1984 – The Age Of Consent – Bronski Beat

1984B - The Age Of Consent

I was becoming increasingly interested in more electronic music having been drawn in by New Order’s album, “Power, Corruption And Lies” the previous year.  Working independently of the club band, I’d managed to borrow a Boss DR-55 drum machine from somewhere (without the User Guide!) and learned how to programme it. I’d written a couple of songs using the machine as backing and went to record them at a studio run by a bloke called Tony Harper. He was apparently an old friend of my dad’s from the steelworks and had set up some equipment in a quite large shed in his back garden on Upper Wortley Road. It took a couple of nights to record and I would come out late at night, reeking of pipe smoke, having been regaled with stories of how he’d written songs for his mate Lonnie Donegan. He may well have done that, but he didn’t have a clue about electronic music and I was massively underwhelmed with the results.

I’d also bought a little Casio VL-Tone VL-1 keyboard with which you could produce some great, weird noises as well as a few basic rhythms. Every summer, the Rotherham Local Education Authority held a Children’s Music Festival where, for three days, there was a mass sing in the evening for participating schools and a chance for smaller groups of children to perform to each other in the afternoons. I was running a lunchtime guitar club and started using the VL-Tone for the children to play along with. I took the group to perform at the festival on one of the afternoons. When we finished, the lady organising it, for whom a school singing songs by The Beatles was quite ‘modern’ responded with, “Well, thank you. That was certainly…different.”

Towards the end of the year I bought “The Age Of Consent” by Bronski Beat. The album featured the heavy use of electronic sounds, quite at odds with the guitar music of bands like The Smiths and U2 and was very much “pop” but with a social conscience and a dark, political edge. This was particularly evident on the tracks “Why?” and “Smalltown Boy” with their sparse bass lines, metronomic drums and Jimmy Somerville’s soaring vocals. Don, a really good friend who was quite a bit older than me, was in the CID in Rotherham and had a number of euphemisms for gay men, none of them complimentary, so wouldn’t even listen to the band – we agreed to differ on the matter.

It was Don who’d managed to retrieve the television set that had been stolen from our new house when we’d been burgled a few months earlier. He’d found it in a second-hand shop down in Swinton that was run by Vasso Lil, a well known receiver and dealer in stolen goods.

He’d also signed us in to go and have a drink in the bar at Main Street Police Station one night. It was more than a little disconcerting when he proudly showed us a huge, framed aerial photograph of the police operation at the so called “Battle Of Orgreave” that was such a major event during the Miners’ Strike. Everyone round Rotherham knew it was officers drafted in from The Met who’d caused all the real violence and it seemed wrong to have a picture of it on display.

Grahame, the keyboard player in our band, had been asked by the music teacher at St.Bernard’s School to be the sound engineer at their Christmas Review. He asked me to help him set things up and do the mixing whilst he organised the instrumental side of things. During the technical rehearsal, the teacher at the school said that one of the pupils wanted to sing “In The Air Tonight” by Phil Collins and, whilst he could play the keyboards and had the necessary drum machine, he had no idea how to programme it. It was a Boss Dr. Rhythm DR 110 which had come out the year before and which I’d never even seen, but I said I’d have a go. I really don’t like the song, apart from the iconic drum break, but was so pleased with myself for working out how to do it and the machine sounded fantastic when played through the PA system. The singing wasn’t very good but I’d done my bit!

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