Musical Memories – Of Time and Place

Although sound is supposed to be the weakest sensory trigger for recalling memories, I suspect most of us can readily associate a song or a piece of music with a significant time, event or place we heard it. Indeed, music is often more evocative of our emotional response than either smell or taste, which at a primal level are readily connected with survival and self-preservation. (Music cannot kill or harm us, but poisonous or rancid food can.)

This thought occurred to me recently when I was on a weekend trip to the country with a group of friends. Sitting round the log fire under a starlit sky, The Doors’ “Riders on the storm” came on the streaming playlist. At that particular moment, it seemed an ideal setting to hear this track. Even though I have heard the song many times before, this latest airing has now created a new memory association – the time, the setting, the people I was with, the food and drink we enjoyed.

Of course, in this particular context, it also reminded me of the first time I consciously heard the record. As a young teenager in the mid-seventies, I used to fall asleep listening to my transistor radio, usually tuned into the original UK pirate station, Radio Caroline. Caroline mostly broadcast classic and progressive rock – often playing a whole album without interruption. It introduced me to a lot of bands and music I did not hear on Top 40 or daytime radio – so it was an important part of my musical education.

Road trips seem particularly adept at forming musical associations: in my case, a drive to the Yorkshire coast accompanied by a bootleg tape of the Beach Boy’s “Smile” sessions; a night time journey through the Anza-Borrego Desert, with the roof down, listening to Primal Scream’s “Screamadelica”; and just a couple of months ago, hearing the Pink Floyd song “Wish You Were Here” while touring part of the Croatian coast. Even though I was very familiar with those records before these particular journeys, the specific context of those trips means the music will forever be linked to the events.

I suspect this memory association is largely because our response to, and engagement with music is often dependent on our mood. If we are more alert to and in tune with our surroundings, this receptive state of mind leads us to make mental and emotional links via the accompanying musical soundtrack. These triggers mean that we are more able to recall or even replicate that mood via the use of the associated songs.

All this as The Beatles’ “Abbey Road” celebrates its 50th anniversary. As a child, this was the first Beatles album we had in our home. We already owned a number of their singles, which had a huge impact on my early listening adventures. But “Abbey Road” was probably the first album I really engaged with. Even now, there are large sections I can replay in my head. The song order is likewise entrenched, thanks to the format of the vinyl LP in the pre-shuffle and pre-streaming era. The cathartic extended coda of “I Want You (She’s So Heavy)” at the end of side 1, that gives way to the upbeat and optimistic “Here Comes The Sun” at the start of side 2. I have every expectation that when I next listen to “Abbey Road”, it will still trigger memories of my childhood and listening to the record with my older sisters.

Next week: School Reunion

 

 

 

 

 

Top Gigs – Favourite Venues

Continuing the recent theme, here are some of my preferred music venues from over the years:

Fairfield Halls – Croydon

I can’t say this is a particularly favourite venue (its early 1960s brutalist architecture doesn’t help), and it’s more than 40 years since I was last there. But it’s where my gig-going all began, and I recall the acoustics were excellent. It’s where I saw two of my first gigs – 10cc (at the height of their mid-70s success) and Procul Harum (not quite past their best, but hardly troubling the charts in those days).

Electric Ballroom – Camden

Without doubt, this is a venerable institution, starting as a ballroom in the 1930s, and operating under its current name since 1978. The venue for two of my favourite gigs: Joy Division supported by Scritti Politti, Monochrome Set and A Certain Ratio; and Talking Heads supported by OMD and U2. Hopefully the facilities have been upgraded since then.

