There’s a lot in the papers about populism and how it’s a bad thing. And maybe it is. Primarily relating to the Brexit thing because more people voted to leave the EU than remain in it. And the rise in popularity of right wing politics around the world. Boris Johnson. Donald Trump. these are all held up as examples of why populism is bad. As usual, I suspect the reality is both more and less complicated than that.
That and that people have suddenly decided that ‘experts’ aren’t experts at all and we should ignore them and do something else instead.
Diversion – Logical Fallacies.
Logical fallacies mean that some statements seem quite attractive to people, but actually, they don’t work. One logical fallacy is the Argument from Authority, and that means that you shouldn’t pay any attention to anybody who says, “You should just take my word for it because I’ve been an estate agent for fifty years and therefore I know what I’m talking about and bungalows are bollocks.” for example.
No, says logic. You shouldn’t accept that at all. what should happen is, if the self-proclaimed expert says something is so, they should be able to put it in such a manner that other people can understand and, providing their reasoning is sound, people should believe them then. I’m sure you’ve met people who’ve done certain jobs for donkey’s years and they know fuck all about anything, so I don’t know why apparently reasonably intelligent people are encouraging the public to discard their logic and start accepting fallacious arguments. Well, actually, I do. It’s because it suits their arguments to mislead people.
End of Diversion.
New Diversion – Brexit.
Brexit, for example, is going to be a disaster. Everybody knows that. People are always talking about how everybody who voted for Brexit is a racist idiot because it must be because television people broadcast members of the public saying things like, “I’m sick of all these Albanians coming over here and taking all our jobs,” and moronic statements like that because Albania isn’t even in the EU.
That’s not why I voted for it. My reasoning was this: there are still an awful lot of people who are going to continue voting Conservative until things get a lot worse and the quickest way to make everything a lot worse is for the Brexit thing to happen. Then maybe they’ll stop voting fucking Tory, the cunts.
I’ve explained that to some people and they think I’m at least as stupid as the rest of the racist Brexiteers and the frightened Daily Mail readers who believe all the horror stories the right wing media put out. Maybe even more stupid than those people. And maybe I am. On the other hand, maybe I’m just a bastard who enjoys a bit of chaos.
I used to consider myself an anarchist. I got the tattoo and everything. It doesn’t say ‘anarchist’, it’s a black rose, which is the symbol of it. I even knew it was a pretty stupid thing to do as I was getting it done, which is why I chose a fairly oblique symbol and to have it somewhere I can over it up if I want. Or just say it’s a black rose or something. I do accept the possibility that I’m a bit of a maniac from time to time.
The thing is, I don’t want to be in charge of anything. Some people – a lot of people, actually – interpret my total lack of interest in taking charge as an invitation for them to take over and I don’t want that either.
My old man is firmly of the belief that anybody who wants to be an MP should automatically be disallowed from standing as one and I’m inclined to agree with him.
The old sentiment is, “The abuse of power comes as no surprise.” and it doesn’t. I suppose some people go into positions of power with the best of intentions and find themselves floundering after they realise what it’s like. Some people – and I’m looking at you, Boris – doubtless seek power in order to look after number one. And some people are so neurotic that they can’t cope with the idea that they’re not in control and have to seize it in order to assuage their own fears.
Personally, I don’t want power because I don’t think I’m any better than anybody else. If the abuse of power truly does come as no surprise, I wouldn’t be at all surprised if I turned out to be a total lunatic the instant I had some power, so I think it’s best that I don’t have any.
As I’ve said, a lot of people think that I just don’t want to take any responsibility for my own actions and I can see where they’re coming from, but it’s not that either.
I don’t want anybody to be in charge because I don’t think it’s a very good idea for people to to be in charge. Anybody.
In general, people don’t like that idea. I’m firmly of the opinion – so far – that a lot of people in this country have a very deep rooted serf mentality. I mean, they can’t wait for somebody to come along so they can doff their caps and tug their forelocks at them, which I think is pretty much as bad as those people who think they need to be in charge because they think they know better and lack the wit to work out that they don’t. Despite all evidence to the contrary.
Well, it’s not serious issues that I’m going to drone on about interminably here, although populism is at the root of it. Sort of.
End of Diversion.
In my youth, if I was anything, I was an indie kid. That might not be strictly true because I suppose the only reason I could have considered myself an indie kid was because like most young people, I was interested in new things. New music, specifically. In reality, I probably listened to more music from the 1960s than I did modern (for the time) indie music. And the reason that, of all the new music that was being released at that time, I chose to listen to indie music was because it was, basically, in thrall to the music of the 1960s. The indie stuff I listened to, anyway.
I don’t think I ever actively described myself as an ‘indie kid’ to anyone at any point, although I suppose I might have done for ease. Generally, it was other people who labelled me thus. If you’ve ever had a job interview, or been introduced to anyone who talks to you like a daytime television presenter, you’ll have been asked to describe yourself to them, which I find a bit of a peculiar thing to ask of anyone because it’s not your job to draw conclusions about yourself, is it? Well, it might be, but only for yourself because i) who has any perspective on themselves? ii) if you say you’re a dick, that’s no good because you’re just having a downer on yourself and if you say you’re fucking great, that’s no good because you’re up yourself. Whichever way you look at it, there’s no reason why anybody should really be interested in anybody else’s opinion of themselves, yet they’re always asking, aren’t they?
In the late 1980s at the club I used to most frequently frequent, at first there were lots of different, er, tribes, I suppose you might say who’d go to Spiders.
