The Sound of the Suburbs
In my previous wittering, I wrote about how music has come to influence my life & how that came to be. I had initially planned on the piece being a musical journey from childhood to present, however my loquaciousness got the better of me – I didn’t quite realise how much I had on the subject & so have decided to serialise the piece, if only to save the reader from exhaustion!
As a forces child during the 70’s & early 80’s, I grew up to the regular drum beat of moving every four or five years, often considerable distances & always highly efficiently. One of the results of this was that at any given time, there remained packing crates or boxes somewhere, in what ever house we happened to be quartered. Most of these boxes contained things we didn’t need there, so were often left unpacked until we moved on again & had cause to use their contents.
Occasionally however, a need would arise for something in one of the boxes & they would be opened. When this happened, I always had a sense of excitement; perhaps, like a trinket box, they contained items long forgotten that would evoke memories.
The boxes tended to be made of very hard, heavy duty cardboard, often fastened at the corners with industrial sized steel staples, sealed with swathes of brown packing tape, covered with a multitude of shipping labels & a black marker summary of their contents in my mother’s hand – “kitchen bits & bobs, glassware & cookbooks” or “spare linen, ornaments & toys”.
On opening them, my initial recollection is of a pervading smell of moth balls. Many of the things we had shipped would go by sea & so could spend considerable time in exotically located warehouses en route. As such moth balls were packed with clothing & linens in order to prevent their contents being reduced to rags by the time of their arrival. For example, on returning from an overseas posting to Hong Kong, my mother shipped enough new cotton bed linen back that we had a seemingly inexhaustible supply of new sheets.
I can see me hovering excitedly at my mother’s shoulder in order to spy the contents, hopefully a missing or forgotten toy, followed by a quick thrust of my hands when I spotted something I wanted.
It was in one of these boxes I was to discover the thing that would lead to the next stage of development where my love of music is concerned.
While I cannot be wholly certain of my age at the time, I can place it roughly at between 78 & 79 due to its geographic location. As such, it’s likely to have taken place within 12 months or so of me discovering the joys of vinyl. This item however was to kickstart a taste in music of my own, minus parental influence.
What lay in the box on this occasion, nestled other items, was a small, plastic transistor radio; about the size of a Walkman (modern fangled technology that was still yet to exist), bright orange in colour, two small black dials on the side, one simple volume & on/off switch the other the tuning for frequency, a selector switch for wavelength, AM, LW & MW, I think, a dial across the front with needle for frequency, a retractable aerial, along with a single earpiece/headphone that was flesh coloured & resembled a hearing aid.
Having never seen the like before, it was not long before it was in my sweaty little palms. Shortly after my father having put new batteries in it & explained its rudiments, I was walking round ear piece in & dialling frequencies to find sounds, holding it aloft above my head, having discovered that if I stood with my arms raised “aerial held high” it improved reception somewhat.
So that was it, I now had access to music that I could take with me anywhere in the house, most importantly to my bedroom. The next few nights & weeks were spent with me willingly going to bed without retort, how that ever passed unremarked I don’t know, however once firmly ensconced I would wait until I thought it safe then, with the covers over my head, switch on & tune in.
During this time I discovered the BBC World Service, full of boring adult stuff, along with countless foreign stations & voices that while I could not understand it thrilled me to be listening to people from exotic locations, well to my mind at least.
I even dabbled with Radio Luxembourg for a short while, before happening upon Radio 1 one night & a voice who would often introduce himself as Margrave of The Marshes.
It was of course John Peel.
The sounds Peel played were alien yet exciting to me, things I was unaccustomed to hearing, discord, feedback, singers that to first response might not necessarily sound in tune, yet had things to say regardless & with a passionate energy.
So began a habit, a fixation of tuning in to listen to John Peel, often I’d tune in early & catch the end of Janice Long before they handed over another DJ who played what at the time to my mind was slightly off kilter.
If I’m truthful then looking back & being so young, I cannot recall a single song Peel or Janice Long played merely the fact they struck a chord; however with the benefit of hindsight & history, knowing this was the late 70’s, I realise now that most of what I listening to was either the death throes of punk, or the beginnings of what would latterly be known as “New Wave”, songs from the likes of The Clash, Joy Division, Buzzcocks, PIL, The Only Ones, The Fall, The Cure & The Undertones, all songs & artists that when I would go on to rediscover them 4 or 5 years later by would seem eerily familiar & evocative….