“The Kooks? “Byker Grove with leather jackets, mate.” Kasabian (2006)

The photo shoot begins in ten minutes. If Kasabian are to make it back to their boutique hotel in Knightsbridge, they need to hurry. Right now though, just two obstacles stand between them and a punctual arrival – and they’re both parked outside The Victoria & Albert Museum. “Burger van or ice-cream van?” enquires singer Tom Meighan. “Ice-cream van,” says his guitar-playing sidekick Serge Pizzorno. “Whippy’s the fucking bollocks, mate. You can’t fuck with the Whippy.” Not for the first time this afternoon, they’re off into conversational overdrive – conferring their avowedly rock’n’roll outlook onto… well, in this case, ice-cream vans. Within ten seconds, Meighan shifts from uncertainty to militant conviction. “Fuck the scoop mate. Ban the scoop. When you pull a Whippy out and put a fucking 99 Flake in, Americans can’t come close to us, mate. It’s fucking filthy, ennit?”

“Fuck you, Ben & Jerry, Haagen Dazs,” echoes Pizzorno.

“British, mate! British ice-cream.” By now, they’ve, um, whipped each other into a mild frenzy. About ice-cream. “Me old man,” continues Meighan, “was going on about these shells you used to get. Do you remember?”

“No mate,” comes Pizzorno’s response, “But I tell you what I do remember.”

Meighan: “What’s that, mate?”

Pizzorno: “Screwball.”

“Screwball! Filthy, mate! Fucking chew on that! It was shocking, mate, wasn’t it? Dirty. You don’t know how long that ice-cream has been in that fucking thing up there, whipped. But it’s better than anything!”

Finally, Serge attempts to land the conversation, much as a seasoned pilot might land a plane. “By far, mate. Whippy though, it’s the bollocks, by and large. It’s fucking empire.”

By the time singer and guitarist meet the rest of the band for the photo shoot, they have uttered 24 mates, 19 fucks, 11 filthys and eight empires. In the parallel universe fashioned over half a lifetime by Leicester schoolchums Meighan and Pizzorno, there’s no higher compliment than “empire”. “Empire” is, amongst other things, a 19th century painting of an army general festooned with medals and stripes, a recent gig in a disused Mexican supermarket in which the locals sang along to every song from their self-titled 2004 debut, and “those 10p crisps you get in corner shops”.

Most of all though, Empire is the name Kasabian have given to their second album. To say they’re proud of it, is an understatement on a par with “Houston, we have a problem.” Four months after applying the finishing touches to the record, Meighan and Pizzorno take palpable pleasure in telling each other about their favourite bits: the temples-throbbing amyl rock of Shoot The Runner; the dystopian Motown stomp of Me Plus One and Aponea – which sounds eerily like the theme to John Craven’s Newsround looped and remixed by an utter lunatic. Presumably not for the first time, Meighan congratulates Pizzorno on British Legion – the guitarist’s sole vocal on the album, and a song apparently recorded in one-take during the record’s month long-sessions. Pizzorno fulsomely bats the compliment back. “I’m not a frontman though. Look at Tom and ask yourself this. Where would you be without frontmen who are out of their fucking minds? He’ll do the business anywhere you like.”

If such grand claims have become Kasabian’s stock-in-trade, you can hardly blame them. Despite the lukewarm critical reception accorded to their eponymous debut, they made light work of shifting 8000 tickets for their prestigious Alexandra Palace show last year. Besides, says Meighan, they were making these sorts of declarations, as children, before they had even formed a band. “We always knew, didn’t we Serge? It’s not like we were even nervous about it, because in our heads, we were going to make brilliant records.” What some detractors have called arrogance is described by Pizzorno as self-belief.

For a while though, it was hard for him and Meighan to agree on what their band would sound like. In the early 90s the would-be singer was more of an aspirant rapper, delivering word-perfect Cypress Hill impersonations to any schoolfriends who cared to listen. Though he grew up listening to his father’s John Lee Hooker and Pretty Things albums, Pizzorno found himself increasingly interested in dance music. It was, says the guitarist, Oasis who gave them a common point of reference. Meighan says that during the four years he worked in a sheet metal factory, it was the sentiments expressed in Oasis’ Rock & Roll Star kept the dream intact. A recent support tour with the Gallaghers has done little to diminish their adoration. According to Pizzorno, “it was good for Tom and Liam to be together in the same place, because they both represent the random factor. They’re fearless.”

Perhaps that’s just as well, given the challenges that lie in wait for Kasabian this summer. As Mick Jagger and Keith Richards negotiate the transition from Glimmer Twins to, um, Zimmer twins, Kasabian’s imminent support slot will give the world a chance to see how the pretenders to their throne are shaping up. Given the fact that Meighan and Pizzorno’s famed aversion to humility, talking about these – their biggest shows to date – presents certain, shall we say, deference issues.

“What am I going to say when I meet Mick?” ponders Meighan. “Tell you what, mate – in my mind, it’s not really happening. At least, not until I get there and see him standing there wearing those shit socks that are too bright for him. What is there to possibly say?”

I offer a suggestion. How about something like, “Why don’t you make another album as good as Beggars Banquet or Let It Bleed?”

“You’re having a laugh, ain’t you? I ain’t got the fucking authority to, mate. I tell you what, though – I think Keith Richards will have a fucking fit when he sees Serge. He’ll be like a lost son.”

Meighan has a point – more so for the fact that Pizzorno appears to be wearing eyeliner. It turns out though, that this is no cosmetic homage. The band had to wear it for a video shoot the day before. Pizzorno is keen that this be made clear. “Make sure you mention it, will you?”

But surely if it’s ok for the Stones to wear eyeliner, then Kasabian have nothing to fear. After all, Jagger was caked in it for Performance.

“Yeah,” concedes Pizzorno, “but so does the geezer from Kaiser Chiefs, so that’s put a downer on things. You’ve got to be careful.”

At times, it hard to gauge whether or not Kasabian like any of their contemporaries, save for Oasis. The Kooks? “Byker Grove with leather jackets, mate.” Franz Ferdinand? “You should hear one of our songs coming out of a big PA, after one of their songs. I feel a bit sorry for them.” And the glut of bands coming through as a result of MySpace? “Fucking hell, mate. Fucking hell. All these internet things where everybody goes, ‘Hi it’s me. I know you.’ It’s doing my head in.” Meighan pauses for a second. “I mean, it’s fucking rubbish, isn’t it? As if we haven’t got enough of the internet. Why? Myspace? MySpace? Do you want any more space?”

Tom Meighan momentarily leans back in his chair, tuts and shakes his head. But this time around, militant conviction gives way to uncertainty. “So, um, what is MySpace again, exactly?”

Pizzorno erupts. “See what I mean? It’s the random factor. Fucking priceless.”

“In any era, it’s the more ersatz, guileless examples of any genre that sum up the times.” Revisiting Baggy

Baggyitis: A Loose-Fitting Assortment Of Indie-Dance Tunes From A Long Time Ago by Pete Paphides on Mixcloud

In December 1989, after my first term at Lampeter University ended, I returned to the Midlands and caught up with a few old friends. Paul, who used to work at the Virgin Megastore in Birmingham, had just landed a job with The Cartel, a distribution network set up to ensure that indie labels could get their records in shops across the country. I visited him at his new flat near The Cartel’s Warwick HQ and he proceeded to play me one of the first pressings of a new record which already beginning to cause huge excitement among those who had heard it. It wasn’t hard to see why. Sparsely adorned beats – stoned and spacious – seemed to amplify the airspace. The hook, such as there was one, comprised little more than a sample of a brass section repeated over and over again. Its sense of fun seemed more closely allied to Balearic floor fillers such as The Residents’ Kaw-Liga and The Waterboys’ The Whole of the Moon than straight-ahead dance records. But those were old records that had been co-opted into a new scene. And this was brand new. “Go on. Guess!” said Paul, obviously enjoying the fact that I didn’t stand a chance of getting it. “Give up?” I gave up. He handed me a white label promo . Attached to it was a photocopied sheet of A4 paper: “Primal Scream – ‘Loaded’ – Andrew Weatherall Remix… The ultimate fusion – A Dancefloor Milestone. Out 19-2-90.” Primal Scream?! PRIMAL SCREAM?!?

