Monday, 25 April 2016

Love The Haters

I've been doing a lot of thinking in the last few days. Becca and I took the rather unconventional decision of seeing if we could help our floundering financial position by doing some crowdfunding.

98% of the people who commented were supportive, and some vehemently so. And people pledged money too, which is just breathtaking. However one person was really shocked and clearly annoyed at me for making such a request. I was able to answer back calmly and reasonably constructively, but it has really got me thinking about values, and our perception of other peoples values too.

Obviously it is immensely encouraging to receive all the supportive comments, but what do I really learn from those, I mean of course I'm grateful, but backslapping has limited value. For me, the most valuable comment was the negative one.

What had I done, on Instagram, a curated snapshot of my life, to make this person be shocked that I'd made this request? How did they perceive me? Did I appear to be someone that despised the 'benefits culture', the 'scroungers', did I appear to be someone that keeps on silently battling through life never complaining or burdening others with my woes?

Looking back through my feed, its clear I'm very open and honest, but perhaps not in the most positive way I could be. I complain a lot about others, and I'm really Mr Judgmental. I wonder how many of you give me a by-ball because I'm mostly a good guy but sometimes wish I'd shut up and stop moaning. I'm always fascinated by the anthropological aspect of social media. I have made a lot of judgement errors with people on it. Thought I was connecting HUGELY when actually, because its such a 'safe place' where block is the answer, I think we sometimes lose our ability to self adjudicate our thoughts and actions. Are we different people on Instagram, than we are in 'real' life? Do we consequently perceive people differently on social media?

How can we not? As I've said a couple of times, its a curated space, you don't see the full on Dickhead Nick for starters, you see the Nick I want you to see. The man that paints his nails, has produced two gorgeous daughter and has a gorgeous wife, only does interesting things with his family and has a massive social conscience. Well that;s only part of me (albeit a large part). I strive to show the whole me, warts'n'all, but its difficult.

So, thanks to my dissenter on Instagram the other day, you got me thinking.

Friday, 12 February 2016

Collateral Damage starring Grief, Pain, Anger and Loss.

I've been thinking about doing a 'follow up' post to the Grief For Newbies for quite some time. Frequently I'll be standing doing the dishes and an entire post argues itself into my head and then I sit on the sofa and watch Frasier for the umpteenth time and forget it all.
This time I'm going to grasp the nettle and go for it, as I have decided a recurring and un-ignorable fact of grief, is the 'collateral damage'.
When a loss occurs, the collateral damage is something that nothing can prepare you for. If we somehow set aside the actual loss (sounds crazy doesn't it - but bear with me my story might get interesting).
Firstly I would remind you all I am speaking from my personal experience, and that everyone, everyone, experiences loss in a different way, and that their way is the only way they know how, so therefore there is no right or wrong way. Just your way.

But anyway, when this loss occurs like it did when our dear daughter Maeve died, you disappear into a bubble. At this point you are completely unaware of anything around you really, you function on a totally different level, you speak at the funeral, and everybody says "How did you do that?!", well you don't even think about it. Auto pilot, really.
As the minutes, hours, days, weeks trudge past in a haze, you start to notice something. A change. 
People who used to be in your life, just haven't shown their faces for a while. We were in the middle of marriage counselling when Maeve died, and our counsellor warned us of this but we didn't believe her. "Our friends won't desert us, they were so supportive through Maeves life. They're good, forward thinking Christian folk."
Well shock no.1 was that despite being Christians, and therefore setting themselves to a higher standard of compassion, our church congregation let us down. Hugely. Massively. Completely. To be honest that is for another post all on its own, that subject. But to round it up, in short, I think there was something of the unclean about us. "don't come near us with your dead daughter virus". Now with nearly 3 years hindsight and extreme anger, I realise that people are people, and some of them just cannot deal with it. Trouble is as I said in my previous 'grief' post, you are using up every ounce of your own energy keeping going, so you don't have time for understanding, to explain to them 'this is how to behave'. So - collateral damage No.1 is "You will lose a LOT of friends (no really, sorry, you will)". There will ones that you were SURE would always be there for you that disappear, one that you hardly knew step up for a while, but ultimately after about 6-9 weeks, they all fuck off. And as a matter of fact, christians left with my christianity too, and I'm the happier for it I might add (but once again, thats for another post entirely). **I feel I should add however, that we had some friends that were utterly extraordinary, utterly selfless, and really placed themselves right in the middle of it all. And for them, we are eternally grateful for their love and true support.**

