IT’S nine o’clock on a cold Saturday evening and Ali Cooke and Dave Beer are in their tiny office in the labyrinthine Music Factory, looking suitably shagged out after a trip to the Royal Albert Hall to collect Back to Basics’ prestigious Mixmag club of the year award last night.
The two bleary-eyed promoters clearly enjoyed the occasion to the full. They are not at their best. And all this less than a year after the club’s first night.
“I didn’t even realise you got awards for stuff like that,” Beer says. “When we set the club up, it’s not as if we did it to put ourselves in the limelight.”
“Dave wanted to go to a club where he’d like the music and the people around him,” adds Cooke, who also DJs at Basics. “And I wanted the chance to play the kind of music I want to play.”
FLIES ON YOU lumber onto the stage, and contain not one, but two of my very oldest and dearest friends, while the crowd contains lots of other old and not-so-old friends from far and wide. It is very much a family affair, and all the more wonderful for it.
I even run into the lovely Maureen, who used to sell me pot back in the day. It’s like some kind of obscure DIY band, fanzine writer, drug dealer convention.
Having missed the debut gig of the Extricated in Manchester a couple of months ago, due to circumstances beyond our control, going to see them at the Brudenell Social Club in Leeds was the next best thing, particularly when I found out my old friend Doug’s band, Flies on You, were supporting.
The gruesome twosome of Doug and Paul (who is standing in for studio bass monster Andy Watkins), plus a couple of guys I don’t know, play short, spiky, angular rock tunes with great titles like Can You Smell That Burning Noise? and You’re the Anaesthetist, John.
THERE are some records that I’ve been mooning over for years and years with the intensity of some hopelessly lovelorn teenager who’s just had their heart broken into little pieces for the very first time.
Records that soundtracked beautiful times and wonderful places, important, vital, essential records that I’ve loved and lost but never found again, that tug insistently at the edges of my memory, just beyond my reach, forever naggingly untouchable, unattainable, unforgettable.
And there are some records that I didn’t know even know I’d lost, that I didn’t even know I had in the first place, to be perfectly honest with you.
The uncharitable might suggest this is indicative of a man who has too many records, or that all those years of burning the candle at both ends – and in the middle, all at the same time – are finally catching up with me. Or that I’m finally succumbing to early onset Alzheimer’s.
To which I would respond: Who are you? And where are my records?
EVERYONE in the world seemed to be at it. Going out, getting on it, getting out of it, getting wasted, leathered, trollied, mullahed, munted, fucked. Staying up all night at raves, clubs, blues, parties, dancing our hearts out, like nobody was watching. Like our lives depended on it.
A generation of wasted youth? Well, I suppose it depends on your definition of ‘wasted’.
I’d somehow fallen in with the denizens of a crazed student household in Hyde Park, possibly through an acquaintance named Moz who’d attached himself to them as a way into the burgeoning student drug marketplace. That’s about as much as I can recall, officer.
I KNOW for a fact that Doug only started talking to me because I wore a White Riot T-shirt at sixth form. He’s told me often enough. And as he will also no doubt tell you given half the chance – like it’s somehow an issue – I was actually more into reggae at the time.
We’ve been bickering about my fake punk credentials ever since. You’ll find that Doug crops up in a fair few Hip Replacement pieces, one way or another. On balance, he probably has a few more embarrassing stories about me than I do him – but not that many more.
Despite his often lamentable taste in music, extraordinary clumsiness, excessive flatulence and outlandish dress sense he is a top bloke. Generous, reliable, as dry as fuck and – although he’s always been a good deal more sensible than me – as daft as a brush. Well, he was daft as a brush once. Having children often makes you a good deal less daft and it seems to have done the trick for Doug. He’s still a bit daft though.
Together with Rachel, Garbage, Andy and Paul, we used to go to a lot of gigs in exotic Leeds, Sheffield, Nottingham and Retford, as well as Steve Bird’s discos in town, various boozers in the village, John’s mum and dad’s flat above the Post Office – anywhere there was loud music and alcohol really.
ANOTHER reprint from the annals of GRUNT magazine, this time an interview with legendary guitar-botherer, microphone enthusiast and In Utero, Surfer Rosa and Pod engineer Steve Albini.
Big Black imploded at their darkest, angriest and most intense, when they’s simply done everything they wanted to do as Big Black. Albini got together with a couple of the guys from the brilliant Texan bluesy noiseniks Scratch Acid and created a band with a name inspired by their favourite cartoon character.
Steve ‘Weave’ Hawkins put them on in Leeds and the Brag editorial board (Mark, Marie, Doug and me) bugged him into letting us interview the band at their contentious Poly gig.
We were all major Big Black fans, but we were all as appalled by the name of the new band as any of the people protesting outside the venue. Well, maybe not quite as much. But they were great. The music Albini and his bandmates made was pretty fantastic, with Albini’s big, bad guitar accompanied by a muscular rhythm section that was simply out of control.
Albini was something of an indie legend already, from his work with Big Black. And Scratch Acid were just unbelievable, if not quite as well known. We were proper excited.
All the same, we had to walk through a picket to get into the venue. It felt very weird.
* * *
WHILE Richard Curtis probably isn’t someone you would turn to for stark social realism, the story of pirate radio deserves a slightly more serious appraisal than that found in his latest happy-go-lucky comedy, The Boat That Rocked.
Curtis’s Sixties-set tale of high-jinks on the high seas has received mixed reviews – “fine if it were funny, but auto-pilot Curtis prevails”, said one reviewer; “I am going to email Richard Curtis and tell him I hate him and ask for my money back,” said another – but unlicensed radio remains a staple of British culture to this day.
In The Boat That Rocked, much is made of the fact that a hopelessly out-of-touch BBC played just 45 minutes of the new-fangled pop music per day, meaning that pop-hungry teenagers had no option but to tune into stations that took the music they loved more seriously.
In reality, despite attracting daily audiences of up to 25million people, the pirates’ brash and breezy US-style of commercial radio was anathema to Harold Wilson’s Labour government – although the official line was that pirate radio broadcasts had the potential to blot out the signals of legally-sanctioned stations, as well as emergency services and air traffic control communications.
The then-Postmaster General Tony Benn declared war on the pirates in 1965 with the promise, “the future does not exist for them”.
Although the Marine Broadcasting Offences Act of 1967 sank the pirates anchored just outside British waters, and a couple of years later Radio One (fronted by many former pirate DJs) soaked up their audience, unlicensed radio never really went away.