Whatever the next big thing was going to be, no sane person would have imagined that Primal Scream would be part of it. Having squandered their fey early promise by embracing sub-Stooges cacophony, Primal Scream’s stock had plumbed depths previously considered unplumbable. Salvation though, had come in the form of a chance visit to Danny Rampling’s Shoom. And yet, it was here, dressed incongruously, in full leather get-up that Bobby Gillespie heard a new direction for his band and, crucially, met someone who could facilitate it. By clocking the horn vamp in the dying seconds of an unremarkable smack dirge called I’m Losing More Than I’ll Ever Have and alchemising it into Loaded, Andrew Weatherall threw Primal Scream a lifeline.

Everything had changed in the preceding six months, and perhaps more than any other record, Loaded was the proof. Arriving in Lampeter at the beginning of October, I set up my portable Sanyo record player and – hoping that anyone in my hall of residence might be listening – placed Happy Mondays’ Lazyitis on the turntable. Out of the window I saw a boy in the year above me with a mop of hair, a long sleeved Stone Roses top and the obligatory flared jeans. Perhaps we might become friends. The wider world didn’t know about baggy, but something was clearly fomenting. The Stone Roses’ two month tour in the spring of 1989 had assumed ever more mythical proportions with every passing date. At their Birmingham Irish Centre show, Simon Fowler, frontman with much-fancied local four piece The Fanatics, was so enthused by what he saw that he left his own group and formed a new one called Ocean Colour Scene. If a second wave of baggy bands were forming, the first wave had better get a move on and score a bona fide hit. Inspiral Carpets came close. Their label had been assured that if their summer 1989 single Move landed inside the Top 40, they would be invited onto Top of the Pops. In the event, of course, it was The Stone Roses (Fools Gold) and Happy Mondays (Hallelujah) who shared the honours, appearing on the same episode alongside Fine Young Cannibals (the equally excellent but not baggy I’m Not The Man I Used To Be) and Big Fun (Can’t Shake The Feeling). In Lampeter, I set the video to record whilst standing on my desk, holding the set-top TV aerial outside the open window to maximise the picture quality.

For many music fans, The Stone Roses/Happy Mondays TOTP was as important as David Bowie’s Starman appearance had been to another generation. Aged 20, I was a bit too old to experience an epiphany of quite such proportions, but nevertheless, I was excited. If guitar bands had been able to ignore acid house and carry on unchanged, baggy – or, if you like, the indie-dance crossover – made that almost impossible. Those who did, such as The House Of Love and The Catherine Wheel seemed to lose their audience overnight. Those who adapted convincingly managed to ride the wave. Despite boasting the correct geographical credentials, The Fall were an unlikely addition to the vanguard, but hey, if Happy Mondays could mix up Can’s Tago Mago with a dash of Beefheart and a handful of Funkadelic and turn it into viable chart material, why shouldn’t Mark E. Smith stand a chance? Alas, The Fall’s indie-dance years didn’t quite yield a proper hit single, but it wasn’t for want of trying. Telephone Thing came close. Free-Range stalled at 40, but it took a cameo on Inspiral Carpets’ I Want You in 1993 to secure Smith his first Top of the Pops appearance. Of the old guard, The Cure hastily assented to an album of remixes called Mixed Up, which saw dance beats grafted onto songs that really didn’t benefit from them: Close To You; In Between Days; The Caterpillar. When Julian Cope returned after a three year absence with Peggy Suicide, its lead singles Beautiful Love and East Easy Rider were both clearly designed to snap into line with post-baggy orthodoxy. Even My Bloody Valentine were at it – enlisting Weatherall to sprinkle stardust onto their 1990 single Soon, whilst The Telescopes – very much the Scrappy Doo to MBV’s Scooby – started wearing white jeans and released the unmistakeably groovy Flying.

For the mix accompanying this piece, I’ve interspersed a few Madchester pace-setters (Happy Mondays, The Stone Roses, The Charlatans, Inspiral Carpets) with a selection of groups – both Mancunian and otherwise – who followed closely in their wake. There are several bands here who were critically eviscerated almost as soon as their first records were announced. This is nothing new, of course. If you’re not driving the bandwagon, you’ll always be regarded with a certain amount of suspicion. However, in my corner of Wales, the records that excited us the most barely warranted a mention in the pages of NME, Melody Maker and Select. Major labels had been slow to secure the services of The Stone Roses and Happy Mondays, but that merely amplified the frenzy to sign second-generation baggy acts like Paris Angels (Virgin) and Top (Island). By 1990, Ocean Colour Scene had released just one indie single on the Phfftt imprint. So desperate were Fontana to sign the group that they bought the entire label outright. Not that any hits were forthcoming. Like Blur, who suddenly seemed like a spent force when Bang failed to follow There’s No Other Way into the top ten, they would have to look beyond the zeitgeist to ensure their survival.

Just as in the early 60s, the mere possession of a Scouse accent was enough to get you a record deal, being from Manchester in the very early 90s was like having the best cards in the Community Chest all at once. After his band were dropped by Sire, James’ Tim Booth had to volunteer for medical experiments to keep the group going. In 1990 though, he suddenly found himself in the right place at the right time. It didn’t matter that James didn’t sound especially baggy. To major label emissaries permanently stationed in Manchester, James suddenly had currency. Instastella were less a band, more an ad hoc alliance comprised of a glamorous Afflecks Palace shop assistant (Stella) and members of local indie triers Laugh. They only had a handful of songs, but that was all the incentive MCA needed to offer them a deal. Their debut album was, perhaps understandably, a patchy affair. Only in 1993, after MCA had lost interest, did they release their best single, the sumptuous Drifter (featured here).

This industry feeding frenzy played out wonderfully for me and my friends. Every time a baggy act inked themselves a major deal, their paymasters would attempt to justify their investment by hyping them into the charts – a process which involved regional record company reps parking their hatchbacks outside chart return shops, walking in with a box of, say, World Of Twist records which already had the 99p stickers affixed to them and shoving them straight into the racks. The people who ran the shops didn’t care. They made 99p on each record sold. And me and my friends didn’t care. We had a ready source of cheap records. Some of them were rubbish, of course, but a lot of them were fantastic: released by Fontana, a version of Bongwater’s The Drum by two teenage girls from Halifax called The Impossibles received a sublime overhaul from Andrew Weatherall; Five Thirty bought themselves a wah-wah pedal, plugged it in and used it to write their best song 13th Disciple: The Mock Turtles didn’t show huge promise, but they had a b-side called Can You Dig It, which was surely the only reason that Virgin wanted them on their roster.

The Real People had made a few ropey blue-eyed soul records in the mid-80s as JoJo & The Real People, but after The La’s came along, they lost JoJo and reinvented themselves as white-bread purveyors of neo-Merseybeat. Their first album found favour with few people other than Inspiral Carpets roadie Noel Gallagher, who would base the sound of his own band on it. However, the lead single from The Real People’s eponymous debut saw them belatedly nail their colours to the baggy mast. Produced by Stephen Street, the 12-inch version of Window Pane sounded magnificent from the off: a collision of gurgling hammond organ and surging powerchords riding Tony Elson’s beat to a climax of irresistible euphoria. Similarly, you could hear traces of Lee Mavers’ worldview in the first and best single from fellow Liverpudlians Top. She’s Got All The World sounds exactly like The La’s trying to play Fools Gold. Nothing more, nothing less.