F-Club – Leeds

Not so much a venue, as a club residency at various locations across the city centre. It was a regular destination while I was a student at Leeds University. It was where I saw U2 play to about 50 people in late 1980 – Bono doing the same “I can’t believe I am smoking this cigarette I bummed off someone in the audience” routine he did when I saw him the previous year. F-Club was also where I saw New Order on one of their first gigs, in early 1981. The list of bands I saw there include Teardrop Explodes, Echo & the Bunnymen, Orange Juice, Josef K, Aztec Camera, Thompson Twins, Wah! Heat, Blue Orchids, Nico, Frantic Elevators (Mick Hucknall’s band before Simply Red), Rip Rig & Panic, Gang Of Four, Delta 5, The Three Johns, Mekons, Sisters of Mercy, A Certain Ratio… Glorious times.

Clarendon Ballroom – Hammersmith

Beginning as a pub in the 1860s (my great uncle recalled going to dances there in his youth), by the 1980s it was a noted venue for seeing punk and new wave bands who weren’t quite big enough to play at the nearby Palais or Odeon. In the mid-1980s it played a significant role in bringing the so-called Paisley Underground to London, where I saw Rain Parade, Green on Red, True West and Long Ryders in quick succession.

Town & Country Club – Kentish Town

For most of the 1980s and early 1990s, the T&C was the favoured North London venue for bands who had outgrown the pub and club circuit, but didn’t qualify (or desire) to play the characterless stadium arenas. It’s where I saw the likes of Pixies and Nick Cave, plus numerous UK-indie bands of the era. The added bonus was Friday nights, when Wendy May’s Locomotion continued the music, dancing and drinking after the bands had packed up, and before London’s 24-hour drinking culture….

Lyceum Ballroom – Strand

For a short period in 1980, the Lyceum appeared to be a key venue for the post-punk and new wave era. Within a few weeks of each other I saw three concerts there, the sort of multi-band bills that you don’t see these days outside of 80s revival package tours: Joy Division, Killing Joke, Section 25 and A Certain Ratio; Psychedelic Furs, Echo & The Bunnymen, Teardrop Explodes, A Certain Ratio, Manicured Noise, Eric Random; Magazine, DAF, Bauhaus. That don’t make ’em like that any more.

The Corner Hotel – Richmond

Conveniently located within spitting distance of where I currently live, The Corner Hotel has provided the setting for a number of memorable gigs over the past 15 years or more. For a relatively small venue, it manages to draw some big international names in independent music, among them Mogwai, Low, Tindersticks, Wire, Gang of Four, Michael Rother, The Pop Group, Tortoise, Wooden Shjips, Gang Gang Dance, Mouse on Mars and Ariel Pink. Notable Australian bands that I have seen at The Corner include: Severed Heads, Black Cab, Underground Lovers and Machine Translation. And the rooftop bar and restaurant does a mean chicken parma – what more could you want?

The Refectory – Leeds University

This is not your usual student venue (and not the only gig facility on the campus, which in my day also included the Riley-Smith Hall, and the Tartan Bar – all with subsidised student union beer on tap). Concerts at The Refectory were typically organised by a full-time Entertainments Officer – sometimes a stepping stone to a career in music and broadcasting. Apart from Elvis Costello (twice) and The Cure, I saw a stream of early 80s chart acts play at The Refectory, such as Rezillos, Undertones, Altered Images, Bow Wow Wow, Haircut 100…. and Kajagoogoo.

The Forum – Melbourne

Featuring a proscenium arch combining design elements inspired by the Roman Empire and Victorian Gothic, The Forum is probably my favourite large venue in Melbourne. It has a sloping auditorium and a wide vista giving excellent views of the stage. I saw LCD Soundsystem play an amazing gig here, as well as Tortoise, Faust and Mulatu Astatke. It also boasts a smaller auditorium and cinema space upstairs, which is a key part of the Melbourne International Film Festival.

Brixton Academy

Parts of the The Forum in Melbourne resemble London’s Brixton Academy – similar proscenium arch design, and wide-vision perspective of the stage. Since the mid-1980s, Nick Cave has made the Academy a regular fixture on his UK tours – no doubt it’s the Gothic influence….

