Depeche Mode – In Your Room (1993)

I have been through some dark times. I have those midnight moments of the soul where I have really grappled with what I have, at times, perceived as the complete futility of existence. Those moments where you can only think “Why Bother?”. This is the reality of depression. Everybody else around you can be filled with the fun of flinging little balls of compressed snow at each other in an almost ceremonial celebration of the child-like – and you can be stood in the middle of all that fun and joy with nothing but the nagging though that you are wasting everybody’s time by being there. It is not a pleasant place to be. It makes me an unpleasant person to be around (just ask my wife). There is nothing worse than the feeling that the whole world is just fucking shit.

Therefore, when I have heard of people like Chris Cornell from Soundgarden or Chester Bennington from Linkin Park take that move of expressing their helplessness and hopelessness in the ultimate way, I can understand that moment. I can place myself in their shoes. I have the empathy to understand what it might take to take that next step. I know the darkness.

I have a collection of music that is my dark music. This is not a hipster inspired attempt at an ironic understanding of some new “dark-wave” movement in a misguided attempt to adopt the angst of a different generation. Oh no, this is music that somehow captures or expresses those midnight moments of my soul. It features a music from the likes of Nine Inch Nails (particularly “The Fragile” album) and Marilyn Manson. It also features one particular album from Depeche Mode.

This week I have mostly been listening to Depeche Mode’s dark masterpiece album, “Songs of Faith and Devotion” which features “In Your Room”. I’m not going to discuss what has caused this crisis moment in my life but I’m writing this blog because I want (or indeed need) people to understand that there is nothing quite as frightening as a mind that does not behave in the way that you think it should. I’m not certain that “In Your Room” really reflects this in terms of lyrical content, but it somehow manages to musically convey the mood and feeling of depression.


The version of “In Your Room” featured in the above video called “The Zepher Mix” was used for the single version. It was a radically different mix of the original album version, nearly completely rerecorded by producer, and Garbage band-member, Butch Vig who had also produced Nirvana’s “Nevermind” album. The remix features more of a traditional rock sound than any previous Depeche Mode single, with Alan Wilder’s thumping live drum sound (which became central to the world tour that managed to break an already broken band), alongside squalling feedback and chiming guitar sounds. Any synths are buried so low in the mix that it sounds utterly unlike the Mode that made synth music so epic.

The music video for “In Your Room” (using the Zephyr mix) was directed by the person who came to be famous for creating the unique visual imagery for Depeche Mode amongst several other big name bands (“Achtung Baby” era U2, and Joy Division). Anton Corbjin directed a video that features references to the videos for several famous Mode tracks: “Strangelove” (a model strikes poses in rubber style underwear), “I Feel You” (a woman dressed in the same style pinstripe suit that Dave Gahan wears in the original video, throwing very similar rock star shapes), “Walking In My Shoes” (the haunting walking bird costumes that walk with arms outstretched like some demon vulture), “Halo” (the jugglers wearing clown make-up), “Enjoy The Silence” (a woman dressed in the same king regalia, walking slowly whilst holding a traditional seaside folding chair), “Personal Jesus” (a woman wears the same cowboy style outfit as worn by the band in the original video), “Condemnation” (a woman wears a white dress festooned with white ribbons), and finally “Never Let Me Down Again” (tea drinking in the desert). Corbijn described the video as a retrospective of the work he had done with Depeche Mode, made at a time when it looked like either the band was going to split up or individual members of the band were going to die… yes, that’s you Dave Gahan that we’re talking about.

In your room
Where time stands still
Or moves at your will
Will you let the morning come soon
Or will you leave me lying here
In your favourite darkness
Your favourite half-light
Your favourite consciousness
Your favourite slave


The video was not shown much on MTV, primarily due to the partial nudity of Alexandra Kummer, who recreates the famous scenes from the various Depeche Mode video clips. Therefore, the song was not a massive success in the USA where the Mode had been massive since the release of “Music For The Masses” and then the even more massive success of “Violater”. Both albums marked out Depeche Mode as the pioneers of stadium electronica.

However, this is not the version of “In Your Room” that I play in my dark times. That honour goes to the album version that can be found on “Songs Of Faith And Devotion”. It is a bleak monolith of swirling desperation. It typifies those feeling of being lost and confused and numb and angry and hopeless and everything else that comes with the dark times.

I don’t remember if there was a specific event back in 1993 that created such a deep connection with “In Your Room”. I don’t think so. I remember life being pretty fine back then as I was married only in 1992, and indeed started my first full time drama teaching job in September 1993. Life didn’t start to fuck me up until I was made redundant in the third year of my teaching career. That experience was unpleasant, and it is a fear that haunts me until this very day. However, I don’t even think that holds the distinction of being the cause of my depression and anxiety – I’m not even sure that a single event can be a cause. My understanding of depression and anxiety is that it is as likely to be a combination of different events that could be said to lead to the development of mental health problems. Indeed, I now know that there might not even be an identifiable cause as current theories indicate that depression is as much a chemical and physiological imbalance in the brain.

For your entertainment, here is the version taken from their live tour, called the “Devotional Tour”, that adds another little element of self-destruction:


When watching this clip, I always wait for the moment when Mode front man Dave Gahan leaps into the audience, perfectly in time with the video projection – a face of a woman who seems to look down either in disappointment or disgust. Dave Gahan has originally appeared as an unlikely front-man, being rather gangly whilst blessed with a deep baritone-ish voice that seemed particularly mismatched with the bleepy electropop of “Just Can’t Get Enough” and other early Vince Clarke penned hit singles. If you look back to their first singles, they are a lightweight synth-pop band who sound like a bit of fluff and nonsense. They do not sound like a band who could soundtrack the darkest moments of the soul, let alone be the physical embodiment of them in real life.

By the time of the “Devotional Tour”, Dave Gahan had transformed himself into the very parody of a long-haired, bearded, tattooed grunge rock-star complete with a serious and very life-threatening drug addiction. Indeed, it was the “Devotional Tour” where the mighty Mode scared Primal Scream with the level of drug taking and associated madness during their time as support band, and put them back on the path of being indie art provocateurs rather than wannabe Stones imitators.

Yes, it was that mad – and I think you can catch that mood in the song.

In your room
Where souls disappear
Only you exist here
Will you lead me to your armchair
Or leave me lying here
Your favourite innocence
Your favourite prize
Your favourite smile
Your favourite slave


The fact that Dave Gahan is alive after the mess that he got himself into offers me hope. The fact that Depeche Mode have continued to record and tour, especially after losing Alan Wilder who left the band after the tour, is also hopeful.

So sometimes it is important to not so much as wallow in the darkness but to accept that it is there. I have come to the conclusion that it will always be there. I have to learn to live with my depression, and I have been doing so with some degree of success. However, when things don’t go right… indeed, when things go very wrong due to forces that are simply beyond your control, then you also have to trust yourself that things will get better.

I hope they will.

In your room
Your burning eyes
Cause flames to arise
Will you let the fire die down soon
Or will I always be here
Your favourite passion
Your favourite game
Your favourite mirror
Your favourite slave


I don’t think I’m being brave by discussing this. In fact, there is still enough of a stigma about openly discussing what depression actually means for people in the cold light of day that part of me thinks I’m being utterly stupid by putting this post out there in the world. However, I want people to understand that this is real. This is how people really feel. This is the reality of the struggle when you have depression (and let’s not even start about anxiety which in my humble opinion if the real head fuck).

Recently, a group of my friends have started to go out on a minimum twelve mile walk every month partially to raise awareness of the linked issues of mental illness and suicide prevention, jolted into action by events such as the deaths of Chris Cornell and Chester Bennington (to name only two). However, perhaps the more important reason to encourage people to talk and share their experiences or worries – I have a walk coming up very soon, and I’m looking forward to getting out onto the South West Coastal Path with a group of friends to walk and talk. Yes, it really is as simple as that.

If you have a spare tenner, and if you feel generous, it would be amazing if you could make a contribution to my Just Giving fundraising page. I have included the link below:


So there we go.

Now I need to get out of this mood and find my angry and pissed off playlist.



Kylie Minogue – “I Should Be So Lucky” (1987)

So 1988 was the year that confused and confounded the fuck out of me in musical terms whilst I found myself really enjoying the fruits of becoming a responsible grown-up adult (well, I kinda thought of myself as a responsible grownup adults at the time even though I still obviously had the maturity of a tiny toddler, at least I convinced myself that I was comparatively grown-up).  David Bowie hadn’t produced a brilliant album since “Let’s Dance” back in 1984. Roxy Music had split, leaving Bryan Ferry to produce a series of increasingly sterile solo albums. Something had gone dreadfully wrong after the spectacle of Live Aid in 1985 – and I laid the blame at the likes of Stock, Aitkin and Waterman who produced “I Should Be So Lucky”.