Some bands saw which way the wind was blowing and willingly changed direction. Others were more resistant. Having signed a new deal with Creation, The Lilac Time recorded a beautifully reflective set called Astronauts. Under pressure from manager and label boss Alan McGee to deliver something commercial, Stephen Duffy surrendered one of the album’s songs to a remix from labelmates Hypnotone. Though incongruous when heard in the middle of Astronauts, the Ryvita snare sound and misfiring bleeps of the resulting track Dreaming have weathered the decades well. The same, surprisingly, can be said for one or two of Northside’s better songs. The Manchester quartet’s debut single Shall We Take A Trip is better known for the fact that it bears no lyrical or musical resemblance to any experience undergone by any human being on any drug, save for perhaps anyone who has ever attempted to overdose on neat Kia-Ora. Still, hindsight has been kind to its gormless exuberance: ditto the breathlessly eager syncopations of Take Five (included here). Manchester’s ability to supply labels with a ready supply of fame-hungry opportunists showed no sign of letting up in the year after Fools Gold and Hallelujah became hits. 808 State acted as prime enablers for MC Tunes by sampling I Am The Resurrection and ensuring that Tunes Splits The Atom became a no-brainer hit.

Down south, fast responses to the rise of baggy were abetted by Jeff Barrett’s Heavenly imprint, who signed Flowered Up and Saint Etienne. It’s easy to see why Flowered Up aroused suspicion at first. Fronted by a psychedelic barrow boy Liam Maher, the combination of his elliptical pronouncements and a group whose sound owed as much to Gong as it did New Order, made them seem like a bizarro-world Happy Mondays. But that’s not too far from what they were. Weekender is rightly venerated as one of the defining records of its era, but It’s On gets no less brilliantly strange with the passing of time – Liam ricocheting off the melody being hammered out beneath him in a wholly different time signature. As with Shaun Ryder at his best, it’s a performance shot through with lateral lightning bolts of lyrical inspiration that have defied interpretation (or, indeed, anyone to post them onto a single lyric site in the past two decades). Two middle-class young men from Croydon, Saint Etienne were anything but dissolute, but Bob Stanley and Pete Wiggs were quick to recognise that acid house might be to their generation was punk was to a generation who hadn’t realised it really was possible to do it yourself. Their dub reworking of Neil Young’s sacred text Only Love Can Break Your Heart was, in its way, every inch a match for the original – but for this mix I’ve plumped for Pete Heller’s less celebrated balearic reboot of their second single Kiss And Make Up.

The post-baggy goldrush isn’t painted in a terribly good light by pop historians these days, but in any musical era, it’s the more ersatz, guileless examples of any genre that sum up the spirit of the times more than the cooler forerunners. It seems amazing to me that even the most craven of the groups included were unafraid to get funky and at least try and get their audience moving. In this century, indie music hasn’t showed a huge amount of interest in making you dance. Sometimes, I wonder if it’s something to do with the seemingly unsupplantable supremacy of tight trousers, which have remained the default go-to legwear of all indie kids in a post-Strokes/Libertines world. I thought the return of The Stone Roses might inspire younger bands to vary up the beats a little. Instead, they came and went once again, without leaving much impact on anyone beyond the people whose lives they changed the first time around. All of which is a shame. But there was an uninhibited abandon locked into the grooves of these records – be they made by chancers, opportunists, charlatans or, um, The Charlatans – which has all but disappeared from their 21st century offspring.

CHRISTMAS POP QUIZ

This pop quiz may help enliven the post-Christmas dinner lull. You probably won’t get through all of it, but you can pick and choose the bits you’d like to do. The answers are at the bottom. It’s best played in teams: either two or four. If you opt for four, then combine the two pairs of videos to make one big video round. Oh, and you’ll need to designate a quizmaster – preferably you, if you’re reading this. Answers at the bottom. Good luck!

ROUND ONE: CHRISTMAS SONGS

1. In a feature about a Christmas song that appeared in The Guardian last year, esteemed music writer Dorian Lynskey had this to say:

“Once upon a time a band set out to make a Christmas song. Not about snow or sleigh rides or mistletoe or miracles, but lost youth and ruined dreams. A song in which Christmas is as much the problem as it is the solution. A kind of anti-Christmas song that ended up being, for a generation, the Christmas song.”

Which song was he describing?

2. One of the most well-loved Christmas hits of all time started life as a song in the late 60s called Buy Me A Rocking Chair. What is it better known as?

3. Can you match each of these six Christmas songs to the highest position they reached? Two points for each one you get right and an extra point for each one whose year you can guess correctly.

The Pogues: Fairytale of New York
Coldplay: Christmas Lights
Saint Etienne: I Was Born On Christmas Day
Wizzard: I Wish It Could Be Christmas Every Day
Greg Lake: I Believe In Father Christmas
Elton John: Step Into Christmas

The positions (in a jumbled-up order) are as follows: 18; 24; 2; 37; 4; 2

4. Which folk-rock group scored a surprise Christmas hit with Gaudete in 1973

5. Which of the following five singers did not record a cover version of Last Christmas?

Billie Piper; Whigfield; Crazy Frog; Franz Ferdinand; Joe McElderry

6. What did The Housemartins shave into their heads for their performance of their 1986 Christmas hit Caravan of Love?

7. This is a recent version of a well-known seasonal classic, but who recorded the very first version?

8. Which timeless Christmas classic was written in California in July 1945 by Sammy Cahn and Jule Styne, during one of the hottest summers on record?

9. Everyone knows the first few lines of Good King Wenceslas, but can you write out the entire first verse?

10. Four years ago, The Times reviewed an album of Christmas songs by a well-known singer. Here’s an excerpt of the review. Whose voice is this describing?

[???? ???????] wishes you a “very merry, cherry cherry Christmas/And a holly holy holiday” – before trying his best to rein in the declamatory roar that has frightened children for over four decades. For five songs, he manages, but – of course – allowing him to don imaginary top hat and crook for Deck The Halls and We Wish You A Merry Christmas is a fatal error. “Don we now our gay apparel,” he roars on the former, like an enraged Old Testament God, before the latter has him demanding figgy pudding in the same way as a Somalian pirate might demand £8 million for the safe return of a Surrey mortgage adviser.

ROUND TWO: VIDEO ROUND

Every member of the team apart from one has to leave the room and watch a video, which they will then have to silently enact to the remaining member of their team. If the remaining member correctly guesses the video, the team receives eight points. If he doesn’t know it or guesses incorrectly, the question can then be thrown over to the other team for four points:

WHAM: LAST CHRISTMAS
WATCH THIS VIDEO CAREFULLY

1. How many cars did we see arriving at George’s alpine holiday home?

2. What colour holdall was George holding as he ascended the stairs, his lustrous golden mane bobbing beautifully with every step mounted?

3. Who was the first person we saw laying the table?

4. There were frequent close-ups of a brooch, which the director may have intended to convey some sort of symbolism, or perhaps an intimation that the infidelity obliquely alluded to in the song was somehow inadvertently revealed by the presence of the brooch. It’s hard to say. Anyway, how many flowers were on said brooch?

5. What was the colour of the cable car we saw at the beginning and end of the video?

SHAKIN’ STEVENS: MERRY CHRISTMAS EVERYONE

WATCH THIS VIDEO CAREFULLY

1. The first thing we see in the video is Shaky attempting to feign some sort of seasonal jollity with an expression which may at first seem friendly and kind but, on closer inspection, betrays the dogged determination to knock this out in one take so he can fuck off back to Cardiff. But what colour scarf is he wearing?

