About: Background


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The formative years

For as long as I can remember, I’ve always been into football, music – and making lists! At the age of 8, I was building lego football stadiums and players, using marbles as footballs. Extravagant tournament arrangements would be made, with Cup draws and League tables being produced in the pages of my school jotters where homework should have been!
● Rich tones from the stereogram

My very earliest recollection of music would be from the visits to Nanna and Grandad’s in the mid 70s. I specifically recall being impressed by the super-rich baritone of Jim Reeves, further enhanced by the awesome bass response from the all-in-one record player-cum-table. Parties there were all the better for the rough and ready jollity of the Dubliners on the stereogram, and Billy Connolly was always a big hit too. Obviously. We're Glaswegians!

TJR, mid-70s
● TJR, mid-70s

At Broadholm Primary, Joe Murphy was the only punk boy in my class in 1977. He was copying his big brother and had the doc martens. Red laces, and more eyelets than I could count without getting bored. Always bigging up the Clash and The Sex Pistols he was. Frankly, I had no idea what he was banging on about. If he ever reads this – Joe you were right, mate!

I guess it would be around 1978 when music started to seep into my consciousness in any sort of meaningful way. You’re not defined by anything at this stage of course – wide-eyed and wondrous, you take it all in. I can remember being fixated by the intro for ABBA’s “Take A Chance On Me”. Who could possibly resist “Tikka-chance-tikka-chance-tikka-tikka-chance-chance”? Top of the Pops started to become a must-watch. Certainly, the “rock n roll” revival served up by Grease was memorable. “Ca Plane Pour Moi” was the first attitude record I loved. Plastic punks and teddy-boy revivalists seemed alright to me. The first records I can remember having a shuffle around to down at the YMCA were “Hanging On The Telephone” by Blondie and “Lay All Your Love On Me” by Racey. 2p entry fee!

In our house, Dad had embraced the cassette revolution of the 1970s and his building collection at the time was housed in a brown padded case – my favourite album in there was definitely Beach Boys 20 Golden Greats, no contest! I also remember being partial to the rock n roll compilations with cuts like “At The Hop”, “Lollipop” and “Hey Paula” making an early impression.

By Primary 6 (sometime in 1980), there was some definition – I was clearly in the punky/new wave/ska camp. I recall that me and my pal Bruce conceived and produced (with the help of contributors) a school magazine with all sorts of content, ranging from cartoons to fashion to jokes and school issues of the day. I was responsible for the production of “The Meldrum Primary School All-Time Top 10”, with school pupils being asked to select their “Top 3” which were awarded 3, 2 and 1 points respectively, before being tallied up in a most-efficient manner. Alas, there are no surviving copies of this critically acclaimed publication (unless an old school pal from the internet can AMAZE me) to which I can refer, but “Night Boat To Cairo” by Madness was, I think, voted Number 1!

My first single

young parisians
● Adam & The Ants - “Young Parisians” b/w “Lady”

In January 1981, the family home had just been blessed with a new delivery – a brand-new, super-shiny silver music centre. Crystal-clear FM Radio, built-in cassette deck and record player on top. Woo-hoo! Excitement factor 10.

To help celebrate, I was furnished with a pound note (thanks Mum x), with the stated purpose that a 7” single should be selected from the Top 40. It was off to Livingston Centre and into Woolco, where the selections were laid out neatly and openly on the shelf, in such a way that you could pick them up and be touchy, feely with them.

Exhibiting a trait which exists to this day, I recall having a browse around, nodding my head knowingly whilst reading the back covers, in a bid to alert any onlookers to the fact that, even though I was only 11, I knew exactly what I was doing in there. Funny thing is, I did actually know what I was doing, and I pretty much knew the whole Top 40 off by heart. To be honest, I actually knew what I was going to select before I went, but that didn’t seem to prevent 10 minutes of record shop “posing”.

I shall never forget the sheer thrill of putting the needle on the record, my OWN record, for the very first time…

“Young Parisians are so French, they love Patti Smith” sang young Adam… “Who's Patti Smith?” I wondered… “and why is that lady naked on the b-side?”… and so, many journeys began… Before too long, “Young Parisians” soon had some company; there was “Runaway Boys” by The Stray Cats, “Lorraine” by Bad Manners and “Do Nothing” by The Specials.

My first LP

Within just a few short months, my would-be collection advanced to the next level … to my first LP. At this time, I was completely caught up in the whole Ska craze which had been sweeping the nation in the last 18 months or so. I had all the gear… the sta-prest, the DM's, the Fred Perry, the Harrington and NOW, the ULTIMATE rude boy status symbol - a copy of Dance Craze. Yas!
dance craze
● “Dance Craze”; never off my turntable in '81.

