Nina Simone – ‘Here Comes The Sun’

I came back to Bournemouth from the south of France via a month in Paris in late ’93. I had just split from my girlfriend and I was a bit lost and a lot unemployed. Looking back, streaming tears on a crowded train back from Paris whilst listening to Neil Young’s Birds seems like a faintly masochistic thing to do:

“When you see me
Fly away without you
Shadow on the things you know
Feathers fall around you
And show you the way to go
It’s over, it’s over.”

Compared to the young, relatively shy, pale man who existed in early ‘90, the years I spent travelling and working abroad had changed me. I was more confident. I was happy with who I was. I had a raging suntan and a Brad from Neighbours kind of look. I’d like to think that look disappeared quickly but it probably hung around longer than the suntan.

So, what next? After an eventful few months of meeting some old friends and making some new, and playing some extremely good golf, I got a job. With MVC. The Music and Video Club, and I’d work for them for the next eleven years. Aged 27 I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life, but I had retail experience and a passion for music, so a job in a music and entertainment shop? Yeah, I might enjoy that. Enjoy it I did. Well, most of it thanks to the dozens of nerds, musos and funsters I’d get to meet and befriend. MVC took me to Bournemouth, Poole, Penzance, Fareham and Weymouth. I worked with many lovely and a few not so lovely folk, and my musical enlightenment was about to go up a few gears.

I have a strong memory at MVC, after just a few days in the job somebody stuck on a Nina Simone CD. I heard her incredible version of Here Comes The Sun and it blew me away. I couldn’t believe I’d never heard it before, though I soon realised there were endless other amazing songs, albums and artists I’d not heard and that would be a never-ending joy of the job. But Nina Simone stands out. It is a rare thing, hearing a Beatles song that’s better than the original, but here was one that managed that with its sheer, overwhelming beauty.

Nina’s voice is more than enough. But her tender piano, the brushes, strings and perfect percussion make this a sensory joy that radiates happiness. Those first few months at MVC were exciting times. Working in a record shop (okay, a CD, DVD and games shop) was, for a music nerd, a great place to be. But more than the music it would be the friends I’d make that would have a huge impact on my life. The travels had ended, but another ride had just begun.

World Party – ‘Goodbye Jumbo’

Before the summer of 1990 I’d travelled abroad a bit. Jersey, Switzerland and Spain hardly made me a globetrotter, I was still selling tracksuits, cricket bats and using the gym far more than was good for my health. On a boy’s holiday in Spain where amigo Simon was working, we hatched a plan. Simon planted a seed. “Who fancies travelling?” he asked. “Me! Me! Me!” replied I. I paraphrase profusely, but a few months later we were off, and with us came our new favourite album, World Party’s Goodbye Jumbo.

We had a VW Camper, we had a van full of music, we had a map, Lenny Kravitz and The Who Maximum R&B t.shirts, and we were wearing sunglasses. But as we set off on a three-month trip across Europe it was Karl Wallinger’s sunshine, foresight and relentless positivity that were sending us on our way. Way Down Now highlights his Beatles obsession, with the eco aware, playful Lennon-esque lyrics and his love of the Stones with the glorious “woo woos”

“The clocks will all run backwards
All the sheep will have two heads
And Thursday night and Friday
Will be on Tuesday night instead.

And the times will keep on changing
And the movement will increase
And there’s something about the living, babe
That sends me off my feet.

There’s breeding in the sewers
And the rats are on their way
They’re clouding up the images of my perfect day.

And I know I’m not alone
And I know I’m not alone
And I know I’m not alone”

Karl Wallinger’s work with The Waterboys and World Party’s epic single Ship Of Fools had already shown his immense talent, but whilst Private Revolution showed some signs of brilliance, its follow up Goodbye Jumbo showed nothing but. He was another crazy talented maestro; a writer, performer and multi-instrumentalist whose influences glow throughout the music rather than define it. The album flows rhythmically, melodically and like our trip across western Europe, it brings back nothing but sunshine memories.

Goodbye Jumbo is perfect pop with faint psychedelia and large dollops of ‘60s folk. It’s hugely uplifting yet at its heart is the sublime and sorrowful story of love lost, And I Fell Back Alone, which despite its lament did nothing but add to the emotional ride. Put The Message In The Box, Show Me To The Top, Love Street and Sweet Soul Dream are luxurious and captivating, and just listening to Karl Wallinger just encourages smiles.

Mixtapes were our musical medium, with a splattering of essential albums and as we’d pull into campsites our music choice would accompany our arrival. We’d wind down the windows and treat our new neighbours to some Hendrix, Marley or Led Zep. Music was ever present. Some albums take you straight back to a time and place, and Goodbye Jumbo takes me straight back to our VW Camper and that joyful summer of 1990.

The Spoons

By early ’86 and with the Charivari DJ residence established, I was feeling, for the first time, very much a part of something. Bournemouth in the mid ‘80s had a fantastic alternative scene, underground but everywhere, if you knew where to look. My friends, cohorts and co-habitants Simon and Gary were in Sketches Of Utopia, one of many quality bands playing the local pubs & clubs. They and many others played Charivari, who hosted a variety of acts as wide as the stage was small, including Julian Clary & Fanny The Wonder Dog aka The Joan Collins Fan Club and Sigue Sigue Sputnik. Yes, a wide variety.