2. What colour are the shutters of the log cabin in which several children – their parents seemingly nowhere to be seen – are playing with a range of baby toys which are surely designed for an age group much younger than them?

3. Two minutes in we see Shaky on the back of a sledge, his cold dead eyes unable to hide the sheer drudgery of this awful, awful video shoot. Is the sledge being pulled along by reindeer or horse?

4. Shortly afterwards, we see Shaky leaning against the fireplace, acutely aware that his punishment for having written such a cynical crock of festive shit is to mime it over and over again until the director feels they have enough to stitch together a visual document that shall haunt him until his dying day. How many children are sitting on santa’s lap?

5. How many red buttons do we see on the green top worn by the listless, boss-eyed Nordic sleigh serf with whom Shaky clearly has no intention of making any human contact during this soul-sapping assignment?

ROUND THREE: GENERAL POP KNOWLEDGE

1. Which of his singing contemporaries was Boy George referring to when, in Smash Hits, he compared his face to a Cornish pasty?

2. True or false: Paul McCartney decided to invite Denny Laine to join Wings after Linda pointed out to him that if you take the “I” in Denny Laine and stick it onto the bottom of the “D” in Denny, it spells “Penny Lane”.

3. Who enjoyed their first and only top ten hit with I’m Free in 1990? And for an extra point, who wrote and recorded the original version?

4. What was the name of the song recorded and released by Girls Aloud after they won Pop Stars: The Rivals in 2002?

5. What was the name of the singer whose career Paul Weller helped to launch in 1983 with The House That Jack Built?

6. “It must have been love/But it’s over now” sang the woman from Roxette, her emotional delivery compounded by the shell-shocked numbness implied by the chorus – whilst all the time, minor chords crashed into each other like icy waves on a harpooned whale, its dying song penetrating the nordic dawn. But what were the names of the two members of Roxette?

7. In the early 70s, Paul McCartney found himself having dinner with Dustin Hoffman in Jamaica and Dustin Hoffman told him about the dying utterance of an iconic 20th century artist. Paul quickly went off and wrote a song about it. What was the song?

8. True or false: Simon Cowell owns a controlling share in the successful Mr Topper chain of discount hairdressing salons.

9. From whose autobiography is this an excerpt?

“By now I was doing a Wednesday night gig in a pub near Wigan. where I’d just play instrumentals like War of the Worlds, Shakatak, Jan Hammer and the theme from Miami Vice. I’d take all my synths and have a fantastic time.”

Here’s another excerpt:
“Some time around 1990 I wrote a list of goals in my Filofax, the things I wanted most in the world:
To appear on Top of the Pops
To go to Disneyland
A Ferrari Testarossa like the one on Miami Vice, or failing that a Ford XR3i
A Saisho CB radio
To turn on the Blackpool lights.”

10. Using the expedient of a well-loved children’s character, Bob The Builder scored two number one hit singles in two years which, often to quite an emotionally moving degree, foregrounded the camaraderie that can often make the workplace a spiritually rewarding environment and one that, often to their surprise, many people often find that they miss once they have retired. But what were those hit singles called?

ROUND FOUR: LYRICS

1. “Home, home and dry/Like a homing bird I’ll fly as a bird on wings.”

2. “She’s worse to him than me/Let her go ahead, take his love instead/And one day she will see.”

3. “Move a step closer you know that I want you/I can tell by your eyes that you want me too.”

4. “You’re a buffet/You’re a vegetable/And they eat off you”

5. “But you know he’ll always keep moving/You know he’s never gonna stop moving/Cos he’s rolling/He’s the rolling stone”

6. “So I’m just watching and waitin’/For you to salute the true big pimpin’”

7. “I got a little face, and a pair of brown eyes/All I’m here to do, ladies, is hypnotize/Singin’ on’n'n’on’n'on on’n'on/The beat don’t stop until the break of dawn/Singin’ on’n'n’on’n'on on’n'on/Like a hot buttered pop da pop da pop dibbie dibbie/Pop da pop pop, don’t you dare stop”

8. “It’s been a year now and it’s getting so much better/You came home without a word/Though everybody said you’ll soon forget her.”

9. “And the buildings open to the sky/All echo in the vultures cry as if to show/Our love was for a day”

10. “A whole life so lonely/And then come and ease the pain/I don’t want to lose this feeling”

ROUND FIVE

On December 27th, BBC Four are showing a brand new programme entitled The Joy Of Abba. It’ll probably be great, because pretty much everything with Abba in it is great. In acknowledgement of this fact, here’s a quick round of questions devoted to our Scandinavian pop overlords.

1. WHAT WAS THE ORIGINAL WORKING TITLE OF MONEY MONEY MONEY?

Funny Funny Funny
Never Be Your Honey
Been And Gone And Done It
Lovin’ In My Tummy
Just A Little Lovin’

2. CAN YOU NAME ALL OF ABBA’S NUMBER ONE SINGLES?

3. WHAT ABBA SONG DOES MADONNA’S HUNG UP SAMPLE?
FOR AN EXTRA POINT, HOW DID MADONNA GET PERMISSION TO USE IT?

4. WHAT WAS THE NAME OF THE SONG THAT ABBA SUBMITTED FOR SWEDEN’S SONG FOR EUROPE THE YEAR BEFORE THEY ENTERED WATERLOO?

5. What was the name of the author namechecked in Abba’s The Day Before You Came?

ROUND SIX

1. Which member of The Smiths is a vegan?

2. Who or what was the Echo in Echo & The Bunnymen?

3. Who wrote Adele’s worldwide hit To Make You Feel My Love?

4. Who wrote I’m A Believer for The Monkees?

5. Frankie Goes To Hollywood reached number one with their first three singles. Can you name them?

6. Until then, only one act had ever scored number one hits with their first three singles. Who were they?

7. The surnames of a well-known music duo are Peacock and Hodges. Who are they?

8. Who do Radiohead have to pay royalties to every time Creep gets played on the radio and why?

9. At the height of the Spice Girls’ success Geri Halliwell is said to have made enquiries about procuring an item of livestock that, for reasons obvious to most normal people, proved impossible to source. What was that item?

10. True or false: Paul McCartney decided to invite Denny Laine to join Wings after Linda pointed out to him that if you take the “I” in Denny Laine and stick it onto the bottom of the “D” in Denny, it spells “Penny Lane”.

ROUND SEVEN: IT’S ANOTHER VIDEO ROUND

TEAM ONE RECREATES THE VIDEO OF TAKE ON ME TO ONE OF THEIR PLAYERS WHO HAS TO GUESS WHAT IT IS

TEAM TWO RECREATES THE VIDEO OF LIKE A PRAYER TO ONE OF THEIR TEAM WHO HAS TO GUESS WHAT IT IS

THEN EVERYONE WATCHES THE VIDEOS…

A-HA QUESTIONS

1. What did the sticker on the cafe window advertise?

2. What was the first thing that comic book Morten did when he came to life?

3. How many instruments were the rest of A-ha playing in the video?

4. What item did the assailants use to smash into the comic book and chase Morten and the girl?

5. What tourist destination did the poster on the cafe advertise?

6. How did Morten manage to get back into the real world to reach Bunty?

MADONNA QUESTIONS

1. There’s something burning in the opening scene of the video? What is it?

2. How many roses was the black christ holding?

3. As you faced him, which eye had the tear rolling down first of all?

4. Where is the assailant hiding when he sees the police taking away the wrong man?

5. How many burning crosses are there?

6. How many times did Pepsi broadcast the advert which featured Like A Prayer?

ROUND EIGHT

1. Where does Sheryl Crow want to watch the sun come up in All I Want To Do?

2. In 1977, Marvin Gaye was ordered by a US judge to hand over half the royalties of his next album to his estranged wife Anna Gordy. What was the resulting record called?