So, this leads on to the fact that I have discovered that collateral damage no.2 is that you lose the person you were. Up until the day Maeve died I had put all my trust into the god that I believed in. After this, understandably, I was pretty angry with god (ps. don't fucking tell it was the work of satan  - come at me with some human words instead of a spiritual get out clause). Anyway, as time passed I realized that my faith was finished, I got no comfort from knowing that Maeve is 'with Jesus'. She should be with her parents. But anyway, this has lead to the only 'positive' thing to emerge from the debris. I have finally, at last, aged 43, become the person i wanted to be. Albeit with a good few flaws (floors? - to continue the debris metaphor) still intact.

I think that this neatly leads to collateral damage no.3. The third and final. The process of becoming a different person, the biggest and worst manifestation of this has been, t-shirts. You are totally allowed to guffaw by the way. I'm not sure what started it, but it became quite obsessive for quite a while, and unfortunately pretty destructive to Becca and mine's finances. But the t-shirt thing became my new identity, became the thing that defined me, the thing i grabbed for when the waves of pain and tears and crying hit me. "Buy a new t-shirt that no-one else in the UK probably got."
It doesn't fix anything, spending literally £1000s on t-shirts folks. (plus a minor predilection for CDs - but that was always there). All it did was foster huge resentment toward me in Becca, and a money issue that will be with us for about another 3 years.

I've lost my way a bit with this but I guess I'm saying, if you know someone who is experiencing grief / pain / loss, it doesn't happen with a Snow Patrol song, then fade out and stop at the end credits with a Maroon 5 song. It's there forever, so unless you want to be part of - stick with your friends, say something stupid instead of nothing at all. Cry with them, but stay there. Let them tell you to FUCK OFF!! and then go back next week for more. Its worth it, and they will not forget it.

Love is the only answer. Lifelong unconditional love. But its fucking difficult.

Wednesday, 27 May 2015

Grief For Newbies

Maeve Joy Elise - and her
famous 'O' face!
So (big, deep breath). Some of you may know that in April 2013, our world went shitbag. Our world went blurry, angry, unreal, horribly real, agonising, pointless. Our first daughter, Maeve, died. She was precisely 18 months old. She had to have surgery on her skull, and there were unexpected complications.

The past 2+ years have been, as you might imagine, life changing. I've been thinking about writing this post for most of that time.
Its difficult to know where to start. I could tell you about how we arrived at this point, I could tell you all about Maeve's difficulties, I could tell you about the fact that she was entirely well, not a sick child, but had to have corrective work. I could tell you me and Becca feel strong, supported, let down, abandoned, angry.

Anyone who has been through - duh - is going through - this kind of thing will know what I'm talking about. And yet, they wont. Because everybody's experience of grief, of loss, is personal, different. Our experience is just as huge and awful, as someone losing their mother, father, brother, sister, dog, cat. Its all relative. So I guess what I'm saying first, is that yes, you may 'know of' what Becca and I are going through (and will continue to for the rest of our lives in some way or another), but you don't know what we're going through.

There's nothing good to be said about what has happened to us. When this happened, we were 'grief novices', 'child loss newbies' if you like. What I mean by this is that we did not know how to deal with any of it, our reaction, other peoples reactions, societys reaction. Fortunately Becca and I are fairly singular people, and tend not to bow to socially acceptable behaviours and platitudes. We were constantly (figuratively) standing with swords drawn just waiting for someone to say "At least you had the time you did with her" so that we could slash back "FUCK OFF, the time we had!?!? Cheated. Taken away. THINK about what you say before saying it!!". You see, with child loss, there are no socially accepted phrases people can run to. You know what I mean - 'she had a good innings' 'at least she's free of pain now' 'It wasn't unexpected'. None of these apply. Although I would add at this point, that if you say any of those phrases to someone who just lost a loved one, you, well, just DON'T bloody use them.

