Category Archives: music

No-ones little girl: women in post punk

OdyshapeGender and Guitars

See my thoughts on post-punk and women

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My favourite post-punk album sleeves – pink flags, peasant women and Welsh beaches.

Odyshape

In this confusing world we all use labels, indeed it could be said that language is based on doing so, but it is also common for certain people, with highfalutin rhetoric, to denounce their use. Then they create their own. That’s true for far more important matters than favourite record sleeves, so I feel no embarrassment in that I use the term post-punk even though it is a label which is vague, difficult to define and sometimes contradictory. It is however, a term now in common usage for the music which followed the punk explosion of 1976/1977 (but then, even if you hadn’t been aware of it before, you would have no doubt guessed it from the term itself; unless you took it to be songs about some stroppy mail man). It can mean all sorts of music – free jazz, pop, electronica, funk, shambolic rock, you name it. It can also include bands who were originally once known as punk or new wave or even predated punk. But hey, that’s labels for you.

My first album sleeve is from the fantastic Raincoats and their second album, Odyshape. As the founding members attended the Hornsey School of Art, it is perhaps not a total surprise that the 1981 LP’s cover is based on a painting (Peasant Woman by Kazimir Malevich). For me, it is an album which musically and visually explains post-punk. The album is a fantastic set of songs which somehow just manage to avoid collapsing half-way through each one; post-punk having continued the ethos that music could be thrilling without having to be played by musical geniuses. Often this is called the DIY music – although, isn’t most music performed by the musicians themselves?

On buying it, the cover seemed bright and wonderful to me, and for some reason radical, and I could ascribe all sorts of meanings to it. Having dutifully read my NME, I knew The Raincoats were political and were feminists, so it must be political! I had never heard of Malevich, or his peasant paintings. I thought it was eye-popping and vowed to find out who this Malevich was. Pre-internet, I visited the local library and looked him up. The world of the Russian revolutionary art popped up. That is post-punk: musicians with the freedom to explore music, politics, ideas and art. And making it fun. And different.

Either side of the painting is the band’s name and the album title in a font which is strong and colourful but avoids being macho or domineering. Can you read too much into the lettering to say that is how I see the band? Probably.

Talking_Heads-Fear_of_Music

More art school types. Talking Heads could justifiably claim to be pre-punk (formed in 1975) but we’ve done the thing about labels. This 1979 album (their third) had a black embossed cover which was lovely to run your hand over (you just don’t get that with digital music – the feel of an album). Designed by the keyboardist/guitarist Jerry Harrison it, apparently, is meant to resemble diamond plate flooring. The type you might get on the factory floor to avoid slipping. The typeface appears like a neon light shining out from the darkness of the cover. The sleeve has an industrial feel about it, which is not matched by the funky vibe within.  But they’re art school, so don’t expect the obvious.

Wirepinkflagcover

Visuals were almost as important as the music, perhaps because of the number of ex-art school students involved or perhaps the space post-punk gave artists encouraged creativity. The emphasis was on the art rather than the profit margin. Unlike the Talking Heads’ cover, this from Wire’s debut album, Pink Flag, does somehow sum up the music inside: clear lines and a simple purity which is oddly intriguing. The photograph is actually of a flagless flag pole in the middle of a parade ground, which Wire saw whilst touring. They the added the pink, so undermining any military connations. (Maybe it is post-pole music? Sorry, as you’ll read below, I’ve been listening to too much ABC). It is simple but effective.

costelloimperial

Raised eyebrows might accompany Elvis Costello’s inclusion in post-punk, having been touring in pub rock bands since 1975. The cover of Imperial Bedroom (1982) is a painting by Barney Bubbles, a graphic artist who, unlike Malevich, I had heard of at the time of purchase, because he had designed the NME. He also used his craft for covers for the likes of The Damned, Hawkwind and Ian Dury. It is a pastiche of the Pablo Picasso painting, Three Musicians. On its release there was some chat both in the music press and with my more posy friends as to what it might mean. Was it an allegory on sex, music or the western capitalism’s flirtation with fascism? The letters on the creatures on the upper right spell out PABLO SI which might be a clue – perhaps it is just fun. But still, it made for some great pretentious late-night drunken rambles.