3. CAN YOU PUT THESE GROUPS IN THE ORDER OF THE AMOUNT OF NUMBER ONE HITS THEY HAD, FROM FOUR DOWN TO ZERO?

Roxy Music
Bananarama
Boomtown Rats
B*Witched
Bucks Fizz

4. What was the name of the choir mentioned in Fairytale Of New York?

5. What was the name of the group whose career Mike Read inadvertently torpedoed when he admitted he liked making love to their music?

6. Can you name the rock’n’roll legend who only plays on the proviso that he is on stage for a pre-agreed time and frequently stops playing mid-song when his time is up?

7. Can anyone name Duffy’s follow-up album to Rockferry?

8. Can anyone remember what product Sam Cooke’s Wonderful World was advertising when it reached number one in 1987?

9. Also in 1987, Andy Warhol was so enamoured of a certain up-and-coming British pop group that he directed and starred in one of their videos. What was the name of the group?

10. Who famously said, “Follow that!” to Bob Dylan when he came off stage at The Band’s star-studded farewell show in 1978, a show immortalised in Scorcese’s concert film The Last Waltz?

ROUND NINE: THESE ARE THE REAL NAMES OF TEN WELL-KNOWN MUSICIANS. WHAT ARE THEIR POP STAR NAMES?

Ron Wycherly?

Bernard Jewry?

Chris Hammill?

Mike McCartney?

Paul Hewson?

Mike Barratt?

David Jones?

David Evans?

Marvin Lee Aday?

Brian Burton?

ROUND TEN: EXPERTS HEAD-TO-HEAD

In this round, each team has to nominate an expert to go up against the other team’s pop aficionado, for a quickfire round. Two points for each correct answer.

1. What does the registration number of the car in the cover of The Beatles’ Abbey Rd say? And what’s the significance of the plate?

2. What is the connection between Dusty Springfield’s I Only Want To Be With You and Cocteau Twins?

3. What US funk group boasts Larry Blackmon as its frontman?

4. What Doors song spawned the title of Danny Sugerman’s Jim Morrison biography No-One Here Gets Out Alive?

5. All but one of the songs on Nick Drake’s first two albums boasted arrangements by Robert Kirby. Which is the exception, and who did the arrangements for that song instead?

6. What was the full original line-up of The Byrds?

7. Until his departure from the group last year, who was the drummer and primary songwriter with the Kaiser Chiefs?

8. What Kraftwerk song did Coldplay sample for their 1996 single Talk?

9. In 1997, The Lightning Seeds scored a hit with You Showed Me. Who wrote it originally?

10. Shortly after Smokey Robinson scored a number one hit in 1981 with Being With You, he became addicted to a Class A drug. What was that drug?

ROUND ELEVEN: POP CHINESE WHISPERS

In this round you have to sing (without words) a well-known song in the ear of the person next to you. Then they have to sing it to the person next to them. Then the player at the end has to name the song.

TEAM ONE
Kate Bush: Wuthering Heights
Brotherhood of Man: Save Your Kisses For Me
Bon Jovi: You Give Love A Bad Name

TEAM TWO
The Supremes: Baby Love
The Smiths: There Is A Light That Never Goes Out
Madness: Our House

*********************************************************************
ANSWERS (POINTS IN BRACKETS!)

ROUND ONE: CHRISTMAS SONGS

1. The Pogues: Fairytale of New York (2)

2. Slade: Merry Xmas Everybody (2)

3. The Pogues: 2 (1987); Coldplay: 18 (2010); Saint Etienne: 37 (1993); Wizzard: 4 (1973); Greg Lake: 2 (1974); Elton John: 24 (1973)
(2 POINTS FOR EACH CORRECT ANSWER + 1 FOR EACH YEAR GUESSED CORRECTLY)

4. Steeleye Span (2)

5. Franz Ferdinand (2)

6. Crosses (2)

7. The original version in The Snowman, was sung by Peter Auty. (2)

8. Let It Snow! Let It Snow! Let It Snow! (2)

9. Good King Wenceslas looked out
/On the feast of Stephen
/When the snow lay round about
/Deep and crisp and even/
Brightly shone the moon that night
/Though the frost was cruel
/When a poor man came in sight
/Gath’ring winter fuel (2)

10. Neil Diamond (2)

ROUND TWO

WHAM: LAST CHRISTMAS

1. Two (2)
2. Blue (2)
3. Shirlie from Pepsi & Shirlie (2)
4. Two (2)
5. Blue (2)

SHAKIN’ STEVENS: MERRY CHRISTMAS EVERYONE

1. Red (2)
2. Red (2)
3. Horse (2)
4. Two (2)
5. Three (2)

ROUND THREE

1. Paul Young (2)
2. False (2)
3. The Soup Dragons (The original version was by the Rolling Stones) (2 + 1)
4. Sound of the Underground (2)
5. Tracie (2)
6. Per Gessle & Marie Frederiksson (2)
7. Picasso’s Last Words (2)
8. False (2)
9. Gary Barlow: My Take (2)
10. Can We Fix It and Mambo No.5 (1 point for each correct title)

ROUND FOUR: LYRICS

1. The Beatles: Free as a Bird (2)
2. The Searchers: Needles & Pins (2)
3. Gabrielle: Dreams (2)
4. Michael Jackson: Wanna Be Starting Something (2)
5. Gerry Rafferty: Baker Street (2)
6. Robin Thicke: Blurred Lines (2)
7. The Sugarhill Gang: Rapper’s Delight (2)
8. Electric Light Orchestra: Shine A Little Love (2)
9. Dave Dee Dozy Beaky Mick & Tich: Legend of Xanadu (2)
10. The Bangles: Eternal Flame (2)

ROUND FIVE: ABBA

1. Been and Gone and Done It (2)

2. Waterloo/Mamma Mia/Fernando/Dancing Queen/Knowing Me Knowing You/Name Of The Game/Take A Chance On Me/The Winner Takes It All/Super Trouper (1 point for each correct title)

3. Gimme Gimme Gimme (A Man After Midnight). She personally wrote Benny and Bjorn a letter, asking for their permission. (2)

4. Ring Ring (2)

5. Marilyn French (2)

ROUND SIX: GENERAL POP KNOWLEDGE

1. Johnny Marr (2)
2. Echo was the name of the drum machine which they later replaced with Pete de Freitas (2)
3. Bob Dylan (2)
4. Neil Diamond (2)
5. Relax; Two Tribes; The Power of Love (1 point each)
6. Gerry & The Pacemakers (2)
7. Chas & Dave (2)
8. Albert Hammond. His song The Air That I Breathe (a hit for The Hollies) bore more than a passing similarity to the middle-eight of Creep. (2)
9. A unicorn (2)
10. False (2)

ROUND SEVEN

A-HA: TAKE ON ME

1. “Nice cold ice cold milk” (2)
2. He was having a good old wink. (2)
3. Three: a single snare drum; a keyboard and a guitar (2)
4. Monkey spanners (2)
5. “Italia” (2)

MADONNA: LIKE A PRAYER

1. A barrel or an oil can, probably the latter – either answer will do (2)
2. Behind some tyres (2)
3. Five (2)
4. As you face him, it’s the right (2)
5. Five (2)

ROUND EIGHT: YET MORE GENERAL KNOWLEDGE

1. Santa Monica: Boulevard (2)
2. Here My Dear (2)
3. B*Witched: 4; Bucks Fizz: 3; Boomtown Rats: 2; Roxy Music: 1; Bananarama: 0
4. Will Young: Pop Idol; Sheena Easton: The Big Time; Lemar: Fame Academy; Berni Flint: Opportunity Knocks; Liberty X: Popstars; Showaddywaddy: New Faces (1 [point for each correct answer)
5. The Icicle Works (2)
6. Chuck Berry (2)
7. Endlessly (2)
8. Levi’s 501s (2)
9. Curiosity Killed The Cat (2)
10. Neil Diamond (2)