Charivari attracted the most eclectic bunch of heady non-conformists you could imagine. The rockabilly and psychobilly scene was particularly prominent, but the colossal mix of style and musical orientation on show illuminated the place. The club seemed to crackle with possibilities. Watching an eager couple fuck fully clothed on a seat less than ten feet from me was not something I was used to. Neither was catching a fella shooting up, though at least that was confined to the toilets. Three original local bands in particular did it for me in 1986: The Swis, The Vibration Doctors, and following a gig at The Third Side Club featuring the debut of a certain Lance Riley on vocals, The Spoons.

I’d known Lance briefly before The Third Side gig, and judging by the turnout that night he’d invited half of Bournemouth to see them play. With a heavy ‘60s sound and hooks that could kill, The Spoons became my local Fabs. Stylistically, Lance was a Jim Morrison, Bryan Ferry and Roddy Frame hybrid, Phil was Revolver era John Lennon. Mark, Aftermath era Keith Richards and Budgie, Black And White era JJ Burnel. Make-up didn’t go missing. Paisley was everywhere. These were the mainstays of ’86 Spoons. On drums Steve was replaced by Nick who was replaced by Simon, and after a year or two Mark left too, but in ‘86 and into ‘87 The Spoons, like dozens of others, were MY local band.

My love of lists has always included all-time favourite bands, and for a year or so The Spoons were in my Top 10. Fucking ridiculous, but there they were at about No.8 just behind The Doors and ahead of, I dunno, The Byrds. Whist Lance was in his element as king strut out front, Budgie didn’t need to make any effort to look cool. But it was Phil, aka Hugo Slater that demanded attention. Duelling Rickenbackers with Budgie, Phil was THE main man, as much Lou Reed as Lennon, he was the chief bard, harmoniser and funny as fuck. Posers, the lot of ‘em, but they were seriously good, so all that peacocking just enhanced their appeal.

Sinner, She’s Yesterday, Show Me How, Valentine… their songs had an aura, a riff-heavy mix of all things groovy; an indie tinged mix of Beatles, Zombies and Loaded era Velvets. As great as the songs were, they shone all the more due to the vocal skills of Lance Riley. Looks count for nothing if you sound like Simon Le Bon, but Lance oozed Bryan Ferry class and had a voice to match his waistcoat. Velvety. The Spoons were too ‘60s to jump on the Roses and Mondays bandwagon, ultimately peaking in ’89 under the brief management of U2 producer, Steve Lillywhite, with appearances on MTV and VH1 with their first single Show Me How. But, following Phil’s imminent departure, it was all but over. In hindsight, as fab as The Spoons were, a place in my Top 10 bands of all time might now be a struggle, but if there’s a list of Top 10 from Bournemouth, The Spoons would be nudging the top.

The Beatles – ‘Revolver’

Since that day in late 1980, aged 14, when best friend David Sax lent me his dad’s Beatles Red and Blue albums, the Fabs became my musical addiction throughout the ‘80s. Over that time I bought all their studio albums, and read as much as I could, with the focus being on the life of John Lennon. Philip Norman’s Shout stands out as my favourite read, and its heavy bias towards Lennon’s musical input over McCartney most definitely influenced my early preference.

My Beatles purchase history was urgent and incessant. I bought the Red and Blue albums early, and Sgt. Peppers too as it was widely regarded as THE iconic, groundbreaking album, although for me that was Revolver. I knew very quickly that discovering The Beatles was going to be a long journey, and despite soon realising that around ’65 was when it really started happening, I would love the debut Please Please Me regardless of, or more due to, its simplicity. Those vocals and in particular the perfect harmonies were more than enough.

All The Beatles’ albums are stunning in different ways, and the musical expansion, progression and resulting influence is unarguable. Abbey Road comes a very close second as my favourite album, with Harrison’s contribution matching that of Lennon & McCartney’s for the first time, but Revolver contained such genius, such a perfect mix of simplistic beauty and never-heard-before hedonistic musical head fuck that, well… it’s just one song away from being my all-time favourite album. Yellow sodding Submarine. Great film, shit song.

By 1965 The Beatles’ music was expanding as fast as their minds. By 1966, that altered state had advanced into hallucinogens, and the resulting Revolver was just a perfect blend of groundbreaking experimentation, ‘60s pop classics and harmony-laden ballads. Truly revolutionary, Revolver was more than an album of the times, it defined the times. Eastern philosophy and instrumentation were prominent, and pioneering recording techniques were not just used, but perfected. There’s nothing short of brilliant throughout the 14 tracks, with the one obvious exception.

What age is old enough to be able to fully appreciate Revolver? To surrender to the void. I was 17, I’d been listening to The Beatles obsessively for two years, and I was very ready. In Here, There and Everywhere and For No One you have McCartney’s melodic pop perfection, Eleanor Rigby is immaculate production with the Fabs replaced by George Martin’s genius string arrangement. She Said She Said oozes Lennon, but Harrison’s guitar and in particular Ringo’s drums elevate everything, and in closer Tomorrow Never Knows, the song is a psychedelic masterpiece, a multicoloured psychotrip into a Tibetan Garden of Eden. Musical utopia.