A while ago, I posted a blog on one of my MySpace Profiles. It was an early effort but I was proud of it at the time. My original idea here, was to re-post it on this blog but then I thought better of it. My life has moved on in the intervening time and there is more music that is meaningful to me. I might even be able to do some cleverer stuff with this blog, for instance videos, so I decided to start from scratch, well scratch-ish.
So back to my earliest memories. I have really vague memories of a song called Arabella or Anabella but I have never been able to trace it, so it may be a figment of my childish imagination. I also seem to remember a song, which might have been sung by Frank Sinatra and had something to do with changing the world but again, I have been unable to trace it, despite feverish Google searches. If there is anybody out there who knows what I am on about, please put me out of my misery. I need to know what these songs are
The first songs I remember that I can positively identify are Blackberry Way by the Move and Daydream Believer by the Monkees. Daydream Believer was released in 1967, when I was four and Blackberry Way in 1968, when I was five. We owned 7″ singles of both of them and I sang along to them from an early age. Our vinyl Blackberry Way was warped, which led to a rather strange warbling sound during the chorus. It would sound like Roy Wood was singing “Goodbye Blackberry Wa-a-a-a-a-a-ay”, with the pitch wavering during the word “Way”. For years I thought that that was how it was supposed to sound and even now my CD version sounds all wrong. Ah the delights of vinyl.
My father had a reel to reel tape recorder and he recorded a tape of practically all the Beatles songs. I was not particularly technophobic and the machine held no fears for me, so I would often play the tape for my own delectation and delight. I learnt most of the Beatles songs by heart and learnt to sing in harmony from singing along. I tended to prefer the earlier songs when I was younger and would favour that part of the tape. Now, this is embarrassing for me but I’m feeling a bit confessional at the moment. I used to have two dolls, cheap versions of Sindy or Barbie. I cut the hair on one and turned her into a boy (an early gender reassignment experiment for me). I used to enact I Saw Her Standing There with the two dolls (now, that wasn’t so painful after all, was it? Well, actually, it was). Here are the lyrics. You will have to just imagine a young (7 or 8 year old) Punky Rennie with the two dolls. Just to help, he had short brown hair and she had blond hair and her head would come off very easily indeed.
Well, she was just 17,
You know what I mean,
And the way she looked was way beyond compare.
So how could I dance with another (ooh)
And I saw her standin’ there.Well she looked at me, and I, I could see
That before too long I’d fall in love with her.
She wouldn’t dance with another (whooh)
And I saw her standin’ there.Chorus:Well, my heart went “boom”
When I crossed that room,
And I held her hand in mine… Whoah, we danced through the night,
And we held each other tight,
And before too long I fell in love with her.
Now I’ll never dance with another (whooh)
Since I saw her standing there
Repeat last verse
Move on a few years and we come to Glam Rock. I would be between 7 and 12 or 13 when it was in its heyday. I did like Gary Glitter (few people will admit to that nowadays) and I loved Wizzard, The Sweet, Slade, Mud and Suzi Quatro. At the time, I did not like The Rubettes but I think I was too young to spot their tongues in their cheeks. I think the appeal of glam rock was that you could dance to it (even somebody as clumsy as me) and they were, or at least appeared to be, young and cool. My Mum was a very sensible woman, who bought me sensible shoes from Clarks, with heels no higher than ½ inch. I used to admire the likes of Brian Connolly, Gary Glitter and Dave Hill in their huge platforms and weird and wonderful clothes. Also men wearing make-up – that was brilliant.
When I was 10, I got to go to a Quaker Summer School in Sibford. I was the youngest one there. Most of the kids were 12 and above (I think 12 to 14 but I’m not sure now). One lad of 14 came over to talk to me on one of my first days there. He told me his name was Simon Tilley but I could call him Timon Silly, which amused me greatly. He asked me what sort of music I was into. At that point I could have said The Bay City Rollers but my two older sisters had spent about a week brainwashing me a couple of weeks earlier and I wanted to impress, so I said ELP. He was highly impressed. A 10 year old who likes Prog Rock – amazing. I actually knew very little ELP at all at the time and I don’t know much now, either. The band did not interest me at all. The bands I do like, though, due to early sororal influence are Jethro Tull (specifically Aqualung), Procol Harum (specifically Exotic Birds and Fruit) and early Genesis.
The two songs that really remind me of that Summer School are Lay Down by the Strawbs and Life on Mars by David Bowie. I met a 12 year old boy at the Summer School and I got on very well with him. He wasn’t bad looking too and we spent most of the week hanging around together, holding hands, me trying to persuade him to kiss me and him telling me we were too young. In the evening, there would be a disco and we would go and waltz around the dance floor madly to whatever song was playing at the time. The two songs above got played loads of times and they stuck with me for life. Bursting at the Seams by the Strawbs was the first proper album I ever bought and I got it not long after I had returned home from Sibford. A few years ago, I bought it on CD and I still listen to it from time to time and feel very proud of my 10 year old self for having such good taste in music. I never had a recording of Life on Mars for years but every now and again, I would hear it on radio or in a shop. It would take me back years. I eventually got a CD of David Bowie’s greatest hits and then I felt it necessary to ration myself. I didn’t want the song to lose its power and it hasn’t done.