You know when you’ve been going out with somebody for a little while and it’s going well? After not too long, you go over your first date or two and tell your new boyfriend or girlfriend the things that you were thinking about but didn’t say? Well, Clare and I first got together in Spiders and things moved very swiftly on. After a couple of weeks, we were having that conversation and, while I found it difficult to put her into any subgroup in particular, she said to me, “I just thought you were an indie kid.”
Which was fair enough, really. The Indie kid uniform, I suppose, consisted of a t-shirt (often striped, well, hooped, technically), jeans/cords and a moptop. Certainly a fringe. That was about it. It wasn’t a complicated look, unlike some of the other tribes who tended to hang around at Spiders. Goths were, by far, the most elaborately attired. There was a lot of lace and leather, but especially accessorising going on: lots of bangles, beads, crucifixes, earrings, fancy arsed gloves and all that. Their makeup must have taken a long time, too. Some of the goth lads wore dresses from time to time which was an eye opener, but it was Spiders and anything – more or less – went.
Anyway, the point is, in 1989, in the subculture that was Spiders, there were lots of sub-sub-cultures, many of them also part of ‘students’, as Townies would have described them, regardless of whether they were studying anything formally. Within a couple of years, that was all gone, replaced by a sort of homogenous ‘alternative’ type. Not entirely, of course, but mainly. That homogenous type also largely conformed to what was then known as ‘student’.
As far as I’m concerned, the cause death for those sub-sub-cultures was, to put it in evolutionary terms, that the tribe known as ‘indie kids’ experienced a mutation in 1989, the effect of which was the equivalent of introducing cane toads into Australia: they prospered at the expense of everything else and multiplied very quickly. The mutation was The Stone Roses, especially ‘Fools Gold’. Whether that’s a good thing r not depends on your perspective, I suppose.
Diversion – The Non-Alternative 1980s – Late
I’ve written about the mainstream music around when I was growing up. The chart music, you know, Duran Duran, Madonna, Wham!, Spandau Ballet, The Housemartins, Whitney Houston, Johnny Hates Jazz, Swing Out Sister and things like that.
Being a kid who didn’t realise that you could actually buy records without some sort of license – that I didn’t have – the only music I came across was on Top of The Pops or the radio. No so much the radio in my case because the stations my parents listened to didn’t really play any music except the odd Country & Western record on Sunday afternoons.
So, obviously, I only really heard music that was mainstream music, most of which I didn’t enjoy all that much but, you know, I thought that was what there was. I thought that was it. I didn’t realise that there was an alternative to the mainstream.
By the time I’d realised that it was possible for anybody to go into a record shop and buy any record you wanted, it was the mid eighties and that meant a lot of particularly bad records were dominating the charts. Stock Aitken & Waterman were on the horizon, and there seemed to be quite a lot of Phil Collins around which I didn’t like at all. With the exception of ‘Easy Lover’, his duet with Philip Bailey which I had a secret soft spot for. I also mildly enjoyed the way he wagged his finger on his shitty cover of The Supremes’ ‘You Can’t Hurry Love’, but only ironically.
What I did instead, was go back to the sixties. At first The Beatles, then The Byrds, The Stones, Love, stuff like that.
When I left school, I was interested in finding out what a nightclub was. I’d heard of them but, as my parents were the last people you’d find in a nightclub, I only really had what I’d seen on ‘The Professionals’ or ‘The Sweeney’ to go on.
In my mind’s eye, nightclubs were extraordinarily glamorous places. Mainly black and dark, but with smoked mirrors, glass tables and women with very 80s makeup carrying silver trays of fancy looking cocktails around. Dance floors, I assumed, would light up when you stood on them, like in Saturday Night Fever. I thought, more or less, they were part of the world suggested by the front cover of ‘For Your Pleasure’, by Roxy Music and would somehow sound like the record of ‘Baker Street’ by Gerry Rafferty. Dead classy, you know?
The first nightclub I ever went to was called ‘LA’s’ on Ferensway in town, next to the bus station. I went with Webbo, Nobber and some kids who they worked with on their YTS placements.
Before we went to LA’s, we went round town, which I’d also never done – not to pubs, anyway. The pubs we went in were, with hindsight, total shitholes. Rough arsed places. The White Horse, Bass House, Stones House and Cheese. All of them have shut down now, except Cheese, and that’s nothing like it was then having, as it now does, an actual tiled floor instead of sawdust on bare planks of wood. I shit you not. It was like the Wild West.
Not being a drinker, really, I got quite drunk, quite quickly and found it a bit of a pain in the arse, going to all these different places to go and stand in front of big, hard-looking older blokes who held court in whichever one they’d decided was their personal domain. Mainly I kept my mouth shut. We didn’t sit down all night and spent about fifteen minutes in each pub, which meant we drank a lot of beer.
Once in LA’s, I realised pretty quickly that my mental image of nightclubs as glamorous, enticing and decadent places bore no resemblance at all to the reality. At least in LA’s. And definitely not Spiders, later. LA’s was like a vast, already dilapidated B&Q kitchen from 1985 that had been melted into a nightclub at the hands of a demented Rod Hull whilst experiencing a long, alternating comedown and sugar rush. The carpet was tacky in more ways than one. When I worked at Trading Standards later, I had to go in during the day to test the beer pumps and optics and it was even worse with the lights on, without the fog of ‘fresh’ cigarette smoke billowing around. Like pubs and clubs had in those days. Spiders didn’t even have a carpet, it was a stone slab floor with lots of tiny alcoves, partitioned off by wrought iron spider webs containing plastic chairs or wooden picnic tables. If anything, it was as if a man eating spider had decided that the best form of web it could build to attract supple, tasty, essentially non-violent young people – and some plus sized goths – would be to weave a building made of materials exclusively found in an out of town garden centre and fill it with mixed up alcohol and strawberry milk. It was mainly very dark, with the odd red light here and there. The dance floors had some lights, but not many. Goths were a bit like the opposite of moths in terms of attraction/repulsion to light. Speaking of which, if moths dig the light so much, why don’t they come out during the daytime?