ROUND NINE: REAL NAMES

1. Billy Fury (2)
2. Alvin Stardust (2)
3. Limahl (2)
4. Mike McGear (2)
5. Bono (2)
6. Shakin’ Stevens (2)
7. David Bowie (2)
8.The Edge (2)
9. Meat Loaf (2)
10. Danger Mouse (2)

ROUND TEN: EXPERTS’ ROUND

1. 28IF. According to “Paul is dead” conspiracy theorists, this represents the age Paul would have been at the time of Abbey Road’s release, had he survived. (3)
2. The song was written and arranged by Ivor Raymonde, whose son Simon went on to join The Cocteau Twins. (3)
3. Cameo (3)
4. Five To One (3)
5. River Man was arranged by Harry Robinson. Robert Kirby felt unable to do it justice. (3)
6. Roger (Jim as he was then) McGuinn; Gene Clark; Chris Hillman; David Crosby; Michael Clark (3)
7. Nick Hodgson (3)
8. Computer Love (3)
9. Gene Clark (3)
10. Crack cocaine (3)

ROUND ELEVEN

[two points for each correct guess]

“At school that day, I issued Imtiaz with clear instructions. If he had cords too, he should wear them.” Life after Aztec Camera.

The first time I heard an Aztec Camera song, it wasn’t being performed by Aztec Camera. It was Eddie Holmes, absently singing the chorus of Oblivious as we filed into class on a January morning. Between Eddie’s ability to carry a tune and Roddy Frame’s ability to write one, my interest was piqued enough to ask Eddie what he was singing. In a Birmingham school where the girls had Duran Duran scrawled on their pencil cases and the boys wanted to be in Madness, it was pretty impressive that Eddie Holmes – cock of the walk, with his green bomber jacket, fat tie and trousers tailored to skinhead specifications – had heard Aztec Camera.

Aged 13, all I knew about Aztec Camera was that they had once been on the same label as Orange Juice, who were currently in the Top 10 with Rip It Up. Back at home, Bunnymen and Teardrop Explodes records were billowing out of my brother’s bedroom. This was all having an effect, creating a vacuum which would be ultimately filled by a band I could believe in as much as my brother believed in his bands. And because there was a rivalry there, it very much did feel as they were his bands. Still, it didn’t do any harm if I borrowed them for a while. On the inside flap of my French exercise book, I’d written all the words of The Teardrop Explodes’ Sleeping Gas. I referenced The Doors in a bid to create distance between myself and my classmates. Really, I should have been the one absently singing Aztec Camera lyrics during registration. But Eddie called it first, even before me; before even Warner Brothers who, by the end of the year, would sign Aztec Camera and finally give Oblivious the push it needed to become the group’s first proper hit.

For the time being though, Aztec Camera were nothing more than a Post-It note in my brain. Dexys Midnight Runners ruled the ledger in which I made note of every record I played, but a band as huge as Dexys could never truly feel like they were mine and mine alone. I kept looking, not entirely conscious of the fact that I was looking. In a pre-internet age, this searching amounted to scrutinising cover art in record shops, the reviews in Smash Hits and sitting poised by the record button during any TV show where music might be played. TV-AM’s newly-launched breakfast show on ITV featured a pop video slot at 7.55, introduced at one end by Nick Owen and Anne Diamond before leading at the other into waiting weathergirl Wincey Willis. That mental Post-It Note probably determined the speed with which I pressed play and record when Aztec Camera’s name bounced from the autocue and back into my front room.

You could always tell if Wincey liked today’s song by the exuberance of her bopping as the video faded back into her. She wasn’t crazy about Walk Out To Winter, and with hindsight, neither am I – well, not that version, at any rate. After Oblivious failed to become a hit, the second catchiest song on the recently released High Land Hard Rain had been sacrificed to a remix. Tony Mansfield’s retooling of which the song was a dog’s dinner of Fairlight stabs and crashing snare drums. But at that moment, it didn’t matter. I hadn’t heard the original version of Walk Out To Winter, so this one would do just fine. A trip-switch went off, activating a strange and immediate trust in the lank-haired surrogate older brother wandering a seaside town beneath overcast skies. In 1983, I’d never seen a fringed suede jacket or hair of that length on a contemporary musician. The only other pop star I’d seen wearing Ray-Bans was Edwyn Collins, back in January. These were the details that mattered most immediately to me.

Watching me rewind that bit of videotape for the 300th time, my own brother hit me where it hurts. Using psychic sibling superpowers, he casually zoned in on his target: “I bet you’re planning to go to Kensington Market and get a fringed jacket just like that aren’t you? Well, don’t bother. EVERYONE will laugh at you.” I told him to get lost, but he was right. My mortified blushing told him that: (a) I had started saving up for the jacket; (b) this could now never happen or be spoken of again. All I wanted was for Roddy to reach out of the TV screen and teach me how to be as cool as him. But Christ, he wouldn’t have half had his work cut out. Every garment I owned had been bought by my mother. I was too terrified to choose my own clothes, lest someone think I was trying to entertain the notion that I could ever look… well, attractive.

Mustard cords and a polyester British Home Stores polo shirt thus forced me to turn my fear of change into an ideological stance. I was a sartorial objector, too school for cool – superciliously walking past the edgy kids smoking by fountain with eyes that said, “Go ahead. Throw your empty Choc Dips tub at me, superficial people.” Of course, there was a contradiction here. Roddy Frame probably had more in common with those edgy kids than me. Eddie Holmes owned the first Clash album – the one which featured Roddy’s favourite song of all time, Garageland. Roddy had left school in order to devote himself to being in a band. I would never have dreamed of doing something like that! Furthermore, Roddy smoked! And everyone knows that smoking’s for losers!! Somehow though, none of those considerations came into play when, in August 1983, shorty after my 14th birthday, I went into the tiny Virgin shop on Bull St and finally bought High Land Hard Rain. By actually buying an album – something that anyone of my age would have only done once or twice a year – I was making a leaping of faith. At £4.79, not finding something of worth in the grooves of High Land Hard Rain was simply not an option.

When I got home, it was Friday, which meant that my parents were both at work in their chippy. The house was empty. I removed the red inner sleeve from its blue cover, knelt at the Fidelity music centre and turned up the damp, acoustic beat-pop of Oblivious. The sweetness of that hook had stuck with me since I heard Eddie singing it at the beginning of the year. To hear chord sequences and instrumentation assembling themselves around it was a moment of almost synaesthetic clarity. But if the sense of deja vu with Oblivious and Walk Out To Winter could be explained away, the same couldn’t be said about the rest of the album. In interviews, Roddy Frame had cited Love and Django Reinhardt as formative influences. I taped Alone Again Or one night when Annie Nightingale played it on her show, and a few months later, I found Django Reinhardt’s 1961 album Django Reinhardt & Le Quintette Du Hot Club De France in Oxfam. Thirty years on, it’s hard not to hear the French guitar legend in stoned hot club licks of Release. Elsewhere on High Land Hard Rain, The Boy Wonders is exactly how Love would have sounded had they grown up in a Scottish new town. However, hearing both of these artists in the wake of the Aztec Camera record, I couldn’t even begin to make those connections. I put them away and saved them for a time when I might better understand.

Other songs, however, seemed familiar in a way that couldn’t be explained with reference to mere influences. Back On Board sounded less like it had been written than chiseled from the underside of my own subconscious. At the time, I wasn’t remotely equipped to articulate the power of lines such as, “So here we go digging through those dustbins/Giving things new names.” But actually, they spoke to me for the same reason that Kevin Rowland did a year previously on I’ll Show You, when he exhorted listeners to remember that the next down-and-out they walk past in the street was once a child. I was hearing Back On Board, Release and Down The Dip as fuck-up fantasies that might yet turn out to be episodes in my life. The more I listened, the less I wanted to see myself in these songs. And the more I saw myself in these songs, the greater my conviction that only the person who wrote them understood my pain.

