"Music is truth, truth music," – that is all
Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know.
I hope the ghost of John Keates will continue to rest easy, despite my bastardization of his most famous and enigmatic couplet. But, the importance of music as a universal language of emotion, a balm for the soul, and a life-long love for me, cannot be exaggerated.
On my own personal journey, I can't be sure how it all started: maybe it was repeatedly hearing “The Cannons” (mum’s term for the 1812 Overture) on Two-Way Family Favourites on the BBC Light Programme, or was it singing hymns at school, or listening to my auntie’s collection of early sixties 45s. Whatever it was, the bug bit early and left a wound that never healed. This love managed to develop and grow despite the fact that we had nothing in the house via which music could be played, other than a wind-up gramophone, which played my mother’s 78s (Mario Lanza was a favourite), until I was about 11 years old. With the modern ubiquity of music, the fact that such households could have existed at all relatively recently is quite astonishing.
The picture to the left depicts the gramophone: spare needles for it were kept in a little drawer than spun out of the corner of the cabinet; some of them were a bit rusty and there were all the thickness of a bodkin, machined off to a point of sorts. The grooves of the shellac discs must have been made a little deeper with each playing, so heavy was the arm and blunt was the needle. The scratchy sound would emerge from a mechanical diaphragm on the end of the arm. Unless you'd given the handle a good wind-up, a couple of plays would lead to a gradual slowing of the music.
Then, one Christmas, I was given a Fidelity tape recorder: it was a cheap, plasticky thing, probably bought out of the Janet Frazer catalogue, for which my mum was a rep, but it revolutionized things in the house soundwise. It enabled recording from the wireless (these household objects weren’t referred to as “radios” until the dawn of the tranny (more properly “transistor radio”) in the mid 60s) via a microphone propped in front of it. The wireless itself you’d encounter these days in the science museum; it was an old valve thing in a dark wooden case; turn it on and it would gently glow, but no sound would emerge for the best part of a minute until the valves had warmed up. I wish I could recall all the exotic place names that were laid out along the tuning scale, but I can’t; Hilversum was one and I didn’t know then what on earth that word was supposed to mean – still don’t actually. Of course, there were the old Light and Third programmes, which became Radios 2 and 3, and the Home service, which became Radio 4. Anyhow, the Fidelity tape recorder and the old valve wireless did allow the taping of Pick of the Pops on a Sunday afternoon.
I date my engagement in live music from 19 February 1971; call me somewhat OCD, but all young boys to some degree are: I used to take my gig tickets (I found the one pictured via Google) and paste them into a diary and I still have those diaries somewhere. I’m sure Mud played at my school before this date, but that was just a school disco and didn’t really count, in my mind, as a proper gig. I can still remember the sense of excitement sitting on the top deck of a bus from central Manchester out to Belle Vue Zoo to see Deep Purple play at the Kings Hall.
As we weren't yet 14, Mike's dad came and picked us up in his car. I remember the gig pretty well: we were sitting to the left of the stage; Ian Paice played a drum solo of at least 20 minutes, but that was just par for the course with a rock group back then.
Then, in 1972, the Janet Frazer catalogue was opened again, the page with "stereos" was located, there was some debate about whether the £30 system could be purchased outright, or whether it would be paid off in instalments, but, within weeks, we had our first record player. Unfortunately, we had no records to play.
I'm not sure why now, "Teenage Licks" by Stone The Crows became the first LP I bought, with the proceeds of my paper rounds. It could have been that they had played at Rochdale College, but I'm not sure if that's a false memory or not. Anyhow, it's a good record and still gets wheeled out occasionally: Maggie Bell had a great, bluesy voice, with a rasping edge, no doubt honed by too many fags; Les Harvey, whose guitar licks became part of my young, musical DNA, was fatally electrocuted on stage when he touched a live mike stand. He was, you guessed it, 27 years old.