What’s so special about 30th April 1983 then?
Let me go back a few days before. If the 30th was a Saturday, then the 25th was a Monday. It was on that particular day that HMV opened their first record shop in Cardiff. There was huge publicity for it, and I can remember my father coming home from work in Cardiff that day and telling us (my brother and I) about the wonders to be seen there. There was a copy of “Satanic Majesties” with the 3D cover and “Ogden’s nut gone flake” with the round cover – which my brother asked my father to buy the next day. I was thirteen by this point and my brother was eighteen months older than me. His musical tastes were more developed than mine – he had had his music centre (a record player, radio and cassette deck) from around 1980 and I had only got mine for Christmas in 1982. Don’t get me wrong, I knew what music I liked and so did he – but at that point there was such supposed pressure to NOT like whatever he played that our tastes were almost completely separate. If you were to draw a Venn diagram of our tastes at the time there was very little overlap. So he stuck to his sixties music – Stones, Kinks, Velvets – and I listened to the Top 40 on Radio One. And around February 1983 I found Radio Luxembourg. Sure they played lots of the same things as Radio 1 and yes they had annoying adverts and of course the reception was mostly abysmal, but sometimes they played different records that you would not hear on Radio 1. The Spring of 83 was a golden time for chart music, I could browse through a Top 40 list for any week in March and marvel at the wonders there – Soft Cell doing “Numbers”, Joe Jackson’s joyous “Stepping out”, “Keep feeling fascination” and “Blue Monday” of course… And yet there were two songs that were really special to me.
I”d been aware of OMD previously, certainly I knew their hit singles up to that point and my father had borrowed “Architecture and Morality” from his works record club, played it once and returned it without even taping it – a sure sign he wasn’t bothered by it, but I remember seeing the sleeve in our house in late 81 and being intrigued by it – it was the first time I had seen a Peter Saville sleeve, not that I knew that at the time. But OMD… “Souvenir” had soundtracked a Christmas school disco in 81 as us eleven and twelve year olds tried to “slow dance” to it, not having the faintest idea what we were doing. In February 83 OMD returned with “Genetic engineering” and my ears pricked up to it. Something about the insistent slightly off-kilter rhythm struck me, the curiously jangling guitar, the proclaimed vocals but most of all it was the structure of it – how it started from so little to explode as the whole band come in and it builds through two verse to that curious middle eight of jangle guitar and echoing vocal, three handclaps and the whole band come back in and now there’s a toytown melody over the top which resolves the whole song. It continues to repeat like an ice cream van’s callsign as more elements of music are stripped away and it returns to the start, the typewriter clatter and toy piano. I don’t remember the first time I heard it, but I knew damn well I loved it. I can remember talking to one of my classmates – a huge Human League fan – about it and us both agreeing that it was a tremendous record.
But OMD were not cool. All the girls in my class were obsessed with Duran Duran or Spandau Ballet or Wham or Tears For Fears and for sone reason my pencil case became the site of their war of words over which of these acts were better and / or most fanciable. Even now I can remember which of the girls in my class had allegiance to which band. Nobody was interested in OMD though, they weren”t being fought over by girls. I didn’t know at the time but their image did them no favours. I saw them perform “Genetic engineering” on Top Of The Pops and drank in every second of it – Andy playing a red semi acoustic guitar, the layout of the band, the megaphone, it all seemed magical. But nobody really bought it and it soon fell off the charts. I saw a review of the album “Dazzle ships” in my father”s newpaper and it sounded very odd and they didn”t like it at all.
“Genetic engineering” was still played on Luxembourg though and it did well on what they called “The Futurist Chart” which was broadcast on Thursday evenings. It was a broad church, futurisn. It seemed to be anything new or interesting or using synthesisers. It was on that show I first heard “Doot doot” by Freur. In those days they were known as that squiggle band and I would find an advert for it in a friend”s Smash Hits and learn to draw it. “Doot doot” again sounded amazing to me – the tension building up as the song progresses, the repeating guitar line, the hiss and spit of the drum machine, then the song explodes, synth strings swoon, the singer yelps and screams and it fades out over huge drum rolls. It sounded intriguing – what did it mean? Did it mean anything anyway? I listened out for it all the time on Luxembourg. Every week they had a Powerplay – three songs they would play after the on-the-hour news – and for one week they had “Is there something I should know?” and “Let’s dance” and “Doot doot”. I was glued to the radio that week because I loved all three records.
So that was how Spring 83 was for me. There’s one important factor I’ve missed out along the way. Around February 83 I suddenly realised that the opposite sex were quite interesting and some were more interesting than others. I mean it isn’t relevant here but will crop up along the way
April 30th then. It was a Saturday and in the morning my parents and my brother went to Cardiff to check out HMV. I didn’t go because I was planning to go with a friend in the afternoon. They returned home around lunchtime and showed me their purchases – my father had bought Phil Everly’s solo album (which had his Cliff Richard duet on it) and my brother had bought Lou Reed’s “Transformer”. In the afternoon I walked round to my friend’s and we caught a train into Cardiff. As far as I can remember this was probably the first time I’d gone into Cardiff on my own and this was definitely the first time I was going record shopping. Once there we found HMV in the middle of Queen Street opposite Woolworths and in we went. Into the long dark room with bright purple and blue neon everywhere, it vaguely looked like the set of TOTP at the time – neon tubes everywhere, the height of modernity. The LPs were at the front of the store and up a few steps. towards the rear of the store for singles. For a while, we got our bearings and browsed through the racks. I can remember looking at the wall of twelve inch singles on the right hand side wall at the back, seeing the actual records that I had heard so many times. Then the thought struck me, I wonder if “Doot doot” is here? So I trawled through the section for F and found it, the twelve inch of “Doot doot” for £1.99. I couldn’t let this chance pass so I eagerly took it to the till and bought it. My friend was now looking at the albums towards the front of the store and I looked at the chart albums – the lps that jumped out at me were “Faster than the speed of night” and a strange cover with no writing on and some holes on the back and a painting of flowers. That intrigued me. My friend – whose tastes were very different from mine – was considering an album purchase, an album by Twisted Sister. We talked for a while and decided that if we didn’t have a Wimpy on the way back we could probably buy an album each. So back to the racks I went and found “Dazzle ships” and bought that as well for £3.99. On the way back to the station we dropped into WH Smiths and looked in their record department upstairs and I saw a seven inch of “Doot doot” there in a strange scale-like textured sleeve. But I had no more money anyway so we caught the train back to Penarth, both looking at our purchases, the excitement of wondering what the contents will sound like, examining the sleeves for clues. When we got back to my friends we showed our purchases to his parents – “Who are Ohmd?” because they misread OMD as a word not an acronym. As my friend blasted out his new album (which wasn’t his first by no means, looking back I was definitely a late starter here) I thought I’d rather listen to mine so set off home.