1987 was a turning point in my life – I’d taken my A Levels in the summer of 1987, earning three good grades, and I was now a college student engaged in undertaking my Foundation Art course and learning to expand my horizons. In March 1986, I’d fallen in love and started going out with the most incredible young woman in the world. The results of being in a steady relationship saw me change in unexpected ways as I became accustomed to being part of a solidified pair… a “we” rather than just being a “me”. The influence of my girlfriend was seen through the broadening of my attitudes and experiences, whether that was towards the arts and theatre in particular (as I started to discover some of the previously ignored joys of musical theatre and dance – well I was into “serious drama” that was obviously going to change the world), or politics or any other aspects of being part of the changing society that we found ourselves in. Yes, this included music too.

So I grew to like Kylie. I grew to really like “I Should Be So Lucky” for one simple reason – my beloved like Kylie, and I grew to like Kylie too. Yes, it is simply explained through that wonderful process of falling in love for the first time ever, and seeing the world through an expanded awareness that means you can no longer be totally self-obsessed (as we artistic types had a tendency to be).

So you have to remember that, for some strange reason, the UK became obsessed with everything that was Australian back in the later half of the 1980s. “Neighbours” had become an unlikely hit tv soap, which everybody in school seemed to watch – I have vague memories of being part of a group that was somehow able to watch it in a room with the blessing of a teacher. Whatever the truth of the situation, I certainly remember part of the fascination was that it was one of the few programmes where they had characters who were the same age as me, and seemed to be living through the same worries and frustrations of any teenager. Central to the success of “Neighbour” was Kylie Minogue (where she played tomboy mechanic, Charlene Mitchell) and Jason Donovan (who played her romantic love interest, and eventual husband, Scott Robinson). The episode where the two characters got married was seen by an audience of 20 million in the UK, and set the scene for successful music careers by both actors (and made a surprise pop star of Angry Anderson, the ex-singer of Aussie rock band Rose Tattoo, whose power ballad “Suddenly” sound-tracked that wedding episode)  .

In the UK, the first signs of that super successful career would be the release of “I Should Be So Lucky” in December 1987.


“I Should Be So Lucky” is a prime piece of late 80s bubblegum pop, written and produced by the giants of the late 80s chart scene, “hit factory” makers Stock, Aitkin and Waterman. Often abbreviated as SAW, the trio were an English songwriting and record producing team that consisted of Mike Stock, Matt Aitkin and Pete Waterman. They dominated the singles chart of the second half of the late 1980s, starting with Dead Or Alive’s “You Spin Me Round (Like A Record)”. SAW is considered to be one of the most successful songwriting and producing partnerships of all time, scoring more than 100 UK top 40 hits from the mid 80s until the end of their imperial phase at the start of the 1990s, selling 40 million records.

In my imagination
There is no complication
I dream about you all the time
In my mind, a celebration
The sweetest of sensation
Thinking you could be mine
In my imagination
There is no hesitation
We walk together hand in hand


Kylie Minogue became one of SAW’s biggest artists. Her first 13 singles reached the UK top ten with “I Should Be So Lucky” spending five weeks at number one in the UK. Her debut album, named “Kylie”, became the highest selling album of 1988 in the UK, and also the fifth highest-selling album of the decade. Indeed, after the release of the album, Kylie was forever known simply as Kylie (and a generation of mums would name their daughters as Kylie – as I have taught a fair few in my time).

As with many songs, “I Should Be So Lucky” takes me right back to a specific place and time – it takes me back to my hometown in Cwmbran in 1988, totally in love with the gorgeous and incredible young lady who would eventually become my wife. It reminds me of the time went walking alongside the river that ran along the bottom of our school fields just talking and holding hands. It reminds me of snatched moments in between lessons in sixth form. It reminds me of writing letters (yes, letters!!) to her everyday that she would be away with her family during the Easter holidays. It reminds me of meeting her Gran who would hold wonderfully mad family gatherings (where the youngest would dress as Father Christmas and ceremoniously hand out gifts) and who accepted me into the family fold from the first moment that I met her. It reminds me of so many things that just bring a massive smile to my face and joy to my heart.

Yes, it takes me back to the naive hope, optimism and joy that comes hand in hand with being young and in love. It reminds me of the me that I used to be before the realities of living got hold of me, and attempted to beat the living shit out of me for a while. It reminds me of the progress that I have made from the darkest of dark days, and gives me hope for the journey that still lies ahead.

I’m dreaming
You fell in love with me
Like I’m in love with you
But dreaming’s all I do
If only they’d come true
I should be so lucky
lucky, lucky, lucky
I should be so lucky in love
I should be so lucky
Lucky, lucky, lucky
I should be so lucky in love
Look those lyrics that are full of yearning for the fulfilment that we hope will come along with not only being in love but also being loved in return. I remember being desperate to have that exact feeling, that somebody loved me for no reason other than simply that I was being myself. And look what happened to me. Yes, life was sometimes difficult and challenging and sometimes even a little bit brutal (precisely because of the people who can be all of those things, and they were) but I went into town for a coffee with my wife today. We still walk hand in hand. We still laugh at whatever crap jokes we came up with. We still gaze into each other’s eyes every so often. We still kiss. We are still in love with each other after that fateful day in March 1986 when I pulled her off a chair in the sixth form common room and hurt her back – always a good starting point for love, don’t you think?
Hey, it worked. We’ve been life partners for over 30 years through thick and thin, and neither of us has any plans to get rid of the other. Why? We accept each other as we are, warts and all because that is all the stuff that made us fall in love with each other. Yes, we did try to mould each other into something different but then we both realised that was ultimately the road to disaster. So now we are both finding the things about ourselves that we liked back then, and mashing it together with the stuff that we both like about ourselves now. Yes, it probably does not make sense but I’m not sure there really is any way to explain how two people just seem to work together. It just works and that makes me happy.
You know when things work don’t you? Yeah, I’m sure that Kylie does too – but that hasn’t stopped her from trying to reinvent the simple pop joys of “I Should Be So Lucky” as shown via the link below that will take you to a misinformed attempt at trying to recreate the song as some blissed out trance epic. Bad Kylie.
It’s a crazy situation
You always keep me waiting
Because it’s only make believe
And I would come a-running
To give you all my loving
If one day you would notice me
My heart is close to breaking
And I can’t go on faking
The fantasy that you’ll be mine
Don’t be mad at Kylie. Everybody runs away from who they are until they rediscover the person they were always meant to be. Sometimes it just takes people longer to rediscover the simple joys of what they do best.
So Kylie has run away to Nashville and has created for her current single (if such a thing still exists in this day and age) a song that has a slightly bizarre American twang that somehow makes it sound as if she is aiming for a Dolly Parton-esque vocal sound – it is miles away from the innocent delivery of her SAW years. Yeah, it is that devil called “musical credibility” that is probably whispering in her ear again. I suppose you can’t wear gold hot pants for ever… or can you?
You can find the latest single, “Dancing” by clicking on the link below (apologies that I can’t seem to embed the video directly into the blog today… I’m sure that Kylie herself could give us a reasonable explanation as to why it is not deemed acceptable to encourage people to see the video outside of the tightly controlled environment of the You Tube site itself).
So there you go.
Oh still thinking of that Angry Anderson song? Here you go…

The Fall – Theme From Sparta F.C. (2003)

We said goodbye to another legend of music this week. Sadly, it seemed to go largely unnoticed and unaccredited in the mainstream media, except maybe for a short segment of a few minutes on BBC2’s Newsnight programme. It was primarily left to the more indie music press, such as the cheerleaders of indie spirit like the NME, to lead the mourning and much needed recognition of Mark E Smith – possibly the last true embodiment of what might be considered to be the true punk spirit.

Mark E Smith (5 March 1957 – 24 January 2018) was the lead singer, songwriter and creative driving force behind The Fall, which was possibly one of the last true independent bands who took the spirit of the original punk movement from 1976 and somehow shaped it into his unique vision. He never claimed to be a musician due to being unable to play any music. However, he knew the sound and spirit that he wanted and he would cajole, provoke and even bully his ever changing band of musical allies into forming that wall of sound that was often a central element of The Fall’s appeal, combined with Smith’s twisted lyrical genius and individual method of vocal delivery.

Essentially, he was the maverick’s maverick.