This was very much a big deal and rocked my junior world with great songs about being chased by the National Front, about your car failing its' MOT, as well as loonee toons preaching fat-pride and telling unlikely tales of toothless oarsmen in far-off African rivers! An abundance of sardonic, yet witty lyrics were present within these vinyl grooves, which became ingrained for life;

“is this the in-place to be? what am i doing here?” (“Nite Klub” The Specials)

“can I take you to a restaurant that's got glass tables, you can watch yourself while you are eating” (“Mirror in the Bathroom” The Beat)

“it's 5 pm and you're on your way home, just another day with that endless grey drone” (“Three Minute Hero“ The Selecter)

It was made to be played LOUD at parties… and to be DANCED to. I recall that one of the biggest ska nuts at Meldrum Primary (Chrissy Boy we called him, after the Madness guitarist) used to bring his ghetto blaster into school and we’d occasionally practise our Ska moves in the playground at break times - there were no inhibitions with the rude boys!

Wasn’t all about dancing and having fun mind you, as Terry Hall was quick to remind us all;

“yet another song dedicated to the Tory government and the shit they are leading us into” (“Man at C & A” The Specials)

2-Tone was a blast… and an education.

Discovering John Peel

john peel
● Planet Earth's finest DJ, circa '82.

Christmas day 1982 saw me receive a present which would have a major impact on my musical education, when I was delighted to become the proud owner of a little brown pocket transistor radio. In the forthcoming days I could be found wandering around with this new novelty item stuck to my ear, keeping myself up to date with what’s happening. This little device really came into its’ own at bedtime, when I could really concentrate and get into it. Impatiently, I would rotate the dial back and forth between stations, scowling my disapproval whenever Radio Clyde or Radio Luxembourg served up some pop drivel that did not align with my musical DNA.

There was one guy on Radio 1 late at night that never bugged me in this way – he seemed to be playing a lot of weird music that I never fully understood, but it was intriguing all the same. And he was interesting to listen to, sometimes more so than the tunes themselves. In the very first week of my new night time listening habit, I became engrossed with the “Festive 50/50”, a dual chart run-down featuring the best songs of the year and the best songs of all-time. This chart at last gave me some real connection – there was Tears For Fears doing “Mad World” and Grandmaster Flash doing “The Message”. And “all the old favourites” from The Specials and The Sex Pistols (who I'd grown to love 2 or 3 years after the event). Yas! This was the place to be on the dial. When I found out “Anarchy in the UK” was Number One I nearly wet the bed with excitement, but thankfully it never came to that.

Unfortunately, I can’t say that I stayed loyal to John religiously for the high school years that followed. The little brown tranny, made in Taiwan, never lasted and the habit was derailed for a bit. The Top 40 followed by Annie Nightingale’s Sunday night request show was probably my biggest musical-listening habit for the first half of the 80s. I would touch base with Peelie from time to time, always intrigued but I was still too musically immature to fully understand the breadth and depth of his output. And besides, it was tricky – he was on so late and I had school in the morning!

A chart-loving DJ is born

graham whitelaw
● GW; inspiring.

My fascination for charting and listing my music was manifest in many different ways during this period. For a long-long time (perhaps a couple of years) I used to actually write out my own Top 30 of the week, with “new entries” and “up” and “down” movements – just like the Radio 1 charts, but without wimpy dross like “True” by Spandau Ballet making it. The world was being put to rights in my head, and this seemed to content my teenage soul. I also seem to remember compiling “Airplay charts”, where I would dart around the station dials, noting down what was being played, to see what most on rotation. I have no idea what fuelled such abnormal behaviour, but my guess is that it was just a pure thirst for knowledge; the simple joy of loving music and knowing what was going on in, what were, extremely entertaining and varied pop charts at that time. Can you believe, as a 14 year-old, I studiously wrote down my "All Time Top 1000" songs? Who does that?

My obsession flourished at Deans High School where I got a platform thanks to the thoroughly excellent “Music Education” department run by Graham Whitelaw and Tom Robertson. Here, there was all sorts of stuff going on that you could really get into. My first-ever stint as a DJ was on “Radio Deans”, an in-house station which was piped all throughout the school at lunchtimes. My show, as you will not be too unsurprised to hear, was the “Deans High School Top 10”, a chart voted for by the pupils, with yours truly wandering all around and getting them all to vote for their Top 3 for the week. Yep, that old chestnut. Well, you can’t teach an old dog new tricks. roll-eyes
failed rock star
● behind every bitter critic there's a failed rock star!

Mr. Whitelaw was brilliant. There was never any mucking-about in his class, mainly because everyone loved being there and everyone was engaged positively. He had a great rapport with us all, and really got us into thinking creatively. He used to run a class called “Disco Management” which was completely geared towards the art of the mobile DJ. Having been completely unimpressed with the “professional” DJs who had played at School Discos, I suddenly became fixated with the notion that I could do the job better myself. After all, I knew all about music. I knew every Top 40 hit ever. Well, since about 1980 to 1983 anyway. I somehow wangled my way into being in charge of the school’s record budget, meaning that I could take the trip down to Rainbow Records in Livingston Centre and select the latest singles for the school’s library. This library had two main purposes – to feed the radio station and the Friday night roller disco playlists. Graham Whitelaw’s classes gave me not only my first experience at Radio DJing, but Mobile DJing too. His enthusiasm and support was different class – it was a privilege to be one of his pupils. They broke the mould with that guy.

