I saw a great poster in a store in Hornsey recently advertising an evening in a High Street pub. The evening was called ‘Stylus Stories’ and it invited people to go along with an old piece of vinyl and tell the story associated with it.
Now, this idea really appeals to me, but I’m never going to tell it personally in a group of strangers in a Hornsey pub for many reasons, but I can write about it here.
I think that 1986 was pretty much the making of me. It’s a time I can track a lot of stuff back to, and stuff that still relates to me as I am now. I was in my ‘O’ level year, and as part of our preparation, our school invited us to take up a post in the workplace as part of a week’s work experience. My early teenage years were rather over-egged with trains, and journeys across the land to spot trains. I thought my perfect work experience would be at Lancaster station, and so I spent – in hindsight – a rather depressing week from Monday, October 6, selling tickets, sitting in the train workers office and watching parcels.
As coincidence would have it, ‘Scoundrel Days’, the second album by Norwegian band a-ha, was released on the Monday of that week, and being in Lancaster I was able to trot down to DMC records on Cheapside and bag a copy. I’d been a fan of the first album, so much so that I’d worn the tape in the middle of ‘Love is Reason’ which made it virtually unplayable.
During the week, I got a message from a classmate, Stephen Deering, that I’d attracted the attention of a girl in my year at school, and a hot date had been set for me at Crystal T’s night club on Friday night. To be frank, this socially uneasy, train spotting boy was rather alarmed at the idea of having a liaison with a girl arranged without my input, but I was also rather too feeble to resist it. I guess that I was rather more scared than excited.
The passage of time has revealed that a-ha’s second album really set out and established their rather misunderstood melancholic sound, their sometimes odd approach to English lyrics and cemented a visual style, all wrapped up in timeless and accessible pop. Even if you only got the latter, the quality of the output over 25 years meant that the other three elements really didn’t matter. I now have that same vinyl album on the wall, protected by a heavy plastic sleeve.
The night at Crystal T’s remains vivid and awkward. However, from that first night grew first love. The train spotting fell away into something of an embarrassment and I think that first relationship – three years it lasted – taught me an awful lot about being with a person, enjoying time together and sharing life with other people. It also fuels my nostalgia and fosters strong memories that I can see, hear and touch, and it provokes plenty of ‘what if’s’. Though that relationship started over 25 years ago, it feels close to how I am now. The same is true of Scoundrel Days, a-ha’s legacy and the places and people these evoke.
A week in October, 1986. So much to answer for.