11 December, 2005

Past masters

In a shoebox on a shelf in my spare room, I keep a collection of cassettes dating back 12 years or so. They're all compilations or home recordings of one kind or another, and together they represent a kind of aural inventory of my changing tastes, fortunes and moods since the early 1990s.

I'm going to dip into this shoebox from time to time to see which particular tapes come to hand and hence which particular memories come to mind. Suffice to say the box becomes more precious to me as each year passes, as its contents become less reminders of recent times and places and more the preserve of history.

So, delving inside today brings forth...

- 'Rehearsal (Union Basement) 6/3/96'
This is an appallingly embarrassing tape of a rehearsal (in the loosest sense of the word) by a band I tried to start during my second year at university. I'd just bought a proper acoustic guitar replete with a plug-in for amplification, and was convinced I was equipped both practically and mentally for the business of making music - something I'd put on hold since leaving school. How wrong I was.

My judiciously placed tatty appeals for personnel around university buildings yielded up a limited response: firstly a 40-year-old plumber (I knocked him back on the phone), then a 55-year-old beatnik (ditto - what was going on here?), then finally a fellow student who claimed he was a singer-songwriter looking for somebody to set his "prose poems" to music. Fortunately he wasn't nearly as pretentious as he sounded; unfortunately he thought he was Michael Stipe and insisted on singing everything in an American accent.

We got as far as writing a few original things and choosing a profusion of cover versions. I suppose I enjoyed the actual process of performing, but knew deep down all along nothing was ever going to come of it. It took the arrival of two more people, a bass player and lead guitarist, for the whole thing to collapse into inevitable recrimination. The bassist kept turning up for rehearsal boasting of how he'd been "doing speed all night". The guitarist thought playing acoustic stuff was "for dickheads".

Anyway, I insisted on recording what happened the one time we all met in the rehearsal room in Liverpool University Student Union basement, almost as if I knew it'd be the last chance I had to tape the burgeoning madness. Sure enough after that night we never played again. The other two pissed off, never to be seen again. My fellow songwriter insisted on trying to secure a gig for the two of us somewhere in Liverpool, we got as far as getting a booking…then he disappeared. No warning, no telephone call, nothing.

It'll be a fair few more years before I'm ready to listen to this tape again.

- 'Chris Morris 26/12/94'
An off-air recording of the man's Boxing Day show for Radio 1 in 1994. This was back when Morris was more interested in scoring points through jokes rather than simply scoring points, it also being the year of the superlative BBC2 series The Day Today. This particular show will never ever be broadcast on the radio again, thanks to it featuring, among other things, Johnnie Walker shooting up in "the next studio" and Chris "waiting for more news" on the death of Jimmy Savile.

- 'The Beatles: Anthology Compilation'
I made this from the three double CD Anthology albums released in 1995 and 96, as a way of cutting out all the pointless filler stuff (ooh, an instrumental version of 'Within You Without You'! A version of 'Don't Pass Me By' with a longer introduction!) and instead creating a new sequence that told the same story on two sides of a C90 tape. I enjoyed making this, putting stuff like the two versions of 'Ain't She Sweet' (from 1961 and 1969) side by side, dropping in bits of studio chatter all the way through, and ending with the Anthology take of 'Across The Universe', which I reckon is easily the best version of that much-released song.

- 'Voices - Radio 3, 17/5/95'
An off-air recording of a programme showcasing different songs and music, both classical and popular, to do with sleeping and the night. I taped this during a period in my first year at university when I was in halls of residence and hating pretty much every minute of it, thanks to all the noise, drinking, loneliness, regimentation (meals at set hours, buses to and from lectures at set hours) and the feeling of being shut away in my room with nowhere to hide and no-one to talk to.

- 'Untitled - Spring 1994 (?)'
This was a compilation tape made for me by David, my best friend in the 6th form, just a few months before we were to leave school for good. I'm not entirely sure of the date, but I've kept the track listing he supplied on a sheet of A4 lined paper, which gives a good snapshot of the kinds of music he was keen to get me into at the time:

'I Know The Reason', The Boo Radleys
'Like Someone In Love', Bjork
'Way Up There', The Charlatans
'I Can't See Your Face In My Mind', The Doors
'Wild Child', The Doors
'Bang', Blur
'Ten Years Asleep', Kingmaker
'Find Out Why', Inspiral Carpets
'My Insatiable One' (piano version), Suede
'Home Again', The Auteurs
'She Might Take A Train', The Auteurs
'Sonic', The Charlatans
'Wish I Was Skinny', The Boo Radleys
'Lazarus', The Boo Radleys
'Sideways', Dinosaur Junior
'Atmosphere', Joy Division

Fine tunes, all. It was the second of many compilations David made for me, and continues to make to this day, every single one of which I still own and play regularly. And as far as this first one went, he scored notable successes in that off the back of hearing it I invested in stuff by The Auteurs, Blur, The Boo Radleys and The Inspiral Carpets. A palpable hit, as Sherlock Holmes might say.

More from the shoebox another time...


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