So You Want To Be Free

Thirty years ago this week Adamski’s Killer was number one in the UK. It felt like the future, electronic modernity and mass market popularity had come together. From the opening throb of electricity and the sheer jolt of the thumping bassline, Killer is right there, present, startling and in your ears. The bursts of high and low synth sounds are joined by Seal’s vocal, his deep voice giving the rave energy a melancholic undertow, something less than shiny and happy lurking beneath the smiley faces. At just after a minute a snare rattles in and then some synth strings adding to the disquiet. ‘Solitary brother, is there still a part of you that wants to live?” Sad dance music. The juddering bass breakdown and beep- beep- beep parts add to the tension.


Adamski, already performing at raves and with a hit with N- R-G already in his bag, met Seal on New Year’s Eve 1989 at a club in London and they agreed to work together. Seal had been singing in blues bands but a year travelling in Asia and then attending raves on returning to London had cured him of that. The lyrics were all Seal’s and sung over an existing track Adamski had called The Killer, recorded using only a keyboard and a Roland 909 drum machine. Seal says the lyrics are about transcending your circumstances. ‘Tainted hearts heal with time’ he sings and ‘live your lives the way you wanna be’. Coming out of Thatcher’s 80s the new year and new decade seemed to offer some hope, especially with the wave of revolutions sweeping through Eastern Europe and South Africa and the new music and scene growing and gathering force. The summer of 1990 would become the Second Summer Of Love. Killer was a proper crossover hit and sat at the top of the charts, blaring out of radios and through open windows until June when it was replaced at the top of the charts by England/ New Order’s World In Motion.

Twenty Eight Years Later

Whatever happens tonight in Moscow- England are playing Croatia in the World Cup semi-final in case you’ve been asleep for the last two weeks- the team have done themselves proud and exceeded any expectations many of us had of them. Since the late 1990s England have failed so often and so abjectly it became difficult to believe that any major tournament could be a success. Having shed themselves of the so-called ‘Golden Generation’, some really poor managerial appointments and the millstone of the superstars that hung around without really ever doing anything, Gareth Southgate has done something extraordinary- he’s built a squad of young men that play for each other and for the team, egos and factions apparently a thing of the past, with the confidence that being young and talented brings and also actually preparing for things like penalty shoot outs. The idea that England could be contesting a place in a World Cup final still seems a bit unreal to me. Last time around, in Brazil, they were the first team home, defeated twice in a matter of days, left playing a third and final group game that meant nothing.

The last time England were in a World Cup semi-final was 1990, a night in Turin against West Germany that ended with penalties and defeat. 1990 was a different world- Germany was not even re-united in summer 1990. Nelson Mandela had only been released in February 1990. John Major was not yet Prime Minister, Thatcher still in power and with no reason to think she wouldn’t be by the end of year (Major ended up leading a Tory cabinet and party massively split over Europe, so plus ca change maybe).

In July 1990 I was twenty years old and a group of us had been to Glastonbury at the end of June, arriving home to our shared student house part way through the England- Cameroon quarter final match to see England win 3-2. Glastonbury had been headlined by Happy Mondays and The Cure (both still playing big shows all these years later). We’d seen Sinead O’Connor, De La Soul, James, Jesus Jones and then Archaos closing the Pyramid Stage by tightrope walking across the top of it. There’s a review here which describes it as all mud, flares and the Mekong Delta. New Order were at number one with World In Motion. Adamski had been number one with Seal and Killer before that. Spike Island was only 6 weeks previously, a promise of something that never happened. With the university term and year over I watched the semi-final back at my parent’s house and as Chris Waddle put his penalty over the bar someone at our house, an older person who had dropped in, said ‘never mind, they’ll be in another one soon’. Not that soon it turns out. Whatever happens tonight, it’s been a long time coming. Good luck England.


The Official Colourbox World Cup Theme


Twenty five years ago today I was one of thirty thousand people standing on an island in the river Mersey near Widnes, just next to a chemical plant. The idea a year or two previously that a British indie guitar band could draw that many people to watch them was absurd and that was one of the things The Stone Roses brought to the late 80s, the thinking big and being ambitious. The day itself involved a lot of sitting around, a few support acts that didn’t really connect at all and huge queues for the beer tents. This wasn’t really a beery crowd though, unlike Heaton Park in 2012 which was collectively about as drunk as it could be. The band came on at nine and played well, clearly partly blown away by the event and the crowd’s enthusiasm. The sound quality has been debated ever since, the wind whipping it about the island. Where we were, it sounded good. The final three songs were illuminated by the lights bouncing off the huge mirrorballs suspended above the stage just as it had gone dark- Made Of Stone, Elizabeth My Dear and I Am The Resurrection. We were driven there in Al’s Grandad’s chocolate brown Austin Allegro. I distinctly remember the compilation tape we played on the way. Killer by rave hero Adamski (and Seal)…

808 State’s Pacific, which was everywhere that summer (and the one before)…

< width=”420″ height=”315″ src=”; frameborder=”0″ allowfullscreen></iframe>

And this, Sympathy For the Devil. Woo woo.