The inner sleeve had the lyrics running across it and the label in one block of unpunctuated words. A good friend of mine criticises Costello for being exactly just that.

ABC-Lexicon

Words were also used as design for ABC’s album released in the same year, the Lexicon of Love. Indeed, unusually, they were even on the front of the cover. But then as the title says, this is about words and language. Not that singer Martin Fry could ever be accused of being a dry linguist professor. Although it is quite possible that he has a doctorate in puns because each song tends to include at least five. Like Costello, words are important to Fry, but with him they are used in a more playful way. Fry has said that he wanted his music to be shiny and almost cinematic in feel. This is reflected by the design of the cover with Fry as some noir detective holding a swooning woman. But the image is one of theatre; you can clearly see the stage curtains and on the back cover shows the band as stage hands; ready for the leading man to finish his performance. This is the singer playing a part. Profundity and puns, what’s not to like?

EAB_HeavenUpHere_albumcover (1)

For many bands, covers merely showing the musicians smiling, or even looking cool, whilst staring out at the record buyer was seen as boring. Many of the second generation punk bands might want to sneer in their leather jackets but post-punk wanted something far more interesting. Unlike today’s releases, or indeed contemporaries from other genres, album sleeves featuring the band or artist were not the norm. When they were, they often would be playing a role, like ABC or Heaven 17 on Penthouse and Pavement (posing as international businesmen). Others such as Pil’s debut or Human League’s Dare had them deeply stylised. Echo and the Bunnymen were one of the bands who did appear on their covers. But even with them, they were not looking at the consumer. They were always looking ahead, to a point on the horizon, in some stunning (and moody – it had to be moody) landscape. On their second album, Heaven up Here, they are on a wet beach in south Wales (photo by Brian Griffen). All dark, moody (told you), brooding and cool. The Bunnymen didn’t do sunshine or summer – it made wearing their trademark dark raincoats uncomfortable. Silhouettes and shadows were far more edgy. In one go, they could keep post-punk cred whilst also using the long-standing marketing fact that a band’s photo sells units.

Au Pairs

Whilst it was undeniably male dominated, women had been an important part of punk (X-Ray Spex, Slits, Siouxsie and the Banshees for example, who by the way, are not included here because like The Clash, The Jam and Pistols, I consider them to be punk… those labels again) and with post-punk that increased. The Au Pairs were led by Lesley Wood, who possessed one of the great rock voices. This was a time when many bands were not afraid to be political and Playing with a Different Sex, the Au Pairs’ 1981 debut, contains a fantastic set of songs on topics as diverse as Northern Ireland and domestic violence. With Rock against Racism and the Anti-Nazi League, politics had been very much a part of late seventies music. With the recession deepening, Margaret Thatcher privatising everything in sight and with millions suffering, people were angry and a number of musicians felt singing only about love and romance was not entirely appropriate.  But PWADS is never worthy-but-dull. There is humour, warmth and great hooks, which makes this an object lesson into how to be angry but accessible.

The cover neatly encapsulates the themes with a photograph of Chinese female militia on manoeuvres in Mongolia, taken by the great photographer Eve Arnold in the late seventies. Arnold was a photojournalist whose work included iconic images of a range of subjects including Malcolm X and Marilyn Monroe.

Rip_Rig_+_Panic_-_God

Here’s another great photo from a 1981 debut. This one is of a monkey taking on a wild cat. Rip, Rig and Panic were named after a Roland Kirk’s album, and were a free jazz/post-punk/funk/choose your label band, who included former members of the Pop Group and Neneh Cherry. Their wild and frenetic music confronts and exhilarates and like the monkey, screams and bites with its hackles up. It is also full of humour (probably not reflected by the monkey though). And the album title is God. Look at it and then the photo, and make your own mind up as to what that means.