Anyway, the music played at all these pubs and LA’s was uniformly horrible. It was chart music. A lot of Eurythmics, as I remember. And The Thompson Twins, whom I held a particular dislike for, quite reasonably in hindsight.
I went a couple of times and, to be honest, it was a bit hairy. One of our lot was beaten up every time we went in town – not an extended kicking, but two or three fast, hard punches to the face. And that didn’t seem out of the ordinary to anybody except me, who was evidently far more keen on not getting a pasting on a Friday or Saturday night than my mates. After the fights, if you could call any of them that, it was even more weird because both sets of people would then just start chatting, as if nothing had happened, blood staining their shitty Sydney Youngblood khaki shirts and silk, kipper ties.
Appreciating that, sooner or later, it was going to be me on the receiving end of some violent pisshead’s fists, I decided that I’d seen enough of town, knocked it on the head and went back to what I’d done on the weekends when I was at school, which was going to my mates’ houses, watching films, boozing a little bit and having a nice time with people who were unlikely to lamp you without, seemingly, any particular trigger. Maybe it was the apparent randomness of the outbreaks of violence. Everybody seemed continually ready for it to happen, which was probably for the best, as it came out of nowhere as far as I could gather.
Once I’d started work at Trading Standards and met Sarah, she told me she went to Spiders, Silhouette and, sometimes, Welly and I could go to those places with her if I fancied, which I did.
End of Diversion.
Spiders, Silhouette and Welly were very different from what we called Townie nightclubs. You don’t hear that anymore, do you? Townies. I suppose the less pleasant Chav superseded it. While I’d learned that Townie nightclubs like LA’s bore absolutely no resemblance to the front cover of ‘For Your Pleasure’ or what I’d been led to expect from violent police series of the late 1970s and early 80s. In a way, I think maybe those clubs also thought that they had a touch of class, in that they all had dress codes: no trainers, no t shirts, that sort of thing.
I remember thinking how odd it was, to demand a relatively smart standard of attire from your patrons when a substantial proportion of them were the most violent, aggressive lunatics you’d ever hope to (not) meet. Like having a button up shirt was any guarantee of a pleasant sort of person. Just odd. I never understood that. A bit like school uniform.
Diversion – School Uniform.
I do understand why school uniforms are a thing. At the school I work at, on non-uniform days, that’s when you really notice the poverty. In their school uniforms, they look quite smart, I suppose. When they come in, in trackie bottoms and cheap, market stall t shirts that don’t fit them, or don’t ever get washed, it’s a bit upsetting.
The idea is that school uniforms stop richer kids taking the piss out of kids who wouldn’t be able to afford expensive, fashionable clothes. Also, it’s a bit like ‘The Fly’ with Jeff Goldbloom, who had a wardrobe consisting of exactly the same sets of clothes so he didn’t have to waste any brain power on thinking about what to wear that day. You know, if it’s a school day, you’re going to be wearing your school uniform, so that’s one less thing to worry about. Focus the mind, you know. Mind you, I’ve taught girls who told me that they got up at half past five in the morning so that they can paint their eyebrows on.
And that’s what happens, isn’t it? Kids – and adults – will find some way of expressing something by subtly subverting their uniforms. We used to tie our ties the wrong way around. I mean, we’d have the thinnest bit showing and the wider bit tucked inside our shirts because wide, kipper ties weren’t cool.
More recently, kids at all the schools I’ve taught at tended to tie their ties so that the showing bit was microscopically short. As school ties often have sort of stripes on them, the rules just got amended so that they had to have five stripes, or whatever it was, showing.
Which is what I mean. Tell people they have to do this, that or the other and they’ll spend their time thinking about how to subvert it. Most secondary schools now have a stack of cheap, black, shiny shoes in a variety of sizes for kids who come to school in trainers.
It’s a bit like a really minor version of the war on drugs – it’s not going to work, so maybe we ought to accept that and stop pretending it is. Still, that’s me.
On the plus side, where I work now is a lot less fussy arsed about uniform than most places. They’re not fussed about what colour hair the kids have, or if they have a daft haircut. Which I think is a good move.
The other thing that girls used to do at the schools I went to as a kid was, generally, make their skirts shorter than they were supposed to. At one of the schools I went to, if the head of house thought that a girl’s skirt was too short, they’d make them kneel down on the floor and, if the hem didn’t touch the floor, they’d get detention and have to sort it out. Usually, they’d just rolled it up, so it was easy.
I vividly remember at the hotel I worked at as a waiter when I’d just left school, there was a girl who’d been in my year at school who was working there. This girl had left school early because she was getting so badly bullied that she’d tried to kill herself. I can’t remember what her name used to be, but she’d changed it to Gaynor by the time she was at this hotel. One evening, we were bodding about, all the waiters and waitresses, waiting for diners to come in, standing around when the boss – who was a very big bloke – stood in front of us and sent Gaynor home because he said to her – in front of everyone, “You dress like a waitress, not a prostitute, when you work here.” Her skirt was about a centimetre above the knee. He was horrible. Like she’d not had enough quite enough shit to deal with over the past couple of years. I was also surprised that she’d chosen the name ‘Gaynor’ to start again with, as ‘Gaylord’ was a popular insult at that time and it was a bit close for comfort if you asked me. Maybe it was from Gloria Gaynor. You know, ‘I Will Survive’. I don’t know, I didn’t think it was my place to ask.
