time (slightly earlier in fact), I started listening to the music of Dire Straits and Mark Knopfler. I was obsessed and duly collected all of the albums which for a time were the only things I listened to on constant rotation. My obsession began with the compilation album “Money For Nothing” and went from there. To this day, I couldn’t give you a favourite particularly as I love all of them. However, one album which evokes memories of childhood summers is “Making Movies” and “Tunnel of Love” in particular reminds me of Peel Park fairground and the mixture of excitement and confusion associated with early adolescence.
I was a socially awkward kid and overwhelmingly shy. However, I did have some friends, the most prolific of whom at the time was my lifelong friend Richard Stubbs. Richard and I still remain in contact to this day. We continued our trips to the library and our discovery of music, soaking up many sounds.
About this time, we discovered the various record shops in Bradford city centre. Aside from HMV, there was Our Price, EGS and the two independent ones Rocks Off and The Wax Museum. The Wax Museum on Westgate was the place where I spent most of my Saturday mornings and afternoons. It was where most of my pocket money went and became the source of most of my music collection over the years. The shop later expanded and the CD section of it downstairs became Discovery.
At the height of its popularity, the whole business took up three floors of the building. At the time of writing, Discovery is still there, although I don’t get there so much these days.
I was about 13 or 14 at this point and I remember one evening after we had finished Richard’s paper round, we were sat in his bedroom playing records. He had an old nylon-string acoustic guitar which he never really used. I remember picking this up and for the very first time attempting to play a tune. I played along with the bassline to “Satisfaction” by The Rolling Stones, at first attempting it left handed (with the instrument strung right handed). I later bought the instrument from Richard and set about learning to play. My dad showed me my first chords (after correcting me on the proper way to hold the instrument) and my auntie’s boyfriend at the time was a classical guitarist. He taught me how to fingerpick. Aside from this, I had no formal lessons. I also had a synthesiser at home which my parents had bought for me (Casio CZ1000) and in parallel with learning guitar, I played keys a bit. Around this time I was spending more and more time with my friend Paul Gooding and we started making what could loosely be described as music together, upsetting neighbours and making a load of row.
I guess at the time, some of the music I was listening to was old-fashioned for a kid of my age but some of it was also quite challenging. A lot of my friends were getting into hard rock and heavy metal, which was really popular at the time. I actually didn’t really take to it at first, initially continuing with my appreciation of prog rock and the post-punk, alternative and indie sounds of the late eighties and early nineties.
My dad’s friend Paul introduced me to a myriad of great sounds, lots from around the time (The Wedding Present, Sonic Youth, Dinosaur Jr. The Sundays, The Trashcan Sinatras, The Dustdevils) and some more vintage (Peter Hammill, Anthony Phillips). I went to my first gig when I was 15 in May 1991, which was The Wedding Present. They were touring their “Seamonsters” album with a band called Buffalo Tom supporting. The gig was at Leeds Met and I remember my ears ringing so loudly on the way home. I’m not sure if it was because it was my first ever live gig or what but I remember it to be the loudest I have attended.