Smith formed The Fall in 1976 after attending the legendary Manchester Free Trade Hall gig by The Sex Pistols that also kick started the music careers of The Buzzcocks, Simply Red’s Mick Hucknell, The Smith’s Morrissey and possibly hundreds of others who claimed to be there that fateful night. The Fall went on to feature over 60 different members, and released 32 studio albums. Smith, who originally had ambitions to be a writer rather than a “singer”, developed a lyrical style that has been described as consisting of “grim, dark and ironic humour”. He also had a reputation for being notoriously difficult to work with, due to his unflinching vision of what The Fall had to be even to match his unique and unwavering vision – if it resulted in sacking entire bands, separating from wives, and pissing off legions of fans. John Peel, the world famous DJ who also came to embody true indie spirit in the face of BBC indifference, described The Fall as his favourite band. Smith eventually gained a status as an counter-culture hero and enduring auteur icon.

I was introduced to the music of The Fall by a colleague in work who himself had gained a reputation both from students and staff for being a challenging, uncompromising auteur (if such a thing is possible in education, particularly in the field of Maths education which many would argue is as conservative as you can get in teaching) – you would imagine that he would be hated and even possibly feared by students. No, he was deeply respected by the majority of students and some of them even viewed him as our school’s own John Peel with his constant questing for new sounds and new genres of music. The two things that he shared with Peel were 1) a permanent grey beard that never disappeared from his face regardless of fashion or public approval; and 2) an undying perverse love of everything created by The Fall regardless of whether it has any sense of musicality or just sounded like a pissed old northern bloke shouting with incoherent rage at the increasingly stupid bollocks of society. He introduced me to The Fall, through the art of downloading songs from this internet thing back in early 2000s and burning interesting compilations to CD, in a probably legally questionable manner. One of the first songs that I remember listening to with real interest and surprise was “Theme From Sparta F.C.”.

Apologies for the crappy quality of the audio – but that in itself makes it perfectly like The Fall:


You may be wondering what the feck I have just made you listen to? Some people would decide to classify it as basic garage indie rock, whilst others will probably call it post-punk. Others will argue that it is perhaps the purest vision of punk as espoused by the original spirit of punk to be true to yourself as demonstrated by the likes of John Lydon, Joe Strummer and Captain Sensible. In my opinion, you only need to understand that it is The Fall – if you understand what they are about, you will never need any further explanation.

Before I try to explain what Mark E Smith meant to me, I’ll let others who knew him better try to find the words to explain why this man deserved a full and frank celebration of what he achieved against the odds, against a music industry that depended upon being able to shape and control their “product”. The first words will be those of his ex-wife and sometime partner in The Fall, Brix Smith Start:

I feel so honoured to have worked with, and been a partner with, somebody so singularly talented and groundbreaking and free-thinking. He came at everything from multi-dimensions and odd angles, outside every box. Forget about pushing the envelope – there was no envelope. Mark had this theory that there were seven original people in the world and that everybody else is a slate of one of those seven. I have to say that Mark was absolutely one of those seven.

Before we went onstage every night Mark would make us form a circle and walk anticlockwise. I think he really understood the manipulation of energy. He would do things like come on stage after we’d soundchecked for an hour, got all of our sounds perfect, and then twist up the knobs on everybody’s amplifiers, and pull out the microphone from the bass drum stand and mess everything up. It used to drive us bonkers. But he was creating chaos and creating energy, and you’d have to work that much harder to get everything back. That’s the same reason that he would sack so many people. I remember a time when he got rid of the drummer between the soundcheck and the show and pulled somebody up from the support band. It was traumatic, but in fact it was like pulling the rug out from under you – you have to get up and make it work. It made us better musicians and able to cope in all kinds of circumstances. When you work harder at something, when you have to grapple from different angles, it makes it more intense and more powerful. He shook up the snow globe every day of his life.


I love the image that she provides in the quote that says he “shook up the snow globe of his life” – this is why the idea of Mark E Smith doing what he did was perhaps even more important to me than his actual musical output. I am jealous that he managed to maintain that strength of character and conviction of vision, and it reminds me of what I wanted to achieve and that I simply could not resist the pressure to simply shut up and conform. Yes, I eventually complied when the pressure to conform was ramped up and up and up. There are very few other bands or solo artists who can claim to being true to their pure vision without being corrupted by the industry influences around them – not even Bowie could have claimed this as his mid 80s output reflected a man who was chasing commercial values rather than following his core creative values of experimentation and pushing back the accepted boundaries of pop.

I will always be disappointed in myself that I couldn’t resist this pressure myself, not as a musician obviously (as I remain musically untalented) but through my chosen career in education. I’m convinced that I would have been a better teacher, a happier person and a generally easier human being to live with if I had managed to maintain that strength of character to be a Mark E Smith as education was changed from a pure public service into a distorted wannabe business model with all the cruelties that come with the “business” mindset.

Yeah, I’m also very aware that I’m being guilty of romanticising a man who was capable of great cruelty against those who were often closest to him, as shown by the revolving door of band members and two broken marriages in his life. People who left the band described his bullying behaviour in distressing detail, yet many of them have lined up to express their grief and also to evoke the importance of this one man in the story of their lives. Similarly, I imagine that my colleague could also be more than capable of being a prize pain in the arse to those he was required to work closely with.

We also find myth-making here at its most potent. How can we resist the myth of the broken artist, the person who takes the pain inherent in his/her life and manages to turn it into potent and powerful art. In the case of Mark E Smith, this was due to the hardness and tyranny of his own father and his upbringing in the old Manchester of urban desolation and economic destruction, before gentrification recreated it as the new media capital of the UK. His art (if you want to call it that) was also highly influenced by his alcohol and amphetamine abuse that undoubtedly contributed to his death at 60, at this moment with a cause of death unverified or unreported in the press, at an age that we now consider to be cruelly short in comparison to the general life expectancy.

However, I did not know him personally and was not personally affected by his cruel side – I only knew the public persona and that is what I will miss the most in this day and age of media trained bland identikit pop and indie. Yeah hashtag who give a shit about having a hashtag!

One of the features of his character mentioned by Brix Smith Start, and others in the days since his passing, was his propensity to fuck up the professional musicianship of Fall members by messing with amp settings, swapping around microphones and many other simple but effective acts of musical sabotage that was partly responsible for creating the chaos that swirled around The Fall like an eddying whirlpool. I have no idea who Kevin Martin is, or the music that he has created under his pseudonym of The Bug, but I like his description of a lesser known aspect of Mark E Smith: his willingness to support musicians who had something in them that he found interesting:

About 30 years ago, I had realised London was unforgiving, hostile and you basically had to pay to play shows to zero audience, with zero industry support. It was one of only two times in my life when I was very seriously thinking of throwing in the towel and giving up on music for good. And then: “Sounds like Thunder not best track on tape, but would fit great on Cog-Sin comp. M.E.S.” A simple, short, shock of support when I least expected it and most needed it.

I had sent Mark E Smith a terrible demo tape of my first band, GOD, in which he had heard something special, and I’m still grateful to this day. Mark epitomised idiosyncrasy, irreverence and independence, and is still a role model for me. In a time when mediocrity, conformity and safety rules the music industry worse than ever, Mark will be sorely missed. An agent of chaos, fuelled by fire. I miss this square peg genius already.


I just went to Spotify and streamed some music by The Bug. If you are expecting a carbon copy of The Fall, you will be disappointed. What I found was a musician that was willing to not only explore his musical horizons but also sometimes tip over the edge through experimentation and collaboration. Perhaps that is a particularly suitable epitaph to the spirit of Mark E Smith.

Damon Gough, who in musical terms is better known as Badly Drawn Boy (and who was also one of my fave musicians during a period of the late 90s / early 2000s) shares a similar experience with the pure maverick spirit of Mark E Smith:

Someone opened my car door as I parked up in the centre of Manchester waiting to pick up a friend of mine, in 1997. This guy just got in the car assuming I was a taxi and asked me to take him to Stockport. I looked and it was Mark E Smith. I had a battered old Audi saloon at the time, so it looked like a hire car, in his defence. I explained, and gave him a lift around the corner for a taxi rank. He was obviously a few drinks down the line, he stumbled out the car and almost fell over. So I got him back in and said, where are you going, I’ll give you a lift.

As we were driving I was listening to a compilation I’d made and there was a Beach Boys song he was raving about: where do you get this? And I said, well, it’s quite popular, and easy to get. So I said I’d give him the tape if you promise we do a song together some day. The next day, incidentally, I was cleaning out my car and found one of his dentures.

I had a cassette full of ideas that I’d been making at home and I played them to him. We met up for a few pints and went back to his house in Prestwich – it was really empty with hardly any furniture and a really old piano that looked like it was recovered from a shipwreck. We did end up recording a song together. He was just dead nice to me – I could have been anybody, but he showed faith in me. He was a poet really, carrying around his lyrics written on scraps in a carrier bag, and he managed to organise people around him to make amazing music around his words. That’s what the Fall was.