As a result of the death of our beloved daughter making people feel socially awkward, damn it if people just chose to not speak to us instead! Or they would come up to us all cheery, and not even mention Maeve. There's also an in-betweenie one, "I didn't want to say anything and upset you more..". This one even now, makes me "laugh". 'even more'. As if it wasn't on our minds 24//7 anyway.

Folks, when you encounter someone you call a friend, who has lost someone, if you don't know what to say, stand there, and SAY "I don't know what to say, I just want you to know I'm here for you, if you need anything". Saying nothing is worse than saying something stupid. But we also now encounter a problem (in what has become a 'Grief For Dummies' blog post) - that previous phrase " for you.." - which suggests 'just ask'. The trouble is, when you lose someone, unexpectedly or not, there's a good chance that you are in a place where you are using ALL of your energy just getting out of bed (or not), dressing and not walking in front of a speeding train. So asking for help is almost impossible. People actually need to grab the nettle, and come knock on your door. We may not answer, but we'll know you came. And that is more meaningful than you can imagine.

The opposite to this, which we also encountered, is people seemingly sprinting towards us with their horror stories. 'this happened to a woman in my work so I know how you feel'. Someone even came up to us at Maeve's funeral telling us about how she had "buried three children, and to go to her for advice". Believe me, that is the LAST thing you want to hear, and the LAST person you want to go near.

So all in all, its very difficult to do anything right around us untouchables, us unclean child-loss people... The one thing is, be there. Be a friend. You do have to work hard at it though. Loss of this magnitude puts you inside a bubble, and if people try hard enough they can poke their heads inside the bubble, or even sit next to you in it. We will potentially be rude, monosyllabic, we'll cry a lot and not care what people think, we'll say things and not care what people think. In fact, grief gives you a window of opportunity to behave in a pretty vile manner, and get away with it. So (fellow grievers), use it, I suggest.

My favourite metaphor that I came up with, is this. If you walk up to a bus stop in town, and there is a stranger sitting there, well dressed, nice converse, cool clothes, nothing threatening or socially unacceptable about them to make you recoil and make it someone else's problem, and they are sobbing, crying, what would you do? Would you wait to be asked? Or would you just go for it? See here
If you're the latter, you'll probably stay friends with your bereaved friends. 

You see, we also disappear off the radar, for long periods, we turn down invites out, invites for dinner, invites for coffee. The reason? Not because we hate, its because, our child died, we didn't lose our job, we didn't have a car accident, we didn't even get divorced, our child died. It doesn't go away, so don't YOU go away either. Most people stopped asking us after 8-10 weeks. A shockingly short time after Maeves death. But our counsellor said this would happen. Sadly, she was right. People that weren't there, quite quickly don't get to be part of our new and Maeve-less life. Sounds cruel? Well, tough. Some people we knew well were amazing, others disappeared, some people we weren't that close to, stepped up incredibly. Its odd. We know that none of the people we feel let down by are bad people, but we don't have time to wait for them to catch on, in our situation.

I think I'll stop for now. This is difficult stuff to write about. And my mood will be different in a while, giving me different things to say, thoughts to express and mud to fling.

I'll leave it to Leo. I've lots more to say. At some point.

Tuesday, 17 February 2015

Remember Chat Rooms....?

All of a sudden, in the late 1990s you just couldn’t ignore it. The BBC were referencing it. Rock stars were complaining and issuing law suits about it. The internet had arrived. So when my rich Aunty Molly died in ‘99, and left me £1000, I went out and bought a PC, hooked it up to the phone line, and waited for 3 hours until it connected. The future had arrived, albeit a bit clunky.

In these Pre-google times the only search engine then was MSN. So if you were on their site, you saw MSN Chat rooms. I took the bait and went for it. It wasn’t long before my then girlfriend was lost to me sitting in front of the glowing box at 3am chatting to troubled and lonely people in Anaheim and Argentina.