The next time she came to work, she was dressed like a regular Aunt Maude from the 1830s. This would be 1987, evidently a different world. Most of the waiting staff were women from some point in their thirties to their sixties by whom I was groped all night, every night. “Oh, there’s not an ounce of fat on him,”, “Ooh, what I wouldn’t do to you if I was ten years younger,”, “What you need is an older woman like me to teach you about that,” whilst I extricated their hands from my trousers and tried to slide to sanctuary between the floorboards.
These days, you get some hoo-hah about girls wearing short skirts. It’s a minefield and, personally, as a bloke, I stay well out of it. Kids, above almost everything else, love a stock answer that works, and the stock answer to “Your skirt’s too short,” is “You shouldn’t be looking.” And, as stock answers go, it’s quite a good one, especially in the climate nowadays.
As it is, I suppose I’m lucky because I don’t really notice most of the time. If any of it, to be honest. I don’t care what kids wear to school, so long as they’re wearing something. If girls are wearing short skirts, I don’t find it off putting or anything. I’m not really sure why I would. If you can’t stop yourself gawping at girls because you can see their legs, maybe you ought to work at it a bit harder. That’s what I reckon. What about older women with visible legs? Can people not hold a conversation with them either? I put it down to being raised in the eighties and being in with an alternative crowd which was, to its credit, a lot more tuned into the idea of having a bit of respect for, well, differences in general, really. Nobody batted an eyelid at what you might now call the gender fluid, homosexuality and anybody else who didn’t fit in with the status quo. And not talking at girls’s tits. Things like that.
End of Diversion.
So, yes, I went to Spiders every weekend with Sarah and it was good. Better than LA’s anyway. There wasn’t any violence at all. Well, almost never. Even though all those sub-sub-cultures were all together in one building. Maybe that’s why they were all together, I don’t know, but it was alright. There was a certain amount of snideness directed from one lot to another but it was exclusively verbal, or sometimes just mildly mucky looks.
However, it wasn’t to last all that long because, as I intimated earlier, The Stone Roses happened.
By the time I started going, Elephant Stone had already been released and that got played a little bit but, really, there was no one dominant tribe for a year, maybe eighteen months.
Diversion – Twagging/Sagging Off/Bunking Off/et al.
Depending on where you went to school. Where I went, it was ‘twagging’. I don’t know why. Anyway, when I was at school, I used to twag, especially in my last year. Especially the second half of it. I pretty much stopped going to school full stop by about Christmas of the fifth year, as was.
I wasn’t the only one, although I was the only person I knew who’d twag by myself. Most other kids’d twag in groups. I thought that was a recipe for disaster or, at least, getting caught. I used to twag by myself. Partly so there was less chance of the ‘twag man’ finding you and partly because I was the nerdiest twagger you could imagine.
I didn’t twag when I was younger, only really in my last year and the reason for my twagging was, as I say, pretty nerdy.
I failed all of my mock O levels. All of them. Well, actually, not all of them because I passed O level English Language in the fourth year, so not quite. But mainly, yeah, I failed them. I’d done practically no work at all for four years, except in English which never really seemed like work and, despite not thinking I was some sort of genius, was still quite surprised when I got the results back.
I wasn’t too bothered because, as I’ve said, pretty much everyone thought I was an idiot anyway. My mock results meant that I didn’t get into sixth form which I also wasn’t bothered about because I didn’t really have any friends who were going there anyway. I knew a few people who were – Suzie Green and Vicky Waddingham for starters, but on the whole, I wasn’t dead keen.
However, I was bothered by my old man telling me that, unless I passed Maths as well, I was going back to sixth form until I did. That came as a bit of a bombshell. I didn’t consider telling him where to stick it. He was always alright with me and he looked very disappointed at my mocks. My mother, naturally, was mortified, but I expected that.
What I did was decide I needed to get my shit together so that I didn’t, a) have to go to sixth form, and b) upset my old man. So, I went to lessons as I always had, but from now on, I wasn’t going to piss about, I was going to pay attention and work.
Unfortunately, it didn’t really turn out like that because we’d been put in sets based on our English results from Primary School. What that meant was that I was in the top stream and the teachers were all too busy trying to persuade my classes to pick their subject for sixth form.
In particular, my Physics teacher didn’t even bother teaching us O level work after the mocks because every lesson was, “When you do Physics A level, you’ll need to know about this. It’s not in your O level, of course, but you don’t need to worry about that do you, top set?”
I asked him for some past papers so that I could work through them and not fail Physics as well. I’d decided that I wasn’t going to just pass Maths, I was going to pass as many as I could. Except French, which I just gave up on. I figured I had enough brains to get myself through the rest of them in sixth months, but learning a foreign language from scratch (Apart from “Je M’Appelle Christophe, J’ai onze ans,”) I thought was probably a bit much. Anyway, I asked him for past papers and the bastard wouldn’t let me have any. No amount of persuasion made any difference. I told him I’d failed my mock O level Physics and he didn’t give a shit. I suppose he couldn’t be arsed.
