47. WTF musical moments


I have no idea how long my ears have been ringing. I became fully aware of it only a few years ago. It’s a background noise, not intrusive. Could the origins trace back to the deafening musical volumes blasted out by the Faces, Status Quo, Deep Purple and Nazareth at the Kursaal? Or the various discos dotted around Southend where Si Gaze would contemplate osmosis? I could never hear a bloody thing, and marvelled that others could communicate sufficiently to negotiate their way through the rituals.

Maybe it was the headphones in Bowers Gifford, aiding night-time music in bed.

My first experiences of pop music were at Hadleigh, where Eric used to bring home ‘singles’ (45 rpm records) or EP (extended player) discs that had the middle missing. They came from one of his mates who was the recipient of vinyl that had been played on jukeboxes. We had a set of adaptor pieces that could be fitted so that the thing would play. The artists I remember were Billy Fury, Roy Orbison, Adam Faith, The Beatles, Cilla Black, Frank Ifield and Gerry and the Pacemakers. It was a start.

The first indication that music could be mind-expanding came at age 12. Watching Top of the Pops one Thursday evening on BBC1. The TV started shaking as if Dr Who’s Tardis had landed out in the hallway, or a Panzer tank had just fired a shell in our garden. A frizzy-haired black guy was playing a song called ‘Voodoo Chile’ that was unlike anything I had ever heard. Jimi Hendrix playing the electric blues, as I later understood. A tune buried in so much reverb and layered sonic assault that it was alien to my still-tender sensibilities. I felt soiled for hours.

voodoo chile

My first ever ‘what the fuck?’ musical moment.

I needed a sweet tune to dovetail with electric guitars, and Marc Bolan’s T Rex started providing for me just over a year later. ‘Ride a White Swan’, ‘Get it On’ and ‘Telegram Sam’ all hit the spot. Must have been around this time that I began to notice that guys were walking to school with colourful squares tucked under their arms. I bought one of these, an LP (long player) entitled ‘Electric Warrior’. T Rex.

Just after I turned 15, Bowie re-introduced himself. Top of the Pops again. David had caught my ear with Space Oddity back in 1969, but not my eye. Now he stood looking like a space-age Robin Hood, lipsticked and palely powdered face, as he sung of the ‘Starman’ waiting to come and meet us. I had no concept of androgyny, but my gut knew, as he and Mick Ronson cuddled together at the mike. Bowie’s subsequent ‘Ziggy Stardust’ and ‘Aladdin Sane’ albums showcased inconceivable possibilities of imagination and style.


Not long after the WTF of Starman, my ears adjusted to more new dimensions as Roxy Music unveiled ‘Virginia Plain’. Brian Eno’s insane synthesiser sound cutting a swathe of fresh neural pathways across my fecund teenage brain.

Visual stimulation was of the essence in all of these WTFs. At some stage in 1972 I got the purely aural experience when first hearing Led Zeppelin IV. Borrowed from Nick Eastwell. By the third play, the presence of genius was clear. That summer we holidayed on the Norfolk Broads, and I played my taped version from the roof of our boat as Eric steered us from North Walsham to Norwich. He wasn’t impressed, not by the building ascendance of Stairway to Heaven’, and not by Robert Plant’s stirring vocal duets with Jimmy Page’s guitar, nor John Bonham’s industrially muscular drum sound, or even by Plant’s soaring and dipping harmonica on ‘When the Levee Breaks’.

led zep

I was in Eric’s camp a few years later, when witnessing Led Zep live at Earls Court in 1975. The sound was poor. Plant forgot the words to ‘Stairway to Heaven’. Maybe Nick and I were too far away from the stage, up in the Gods. Big disappointment.

Music led me to become a reader of my favourite-ever publication, New Musical Express, or NME, from around 1973. Excellent for its musical coverage, and eye-opening in its espousal of books, films and philosophies of which I knew nothing. But probably making the most vivid imprint upon my mind’s unformed moulds through the style of its writers. Charles Shaar Murray, Danny Baker, Nick Kent, Lester Bangs, Paul Morley, Ian Penman and not to forget Tony Parsons and Julie Burchill. They all set the bar for transforming writing into an absolute exercise of pleasure.


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