I started to make regular friends too. And not always of the platonic kind. There were (and still are) a million things you could do in a chat room that don’t involve any bodily contact, threat of STDs, and if it got (too) weird, you just hit ‘block’. I can’t honestly say I’m proud of this, but hey, I’m apparently what they call an Early Adopter, and I was feeling fruity.

Lots of other things were happening in my life, my hotel career was burgeoning and a move was in the offing. I behaved like a well-seasoned jackass and ended my then 6 year relationship without so much as an explanation one day, and then carried on chatting in this twilight netherworld. Back then it was still a very small world, a private pleasure that wasn’t shared openly with people. The chat rooms were definitely spoken of in hushed terms, and then seen as seedy. The general consensus wasn’t completely off the mark either. Then, as now, you got to know the oddballs very quickly, learned the lingo, and built up a block list that would fill a library shelf.

Eventually I got chatting to woman in Northern Ireland who seemed to just uncannily ‘get’ me and my then late 20-something issues. We chatted and chatted, it was very exciting, almost verboten. One of the things about online chatting of course, was that you could be told you were chatting to a tall dark raven-haired 22 year old art beauty, and art school student and fan of MC Escher, but it actually turned out to be cross-dressing Alan with a 42 inch waist from Droitwich. So we also exchanged pictures. Back then Bluetooth and pressing share on a smartphone was merely a glint in Steve Jobs eye, so we had to scan and email. But things went well that department too so we eventually (probably within a few weeks actually) exchanged phone numbers and spoke. I was incredibly nervous, even though we had shared loads of personal stuff in the chat rooms already. But we hit it off. We talked at 3am. We texted. Then we started telling friends how we had met. There was a lot of silences, and disapproving head movements. This of course made it all the more attractive, and added to the fact that it was someone from Belfast, who was also 15 years my senior, it was irresistible. There’s definitely something about the unknown that makes meeting and chatting to people online all the fun.

The flights were booked for late July in 2001. I jumped on a train with a bag and a pocket full of dreams. To coin a phrase.

As I came down the escalator at Belfast Int’l Airport I was terrified. My impressions were met. Almost. So I went with it. We chatted really well in the car, took a trip to Dublin. I came for 4 days, and ended up staying for 2 weeks. I fell in love with Belfast. From this I visited week after week, moving over to live with her in March 2002.
The MSN dream came to a rather unpleasant and bitter end on new years day 2007, with a difficult discussion and a realization I had (I cant & wont, speak for her, that’s not fair) been living something of a lie for a long time.

Perhaps it was never going to work, perhaps all that ‘real’ stuff we chatted about online when we first met was just the fulfilment of our individual fantasies, instead of reality. And as we know, the twain rarely meet. I don’t like the person I became, but that isn’t MSN’s fault. Whatever methods we use to meet people, we are still responsible for our own behaviour.
Online meeting now is commonplace, and a media staple, but still, I think it’s no less exciting, or possibly unsuccessful, or even dangerous. After all, those dating sites don’t match human beings, merely algorithms. I still used online chat rooms/sites after 2007 for a short period, but never with much success.

So on the upside, if it wasn’t for MSN, I wouldn’t have moved to Belfast, met my (now) beautiful wife in 2007 (face to face, in very romantic circumstances!), and had two beautiful daughters. So, a happy ending after all, then.

Saturday, 1 November 2014

What is normal? And why don't I like it?

I have always been interested in the life and work of Vivian Stanshall. If you don't know anything about him, follow the link on his name. He was one of those guys from the 60s and beyond that a comparatively select few people have heard of. But everyone who has, was almost certainly affected or influenced by him in some way. One of life's one offs. A true renegade, an individual, he ploughed his own furrow, not to be 'hip', but just by being himself.

Of late, I have found myself in a place where I am becoming more myself, the person I want be (about friggin' time, I'm 42!), not the person that (I feel) is expected of me, or forced upon me. My wife Becca and I have had a truly horrendous 18 months, having lost our first daughter Maeve, aged 18 months, in April 2013. Life continues to be hard as nails, but is frequently softened by our beautiful 2nd daughter Rosa.

