Regular curator of tunes Liz Buckley is back in charge of the Spotify account and this time she’s pressing rewind.
Adam Ant. Picture by Robert Matheu.
When you’re growing up, you pick a rum selection of people to practise looking up to. Quite literally, if you include the wide selection of women I followed round supermarkets as they had the same M&S skirts as my mum.
The young-you finds people you think might be cool, might be wise, might be talented, might be your mum and/or might give you free stuff, and you start to form tastes and a personality. Your first pop stars, film stars, world figures and favourite brothers from other families, help you work out who you are. In public and with no dignity, via bad posters, naïve petitions and terrible badges. You copy ideas, you steal looks and you end up at the checkout with the wrong people. You move on, of course, and you find your own voice, but you never forget the ill-informed, puppy-eyed love you had for those first icons you followed with blind adoration.
Re-finding those lost, early influences is something I’ve really enjoyed doing over the last few years and heartily recommend it to everyone. They say never look back. Or up, for that matter, if heroes are bad. But why would you listen to that when it only leaves staring at your navel?
The Cure – A Man Inside My Mouth & Why Can’t I Be You?
The Cure recently announced a short set of dates at Christmas to celebrate 30 years since The Top’s release and regular gig-going me thought: “Why would I not be at that?” Not why, but why would I not. I adored The Cure as a teenager. I’ve also never met anyone who didn’t adore The Cure as a teenager, it’s part of being a human, like finding jeans comfy or being rude about BBC3.
I’d just buy tickets and work it all out later. I was too casual. What I hadn’t remembered is how completely brilliant they are. So, I arrived a bit late, with no real expectations, talking distractedly about something else and then Robert Smith walked on stage and was EXACTLY as he should be – skinny black jeans, huge white trainers like squashy hooves, over-sized grey pyjama top, a long, cute shuffle to the mic and a bumbly, quietly-spoken “hello” coupled with a gentle hair wobble.
I was immediately 16 again and back in love. “Hello” replied my swelling heart as I clasped my hands together to mirror his own precious mannerisms. Caught in the headlights, they kept everyone’s attention as they played for more than three hours and I never wanted it to stop. Every note was perfect, they never missed a beat and every song was as welcomingly familiar as your best friend’s laugh.
I started to feel angry about how much better they were than everything I’d seen since. How dare everyone try to get away with peddling their shit when the Cure still exist. Robert Smith was here again, over-pronouncing his N’s (“Fascinnnnnation Street“), all the stutters still in the right place in Never Enough, then of course he still says “wunflee” instead of wonderfully, and just in case you were wondering HOW adorable he was being, for the bouncy keyboard melody during A Man Inside My Mouth he sings “bow wowwowwow wowwowwow” instead. When they briefly left the stage before the encore, you feel like you need to coax him back out with a single hamster seed while saying “Awuzzawuzzawuzz”.
Rather brilliantly, at one of these gigs Dara O’Brien accidentally shouted out for Close To You rather than Close To Me, so my only sadness is that they didn’t play the Carpenters.
A-ha – Take On Me
A-ha were the first boy band I fell for. And even now, falling for three men when you’re 11 is socially acceptable if they have keyboards and live in Europe. I have a lot of time for boy and girl bands in general, a good pop record is a three-minute burst of perfect joy. I own every Girls Aloud album and still feel sad that Best Of-only track On The Metro, a work of perfect genius, will never be a single. I care.
A-ha did a comeback gig in 2010 at Wembley Arena. That’s how many other people also care. I hoped they’d arrive on skateboards like it was 1986 – at the time, a stretcher was looking more likely. But they looked as chiselled as ever. The big screen flashed with a montage of photos from yesteryear as though those youthful photos had now died, one getting a particularly big scream – clearly a “special” one for many (raises eyebrow). Morton Harket attempted to show he’s more than just a singer by beating an electric drum with a single stick and failed to keep in time, so that was regrettable, but we only wanted to relive the past, not to learn of any new skills they’ve added. He may well have been on an archery-themed Red Letter Day from WH Smith’s for all we care. The encore, of course, was Take On Me and the screens started to change. The live footage became black and white pencil drawings of the band playing live as they were on stage in front of us and we all totally lost our shit, naturally. I hated going back to reality after that.
Then Jerico – The Motive
I really loved Then Jerico in my early teens. I followed them around the country on tour, knew them all to say hi to and made friends with many others who did the same. Okay, there were about four others that did the same, it was Then Jerico. But loved them I did. Fourteen-year-old me would go and see them in, say, Winchester, then get the milktrain home in the early hours, singing their early material (yeah, you’ve got no chance) while sitting on the floor of the guard carriage with a can of Red Stripe.
