Category Archives: music

Down by the Riverside

My time in higher education was misspent at Teesside Polytechnic in Middlesbrough. Moving there from Doncaster was generally swapping one declining industrial town for another, albeit one with a better cultural life even in the mid-80s, and not all driven by the presence of the poly. But as I had grown up with Sheffield, and to a lesser extent Leeds as the nearest big cities, in Middlesbrough, 40 miles up the coast, an hour on the train, was Newcastle. My first trip was in my first week and it was to begin a relationship that has continued since.

The Riverside was also new to Newcastle in September 1985, built in a disused warehouse overlooking the Tyne and born out of the lack of such a place in the city, and the lack of pretty much anything for young people in a city that had suffered more than most from the Thatcherite downturn. It wasn’t long before I was discharged from an orange VW Beetle, queued for my red membership card and failed to see the Shop Assistants.

Over the next four years my education got in the way of seeing such bands as the Fall, the Go-Betweens, Swans, Dinosaur jr, Godflesh and Rapeman to name but a few. Broon was drunk, the floor was stuck to, and sometimes the ceiling, and the city was changed very much for a better, leaving a legacy that remains to this day.

As you might imagine, there are many stories to be told from such a place, and Hazel Plater, a former employee, collected many of them and wrote a book. The next plan is to make a film and collect the reminiscences of performers and attendees alike. In the fashionable way, the first stage is being crowdfunded through Indiegogo and needs to raise $5000. If you’re like me and enjoy musical history for the sake of, well, history, you’ll understand that it’s a labour of love and that it needs to be completed. If you were there at the time, you’ll probably need to be reminded. If you give enough you’ll even get a copy of the book. You can’t say fairer than that.


Confessions of a cable hoarder

Ever since I’ve had disposable income I seem to have amassed cables. As a teenager it was guitar leads and the tools for my youthful indiscretions. On returning from university (well, it was still a polytechnic then), one of my jobs to was do something about the electronic rat king in my bedroom. It had become too tangled and too broken to do anything useful so it went in the bin to start again.
And start again it did. As well as being a failing musician now I had got into computers and guitar leads were joined by computer cables and components, which acreted into another tangled pile that was too intertwined to do anything useful. It went out when I returned to Yorkshire from my sojourn in the capital.
Fast forward another ten years and I’m clearing my house to sell it, and up in the attic is another nest of wires. It still a mystery to me how it piles up. I have bought guitar leads but surely not that many. My home has been wirelessly networked for years, and yet there are miles of CAT-5. It’s going in the bin again because there’s no room for it, and indeed no need for most of it.
The true explanation is of course that I’m naturally untidy and things tend to get pushed out of the way when I don’t use them, which is probably a metaphor in itself. I’d like to think that it’s not more complicated that and that things could be made better with a few hooks and clothes pegs. So if you’ll excuse me, I’ll have to go and sort out the skeletons in my cupboard.

Famous Grey Raincoat – an introduction

(This is probably not strictly a daily post but it’s what I’ve been thinking about today)
The years after punk were rich with possibility. The convergence of influences that freed music from the restrictions of big industry made it possible for so much more music to be heard. The first nihilistic roar that came out of London (via New York – or at least that corner that the Stooges lurked in) cleared the air for a more cerebral generation of bands: mostly northern, generally more artistically inclined, often soberly dressed and looking to Europe instead of the US for influence, or at least that Europe occupied by David Bowie and Can.
There was probably no movement as such – there very rarely was, just patterns in the minds of the music journalists that documented the bands who fitted the bill, but there were tags that could be applied. There was of course a certain sound, influenced by Martin Hannett’s production, a high register, low slung bass; chorussed and echoed guitar and an oceanic depth of reverb. The more observant would recognise U2 in this, and they wouldn’t be wrong. The biggest band in the world gained their inspiration from the same sources as many of the bands in this history, and indeed are one of the bands in this history.
Many of the bands in this history are now household names: Joy Division/New Order, Echo and the Bunnymen and U2. Then there are the bands who achieved cult status or even fame outside of the UK: The Chameleons, The Sound and The Comsat Angels. Following them were hundreds of contenders who may have had the thrill of hearing their single played by John Peel or got a live review in Melody Maker before sinking below the radar again.
I haven’t found a history of this specific musical non-genre, so I thought I would have a go myself. This is my statement of intent: if anyone comes across it and has done such a thing, then you can sell me a copy as I want to know more.If not, then give me time and I’ll find it out for myself. There might be a blog, but not yet, but I’ll keep you posted.