In the end, I had to quickly sneak into the prep room during a lesson, prop open a window in it, and go back to school after everyone had gone home, climb through the window and nick a load of old Physics O level papers and work through them at home, having to look the answers up in the Letts Revise Physics book my old man had bought me. Imagine that now, having to break into school so you could make a decent fist of passing your exams. Different world, I suppose.
Anyway, after about a week of going to school all day and listening to my teachers telling me about A levels when all I wanted to do was work for my O levels, I realised that it wasn’t happening.
So I twagged the last six months of school so I could stay at home and revise. Or, more accurately, just ‘vise’ as most of it was news to me. More specifically, I had to go out, as if I was going to school, wait for my Mother and old man to leave the house for work and then settle down in front of the dining room table with my books, cups of tea and ill-gotten past papers so I could make up for not having really done anything for the past four and a half years.
It worked out alright because I ended up with six O levels, meaning my old man, my Mother and I were all happy. Except my Mother wasn’t particularly happy because I was going on a YTS plumbing course and her mate’s daughter – Annabel – was a big fucking swot who was going to do A levels and then university and her mother would be lording over mine for all eternity.
As it turned out, I did rather better in my A levels – after I’d chucked plumbing because it was too cold and wet – than Annabel did and she ended up going to some Mickey Mouse Polytechnic to do Media Studies and I got in at York, doing Psychology, so my Mother enjoyed that. Or she would have done, had she not fallen out with Annabel’s mother shortly before the A levels.
The reason I went off on one and started talking about twagging school is because about six months after I started work at Trading Standards, I got an unconditional offer from York (I already had my A level results but hadn’t applied to university because I did them at night class and most of the people I went there with were old farts who just wanted to do something to stop them going senile prematurely and who had no designs on Higher Education. I didn’t either. It just hadn’t occurred to me) and that gave me license, as far as I was concerned, to piss about all day, go ’round the shops, whatever I felt like because I didn’t give a shit.
Sarah, who hadn’t done A levels and who had to make the effort at Trading Standards, nevertheless vicariously quite enjoyed my total lack of work ethic. From time to time, she’d join me on my wandering round town. One morning, we went for a cup of tea in Marks & Spencers on Whitefriargate instead of doing whatever it was we were supposed to be doing.
Sarah had a boyfriend who normally went to Spiders with us or, more accurately, I suppose, with whom she went to Spiders and I tagged along with them, like a gooseberry. Sarah and I had a couple of mild forays into something a bit less platonic with each other – and her bloke, Jason, had caught and thumped me in the chops a couple of times in Spiders when I was tripping my bollocks off – but mainly, we were going out with other people.
This time in Marks’, we were talking about goths and the tribes we’d see in Spiders. Always having the tendency to be a miserable bastard, I was in one of those moods. I remember the conversation reasonably well.
“It’s not going to last though, is it?” I said, talking about goths.
“What isn’t?” Sarah said.
“People being Goths,” I answered, unhelpfully. “I mean, you don’t see many old Goths walking around, do you? What does that tell you?”
“They all kill themselves before they reach adulthood?”
“I doubt it. Not when there’s a lifetime of whining about it to be lived. No, I mean people must get over it, mustn’t they? Being goths. And all the rest of it. You know what it’s like, how many people over about twenty five do you ever see in Spid’s? Hardly anyone. and you don’t see older goths wandering around, do you? Same as your lot. Same as my lot. It’s a youth cult. People must get over it and decide to be normal. Probably too much arising about when you’ve got kids and a mortgage to pay, I suppose.”
I’m paraphrasing, obviously. I can’t remember exactly, word-for-word what I said in Marks’ in 1989, but that’s not far from it. She definitely made the quip about them all killing themselves before adulthood though. She could be cruel, but she was also funny, so fair dos, eh?
Anyway, she then said, and I this time I am quoting directly, “I’m impressed with you.”
If I was going to properly make a move on Sarah, it was going to be then – as encouraged by her – but, unfortunately or otherwise, I’d bummed myself out too much by having my epiphany about the transience of youthful ideas and was too busy turning temporarily gothic – at least emotionally – to take advantage of the situation.
Ironically, Sarah’s and my generation didn’t really grown out of their youth cults so, actually, I was dead wrong about that anyway. I think our generation – quite a lot of them – decided that they were just going to keep on acting like they did when they were 18 forever. There’re all manner of ageing goths around now. And mods, who are the worst with their stupid fucking haircut (singular) white socks and half mast trousers.
So, yeah, I was aware of these sub-sub-cultures and had even realised that – at least up to that point – that they were a bit like in Logan’s Run, in that once you got to thirty, you retired from youth and turned into your grandparents, like my folks had.
Gradually at first, then with greater rapidity, like a river wearing its banks down into an oxbow lake, the sub-sub-cultures at Spiders and Sil’s thinned out, replaced by the mutated indie kid.
End of Diversion.
When The Stone Roses’ album came out in April 1989, it wasn’t like Definitely Maybe which it seemed instantly to have a big effect on the youth of the time, it happened pretty slowly at first with The Roses, and then built up steam so that, by the end of summer ’89, everybody had it, and everybody loved it. Well, not everybody. Not goths, really. Not psychobillies or any of the rest of Spiders lot. But a lot of Townies did.
And the clientele of Spiders subtly began to change. The delicate equilibrium between the various tribes was irreparably changed.
