On Monday I’m appearing at Pride Words at Foyles bookshop in London. It’s the first time I’ve been asked to provide next of kin and emergency contact details for a reading so I’m wondering what kind of crowd they’re expecting.
I had some trouble filling in the form as I don’t know what my mum’s or my partner’s addresses are. I toyed with the idea of putting down my own address, thinking that if anything happened to me then everyone would probably gather round there. But then I realised that they wouldn’t know anything had happened to me if I gave out an address for a place where they’re not.
I’m looking forward to the event but nervous as well as I always come away from these events feeling depressed. I believe everyone else is cooler and more intelligent than me. Mind you, I’m the kind of person who can feel inadequate crossing the road.
“Look at him, the way he nipped between the cars, it was brilliant!”
I’m currently reading Simon Armitage’s ‘Gig’. I bought it after watching his BBC4 documentary on Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. If you don’t know, Armitage is a poet, and he has recently translated Sir Gawain which is a 14th century poem about a knight from Arthurian legend.
Anyway the documentary was brilliant. Armitage followed the journey Gawain would have made in his quest to battle the Green Knight. The poem has beautiful descriptions of place, sex, and a powerful narrative.
The documentary also had a fantastic soundtrack and it was then that I remembered seeing Armitage’s book about music last year when it was out in hardback. I can remember where it was too. It was Sheffield’s Waterstones and I was in there during the break between matches I was watching at the Crucible (the snooker place).
The book is funny (‘It’s amazing how many hermits have websites these days’) and warm and in one point moved me to tears. This was when he got to interview David Gedge from the Wedding Present in the Holmfirth Pictodrome. The whole interview consists of Armitage asking Gedge a series of either or questions:
SA: Hudderfield or Halifax
DG: Er… I don’t know really.. Er…
SA: The right answer’s Huddersfield.
DG: Put me down for that, then.
There was something honest and unassuming about it that touched me. The truth these days is either hard, or slippery, so we spend a lot of time giving poncey responses to poncey questions.
I can remember the first records I ever had. They were bought for me and my brother by our mum and dad. It was on the same day they bought us a stereo. It was one of those that looks like a suitcase and weighed about half a tonne. The records were something by Shawaddywaddy and Ravel’s Bolero. As a musical education it was a start.
My mum moved house a few years ago so me and Will (my partner) were called in to clear out / sort through my old stuff. One of the boxes contained my old music cassettes and I was pleased to see that it contained nothing too embarrassing, Floodland by The Sisters of Mercy, Closer by Joy Division, Boy by U2, Get Close by the Pretenders, Ratus Norvegicus by the Stranglers, Savage by Eurythmics, Bauhaus, New Order and so on.
(I haven’t got that good a memory, I’ve just brought down the box from my spare bedroom. Sad in a way because I don’t have a cassette player to listen to them. My current CD collection represents my musical taste from the last 8 or 9 years during which time I’ve been settled back in the UK.)
Like a lot of people that have older brothers, my older brother was a big influence on me in his music tastes. He was also always a lot cooler than me. He was in a band, various bands in fact, and then worked in a record shop.
Nick, my brother, was the kind of person who could nip out to the local shop for a hairspray and then come back a week later having been to London and Brighton. At 40 he hasn’t changed a great deal although his flights become more precarious and worrying.
That same day in Sheffield at the Crucible he managed to disappear. It was only as he leant forward to speak to the taxi driver, late at night, not recognising the town he was in to ask the question:
“Are we in Derby?” (where he lives)
“No, this is Bradford mate.”
Back then I was more into computers. On a Sunday I was allowed to plug my Sinclair Spectrum into the tele in the lounge. If Nick was around then he would play too and I remember one of our favourite games was Psion Tennis, little black stickmen running around a black and white court.
Nick would be in charge of the music and I can remember while playing that tennis game was the first time I heard The Smiths. Years later Morissey’s lyrics would come to be music that defined my coming out and Hatful of Hollow still seems to me to be an album full of gay angst. I mean just read the song titles, ‘William, It was really nothing’, ‘What Difference Does it Make?’, ‘These Things Take Time’, ‘How Soon is Now?’, ‘Handsome Devil’, ‘Still Ill’, ‘Accept Yourself’ and so on. And to this day my favourite lyric remains, ‘If you ever need self-validation, I’ll meet you in the alley by the railway station’.
I’ve got nearly everything Morissey has recorded since The Smiths but I’m pleased to say, in my humble opinion, that the latest album, Years of Refusal, is the best thing he’s done since his musical youth.
The first gig I went to was Sting at the Royal Albert Hall in 1985 for the Dream of the Blue Turtles Tour. I was 14 and went with my brother on the train to London.
I remember just before we set off I was in my bedroom playing Bomb Jack on the Sinclair Spectrum.
“Come on,” he said, “we’re going to see Sting.”
“Hang on, I’m about to get my high score.”
You see, not cool.
The best gig I’ve ever been to was Elbow last year at Rock City. They came on stage in darkness. The strings were playing the intro to Starlings. Through the smoke the band members all raise the trumpets they are holding and then comes the blast of noise and then, alone, Garvey’s voice. It makes me almost cry just thinking about it.
You see, not cool.
The worst gig I’ve ever seen was two years ago at the Charlotte in Leicester. I can’t remember what the band were now but they were something young and trendy. The place was packed and they made us wait for ages and ages before they came on like they were the fucking Beatles reformed of something and then they played for about fifty minutes before pissing off.
I went and stood at the back and drank wine so it wasn’t a total washout.
The band I’m most pleased I’ve seen is The Cure because I love The Cure. They’ve had a new album this year too and like Morissey it’s probably the best thing they’ve done in years.
The biggest gig I’ve been to was Michael Jackson. He was good. It was in Montpellier in the South of France. That’s when my dad worked on a roller-coaster and it was a good summer all round.
The band I’ve seen the most is Marillion and they are always excellent. I’ve been to their last two conventions in Port Zelande in the Netherlands and that’s just a good time all round. Lovely people, food, place and music.
All of this might explain why I wrote a novel about a band, gay pop duo Down by Law. I don’t know. All of the above though I’m sure are the things I am into, books, music, poetry, travel and that is how I see myself, this passionate, awkward, uncool outsider. How this will translate into me appearing at Pride Words might be interesting to see. I hope my next of kin details will not be needed.