Saturday, March 26, 2011

Retro Saturday special: 1981 and my musical rebirth

I've had this post kicking around since the beginning of this year so I thought it was about time it was published.

30 years seems a long time, a lifetime ago, yet it feels just like yesterday. And my mind wandered back to one Saturday afternoon in January 1981, where none other than BBC Radio One was to be responsible for sowing the seeds of my own musical revolution which was to last for the best part of the following 30 years....

Saturdays back then, as indeed now, meant retail therapy. But on that Saturday I was stuck in the house with a heavy winter cold, curled up on the sofa and feeling sorry for myself. So I switched on the radio, and flicked through the channels. I can't remember the name of the DJ - but a song was played on the radio which was to turn my life upside down.

With unparalleled excitement and urgency, brass raged from the radio and a voice proclaimed "Bless my cotton socks, I'm in the news!" In those three minutes, my Saturday afternoon misery vanished. The song was "Reward" by a band called The Teardrop Explodes.

I wanted to know more about this band, and to discover more of this music. The DJ mentioned something about a night-time Radio 1 show, and so I began to explore this other world beyond daytime/drivetime radio. Richard Skinner's Evening Session, and the John Peel show, opened up a whole new undiscovered world of music which I devoured with enthusiasm. Every Radio 1 session was eagerly anticipated, and the joy of discovering another new band to add to my collection....well it was just undescribable. I began buying New Musical Express, Sounds and Record Mirror, hoping to discover more information about all the new bands which excited me.

But whilst all that was going on, my pop heart was still beating. All through my life I haven't been able to understand musical snobbery. Why can't you like two kinds of music at once? I grew up in a house where all kinds of music were acceptable, and as time went on I was able to love punk and disco and cheesy pop equally. By the end of 1980, the charts were not such an exciting place for me: the ska boom had faded and disco was on its last legs. At that time, my heart and my record player belonged to one man and his band: Adam and the Ants. Laugh if you must, but "Kings of the Wild Frontier" still remains an underrated gem, however everything he did after that just had me cringing with disappointment and we went our separate ways.

Magazines like The Face began to hail the New Romantic movement, which I initially resented and couldn't relate to, but the music made a lot more sense: Spandau Ballet, Ultravox, Visage and the new poster boys on this teenage girl's bedroom wall - Duran Duran.

Ironically, last Sunday night I watched Duran Duran perform on an ITV 'One Night Only' special and was amazed to see that despite the passing of the years (and the shocking deterioration in John Taylor's looks) they can still cut it. My interest in the band began to wane from "Rio" onwards and by the time of "Wild Boys" I hated them. They came to represent everything I hated about the 1980s, which was personally a very dark decade for me. If you can remember the 80s fondly then (a) you either weren't there, or (b) you were a yuppie. Duran Duran managed to work their way back into my affections in the 1990s and last Sunday night's TV appearance proved that they are still relevant.

But back to 1981 and beyond. John Peel's Festive 50 became an annual highlight. In 1981 the chart clearly hadn't let go of the punk hits which had inspired this musical revolution, but for me the real excitement was all about what happened after punk. In 1981, New Order took its first steps, rising from the ashes of Joy Division, and producing music which was way beyond its time. New Order was to become my all-time favourite band in subsequent years.

1981 changed everything for me. My interest in what I suppose you would call 'indie' or 'alternative' music developed from that year and resulted in my discovering music which never in a million years would make the top 40, but which enriched my musical experience in a way which I still fondly remember.

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