From The Archive: Life Is Like A Box of Records

A few years back, the brilliant and endlessly inspiring Halina Rifai from (Glasgow) Podcart asked me to contribute to her series which celebrated songs and the way that they inform our lives. This is what I wrote…

Aneka – Japanese Boy

This faux-oriental disco-folk ode to a gigolo was the first single I ever bought. I was obsessed with the song when I was about five, and with its exotic heroine, Aneka – and I was stunned when a tabloid exposé revealed my beloved Casio-geisha to be a folk dowager from Fife called Mary Sandeman. To be fair, the clues were there for anyone who was not an infant and /or blindsided by pop’s smoke and mirrors: the pentatonic scale deployed in ‘Japanese Boy’ was more common to Chinese composition; the fold of Aneka’s kimono was customarily used on the dead for cremation; and the b-side to her seven-inch was Scots trad-folk ballad ‘Ae Fond Kiss’. You can probably trace everything I love about music – disco, folk, electro, melancholia, surrealism, surprises and a disregard for convention – back to this fantastic(al) song.

Erasure – The Circus

I loved Erasure when I was at primary school. I’d spend hours copying their artwork onto cassettes for my friends; replicating their record label and logo – Mute – and catalogue numbers onto the spines. I saved up for ‘The Circus’ seven-inch, picked it up in Stirling Woolworths, and it’s still one of my favourite pop hits: who wouldn’t fall for an accordion-synth dirge that lamented corporations, unemployment and technology? Years later, I ended up working for Mute – promoting its logo and artists and catalogue numbers – and while on tour with one of the label’s pop stars, I was offered a job as a stripper in Detroit, as ‘The Circus’ blared over the pole-dancing platform. I asked myself, as usual, “What would Kathleen Hanna do?” And I was tempted.

Deacon Blue – Raintown

Mention Deacon Blue when we’re in the pub, and watch the eyes around me roll. HERE SHE GOES. Several years back, I spent a page in The Herald trying to express my enduring love for the band (you can read it here) – and airtime on BBC Radio 4 attempting to do the same about ‘Raintown’, which sums up everything I love about them (familiar skies; yearning pop; a sense of home) – but I’m still no closer to adequately explaining, or even really understanding, the profound impact that Ricky Ross, Lorraine McIntosh and co had on me as a child, and then as a teenager. And so it goes on.

The Sugarcubes – Hit

I started finding ways to blag my way into gigs in second year at high school. This largely involved such dubious-sounding pursuits as painting drum-skins for the Kevin McDermott Orchestra, fiddling with the Humpff family, blowing eggs for The Pearlfishers, and plastering the walls of Wallace High with Xeroxed gig posters for Edinburgh grunge-folk heartbreakers The Lost Soul Band. Friendly promoters (notably the legendary Lisa Whytock) would put me on guest-lists for student union shows, which reduced the need for fake ID, and introduced me to the snakebite-addled paradise of the indie disco. The Sugarcubes’ ‘Hit’, in Dundee Student Union, did just that: it floored me. Stick Around For Joy became the soundtrack to homework and diary entries from there on in, and it’s still one of the albums that see me through deadlines, along with other key homework LPs from back in the day (because nothing really changes): Teenage Fanclub’s Bandwagonesque, Wish by The Cure, and The Pixies’ Bossanova.

Arab Strap – The First Big Weekend

I heard this on John Peel in 1996, on my first night living in London, whereupon I immediately resolved to marry Aidan Moffat. (I settled for a “thumbs up” from him – not a euphemism – in Holborn rave basement The End soon thereafter.) I’d moved down South with my then-boyfriend, and set about importing and flogging Happy Hardcore from a bygone chocolate factory in Ladbroke Grove. (I promoted absurd sex-pop duo The Outhere Brothers and the back-catalogue of 80s MOR-fops Living in a Box on the side). But I became increasingly aware that everything exciting was happening back home, in no small part thanks to Chemikal Underground, whose Delgados / Arab Strap / Mogwai triple-threat felt like a revelation, and a revolution. It led me to myriad contemporaneous Glasgow DIY delights, including a brilliant feminista punk-folk band called Swelling Meg (fronted by actor / director Cora Bissett), whose album I went on to release, having hunted them down via Club Beatroot – a mid-late 90s seven-inch series part-helmed by sublime unplugged punk RM Hubbert. The First Big Weekend still sounds extraordinary. It reminds me how much I fixated on, and idealised, what was happening in Glasgow – and how far I felt from it all in London. It knocked me for six.

Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds – 15 Feet of Pure White Snow

This is the only record to integrate my twin loves of Stock, Aitken and Waterman and crepuscular goth-rock, thanks to its amazing accompanying video, which stars bygone bedroom pin-up Jason Donovan among others (Jarvis Cocker, Noah Taylor). We shot it at Bethnal Green Town Hall (Nick Cave was signed to Mute), and the day’s unlikely events included having beans on toast with my beloved Jason on a double-decker bus, and ushering the video’s central protagonist from his dressing room with the words, “Nick, it’s time for your dancing lesson”. Around the same time (as depicted in the photo above), Nick Cave told me I should watch my drinking – counsel that I proudly wore, like a medal – and observed that I had the worst taste in men of any woman he’d ever met. (This may have had something to do with the unrequited crush I had on a septuagenarian roadie called Gunther, whose only words of English were, “I drove Bauhaus”.)

Destiny’s Child – Independent Women Part 1

The rock I’m rocking? I bought it. I fell hard for Destiny’s Child and their brand of fired-up, feminist R&B, and watching them discharge this blazing call-to-arms up-close at the 2001 BRIT Awards was a thrill: it felt like watching pop explode. Oh, Beyonce! But perhaps the song’s empowering / Charlie’s Angels vibe galvanised me a little too much (well, that and the aerosol lemon vodka), because later that night I tried to pull Graham Norton, temporarily blinded the A&R man who signed Shaggy, and accidentally pushed a man with a broken arm off a moving bus.

King Creosote – You’ve No Clue, Do You?

On my last night in London, my good pal Andy Inglis and I sat drinking rum in Kensal Rise, and conversation turned to The Fence Collective – a magical DIY cabal that Andy spoke about in uncharacteristically reverent tones. I resolved to investigate upon my return to the motherland, and swiftly fell under Fence’s spell, but it took me a while to realise that its ingenious ringleader, King Creosote, was the same Kenny Anderson I’d often seen fronting the Skuobhie Dubh Orchestra when I was at school. I’ve since ogled some of my favourite acts at Fence bashes – Withered Hand, Rob St John, FOUND, Kid Canaveral, Meursault, Errors, The Twilight Sad and RM Hubbert among them – and I’ve spent countless hours marvelling at, and trying to unravel, King Creosote’s songs (and occasionally writing his sleevenotes), only to find myself ever-more embroiled. I saw Kenny’s post-SDO troupe, Khartoum Heroes a few times too: their line-up included a young and (I think) pink-haired Vic Galloway, who many years later would write a wonderful book on the Fence Collective – and who would, from time-to-time, let me loose on his BBC radio show.

Irene Reid – I Must Be Doing Something Right

I walked down the aisle to this vintage soul anthem (that is to say, up hundreds of crumbling spiral steps in the Wallace Monument), which, on reflection, was monumentally immodest of me, a propos my bedside manner (“when it’s time for ‘sleeping’, he thinks I’m something outta sight”) – although it’s true I never comb my hair, so the lyrics are not completely aberrant. And better that this song salutes my stagger into matrimony than Electric Six’s ‘Danger! High! Voltage!’, which ended the evening and rendered my husband and I in a state of nigh-complete undress on the dance-floor.

Johnny Cash – Hurt

I had a casual chat with my midwife about Johnny Cash’s devastating take on this Nine Inch Nails psalm while she performed various, um – well, let’s just say “procedures” – on my nether regions, after I’d just given birth to my wee boy. Through sheer fluke, the amazing, and aptly-named, Joyce had also delivered my wee girl two years prior (God love the NHS), so this song has come to represent the moment they both came into the world (“you are someone else; I am still right here”). In turn it relates to my parents, family and loved-ones – it traces the connections we all have (and have to lose) – which means I can never listen to it in public, lest I start bawling. I learned that the hard way on the Alloa bus.

Boy Meets Girl – Waiting For A Star To Fall

My favourite song of all-time? This is the one.

* * *

Related articles:  Why I Heart: My Mum (or: All The Things My Mother Taught Me)

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