Entertainment!

Politics and art were expressed in all sorts of ways in both punk and post-punk with movements such as the situationists and constructivists being used or cited by a number of bands. The former was evident in this 1979 Gang of Four album. The front cover has three stills from a 1960’s cowboy film (a series based on the character Winnetou) which have been seen as a fore-runner of the Spaghetti Westerns and were popular in East Germany because they were seen as being anti-capitalist. Around the stills is written: “The Indian smiles, he thinks that the cowboy is his friend. The cowboy smiles, he is glad the Indian is fooled.”

Yazoo-Upstairs-At-Erics

Not that everything was political on planet post-punk. Yazoo’s 1982 debut (why are so many of these debuts?), Upstairs at Eric’s, has two manniquens sitting at the table with their upper torsos actually on the table and their lower halves set back on the chairs. Taken in photographer Joe Lyons’ studio, it shows by simply positioning different objects and a clever use of light an arresting image can be made which basically just looks good.

It is the final choice of my post-punk favourite album sleeves but looking at them I realise that as great as they are, there could have easily been a totally different ten (even with the issues of defining what is and is not, post-punk) and so have included some of them below. I also note that whilst they were chosen purely for their album design, they also happen to be albums which I also enjoy musically.

There’s a whole new blog out there of great albums with awful covers and awful albums with great covers.

Ones which could have been included in the above list

  1. Everything but the Girl: Love Not Money
  2. Human League: Dare
  3. Joy Division: Closer
  4. Pop Group: Y
  5. The Raincoats: The Raincoats
  6. The Passage: Pindrop
  7. Public Image Ltd:  First Issue
  8. The Cure: Three Imaginary Boys
  9. Girls at our Best: Pleasure
  10. Depeche Mode: A Broken Frame

My favourite jazz covers from the 1960s – Cleopatra, modern art and a spotty dog.

MONK

A trussed up Nazi, hand-grenades on the table and a sub-machine gun slung across his back is not quite the scene you’d usually expect from an album by a jazz pianist. But welcome to the 1960s and to Thelonious Monk. His 1968 album sleeve won a Grammy for its design but proved to be controversial with some folks. Maybe it was because that in 1968 Martin Luther King had been assassinated, sparking riots across major cities in the States, and although the picture is ostensibly a tableau of the French Resistance it is quite possible that people saw allusions closer to home; seeing the title as being a reference to the nineteenth century abolitionist network – the Underground Railway. Those who saw the cover perhaps saw the resistance as being against the racist (Nazi?) US state or against the imperialistic Vietnam War. Or perhaps that at the time of the Blank Panthers, a picture of a black man carrying a gun was pretty damn frightening. But if some were troubled by it, many were inspired.

Whatever the reasons for the controversy, the sleeve, supervised by Columbia Records’ art director John Berg and photographed by Norman Griner, is often more talked about than the (marvellous) music.

220px-Bitches_brew

John Berg was also responsible for overseeing another iconic 1960s album sleeve – Bitches Brew. Miles Davis’ 1969 album was one of the first albums which would be labelled jazz-rock. The gatefold sleeve had a painting by Abdul Mati Klarwein, an artist who also provided covers for artists as diverse as Santana and The Last Poets.

Mati Klarwein was born in Hamburg in 1932. His mother was an opera singer and his father an architect with the Bauhaus Movement. The family were Jewish, fleeing Germany in 1934 and settling in Palestine. He went on to study with Fernand Leger in Paris and became friendly with Salvador Dali. Through these associations you can see the surrealism and use of symbolism in his work.

Interestingly, later, he added the Muslim name Abdul, which means servant in Arabic, as a statement of his belief that the two religions need to understand and respect each other.

