Whilst my book Freak or smoothy? was a pretty accurate (if partly-fictionalised) version of my teenage years in Barnsley, it’s companion story Feeling called love- A teenage obsession was far more a work of fantasy and wish-fulfillment. It was based on the reality of meeting a Scottish girl, Shona, on a caravan holiday in Devon in 1975, but then ran with the theme, weaving actual events into a fabric of imaginary adventures and misadventures. Very little of what was described actually happened to me, but it all takes place against the very real backdrop of the emergence of punk rock. As I’ve confessed elsewhere on these pages, the truth is that I was a slow adopter of the new trends and stayed affectionate to the albums I had and styles I already knew. In Feeling called love I’m a lot more passionate and committed.
With the 40th birthday of punk currently being celebrated, I thought it was apt to reissue a slightly revised version of the story and to provide a background soundtrack to my novel. Here is my selection of the key tracks form the period- the best and the ones I feel are most significant to me. A lot of them feature in the book itself and they are still precious to me today. I hope you enjoy them.
- Jethro Tull, ‘Living in the past’– Why this track? There are three reasons. This the sort of prog rock that I was listening to exclusively until punk came along. Secondly, there’s the flute: I was a flute player in my early teens (as I describe in Freak or smoothy?) and I desperately wanted to be able to play this- but never really could. Lastly, front man Ian Anderson is from Dunfermline, so it’s an ideal choice to represent the ‘old order’ prior to 1976. Guitar solos were the thing for me; very often, if there wasn’t a solo, I wasn’t interested. Punk taught me differently: songs can be fast- verse, chorus, verse, chorus, end- without any guitar noodling in the middle and with the vocals sung in your own voice- or a cod-London vowels if you idolised the Pistols too much.
- Led Zeppelin, ‘Stairway to heaven‘– Here’s a guilty pleasure to confess to. In many respects this song is exactly what punk was revolting against: overlong, indulgent, divorced from reality in its Tolkienesque, hippy, arty-farty nonsense. Even so I still love the tune (and even some of the mystical, folkloric sentiments) and it is one of the great examples of rock recorder- possibly the only one- and a million miles form the squeaks and squawks we produced on our recorders at Wilthorpe Junior School;
- The Damned, ‘Neat, neat, neat‘- The Damned’s song ‘New Rose‘ was the first ever ‘official’ punk single and it is just as catchy and exciting after all this time. As you’ll see, though, I haven’t chosen ‘New Rose.’ Instead, I’ve selected the band’s second release, ‘Neat, neat, neat.’ This came out in February 1977 and I vividly recall hearing that opening bassline on John Peel and falling in love with the tune.
- Sex Pistols, ‘Anarchy in the UK‘- They were beaten by a month by The Damned, but the Pistol‘s first single is still a significant statement: regardless of the background of the group and of Malcolm McLaren’s arty/ situationist pretensions, the lyrics of the song expressed rebellion and freedom directly to an receptive audience; whatever was intended, it spoke of a new attitude, a new lifestyle and a new politics. For some of us, those opening words “I am an anti-Christ, I am an anarchist” still provide a manifesto and a call to the barricades.
- The Ramones, ‘Sheena is a punk rocker‘- Because, in a paean to the imagined 1977 affair with Shona, the song could not be overlooked. John and Shona buy this record in Edinburgh, feeling very grown up and daring in so doing- and that’s how buying your first, adult, rebellious record always feels.
- The Mekons- ‘Where were you?‘- One of the best bands of the punk era to emerge from Leeds. The first album is a triumph; I love all their work, so no apologies;
- 2.3- ‘Where to now?‘- Also on Fast Records alongside The Mekons, 2.3 hailed from Sheffield (reason enough to include them you might argue). This song and ‘All time low‘ remain all time favourites of mine.
- Penetration, ‘Don’t dictate‘- This is just fantastic- I love Pauline Murray’s voice, especially that desperate kind of groan she makes towards the end. It’s a dynamic expression of that new political and personal awareness that punk called forth, deliberately or not.
- The Skids, ‘Into the valley‘- A book part-set in Dunfermline and mentioning the band means that this selection must feature the town’s greatest sons, especially in their fortieth birthday year.