Wherever you look in the music press, people have been quietly heaping praise upon praise upon Mark E Smith whilst mainstream media have resorted to a 30 second announcement at best. You will find people who are considered themselves to be innovators and experimenters with music in some form or another revealing their admiration for a man who is almost completely unknown amongst the general population. Many will have heaped praise upon the dark and deep unflinching nature of Smith’s lyric writing, which is ironic (or is it?) as “Theme From Sparta F.C.” features some of his less penetrating lyrical observations, but perhaps that made it one of the best entry points (along with something like “Hit The North”) for a complete Fall novice.

Here we go:

Come on I will show you how I will change
When you give me something to slaughter
Shepherd boy (Hey!)
Everybody sing (Hey!)
Better act quick (Hey!)
Be my toy
Come on have a bet
We live on blood

We are Sparta F.C.


Ok, maybe not the fullest heights of his lyrical tricks and turns of phrase that Smith was famous (or infamous) for but it doesn’t matter. Not when there are another 1000 or so Fall songs to choose from. Pick another album played by a different incarnation of The Fall and you’ll find something amazing.

Enjoy a live version:


It throbs with a power that comes from that unfiltered and undiluted vision at the heart of The Fall, powered by the vision of Mark E Smith. Many musicians could not cope with his continual pushing of them to the edge of whatever manic vision he was pursuing at any particular moment, and essentially fucking with their precious musicianship and prized musical skills. However, other musicians valued his approach and actively sought it out, such as Jon More from Coldcut who worked with Smith on various occasions and who came to prize his true maverick qualities in the studio:

Me and my Coldcut partner, Matt, are fans of the Fall – we both felt Mark was the UK’s answer to Rakim, and asked Mark to guest on our debut album. Mark then called us and said he wanted to record something based on our track Telephone, and would we be up for producing it.

Mark would pace around the studio turning the amps up and down, occasionally going over and randomly hitting the drummer’s cymbals, and chiding the players for not giving it 100%. He pushed the engineer to the edge by moving his carefully worked-out settings. There were echoes of James Brown in the way he conducted the band and pushed them to get what he wanted.

When it came to recording the vocal, we had the idea to set up a circle of microphones in the recording booth, all with slightly different settings. Mark found a megaphone in the studio and proceeded to wander around using that instead. A magic shaman of words, and a man who could rock a jumper like no other.


Yeah, watch him gleefully fuck up the vibe at Glastonbury whilst wearing a particularly un-rock pullover in a rather fetching shade of blue:


So.. Yeah, I feel sad at realising that another unique soul has left us – that I have missed the chance to see live due to a combination of circumstances that continue to piss me off but I’m starting to think that the live experience is completely overrated. I know that Bill Drummond has been arguing for years that he thinks recorded music is dead, and that the only authentic experience is to be found in live music, but I’m starting to wonder if the opposite is true.

See what I mean? Mark E Smith – thought provoking right to the very end. Gone too soon without a doubt. RIP.


Band Aid – Do They Know It’s Christmas? (1984)

Every festive time of the year, usually starting mid-August these days, you will hear a select group of records achieve heavy rotation on national and local radio station. “Last Christmas”? Yes. “Fairy-tale of New York”? Oh yes, indeed. “I Wish It Could Be Christmas Everyday”? Without a doubt. “Merry Christmas Everybody”? Are you kidding me? In this select band of generally upbeat festive merriment, you will find the opening drone and clangs of a much more downbeat number that was created in very different circumstances to yer usual Christmas song.

It’s Christmastime, there’s no need to be afraid
At Christmastime, we let in light and we banish shade
And in our world of plenty we can spread a smile of joy
Throw your arms around the world at Christmastime

Band Aid unleashed the beast of the “charity song” that has subsequently become a staple of the popular music charts, especially since the dawn of the “X Factor” who seem to release an annual charity opus. That’s not to say that charity singles did not exist prior to Band Aid – George Harrison is considered to be the originator of the charity single when he released “Bangla Desh” in 1971 to raise funds for Bangladesh that has been devastated first by a cyclone and then by civil war. However, Band Aid was the first to gather a selection of the hottest musical talents of the times, bung them together into a recording studio alongside a whizz-kid record producer (in this case, Ultravox’s Midge Ure, who co-wrote the song) and to see what fundraising magic might result from the explosive combination of talent and ego.

In this instance, this was the result:


The story of the putting together of Band Aid is the stuff of music legend: Bob Geldof (vocalist of The Boomtown Rats) was so moved by a report that he saw on the BBC News that showed in distressing clarity the plight of starving children in Ethiopia, that he decided to try to raise money using his contacts in the music industry. Geldof started by contacting Midge Ure, from the group Ultravox, to co-write and produce a charity record. Ure took Geldof’s lyrics and some basic chord/melody structures, and used demo technology to create a base melody and backing track for the record.

Whilst Ure worked away at creating something that could be recorded, Geldof called many of the most popular British and Irish performers of the time, persuading (or heckling, barracking or simply lying) them to give their time and talent for free. He has subsequently made it clear that his one criterion for selection was how famous they were. He was less concerned with musical quality than popular fame to increase the possibility of selling as many records as possible. He then kept an appointment to appear on a show on BBC Radio 1, with DJ Richard Skinner, which was booked to promote new material by The Boomtown Rats – but instead of promoting the new material as planned, he announced the plan for Band Aid. Geldof’s unnerving ability to create self-publicity took the project into overdrive as the national media picked up on the announcement with incredible enthusiasm.

Band Aid managed to secure recording studio time for free for a limited 24 hours to record and mix the record, on 25 November 1984. The recording of the song took place at SARM Studios in Notting Hill between 11 am and 7 pm. The process of recording the song was filmed by director Nigel Dick with the intention of being released as the pop video to accompany the track. The day started with the recording of the accumulated chorus of pop superstars, with the line-up being recorded by the international press to be rush released to the newspaper to generate the much needed publicity to hype the record buying public.

Whilst the news was spreading the images of the steller line-up, the rest of the song was recorded, with John Taylor and Andy Taylor of Duran Duran providing bass and guitar parts, whilst the keyboards and various synth sounds were provided by Midge Ure. Phil Collins was brought in to provide his signature drum sound. The song also made use of a slowed down sample of a Tears For Fears track from the previous year, called “The Hurting”, which created the ominous sense of chiming doom and despair at the start of the song.

Tony Hadley, the vocalist of Spandau Ballet, was the first to record his vocal – which he has described as one of the most nerve wracking experiences of his career. Francis Rossi and Rick Parfitt, of Status Quo, were next to sing but their vocals were decided to be unusable (the pair later admitted to be high on cocaine or something) so they were replaced with Paul Weller, Sting, and Glenn Gregory, from Heaven 17. Simon Le Bon, the vocalist of Duran Duran, sang a solo section between contributions from George Michael and Sting. David Bowie was due to sing the opening lines but was unable to make it to the recording session, so the honour was handed over to Paul Young, who had a growing reputation for having one of the best, soulful voices of the times.  Much has been made of Bono’s reluctance to sing his line considering his religious and spiritual convictions at the time. Boy George was the last to put down his solo vocal tracks, arriving last at 6 pm, after Geldof woke him up by phone to have him flown over from New York City on Concorde – as Culture Club were touring in the USA at the time.

The end result was, as you heard earlier, a strange combination of downcast almost funeral requiem to the unfolding events in Ethiopia, which then unfold into a joyous musical singalong chorus. It exists as a unique document of the circumstances in which Geldof and Ure found themselves forced into action to do anything, in addition to being a record of who’s who of the music charts of the early 80s music scene. There is possibly very few other Christmas singles that have a similar tone.

And why? Well, if you weren’t around at the time, be prepared to be distressed:


This was hell on earth. Many people have been critical of Bob Geldof (or Saint Bob as many people like to call him) and people like Bono who have amassed significant personal wealth whilst also calling on people to give to the continued charitable effort that Band Aid has become over the past 30 odd years. The two in particular have become much derided for being wealthy whilst also trying to do important charitable work – how dare they, eh?

However, it needs to be pointed out – who else stepped up to the bat to do something to raise as much money as humanly possible to save as many lives as possible? It is important to remember that Band Aid was called that exactly because Geldof’s theory was that the money would create a short term sticking plaster to hopefully find short term solutions to save as many lives as possible – I don’t think Gelfdof, or Ure, or Bono realised what they were getting themselves into and the ways that this song would define their lives – maybe they would have turned and run for the hills if they had a crystal ball to see into the future?

The song has become both a clarion call to arms for a generation to become activists (whether for Ethipia or other parts of Africa, or for causes closer to home) and for others it came to symbolise the worst aspects of pop stars being out of touch with the reality of life. The lyrics have been criticised by many people of giving a false impression of Africa, such as when Peter Gabriel criticised the wider organisation of the Live 8 event for failing to take account of African artists (leading him to stage his own event at The Eden Project, featuring the cream of the crop of the best musicians from the African continent).