Nina-Simone-High-Priestess-Of-531745

How could this 1967 album not be included with its painting of Simone as Cleopatra? It, like Bitches Brew, is an example of how Afro-centrism was influencing 1960s sleeve designs. At the time the Black Arts Movement were promoting African American art and demanding a higher profile for black artists, authors and musicians and recognition of the worth of black history. So whilst fifty years on it may seem a touch cheesy to have Nina Simone as the Egyptian Queen there was significance beyond wearing fancy dress. And let’s face it; it is a whole lot less cheesy that the girl from Hampstead, Liz Taylor, who four years earlier had dressed up as Cleopatra.

The title is also telling, with the record execs wanting to catch a ride on the soul train. Because in 1967 soul was proving to be highly profitable.

Jimmysmith

Whilst generalising is a dangerous thing, it is quite legitimate to say that by the early to mid-sixties young black audiences were drifting away from jazz and towards the sound of Motown and Stax. Soul was reaching huge audiences whilst the experimental avant-garde jazz, which had exploded into the decade, was leaving many cold. Jazz though, has always been adaptable and many artists saw soul as not a threat but instead was something which could be incorporated into their music. This 1963 soul-jazz classic by the Hammond B3 legend, Jimmy Smith, was enormously successful on its release and remains hugely popular today.

It is so with me. Back at the Chicken Shack is just one example of the series of 1960 album sleeves which were designed by Reid Miles and photographed by Francis Wolff for the Blue Note label. Their brilliance set a new level of album design. When I saw first saw this album, my knowledge of jazz consisted of Ella and Nina. I picked it up to admire the red shirt and the juxtaposition of the chicken shack and Smith looking so damn cool. I played it purely for that reason. After hearing it – I threw myself at everything jazz related I could find.

Getz

Jazz could still have hits though. The Girl from Ipanema sung by Astrud Gilberto is taken from this album and proved that it certainly could (the song is the second most recorded pop song of all time – after Paul McCartney’s Yesterday). The album cover features a lovely abstract expressionist painting by the Puerto Rican artist Olga Albizu. It radiates warmth and joy, like a hot sunny holiday – an effect totally in keeping with the music.

freejazz

But whilst soul jazz and bossa nova retained a wide appeal, one type of jazz was far more polarising – free jazz. Even now, the mere mention of those two words can send people scurrying off for shelter. Cries of “that’s not music, its just noise” will greet a thirty minute sax improvisation. This is the audio equivalent of the reaction which modern art often receives – “my seven year old could do that!” So it is apt that this 1961 album by Ornette Coleman came in a gatefold sleeve, with a cut-out showing Jackson Pollack’s 1954 drip painting, White Light. Free jazz and modern art – now that’s taking no prisoners! Both art forms were about tearing down conventions and both are here.

Mohawk

The sixties were a decade that the pressing political questions of the time were never far from many people’s thoughts. I think this sleeve by the Dutch artist Marte Roling wittily captures this. It is one of her covers for the Fontana label which featured drawings with cut-away heads. This one says it all – look closely at the words at the back of his head.

It's_Time_(Max_Roach_album)

The previous blog on my favourite jazz covers of the fifties closed with a Max Roach album and there could have been several more of his in this one. For example, I could have included his 1960 album, We Insist, with its cover evoking the sit-ins of white-only restaurants; a case of the era’s militancy not only influencing the artists but becoming the art itself. Charlie Haden’s 1969 album, Liberation Music Orchestra does a similar thing with the group holding aloft a banner, referencing a sight often seen on the streets – a demo.

The sleeve of It’s Time (1962) is simply a portrait of Max Roach. It is an excellent portrait by a clearly talented artist but the artist, Richard Jannings, had difficulty getting work because of his colour. It seemed that black artists were fine to sing or play an instrument but not to design an album cover. The title speaks for both artist and musician, and for all black people, in echoing Charlie Parker’s classic demand for equality – Now is the Time. What I really like about this painting is the feeling of depth; it is as if you can actually feel the layered paint.

sheppJuJu

The sixties will also forever be associated with other rebels – hippies. Long hair, Flower Power, dropping out and all that stuff (maaan) is usually more associated with white audiences but psychedelic stylings spread even to jazz albums. This 1967 album by Archie Shepp manages to combine hippy flowers with the West African witchcraft in a delightful mash up. Was this the first Gothic African Hippy Trippy Free Jazz album?