Maeve was born with a some challenges which I'm not going to go into, but as a result, you could perhaps have said that her life wasn't 'normal'. It didn't conform to platitudes and tick boxes. Becca and I have also always been people who do not give in to the well-walked paths (never have). a simple example of this would be that we have no telly (since 2008...gasp!!), and consequently no idea what or who is on Strictly or the X-factor (and we don't care).

I have recently re-established my Twitter addiction. I have talked to SO many fascinating people on this social media phenomenon. I have learned SO much, been called out on stupid things I've said. And made a couple of genuine friends too. Recently BBC Radio 4 Extra broadcast a lengthy and amazing documentary about Vivian. This led me to chat briefly to its producer, Laura Baron on Twitter, and then to Rupert Stanshall, Vivian's son. Now, I'm not a celeb worshipper, and frankly cannot stand that kind of crap. But Rupert's twitter feed was amusing enough for me to follow him. Then he started selling some rather glorious Bonzos memorabilia on eBay. So in the course of buying a few pics, I got chatting with him about this n that, and a picture he put up of his Dad (left) struck me. "This is my normal Dad". Now its is simply none of my business, but my general impression is that Viv was an incredibly unconventional guy, but a perfectly loving Dad. But was seen as 'not normal' by so many people. And parents almost certainly kept their kids away from him, and therefore Rupert. Which is just, so much more abnormal.

I was briefly tweeting Rupert about this, and he said something which really stayed in my mind. Just an off the cuff remark, nothing earth shattering or heaven sent....(aren't most of the best things?)

"Best shut the door and keep the normals out".

I asked Rupert to write it out in his handwriting and post it with the pics I had bought. And yesterday this happened.

Rupert, and lots of you, probably think I'm off my crock. But it just speaks to me. My only other tattoo is of Maeve's hand print. So, I don't do a tattoo lightly. But the phrase is what we strive for. I think my interpretation is less about insulting 'normal' or 'regular' folk, more about guarding oneself against an attack of the 'normals'. i.e. You can have an attack of the jitters, right? So an attack of the normals, to me, just means, be yourself, stop following the well-trodden path. That's all. I love it.

Thanks Rupert for being so game. It didn't hurt that much. Thanks to Jenna and Helen at Skullduggery Tattoo in Belfast too, They're amazing.

Sunday, 12 October 2014

How long will the UK citizens wait, its looking like Berlin in '38..

Following a discussion with a Twitter friend. I feel moved to blog.

The idea of the UK has taken a battering over the last few months. The fact that it us viewed as an outdated, clinging to imperialism ideal.

This has lead to a lot of people actually having an opinion, instead of just trying to please everyone all of the time. This illustrates what has happened to politics since the end of the Thatcher years. Both parties moved further and further to the centre, cutting off anyone with defined views or opinions as crackpots and the like. But as we see the rise of UKIP, I think it's clear that politics are going to go back to their left and right side. And this will involve a move back to grass roots politics.

However, with this, comes a danger. In Germany in the 1930s, the country was on its knees, still recovering from WW1, an outdated imperialist leadership seen as removed from the populous. Sound familiar? Then along comes this hugely charismatic guy, who made good on his promises. To give Germany back to the Germans, to put nationals before non-nationals. Again, sound familiar?
The UK is on the brink of something, and it is creeping up on us. It's easy to say how obvious Hitler was, with a post-war, post holocaust hindsight. In the 30s, many in the west revered him, thought his policies were progressive.
Take a look at what is happening in British politics (and latterly, but no less so, Northern Irish politics). All it needs is someone with charisma, to give a voice to the 1000s of disenfranchised, and they'll vote with their ballot cards.
 And then, when a democratic mandate has been spoken, it'll be too late.
The biggest threat to our democracy isn't terrorism or even religious extremism. It's voter apathy. Don't like what you see, the way to complain is not to not bother voting. It's the opposite. Get out there and vote next year. Or soon we may find ourselves complicit in some scary stuff.

Monday, 9 June 2014

Nutter, filth monger, comedy icon. bloke.