My first decks

Amazingly, in 1984, I won £1,000 c/o the Partick Thistle lotto. I used to sell these scratch cards on behalf of my club and, one day, decided to chance my luck by scratching quite a few of them in one bold session. Couldn’t believe my eyes when, after about 10 or so cards had been lost, I hit the jackpot. Being only 14 at the time, I was somewhat below the minimum age, so the prize was duly collected by Mum. I put £500 into help the family kitty (working class ethics there) and decided to use the other £500 to start up a wee business for myself – as a Mobile DJ! Decks and lights were purchased and I was in my element, getting some good practice sessions in on my new, erm, wheels of steel;

fal ranger
● This Fal Ranger system rocked many a house, believe it or not!

My new operation was christened “Quality Sounds” (oh dear!) and business cards were printed up.

Pretty sure it was in the autumn time of 1984 when I got my first paid gig, aged 15. One of the teachers, Damian Rice, put the faith in me to entertain and to compere the Swimming Club’s presentation dance. £15 was the fee. Only £485 to go to recoup my investment!

At Christmas time, I collected my biggest fee yet - £40 for the Safeway Christmas party. This was getting serious! My poor Da’ was getting as run ragged as his car but he made sure I was never late for a gig; ice, snow or whatever the obstacle.

● altogether now… “…Eileen, too-loo-rye-ay”

This developing career-path necessitated the need for more and more investment and research into music’s past. I was on all sorts of mailing lists (Oldies Unlimited springs to mind) which were always great for picking up bargain price old 7” singles. I would snap up compilation LPs galore in an attempt to learn my history. The Guinness Book of Hit Singles was studied to the nth degree. Slowly and surely, all the big hits from the 50s to the 70s were becoming part of my psyche and, whilst they could never compete with my living, working knowledge of the 80s, my handle on these decades was more than enough to get bye.

By the end of the 1980s I had collected all of the UK number ones, 1952 to date, via a mixture of singles and compilation LPs. And then – disaster! A whole crate of LPs were nicked in a one’r, a massive blow in many different ways. I eventually recollected these number ones via the specially-compiled Music Factory DJ collection, so the tale has a happy ending.

The enduring influence of John Peel and The ever-building collection

I can’t exactly say that there was much in the way of musical satisfaction to be had by the mobile DJ’ing, my own indie-club night ventures aside. Peelie was a constant though - I could dive in for a fix anytime I could, relieving the pain of having to collect and project material from the ever-worsening UK pop charts. It was around 1989 when I started a 15-year long habit of taping the John Peel show on a much more habitual basis, often setting the “hi-fi alarm” to auto-kick in the recording of his show, live, when I was not in attendance. I would then sift through the recordings, editing them down to make stupendous mixtapes of all that was great from the twilight world of the Peel wingding.
john peel
● Thee hip-priest in his 5th decade of spreading the gospel.
This juxtaposition of “family-friendly mobile DJ” with “Peel-loving” music-nut has led to quite the strangest of bedfellows when the alphabetical listings are casually perused. Bet there aren't too many record collections with both Joy Division and Russ Abbot doing “Atmosphere” but, come on now, who can actually say they love their whole record collection? blush

Warts and all, we're now talking ~10,000 albums and ~160,000 tunes across all the formats - all the way from the cylinder to the digital age… I often moan that it has cost me a bleedin' fortune but in the final analysis it’s a shallow complaint - blessed with Peelness I have been enriched would be a much more elegiac, not to mention accurate, assessment.

As told by the hundreds of eulogies and thousands of comments since 2004, I'm not the only one whose musical tastes were significantly influenced by the DJ guvnor of all DJ guvnor’s. John Peel, esquire, is quite possibly thee single most influential figure in the history of “alternative” music – he was the heart and soul giving voice to the creative innovators and to the rough diamonds who would otherwise have been unexposed, had they been left in the hands of conservative programmers. Billy Bragg really did say it best when he astutely surmised: “Throughout his career, John Peel defined independent music. Although he became an institution at the BBC, he was, in effect, running his own pirate radio station from within the Corporation, introducing us to music that could not be heard on any other radio show.”

As I said earlier, the big bang of ’76 continues to resonate some four decades later, in hundreds of sub-genres of sub-genres thanks, in no small part, to the legitimate pirate of the airwaves, with more and more quality art being produced year on year. It's fair to say that the spirit of Peel's music is alive and well – for those prepared to seek it out.

A livication to The music

This site will always be now – but, just as importantly, it will always look back to then. It stands as a livication to the music, past and present, and there's always work in progress.

You might not always agree with my ratings and ramblings, but hopefully we can share common ground on some core values, musically and otherwise, along the way.

Thanks for visiting and I hope you enjoy reading and listening. For now, I'll leave the last words on the page to be aired aurally via this killer tune by Yellowman and George Nooks. wink


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