HeliocentricOriginal

Now this is REALLY dropping out. If society is so corrupt and the individual needs to escape from it then perhaps it is best to leave the planet which spawned it. Sun Ra claimed that he was from the “Angel Race” and hailed from Saturn. Born with the name Herman Poole Blount, he changed it to Sun Ra (Ra was the Ancient Egyptian God of the Sun), insisting that Blount was merely an imaginary person. His rejection of his birth “slave” name echoes Malcolm X and Mohammed Ali and can be seen as more than just an eccentricity.

Heliocentric Worlds of Sun Ra, Volume One is one of his key albums of the mid-sixties (1965), highlighting his break from other types of jazz and his invention of cosmic jazz. It was originally released in a black and white cover, which he designed himself. I cannot say on which planet that was done.

Cool Jazz, burnin’ hard bop and the Cold War: Jazz album covers in the 1950s

Mingus_Ah_Um_-_Charles_Mingus

The world was slowly recovering from the catastrophe of World War Two but it was a recovery which was contradictory and often schizophrenic. Peace had been declared but there was the Cold War; the war had been fought for freedom and yet black Americans couldn’t sit where they wanted to and bombsites covered Europe whilst American art flourished. These ten album covers, are in my personal, and very humble opinion, reflect in different and sometimes not so obvious ways, the transformation whar had become the most powerful nation on Earth.

The album shown above is the 1959 album by Charlie Mingus, Mingus Ah Um, which I think can act as a good opener to this decade containing the buds of recovery and the seeds of revolution; of continuity and contrast:  This most articulate of man has an almost nonsensical, non language-based title. The music itself  is a sublime mix of the big band sound of the forties which was evolving, and the hard bop which was emerging. The cover painting is by a Japanese American, Neil Fujita (who was also responsible for another 1950s Classic – Dave Brubeck’s Time Out).  Fuijita had family in Japan, which he enlisted to fight against. His lovely painting seems to me to owe a debt to Miro and Picasso (but then that could be said of so many).  Its design fits the position of the 1950s – between the certainty of the 1940s and the questioning of the 1960s. Interestingly, and tellingly, Fujita was also responsible for the paperback cover designs of two books which in different ways would question American values and become immensely popular – Catch 22 and The Godfather.

fitzgeraldEllaLouis

In December 1955 Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat on a bus, an action which would help launch the civil rights movement. Paradoxically, just a few months after that very potent sign of the refusal to recognise black people as being worthy of equality, this album was released. The two musicians are of course, Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong, and were of such stature that there was no requirement for their names to be on the front. Everyone knew it was Ella and Satchmo. Even the choice of photographer showed their status – Phil Stern – the photographer for Vogue. Notably, they are not shown as musicians, performing, but instead, they are sitting, as human beings, where they want.

coltraneBlueTrain

Blue Note Records began in 1939 but it really began to move to the centre stage of jazz in the fifties and sixties. Young musicians, whether indirectly, or in the case of John Coltrane, directly, were influenced by the civil rights movement and began to create music which, in my opinion, is amongst the finest ever created. This 1957 album, Blue Train by the saxophone genius, has the cover design team of photographer Francis Wolff and graphic designer Reid Miles. Both would design scores of sleeves of total and unmatchable cool for the label – defining it, the music and an ethos. Look at the photo of Coltrane, and see a man – thoughtful, intense, intelligent, strong but beautiful. Like his music.

clarkCrib

Here’s another Wolf and Miles cover which again has a great photo but see also the typography which splits it from the almost half of the sleeve which is white.

getzWestCoast

It wasn’t all hard bop in the fifties; there was also Cool Jazz which supposedly had less fire and brimstone, and was commercially more attractive. This witty cover by David Stone Martin, a man regarded by many as the guru of jazz sleeve design, contrasts the sharp suits of the archetypal jazz man with the laid back life style of the West Coast. A foretaste of the sixties dropping out?