I, like so many of my peers, worshipped at the alter of the Young Ones. We quoted it, we laughed at it, hell, before student grants ended (ask someone over 40), some of us even lived it.

So, when I moved to South Devon in 1993, to be a barman at a pub near Dartmouth, and live the country life, I appeared to be in sync with my heroes of comedy.
One night, Bob Speirs (directed Fawlty Towers and numerous other comedies) turned up and got very drunk with a couple of friends. And he was great fun.

Then a few weeks later, having purchased property in the area (we heard on the grapevine), Rik Mayall came to the pub. It was initially very exciting, but then as I stopped being a dick, I realised he was human like the rest of us, and my up-until-then-lifelong worship of celebrities came to an end. Which has continued to this day.

But anyway, back to the pub, so at about 9ish, the door swung open, and purely by coincidence (no, really) Ruby Wax walked in. After a huge theatrical embrace between them, I served drinks at an unforgettable night of laughs and insight.

Over the years up until Riks quad bike accident, we ended up on nodding-pass-the-time-of-day terms. I worked at a local petrol station, then a hotel in Dartmouth. And saw Rik frequently, he was ALWAYS nice to kids that shouted Rik, Bottom or B'Stard isms at him. And he never ever played the celeb card.

Last time I saw him, he was walking along a Devon lane past a farm, top off, sun belting down, not a care in the world. All the crap of celebrity far away. I was driving, so I slowed, said hi, as did he, and off he went.

What a comedy giant. What an icon. What a normal bloke.

Wednesday, 10 April 2013

When Indie was real

I have just been Tweeting with 1p Album Club (follow them - they're great!) about Carter USM. I was, for the second time this year, reminded of the great Bloodsport For All single release gig / trashing / minor riot that was 17th Jan 1991 at HMV 363 Oxford Street. I was working at the HMV Trocadero store at the time, and was also a huge Carter USM fan. I trotted up to the cavernous store that day, and had to sign-in through the staff entrance. Back then, this HMV store was hallowed ground for any/all record store employees, and to get my 33% staff discount off my 7" single, I had to follow protocol. I remember queuing up to get the Bloodsport 7" signed (this is a link to the video - blink and you'll miss me), then after that, a lot of jumping around (ermm.. 'moshing'), and then amazement at the aftermath.

Back then, 'indie' music really was independent, but no less important. Carter's first LP came out on the tiny Big Cat records, the enormo-band that was Mudhoney (well they were to us in Surrey), were on Sub-pop, in fact to my memory to get a Mudhoney EP I had to travel to the Rough Trade shop in Kingston 'cos no-one else stocked it.
Even at this pre-Nevermind moment the biggest record shop on the planet had recognized the popularity of 'indie' music, then paid the price for inviting us anarchists into the place. 

There was Carter USM, PWEI, Neds Atomic Dustbin, Fugazi, Mudhoney, Lush, Snuff (my personal fave-at The Venue New Cross I moshed so hard I got punched and then threw up on some poor stray grebo lying on the floor), Leatherface, Mega City Four, Lard, Pixies (I have a pristine unused ticket for Kilburn National 89-damned train strikes & flakey 'friends') and so much more. The cool guys in the Warp Records t-shirts didn't cotton on until '92 when Trompe Le Monde came out and Nirvana had gone stratospheric, by which time almost all of those bands had signed to big labels and gone all  Blue Bell Knoll.

I remember being so surprised at the excitement the Stone Roses debut caused, they sounded like The Smiths to me, and they were old news by '89, and anyway, we had The Poppies! I didn't understand the reverence that the jangly crap of the first two Primal Scream Albums were held in, we had Jesus Jones!! Then, Screamadelica came out, and I'm Free by Soup Dragons, and Groovy Train by The Farm, all these big label bread-heads were doing was ripping off PWEI, Carter, Neds and the like!! The nerve.
But my Doc Marten'd, floppy hair'd, army trouser'd smelly jumper look had been cottoned onto too, by some bloke called Kur(d)t. After that, it was all over.

