I was asked to: Name the 20 albums that have had the biggest effect on you in no particular order…
1 U2 – Under A Blood Red Sky
2 The Pixies – Surfer Rosa
3 Echo & The Bunnymen – Heaven Up Here
4 The Smiths – The Smiths
5 The Beatles – Revolver
6 The Velvet Underground – The Velvet Underground & Nico
7 The Doors – The Doors
8 The Cure – Staring At The Sea
9 ABBA – Gold
10 Kathryn Williams – Crown Electric
11 Jack White – Blunderbuss
12 The Band – The Band
13 Blur – Modern Life Is Rubbish
14 Radiohead – The Bends
15 Cocteau Twins – Treasure
16 Morrissey – You Are The Quarry
17 The Smashing Pumpkins – Siamese Dream
18 The Wedding Present – George Best
19 Adam & The Ants – Kings Of The Wild Frontier
20 The Stone Roses – The Stone Roses
but I then thought, “WHY?”
1 When I saw U2, on The Tube, live at Red Rocks, I was totally spellbound. My mate had recorded it and we didn’t have a video recorder until July 1985, so I used to go round to his house to watch it. When the mini album “Live – Under A Blood Red Sky” came out I went straight out to by it. I had already bought a cheap bass guitar after hearing New Year’s Day on the telly and radio, but I’d soon sold that and used the money to get a cheap white Telecaster copy and very dodgy amp for £25 from a lass in Hebburn. “The Electric Co.” was the song that got me to play guitar and I strove for ages to learn it. This album influenced me think about a heck of a lot of things: war, religion, politics, love and life. Things I still wonder and worry about now. Love it!
2 After my first year at university I headed to Scotland by myself for a week’s holiday in the summer of ’89. I only lasted one night, that’s a whole different story, but I called into Stirling before heading anywhere else, having remembered the place from a number of visits when I was young and, while there, I bought a tape of Surfer Rosa, by The Pixies. I was totally blown away by everything. The vocals, the lyrics, the raw production, the massive guitars and the way the songs could be quiet and soulful one second then suddenly explode the next. I got massively into The Pixies and mentioning the band’s name, a year later, got me an audition and a place in my first band, Drill.
3 I borrowed Heaven Up Here, by Echo and the Bunnymen and it took me a whole week to listen to it. I had to borrow a load of albums off my mate, Kevin, because with my dad being on strike, I couldn’t afford to buy them. I’d give them to my auntie to record them onto tape for me, until I had my own Saturday job and the money to buy them myself, or would get them with vouchers, or cash, I’d received for Christmas, or as birthday presents. With this album, I listened to the first song, “Show Of Strength” and kept lifting the stylus off the record and put it back to the start, to listen again. On the second night I managed to play the first three songs and so on. I was mesmerized by it. It was beautifully gloomy, dark and uplifting, all at the same time. I think this album opened the doors for me to look at more diverse music and it inspired me to keep going with the guitar, at a time when I was struggling to play, as a total novice, with no teacher. It also got me looking at myself, my own existence, who I was and why I was here. That would hugely shape my whole life and still does.
4 I can write almost exactly the same about The Smiths’ eponymous album as I did about Heaven Up Here. Same thing happened with “Reel Around The Fountain” and the stylus. I was transfixed by the first drum beats on that song, the reverb added to give a claustrophobic feel to them and Morrissey’s voice exacerbated that feeling of escape into another world. The bass lines were beautiful and crisply dull, but the highlight of the whole album for me, despite gaping at the lyrics, as well, was Johnny Marr’s amazing guitar. He was unbelievably good and it sounded heavenly, thereby adding a real juxtaposition to Morrissey’s emotionally profound voice and words, whilst the chiming sound of the guitars lifted them above the closed in feel of the drums, making them almost angelic. I had found a new world I could escape into and my life would never be the same again. I was 14 when I heard this, along with U2 and Echo and the Bunnymen and they became the initial soundtrack to my transformation into becoming a thoughtful youth.
5 I was brought up listening to The Beatles, The Moody Blues, The Who and stuff like that, but Revolver has been the one album that has stuck in my head more than any of the others. I wanted to play guitar when I was little, because of this album. I didn’t try to learn until I was 14, because I didn’t think I’d be able to do it. The artwork even inspired me to draw! The Beatles seemed as godlike figures to me and they provided the whole basis for my love of music.