Prior to The Stone Roses, of course there’d been the occasional foray into the Top 40 by some bands that were mainly appreciated at Spiders. Mainly The Smiths and The Bunnymen, but also by The Cure, The Sisters of Mercy and the odd other goth aberration. When I very first went, the blonde scene: girl fronted indie bands with buzzsaw guitars from C86 was at its height: The Primitives and The Darling Buds, mainly. I was into both of those bands. The first Primitives album, ‘Lovely’ is still ace.
What happened as a result of The Primitives and The Darling Buds getting into the Top 40 for one week at number 38 on independent labels was that the major record labels realised that maybe there was money to be made and greater success to be had. So both those bands got signed up and achieved a lot more commercial success as a result. Especially The Primitives. After that, other major labels wanted in on the act and they signed up bands like Transmission Vamp and Voice of The Beehive so they could get in on that blonde scene. I didn’t mind those two, either. But I was an indie kid and The Primitives at least, weren’t very much different sounding on RCA compared to Lazy records, so I didn’t really give too much of a shit about indie credibility.
When the blonde scene collapsed on itself by late 88, I suppose, The House of Love were being lined up by the weekly music press to be crowned the official replacements for The Smiths, who’d split up at the end of 1987. Them and The Wedding Present, who were both a bit angsty and therefore not a million miles away from The Smiths, who had been a very big deal in the weekly music press – not that I’d read it when they were a going concern because I didn’t really know they existed.
The House of Love were on Creation, which was King Indie, I suppose. Maybe because Creation record releases never got in the Top 40. Ever. So their credibility, past, present and future were assured, I suppose. The first House of Love album was really good. Really mature sounding, but not in a Phil Collins way. That maturity came, with hindsight, because Guy Chadwick, the singer was about 30 when it came out. The guitarist, Terry Bickers wasn’t though. He was a young looking kids and he was genuinely exciting, especially live. Chadwick was a bit creepy, but that might have been part of the appeal.
So, they were shaping up to be the next big deal and the major labels got involved, trying to get them to sign up and Chadwick couldn’t wait. He had no interest in indie credibility and was seen as a bit of a breadhead, Man. They signed to Chrysalis and took fucking forever to record their second album, by which time The Stone Roses had turned up and all of a sudden, Chadders and Bickers had started looking – and sounding – like yesterday’s men, what with their A levels in Echo and The Bunnymen and everything. And The Roses were on an indie label, so that made the NME happier about turning their backs on The House of Love.
I felt a bit bad for them, The House of Love, because I did like some of their records, but it was a definite regression to two or three years previously and the times were a changing. Doom and gloom were on the way out because The Stone Roses were here to turn everybody’s black and white television, provincial lives into widescreen, colour 3-D cinematic experiences. Or something.
The Stone Roses, despite being on Silvertone – not even really an indie label – happily explained that they didn’t care about being on an indie label.
“What difference does it make who pays for it?” Ian Brown rhetorically asked Snub TV around the time of their album being released, “Indie or major? They all hire pluggers, don’t they?”
A revelation. An indie kid who didn’t even care about being an indie kid. Gasp. Pointing the finger at all these independent labels who liked to pretend they were a bit like Robin Hood of the arts world. Ian Brown called them all out for being capitalists. I thought it was great.
The Smiths never actually made it into the Top 10 and they were the indie kings. A lot of their singles never actually made it into the Top 40 at all and even they’d signed to EMI immediately before splitting up. She Bangs The Drum did what you might call Primitives business – in for one week at number 34 and then out again, but even that surprised me.
Then in autumn came Fools Gold. Straight in at number 13 – so far, they were the new Smiths. Providing they dropped ninety places by the week after, everything would be normal for a very successful indie guitar band from Manchester. You know, like The Smiths had been. But it didn’t. The next week, it went up. To number 8. Happy Mondays were on Top of The Pops with them. Not that I saw it because BBC conked out that night and I only saw a video of it a couple of years later. I was pissed off. All those hours when Howard Jones and that shirtless dick with the chains sticking out of his neck appeared with crystal clarity on Thursday nights… I listened to it on the radio instead. The presenter, Jackie Brambles said, “That’s The Stone Roses and they’ve got a new album out next spring,” Even better! Except they didn’t.
Spiders, by now, was about 70% populated by kids in baggy jeans – not much in the way of flares, but Hull’s always behind everywhere else. Well, most of it. I had some bottle green, flared jumbo cords that I lived and died in. And a pair of 28″ bottom parallels that, if it was raining, could have killed me due to exposure. Walking was pretty slow when those buggers were wet. Anyway, you still got the odd goth and the rest of it, but the damage was done.
The Stone Roses became a genuinely big deal, especially in Spiders, Sil’s and Welly. You’d even hear Fools Gold drifting out of some of the horrible pubs I’d managed to not get my head kicked in, in. A lot of kids who, presumably like me, just didn’t know that there was an alternative to the mainstream and when they found out about it, got into it wholesale – like I had.
It wasn’t all pervasive in the mainstream though. Stock, Aitken & Waterman were still regulars in the Top 3, as was Phil Collins still. And stuff like Lisa Stansfield, which I didn’t like, even if I liked – and like – her. As a human being, you know? I saw Lisa Stansfield on the telly the other week and she’s still fantastic. I don’t just mean she’s a good looking lass, although she is, I mean she’s funny and dead normal sounding, even though she’s sold millions of records. I never want to hear any of her records, but I’d happily listen to her talk. Anyway, the point is that, while The Stone Roses were totally taking over the alternative clubs, they were making slight inroads into the mainstream which was still good going at that point.