But once in a while i can listen to the poetry that is The Taking Of Peckham 123, and wonder at how such a tiny band, from Sarf London, could have written such amazing lyrics, to such malevolent music. Only a few years later did I realize what a debt they owed to Tom Waits Small Change, or Billy Bragg's Levi Stubbs Tears, or even Ray Davies etc. Now, we have the likes of Jake Bugg, claiming to be the new pretenders. And oh, how he pretends.

Thursday, 7 February 2013

Its Only A Shop, isn't it.....?

So today I have found myself reading the news websites in disbelief. Reading them with tears streaming down my face. These tears seem and feel utterly preposterous. Its only a shop, isn't it...?

Well to many of us, no. HMV is (was?) a place that became a shop that became a brand that became a product that went out of business. But once upon a time, not that long ago, before ISP's and VoiP's, jpg's and mpeg's, on a Saturday afternoon, we went to HMV, in the hope that our lives would be changed. Frequently we went there not expecting anything other than for the girl behind the counter to look up and notice the shy, poorly dressed youth slinking about the shop with a Talking Heads LP under his arm. That she would rush over, all boobs and tattoos, and offer her hand in marriage screaming  "you like such cool music!!!".
I have no idea where my love affair with music started, my parents weren't hippies, they didn't go to Woodstock, They owned Abba Arrival, and an Elvis Best Of LP. Mum loved Tommy Steele, Dad loved Russ Conway and Mrs Mills.There was a copy of Rolled Gold on cassette however. And if there was an epiphany, it was hearing the guitar intro to Its All Over Now.
Once I was old enough, I bought my records from Woolworth's (another store now gone, ohh how i scorned people that cried when they closed....).
HMV was a step up, a cool shop, a shop staffed by aloof, grown-up know-alls. HMV wasn't in our town so it was untouchable, a treat. Our nearest one was Guildford. To my memory it was dark, crowded, dusty and defeaning. I spent hours in there. You could then, they didn't try and 'upsell' you a DVD you didn't want, with your purchase.

So what am I blethering on about? I don't know. But I suppose I'm trying to tell you all that HMV was NEVER just a shop, it was where you went looking for Iron Maiden, and came out with the Pixies. You went to a 'pa', a signing session, and saw the place get wrecked (ref: Carter USM '91). Met famous people, made lifelong friends, and met old friends you couldn't stand anymore trying to get some 'discount'.
I ALWAYS wanted to work for them, and in Oct 1990, I was standing in a friends house and got a phone call from the Assistant Manager of HMV Trocadero, saying i had been accepted as a Christmas temp. I jumped up and down like a right berk. Almost ALL HMV staff seemed to start that way. Off I went to work on my 'cool'.

I went full-time, and spent two extraordinary years at that place, discovering Miles Davis, The Who Live At Leeds, Shostakovitch, crummy happy hardcore dance music, realising that I loved U2 however hard i tried not to. I foisted my bands demo tape on shoppers, I tried to explain that this indie group Neds Atomic Dustbin were the future, I wore DMs, I had floppy hair. I sneered, I thought Massive Attack's Blue Lines was shit, and that You've Got The Love by The Source was a pile of dancey drivel. E(beneezer Goode) would fix that.
Ultraviolet (Light My Way) just came on the stereo here whilst I am typing, and it has transported me back 22 years, to a memory of standing behind the tills (tills with ashtrays!!!) to a sudden melee outside, and people running inside the shop in excitement, Bono was on the roof of Tower Records (or somewhere) filming. It turns out this was The Fly video. Another melee was because Roddy Frame walked past (!). Stuff like that happened all the time, HMV were the centre of things. Richard O'Brien used to come in all the time, and talked down to us lowly sales assistants with great gusto. Morrissey came in, but wasn't mobbed by American tourists (the only people who thought Kill Uncle 'rocked') No-one (I mean NO-ONE) turned up to a p.a. by Craig McLachlan and Check 1-2. No I don't remember him either. We heard about Jane's Addiction doing a warm up gig in the Marquee so off one of us went for a 'special afternoon break', in the name of music, to get tickets. We heard of REM's secret gigs at The Borderline as Bingo Hand Job (not so lucky with tickets there). We got free EMF tickets, and still went!
I noticed on MTV one day this hairy angry AWESOME band getting loads of airplay, (this is 1991 folks when hardly anyone had Sky!!). I said to the store manager "I just can't keep Nirvana's Nevermind in stock, what should i do?". "Rack it out on the front wall, Nick". The rest, is history, with Pearl Jam snapping at their heels. So you see, I started grunge too.

