Thursday, August 26, 2010

It's Yourself

Nostalgia.

My music taste has changed over the years - it has broadened, become more eclectic and, for many of my friends and family, veered off into a direction many can't fathom. For me, music is about touching something - normally a piece of music, sometimes (albeit rarely) the lyrics and I put shame aside a long ago and decided to embrace whatever music floated my boat.

Of course, as the years have passed, things that I once loved have disappeared. Stuck in the back of my cupboard with my record collection, or in an old sewing box, where my dwindling cassettes sit and wait for the bi-annual troll through it to see what I can download and replace (old cassettes make excellent fire-lighters, by the way). Every so often, I get a whiff of something I haven't heard for years, the search is on and I either wallow in the past for the duration of the record or I yelp, switch it off and hope the wife hasn't been listening!

The other day, I looked for George Gershwin on Spotify and spent an entire evening listening to songs I hadn't played or heard in years. It was a delight!

The useful thing about bit torrents and the like is that while you can do all kinds of illegal things to improve your record collection, it has also made finding real rarities a little bit easier. I remember talking on here about the time I went to Knebworth so see Genesis's soundcheck on the Thursday before the big show in 1978. What I didn't tell you was what happened a few months later.

The Hall family had entered a new phase of their lives - the pub business. My folks had been doing their training for nearly a year and we finally offered their own pub - The Crown Inn, in Hardingstone. We'd moved and I was struggling to adapt to living in a pub in many ways. I was still at 6th form and didn't want to move to another school, so I had to travel 6 miles to get to my school (nothing compared to today, but for my old man it was a pain in the arse). I became addicted to fruit machines and spent everything I had filling these hateful machines up and the fact I was in this fantastic place that sold beer, crisps, had fruit machines and a pool table was far more interesting than learning... But this is an aside, a preamble to a far more dull story.

It was coming up to Christmas and the radio was full of all kinds of specials and one such was the transmission of an exclusive BBC recording of Genesis at Knebworth; the concert my brother Steve and I had gone to but my Dad (at 48 - my age now incidentally) thought he was too old to go to an open air concert! So, he had a chance to hear the concert, as live, on the radio. The problem was it was being broadcast at lunchtime (on I think the Saturday before Christmas) and that meant a busy bar and little chance of hearing it.

My dad was into his state of the art stereo equipment, so he decided to tape the concert off of the radio and purchased one of those new fangled metal cassette tapes that had literally only been on the market a year or so. They guaranteed the best possible quality and he could have this concert to listen to at his leisure whenever he wanted to - job done.

Except, this is a story and it is destined not to go according to plan. Everything went fine for the first couple of songs - Squonk and Burning Rope, but from that point onwards the tape went as bit dodgy and everything else on the tape apart from the last 10 minutes - the opposite side to the first two songs, was inaudible, with a high pitched squealing noise throughout. The concert wasn't broadcast again and all my dad got was the two songs mentioned and the climax to Dance on a Volcano/Los Endos - which was one of his favourite tracks.

He wasn't gutted, but you could see his was disappointed. We all were. It was an exceptionally good gig - one of the best I've ever seen and the sound was excellent. Still...

My dad got to see Genesis 6 times in all, the final time was in the late 1980s; so he never had to suffer the return to Knebworth in 1992 - which was crap; or the Wembley stadium gigs, which were worse than crap, with Paul Young supporting them and an almost stubborn refusal to play any old stuff apart from a 13 minute medley near the end and then insisting on doing an encore of 60s covers. I swore I'd never go and see them again and technically I didn't (although I did see them 'live' at a cinema on their reunion tour a few years back and then graciously declined the offer of a ticket to Twickenham).

Genesis were the first band I ever became obsessed with in a collecting way. I wanted everything they had ever done, including the rare flexi disc singles and the numerous good quality bootleg tapes and vinyl. It was fuelled by the fact that both my brothers were also devoted fans and my dad preferred prog rock to Mantovani any day. So during the early 70s, it was a diet of Genesis and a number of other familiar bands.

One of the things that pleased me about seeing Genesis was they once had this lovely habit of paying back their fans by playing songs like Supper's Ready - a spectacle to be seen if only for the fact that they could play it to 20,000 people and during the quiet bits you could hear a pin drop. My dad got to see his favourite song at least three times, as well as his other favourites probably more often. He never left a Genesis concert disappointed.

I remember thinking after we'd been to see them at Earl's Court in 1977 - still probably the best gig I've ever been to - that he looked so out of place there. He was 47. I regularly see men in their 60s and 70s at gigs now and wonder what he would have made of that.

When he died, suddenly, in 2003, it was down to his three sons to choose the music played at his funeral. There really wasn't any argument that it should be something by Genesis. We discounted Supper's Ready, because it's 23 minutes long and we all wanted to be able to listen to it again and we settled on a song from the Wind & Wuthering album, called Afterglow. He especially loved the live version, with its crescendo and thumping drums. The decision was made and we all agreed that it was a song we could avoid until we felt happy listening to it again.

So there I was, earlier this evening, looking through my stacks and stacks of (dodgy) CDs and I found 15 bootleg CDs of varying quality and a CD called Genesis: The very very rare stuff and on it were a selection of B-sides, unreleased tracks, different versions and it sort of struck a chord with me. At the end of the disc were a selection of tracks that I must have put on there to fill up the 80 minutes. Three tracks that my dad absolutely loved. And do you know what happened? I was sitting there and suddenly realised that my vision had blurred and there were tears streaming down my face. Fancy that.

"Presumably, Squonk must be your favourite Genesis song?" I was asked this back in 1990 and the song was 13 years old then and not 33. "No. Not at all. in fact, it's one of my least favourites." You can guess the reaction I got to that. So why call my shop Squonk!? Well, the sarcastic answer to that would be Supper's Ready would have made it sound like a restaurant. Such a Shame would have been the kiss of death and Comfortably Numb sent out all the wrong messages. I needed something a bit more pithy than the Comics Hall, which one of my old friends had suggested. Squonk pushed the right buttons; it was short, onomatopoeic and memorable.

Sadly, I should have heeded the words of the song. A squonk is a pretty crap creature, who the moment it gets into a bind dissolves into a pool of its own tears. Oh, the irony...

I've just finished listening to Squonk. Probably the first time in a few years - since the remastered Trick of the Tail came out. Compared to anything the band did after 1979 it's a classic. It'll never be in my list of favourite songs though.

***

On a related note; apparently the retired Phil Collins has just released a new single. Peter Gabriel's first album in yonks has been critically panned (and I hate to admit, quite justifiably) and the rumour mill is at it again, suggesting that a full blown original line up reunion's being groomed for a Led Zeppelin styled O2 gig. Original line up? That'll be Anthony Phillips instead of Steve Hackett and at least three drummers prior to Mr Entertainment. So, I think they actually mean the classic line up; but the original would be interesting, especially if they did The Conqueror...

I'll leave you with this thought: "Ripples never come back."

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