Love, Loss and The Eternal Soundtrack

At an unspecific point in 1979, my dad arrived home from work carrying a long playing record. It turned out to be the new Police album.  At this point, ‘Message In a Bottle’ had been all over the radio and I knew I liked this new music. My mum, on the other hand did not have quite the same enthusiasm; she’s a bit put out that this does not have ‘Roxanne’ on it. Presumably, the album – like others – had been purchased at Barnaby’s, a record shop (no longer there) very near my dad’s then place of employment; a giant tin shed in which he worked with dangerous acidic chemicals and little regard for health and safety. That Police album (‘Reggatta De Blanc’) got played a lot. If I think hard, I can still see Dad sitting by his Fidelity stereo system lifting the needle onto the record and playing the title track over and over and I remember thinking how fitting it was that the word emblazoned on the front looked a bit like the word fiddle. That piece of music must have spoken to him:  decades later, he would still attract my attention by calling my name to the tune of that track.

The sight of my dad coming home with new music in this way was not entirely uncommon.

I still remember him coming in with Jean Michel Jarre’s ‘Oxygene’ – a record which in the late seventies sounded like the future – and Mike Oldfield’s ‘Tubular Bells’, a popular and complicated work that now just sounds like the height of seventies self-indulgence abetted by soft drugs. Like most people who had the misfortune of hearing that album as a small and impressionable child in the late 70s, I was terrified by the Piltdown Man midway through side two. If you ask me now, I’d be more than happy to tell you I still am. Thanks, Oldfield…thanks a lot. I remember Dad meeting me at my grandparents’ house carrying a copy of Status Quo’s new album ‘Rockin’ All Over The World’. I sat at the kitchen table looking at the sleeve, taking in the details of back cover with the same enthusiasm I’d afforded the inside the gatefold of their earlier ‘On The Level’…and I remember the day we got ELO’s ‘Out of the Blue’ and how Dad gave me the cardboard spaceship that came free with it. I wish I still had that.

It’s fair to say, most of my earliest memories include my dad in them somewhere and – as you may have guessed – the most vivid of those all include his record collection. At a pre-school age, he played me ‘High Tide & Green Grass’ by The Rolling Stones (which I wouldn’t fully appreciate until much later), Creedence Clearwater Revival’s ‘Cosmo’s Factory‘, the Trojan compilation ‘Reggae Chartbusters, Volume One’ and the yellow sleeved ‘Best of Bee Gees’, about which – for years – I remembered almost nothing, except for something about Christmas trees. I still recall him dancing in our living room with me to ‘Monkey Man’, which for the longest time I assumed was the famous Toots & The Maytals version and came from a different reggae compilation. With the help of the internet three and a half decades or more later, I discovered that ‘Reggae On My Mind’ was not a compilation at all, but one of those budget priced cash-in LPs. Unlike the similar Top of The Pops releases at the time, this one actually credits the musicians but, even so, there’s very little known about Sammy Jones & The Rumrunners; it seems they’re just destined to live somewhere in my pre-school memories. There was another weekend, around the same time, when Dad dug out another of those cheap cover version LPs and remarked how the singer on a couple of songs sounded like Elton John. History has now documented how this was, indeed, Sir Elton himself, working out a slave contract that made Prince’s squabbles with Warners seem like a mere trifle.

All memories are important, but one of my biggest musical revelations came via Led Zeppelin. My dad had well-worn copies of Led Zeppelin’s ‘II’, ‘III’ and ‘IV’, but for whatever reason had never bought any others. He played me those albums when I was three or four and that music – like none I’d heard before – quickly became my favourite. A little later, around the time their drummer John Bonham died, we even made a cassette with our favourite tracks from those albums. Aside from a couple of years in the early 80s, those albums have been with me always and I now can’t imagine parting with them again. In the late 80s, I reconnected with Zep in a bigger way than ever before, when my best friend at school became a huge fan. By the time the ‘Remasters’ compilation came out in 1990, I had everything – and some of their work far outshone the albums I heard as a small boy. It’s fair to say, though, that between Status Quo’s ‘On The Level‘ and those three Zep records, circa 1977, my life-long love of rock was born.

Around the time of the aforementioned Police album, Dad discovered Dire Straits and they became a band we both enjoyed throughout their career. However, between the Boomtown Rats and various new wave acts on Top of The Pops – and with the help of an off-air countdown from June 1979 (the same cassette of which is still somewhere abouts, I believe) – I was also ready to strike out on my own. There are people out there who’ll tell you that rock never got any better than Zep, but the early eighties introduced me to a world of new sounds. On one Saturday morning somewhere around 1981, we took a family trip into town. I remember my dad walking beside me in the local Woolworths. I can still see him now, carrying a bag that so clearly contained an LP. I asked him what it was…and he told me I wouldn’t like it. “It’s Max Bygraves.” he said. On returning home, he handed me the bag. I pulled out a copy of the K-Tel hard rock/metal compilation ‘Axe Attack’. I was surprised and thrilled. When I called him out for lying, he joked that he thought it was called Max Attack! I can’t remember why I wanted it specifically; maybe Dad had seen it and thought I might like it, but that’s not important any more. What is important is how much music that one LP introduced me to.

