Tuesday, 6 October 2009

This donkey's gone to Devon.

Two decades ago I had a full head of floppy hair, a job on a Welsh newspaper, a girlfriend called Jo and a best mate called Chris Strange. These were happy days.

Home for me was a converted garage in the grounds of a large house in Bridgend. It was cramped and cheap and I loved it. My landlady, a lovely lady called Pat, had described it in the local rag as a ‘compact and bijou garden flatlet’. I took it on as soon as I saw it, renaming it: ‘La Shed’.

There was just enough space for a fold-away sofa bed and a large wooden storage trunk in the main room, while the kitchen corner, shower space and bog occupied a walled-off area at the rear. It was small but perfectly formed.

Chris, an affable Brummy, worked in the same first floor office as me. Most days, we’d spend our lunch hours scoffing pasties and scouring the racks at the local Roxcene Records for new releases. We had an amicable and economical arrangement: we would buy an LP and a blank tape, split the costs, and then Chris would get the tape (he had a stereo in his blue Vauxhall Astra) and I would get the vinyl (I had the record player). It sounded like a decent deal to me.

We shared several great records this way - Frank Zappa’s ‘Broadway The Hard Way’, that one with the flower on the front cover by The Swans, the first Stone Roses album, ‘Copper Blue’ by Sugar… But the daddy of them all, by some considerable stretch, was ‘Doolittle” by the Pixies.

It may have been 1989, more than a stroppy teenage ago, but I can still remember that first audition like it was yesterday. Chris and I were sat cross-legged and attentive on the floor of La Shed, side one of ‘Doolittle’ facing upwards, shiny, virginal and turning at 33rpm on my record player. We both still had our ties on from work, the 4AD sleeve with its copper-coloured unhappy monkey motif was on the floor, Chris could well have been studying the lavish art-lyric booklet that came with it - I don’t recall that detail. My eye was concentrated on dropping the needle cautiously onto the 4AD run-in groove. “Wsssh-click!” and in. Volume up, kick back. The gauntlet is down. Impress us if you dare Black Francis, Mrs John Murphy, David Lovering, Joey Santiago. Impress us if you CAN!

“Ding ding ding ding, dang dang dang dang, dong dong dong dong, ding ding ding ding…” ripped out of the quiet roar of the run-in groove, the now familiar bassline leaping from my tiny Pioneer speakers to fill the wooden-clad shed. It was followed swiftly by a choir of guitars, a fairytale riff and Black’s maniac fat-kid vocals. I don’t need to tell anyone how utterly, utterly brilliant ‘Debaser’ is - do I? But back then, auditioning the song on its birthdate along with the rest of an excited world, it seemed for a while like the end of the eighties was going to become very special, very quickly.

My eyes met Chris’s as Kim’s backing vocals helped speed the song to its breathless climax. We both looked away; stared at the record spinning on the deck beside us. As the track broke down to the drumless guitar acapella and shrieks of “Got me a movie - ha ha ha ho! Slicing up eyeballs - HA HA HA HO!”, my neck became a quiver of tattered muscles and broken nerves, and my arms found hairs and goosebumps that haven’t come back since that rainy early evening in La Shed.

The song ended. Chris, excited beyond belief and dog-wild in the eyes, blurted out his enthusiasm: “Fuckin’ hell son, that’s fucking amazing! Stick it on again!”

Back it went… “ding ding ding ding, dang dang dang dang etc…” - and so ‘Debaser’ shattered our nerves and preconceptions for a second time.

“Go on, son. Play it again!” A third spin - and this time we’re analysing the track a little. Picking up the references to “Un Chien Andalou”, enthusing over this bit or that, wondering aloud what tracks like ‘I Bleed’ could sound like, while remaining utterly unable to get past ‘Debaser’. “Doolittle” could have been a one-track album for all we cared. It was perfect, just perfect, in those first few minutes.

That first mildly obsessive, definitely repetitive session left an indelible mark on us both and, even after we finally got around to committing the thing to tape, we went back for more listens of ‘Debaser’.

Needless to say, ‘Doolittle’ quickly became my favourite album, and Pixies my favourite band. I hunted down and invested wisely in ‘Surfer Rosa’ and ‘Come On Pilgrim’, I dug out a cassette of a Peel show with ‘River Euphrates’ on it, and I managed to find one of those generic NME freebie 7″ singles with a Pixies track or two.

On a subsequent visit to HMV in Cardiff, I found the 12″ of ‘Gigantic’ in the racks for a couple of quid. I took it up to the counter and the sales assistant’s face reddened in a mixture of embarrassment and anger.

“That’s sick!” he said, shaking his head at the naked crying boy baby image on the front cover. “That’s fucking sick…” he murmured as he keyed the info into his till. I couldn’t fathom the problem but I liked the idea that the Pixies could cause such a reaction. Debaser, indeed.

Before long, I joined Chris as a car owner with a tape deck. Luxury. I put ‘Doolittle’ onto one side of a Memorex C90, ‘Surfer Rosa’ onto the other, and played them both continuously as I cruised my British racing green Datsun Cherry along the leafy A48 from Bridgend to Swansea or Cardiff. I would croon along to ‘La La Love You’, whine to a ‘Mr Grieves’ backing and scare fields full of cows and Welsh farmers with a cranked-up, windows-down ‘Crackity Jones’.

Yeah, these were happy days indeed.

No comments:

Post a Comment