Playing rowdy Irish music at a time when ‘laddish’ culture suddenly blossomed? We couldn’t go wrong. The residency at The Station was steadily building a pretty solid fan-base; people coming one week then bringing their friends along the following week. We met Keith and Vi who were nearly always there, along with two women whose names we never did find out. We had regular gigs at The George And Dragon in Wentworth that were always frantic and fabulous, including a St. Patrick’s Day which was absolutely packed to the rafters with people dancing on tables, breaking chairs and using the legs to bang on the floor or the window sills and literally drinking the bar dry! They really did run out of beer that night. We had gigs at The Charter Arms in town that, as with The George, were boozy, sweaty and brilliant. At one outdoor gig I was complimented on my “percussive and original” style of banjo playing by an old “folkie”. I didn’t have the heart to tell him it was simply because I couldn’t play the traditional finger-picking way and had had to take off the fifth G string because it kept getting in the way.
All the best bands hold out their hands and scoop all their influences up, before smashing their hands together, mashing things around a bit and then seeing what comes oozing out between their fingers. Then, either by design or, more frequently, by inability, try to play the ideas and come up with something new and exciting. That is exactly what Oasis did with the sneer of The Pistols, the Manc drawl of Happy Mondays and the bright, crunching guitars of 70s Glam Rock. Kicking off straight away with their declaration of intent in “Rock ‘n’ Roll Star”, it leads into the Coke advert rip-off of “Shakermaker” with talk of building houses out of plasticine and later, the T.Rex riff on “Cigarettes & Alcohol”. “Live Forever” is, for me, possibly their best song with its call-to-arms for anyone who’s ever felt they, “see things they’ll never see.” Whilst the album helped redefine “lad culture” started mainly by other Manchester bands, I never bought into it and knew it was all part of the image game, sibling rivalry and petty punch-ups. I knew because everyone thought The Rogues were drunken lads banging out chaotic Irish Stomp instead of a bunch of talented musicians with a singer who could remember song words and shout a bit. But then, when your audience finish the night in a drunken stupor and try to be your best mate, they assume you’re as drunk as they are!
Perhaps because I’d hardly bought any new music the previous year, I was back on track collecting again. Oasis were pure rock and roll but I listened to a huge variety of other stuff with albums including “Dummy” by Portishead (fairly dark and sombre) “Snivilisation” by Orbital (electronic trance-dance) “Sleeps With Angels” by Neil Young (dirty country-rock) Pulp’s “His ‘N’ Hers” (Sheffield through and through) and “The Snake” by Shane MacGowan and The Popes, an album full of Irish trash from which I took a couple of songs to do with the Rogues. Part of my Saturday routine was to go to Contour Gym for a couple of hours, have a protein shake then go down to Circles Record Store on Wellgate in town and flick through the new seven and twelve inch singles, looking for coloured vinyl or picture discs. I’d always been told that the sound wasn’t as good as the standard, black vinyl but I didn’t care, it’s the look that’s just as important.
The vastly differing styles of music reflected the ups and downs I went through this year. After losing our first baby through miscarriage at around twelve weeks the year before, Wendy became pregnant again. Things seemed to be fine until the scan at around twenty weeks when the nurse told us to be prepared, it was twins! We were gobsmacked but absolutely elated. The rest of the day was spent in a blur telling parents and close friends, in the meantime being told it shouldn’t really be a surprise as twins were quite common in my extended family. It was the next morning when we had a call from Jessops Hospital asking us to go back to see them that we began to get a little nervous, but never once expecting what came next. They took us to another, more detailed scanner to show us and break the news that the twins were in fact conjoined. Some high-up consultant came to explain what could be done; they could be born, hopefully naturally, and then at some time in the future, undergo an operation to separate them which may or may not work. He explained that the rarity of the situation (one in every two million or something) would mean news coverage. Coverage that would involve reporters camping outside our house and the consultant performing the operation, of course becoming famous. I somehow remained remarkably clear-headed and asked many questions about such things as likely quality of life for the twins and what exactly would the operation involve and what might the consequences be. The decision in the end was easy – no chance. We were not prepared to subject two little ones to all that, simply to satisfy the desire of some avaricious consultant doctor wanting to experiment with ground-breaking surgery. Within a few days it was all over; the twins (girls) were delivered, photographs were taken but we didn’t want to see. It was undoubtedly the best and worst few days of my life so far. Did the music help? Maybe? Definitely.