And there won’t be snow in Africa this Christmastime
The greatest gift they’ll get this year is life
Where nothing ever grows
No rain nor rivers flow
Do they know it’s Christmastime at all?
Here’s to you
Raise a glass for everyone
Here’s to them
Underneath that burning sun
Do they know it’s Christmastime at all?


The impact upon me was significant. I had just turned 16 at the time, studying for my O Level exams, and looking for my direction in life. I only bought one copy of the single (which has somehow sadly disappeared as I moved around the country) but the impact of the song gave me a direction – not necessarily in terms of raising money for Africa, but deciding that I wanted to do something that changed the world for the better. It was a long and convoluted journey from becoming a performing artist to being a drama teacher, and then changing to become in charge of SMSC, and then becoming a town councillor. All of these things can draw a line back to that song and the movement that surrounded it.

Of course, it is not the only version of that song that exists. Stock Aitkin and Waterman gathered together the “cream” of their musical artists (oh, and some others) and produced what, in my opinion, is the most underwhelming version of the song – it reeks of late 80s SAW production. Whereas Paul Young gave it soul, this version at times sounds particularly soulless. Maybe I’m being harsh, possibly because I came to despise what SAW productions represented in terms of production line pop- you can be the judge:


Yeah, Marty what-his-face from Wet Wet Wet does his impression of what he thinks soul is (which probably involved gurning like an idiot), whilst a real talent like Lisa Stansfield hardly appears. It is only saved from total mediocrity by The Pasademas who manage to imbue some sense of gospel and blues in their vocal harmonies. However, it is not the real disaster version that would come much later.

Could the 20 year anniversary version be any better?


The answer was a resounding yes, with Chris Martin’s opening vocal providing a real fragility, echoed by Dido (so glad I didn’t call her Dildo), before Robbie Williams gave it full on Robbie-ism. Once The Darkness get involved with their dual guitar licks, it has moved on from the fragility of the opening to a full on indie-rock mayhem celebration of still being alive (even if Joss Stone feels it necessary to go full on vocal acrobatics again to prove her “soul” credentials). Whereas the original Band Aid was locked into a self-imposed restriction of popularity first and talent second, the Band Aid 20 version comes across more as a mix between credible critical darlings and the popular – with Radiohead producer Nigel Godrich at the controls with his access to the likes of Fran Healy (from Travis), Thom Yorke and Johnny Greenwood (from Radiohead), Danny Goffey (from Supergrass) and Paul McCartney providing the musical template for this time’s stars to shine.

So the last version is Band Aid version, the sprawling mess of reworked lyrics in order to make the song seem relevant for a completely different crisis that required a completely different band aid to be applied – the Ebola crisis in Western Africa that is shown so chillingly before the music actually begins at the start of the video.


Whereas Band Aid 20 served as a musical update primarily as a celebration of our cleverness at preventing death on a memorable scale, Band Aid 30 feels like a desperate attempt at an update (produced by Paul Epworth of Adele fame) for desperate times (and sounds like a desperate attempt by old people to still sound in touch – it is actually my least favourite version, even more so than the Band Aid 2 disaster (which was at least full of youth and vitality which I probably hated at the time).

So there you go – the whole messy musical saga that seems entwined with my own messy life journey.

I could make a book out of it if I really wanted to.

The Boomtown Rats – I Don’t Like Mondays (1979)

I like The Boomtown Rats. I like their slightly bolshy attitude, being a group of upstarts from Ireland. I like how they mixed the energy and attitude of punk (as particularly shown by my beloved Damned) and fused it with a Nu Wave melodic sensibility, whilst having a bit of an attitude.  I particularly loved how their pianist, Johnny Fingers (what an excellent name), seemed to spend his life in pyjamas – kinda like a bedtime version of Captain Sensible. Yeah, that’s the kinda popstar that my 10 year old brain seemed to identify with at the time.

So before we leap into their epic “I Don’t Like Mondays”, let’s create a bit of context by showing you a typical example of what came before. So here is “Rat Trap” that took over the number one slot from John Travolta and Olivia Newton-John who seemed to occupy the number one space for several years with whatever song from “Grease” it was that was selling squillions.


Yeah, we’ll rip up a photo of Mr Travolta (was this before he became a Scientologist?) and then use a candelabra as a saxophone which probably broke Musician’s Union rules at the time. Mr Geldof can be seen to be gleeful in his “fuck you all” chopping away at the rules. Fun fun fun – even though the lyrics of the song have got a real social grit to them. I just never picked up on that element at the time – hey, I was young.

So the next time I come across The Boomtown Rats is with this:


Just utterly different from anything I had ever heard from The Rats before – possibly different from anything that I could hear on Radio One at the time, towards the end of the 70s. Sparse piano starts it all off, surrounded by some haunting orchestration, then a choir of voices comes into back up Bob Geldfof’s surprisingly tuneful voice, building up to the chorus before breaking back down again.

And that is without even thinking about the lyrical content.

The silicon chip inside her head
Gets switched to overload
And nobody’s gonna go to school today
She’s going to make them stay at home
And daddy doesn’t understand it
He always said she was as good as gold
And he can see no reason
‘Cause there are no reasons
What reason do you need to be sure


According to Bob Geldof, he wrote the song after reading a telex report whilst he was being interviewed at Georgia State University’s campus radio station, known as WRAS. The content of the telex report was concerned with the shooting spree of 16-year-old Brenda Ann Spencer, who fired shots at children in a school playground at Grover Cleveland Elementary School in San Diego, California, US on 29 January 1979, The shooting spree resulted in the killing of two adults and the injuring of eight children and one police officer. Spencer allegedly showed no remorse for her crime and her full explanation for her actions was “I don’t like Mondays. This livens up the day” when questioned by journalists.

When interviewed about the process of writing the song, Geldof said, “I was doing a radio interview in Atlanta with Fingers and there was a telex machine beside me. I read it as it came out. Not liking Mondays as a reason for doing somebody in is a bit strange. I was thinking about it on the way back to the hotel and I just said ‘Silicon chip inside her head had switched to overload’. I wrote that down. And the journalists interviewing her said, ‘Tell me why?’ It was such a senseless act. It was the perfect senseless act and this was the perfect senseless reason for doing it. So perhaps I wrote the perfect senseless song to illustrate it. It wasn’t an attempt to exploit tragedy.”

Tell me why
I don’t like Mondays
I want to shoot
The whole day down


This was no longer a case of hiding brutal social commentary within the poppier sound of the musical spectrum. The sparse and decidedly un-rocky territory of the music meant there was no other way to present it than straight and without pissing about.

I remember the video – it was one of the first wave of videos that received lots of airplay, especially during the weekly edition of “Top of The Pops” where it (according to my memory) was shown rather than have the band playing live in the studio. The whole image of the band stood on the school stage, and the creepy faces of the schoolchildren staring maniacally at the band is one that is imprinted upon my memory. And the bit where Johnny Fingers crosses from the monotone of the school hall into the brightly lit studio and everything goes full-on Technicolor, is another element of the video that I will always remember.

The Telex machine is kept so clean
As it types to a waiting world
And mother feels so shocked
Father’s world is rocked
And their thoughts turn to their own little girl
Sweet sixteen ain’t that peachy keen
Now, it ain’t so neat to admit defeat
They can see no reasons
‘Cause there are no reasons
What reason do you need oh, woah 


This was the first time I had ever heard about a school shooting, not through the news but through the singular power of a focused and intense piece of music. Sadly, it would not be the last time – as I got older, Dunblane happened. Then we learned about the horrors of Columbine and Sandy Hook, and hundreds of other school shootings that have happened prior to this and subsequently after the Sandy Hook shooting.

One of the most infamous incidents is the Columbine massacre, which was a school shooting that took place at the Columbine High School on April 20, 1999. Senior schools students, Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold, put together a highly planned attack that involved a fire bomb to divert firefighters, propane tanks that were converted to bombs and placed in the cafeteria, 99 explosive devices, and car bombs. They were responsible for the murders of 12 students and one teacher. They also injured 21 additional people, and three more were injured while attempting to escape the school. The pair subsequently committed before they were captured by armed police.

Columbine became an infamous incident in entertainment circles, as the motives of the perpetrators were examined in the closest possible detail. Small details, such as examples of the music of Marilyn Manson, which then resulted in the artist being targeted as having the blame for the murder. This issue (and the resulting impact upon Manson’s career) has been documented in a previous #RaisedOnRadio about Manson’s “Rock Is Dead” track:

Here’s a live version which is even more stripped down to basics than the recorded single version:


The massacre at Columbine sparked a furious debate over gun control laws, high school gangs and goth subcultures, school bullying.  “I Don’t Like Mondays” was starting to address similar concerns whilst Marilyn Manson was actually being of a similar age to me (being born in 1969 whilst I was born in 1968).  So what has happened since Brenda Ann Spencer took those lives that inspired Bob Geldof to write “I Don’t Like Mondays” in 1979?

