Working Class Love Songs from the Moseley Border
Spencer and I join the queue outside HMV on New Street. Outside! What’s going on? I have with me a couple of New Order 12” singles – “Ceremony” and “Thieves Like Us” – that I want the band to sign, but we’re going to ask for a bit more than that. We inch our way in and slowly down the shop, towards New Order themselves. Suddenly they’re in vision, behind the counter which runs across the back of the shop. From left to right, Stephen Morris, Gillian Gilbert, Bernard Sumner and Peter Hook. We’re queuing for autographs from the right, so Hooky’s the first person we’ll have to speak to.
“Alright, Hooky,” I venture, offering him my records which he hastily scribbles his name on. Jesus. I’m stood in front of Peter Hook. He looks up, briefly, looking gloriously bored with the whole charade. He makes eye contact and nods at me as if to say, “yes, I’m okay.” I don’t do eye contact, so I feel intimidated and move a couple of feet down the line, still having the sensation that I’ve beaten a scary monster.
I pass my vinyl to Bernard Sumner. Spencer is just behind me, giggling a bit, but we’ve worked out what we’re going to say. Or, at least, what I’m going to say. Barney looks worse than just a bit pissed off, and I understand. I understand because one day I’ll be in a band that has to do record signings at the request of our stupid record company, and the novelty of meeting the very people who buy your records will long have worn off, so many units will we have shifted. He signs the cover of “Thieves Like Us” and I have to interject before he makes a move for “Ceremony”.
“Er… Mr Sumner.”
Barney looks up. I am face to face with Bernard Sumner.
“Could you write on that one,” I gesture towards the record sleeve, “Sorry you couldn’t come tonight”?
He half smirks, but it could be the scowl of the seriously annoyed. He performs the act regardless, finishing off with the flourish of his signature.
“Unless,” I say, “trying to keep a level of calm in my voice, “you could get us on the guest list?”
More hope than expectation, obviously, but just for a second or two Barney Sumner looks up and accepts the very fact that I exist.
“Bit cheeky, aren’t ya?” he says in the Mancunian drawl I recognise from the telly, but at least he’s smiling at me. I haven’t a clue what to say to him, but luckily he speaks first.
“You’ll have to ask him,” he tells me, flicking his head to his right, towards Steve Morris. Fair enough.
Gillian and Steve are the fifty per cent of New Order who appear to be enjoying this. They are, at least, laughing with one another. That’s love for you. As Steve signs my records, I feel confidence surge through me.
“Barney says that you’ll be able to get us on the guest list tonight,” I half lie. Gillian immediately buries her head in her hands, laughing, as Steve raises his eyebrows, shrugging towards us.
“Oh, did he?”
This, it becomes apparent, is a long-running New Order joke, that the man who played drums on “Love Will Tear Us Apart” has been reduced to fielding guest list enquiries. He asks me to scribble our names down, so I do so as legibly as I can. We both thank Steve and Gillian, who is still laughing, and make our way outside. I check the signatures before putting the records back into my HMV bag. Bernard has written, “Sorry you couldn’t come tonight” across my copy of “Ceremony” and I feel momentarily guilty about asking him to put something that he couldn’t (or couldn’t!) spell. But only briefly, before Spencer and I crease up laughing.
Spencer’s dad has told us that the Tower Ballroom is somewhere near Edgbaston Reservoir, but that doesn’t prove much help. Not knowing where Edgbaston Reservoir is being the main hindrance. It seems to take us hours to walk there, asking for directions from locals every ten minutes. Our quest isn’t helped by Spencer delaying us by puking his guts up at the underpass at Five Ways. Perhaps that second bottle of Cinzano wasn’t necessary so early in the day.
We finally find the place and the doors are already open, a fair trickle of people already making their way in. The bouncers nod as we walk though the main entrance, pointing us towards the staff ripping up tickets.
“We’re on the guest list, mate,” Spencer says, which gets a raised eyebrow.