Next week: Startup Vic’s Secret Pitch Night

 

 

 

Top 10 Gigs – revisited

Last month, I listed my Top 10 gigs of all time. Even as I wrote that blog, I knew I would probably change my mind soon after. Rather than trying to re-work those choices, I’ve decided to recall some of the more significant concerts I have attended – not necessarily the best performances, or even my favourite bands, but simply those that have had left a lasting impression.

In no particular order:

Magazine – London 1979-80

One of my favourite bands of the post-punk era. I saw them on their 1980 tour that eventually gave us “Play” – one of my favourite live albums. Although the London show I saw was good, by the time the band got to Australia, they were at the top of their game, and “Play” was recorded at Melbourne’s Festival Hall. Part of me hopes that the band will re-form to celebrate the 40th anniversary at the same venue…. I met Howard Devoto a couple of times in the mid-80s, including at the bar of the Hacienda in Manchester, and at a party in London where we talked about the prospect of doing jury service (very Kafka-esque).

Sex Pistols – Tokyo 1996

I got a free ticket (thanks, DQ) to see the Pistols on their 20th anniversary “Filthy Lucre” tour, at Tokyo’s Budokan stadium in November 1996. Apart from the sight of seeing 15,000 Japanese fans (many of whom probably weren’t even born when the Pistols were at the height of their notoriety) singing along to “Anarchy”, the concert is memorable because I went drinking with the band afterwards at a Tokyo night club, and got talking to bassist Glen Matlock. Many years later, I bumped into Glen again at a Melbourne cafe, and ended up seeing him play in Robert Gordon’s backing band along with Chris Spedding and Slim Jim Phantom at the Richmond Corner Hotel.

Kraftwerk – Hong Kong 2008

Kraftwerk have a great sense of location when choosing their tour venues. In 2008, they played the AsiaWorld-Expo trade show hall at Hong Kong International Airport, giving added context to the performace of their single, “Expo 2000”.

Diamanda Galás – Sydney 2001

Something of an acquired taste, Diamanda Galás also manages to create a sense of occasion whenever she performs. I first saw her in London in late 1994 when she was touring with John Paul Jones, former bass player for Led Zeppelin. At Sydney Opera House, she performed solo, and filled the venue with her six-octave vocal range.

Radiohead – London 1993

According to the online archives, this concert was at the Town & Country Club in March 1993, a month after they released their debut album, “Pablo Honey”. Although their single, “Creep”, hadn’t yet achieved chart success, it was clear that they were on their way to star status, given that for this gig they were “merely” the support act.

Sonic Youth – London 1985

In November 1985, Sonic Youth played the final gig of their “Bad Moon Rising Tour” at London’s Bay 63 – aka Acklam Hall – a former community centre underneath the Westway. I remember that they came on late, complained about the lights being too bright, and then ripped into an almost non-step set that culminated with “Expressway to Yr Skull” (also known as “Madonna Sean And Me“), the standout track from their 1986 album, “Evol”.

Philip Jeck – London 1993

This was more of an art installation piece than a gig, featuring the work “Vinyl Requiem” performed at the Union Chapel. Incredibly moving, and I have since seen Jeck perform a similar (but much smaller) work at Melbourne’s The Toff in Town venue.

Air – New York, 2007

As part of the Highline Festival curated by David Bowie, Air played a rare gig at Madison Square Garden. I was struggling with jet lag, but the experience of hearing their lush electronic music in a concert setting was well worth it. Featuring some of their soundtrack work for Sofia Copolla – “Virgin Suicides”, “Lost in Translation” and “Marie Antoinette” – sealed the deal.

Orange Juice – London 1985

This last ever performance by Scottish band Orange Juice, in support of striking miners, was nearly derailed by the egos of the other bands appearing that night. Despite their industry status, they agreed to go on first, only to announce the band was splitting up. I later saw Edwyn Collins performing a solo show at the Sports Bar at Hong Kong’s stadium in Happy Valley, on the back of his hit “A Girl Like You” in 1995.