As with the blonde thing and as with The House of Love, the major record labels realised that there was definitely money to made out of these Manc scally bands who the indie kids were going mad for and, all of a sudden, you couldn’t move for bands saying, “There’s always been a dance element to our music,” because Fools Gold had a sample of Hot Pants’ drumbeat propelling it and, as The Roses had broken indie, that’s what all the guitar bands started doing. Even the fucking Soup Dragons got in on the act. Other bands started cropping up and hitching a ride on the baggy bandwagon: The Charlatans, who’d been a bit of a mod band, The Farm, who’d just put nondescript crappy records out now put crappy records out with a sample of the Funky Drummer beat and got into the Top 10. Even sodding Primal Scream, who were the least groovy band in the world, got on it, although through a remix of their (pretty good, actually) ballad, “I’m Losing More Than I’ll Ever Have”, which lost all the vocals, gained a baggy drumbeat and became “Loaded”, and Creation made the Top 40 after all those years.
And that’s what you heard at Spiders – baggy. Not exclusively, of course. There was quite a lot of sixties soul (from whence a lot of these sampled beats originated), even proper dance music. When I’d realised that I liked the girl from Morecambe who called Scott Walker records “Love Boat music”, I remember commenting that I’d heard “The Power” by Snap, at least several months months before The Farm sampled the bleeps off it and put them on their cover of “Steppin’ Stone” – The Monkees’ classic purely in order to impress her in the kitchen of G house, St Lawrence Court. I don’t know if it worked, but you know how what it’s like. Maybe you don’t. I pretended I liked Radiohead when I first met the current Mrs Middlerabbit because she said she was into The Bends. I didn’t and don’t like Radiohead. Bollocks, isn’t it? Saying you like things that girls like so they’ll like you back, I mean. I sometimes wonder about myself.
The major labels appeared to have hit pay dirt because a lot of these baggy bandwagon leapers actually made it onto Top of The Pops. Personally, this all added up in my mind at least. It added up because, when I was going all over the place to watch The Stone Roses in crowds of about twenty people, it felt like something was happening. Like there was a musical revolution coming and The Roses were just the vanguard. The crowds at Roses’ gigs grew enormously over about the space of a month and a half and it looked like it was happening.
It was happening. I just thought it might evolved and keep happening, but it didn’t. After The Stone Roses’ album and Fools Gold, it all went quiet and the baggy bands became a bit of joke by the time Candy Flip were putting out a cover of “Strawberry Fields Forever”, except with a baggy beat on it.
The Happy Mondays put out a good album – Pills, Thrills & Bellyaches and then disappeared up their own fundament. Primal Scream brought out Screamadelica in 1991, but that was widely viewed as a ripoff because pretty much all of it had been out on singles from the past 18 months. And that was about it for good ‘baggy’ albums. Baggy became a bit of a joke.
And then Nirvana happened and Spiders turned into Grunge rock hell. All the bandwagon hopping spandex metallers ditched their stack heels, blusher and hair crimpers for tatty student jumpers and started putting records out about adolescent angst, a bit like The Smiths’, but less shy.
I was a bit disappointed because The Roses seemed so promising. I’ve written a post about how they blew it, but it wasn’t all their fault because all the baggy bandwagoneers helped dilute them too. The Stone Roses, without really doing anything, made tits of themselves because of all the rest of the bands that were lumped in with them, which wasn’t very fair. You wouldn’t say The Beatles were a joke because of Freddie and The Dreamers, would you? But they were tarred with The Farm’s and Candy Flip’s and Inspiral Carpets’ and The fucking Soup Dragons’ brush. And then the homogeneous indie kids from Spiders, and from clubs like Spiders up and down the country grew their fringes out into bleached blond, messy bobs, borrowed their sister’s eyeliner and started being all angsty and Seattle about everything because now the major record companies were signing every band they could find with a distortion pedal, badly fitting Dennis The Menace jumpers and even tenuous complaints about their parents making them tidy their rooms. Nirvana were an even bigger deal than The Stone Roses had been.
But the damage had already been done to the alternative scene(s) in places like Spiders. Now the goths and the psychobillies and the Earth Mothers weren’t around anymore, it was just a revolving cast of mainstream guitar bands who once would have slotted into one or the other of the tribes at Spid’s but who now were signed straight up by the majors and, crucially, expected to sell a lot of records and get in the proper charts. Previously, the likes of The Soup Dragons and Silverfish would have been in the Independent chart, on Squirrel Records or whoever, selling 2000 records and that’d keep them going.
But once you were on MCA, RCA, EMI or some other major, selling 2000 records was going to get you dropped and, once these scenes died out, that’s what happened. They were dropped like sweaty turds and there was no loyalty from the indie kids like they’d had from the Goths and the rest of the Spiders tribes because The Stone Roses achieved mainstream popularity.
Diversion – Fashion, Flair and Flares.
And that’s, I suppose, how fashion – in terms of a fairly rapid turnaround, as opposed to a sort of steady classicism – infiltrated the alternative scene. Previously, you’d get newish Goth bands cropping up, but they still wore the same uniform that the goths had always worn. Same for psychobilly bands – if they were going to be accepted into that little sub-sub-culture, they had to conform to what was already there.
The Stone Roses looked sort of like indie kids had always looked, but there were subtle differences. Their clothes weren’t cheap on the whole, the flares were seen as sometimes an ephemeral thing and at other times a major thing.
I recall crossing the road in town one summer afternoon in my flared cords and these youngish kids who were waiting at the lights in their car gawped at me. One of them shouted through their open window, “That kid’s wearing fucking flares!”