Griffin

That same coolness is also depicted in this drawing on the 1958 album by Johnny Griffin; showing with that shirt that hard boppers could leave the suits behind as well as the cool jazz dudes. Oh and the artist? Well, the world would be hearing a lot from him in the next decade – Andy Warhol.

byrdTransition

Art and jazz were often seen at parties together. Here is a live 1955 album by Donald Byrd but instead of a photograph of Byrd blowing his trumpet in a glory of bop, a painting by Mondrian was chosen instead. Very modern, and in a strange way, subversive.

davisMilestones

Shirts were important to jazz cats; here Miles Davis sports a more subdued one to Griffin but it’s cool nonetheless. Apart from Miles looking stylish, he is also looking straight at the camera and through it, the listener. This may not sound like a political action, its hardly the March on Washington, but in a sense it was; Miles Davis wrote in his autobiography on how he had rejected the grinning showboating of earlier jazzmen for amusement of the white audience and instead, just wanted to play his music – on his terms. Live, he would often turn his back to the audience but here he is looking directly into your eyes – at the very least, your equal.

basieColumbia

This 1951 album is from Count Basie, one of the Big Band greats. Its composition is magnificent. The black woman in the foreground has her back to the listener and other black members of the audience are looking on. The photographer was Bernard Cole, born in London but who lived in America and who was a member of the Photo League: an idealistic, mainly Jewish, group of photographers who believed that the camera could herald social change. For me, this image is showing that jazz is an art form performed by black people not only for the delight of white audiences but black as well. The listener, who may be white, is not important – Count Basie is. One might consider that such images are too obtuse to be effective but then it is important to note that the American authorities didn’t think so, with League experiencing harassment for its beliefs through years of red scares and witch hunts. But their photography has outlived the narrow minded philistines.

MaxRoach

We finish with drummer Max Roach’s 1951 Deeds Not Words. The look and the title says it all. Also heavily influenced by the civil rights movement, Roach was to release a series of stunning jazz albums with a clear message demanding freedom and equality. The whole design DEMANDS that the politicians  take note and DARES you to disagree. Released over sixty years ago, but today, at a time when in the United States there is a need for people to demand that Black Lives Matter –  it is still relevant and still powerful.

A History of an Unremarkable Socialist in 10 Objects (Part One)

 Hoover Building.jpgDansette 'Viva' record player 1965 [14KB]Picture

Never being one to fear the accusation of self-indulgent bollocks or unoriginality, I was inspired to write this by The History of the World in 100 Objects by Neil MacGregor, which I am in the middle of reading.  It explores human history through objects, showing how we have shaped the world and been shaped by it. And I thought – are there 10 objects which I could list which have played a part of making me who I am? With nothing on TV and not worrying if anyone could give a toss, I decided to give it a go.

So, switching concepts and ripping someone else off, we start our magical mystery tour, and as you read it, maybe you might consider what you might list for yourself:

A MAGIC CUPBOARD.

Or to be precise, the Lion, Witch and the Wardrobe by C.S Lewis. Because quite possibly, much of what follows stems from this book. It was as a primary school kid, listening to my teacher read this to the class every day that I first got totally enthralled by a book. I couldn’t wait for the next day’s reading; always knowing exactly where we had got up to. Every book which I read later and loved, be it by Raymond Chandler, Leon Trotsky or Hilary Mantel or whoever, was read because that teacher introduced me to a different world. It doesn’t matter that now, as an adult, I find the book wanting – White Witch and Edmund in sledge, Illustration by Pauline Baynes Ill, vintage watercolour sketch of Queen of Narnia in reindeer-drawn sledge with Edmund and dwarfthat is totally irrelevant , it hooked me then. Years  later, and I am myself now a primary school teacher, and I make sure that I read to the class every day. Indeed, with successive governments doing their best to damage a child’s love of reading and writing with their mechanical obsession on the technical aspects of language, it is vitally important to remember that the primary reason for reading – is to enjoy.

NANA’S GREEN SHIRT.

At much the same time I was given a green, button down check, short sleeve shirt by my maternal grandmother. It wasn’t expensive (probably bought from a stall in the then not-yet gentrified Islington, north London). It was way too large for me. But I thought it the epitome of cool. So I kept it in my own cupboard (sadly without witches or lions) and once a year would get it out and try it on. Finally, by the time I left school, it fitted and I wore it to death.  A neat metaphor maybe for the importance of my grandparents, but certainly for my shallow love of clothes.

THE HOOVER BUILDING

Mum and Dad are from London and we would often visit relatives there. A highlight would be to jump in my uncle Bernie’s car (we didn’t have one) and at Christmas drive up and down the A40 looking at the Christmas lights. The stand-out was the 1933 Art-Deco masterpiece of the Hoover Building. During the war it had been an armaments factory and now it is a supermarket (there’s a moral in there somewhere) and I still think it is wonderful building. For me, it started a love of architecture, especially industrial, and a belief that London was where IT WAS AT. Even if it was just the A40.

SPINNING DISCS OF WONDER

One Christmas, Mum and Dad gave me a red record player (possibly a Dansette, or more likely a copy). To go with it they had bought a single they knew I liked, Children of the Revolution by T.Rex (an apt choice in view of future political changes). The stylus hitting the vinyl, was the start of an expensive love of music.

BONARPARTE’S WALL

Without an older brother or sister, to guide me, I missed the ‘serious’ music of the seventies. Many friends might be into heavy or prog rock but I stayed with the pop, which by then was deemed by the more hip as being childish. So when I first heard the Clash on a friend’s tape recorder (his dad had a few bob, so he had one of the very first) it was quite a jump from The Sweet to punk (then again, maybe not). But it changed me. I could have listed the Clash first album here, because as a 15 year old, feeling bored and listless in a Hampshire/Surrey commuter village (the village I grew up in is on the border, and for some reason I  always felt that locating it in Hampshire was more street cred than Surrey. Sadly, decades later, I still do it) its anger strangely resonated with me. Soon after hearing it, came the music now known as post-punk which consumed me totally.

But not being allowed to, let alone being able to afford to, go to London on my own, the trip to Guildford and in particular, the record shop, Bonaparte Records, in Phoenix Court,  was a trip to wonderland. It was a shop which was rare, in that it stocked as many of the new punk and indie releases as it could (writing this, I googled it and found that it was apparently owned by the manager of the Stranglers, so that explains it). Waiting for it to open on a Saturday morning, and running in to look at the new singles stapled to the wall was the highlight of the week. In my mind I can still see them there.  Many we would have heard on John Peel but others we would pester the poor sales assistants to play (and wo betide if they hadn’t had time to unpack them – hey, I might have been a fledgling socialist but never mind worker’s rights, if we were waiting for the latest Slits, or Raincoats or Buzzcocks single- work a bit quicker!).

I would read/hear about feminism or socialism, or lesbians or gays. That was all new to me. You never heard about any of that at our local post office. And in our overwhelmingly white village, I was also was introduced to the fact that black music other than the Jackson Five existed. That whole time started to shape my politics. It was an education and shifted my dissatisfaction leftwards to find answers. Depending on the latest single release or article in the NME, I would call myself an anarchist or socialist or a mixture of the two. In reality, not knowing what they actually meant.  It was then, on Anti-Nazi marches that I took my first political action. Indeed, the iconic ANL lollipop could/should have been the fifth choice here.  But as sad as it might seem, it was those records on Bonaparte’s walls, which got me asking questions, and thinking I had the answers. Political awakening  can come from all manner of places.Anti-Nazi League badge: c.1980

Now Bonaparte Records has long gone, and I wonder if the era of downloads has deprived people of that joy of seeing a single as more than just three minutes of music.

But back then, I was starting to be able to pay for those records from my wages because the ‘O’ Levels were over and I was working. The final five were to come.