James – Manchester, 2001

Another gig where I was struggling with jet lag, this was an emotional homecoming by one of the city’s favourite bands. It was also supposed to be their farewell concert, as they had announced they were calling it a day. (They reformed in 2007…). The final numbers, “Come Home” and “Sit Down” were particularly poignant. My sister also got credited on the DVD, as at the time she was the Stage Manager at the Manchester Arena.

Next week: Top Gigs – Favourite Venues

You said you wanted a revolution?

In terms of popular music and the “revolutionary” counter-culture, the Hippie Dream was born during the Summer of Love in 1967 (Haight-Ashbury to be precise) and died in December 1969 (The Rolling Stones’ concert at Altamont). The tipping point was probably The Beatles’ “White Album” released in 1968, featuring “Helter Skelter” and “Revolution 9”. Along the way, we had the “14 Hour Technicolour Dream (April 1967); the Monterey Pop Festival (June 1967); the first Isle of Wight Festival (August 1968); the Miami Pop Festivals (May and December 1968); Stones In The Park (July 1969); oh, and Woodstock (August 1969). From visiting the current “Revolutions: Records + Rebels” exhibition at Melbourne Musuem, the most significant outcome from this era was Woodstock, even though it came close to being a self-inflicted human, environmental and logistical disaster. It was only saved by a combination of the emergency services, the military, local residents – and sheer luck.

This ambitious and uneven exhibition spans the years from 1966 (The Beatles’ “Revolver”, The Beach Boys’ “Pet Sounds”, and Bob Dylan’s “Blonde on Blonde”) to 1970 (Deep Purple’s “Deep Purple in Rock”, Black Sabbath’s “Paranoid”, and The Stooges’ “Fun House”). Despite covering the peak psychedelic era of “Sergeant Pepper”, “Their Satanic Majesties Request” and “The Piper At The Gates Of Dawn”, the exhibition leaves you with the impression that Woodstock is the only enduring musical or cultural event from this time. Yet, the music portrayed in Woodstock is far from revolutionary – being mostly a bland collection of highly-derivative (and by then, almost passé) rock, blues and folk.

It almost feels like the curators of this exhibition set themselves up for failure. By trying to cover such a broad spectrum of political, social, economic and cultural themes, and then view them primarily through the rather narrow lens of popular music, the net effect is a grab bag of museum artifacts assembled with little coherence, all accompanied by a rather insipid soundtrack selection.

I’m not doubting the importance and lasting significance of the topics included (civil rights, peace movement, feminism, class war and gay liberation) – but the attempt to tack on some Australian relevance almost backfires. Let’s not forget that homosexuality was not decriminalised in Tasmania until 1997, and abortion is still not decriminalised in NSW. In fact, Australia was possibly more progressive on some issues in the early 1970s (anti-Vietnam War, ecology, feminism) than it is today with the current resurgence of populism, nationalism and religious conservatism.

Anyway, back to those “Records + Rebels”. I was surprised there was nothing about the radical developments in jazz or improvised music by the likes of Miles Davis (“In A Silent Way, “Bitches Brew”), The Art Ensemble of Chicago and Ornette Coleman, or labels like ESP, BYG and ECM. Absent also was any reference to the mod and early skinhead movements that were the antidote to hippiedom, embracing soul, r’n’b and reggae music. No mention of Soft Machine (who were contemporaries and colleagues of both Pink Floyd and Jimi Hendrix). Very little significance given to The Velvet Underground (probably the most influential band of the era in terms of inspiring the music that came after the hippie dream dissipated). And where were the likes of Can, Tangerine Dream, and Kraftwerk (their first album came out in 1970….) to represent the German rejection of traditional Anglo-American rock and roll?

On a somewhat depressing note, apart from Woodstock, two of the other enduring “brands” of this era that were on display were Richard Branson’s Virgin empire, and Time Out magazine…. So much for the Children of the Revolution.

Next week: Top 10 Gigs – revisited.