This post also appears on the Brendan Lloyd & Me website and you should read it there if you like a bit of colour. Don’t forget to look at the fabulous works of art in the Gallery while you’re there either. In the meantime, back to the matter in hand ..
I listen to BBC Radio 6Music rather a lot and have recently been enjoying Sunday brunch alongside Matt Everitt’s ‘The First Time With …’.The first question to his guests is always ‘when did you first become aware of music?’ and that got me thinking. Just when did I first become aware of music?
Answering that is not as easy as it seems. There has always been a ‘muso nerdishness’ about me and if I’m not the one actually making it, some sort of music has always been tinkling away in the background somewhere, whatever I’m doing. I would love to think I came out screaming in tune, feeding off liquid vinyl through piano strings!
But where does that come from? At what point did I realise that music was basically in my make-up? Was it the point I discovered I liked listening to it, or was it the point I found I could create it?
I have always said that my life is a series of song titles and mix tapes. Because it is. I’m getting on a bit now, so it’s quite a long mix-tape (that I call it ‘mix-tape’ and not ‘playlist’ should have given that game away already!) and there is a story to every track. If someone wants to advance me some cash to write the book I will, but for now, here’s a sample:
There is a definite ‘pre-enlightenment’ era, otherwise known as the first 6½ years of my life, during which my tastes were heavily influenced by those around me. H.M.S Donovan was released just a few months after I was born and much played in our house. I have vivid memories of the ‘Pee Song’. But I remember actually singing it, so that would have been at least a year or two later. I’m good, but not that good!
My first gig was Pink Floyd at Knebworth. I was 4. All I remember is that dried grass in hair feeling you get from sleeping in a field. Apparently I did ‘get my groove on’ before falling asleep, but considerably more memorable was my second gig in November 1981: Madness supported by the Belle-Stars at the Southampton Gaumont. I was just about to turn 11.
But music ‘awareness’ kicked in long before that. For example, my record collection had started well before the gig-going. My Dad and his brother showered me with vinyl of various genres, I had everything from singles like ‘To Know Him is to Love Him’ (the Teddy Bears) to Buddy Holly’s debut album The “Chirping” Crickets so by the ripe old age of 8 was already annoying the neighbours with my record playing and singing along to rock and roll hits of the fifties.
The first real foray into a record shop though, with my own pennies, saw me start a habit that I continue to this day: one record at a time is never going to be enough. On that particular occasion, I wandered out with two singles: ‘Up the Junction’ (Squeeze) and ‘My Girl’ (Madness) and I have vivid memories of washing every one of my grandmother’s windows to earn enough to buy me The Specials, One Step Beyond and Absolutely a couple of years later, all in one go!
Nevertheless, memories of albums go back further than that. Saturdays at my Dad’s parents were a merry mash-up of cake baking, Prince’s fish paste (yuck!), canary tweets, Dickie Davies and the sound of David Bowie coming down the stairs. Not literally, sadly. Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars became such a seminal album for me, that I covered it as an English project of ‘contemporary poetry’ (!!) for school a few years later and it is still my number one by far. Well, today anyway.
But, if I’m really honest with myself, there is probably one event that turned the tide; the moment I took the influences around me and started on the road of developing my own tastes. And that is where Elvis comes in.
Early one muggy August morning in 1977, I strolled down to the newsagents to pick up my Dad’s paper and Embassy Number 10s, as was usual during the summer holidays. Clearly this was before parents worried about their 6 year-olds being snatched off the street, or I would never have been allowed this mini excursion into independence. But what my parents didn’t account for that particular morning was Mr. Presley’s bloated face jumping out at me from the front pages of every newspaper. I ran home faster than I’d ever ran before, (and sadly ever would again), to the look of sheer horror on my mother’s face as I launched into the living room and a torrent of expletives from my father, who was simply quite distressed that his normally brilliant eldest didn’t know who the fat man was. Picking up the strewn pages of his daily and trying to contain his momentary disappointment in his conspicuously uncultured daughter (he was convinced the Saturday Matinees I watched incessantly had included a season of Elvis films), Dad embarked on a crusade to educate me in everything music, there and then. It turned out to be the most miniature of crusades; being my father and therefore the god of all things cool in my eyes, it didn’t take him long to convince me that I had the most amazing journey of discovery ahead of me and as a result, I have been tunefully intoxicated ever since.
Although I already knew my crochets from my quavers, could strum a chord or two and ‘London’s Burning’ had had its descant recorder debut in our living room, it was the death of the King, that notably inspired my Dad to go out and buy a piano and teach me to read music properly. Without a doubt, this would change my life forever.
The piano in question was a second-hand one, probably several hands given the sound it made. Not only did the piano sound like cats dying, it was a cumbersome object that barely made it into the flat without killing someone. It made it out of there and further in and out of various houses over the years and while it has scraped the odd wall, blackened the odd toe and housed the odd mouse carcass left there by successive family cats, it remains my proverbial rock.
All through life’s tumultuous twists and turns, I have always been able to turn to the piano. Whatever love/hate relationships I’ve had with Bach, Chopin, Liszt and Beethoven and the various teachers trying to pull me back from my own ‘creative interpretation’ of the classics or the hell I went through before each exam, not to mention school performances and the look of disappointment on Mr Grand’s face after I took my Grade 8 and decided to leave my studies there, it was all worth it for the massive virtual hugs I have had from being able to open up a score and play.
Earlier this week I went into Chappell on Wardour Street to buy a new cable for my old Roland digital piano; just the smell of instruments and sound of piano keys (great that you can plug yourself into your own piano world these days!) made me want to run home and sit down for hours, rather than the 20 minutes snatched in the morning.
So maybe I’ve always been aware of music, maybe there was no epiphany, it just was. I know I can’t be the only musician that feels bereft without a tune playing somewhere or something to tap on and I’m pretty sure I’m not the only one who is convinced it would all end for me if I lost the ability to play. It has been like that for as long as I can remember. Of course, the original second-hand piano still exists. It might be old, warped, cracked and in serious need of refurbishment, but its perpetual stability throughout my life is what keeps me together. We are inextricably linked and without each other we would fall apart.