We all have music that’s we consider a guilty pleasure right? Those tunes that it’s assumed we shouldn’t really be allowed to like, in part, for fear they may be perceived as not being ‘cool’ or ‘current’ or ‘any good’.
Hang on a minute! Let’s stop right there.
Who has any right to say what we like or don’t like? It’s a matter of taste, a subjective point of view, that intangible thing in all of us that causes us to react to art and culture, that moment that something fires off in our grey matter saying yes! I like that or ugh no that’s not for me.
I don’t believe in guilty pleasures when it comes down to music anymore. It’s all game.
Yesterday while in studio with John my producer and collaborator we were talking about influences. Who influences me most? What music has had an effect on me throughout my life that inspires me. There’s no simple answer to that really! How long have we got?
I guess as an artist it’s assumed all our influences are cool. That our record collection’s are brimming with essential cuts from all the right artists. Yeh maybe some consider that is the case? Each to their own eh? and that’s my point really.
I came to realise (okay, finally gave in to what I’ve known for a long while) that some of my music collection would probably not be considered in that ‘essential’ category.
I know there’s plenty in there that may raise at very least a wry smile and at worst a “Matt what are you thinking man!?” reaction from some of my musical peers.
Cool or not, those records make up my musical dna, they are part of my life for many reasons. Early records from childhood through into adulthood . Kate Bush’s ‘Wuthering Heights’ is as good as place as any to start. I was very young, it’s the late 1970’s a vision appears on the screen during the latest episode of Top Of The Pops. A women with a siren like quality to her voice is swooshing and wheeling across the screen. I was hooked. That was my defining moment. The first encounter. Thanks Kate. An artist I still adore to this day.
Like many of you I’m sure, my musical voyage of discovery is long and the routes to how these songs and albums came into our lives are many. Friends. Siblings. Parents. Your mates older sister’s record collection. TV, Radio. Oh and that 7” Decca Single my parents bought me in 1978 of Father Abraham and the Smurfs. “ Dippety Day” (B side “Pinocchio In Smurfland”) Yes I still have it. See!
Radio played a huge part in my early discovery. We had a little mono cassette player on the breakfast bar in the kitchen and I used to sit by it and tune into unknown worlds of music. That and our “Music Centre” a huge record, cassette and radio all in one system in our lounge. I would spend many an hour sat on the floor next to it with my Dad’s large Phillips Headphones on lost in another world, often becoming a weird soundtrack to the visions of my Mum wandering past or whatever was on the TV that evening. Often they’d speak to me but all I’d see was lips moving and had no idea it was me they were trying to communicate with. Although I did learn to lip read “Have you done your homework?” and ignore it! Mostly I had no idea who these singers and groups or pieces of music were. Certainly no idea what they looked like. But the sound kept me enchanted.
Later I was gifted a Walkman with a built in radio. I may have been too tired for school on more than one occasion after a night spent spellbound by whatever I could tune into. It was by this time the early 1980’s so it was anything from Hip Hop to Pop to Classical and Jazz. I literally devoured music.
I remember fondly my first cassette album bought for me along with the Walkman. It was a Sci Fi and TV show themes compilation! A box set of two tapes from Woolworths (remember them?) budget section on a stand next to the racks of vinyl albums and the top 40 singles. It’s cover a montage of the 70s and 80s Sci Fi. Luke Skywalker next to Blakes 7 and 2001 A Space Odyssey, The Incredible Hulk seemed to be battling with The A Team.
Then came along some cassette tapes from my older sister for Chritmas. A bundle of blank cassettes carefully loaded with recordings of Genesis and Peter Gabriel and Mike And The Mechanics if memory serves me right. Then starts the drive to collect to follow a band. I didn’t know at this point Gabriel was the original Genesis singer!!
There was no internet. So this musical discovery was far more organic then. The library became my best friend. My new Stereo system purchased with hard earned , hard saved cash from my back breaking paper round and leaflet delivery jobs enabled me to borrow records from the library, friends, friends parents and even later one of my school teachers. (The albums lent by my teacher were Genesis ‘Abacab’ and Marillion’s ‘Script For A Jesters Tear” he suggested to me that if you like them, then you may like this) My local hi-fi store became a regular recipient of my paper round monies for blank cassette tapes and record needles. Being able to record radio the BBC Top 40 show stuff on a Sunday evening. Setting the pause button and record ready let the DJ waffle on and start at the moment the song started and then hope he didn’t talk over the end of the track. Those records to tape and the tape to tape, high speed dubbing functions were fast friends with me.
Music was my world. Records started to be purchased too, 7″ and 12″ singles (Who didn’t love a weird 12″ mix version of a single?) albums on cassette and vinyl ate away at my pocket money and lists for birthdays and Christmas were written and passed on to family members! Smash Hits and Sounds was read. Adam Ant adorned my wall torn from the pages of Look In magazine There was no turning back!
While this was all going on life for your average British kid in a small town outside Norwich in the 1980’s was happening, the playground spats, the awareness of girls of course (Many a ballad would soothe the hurt of another spurned “Will you go out with me”) School wasn’t always a happy place for me particularly in my teens and High School I hated but music was always there. Music soothed those bruises from the playground bully, provided escape from dullness of the holiday car journey, fired up the imagination, filled your head with images and stories. You learned new vocabulary. New ideas. You could study the liner notes and artwork. It wasn’t hard to become fully emmersed.
Prog Rock. Pop. Indie. Punk. Metal. Folk. Country. Big Band. Jazz. Trad Jazz. Soundtrack Music. Blues. Hip Hop. Dance and Electronica and so on and so on…
When we talk about soundtracks of our lives this is what I think of.
This obsession, this gift music gives you has served me well. I loved to sing from a young age so you could say these records informed me how to sing (along with Robert Kett Middle School Choir of course) I picked up a guitar because of these records. I started to buy music magazines, gear magazines marvel at the latest synth or guitar effect. I made life time friendships through music. My best mate David Cousins and I both shared this passion. He was a really musical guy and his parents had a piano in their house. He started to play guitar and had a talent to instantly to pick up an instrument and really excel at it. It was he who shared with me some of my first chords on guitar. Thanks Vid! Vid would later mix my debut solo record Grounded and is now a successful recording engineer and musician based in Canada.
So what is the point of sharing all this nostalgia Watson? I hear you say.
Well I’m making a new record and this time I wanted to try something new. I went back to some of those early albums and artists and reassessed things. I threw off the shackles of what’s cool or not. The notion of guilty pleasures cast into the wind and I fell in love with many of those records once more. Unashamedly and wholly accepting what part they play in my musical DNA.
As a songwriter and musician I think we can all be guilty of worrying too much about what being seen as cool and name checking the right artist and records affords us.
I was as guilty as the next person trust me, but you know what? Not anymore.
I’ve started a Spotify Playlist related to this Blog Here: