Tuesday, 15 April 2014

Dave Haslam, the 1970s, and me

I have long been of the opinion that the 1970s is the best decade in music, and I reckon I have at least some objectivity since I’m a 90s kid whose favourite band are from the 80s. Six years ago, in my first earnest and naive year of blogging, before Dave Haslam and I became friends, I heard about his book Not Abba. Newly enamoured of Abba’s The Visitors LP and of Taylor Parkes’ magnificent 1995 essay on the band, I felt it was unfair to peg the whitewashing exercise of the 70s nostalgia industry onto poor Abba. It wasn’t their fault, after all, that the egregious I Heart The 70s­ spectacle – in which professional no-names pretend to spontaneously recall loon pants and ‘Night Fever’ as if they hadn’t been prompted to death by BBC researchers who couldn’t be bothered to delve beyond the Top Of The Pops archives – had sieved an entire decade of musical culture down to their five worst singles and outfits. I dashed off a hurried defence of Abba and musical escapism and thought no more of it.

Being a writer, Dave can’t leave an argument unargued and I returned to the blog some time later to find that he had not only read the piece but had responded with a characteristically cheerful and carefully considered comeback which even now I blush to read. The blog entry has since been visited thirteen hundred times (my eighth most popular piece in six years of blogging, stats fans). Some time after this fateful blog incident I was introduced to Dave at a party to celebrate The Art Of Tea in Didsbury getting an alcohol license. ‘You haven’t made your mind up about me yet, have you?’ was his opening gambit.

If you want an idea of how long the backlog of my reading list is, I have just gotten around to reading Dave’s book now. I finished it an hour ago in fact. I haven’t been able to put it down. I wish dearly I had read it six years ago. Now re-christened Young Hearts Run Free (the new title is nothing to do with me, I'm sure), the book has an Intro, an Outro, and a chapter dedicated to each year of the 1970s. Forget about Abba and I Heart The 70s, forget about my blog entry (every point of which was already covered and expounded in the book), forget revivalism and all the rest of it. The book is about life as it was lived in the 1970s, the soundtrack to that life, how magnificently varied that soundtrack was, and how all of it was connected and entwined together. It’s also about the slippery, emotive nature of memory, and of nostalgia itself. ‘We’ve all forgotten a lot,’ Dave writes. Whether it’s the wilful erasure of hard fact, as exemplified by the Watergate scandal of 1972, or the simple fact Led Zeppelin don’t figure on nostalgia shows because they didn’t put out singles and didn’t appear on TOTP, the effect is the same.

The musical insight is exhaustive and a real education, but as always it’s the (extra)ordinary folk that people the story who are the real heart and soul of a history like this. Jayne Casey, a displaced, misplaced youngster, waif of Merseyside social services, is dreaming of like-minded souls, preferably boys in mascara. These arrive in the shape of Pete Burns and Holly Johnson and the musical scene at the legendary Eric’s which eventually spawned some of the best records of the 80s. Gay punk turned disco devotee, Alan Jones adds welts and fake blood to his Vivienne Westwood shirts and dances to ‘Paranoid’ in gay bars. Clover from Withington falls in and out of the burgeoning Rastafari culture, in and out of love, in and out of her parents’ favour. There are moments that, for better or worse, can choke you with pure evocative impact, whether it’s the BNP’s Kingsley Read responding to the murder of a young Sikh lad, Gurdip Singh Chaggar, saying, ‘One down, one million to go’, or John Lydon spinning ‘Born For A Purpose’ by Dr Alimontado on Capital Radio. Underneath all of this, the power goes on and off, bombs erratically tear apart life and limb in the pubs of Birmingham, an increasingly diabolical Met attempt to turn Notting Hill into a police state, and the unnerving voice of Wearside Jack murmurs and hisses from magnetic tape while the real Yorkshire Ripper continues killing women in allotments and car parks.

It’s also about England as it is now, or at least an England I just about recognise; tribal, energetic, indifferent, violent. Just last night I saw a very drunken and shabby guy harassing a girl at Piccadilly bus station, urging her to vote for the racist UKIP party, complaining about how many children the foreigners were having. The girl was too young to vote, too bored to care. As the bus wove its way through South Manchester, the same drunk guy rolled his eyes and tutted and sighed aggressively as a South Asian woman took a call on her mobile phone in her native language, a very ordinary Mancunian scene, but one that caused him bemusement, anger and discomfort. If only somebody could explain to him that it isn’t Asian women on their phones on the bus who have put him where he is – broke, drunk, hating – it’s other white guys, ones with lots of money. What’s changed in thirty-odd years I wonder?

At the end of the book we peer momentarily beyond the end of the 70s, through the dark door of the 1980s to March 1984 when the miners have just begun their epic doomed struggle. By a pure fluke the majestic nine and a half minute version of ‘The Power Of Love’ byFrankie Goes To Hollywood comes on my stereo, a Number One single in December 1984, the year I started school, the year ‘the miners fought the law, and the law won.' As I read and ponder the strike, the heartache, capitulations and police beatings, Holly Johnson sings, ‘When the chips are down I’ll be around,’ and for a minute it’s all a bit much and I have to stop reading.

I’d still fight for Abba, of course I would (okay, maybe not ‘Bang-A-Boomerang’) but only in the knowledge that there’s never just one story worth telling, and there are no happy endings either, not least because it’s not over yet. That’s what this remarkable book is about.

Coda: I have, of course, made a playlist to go with this blog entry which you can listen to on Spotify by clicking here. It’s not chronological or exhaustive, but all the songs are name-checked in Dave’s book and so it is at least wildly or widely representative of an astonishing ten years of music.

1 comment:

Fiona Mc Laughlin said...

Hello, I am looking for film or photos of the "IN THE CITY FESTIVAL" of 1995. This is for a documentary about DAFT PUNK in production at BBC WORLDWIDE FRANCE. If you have any leads on images of the festival that year - even without Daft Punk - please let me know at the following email address :