MY MUM and dad drove me up the A1 with a carful of vegeburger mix, tinned soup and vegetables, a Crank’s cookbook, my fanzine collection, a few dozen records and a stereo that was already on its last legs. I’d got a room, sight unseen, in a shared house from a list of recommended landlords the college had sent.
My shifty-looking housemate made himself scarce as soon as we pulled up to the two-up, two-down just off the North Road, leaving me and my increasingly horrified parents in this filthy, smelly hovel with a cute little puppy dog which immediately started to behave in a very unpleasant and completely unacceptable manner, all over the place. It was like Animal Hospital meets Trainspotting, in Darlington.
Ludicrously, I just wanted to get on with living away from home and making my own way in the world blah blah blah – so I was happy to stay in this total shit-heap until I could get somewhere better, but they weren’t having any of it.
They found me a B&B, paid a couple of weeks rent upfront, God bless ’em, and moved me in the same night. Luckily for me. Who knows what kind of ridiculous shit I would’ve ended up getting myself into if I’d stayed? My parents clearly had a good idea.
I had a few weeks before I could move into a house with a bunch of my fellow students so I ended up lodging with Armstrong – with whom I’d formed a mutual appreciation society over our respective fanzines, Testament Of Reality and Primitive Patriot – and his mum and dad on the other side of town.
Armstrong, who was a year younger but a million times cooler than me, also played bass in a band. Named after a character in Alex de Renzy’s – ahem – seminal porno flick Baby Face, Dan was the kind of band that everyone in Darlo seemed to have been in at one time or other.
Their melodic, knockabout punk wasn‘t a million miles away from the kind of stuff McFly come up with these days and I thought they were very groovy indeed. They were the first band that included me in the thanks list of a real, proper record, for which I’ll always be embarrassingly grateful. They eventually turned into Sofahead.
Over the course of the next year I learned the nuts and bolts of journalism – newspaper practice, defamation, tort, local government, typing, T-line shorthand, all that stuff. I heard about strange and frightening new things like Aids and the Poll Tax. I behaved very badly at a nuclear power station.
I got an ear pierced. I know. It’s pretty out there. It could have easily been a tattoo. I might have ended up ahead of the fashion curve, for once, with the Japanese writing from that Crass patch – but I bottled it. I wore a big shower curtain ring through my ear which, apparently, made me look like a gay pirate.
I’ve got an old photo of me by the market, a big shock of spiky hair, little round John Lennon glasses, a charity shop raincoat (with butterfly brooch), brushed black denim shirt, black pegs, big daft crepes and a single, massive earring.
Eventually, a girl called Mandy, who claimed to be a hairdresser, shaved off most of my hair apart from a big tuft at the front – a bit like that woman in the Thompson Twins. As far as I’m aware, there is no photographic evidence of this particular style disaster.
A beautiful hippy chick named Mary showed me how to skin up in her basement flat one night. I hung out with artists and musicians, posh students and local punks in Newcastle, Middlesbrough, Hartlepool, Sunderland and Gateshead. The bright lights could easily have turned my head. I sniffed poppers and, the same eventful night, had a disturbing glimpse of two men having sex in a nightclub toilet – but that was about as close as I got to any sexual activity myself pretty much the whole time. It was a bit grim.
I tried to mask the pain by interviewing Toxic Reasons in Gateshead, Toxic Shock in York and Nick Toczek in Darlington. I even bought a Smiths album. And while my long, lonely walk through the sex-desert wasn‘t a lot of laughs, I had a bit of money in my pocket and I was having fun and doing interesting stuff. All things considered, as a student I was pretty well insulated from the effects of Thatcher’s brand of sledgehammer capitalism.
The Arts Centre was next door to the tech college where I studied, so I used to go there during the day anyway, but Armstrong, Deano, Turney, Georgie, Andrew, Sarah, Helen, Louise, David and all the other little punk rock kids in Darlington had adopted it as a safe haven from the casual ultra-violence of the town centre. I used to spend a lot of time in there at night too.
So, of course, it was at this safe haven, welcome respite from pissed-up post-pub carnage, etc, that I got the shit kicked out of me by a gang of Branksome lads as we were leaving one night. It really fucking hurt and my face was a right state afterwards. But the guy who delivered the initial Bruce Lee-style kung fu kick did have a point – I was trying to get involved in his mate’s fight – although I’m not so sure I agreed with the way he punctuated his argument.
One of the best nights I remember/have a vague impression of down at the Arts Centre was a benefit for the Darlington Music Collective, a loose collection of young musicians in the town. Armstrong and Dan were very involved, as were the Prams, a bunch of Fall fans from Newton Aycliffe. I can’t actually remember anyone else. Oh, Buzz and The Astronauts. And Malcolm and Graham from the Ambient Corporation.
I don’t know how I got the gig – maybe I volunteered, maybe Armstrong volunteered me – but I ended up DJing at the benefit. I’d never DJed before. It never occurred to me. Doug came up from Leeds to provide moral support and also brought a load of his tunes to fill in the gaps in my collection.
