Twenty One

Today is our eldest’s 21st birthday. Isaac was born on 23rd November 1998 and, as some of you will know, from that point on has had a complicated and difficult time. Diagnosed with a serious, life limiting condition at eight months, multiple operations, deafness, physical and learning disabilities, all compounded by meningitis at ten years old (a result of the refusal of his immune system to grow back following two bone marrow transplants in 2000). Along the way he has refused to stop or slow down and brought joy and laughter to almost everyone he meets- questioning them about the motorways they use, the day their bins go out, the tram or train stations they use and the supermarkets they shop at. He is now in his second year at college and loves it (his college in Salford integrate the young adults with additional needs with the mainstream students on one campus). He goes out with his adult social services group, a service that has somehow survived repeated cuts by the Tory government and council over the last ten years. Things have been on a fairly even keel in recent years but you can’t ever really take things for granted with him (his immune system is still shot to pieces) so twenty one is an achievement, a marker, especially for a young man who more than once while in hospital wasn’t expected to survive the night. Happy birthday Isaac.

I only twigged recently that this event was also on the 23rd November, nine years earlier. The legendary night in 1989 when Top Of The Pops was gatecrashed by Happy Mondays and The Stone Roses. At the time in ’89 I remember sitting in my student house, finger poised over the record button on the rented VHS machine. Happy Mondays came on first, miming Hallelujah, the lead song off the Madchester Rave On e.p. Hallelujah on the 12″ is a colossal, six minute piece of grinding Mancunian funk, produced by Martin Hannett pumped full of pills the Mondays gave him, not the kind of song to make the nation’s favourite chart show. The 7″ featured a Steve Lillywhite mix (The MacColl Mix) slightly smoothed out with Kirsty on backing vox. It still sounds like a groovy, out of sync, unholy racket, Shaun William Ryder wanting to ‘lie down beside yer, fill yer full of junk’.

Kirsty joined the band for the TV appearance, dressed down in double denim and trainers. The Mondays had been to Amsterdam before the show for some ‘shopping’ and were all Armani-d up. As the cameras began to roll Shaun asked the nearby cameraman ‘does me knob look massive in these strides?’ Bez apparently remembers nothing of the day at all.

The Stone Roses appeared shortly after having ridden into the top ten with a double A-side, Fool’s Gold and What the World Is Waiting For. The forty date spring tour and debut album saw them grow and grow, bringing more  and more fans on board, hair was lengthening and trousers widening. Fool’s Gold was a step on completely from the album, nine minutes fifty three seconds of liquid, ominous funk, John Squire’s guitar circling round and round, helicopter noises and wah wah bedlam, Reni and Mani were locked in tight. Over the top Ian Brown whispers about greed, the hills and the Marquis de Sade.

Thirty years ago today and still sharper than the rest.

It’s Wrong To Wish On Space Hardware

Billy Bragg’s A New England, thirty years old right now, is one of the great lyrics of the latter part of the Twentieth Century. I know, a ridiculous claim, but there you go. The first verse has that almost nonsensical opening couplet about being 21 when he wrote the song but 22 now and the girls he knew at school who have already outpaced him age-wise and growing up-wise followed by the one half-rhyming pedestal and the pill. After the chorus ‘I don’t want to change the world, I’m not looking for a new England, just looking for another girl’- there’s the brilliant verse combining the Cold War space race, shooting stars, wishing and unrequited love which is pure post-punk poetry…

I saw two shooting stars last night
I wished on them but they were only satellites
Is it wrong to wish on space hardware
I wish, I wish, I wish you’d care

The sparseness of Billy’s rapidly strummed electric guitar adds to the early 80s lonesomeness. It may not be his best song but I don’t think he’s ever written a better lyric. He may have matched it but he’s not bettered it.

Kirsty MacColl’s cover version, below, is different- not better, not worse, different. Fuller, with a biggish pop production by husband Steve Lillywhite and two additional verses written for her by Billy. Number 7 in the pop charts in 1984.

A New England

Perfect Day

This is not a New Order post- Stephen’s t-shirt is the only link. Bernard looks like someone’s pissed him off though (or he’s suffering from gastric after-effects of that curry at lunchtime).

I’ve been listening to some Lou Reed recently- yes, because he died. I played New York all the way through, an album I don’t think I’ve listened to in twenty years. I was surprised by how much of it was familiar which shows how much i must have listened to it in 1988-9. I saw him when he played London in the summer of ’89, at Wembley Arena I think. The university year had just finished and I went straight down to stay with my friend Mr AN of Ealing and we trooped off to see Lou. He was good (which is surprising as I get the feeling he was pretty hit and miss live depending on his mood and level of contempt for the audience). He played New York in the first half and then some greatest hits in the second- I don’t remember which greatest hits other than Sweet Jane and Rock And Roll, and he played them as they should be played rather than the butchered versions I’ve seen on TV at times. At one point he muttered something about all the sounds being played by ‘real musicians no synthesisers or samplers’ which narked me a bit because I was quite into both as you might have gathered by now, but other than that, a good gig and night out.

I found my cd re-issue of Transformer as well recently, an album I also know inside out but haven’t listened to for ages. Bowie and Mick Ronson’s work on it is superb and the songs sound great, in terms of arrangements and production. The lyrics are top stuff too, putting that gay, 70s New York vibe right out in front. Tacked on the end of the cd are two extras. This is the demo of Perfect Day, just Lou and acoustic guitar, slightly different lyrics and phrasing but interesting to hear. After a few seconds silence there is then a radio advert for transformer. Worth a d/l I think. And miles better than that BBC ad which got irritating quite quickly.

Perfect Day (Demo)

And I found this too- Kirsty MacColl and Evan Dando’s cover of the same song

Perfect Day

And I’m Telling You Now

I read a big piece in one of the weekend newspapers about Kirsty MacColl, who died ten years this December. All her albums are being re-released. I haven’t got any of them, only the odd song I picked up here and there. There aren’t many cover versions of Smiths songs I like- Morrissey and Marr stamped their own characters all over them so much that almost any cover version comes up short. But this one by Kirsty is as good, if not better, than the original.

You Just Haven’t Earned It Yet Baby

As I’m typing this the internet is reckoning that The Smiths are about to reform. My hairdresser says he heard that they were going to do it last summer but The Stone Roses re-union scuppered it and stole the thunder.