“Over there, lads,” the bouncer points, directing us to a guy with a clipboard who seems to be surrounded by a dozen people who’ve obviously blagged it like we have. He ticks a couple of names off his list and ushers the lucky two into the auditorium. We can just about hear the conversation as the next guy gives his name and doesn’t match up. A situation is clearly about to develop.
“I’ve got to be down,” he protests. “Steve Morris said it was fine.”
“And when was this?” asks Mr Clipboard.
“Earlier on, at…”
“HMV?” his sentence completed for him. “He’s said that to quite a few people.”
Spencer and I look at each other, knowing that there’s every chance that our names aren’t down. Also knowing that we haven’t got enough money on us to buy tickets (assuming it’s not sold out), drinks and somehow get home. Instinctively, simultaneously, we notice that no one is currently patrolling the doors to our left. We edge towards them, leaving the guest list argument to reach its inevitable conclusion. Unbelievably, we go unnoticed and, within minutes, are stood with pints in hand in front of the stage.
Lights down, first support band.
“Hello. We are Wonderstuff,” their long-haired singer announces to the few hundred of us who are this early. They give us half an hour of poppy, upbeat, jingly-jangly indie fair. It’s fine as it goes, and I particularly like the frontman’s comment in introducing their token slow one.
“This is the token slow one,” he deadpans, showing a healthy cynicism for a band that no one has heard of.
Next up are Happy Mondays, who look like a gang of convicted drug dealers. They’re somewhere between punk and funk and are apparently plugging songs from an album called “Squirrel & G-Man Twenty Four Hour Party People Plastic Face Carnt Smile White Out.” They are like nothing I’ve seen or heard before. Their singer clearly can’t sing, looks utterly out of his head and is accompanied by a lunatic whose sole purpose seems to be to dance like an epileptic whilst shaking his maracas. It takes a couple of songs, but Spencer and I agree that they’re awful.
Then New Order. New Fucking Order. Watching New Order play “Temptation”, jumping ten deep with two thousand ecstatic fans, yelling the pointlessly heart-breaking “Oh you’ve got green eyes”, goes down as one of the best moments of my pop-going life. As it finishes there seems to be euphoria amidst mayhem filling the room.
“How do you follow a song like that?” Peter Hook growls, grinning behind his microphone. “With a song like this!”
He hammers out the bass introduction to “Ceremony”, the most beautiful beginning to any song in the history of popular music and I realise that Peter Hook has taught me something that school never could: the irony of rhetorical questions.
Just over two weeks later and we’re back at The Rathole. Local Brummie superstars-to-be The Surf Drums are headlining, support comes from fellow West Midland hopefuls The Wonderstuff. Rob and Ash have cried off tonight. Spencer is negotiating the toilets as I queue at the bar. I then recognise the face to my left. I don’t know that his name’s Bob just yet, but he is definitely the bass thing from The Wonderstuff.
“Hiya, mate,” I offer him my hand which he willingly shakes, “I’m Lee. How you doing?”
“OK,” he responds, looking at me with the utter bewilderment that you get when you haven’t got the faintest idea of who is harassing you at the bar. So I explain.
“I saw you lot supporting New Order the other week,” and his Frankenstein face softens in relief. “Any chance the band could do an interview tonight for my mate’s fanzine?”
Bob nods. “Should be okay. Can you give us a minute to check it out?”
A few minutes later, Bob has ushered Spencer and I backstage. The band are lovely and affable, although this is probably one of the first interviews they’ve ever done: they’re not quite NME material just yet. The singer’s name is Miles Hunt, spiky and entertaining, and seems to like my comment about “the token slow one” at the New Order gig. Bob and drummer Martin say little. Malcolm, their guitarist, and I seem to hit it off straight away, sharing tastes in music and guitars.
Miles’ girlfriend scribbles a brilliant biro portrait of the band, great caricatures with sarcastic comments, that Rob will chop up and photocopy and use in the next copy of his fanzine.
Half an hour later, Miles Hunt dedicates a song – the token slow one – to “our fanzine writing friend.” They are great that night. And not just because they dedicated a song to me.
©Copyright Lee Revelle - The views expressed herein do not represent the views of TamworthBands.com