6 Listening to Echo and the Bunnymen set me on a path to listen to other music and I often delved back in time, after reading interviews with Ian McCulloch talking about his own musical influences. I asked my dad about The Velvet Underground, because I didn’t know anything about them, but he just said they were “a mad band from America in the late 60s”. They were far more than that, as I was soon to discover. Again, my mate was a step ahead and we listened together to his album The Velvet Underground and Nico. “Heroin” was the first song he played to me and I was fascinated by what I heard. He lent me the album and it truly captivated me. The production was slapdash and it seemed like it had been recorded with out of tune instruments and singers, who couldn’t sing, making strange noises with guitars, a single drum and electric violins. It inspired me to look at music and life in a different way, to try and think outside of the box and to be individual as much as possible. It was, as if, a part of my inner self had been discovered and released after hearing this album.
7 Again, inspired by Ian McCulloch and the movie, Apocalypse Now, I ventured into the world of The Doors. Once opened up and entered into, you never leave. Enough said.
8 I went on my first family holiday abroad in July/August 1986, aged 17, with two other families in a minibus and camping near Biarritz, south west France. It was also my last family holiday anywhere. As we were driving south all we could see on every poster were pictures of Robert Smith from The Cure. The radio stations seemed to be playing The Cure songs almost constantly! The adverts were for a gig in Dax, which was around 40 miles away from our camp site. Myself and the two other, older lads from the other families, decided we’d like to go and it would happen near the end of our holiday. We’d just need a lift. This was refused. I was very tempted to just hitch a lift and go, but on hearing, from my brother, that I was thinking about doing this, my own money was taken off me and I was given a small allowance to spend each day out of that money. I still should have gone, but didn’t. Regret! I wasn’t even a big fan and, up to that point, hadn’t really heard anything by The Cure, but suddenly it all fitted and hit me between the eyes. I was late into them, but they would soon become, and still are, my favourite band.
9 I liked a lot of music in the 70s, such as Bowie, Sweet and Showaddywaddy, when I was quite young and ELO were a favourite until I was 11. I was too young to really get into punk, but loved many of the songs, New Wave had more of an effect on me, as well, but one band’s songs stuck in my head and, I think, taught me about the beauty of melody, harmony, musicianship and the joy of music, whilst singing about some of the most painful of things. I was given an album for Christmas by someone, I can’t even remember who, or who by, but I didn’t like the band and asked if I could change it. It had been bought in SavaCentre, Washington and I, therefore, had to be taken there to perform an exchange. They didn’t have an extensive music collection amongst the clothes, lighting equipment, fridges, tellys and food, so, I settled on ABBA Greatest Hits, Volume II and loved it. It was missing my favourite song by them, SOS, but it still had some great pop songs on it. These were songs that you heard on Top of the Pops and were singing the next day in the school yard or whilst playing football with the lads on the field. I upgraded a few years later to ABBA Gold and I seem to come back and forth to this music when I’m not feeling very good. A lot of the songs are about breaking up and it’s quite apt and sad right now, but the music and vocals are so uplifting at the same time.
10 I saw Kathryn Williams at The Stand, with Phil Jupitus and Ross Noble. I knew of her, singing the theme tune to The Cafe, Beyond The Sea, which I thought was lovely, but, to my shame, didn’t know much else. She came across as funny, but very interesting and intelligent as she sat discussing dinner guests such as Ivor Cutler, Columbo and Patti Smith, over a meal. I went home afterwards, found her on Facebook and started listening to her music on Youtube. I asked Kathryn herself where I should start and she told me to get the new stuff and work back. That’s what I’ve done and bought Crown Electric and The Quickening as birthday presents to myself with the few quid I got for it. It was just so relaxing to hear something so fresh and simple sounding, yet knowing it was complex and heart wrenching at the same time. I smile when I listen to the songs, hear Kathryn singing so sweetly in her own accent with no pretensions and baring her soul to the world, whilst playing simple, but perfect acoustic guitar, that she claims to know nothing about. I’ve also been reduced to tears by Sequins. It seems to all come effortlessly to her, but you can tell from underneath it all, that it’s a battle. She has inspired me to play guitar again, for the sheer enjoyment of playing and I sit with my acoustic perched next to me, ready to be picked up and messed about with.
The rest of the albums are important: Jack White got me into listening to music again when I heard this album, I discovered The Band very late and it was almost like my dad bequeathed them to me when he died. The guitar on Modern Life Is Rubbish was a big influence on me, as was Radiohead, which probably also led to a near suicide attempt, along with Smashing Pumpkins and The Stone Roses. Morrissey helped me get out of a bad place when I was ill and I found an escape with The Cocteau Twins, whilst also discovering new ways of approaching the guitar with Robin Guthrie’s work on there. The Wedding Present inspired me to play original music and try to start a band of my own and Adam & The Ants, apart from being fun, also inspired me to play music, albeit the drums!
Funny how music can have such an effect on your life!