When I was very small, I remember there being a Kate Bush video that somewhere in my mind melts into an advert for Hi-Tec shoes. I think the advert with a guy busting up this really gravely, stony mountain and the 1985 Kate Bush single “Running Up That Hill” have cross-pollinated in my brains somewhere with the result being that I think the earliest musical memory I have is Kate Bush in those big white runners that you see old people pottering around in. It happens a lot – if you try to recall a holiday you went on or a house you lived in from when you were young, your memory can often be like a wet oil painting that someone has wiped their hand through. Are you remembering your mother smoking a fag in the kitchen of that first house, or are you just recalling an old photograph you saw? After all, the viewpoint was around the six-foot-tall mark, and there are only a small few 6-foot-tall toddlers born every year.
Anyway – what I’m getting at, in musical terms, is that you can often have rewired and banjaxed memories of your earliest musical encounters. But these are the building blocks. These moments surely decide whether we end up being the type of person who gradually spends more and more Sundays chewing gum at his part-time vinyl stall, or the one whose two CDs in the world consist of a Robbie Williams Greatest Hits and a commemorative football charity single.
When I was a young lad – och – it was all about the video recorder. We got one in 1991 when the Ernest movies were big, and I never looked back. How did we live without recording before? My collection of blank VHS tapes grew, with home-stickers such as “BARRYS TAPE 3 DO NOT TOUCH MOSTLY MACGUYVER” on it. Or a load of James Bond titles gradually scribbled through and replaced with the one that was one the following Sunday. But it was BBC2′s Old Grey Whistle Test re-runs that literally (and without hyperbole) blew my tiny mind to shreds. If you are familiar with this former BBC music institution, you will already know what I mean. If not, here you go: The Old Grey Whistle Test was a music show filmed live in-studio at the BBC from 1971 to 1987. The show focused on “serious” rock music rather than chart hits. Bands would often perform their songs in front of either the bare studio walls or plain wooden boards (actually the backs of set walls from other programmes filmed in the same studio).
During the 90s the show was given a “Greatest Hits”-type re-run season and I came across it one night sandwiched between some Vic and Bob and that ridiculous (but great!) show Red Dwarf. I can’t remember if I watched it at the time or later on my video when I got the telly to myself, but in one sitting I saw The Police play “Message in a Bottle“, Talking Heads doing “Psycho Killer” and Alice Cooper doing “Under my Wheels” from 1971 in full-blown, whacked-out glam mode (see video below). Which is a pretty amazing trio of classic old rock tunes to be able to watch over and over again as your first dance with music. I watched that tape every day until the next Friday when the show was back on and I added more to it. Dire Straits from 1979. Blondie (and Debbie Harry in long socks, and probably my first absolutely prize-winning erection). Little Feat. Neil Young with an old tramp’s jacket on and filthy hair singing Old Man from the very early 1970s. I wasn’t until a few years ago that I was able to find this show on DVD, and watching some of the old clips really filled my heart up. I can’t find a proper resource to watch everything I used to have but the current crop of 3 DVDs is still a great reminder of the show and a wonderful way to get into some old bands. “If you have the means, I highly recommend picking one up”
I’d like to hear some other words on your first introduction to a life of music. Comment below