I found AC/DC, Scorpions, Aerosmith and Motorhead. I loved Lemmy’s no-nonsense attitude instantly. Rainbow were a welcome familiarity as Dad already had ‘Down To Earth‘ and I also liked Black Sabbath‘s track ‘Paranoid’. I thought about buying a Sabbath album soon after that, but Dad told me I might not like it. He told me of how in 1970 he’d bought the ‘Paranoid’ LP upon release and how it “was all BOOM BOOM BOOM” and that “something called ‘Caravan’ was orrible” and how he gave the album away a couple of days later. That spiral-label pressing is now a genuine collectors’ item, but at least it wasn’t a box sleeved copy of the Sabs’ ‘Master of Reality’ with poster that’d slipped through his hands. His tale made the ‘Paranoid’ album almost legendary in my child brain – could it possibly be the heaviest record ever? I didn’t hear much more Sabbath until about ten years later, by which time, of course, it wasn’t anywhere near as heavy as some of the metal that had since appeared; it was just the slowest. When Dad heard tracks from my own copy of ‘Paranoid’ later still, he remarked how the band had clearly lightened up. He seemed surprised to discover it was the same album that had frightened him all those years ago…

‘Axe Attack’ also introduced me to Iron Maiden – whom became my favourite band for the better part of the decade – and in the summer of 1982, Dad took me to Woolies and with a record token given to me by an Auntie, we bought their ‘Number of The Beast‘ LP. That afternoon, Dad and I sat in my room and listened. From memory, it’s the only time we did so together, unless it was in the living room. He took me shopping for Judas Priest and Saxon LPs, as well as other stuff. It was a hobby that was encouraged. I now own albums by almost everyone featured on ‘Axe Attack’ and in some cases, almost complete back-catalogues’ worth of albums at that. As someone else out there on the ‘net has observed, if you meet rock fans of a certain age and they tell you their first rock albums were AC/DC’s ‘Back In Black’, Judas Priest’s ‘British Steel’ or Iron Maiden’s debut, chances are they’re lying and it was actually ‘Axe Attack’. Thanks again, Dad, for buying me that life-changing album.

Without Dad’s help, I wouldn’t be a fan of lots of the music I still love – all of the above, plus Genesis, Phil Collins, Chris Rea and more – and most of the stuff I liked as a kid can still be found in my collection. Over the years, Dad didn’t embrace music quite in the same way he did when he was younger, but it still had a place. His liking of Pet Shop Boys’ ‘Introspective’ led to him borrowing my copy of their previous album. When realising months later I was unlikely to see that cassette again, I asked if I could keep his copy of Queen’s ‘The Works’ instead. He obliged. In the early 90s, he asked me to do him a copy of Metallica‘s ‘…And Justice For All’ for his car and for a few weeks it was possible to hear him arriving home from work as he pulled in to the end of our road. It was a brief foray into more modern metal for him, but I was glad to return a little influence. In later years, he played Moby’s ‘Play’ album in the car – the disc didn’t actually leave the player for over a year – and if there were a gathering at his house and he got near the stereo, Traveling Wilburys’ ‘Volume One’ was almost guaranteed to be his first choice. Like most people, his tastes mellowed as he got older and he enjoyed James Blunt’s ‘Moon Landing’ album and lots of things which were never shared listening between us, but he also hung onto some earlier tastes, reconnecting with Jeff Lynne and discovering a huge fondness for Scorpions. That says something about the passing of time, I think: we hold on to bits of the past, but always accept new music when it speaks to us. I constantly broadened my listening too, and never really got to spend time with Dad exploring the dozens of jazz albums I’d come to love in more recent times. I think his older ears might have liked some of those.

Most of you never got to meet the man who gave me an early love of music, but these are thoughts and stories I wanted to share with you all, since, without him, there would still be a Real Gone, but it would be a very different website, for sure. The interest in music he gave me is one I hope to pass on, though it hasn’t been so easy so far. My eldest nephew has shown no interest in music at all, aside from a very brief curiosity with David Bowie (which says a lot about Bowie’s far-reaching appeal). His younger brother looks more hopeful: he’ll dance to anything. We’ve even seen him dance to the decidedly un-danceable ‘Iron Man’ by Black Sabbath. I wonder if his small ears heard anything like those sounds my dad heard in 1970…?

January 2016

One thought on “Love, Loss and The Eternal Soundtrack

  1. What a moving legacy of love, and a brilliant tribute. I think your Dad must be proud of you.

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