I suppose the answer is not very much. America has a continually disturbing history of single-person shooting incidents, all the way up to recent events in Las Vegas where, on the night of October 1st 2017, a gunman opened fire on a crowd of 22,000 concertgoers at the annual Route 91 Harvest country music festival on the Las Vegas Strip. This incident has been confirmed as one of the worst in American history, as 58 people were dead and 546 were injured. The shooter was 64 year old Stephen Paddock, who killed himself prior to being captured by the armed police squad who were about to storm his room at the Mandalay Bay hotel, where he had been firing high velocity semi-automatic weapons from.

Whilst not being a school shooting, it clearly shows the continuing and worsening problem that America has with guns – and my continued amazement at the total lack of willingness of their political representatives to put into place some form of logical gun controls, especially to lesson the possibilities of children being able to get their hands on these lethal weapons. In the USA in 2017 so far, 43 people have been fatally shot by children under the age of 4. So we not only have problem with children being shot by other children (or sometimes by adults on school premises) but now we have an issue with children shooting adults (who are often immediate family members).

All the playing’s stopped in the playground now
She wants to play with her toys a while
And school’s out early and soon we’ll be learning
And the lesson today is how to die
And then the bullhorn crackles
And the captain tackles
With the problems and the how’s and why’s
And he can see no reasons
‘Cause there are no reasons
What reason do you need to die, die


The song gained a slightly different resonance when The Boomtown Rats played as part of 1985’s Band Aid extravaganza, when those words listed above allowed a moment of reflection in amongst the cheers and jubilant partying that inevitably became part of such a groundbreaking live event.


As with many iconic songs, you will often get artists who do an interesting cover version. What follows is a version by Tori Amos who covered “I Don’t Like Mondays” as part of her “Strange Little Girls” album project which was based around covers of songs about female characters (real or fictional) that were written by men. Tori Amos decided to reinterpret those songs from a female perspective, therefore her version of “I Don’t Like Mondays” takes away all the bombast and implied tragedy of Geldof’s vocals and strips it right back to a female voice and a piano. What comes across is something that is fragile and perhaps hints at the possible mental condition of a girls who decides to take the lives of schoolchildren and teachers. It is totally different – and I really think that all the best cover versions do something totally different from the original.


Both version are stunning pieces of music, perhaps in totally different ways. Perhaps this is the real strength of a song that is destined to last decades.


The Polyphonic Spree – Lithium (2008)

Sometimes a song manages to capture something perfectly: it might be a feeling, a thought or a perspective. Sometimes it captures it so perfectly that you don’t have to find the words to explain or explore that particular thing anymore – you only have to play the song and it is done. This song somehow manages to capture what I feel is sometimes going on inside my head – that unique and sometimes disturbing tug of war between the positive and the negative; the continual war between the angels and the demons. Writing about this song will go some way to explaining the state of my mental health, particularly as I strive to turn all my own individual negatives into positives, and to turn my particular demons into angels.

It is a song that takes a spectacularly downbeat lyric (originally written by Nirvana) and takes it somewhere that celebrates what others might mourn. I think it is simply stunning:


I can’t pinpoint an exact moment when I suddenly started to think that I needed to explore and address my depression, my anxious thought patterns – talking about mental health has gradually become a focus for discussion over the last few years, possibly as a result of the suicides of several particularly high profile individuals. I have written about the impact of Chris Cornell (of Soundgarden and Audioslave) and Chester Bennington (of Linkin Park) but perhaps the one that really kicked the discussion off was the suicide of Robin Williams, as nobody could’ve possibly seen it coming (although, with the benefit of hindsight, you can now see the signs were there – perhaps we just didn’t make the effort to join the dots).

However, other things have raised the status of mental health – in my work, we have made a real effort to make Movember a highly visible campaign that lots of my fellow male staff members have joined in during the last few years. It was whilst doing some research into the organisation and the background to it, that I discovered some disturbing information about the levels of male suicide in the UK, learning that 75% of suicides were committed by men. In 2014, the suicide figures indicated that 12 men were killing themselves during a 24 hour period. This figure genuinely shocked me. Another statistic indicated that the highest numbers of men who killed themselves did so when they were in their 40s. As I write this, I am 49.

Hence I started to consider my own mental health issues – this year I had been finally diagnosed by my doctor as having clinical depression and anxiety disorder. It was no surprise. In fact, if anything, it was a relief and a vindication that I knew something hadn’t been right for some time – perhaps for longer than I potentially wanted to admit to myself. I’m going back to the me that I remember when I first met my better half, which is a difficult task as my memory seems to have degenerated to an appalling degree in the last few years. I’m thinking that has possibly always been in there to some degree and in some shape and form.

I’m sure that my wife would confirm that I wasn’t the happiest of teenagers when we first started going out with each other, but I don’t know how much of that could be attributed to general teenage angst and added artistic anguish – oh yes, I very much thought of myself as being the artist and performer when we started to go out with each other in sixth form, and I think that the generalised angst and anxiety that so often comes along with artistic struggle for inspiration was certainly a part of my psychological make-up back then.

Part of our initial relationship was based upon that shared experience of being part of the reject club (of which I have written before in my blog about David Bowie’s “Absolute Beginners” – click on the tag to find it and read it), being part of the artistic and academic struggle within our school’s sixth form arts scene (she was an artist and dancer, I was an artist and performer), and having a tempestuous relationship with one domineering parent (my wife with her mother, and me with my father)… all mixed with a liberal sprinkling of that “nobody understands me” anguish that seems to be an essential element of the teenage experience.

So we found each other, we fell in love with other and we saved each other.

Wouldn’t that be a brilliant end to the story?

Yup, but life fucks up the best stories, doesn’t it? Yeah, life always gets in the way of the happy ever after.

I’m so happy because today
I’ve found my friends
They’re in my head
I’m so ugly, but that’s okay, cause so are you
We’ve broken our mirrors
Sunday morning is everyday for all I care
And I’m not scared
Light my candles in a daze
Cause I’ve found god


So, as I get older, I’m trying my hardest to make the stuff in my head sound more and more like the joy and happiness in the Polyphonic Spree’s version of “Lithium”, but this has got more challenging and more difficult probably in the last ten years than at any point prior in my existence. I like the song because it recognises that demons exist but it also recognises that there might be salvation from them.

This is another on my list of funeral songs, just because I think the extended piano outro that you get on the album version would be quite a nice thing to finish on, as the mourners (for want of a better word) wander off into the hazy sunshine (or total pissing rain, which is more likely to be honest in this wonderful country of ours). You can guarantee it’ll be snowed off.  I also like the idea of everybody at my funeral jumping up and down like fucking unhinged orchestral rock hooligans shouting “Yeah Yeah Yeah” at the top of their lungs – actually, I’ll give bonus points to anybody who has the guts to play a bit of “air cello” whilst they are singing along too.

Thinking about it now, I’m even more tempted to insist that people wear Polyphonic Spree style robes to my funeral just so it looks like some strange cult gathering. Yes, I’m trying to engineer a situation where the police raid my funeral because they suspect there is some strange drug fuelled ritualistic orgy that has taken over the church / crematorium / tent in a field (wherever my family decide to host my farewell to this mortal coil – oh, “Hamlet” reference for those English teacher colleagues. I hope you all enjoyed that.).

I can see the stories lasting for years… “Do you remember when Jonesy was buried and the police tested his ashes coz they thought it was some hallucinogenic drug?”.

Ah yes, anything for a final giggle from beyond the grave.

I like it, I’m not gonna crack
I miss you, I’m not gonna crack
I love you, I’m not gonna crack
I killed you, I’m not gonna crack


Anyway, enough talk of funerals, I’ve already kinda covered that with my blog post on “Do You Realise?” by the rather amazingly out there The Flaming Lips (you can go and find that one too). Go there to have all the usual comedy chit chat about death and funeral options – go on, help yourself to as much funeral chat as you could possibly want. Hey, I’m pretty certain the topic will arise again at some point – maybe talking about death so much is a Welsh thing?

I’m posting about this song today because this is all about vision. There are very few cover versions that come close to being better than the original but this version by The Polyphonic Spree is perhaps one of those few exceptions, where it takes a song that really sounds angry or self-destructive and turns it into something joyous and celebratory.

In order to fully appreciate what The Polyphonic Spree have achieved here, you have to go back to the original:


I hated Nirvana – yes, I know that is saying the unsayable but I did. Okay – maybe saying “hate” is a bit strong but perhaps it might be more appropriate to say that I just didn’t get them.  I really didn’t get what all the fuss was about, and I certainly didn’t spend hours pouring over the lyrics to discover hidden meanings. I certainly did not see them as the successors to punk – Grunge was about hating yourself whilst punk was about hating the society that made you hate yourself.