Thirty years later, I feel some sympathy for my younger self, but not as much as I feel for poor Roddy. At 19, your life is barely more mapped out than it is at the age of 14. And the only burden of expectation I bore was that of my parents. Whatever accoutrements Roddy must have thought came with the job, I don’t imagine he would have thought beyond the charmed reception of a classic album that seemed to fall out of his brain almost by accident. But here he was adorning the front pages of music papers that would have once paid host to his formative influences – Bowie; The Clash, Neil Young, Joy Division – suddenly faced with the prospect of meeting not only his own expectations but those of his major-label paymasters and, of course, spenks like me. No pop star would ever choose to have fans like me.

And yet here we were. Connected. Him touring America with his band. Playing increasingly unhinged, electrified, elongated versions of songs which had once sounded so crisp and gentle on High Land Hard Rain (I know – I still have the bootlegs, although only once I had lost my virginity, taken drugs and developed a long unhealthy obsession with Neil Young’s Shots could I fully appreciate them). Me – Sleepless In Acocks Green, perched on my pouffe, reading the lyrics on the inner sleeve in real time and feeling something oddly chemical taking place. “I found some blood I wasn’t meant to find,” went We Could Send Letters, “I found some feelings that we’d left behind/But then some blood won’t mean that much to me/When I’ve been smothered in the sympathy you bleed.” By the end of September, a kind of temporary bipolarity kicked in and stayed there for about two years. I felt I had a special, supernatural connection to these songs, beyond that of anyone else. I had to tell someone. But, of course, there was only one person I could tell.

If I had access to a Tardis at this point, I’d fly back to that autumn in a beat and the story would end here. But it doesn’t. There was an address on the sleeve. God only knows what I wrote in those letters to Rainhill House – the fits-the-bill name given to Aztec Camera’s fan club. Well, actually, I wish God only knew – but there are details I remember. Everyone at school is too shallow to understand me. When you’re strange, faces come out of the rain. That sort of thing. No good ever came from opening a black envelope on which the address is written in a silver marker. Nevertheless, fan club secretary Trina kindly replied. Friendly, in the way that you invariably are to troubled teenagers whose next letter, for all you know, might be the one that police find next to the body. And that’s a letter you certainly don’t want to be mentioned in.

But no. I wasn’t suicidal. Far from it. With the reissued Oblivious about to chart and a Top Of The Pops performance inevitable, why on earth would I countenance such thoughts? Better still, the fan club had been given a number of free tickets for the band’s televised Rock Goes To College show at Aston University. “Over 18s!” said the accompanying letter, whilst the two tickets they sent me by return of post clearly stated: “N.U.S. CARDS MUST BE SHOWN.”

None of these warnings managed to penetrate my bubble of delirious teenage optimism. Rummaging in my brother’s draw, I found his old N.U.S. Card, ripped off his picture and stuck my own mugshot in its place. My parents were too busy running a chip shop to stop me from heading into town on the night of the show. All they asked was that I take a friend with me. That was fine. I knew just the person for the job. Imtiaz Ilahi was in a higher stream than me. We didn’t have a huge amount in common, but crucially, he was further into puberty than me. This much I knew because his face was partially obscured by downy weather fronts of fine hair. With his fluff and my cloak of invisibility (the mustard cords) we would surely outfox whatever security system Aston University had in place.

At school that day, I issued Imtiaz with clear instructions. If he had cords too, he should wear them. I was immoveable in my belief that cords were the default leg garment of all men (and quite a few women) in higher education. At the agreed time of 7.30pm (“DOORS OPEN 8.00 p.m. BAND ON STAGE 8.45 p.m.”) we met outside the student union, bewildered that there wasn’t a soul to be seen. Weren’t people excited about this momentous evening? What was going on? Were we even in the right place?

At about 8.15pm, the doors opened. The huge paved area surrounding the university buildings was still deserted, save for me, Imtiaz and three concrete planters filled with soil and litter. It was freezing. I broke a Blue Riband in two and gave the other half to Imtiaz, who I don’t actually recall saying a word all night. Did I look 18? Of course I didn’t. Did the listless student operative appointed to wave people in give a toss who I was, how old I looked or where I came from? Not really. Did his wan friend wearing a security jacket three sizes too big for him care either? Of course he didn’t. We ran across the empty union hall to the barrier, just behind a big BBC camera, and that was where we stayed all evening.

My memories of the evening have mostly merged with the videotaped programme that aired a couple of weeks later. The recollection of a rougher, janglier version of the just-written Head Is Happy (Hearts Insane) remains rooted in the specific events of that evening, as it never made the televised edit. On the night that BBC2 showed the concert, I noticed myself in a panning shot that immediately followed The Bugle Sounds Again. You couldn’t make out my face as such, but it was obviously me, because no-one else leaning against the barrier was wearing a padded cream Marks & Spencer jacket. In my mind, being on TV merely made loyalty towards Aztec Camera a matter of public record.

There’s a poignant irony in the fact that the first three rows at any gig are usually filled with the last people that the headlining act wants to see: the serial attenders; the b-side shouters; the gift throwers; and, in the case of Aztec Camera’s televised 1983 concert, the besotted pubescent gonk mouthing every lyric back at his hero in a bid to prove that no-one on the planet understood this music more than he did. These aren’t the fans you sign up for when you plan your route to immortality. No, these are the fans, I suspect, that hasten the sense of encroaching claustrophobia that comes with any measure of stardom.

Mercifully, whatever chemical tsunami Aztec Camera’s music had unleashed in me would start to dissipate, although not before the release of the next album. With a slick production from Mark Knopfler, 1984’s Knife encouraged a more grown-up response in those who heard it by sounding more grown-up itself. My response to Knife – to rub my favourite lyrics from the album onto the furniture in my bedroom using WHSmith transfer lettering probably wasn’t what Roddy had in mind. If he had emerged from the stage door after Aztec Camera’s Birmingham Odeon show in October 1984, he could have personally let me know. But from the blacked-out windows of the tour bus which ascended the ramp onto New Street, I had no sure way of telling him. That same month, Smash Hits ran a contest to coincide with the release of Knife – the winner of which would win a lithograph of the album’s sleeve. I attempted to maximise my chances of winning by sending in my answer on a postcard which I had painted fluorescent yellow, but the heartless fuckers didn’t take the bait.

Just as I took that personally, I also took the three year gap between Knife and Love much as you might take the extended silence from a girlfriend who moves out of town and ignores all your attempts to contact her. After a while, you get the message and move on. Hence, in 1987, when Love appeared and Somewhere In My Heart took up residency in the top three, I felt happy for Roddy, but also embarrassed. I’d just turned 18. I wanted nothing whatsoever to do with the 14 year-old who had written all those letters, lovingly bordered with hand-drawn fascimiles of the mountain and flower motifs that had adorned early Aztec Camera sleeves.

Like many teenagers who obsess over music to the exclusion of everything else, I ended up writing about it for a living. The irony wasn’t lost on me. Every time Roddy put out a new record, all I needed to do was cook up an angle for a piece, call his PR and arrange to interview him. But if truth be told, that was the last thing I wanted to do. I couldn’t go back in time and leave him alone in 1984, but I could at least do that now.

By 2003, the whole world had pretty much left Roddy alone. Aztec Camera had been consigned to the past and his profile was at its lowest in over 20 years. Timed to coincide with the release of his second solo album Surf, a three-night residency at the Borderline was announced. Had it not been for a call from his publicist on the day of the last show, I wouldn’t have countenanced the idea of going. But a place on the guest list and mere curiosity were enough to send me there.