We got the back bar at the arts centre, a small box of a room at the back of the building, and I was mortified to see the DJ console front and centre of the small stage. Kenny, an experienced local DJ who was somehow involved in the collective, volunteered to go on first – which, I later found out from Armstrong, was only so he could go on again once everyone realised how shit my records were and demanded the return of the conquering hero.
In the event, even though I do say so myself, I rocked it. By the time I got behind the decks, the place was packed to the rafters with Darlington and district‘s alternative / boho movers and shakers, little spiky-haired punks, old hippies, young skinheads, a few of my posh student mates in raincoats.
The stuff I was playing would have been early punk like the Clash, the Buzzcocks, X-Ray Spex, the Stranglers and Siouxsie and the Banshees, new wave stuff like the Fall, Joy Division and the Cure, lots of the melodic and not-so-melodic anarcho tunes – Crass, the Mob and Honey Bane, maybe even Peni – and vintage alternative rock by the likes of Killing Joke. Theatre of Hate, the Cramps and the Birthday Party, not to mention odd bits of 2Tone and reggae and whatever else we fancied .. we weren’t messing about.
I have a mental picture of people on chairs and tables, dancing to every single record like their lives depended on it.
It was the kind of knowledgeable and enthusiastic crowd who brought their own Three Johns records (thank you Les), who knew all the words to Big A Little A, who were all ridiculously, utterly, out-of-their-minds, falling-down drunk and up for a party. They were practically swinging from the light fixtures. The way I remember it, anyway.
You didn’t often hear this kind of music out, in Darlington – or anywhere else outside of big university cities for that matter. Steve Bird’s ‘alternative’ nights at the Baths Hall in Scunthorpe (and the Priory and the Henry before that), which were so highly regarded by the blessed Peel, were an abnormality. And way ahead of their time.
I swear there was a group of backcombed sirens singing my name at me at one point. Rather than playing up to it like I probably should have, I remember being a bit overwhelmed and embarrassed. The guy who owned the equipment tried to make me do a bit of talking over the mic but my heart wasn’t really in it. I was more interested in playing the records and drinking the lager and trying to think of ways to approach kohl-eyed goth vixens.
Somewhere in amongst Original Sin and Oh Bondage Up Yours! and Release The Bats, I also somehow managed to shoehorn in I Wanna Be Like You (I always think of it as King Of The Swingers myself) from The Jungle Book soundtrack. Wacky and zany, ahead-of-its-time Balaerica and eclecticism, drunk and ill-considered, it was all of these things and more.
I hope it was the very, very last record as a semi-ironic, ‘we’re pissed and we don’t care’ crescendo of stupidity, but I could have as easily stuck it on between Shaved Women and Are You Receiving? halfway through my set, just because it seemed like a good idea at the time.
Seeing The Jungle Book at the cinema is one of my earliest memories – I’m guessing I would’ve been four or five-years-old at the time. It would’ve been the Gaumont opposite the City Hall in Sheffield or the Odeon on Corporation Street in Rotherham, both of them big neo-classical, stalls-and-circle, domed picture houses (the former ended up as a nightclub, the latter a bingo hall).
By extension, I guess The Jungle Book soundtrack – or to give the album its proper title, Walt Disney Presents The Story And Songs Of The Jungle Book – must’ve been the first record I actually owned. I remember my name in capitals, painted onto the cover in what looked like nail varnish – it sounds like the kind of thing I‘d do. It was always there, a constant presence among my parents’ Beach Boys, Neil Sedaka and Carpenters albums, for as long as I can remember.
Unlike latterday soundtracks, there were long snatches of dialogue from the film between the musical numbers, and I knew every word and note by heart. In its own way, King Of The Swingers meant as much to me as any of the raucous, rabble-rousing rock’n’roll we played that night.
What happened to the album? Your guess is as good as mine. Nobody would have bought it off me and it’s unlikely anyone would’ve wanted to nick it, so I think it might have been left behind after one of my frequent house moves in Leeds in the late Eighties / early Nineties. I was rather confused and disoriented at the time.
I picked it up in one of the local charity shops for 50 pence a few months ago. It’s strangely comforting to hear the dulcet tones of narrator Phil Harris again – although I am missing the “magnificent full-colour ILLUSTRATED BOOK” that goes with my “long-playing record”.
It’s scratched up to buggery and it doesn‘t look too pretty, but big, show-stopping tunes like The Bare Necessities with the voice of Phil Harris in Baloo mode, Trust In Me with a lisping Sterling ‘Kaa’ Holloway and the superlative I Wanna Be Like You with Louis Prima and Harris kicking out the big band jazz-scat jams, they all sound every bit as good as they once did.
And didn’t Coldcut re-work I Wanna Be Like You for Say Kids, What Time Is It?
While doing the ‘research’ for this piece, I found out that in amongst the four, very Beatles-like vultures in the film are Ian Botham’s future manager Lord Tim Hudson and, even more impressively, Thurl Ravenscroft, otherwise known as the voice of Tony the Tiger.