I’m lucky – no one told me this was a slightly questionable thing to do or, indeed, a highly annoying one. I was happy. Their career was reasonably brief and my attentions moved on, but when the band recently reformed with the complete original line-up (I love the idea that mattered) I had to go. And what happened was, I’d not noticed how ridiculous they’d always been. When singer Mark Shaw slid on stage, on his knees, flicking a neon whip, the adult me held her incredulous laughing sides together and realised it had always been this embarrassing. He threw himself around stage, galloping to every corner like an animated stick hobbyhorse, his frequent aim to end up draped over Marshall stacks and embarrassed-looking guitarists. I was looking at my past and my past was a Stars in Your Eyes baby Bowie doing windmill arms while travelling sideways like a crab.
When I started to think that if I didn’t stop laughing I’d be sick, they took a serious moment to thank every minor radio station that had helped them, from Absolute 80s to Radio Kent, without any worry of sounding like the Alan Partridge book credits and Mark Shaw tried a rap (a rap!) before whimsically musing “I really like that genre”. It was time to go. We’d all peaked. During the encore, Mark Shaw came into the audience to meet his crowd but I hadn’t noticed they’d come back on and he accidentally trod on me.
Adam Ant – Goody Two Shoes
Adam Ant has been back on the gig circuit in the last few years, playing everything from huge venues to impromptu pub gigs even his band don’t know about until an hour before. I’ve been to a few as my friend Will (one of my fellow Then Jerico fans he – probably – won’t mind me saying) plays guitar for Adam Ant in the current line-up, and does him proud. The band is tight, using two drummers still, and they give his songs the military backbone it deserves. Something I’ve always suspected, when you return to seeing him, you realise Adam is an old-fashioned pop star in the fullest sense of the word – he has style, charisma and attitude, you cannot take your eyes off him, and wouldn’t want to. In an age where people are media-trained, think you can learn stage presence and deserve fame merely by wanting it, it’s a great reminder that some people are born to be cover stars. He berates the photographer in the pit for missing what had been a brilliant pose she should have taken, he frowns when an audience member on the front row drumming on the stage is out of time. He knows his craft. He can still wear rings on the outside of his gloves and look like a dandy highwayman and not Alvin Stardust. The first notes of Prince Charming start and he strikes a pose. There’s an audible gasp, even from the ageing hardcore punks. He may have turned 60 last year, but as he struts and snakes across the stage in his well-fitting leather trousers, you’d still give him your wallet.
Nine Inch Nails – Big Man With A Gun & Jane’s Addiction – Just Because
When Pretty Hate Machine came out in 1989, I was mid-teens and it was perfect rebel material. “Bow down before the one you serve/you’re going to get what you deserve” could be sung very meaningfully with a pointy finger right back at Trent Reznor as you definitely knew what he meant about authority and patriarchy and not having your own house key and shit like that. I can even picture myself making a cartoon slit-eyed distrustful face whenever I sang along with the shouty bits and that proved I wasn’t a fool. Then one day, my friend Neil, a few years older and now at University said “Ah! You like Nine Inch Nails! They’re brilliant aren’t they? Grey would be the colour/if I only had a heart” Hilarious. Like a goth tin man” and in that instance I suddenly appreciated Nine Inch Nails were SILLY. Why would Trent Reznor, a man 10 years older than me, be talking like this?
They weren’t smashing the system, they were reprogramming the software, explaining it on white boards and selling it for a huge profit at Olympia trade fairs to teens who liked a big bounce and an air punch. They were playing Loolapalooza in daft lederhosen covered in talcum powder and pretending to hate the Nazis when, actually, those guys had some great costume ideas. I once had an amusing game with my friend Rebecca where you can write the lyrics to a Nine Inch Nails song yourself, using only the words “pig”, “pigs”, “hole”, “soul”, “black” and “piggypig”. It’s very effective and we might sell it back to them. NIN played a gig at the O2 in Greenwich in 2009 with Jane’s Addiction – I think largely so they could call the tour NINJA. Never doubt a plan if it’s based in a good pun We loved both bands so were delighted to have them back. I remember very clearly Trent screaming “I wanna fuck you like an animal/I wanna fuck you from the inside” and Rebecca saying to me, “Is it me or is it quite quiet?”
Department manager at an independent record company. Liker of Frank Sinatra and Nick Cave. Very sudden laugh. Pasty but tasty. Quite tired.