I can remember that walk home clear as day. The sky was a lovely clear blue, it was warm but not too hot to be sweaty. I walked over the railway bridge in Forrest Road and stopped to look at the sky. Does life get better than this, really? The anticipation was growing, nearly home, savouring every moment. At home I showed my family my purchases then dashed upstairs to my room, carefully took off the shrinkwrap and opened the sleeves. I boggled at the curious underwater effect on the band photo on the back of “Doot doot”, so you couldn’t distinguish the band members at all, but they looked like a band, two members were wearing the same white jacket and the other three had the same red jacket on. But that sleeve was nothing in comparison to “Dazzle ships”. A gatefold sleeve, the dazzle pattern (with holes, like the sleeve with the painting I’d seen – what was it with holes?) gave way to a mainly black inner gatefold, the album itself tucked inside another sleeve with a coloured flag pattern which showed through the holes (again) on a world map which seemed to have been produced in block graphics on a ZX81, indeed I tried to do this myself the next day and failed. But there was all this information there, where it was recorded, the instruments used, sound effects records credited. What was this album going to sound like if the sleeve was this crazy!
I played “Doot doot” first so I put my headphones on and lay on my bed, examining the sleeve as the record played An eztended mix of 6 minutes said the sleeve. The insect intro took longer to fade in. The fizz of the drum machine kicked in, so far so good. The guitar figure joins in. A chorus of “doot doot” vocals appear. Then appear again, unlike the version I knew. The singing begins and now I was hearing the song in proper stereo without interference from radio waves or anything else. Backwards reverb introduces the chorus, then something great happens I wasn’t ezpecting, the chorus loops around again without vocals and my heart skips a beat – this is amazing, I can hear everything that’s going on without vocals getting in the way. The songs carries on as I know then explodes around the three minute mark as drums and synths come in and chime around the place. But the song isn’t fading out. After a crazed drum roll – where I expect it to fade – it carries on, you hear a manix laugh (the drummer?) and it still goes on, slowly elements of the msuic drop away – bass, guitar, synths take a crashdive into more drums rolls and the song grinds to a halt. Then a backwards voice says sonething and it ends. That was amazing, I am flabberghasted, is that the best song ever?
Now I’m torn, do I play it again or turn the record over? Of course I play the b-side called “Hold me mother”. A frantic burst of energy compared to the relatively languid a-side. It seems to go on about lizards and webbed hands and is a bit spooked but soon just hurtles for six minutes to its conclusion amongst drum rolls and clangs and echoes of “Mother”. Interesting but not as good as the other side, but intriguing enough for me to want to hear more.
After tea I settled down for the “Dazzle ships” experience. This should be good, I thought, there”s twelve songs here, interesting titles, let’s give it a spin…Hang on this is a recording of a radio station. And they’ve copywrited this? “Genetic engineering” follows next and I’m happy with that. Then a voice repeats ABCABC followed by 123123. I don’t understand this at all. What’s with the robots and clanking? Then the more faniliar “Telegraph”, a failed hit single. Then more strangeness on “This is Helena”, martial drumming, strange voices and fanfares. This is very schizophrenic, I have no idea what is happening but I’m loving it. Finally “International” closes side one with a waltz time lullaby, except it isn’t really. When the singer really let’s rip towards the end my poor cheap Sanyo music centre can barely cope with it. I wonder what side two is like.
Side two starts like a submarine war movie. Deep sea sonar noises and other strange things, followed by deep echoing “You”s with a wall of choral ahhs behind it. And they copywrited that as well? Side two is more song based after that, the glorious rise and swell of “Romance of the telescope”, “Silent running”‘s stately grace and the pounding relentless “Radio waves”. At the time I thought “Why wasn”t this a single?” Then “Time zones” is more oddness, the speaking clock in lots of languages perfectly synchronised, the final “precisely” leading into “Of all the things we’ve made”, which has a nice mournful edge to it. And that’s it, I look back at the track list and think “Well that wasn’t really twelve songs, was it?” But I loved it, I wanted to hear it again, to get my head around it, to sort out what the hell all the noisy interludes were about. But more than anything this felt like MY music, both single and album I had discovered and located and bought, this was their music linking to my experience of life and fitting in to it perfectly. These records and memories would stay with me forever, and over the weeks in May 83 I would play them over and over, sinking deeper into love with the music. And I wanted to know more, find out about these bands, what inspired them, where they came from, hear more music by them.
So 30th April 1983 was the day I stopped being interested in music, and became a music lover. That’s why it was important for me, then and now.