After Prog and Glam Rock and the Strawbs, it seems a very short jump indeed to my enduring musical love – Punk. My parents sent me to boarding school when I was 11. An unlikely place to find a punk. I remember the seminal moment for me when I realised it was my destiny to be a punk. Mum and Dad were taking me back to school after a half term break. I had found an old nappy pin while I was at home and for some reason, I had pinned it onto a woolly hat of my Mum’s. I was wearing the hat and pin in the car when we were driving back to school and a car overtook us. In the car were 3 or 4 punks. They looked very sharp and spiky and they noticed me and suddenly the back window of the car they were in was full of grinning faces and pointing fingers – they had seen me and were evidently amused. It was my Road to Damascus moment and I decided then and there that I would be a punk.
My first Punk record was My Way by Sid Vicious. I was a bit of a late starter with Punk and missed the early years. I can’t say in what order I bought my other records but I slowly built up a small but interesting collection of 7″ singles, including Hybrid Kids EP, Where’s Captain Kirk by Spizz Energy, I’m in Love with Margaret Thatcher by the Not Sensibles, Simon Templar by Splodgenessabounds, Girl on the Run by Honey Bane and various others.
I started going to gigs when I was 16. My first gig was John Cooper Clarke at the Marquee in Wardour Street. I later saw the UK Subs at the Music Machine supported by my great friends, The Straps, and an early precursor of New Romanticism, Martian Dance, who I hated. I saw Stiff Little Fingers, The Boys, Splodgenessabounds 3 times and The Straps another 2 times.
I used to go down the Kings Road most Saturdays and meet up with other punks there. I also used to stalk Jock, the lead singer of The Straps, an enterprise which was made easy for me because he worked at Boy – a punk boutique on the Kings Road. I got stopped by the police with a group of punks I was with one day. The boys were frisked by a couple of policemen and the girls were asked to turn out their pockets by a policewoman. I asked if I could go over and be frisked with the boys but she said no. A girl I was with had two wristwatches on. The policewoman seemed to think she had stolen one. She could not understand why she would wear two. One was broken anyway. It made perfect sense to me. If you were a punk, you wore weird combinations. I frequently wore:
Pink Leopardskin Trousers
A short Royal Stewart tartan kilt,
Woolly Stripy Jumper if it was cold
Leather biker jacket with Siouxsie Sioux’ face tippexed on the back, UK Subs tippexed on the sleeves and loads of badges, including, I’m proud to say, a Morris team badge.
Hankie tied round my neck, western style
My hair would be either black, bleached or something in between. One day and for one day only, it was green.
For some reason, I became disillusioned with punk. I briefly flirted with the idea of being a skinhead and then I’m not sure what. I started going out with a Teddy Boy, though, and got my first taste of Rock’n’Roll.
I’d heard songs by Elvis Presley and could recognise Buddy Holly, The Everly Brothers and Bill Haley and his Comets. Pete introduced me to stuff I hadn’t heard before, like Johnny Kidd and the Pirates, The Cascades, Big Bopper, Ritchie Valens, Connie Booth and loads of others. We used to go to The Hampton Court Palace in The Elephant and Castle. Upstairs they would play music and people would dance – jive, bop, stroll. Downstairs, there was a pool table and the main part of the pub. Pete would take me upstairs and I’d join in the dancing as best I could. Downstairs, we’d play pool and inevitably, I would lose and get mad. One time, after I had lost a match, I threw my pool cue away from me in disgust. It hit a Hells Angel. He was a gentleman and handed it back to me and suggested that I hide it because I had broken it. It wasn’t mine, you see, but the pub’s.
Afterwards, I went to University and split with Pete. I now come to the most shameful part of my life, musically. I got into music that was, frankly, trendy. It was 1980’s, self-concious, pretentious shite. Everybody wore cropped jeans, plimsolls and long baggy coats, including me. I must have looked an absolute prat. The music was mainly electronic. We used to go to a night club in Birmingham called the Powerhouse. You didn’t have to wear smart clothes there and they played trendy music and also other post punk and some pre-punk music there. I danced to The Passenger by Iggy Pop there and Mexican Radio by Wall of Voodoo. Those were the better tunes. The shameful stuff is Matt Fretton, Blancmange, Wham (yes, Wham!!!) I shudder to even think of it. The trendies used to do a dance, where they would shuffle their feet slowly, all the time looking at the floor. I called it the dog-shit shuffle because they looked like they were checking their shoes. At the end of the night, they would play New York, New York by Frank Sinatra. I would always dance with my then boyfriend’s good mate, Dave. The boyfriend is now, incidentally, my husband.
Sometime during the 80s I stopped liking Pop Music. The last record I remember liking was Rush Hour by Jane Wiedlin. Anything after that does not register. I started listening to Classical Music more and to Opera for the first time. For a while, I was a big fan. I preferred lighter stuff, like Bizet and Puccini. My first tastes of Opera were from the French film, Diva (featuring the skinhead who does not like anything “J’aime pas les ascenseurs” etc) which featured Ebben Ne Andro Lontana and from a Spitting Image version of the Pearl Fishers Duet.
I think I should stop here now. I had a look for a video of the Pearl Fishers Duet on YouTube but I found this offering by Jussi Bjorling instead. It is not a video, just a still photograph but his voice is so good that I decided to go with the photograph accompanied by some of the most beautiful music I know instead. Close your eyes and enjoy.