Monday, May 19, 2008

Nostalgia for an age yet to come

This picture was taken last Friday at London's 100 Club- that's me on the right, the chap next to me is Neil Simpson. Neil and myself hadn't seen each other since 1989, when he emigrated to Australia- we'd gone to the 100 club to see the mighty Wilko Johnson give a typically heroic performance (that's his drummer setting his kit up in the background) and to catch up on what we'd been doing in the last (gulp!) 19 years.

You'd think we'd look happier wouldn't you?!?

I first met Neil sometime in the mid-'80's when I was playing in The Price and he was playing guitar in The Great Divide who later became The Directors (or was it the other way around? Neither of us can remember!) Our bands played quite a few shows together around that time, and I went to many gigs with him (Godfathers, Wilko etc) before he emigrated to Australia; he's back in Blighty for a while before returning down under near the end of this year. It was great to see him again, but it's strange to talk to someone about what you've been doing for the best part of 2 decades- it all seemed like so much in some ways, and yet so little in others. I've been thinking about it since and if nothing else it's made me realise that pretty much everything that I do revolves around me having a guitar in my hand- or maybe I just think that it does?

I spent a lot of the time since I last saw Neil helping to look after my Mum who was disabled with Motor Neurone Disease. In the meantime friends and family members got married, didn't get married, had children, didn't have children, worked, didn't work- real life stuff, much of which I sometimes felt passed me by completely as I struggled to find a middle eight for the latest still-unheard masterpiece that I was working on whilst on my way back from the shops with some stuff for Mum's dinner. When she died it all changed instantly- suddenly I was uncomfortably close to 40 years old with limited social skills and no work record to speak of; I was told I could claim benefit for 6 weeks (I think the guy at Social Services said it was 'to give you time to work out what you want to do with the rest of your life'. I seem to recall asking him if he actually worked for anti-Social Services.) then I was effectively on my own. The last time I'd had a 'real' job was in the early '80's when I worked at the E.M.I. factory in Ruislip, which, with hindsight very nearly cost me my sanity if not my life- the only thing I could do with any level of proficiency was play the guitar (it still is, in case you were wondering) so somehow I had to make that work for me. I started teaching guitar and working in our local guitar shop (the late lamented Music Shack in Uxbridge) whilst through a series of re-established old contacts I ended up first playing in Neck with old buddy Leeson O'Keeffe and then in Dave Finnigan's Commitments with even older buddy Pete Tobit (by that I mean I've known him longer, not that he's ancient!) which has led me to my current position with The Chicago Blues Brothers band. Could I have done this or something like it earlier in my life, if I'd not been at home with Mum? Maybe, but with hindsight I don't think I could- confidence was in short supply in those days (it still causes me all sorts of problems today, but that's another story for another time and another place, as they say) and anyway, the person who had the worst deal in it all was my Mum, not me. I've lost count of the number of people who have asked me questions like 'do you think you'd have got further as a guitarist if your Mum hadn't been ill?' It's always interesting to ask them what they'd have done if faced with a similar situation- something that I'd not wish on anyone incidentally. They almost always begin with something like 'ah well it's different for me because I was (delete as applicable) married/at university/working away'... leaving aside the fact that I hadn't actually asked them what they'd been doing but what they would have done, I often reply that they've got no idea how much I sometimes wished that I'd have been doing something like they were- but only sometimes; like I say, my Mum had by far the worse deal, not me.

Last night I saw Dale for the first time this century- he was always around in the Price times, and he put an album of local bands with our singer Malcolm in 1993 (it was called 'Where's Hillingdon?'; Pro Music regular customer Jen turned up at the shop recently with a copy of it that she'd found in a charity shop- I'd forgotten which songs we'd put on it) and also was involved in promoting gigs locally. He's interested in putting together a website featuring bands in our area both past and present, ably assisted by Daryl his computer-boffin brother-in-law. It was good to see him again, and it's another person from 'that' time re-appearing in my little life after an absence of many years- but is it all too much looking back and not enough looking forward? Dale talked of bands from 15 years ago almost as though they were contemporary acts rather than dimly remembered (by me at least!) local outfits; is it just the cynical side of me saying that if anyone really cared about any of this stuff there would already be a website devoted to them, or even a book out about them? Do you, to quote U2 of all people, 'glorify your past when your future dries up'?
Talking of books, 'God's Lonely Men', Pete 'Manic Esso' Haynes's excellent memoir of his times in The Lurkers has been out for a while now. In it he often writes of him and the band feeling as though they were 'outsiders' in the punk rock scene, like there was something that everyone else knew but they didn't- almost as if they hadn't been invited to the party. With The Price I sometimes think that we didn't even know that there was a party, and if we did we wouldn't have been able to go because we were gigging that night. Then again I speak to so many people who used to be in bands (and in some cases still are) who are bitter about their lack of success and begrudge other people's good fortune- I've always tried never to get like that, and I hope I never do. Music means far too much to me to ever want to feel bad about any aspect of either playing or listening to it- and who wants to go to the party anyway? (I always tell myself that 'they' don't invite 'you' because 'they' want to talk about 'you'- which just about helps me to justify whichever non-crisis I've decided that I'm suffering from that day) Dale's looking to feature current acts on his proposed website- it'll be interesting to see how bands from our time stand up next to today's young guns. And anyway what do I know?- I'm listening to The Clash as I type this who, although undeniably an influence on today's rock music, released their last album of original material over 2 decades ago i.e. before the current crop of young rockers were even born. Finger on the pulse eh? Perhaps it's time for a pint of bitter (and twisted) after all!

Ah- nostalgia's not what it used to be is it? Maybe it never was...

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