Daph Rouse, Don’s wife, (quite-a-bit-older-friends) used to love going into record shops and asking for albums I wanted to buy. She had absolutely no idea who the artists were but she always said it made her feel like she was keeping up with modern music! When I said I wanted “1987 (What The Fuck Is Going On?)” by The Justified Ancients Of Mu Mu, she thought I’d gone bit too far and was just setting her up to look daft in the record shop.
Having become more than a little obsessed with drum machines and hip hop, I’d been fascinated when I’d heard how The JAMs had taken things a step further with the sampling on their first single, “All You Need Is Love”, a messy, jumbled sound collage but which featured a beautiful chorus: “A child is dying and there’s nothing I can do, just wait and and watch and pray to God for a miracle to break through…” Out of all that, came a plaintive clarinet and a rasping saxophone. The album was even better – the sound of two people having a fantastic time going through their record collection and sampling all their favourite bits to crash together in a “sample wonderland” layered over a thumping drum machine. The rapping sections were delivered in a broad Scottish dockyard accent (“Shipyard rhyme”) and were just…funny! There were even sections that were reminiscent of some of my early explorations into sound recording. On “Don’t take 5 (Take What You Want)” they have a sample of the football results from Saturday afternoon radio, like Dave Pickles and I did when we were fifteen and made a noise called “Pink”. On “All You Need Is Love” the JAMs built rhythms from sampled voices breathing and going, “Huh!” – we’d used Pete’s home made electronic “thing” (I think it was some kind of microphone) that he put on his throat, wired it up through my dodgy amplifier that pulsed when you turned it right up and coughed. My favourite song on the album is the gloriously irreverent, “Dancing Queen” featuring the line, “Have you ever met Abba? I’d love to meet Abba.” Brilliant! A couple of months later, M|A|R|R|S had a hit with the sample-heavy “Pump Up The Volume” which wasn’t bad, but just didn’t have the wit or shambolic charm of a The JAMs.
As well as playing in the band, Grahame started getting involved in local amateur dramatics as a Musical Director. He’d already done this a few times before but now he started asking me to come along and play the guitar parts or sometimes, bass. One of the first shows I was involved in was a production of “Oh, What A Lovely War!” at the Merlin Theatre in Sheffield. I played bass guitar and, as well as listening to the music on cassette, had a couple of practices with Grahame before the full band got together at the first dress rehearsal. It was only then that I realised my music was different from everyone else’s; they had proper sheet music (“birds on the wire” as my dad always called them) whilst I had the song words with the chords written over the top so I had to make my own bass lines up! A couple of the other musicians (mainly the string players) were a bit surprised about it at first, but then realised I could play my parts as well as them and were happy after that. On performance nights, we were actually playing on the stage, rather than in an orchestra pit and had to dress as Pierrot clowns but we could at least see what was going on and watch the screen that was used to show some of the statistics of casualties in the First World War. I was mesmerised and truly horrified by what I read. To add to the drama of the week, on the third night one of the key actors had a heart attack whilst on stage!
Along with Stan, the drama teacher at Wingfield Comp, Grahame and I wrote a completely new musical for teenagers, called “Sparks Will Fly”. After putting the show on at the school, we took it to the Civic Theatre in Rotherham town centre to perform as part of the Children’s Drama Festival. It was basically about a boy who dreams of being and eventually, against all odds, goes on to become a massively successful radio DJ. The kids loved it. My favourite part of the whole process, though, was when we booked time in a proper recording studio in Sheffield to make a cassette of the songs to sell at the shows. The place was small and scruffy and in some old factory buildings round the back of the Wicker, but it was great. On a few occasions I was left in the control room with the studio owner and we lolled on a battered old leather settee, drinking tea and talking endlessly about drums, guitars and bass sounds – probably very boring to some, but desperately important to us. A-ha had apparently recorded one of their B-sides at the studio a couple of weeks before and the bloke played me some of the songs he’d been working on – he asked me what I thought of the bass. It was fabulous.
Back at Bramley Sunnyside school, I’d recorded a backing track for “The Bramley Rap”. The pupils in my class wrote the words and designed the cover for the track that we then recorded on the Tascam 244 and sold to parents to raise money for school funds. It was music, but not what the head teacher was expecting when he’d given me the job. I’d even had a go at sampling some drums from The JAMs album but without a sampler, it’s very very difficult!