And flares, in a way, were a big deal. All the way through high school, occasionally the question would be asked, “If flares came back, would you wear them?” And everybody said, “No!” like they’d been asked if they’d shove their genitals into a mincer. My mother would never buy me tight school trousers – Farahs – so I was always being accused of wearing flares anyway, so I just kept my mouth shut.
Flares, being influenced by the vagaries of fashion were, probably the first change in indie kid fashion since I don’t know when. As I said, none of the other sub-sub-cultures’ fashions ever changed.
When I went to Spiders in my car, I tended to keep a spare pair of straight trousers in the boot because the door policy wasn’t particularly consistent. Having shed all of my inhibitions relating to conforming to traditional masculine gender roles, I’d bought a pair of candy striped bell bottoms from TopShop – a girls’ clothes shop – and wore those sometimes. Sometimes I would be turned away because, “You’re not wearing those in here.” So I’d have to go and change my bags in the street so I could get in. The next week, I’d try again and sometimes they weren’t bothered and sometimes they were.
End of Diversion.
Some major labels took a different tack and just bought up indie labels – or 49% of them – so they could retain a bit of indie credibility until whatever scene it was died a death and then they’d just shut the company down once it was no longer selling records in the quantities that they needed them to, to justify their troubles.
This went on for years. Even Oasis, who were supposedly on Creation, actually weren’t. Oasis were always signed to Sony, even at the start. Creation licensed the records for the UK only.
So yeah, The Stone Roses killed independent music, they killed the subcultures and the sub-sub-cultures by genuinely appealing to the masses. Once there was one mass who were susceptible to changing fashions, it was all over. It wasn’t their fault really. It was when other indie bands decided they wanted a bit of commercial success and, having listened to Fools Gold, decided that the difference between their last single and The Roses’ was that drumbeat.
And it wasn’t. That wasn’t the difference between their records and The Roses. The difference between their records and The Roses was that The Stone Roses weren’t prepared to adopt the indie ethic of underachieving, mainly in terms of the quality of their records, as opposed to the quantity of records they sold.
Occasionally, I find myself thinking how surprised I am that The Beatles, probably, are the most successful band ever because they’re also the best. I’m flummoxed by it, really. I don’t expect the majority of the public to have what I’d consider to be good taste because, by and large, they seem to lap up all manner of shite. Sometimes, the shittier, the better as far as I can gather. But not always. Sometimes, they’re bang on. And that’s what confuses me. How can you go from The Beatles to, I don’t know, Dave Dee, Dozy, Beaky, Mick & Titch? Maybe it’s not the same people buying them, I don’t know. But I can’t get my head around it.
And that’s what I mean about populism. It’s all very well, the likes of clever twats like me, saying that The Beatles are the best band and that the public got it right with them, but not with Renée and Renato, isn’t it? But all that is, is me wanting to have my cake and eat it too. When the public agree with me, they’ve had a moment of clarity, when they don’t, they’re fucking idiots? Yeah, maybe.
And that’s what’s happening in the media now, isn’t it? The fear of the rise of populism. I don’t know what I think about it. Maybe it is dangerous. It depends what you think’s right, doesn’t it? There’s no point saying the public are fucking idiots when they disagree with you and they’re fucking geniuses when they agree with you because it’s not as straightforward as that.
The problem is, if you’re not going to go with the majority, what are you going to go with? ‘Experts’ who tell you not to worry about logical fallacies because they know what’s best for us?
And the other thing is, people want to be right about things, don’t they? And we often don’t really know what the right answer is. Kids have always been into glory supporting football teams. This summer, I’ve never seen so many Barcelona shirts with Messi emblazoned over their shoulders. On the bus to the carpark at Manchester airport this summer, a family of four got on with us and they all had red and blue striped Barcelona shirts with Messi on their backs. And I can dig it. I mean, I don’t want to be one of them, but I suppose that if you stick your neck out about something and you’re worried about people laughing at you, if you pick the same thing that most other people seem to pick, at least you’re not in the minority. It’s not for me, but I dig it.
The problem, like it always is, is that everything’s more complicated than some would have us believe, but we (I) want nice, simple solutions to any problems.
And I’m not sure you can have that.
So, are the public geniuses or are they morons? Well, it’s probably a bit more complicated than that, isn’t it? Funnily enough.
And that’s also why I don’t want anybody in charge. Even The Stone Roses. Once you get that, it’s too easy for all the smaller varieties to be subsumed into one, larger, more commercially viable entity and once they’ve gone, there’s no going back.
I never wanted to be a goth, but I was glad they were around. I liked all the little variations among the tribes that congregated in and around Spiders. When they started dying off, I was mildly pleased because I thought I could pat myself on the back for backing the right horse. Feeling like you’re part of a movement is an exciting thing – hence all the people who ‘support’ Premier League teams that they never watch. This summer, I’ve never seen so many Barcelona football shirts with ‘Messi’ written across the shoulders. Why? Because people just want to be right, don’t they? They want to back the right horse. And if they’re not right, at least with populism, they’re not wrong by themselves. I know, I’ve been there.
Me? Sometimes I’m a total moron and sometimes I’m not. I’m one of the public. Isn’t that a more likely reality? The public are neither total morons, nor geniuses all the time. It depends what it’s about, it depends what you think and whether the majority agree with you, doesn’t it? Sometimes they get it right, sometimes they don’t. In the case of The Stone Roses, I thought it was a good thing, but maybe it wasn’t. Maybe we should be wary of populism. And elitism. Because let’s face it, nobody knows what they’re talking about all the time, do they?