We had our own section in those days too, I ran Rock and pop cd M-S. This meant I had Van Morrison, the Rolling Stones (but not the coveted Beatles section). We did our own buying too, we had great relationships with all of the record companies, this meant frequent free tickets, free promo stuff, free t-shirts. When the guy from Silver Sounds came in his van it was like Christmas, a truck FULL of hard-to-get imports!!!! I was also the t shirt buyer for quite a while, and made a success of Red Dwarf, Simpson's and James t-shirts. I had an affair with a one of the girls from one of the t-shirt sellers, at least with her voice, then one day she said her pic made it into a published book, I excitedly turned to page 113, there she was, my dream girl, pale, goth-like. Affair over. HMV girls often got me in trouble, one of them moved to HMV Sutton, and rang me asking for some Led Zeppelin Remasters on CD (VERY scarce at the time) - I had it all piled up to be sent, then the manager noticed and put a stop to it.
"If you had sent those I would have fired you, Nick". He needn't have worried, 12 months later I left HMV anyway, in cloud of drugs, stupidity and general teenage angst, having been shipped off to their London warehouse (Mare Street - it was a 'mare - boom boom) to get me out of the way. The dream was over. I blew it.
In 2002 I went back to HMV. Things were different. Computers to search for stuff, instead of just having it all in your head. Shop playlists, strict controls with buying.
It went downhill once Amazon got their teeth. HMV sat back and arrogantly puffed on a fat cigar and waited for these upstarts to f*** off. They didn't. Then panic set in.....
And here we are. HMV gone. 
from this.......
to this.
So - my thanks to the HMV of Brian McLaughlin, of a passion for music, the HMV that gave me my best (wo)man at my wedding, the HMV that had Bowie for tea. 
Most importantly thanks to staff past and present:-
(Troc) Martin, Jenny, Boyd, Chris, Simon, Jim, Marcus, Dermot, Chris, Scotty, Anna and anyone else who put up with me in 1990-192.
(Northern Ireland) Dave, Michael, Dave, Ian, Ben, Sara, Anna, Fiona, Sarah, Trevor, Stan, Zoe, Joan, Paul, Dave, Chris, Ciaron, Jacqui, Warren, Danny, Jackie, Una, Gav, Joe, Cathy, Rachael and many many more who put up with me 2002-2008.
I leave you with a lyric that stuck in my head from the day i heard it, on the shop floor of HMV Trocadero in 1991, blasting out of the shop stereo, (with the older members of staff shaking their heads at U2's descent into Bowie-Berlin plagiarism)

"You can throw it up

Or choke on it

And you can dream

So dream out loud

You know that your time is coming 'round

So don't let the bastards grind you down".

(c) U2

Saturday, 8 October 2011

Pop Music Reaches The Ice Age

A Big Husky Yawn

The New Boring - from The Guardian
Wow. Finally a national newspaper noticed something I've been bangin' on about for years.(mainly on facebook - the eternal mouthpiece to nowhere).
WHY WHY WHY does having a husky female voice mean genius?! WHY does being 18 yrs old and able to sing and play a guitar at the same time (sharp intake of breath) mean you're the future of pop?!! WHY does wearing meat equate to genius?! WHAT is the excitement with Mumford & Son - they're, so, you said it, beige. I'm not saying any of this music is even bad, just, its so polite, homogenized, and inoffensive. Not that I even want to be offended.
Pop is in the doldrums and I have no idea what will save it. I haven't been surprised by music for about 15 years or longer. In fact - the last time I heard something mainstream that actually made me sit up - would be Beck. 1994. Oh dear.
Soy un perdedor, baby.