Yes, I loved “Smells Like Teen Spirit”. Of course I did. Everybody loved that song but I quickly realised that, at the heart of Nirvana and pretty much the rest of the 90s Grunge movement that I was able to hear on mainstream radio, was a sense of self-destructive self-loathing that I really didn’t need in my life at the time – particularly because my head already seemed to have more than enough self-destructive self-loathing so I really didn’t need additional input as it was doing very well by itself thank you very much.

The later half of the 90s became a tough time for me as I was made redundant from my first full time teaching job, and I ended up moving my family down to Cornwall (3 hours away from our friends and families) with the intention of building a new life for ourselves. Due to complication selling our first home, I started our new life in Cornwall living by myself whilst my wife and one year old son continued to live in Wales. I lived in one of the flats we had stayed in during the summer holidays, but now was the depth of winter and it was freezing cold. I started this brave new world lonely and ill. Worse than this, what I didn’t account for was exactly how much the redundancy experience had impacted upon my sense of self-confidence, my self-image as a fairly new member of the teaching profession and my general well-being (not that anybody had even thought of using the word “well-being” back then).

In today’s more enlightened atmosphere of openly discussing mental health concerns, I’m certain that I would have sought professional advice because there is no doubt in my opinion that I was suffering from depression – living in a freezing cold holiday flat, waiting for my family to join me as we were still in the process of selling the house that we owned in Bridgend, South Wales. However, back in the 90s, we didn’t have the more open culture regarding the discussion of mental health problems that we have now. In fact, I don’t remember any talk about mental health or depression other than when my wife experienced post-natal depression after the birth of our second child, but even that was expected to just magically go away at some point. We didn’t talk about this stuff back then –  so I just got on with my job and pushed any negative feelings into the back of my mind because life was going to be great again.

Unsurprisingly, as I’m sure that any medical professional will confirm, those feeling of inadequacy, insecurity and poor self-esteem that had been generated by the crushingly nasty process of redundancy (especially when you consider that I was the only person that was made redundant from my particular school – yeah, that didn’t make me feel picked on or singled out much, did it?) arose again when circumstances would once again combine to increase the levels of stress and anxiety in both my personal and professional lives.

As with many people, I’m actually pretty certain that the first signs of my mental health concerns started during my teenage years as I was going through that torturous process of changing myself into the person that I thought that I wanted to be, whilst also struggling with the combined pressures of O Level and then A Level academic demands – only to discover many years later that the person that I always had been was actually ok. However, I can’t really put my finger on any teenage moment when an alarm bell should have rung to indicate what the future would hold regarding my mental health. Yeah, I went through a period of going out and drinking stupid amounts of alcohol at the legendary rugby club discos but surely that was an indication of my stupidly immature attitude towards my own safety and the usual teenage feelings of complete indestructibility?

For a long time, I also put those feelings of negativity down to being a creative individual as I believed in the idea of creative inspiration and the “struggles” involved in the creative process, whether that is facing a blank canvas and wondering exactly how to fill it with an inspiring piece of art or facing a blank piece of paper and wondering how to create an inspirational piece of theatre out of nothing. So my confidence during my A Level studies would often fluctuate with process of creating some art, and the roller-coaster ride of highs and lows to get to the final product, which would usually turn out to be worth all the hassle and worry.

I miss those times. I miss the process of creating something, especially the process of creating art (and painting in particular), and the feeling of success when you eventually get to a stage when you feel it is finished (after the normal anguish of having to make that judgement – is it finished or could I add anything else, or have I actually done too much and fucked it up?).  I also miss the creative journey of making theatre. I miss the companionship of theatre productions, whether being a part of the cast or one of the backstage production team.

I miss those times because I eventually became what people call “a grown-up adult” and got myself a proper job as a drama teacher. Awesome, except being a drama teacher (at least in my experience) does not provide you with much time and space to pursue your own creativity. You go through an equally anguished process to figure out what students need to create to achieve the best grades in their drama exams (whether at GCSE or A Level). You figure out what your audience of parents, siblings, friends and, most importantly, school governors like to see in your school productions. You argue against those people who constantly tell you that drama teaching has no point because there are no jobs in it (even though there is more than enough evidence to show that the stage, film and television industries in this country generate a significant percentage towards our national economy). You constantly have to defend yourself and your subject against people who would suggest that your minuscule proportion of school curriculum time and budget would be better spent on more Maths or more English lessons.

Eventually you get drained of the creativity and imagination that made you a bloody good drama teacher when you first went into the job with your NQT status pinned proudly to your chest like some kind of gleaming sheriff’s star. You wonder if your own drama teachers ever felt the same way. You start to imagine whether that drained expression that you now remember was always there in reality.

You have to understand that schools are run on industrial models (when a state system of schooling started to develop during the industrial revolution, to cope with the need to generate lots of factory fodder for the quickly expanding industries out in the “real world”) of measurement and testing and proof and assessment and accountability and everything that eventually kills creativity stone dead – because creativity by its very nature is an unpredictable beast, and industrial systems of education have predictability at their very heart – they must because industrialisation places systems, measurement and predictability at the height of their most valued characteristics. If you can’t assess and easily record student results, then it becomes too complex for the system and it either ignores it or it cuts it out. This is not the fault of any individual school – it is just the reality of the system that is designed to make the education of millions of children to run as smoothly as possible according to the whims of whatever person just so happens to Secretary of State for Education at any particular time.

How on earth can you be expected to survive as a creative individual in this type of industrialised approach to educating children without bearing some mental wounds of the stress and anxiety that seems to come hand-in-hand with the joy of teaching? Yes, teaching is still a joy, even though I have left drama behind and taken on other subjects to champion. I still love my time in the classroom because of the students – they are the most valuable aspect of any teacher’s professional existence because they can always be guaranteed to make life continually interesting.

I’m so happy but that’s okay I shaved my head
And I’m not sad
And just maybe I’m to blame for all I’ve heard
But I’m not sure
I’m so excited, I can’t wait to meet you there
But I don’t care


I could go into all sorts of detail to explain why I eventually parted ways from being a drama teacher but now is certainly not the time to reveal the entire story. However, an opportunity came to move across into a different subject area and that is what I did. I know that it was the right decision although there are times when I especially miss the challenges involved in teaching GCSE and A Level groups, and I particularly miss doing school productions. That takes nothing away from my dedication to what I am doing now, because I realise the impact upon student lives is perhaps more important than what I was doing as a drama teacher, but this is just the reality of how I feel.

Talking about creativity, if you search YouTube for “Lithium” cover versions, you will mostly come across substandard grunge pastiches (thank you Papa Roach) or rather glum acoustic interludes. The Polyphonic Spree cover stands out so much because it dares to rip up the Nirvana rule-book and throws out something so gleefully celebratory that it might as well be a completely original song. However, here was something that caught my eye:


How’s that for punk fecking rock? Eh? Eh?

Wait a minute – how do you fancy a choral version that replicates the celebration of the Spree with something a whole lot more haunted (or should that be haunting?)?


Isn’t that simply jaw-dropping?

Well let’s get a bit chilled with some jazzy laid back vibes that suit our generally laid back Newquay vibes:


This is what that spirit of creativity is all about – I’m sure that Kurt Cobain would be proud… ish. However, I keep going back to the cover version by The Polyphonic Spree simply because it has so much joy – and I really hope that, in between the lows of the depression and the uncertainty created by the anxiety that have become a focus of my life for however long it has really been, I really want to focus on the future of rediscovering that sense of joy.

Wish me luck, my friends.



George Michael – Praying For Time (1990)

If I were to ask you to create a list of music mavericks, who would you put on it? Bowie? Obviously. Prince? Without a doubt. Bjork. Tom Waits. Peter Gabriel. All good calls. Would you decide to include George Michael? Somehow I doubt it because his Wham! days and “Faith” era megastar-status placed him firmly at the heart of the MTV playlist – indeed, he acknowledged himself that he aimed his career initially firmly in the direction of achieving those twin dreams of fame and fortune. Hardly what you would expect of an artist who pursued a singular vision of music creation whilst ignoring the fickle nature of popularity. Here was an artist who, at least in his early days, pursued the bright lights of fame and fortune with a singular vision that saw him aim for the brightest of pop melodies whilst wearing the tightest of shorts.

Let’s just pick a Wham! song at random just to remind ourselves of where George Michael was coming from before we can fully understand where he arrived at the time of “Praying For Time”:


However, those brightest of lights turned out to shine with an unforeseen intensity especially after George split his initial pop vehicle with partner Andrew Ridgeley in favour of striking out for fame and fortune across the Atlantic as a solo star. Let’s not forget that his level of success was huge. He was an MTV megastar of the same magnitude of Madonna, Prince and even Michael Jackson for a while.

