Moon River, Me, Morrissey

When you’re northern, you’re northern forever and you’re instilled with a certain feel for life that you can’t get rid of. You just can’t.

The very early sixties: my grandad, with a Yorkshire practicality and foresight demonstrated daily in his job as a loom tuner, bought my aunt, far younger and cooler than my mother, a reel to reel tape recorder. In grandad’s view, her pocket money was to be saved for more important things, because records were a waste of cash: you could just stick a mono crystal microphone in front of the radio and record all those new-fangled bands you liked, and when you got bored with them, just tape over the songs with new ones. The recorder got plenty of action a few years later, when my aunt developed into a fully-fledged Beatlemaniac and the Fab Four started to dominate the airwaves.

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Get On The Good Foot

or.. A Baker’s Dozen of Debut Albums

All the activity on Twitter over selecting 50 Debut Albums got me thinking, and what I wanted to avoid was reprocessing my own lists, because if you look through those, you’ll see my favourite artists and it stands to reason their debuts could quite possibly feature in any list I could make.. y’know, Costello, The Clash, Stone Roses, and so on. You know I like them. I’ve written about them before and I pester you with links to those old articles every now and again! Somehow it would have been simultaneously very easy and also a slog to come up with a list of 50, and I didn’t want it to be a slog, because that’s no fun.

So what’s a guy to do? Here are the ones that popped into my head. I don’t want to debate their comparative worth to ‘classic’ debuts by the Doors, Specials, Beastie Boys or whoever. Here they are, I like ’em, and that’s all, no further thought. I’m doing thirteen, like the Quietus does, in chronological order. And if you’re gonna argue with me that they’re live albums or compilations or another technical disqualification, and therefore don’t count as debuts, I’m putting my fingers in my ears.

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Salford Folk

A regular haunt when I was at University in the late 70s was The Star, in Back Hope Street, Salford. Ignoring the rather more easily accessible delights of the student bar at Castle Irwell (and the casino opposite), we’d walk out of the horseshoe-shaped village, down Cromwell Road, turn left, past the fish and chip shop which would come in useful later in the evening, and was also good for celebrity spotting – I stood in the line for chips next to Buzzcocks’ Pete Shelley once, struck dumb with shyness (I think we both were). On past Manchester United’s training ground The Cliff, eventually turning right down an unlikely-looking narrow street. No big signs, hardly any signs at all in fact, no foot traffic.. odds were you wouldn’t just happen to walk by, someone had to show you where it was, which was part of the attraction.

Opposite was the Horseshoe, which was a pretty good pub, but the main attraction was The Star and the folk club night, run by Martin Gittins, part of a duo called Pint’n’Half who, if memory serves, would often open up the show and then hand over to the guest performers. The folk/comedy stylists Mike Harding and Bob Williamson were probably the most famous of those, and we saw many more. The politics of songs at the club fit in with my proto-lefty leanings, and the Robinson’s beer (including the lethal Old Tom) was excellently kept by one-armed landlord and local legend Wally Marshall.

On darts night at The Star, the competitors would play on a Manchester Log-End, or Lancashire, board. You think darts is difficult: well, play on a Log-End and you’ll encounter a whole new source of frustration. They’re about two thirds the size of the ones you see on telly, and have no treble ring. They have to be kept in water, or they split – they’re sawn from an elm log – so about half an hour before the match started, someone would retrieve the thoroughly soaked dart board and hang it up. I’d like to see Phil ‘The Power’ Taylor or ‘Barney’ Barneveld have a go at one of those.

This all popped back into my memory a few days ago, so I did a quick search to see how things are now. The Horseshoe is now gone, and The Star had some problems recently, but I am pleased to see it is now run as a co-operative, bought by its regulars in 2009. Good for them. It is a fine place, and if you’re ever out that way, drop in.

Memory aid for this article provided by Jim Simpson’s fine history, on the pub web site.

Song For A Friend

A particular highlight from last year was the Pet Shop Boys’ Electric album, a fine record chock full of the kind of spot-on English synth-pop wizardry that Messrs. Lowe and Tennant present us with on a very regular basis.

An old friend of mine would have really enjoyed Love Is A Bourgeois Construct .. he was always very enthusiastic about the films of Peter Greenaway and the music of Michael Nyman. Nyman’s Chasing Sheep Is Best Left To Shepherds from The Draughtsman’s Contract is the sample the PSBs worked into the song.

I say ‘would have enjoyed’, because my friend is no longer with us. He was a Scot, born in the 50s, who spent a large part of his childhood isolated due to illness, and as I understand quite solitary until he went to secondary school. I met him in the early 80s when I stared work at the same company, and we became good friends. He came out a few years later. Some of his family accepted his choice and supported him but his father and sister didn’t. The torment eventually led to him taking his own life in 2005.

Through the 90s and early 00s, we worked in different places and didn’t meet up as often – when we did, we caught up, visited some favourite haunts and talked about the old days, with no pressure, and maybe that was a little bit of an escape from what he was going through. I knew he was under stress, and I hope I helped a little by being a friend. He was a fine fellow, and this song will now always remind me of him.