Thursday, June 10, 2004

Records that mean the most to me (An occasional series) No. 1

Ultravox! - "Hiroshima Mon Amour" (B-Side of "ROckwrok", Island Records 7", 1977)

This is the biggie really: as far as life-changing musical experiences go, this is the one that did it for me. Before HMA (it's easier),I was a bit of a musical spectator, lacking purpose and commitment. After HMA, I was pushed onto the path that I'm still walking to this day. It's no understatement to say I owe my current life and career to this one little piece of plastic.
SO what's it like? Well, that's tricky, I could point you to some sites on the net with Ultravox mp3's but they do tend to be the post-John Foxx era and if HMA does turn up, it's the LP version. This one is on the B-side to the 7" of "ROckwrok", the first to be taken from the second album "Ha!-Ha!-Ha". Ultravox! (they still had that "!") were in the throes of a full-blown obsession with Punk...Spiked hair, amphetamines, searing guitars, walls of feedback and noise..It was all a bit of a far cry from the Roxy Music imitators most people had assumed they were, following the release of their debut LP. But this was 1977!, time for some musical insurrection! So, Ultravox threw themselves into it with gusto. "ROckwrok" is an uptempo punk/glam stomper, with a faintly malevolent fairground keyboard sneezing away in the background. So far, so good...But it was that b-side that would change me forever.
It's 1978, I'm in my third year at Lavington Comprehensive School, in Wiltshire. I get most of my cool music leant to me by the boy next door: Steve McCullough. He's older, cooler and hipper than me. He's got the "Snuff Rock" EP, and all The Flys 7"s; he's got loads of early Stiff stuff, and he's obsessed with Ultravox!. In a daze of hero-worship whilst round at his place after school one night, I ask if I can borrow the Ultravox! Stuff? I leave shortly after with a bundle of vinyl, all begging to be played and understood. The trouble is, I don't really understand it: there's violins on it for god's sake! (and what's that funny wailing noise? Feedback? What's that?) I listen to the singles and the live EP for good measure and head off to bed. Next day is a Wednesday, mum and dad are both off to work early so there's about ten minutes before I leave for school when I have the house to myself. I put on one of the singles, thinking it's "ROckwrok". It's not, it's the other side. Bollocks, I still don't get it. It's a four minute wall of choppy guitars and sawed violin, with a guitar riff that sounds like Mott the Hoople and a bit in the middle where it all spazzes out. Hmmph. Off to school.
Last lesson of the day, for some reason, I'm not doing games, as is normal, I'm doing Latin. Sitting in a cold, draughty mobile classroom on the edge of the sports field, looking up at the clock as it reaches 3.55. And then, it hits me. Ever so gently at first. I think to myself: "oh, I can go home and listen to that Ultravox! b-side again". I'm now walking out of the classroom, swinging my briefcase by my side. The wave of music washes over me once more: this time it takes longer for me to emerge and when I do, I gasp for air with a greater urgency "Oh shit, I've got to get home and play that song!". I start to walk home, but the song is now in my head, playing loud and clear. I can hear every note, every wail of feedback, every flex of those guitar strings. It's so loud I almost think that everyone else can hear it as well, so I start to run, just in case my friends stop me: "hey Iain, what's that record coming out of you? Sounds great!" Sod 'em, this is mine, it's all mine. I get the feeling it's all I will ever need. I run the rest of the way home, get inside and breathlessly place the record on the turntable and play it again and again and again...

So that's it really, everything since then is all a result of the feelings that one piece of music instilled in a twelve year-old kid, full of wonder. I'm almost glad I can't offer you a clip: I'm pretty sure it would never have the same effect again. I'm actually prone to wonder whether it was actually created with the sole intention of changing one life (mine) forever: once it had served its purpose, it could retreat, contented, into the shadows. Indeed, if I listen to it now, all I can hear is a faint echo of its power and it's hold over me. It knows that it created me, and that keeps it happy.
There will be more installments in this series from time to time, but HMA had to be first.

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