However, I didn’t put up an argument when the doorman scanned his clipboard and told me that my name hadn’t made it onto the list. I mean, really. What had I been thinking of? Why had I even wanted to return to the scene of so much turbulence? Why do anything to revisit the years of such irredeemable buffoonery? No. This was fine. This was as it should be. “Sorry about that,” I said. “They must have forgotten to add my name.”

As I turned to leave, someone behind me chirped, “Is there a problem?” The doorman looked at me. I looked to see where the voice had come from. “Are you Pete?” he said. I nodded. “I’m Roddy,” said Roddy Frame. He was holding a guitar case with his left hand. His right extended outwards towards me. “Nice to meet you.” “Nice to meet you too,” I spluttered in bewilderment. Roddy turned to the doorman and exclaimed, “He’s alright. He’s with me.” As the doorman waved us both through, Roddy ran on ahead. The whole exchange had last maybe ten, fifteen seconds. But how on Earth did he know it was me? Months later, I asked a mutual friend to find out. “He saw your byline picture in a magazine and remembered it,” came the eventual response. That means that the first person – and there have probably only ever been about ten in total – ever to recognise me from my byline picture in a magazine was my teenage hero.

In that moment, the simmering mortification of decades years quietly died. If it took me a long time to get over what happened to me in 1983 and 1984, that night’s show told me that I wasn’t the only one. These new songs were quite unlike anything Roddy had written for a long time. Surf and Big Ben sounded like battle-scarred chronicles of the adversities portended by High Land Hard Rain. Then he played the old songs, and something I couldn’t have possibly understood at the time happened.

Unremarkable music doesn’t live for long. It doesn’t grow. It hardens in the light and remains exactly as it was when you first encountered it, if anything, perhaps contracting a little. The music you keep coming back to doesn’t do that. It stays alive. It does all the things you expect living things to do. It grows in stature and assumes new shapes with the passing of time. The truths it imparts seem a little more profound with every extra year. Its meanings change too. Sometimes its uses do. A few years ago, when I saw Cat Stevens – now, Yusuf Islam – play Father And Son after thirty years away from the public eye, he sang it “from the point of view of someone who has still a lot to learn from their children.” And indeed, he seemed to treat the song with a gratitude befitting of a gift from his younger self. The Emily that Joanna Newsom sings now is very different to the Emily that she’ll sing at 60. These days, Blur’s Tender is no more about the break-up of two musicians in West London than Hey Jude is about a young Julian Lennon. Both songs have somehow grown to accommodate the experiences of every person who has ever listened to them.

If you write the truest thing you know as a teenager and you write it well, it’ll be no less true three decades later. When Roddy Frame played those old songs, I remembered again why they swept me away. And yet somehow, they still refused to reveal all of their mysteries. I don’t expect Roddy himself will completely understand what prompted him to write We Could Send Letters aged 16; what unholy show of cocksure creativity saw him to play Dylan at his own game so consummately on Down The Dip; why you can hear Oblivious for half a lifetime and still not tire of it. And that’s as it should be.

In your teens, you compose fan letters and you read music papers and write fanzines thinking that you’ll merge with the music and then truly unlock its magic. As an adult, it’s enough to just age together, waiting to see what more there is to find out about each other. He encored with The Boy Wonders: “I even asked my best friend/But he could not explain/It hit me when I left him/I felt the rain and called it genius.”

I’m far from done with these songs yet.

On Sunday December 1, Roddy Frame performs High Land Hard Rain at London Theatre Royal.

“We were incapable of meaning anything, we were too busy trying to survive.” The imperishable genius of Fables Of The Reconstruction

Writing in the liner notes of 2010’s expanded, appended reissue of REM’s third album, Peter Buck alludes to “a certain misapprehension” that has built up around the record. “For some reason,” he ponders, “people have the impression that the members of REM don’t like [it].” If Buck wants to know how that impression came about, he could do a lot worse than scour some of his old press cuttings. For several years following its release, Buck’s stock response to any hyperbole surrounding Fables of the Reconstruction was blinking bewilderment. “All my friends say Fables is their favourite record,” he said a decade ago, “[When] I ask why, they say, ‘Well it’s gloomy and edgy, gothic and dark.’ And I can see that, but at the time… we were incapable of meaning anything, we were too busy trying to survive.”

From the outside, everything about Fables of the Reconstuction seemed more deliberate than it actually was. Going into 1985, REM were steeped in so much gothic American mystique that ents officers who booked them were genuinely surprised when the group turned up in anything other than a old converted boxcar driven by a 100 year-old man in dungarees answering to the name of Zebulon. Michael Stipe’s elliptical mumblings compounded the otherworldliness of 1983’s Murmur and 1984’s Reckoning. An album of songs which reflected the singer’s fascination with the oral storytelling traditions of the old south seemed a smart move – although history records that the conceit might have been brought about for more prosaic reasons. With hardly any songs written for their third album and just three weeks before they were due to start recording, Stipe needed some thematic putty to help him get cracking.

And if REM were to make a record of downhome folk tales, it made sense that the man producing them would be Joe Boyd – the American producer who, years previously, had emboldened British bands like Fairport Convention and Incredible String Band into bastardising their own traditional music. In fact, what was theoretically a good idea almost split REM up. Had it done so, the group’s swansong would be one of the most unsettlingly absorbing albums of its decade. Forget what Fables of the Reconstruction is ostensibly about. Recorded in a rainy north London studio by four people who “were completely out of our minds”, Fables is really about the mental fragility of the people making it.

Indeed, it only takes a few seconds of first track Feeling Gravity’s Pull to realise as much. The insistence with which Buck’s serrated guitar refrain cuts into the ominous oscillations of the string section makes for arguably the most demonic moment in the band’s whole canon. Auctioneer isn’t much easier on the ear but, as an excerpt from some elliptical Southern daydream, it’s no less compelling.

Not that dissonance is the point here. When it appears, it’s merely the occasional by-product of the noise made by four unhappy people. “We had no money to do anything,” remembered Mike Mills, “There were only four TV channels, it was cold, we were lonely.” Home might be the last thing you want to sing about when you’re feeling homesick, and herein – among the gauzy misty-eyed jangle of Maps & Legends, Green Grow The Rushes and the ceaselessly life-affirming chorus of Driver 8 – lies the magic of Fables of the Reconstruction.

For the measure of what those emotions brought to the recording of these songs, the extra CD of locally recorded demos that came with the 2010 reissue is hugely illuminating. The quality of the songs may be far more apparent than it was to a panicking 28 year-old Buck – not least a previously unreleased gem called Throw Those Trolls Away (whose lyric resurfaced in 1986’s I Believe) – but it’s still the sound of a band operating within their comfort zone. Ostensibly a list of tips you might give to a loved one leaving home (“When you greet a stranger/Look at his shoes”), Good Advices sounds like a song that hasn’t decided what it wants to be yet – as evidenced by the sound of a young Stipe saying, “I think I want to hear that back” before the final note has even faded. Scoot back to the finished version, and 25 years of familiarity have done nothing to diminish the way the song suddenly buckles beneath its own sadness in the middle-eight. Stipe has ever sung a line as affectingly as he sings, “Home is a long way away.”

Had you not known that sessions for the record were fraught, you might have picked up some subtle signs when REM set about promoting the record in Britain. Michael Stipe had taken to dying his hair with egg yolks and writing the word “dog” on his forehead. Seemingly uncertain that he was cut out for the life of a proper band, Peter Buck briefly returned to his old job in a record shop. In a parallel world, perhaps he’s still there now, as blinkingly bewildered as ever, when devotees from further afield than Athens come to tell him that he made of the most forebodingly magnificent records of its era.