‘Freak or smoothy?’- a soundtrack to the novel

My novel Freak or smoothy? or, my life as a teenage rock star told the story of my years from age 15 to 19 (1975-1979), covering personal events and my involvement with the music scene of Barnsley at that time.    For me, all that painful growing up and learning to be an adult took place in the context  of music making: the Music Centre concert bands at Charter school on a Friday night and the various rock groups I was involved with.  Inevitably, all those intense experiences of puberty had their soundtrack too, songs that even now can instantly invoke a scene- a sound, a smell, an image…


This page, then, is a soundtrack to the book.  For those not of a vintage to know instantly what I’m going on about, but may be curious to know, it’s background to the words on the page (or Kindle)- a bit more of a feel to what was being experienced.  You may not like the tracks (neither may I after forty years) but nonetheless it’s what I was listening to and emulating then.  Just highlight, right click, ‘go to’ and enjoy.

  1. Wishbone Ash- ‘Throw down the sword‘-  This was the first rock track I ever learned to play on the guitar and the first song that I played with Nightmare when I joined the band in the scout hut just off Queens Drive.  Some 41 years later, there riff is still embedded in my memory, which is a tribute to the power of some early impressions.
  2. Dambusters’ March–  This is included as a tribute to the Barnsley Schools’ Music Centre and its concert band, in which I played the flute.  I learned to play this with them and sat behind Melanie, idolising her, whilst I mimed and fluffed my way through the score.
  3. Led Zeppelin, ‘Rock and roll – we played this, I believe, in Nightmare with (for some reason I cannot adequately explain given my shaky vocal abilities) me undertaking duties on the mike.  This track- and the album from which it comes, The Four Symbols- was formative of my musical taste at that time.  What we lacked in style, I’m sure we made up for in sheer headlong , crashing enthusiasm…
  4. Sex Pistols, ‘Pretty vacant – one of the key songs of punk in 1977.  To think I missed this on Top of the Pops because I was stuck in some Working Men’s Club out in Athersley, enduring the drudgery of playing the bass lines for Status Quo songs in the band Works.  The foolish errors of youth and the wisdom of mature hindsight…
  5. Roxy Music, ‘Virginia Plain‘-  One of the first covers we undertook in Orion Rise.  I confess I’d not heard the song before, but it remains a favourite now, laden with happy memory.  As I recall, our greatest problem was Nick reproducing the sounds that Brian Eno got out of his synth; that, and holding the synth upright when the stand made by his dad out of an old magazine display rack collapsed during our first gig at the Centenary Rooms…
  6. Bob Marley, ‘Exodus‘-  At some point in 1977 I discovered Bob Marley, reggae and Rastafarianism and had a brief obsession with the whole culture.  I think I was a youth in search of a philosophy, to some degree, but the exotic mystique of Jamaican music appealed to a boy from Barnsley too.  Culture’s ‘Two sevens clash,’ based on the Marcus Garvey prediction of apocalypse starting on July 7th 1977 also had a deep resonance for a teen raised on the doom and gloom of heavy metal and credulous of things such as Nostradamus’ prophesies.  In the colour picture above, you may spot my Anti Nazi League badge next to my home made Rasta badge of red, gold and green.  I loved the ‘Exodus’ album; and, unwisely, perhaps, we covered the song Jamming in Orion Rise/ Damascus. Five South Yorkshire school boys do reggae- nuff said; and I was the vocalist on the middle eight…
  7. Fleetwood Mac, ‘Dreams‘-  More embarrassing confessions: there was I, the heavy metal fan, not quite up to speed on new wave and punk and then, in summer 1977,  going out (to Boots in Sheffield, in point of fact, old people), to buy Fleetwood Mac‘s ‘Rumours’ album.  What was I thinking?  There was no advance listening to tracks on Amazon or the band’s website or whatever, so I guess I read a good review in Sounds (or even my parents’ Daily Mail?)  and purchased it on the basis of that recommendation alone; and (whisper it) I loved it and still recall the tunes and lyrics.
  8. Tommy Bolin, ‘Hello again‘-  Bolin was the lead guitarist for Deep Purple, brought in to replace Ritchie Blackmore when he left to form Rainbow in 1975.  Bolin played on the band’s 1975 album ‘Come taste the band.’  The album was released in late 1975 (my mum bought me Queen’s Night at the opera for Christmas that year and I swapped it in the New Year for the Purple album; was this an error of taste on my part?)  Anyway, Purple split shortly afterwards in March 1976.  Bolin produced two solo albums, ‘Teaser’ in 1975 and ‘Private Eyes’ in September 1976.  This track is my favourite from that second album and, I would say, still stands up after 40 years.  Bolin, sadly, died of a heroin overdose on December 3rd 1976 and this song always makes me feel exquisitely sad.  I can be a bit of a sucker for these slow, weepy ballads.
  9. David Bowie, ‘Blackout‘-  Not perhaps the most obvious choice from 1977’s album ‘Heroes’ but this is one of my favourite songs- ahead, even of Heroes itself.  The album itself seemed revolutionary at the time and that sense of uniqueness has not necessarily faded in the intervening four decades.
  10. Roxy Music, ‘Dance away‘-  A fantastic song that is forever linked to a nightclub in Edinburgh and a sixth form trip from Broadway School to see the Scottish National Opera perform Rigoletto.  Our English teacher Mr Bacon wanted us to develop a taste for finer music; for me, the intersection between glam rock and dance represented by Bryan Ferry and Roxy was the way forward.  I discovered that I loved dancing- I was not bad at it and I dared to let myself go and simply enjoy it.  A different world was beckoning.  Enjoy the glimpse of Abba too in the video I chose!



Photo shoot for Bowie’s Heroes album, 1977.