Yes, it is true that his initial opening single, from his debut solo album, entitled “I Want Your Sex” was marred with controversy as radio announcers refused to play it, name it during chart countdowns or would simple call it “the new George Michael single” if it was played at all, he suddenly found himself thrown into an entirely new level of fame when “Faith” hit the top of the charts on both sides of the Atlantic ocean. In 1988, he started on the Faith World Tour that would earn $17.7 million and put him into the megastar status. “Faith” gathered award after award, including earning him Best Male Vocalist (Soul / R&B) at the American Music Awards – an award that was traditional given to black music artists, and which saw him become the target of significant criticism from artists like Public Enemy who saw it as the vanguard of whitewashing black American music and culture.

Let me digress here for a minute – firstly, I love the idea of George Michael being awarded best soul singer because, in my humble opinions, that is exactly what he was – possibly the best “blue eyed soul singer” since Rod Stewart or Paul Young. It is so important to view soul music as something wider than what it seems to be to today’s X Factor generation who, perhaps under some hypnotic spell created by Whitney Houston or Mariah Carey, seem to think that soul music only exists if you provide vocal pyrotechnics and provide 25 billion vocal inflections where two would be much more emotionally effective. Soul music, in my humble opinions, is all about connecting the soul of the singer with the soul of the audience – and George Michael was a master of this art.

Secondly, back in the 80s, it was all about the crossover. I don’t remember anybody accusing Michael Jackson of cultural misappropriation when he got Eddie Van Halen to provide metal guitar shredding for his straight ahead rock song “Beat It” (or “Dirty Diana” later). If Aretha Franklin was willing to duet with you, surely that is enough to qualify you as having “soul”?


It seemed as if George Michael had the world at his feet. However, during this period, George became increasingly isolated as he struggled to hide his true sexuality under pressure from his record company, Sony, who thought it would threaten his popularity amongst his legion of female fans. Exhausted, lonely and increasingly isolated during this time, George decided to put his mental and physical health before commercial success and informed Sony that he would not participate in any publicity for his next record release – this would include no interviews, videos, photographs, record covers, or anything that would potentially damage his artistic development. He wanted to be in the music industry for the long haul – he had no intention of being a burned out wreck before he could reach album number three.

“Praying For Time” clearly shows the artistic leap that his music was making, moving away from the frothy pop of his “Club Tropicana” era in Wham! and even the more soul inspired grooves of his “Faith” singles that had dominated the charts only a few years earlier.

When it was released, it caused confusion for two reasons: firstly, here was a sophisticated piece of orchestrated social commentary that wouldn’t have sounded out of place if it had been performed by John Lennon during his “Imagine” days; secondly, the video created a stir because there was nothing other than the lyrics that appeared on the screen in the most basic of typefaces and appearances (even more basic in style then the video for Prince’s “Sign O’ The Times” with which it shares obvious stylistic similarities). Even today, it is a remarkable piece of music and a moving video in terms of the directness and simplicity that it offers a complex and emotional subject matter.

In other words, it is a work of genius:


Yup, I know that we took quite a long time to get to the song today, but I felt it was necessary to give that background to the circumstances surrounding “Praying For Time” because it is simply stunning when put into the context of George Michael’s music up until this point.

These are the days of the open hand
They will not be the last
Look around now
These are the days of the beggars and the choosers

This is the year of the hungry man
Whose place is in the past
Hand in hand with ignorance
And legitimate excuses


In the recently aired documentary “George Michael: Freedom”, George Michael suggests he titled his follow-up to the huge success of “Faith” in response to allegations that he was appropriating black culture, particularly by winning those awards for Soul / R&B vocals. In the documentary he says, “I suddenly couldn’t get anywhere near black radio, and that was the reason “Listen Without Prejudice” was called “Listen Without Prejudice”. It was me saying, ‘here’s an album that has bits of gospel, bits of R&B, some very white stuff.’ It was time to say, ‘let me be both of these things without having to be one or the other.'” It reflects a particularly British attitude towards music where there has not been the cultural history of separating black music from white music (at least not until the dawn of digital radio).

You can clearly hear the influence of The Beatles in “Praying For Time” at a time (before Britpop made all things Beatles to be cool again) when it was extremely un-trendy to declare any love for the fab four let alone actually try to sound like them – as judged by much of the critical derision that was aimed at Tears For Fears when they clearly channelled the spirit of The Beatles when they released “The Seeds of Love” in 1989. “I was big into Abbey Road and Revolver,” he states in the recent documentary. “I made one record to show how much I loved Lennon [“Praying for Time”], I made another record to show how much I loved McCartney [“Heal the Pain”].” Paul McCartney would go onto record vocals for a new version of “Heal The Pain” for George Michael’s greatest hits collection, “25” in 2006.

It’s hard to love, there’s so much to hate
Hanging on to hope
When there is no hope to speak of
And the wounded skies above say it’s much too late
Then maybe we should all be praying for time


The social commentary of Lennon can be clearly heard in the lyrics as George Michael’s declares his concerns for a world that he sees slowly falling apart due to selfishness and corruption, and he hangs the song onto the possibility of hope that things might be solved through the healing influence of time – if we are granted that time to eventually make things right. It is a song that deals with the social and the political but ultimately finds it has enduring appeal for generation after generation through the core humanity that it displays (and we later discovered was actually a genuine part of George Michael’s core psychology as story after story was released about his charitable and humane actions after he passed away in his sleep on Christmas morning in December 2016).

With the benefit of hindsight, it is now clear to see what a remarkably brave decision it was for him to step away from the ultra successful blueprint that he had mastered with “Faith” and to move in the direction of creating music that was less instantly accessible in terms of providing massive hit singles but much more personal in terms of creating music that had depth and personal meaning (on top of the socio-political commentary of “Praying For Time”.

It is also important to note that the “George Michael: Freedom” documentary was very pointed in focusing primarily on the troubles and issues that were raised by his decision not to record “Faith Pt 2”; and then the personal issues and traumas that created such turmoil for him (and ultimately added to the decision to take Sony to court to change his contract that he clearly regretted in later years). If I decide to write about any of the singles that were released off his third album, “Older”, then that would certainly be the best place to list the various traumatic events that fuelled his anger which found a target in the form of his record company and recording contract, many years before Prince changed his recording name and would start writing “Slave” upon his own face. Yes, George Michael was blazing a maverick path before one of the most maverick artists that found international fame in the 1980s.

George Michael never turned away from the songs on “Listen Without Prejudice Vol 1” as they were often a staple of his live performances, always clearly showing his heartfelt and soulful vocals that were such a central element of his massive appeal.

Here is a fantastic example from his MTV Unplugged performance, which has just been released alongside a remastered version of “Listen Without Prejudice”:


Isn’t that a fragile work of soulful genius?

Think that I’m being over-dramatic? How about listening to the orchestral version that he played on his last tour, the Symphonica tour from 2011-12:


Isn’t that clearly a thing of wonder and beauty?

Well except for one thing – yup, the rather clunky rewrite of some of the lyrics that take away part of the most most cynical but undoubtedly most powerful moments in the entire song:

So you scream from behind your door
Say, “What’s mine is mine and not yours”
I may have too much but I’ll take my chances
‘Cause God’s stopped keeping score
And you cling to the things they sold you
Did you cover your eyes when they told you
That he can’t come back
‘Cause he has no children to come back for


I can understand that perhaps George Michael, at this point, perhaps felt that he had seen too much darkness and pain and wanted to offer something not quite so bleak as offered in the original set of lyrics as reproduced above – hey, it is his song, his lyrics and his vision so who can pick an argument if he decides that something needs to be changed?

This would not be the final time that George Michael would address social and political issues in his music (anybody remember the controversy that surrounded the lyrical content and the animated video for “Shoot THe Dog”?). Nor would it be the last time that he would go on to apply such lush orchestral symphonic layers to provide mature sophistication to his music. In his recent documentary, George Michael clearly stated that he thought third album, “Older”, was his masterwork – maybe I will be write something about “Jesus To A Child” at a later date, or perhaps the more upbeat joy to be found in “FastLove”, or perhaps even to celebrate the jazzy overtones of “Spinning The Wheel”. However, nothing will probably ever match the moment when it became clear that George Micheal was something greater than another mass produced frothy pop star and was an artist (in the truest sense of the word) of real emotional depth and maturity as brilliantly evidenced in “Praying For Time”.

Or maybe I might just compare the Robbie Williams version of “Freedom! 90” with the original that can also be found on “Listen Without Prejudice Vol 1”? Who knows?

Thanks for the music George. RIP.