Sunday, February 03, 2008

28 Years in the making

1980 and 2008 and nothing's changed ... except the hairlines

I met up with two old friends last night - Huw Williams and Phil Gendall. We were inseparable at school but drifted apart, as you do, when we all had to grow up and get jobs. We've kept in contact with each other to some degree, but we haven't actually all been together in one place for 28 years. Until last night. And, amazingly, the conversations just picked up where they left off. And we laughed. I haven't laughed so much in ages.

I've recently finished reading Stuart Maconie's excellent memoir Cider with Roadies, which tells the story of how he got into the music business. Maconie is a similar age to the three of us and his reminiscences struck a deep chord with me. I genuinely found myself laughing out loud as I read - something I don't do often. He went through the same phases we did: pop, disco, prog, soul ... he did the same daft things that we did and watched the same TV shows. He joined several local bands, all with increasingly silly names, and wrote songs stuffed with teenage angst and insightful drivel he'd learned in A Level English. So did we. But the similarities stop somewhere around 1979. He grew up in Wigan and got to taste the benefits of the Northern Soul scene and the emerging Madchester revolution. He saw early gigs by New Order and The Smiths. He got legless and danced his arse off at The Hacienda.

We had nothing like that. In deepest, darkest Cornwall we had folk clubs full of beardy off-duty estate agents in fishing smocks singing about tin mines or 'sailing out of Liverpool for twelve months and a day' (why this folkie obsession with 366 day sailing trips?) As I have mentioned in earlier posts, our ultra-conservative council banned Monty Python's Life of Brian from our local cinema, so punk had no chance. Mssrs Rotten, Vicious, Slaughter and Styrene were instructed, in no uncertain terms, to stay on their side of the Tamar in the Sodom and Gomorrah known as Devon. If we wanted to see any kind of gig, we had to pool our petrol money and drive 80 miles to Plymouth where the Polytechnic occasionally put on gigs by strictly B and C list celebs like Steve Hackett, Camel or Eddie and the Hot Rods. Alternatively, we could blow a year's wages and get ourselves to a festival, like we did in 1979 to see Genesis, Devo, Tom Petty, Jefferson Starship and a bunch of others at Knebworth.

So Maconie World was different to one we lived in. But one thing that he and the three of us did share was a happy childhood. Are we something of a rarity in this? All three of us all had tales to tell of people we'd met at university or college or work who did nothing but moan about their formative years. Of course, some of them did have dreadful and genuine tales of woe to tell. But most just banged on about how dull and boring things had been and how crap their schools and teachers and home-towns were. However, once questioned, they never seemed to have any justification for being morose - some people will just be miserable wherever they are.

There was nothing where we grew up in Helston; not then, not now. One cinema (rubbish), lots of pubs and a boating lake. That was it. There were no major tourist attractions in the town itself (except Flora Day every May the 8th) and it is still bereft of anything that the average visitor to Cornwall might find vaguely interesting. The shops were dire, the whole place is built on a hill and it's not even near the sea or a beach - Helston has been land-locked for over 200 years. There was none of the charm of Mevagissey, none of the surfer-cool of Newquay, none of the clifftop splendour of Tintagel. We grew up in the most boring town in Cornwall ... and yet we had a fantastic time. It's not rose-tinted specs here - we really did. Helston may have offered us nothing but we made the most of it. We had imagination, ambition and a positive lust for life and we had a brilliant time.

And now I'm thinking about writing my own autobiography. I know it sounds stupid and possibly egomaniacal but there was so much that we'd all forgotten until we reminded each other -great stories and fabulous characters - that I have a worrying suspicion that it'll all be lost unless someone bothers to record it. So maybe I'll start doing that ... not with any thoughts of publication but simply as a memoir to pass on to my kids.

I'd hate to lose the last 46 years just because 'I never got round to writing anything down'.

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