"Safety Net" The Shop Assistants (53rd & 3rd 1985)
Ok, I was a C86 kid.
Fact is, I was C86 before C86. I'd been friends with a couple of guys at Uni who were in a band: The Page Boys, they'd been signed to Dan Treacy's Whaam! label. So, when they did some gigs in London, I followed. I ended up as a part of the Whaam!/Dreamworld cabal: running the door at The Room at the Top club, going to every gig i could. Gradually, a whole new group of bands began to appear at the club, a musical and stylistic pattern began to emerge. The Mighty Lemon Drops, The Housemartins, The Wedding Present, The Shop Assistants...they all had their first London gigs at the Room at The Top. Most of this was in 1985, before anyone in the media had got a sniff of anything new.
So, in October 1985, the Shop Assistants played the club. Great gig. I was outside afterwards. Saw the band standing on the pavement, got chatting. Mentioned I was returning to university after the weekend. Bass player Sarah says "Oh, so you'll miss the next gig, it's in Edinburgh"
Me, a little pissed and full of bravado: "Well, i'm in Lancaster, it's not that far" Sarah: "Well, come and see us play then! We'll put you up"
And that was it. No further contact. This was before mobiles and email, so a brief drunken promise of accomodation was all it took. The next weekend, i was back at uni in Lancaster...and got my best mate Nick in on the adventure: "Let's go to Scotland!" To his eternal credit, he agreed.
We left on the Saturday morning. Hitching (it was the cheapest way).
Our first ride? A Lorry Driver who picked us up at the services outside Lancaster. He spent the entire journey taking furtive nips from a HUGE flask of whiskey and was obviously pissed by the time we reached the border. We were dropped on the outskirts of Edinburgh...(alive) and one more lift got us into the city centre.
So, eventually, we get to the flat of Shoppies guitarist, David Keegan. We sit down thankfully on his bed...and he says "oh, we've just finished the second single, wanna hear it?"
And that was it: we were the first people ouside of the band to hear "Safety Net" It was unmixed: (David dubbed us a tape, which I still have) but it was incredible: one of the most amazing songs i'd ever heard.
To understand "Safety Net", you first have to understand a little about the Scottish musical heritage... EVERYONE in Edinburgh seemed to know about The Ramones, The Velvets, Love, Serge Gainsbourg, Orange Juice, Josef K, Pere Ubu.....and all of these disparate influences came together to form something which was connected to the sum of its parts, yet slightly removed and unique. The Pastels started it, but The Shop Assistants were definately following. "Safety Net" was as noisy as the JAMC (it references "trip you up" in the lyrics, as oppsed to the JAMC's "You trip me up"), it was as poppy as the Ramones, as saccharine sweet as Blondie, as twee as the Pastels or the TVP's. It was a record which paid fulsome tribute to all of its influences, but ended up outclassing all of them.
The first time i heard it, in David's flat, it floored me. That sense of wonder still remains: to this day it retains that innocence and confusion that marks it out as a classic. It's essentially a paean to the sense of confusion that growing old brings: "Afraid of dying, afraid of life.. I wish that we could turn around and start again..."
So, after all of this, we went to see them play. They were playing with the TVP's at Moray House College in Edinburgh. Oh, BTW, the guesty list for the TVP's?
Barbra StreisandFrank SinatraJonathan RichmanPete ShelleySimon le BonBarry SheenSamantha FoxWarren BeattyWoody AllenJulian CopeEdward Rolley?Jesus and Mary Chain (weren't there)Slaughter JoeAlan McGhee
(C+P'ed from a TVP's fansite)
The gig was amazing, that's all you need to know.
But that wasn't all that happened.
As we tagged along, we were invited to go and see some of the Shoppies friends rehearse in a studio near the castle. So. me and Nick were there to record one of thethe first performances from Jesse Garon and the Desperadoes. They played a version of "The Rain Fell Down" (with lyrics about touring with The Shop Assistants) that stopped us in our tracks. As with the "Safety Net" demo, I have the tape to prove it.
As if all that wasn't enough, the next day we all hopped aboard a bus to Glasgow to watch the Shoppies support Primal Scream at a "Splash One Happening". Splash one was Bobby Gillespies club and was the *ne plus ultra* of the Scottish Scene. In the environs of a typical 80's nightclub, we all cavorted to "What Goes On", "White Horses" and "E 103" by the BMX bandits.
Primal Scream? " Bobby was wearing Ray Bans and playing a Tambourine... despite the fact that the band had a full-time Tambourine Player dressed in LeatherTrousers, bandana over his mouth.... They sounded like the Byrds on amphetamines and were unforgettably wonderful.
The night ended with us staying on the 14th floor of a Glasgow Tower Block, looking out at the night sky...our heads full of music.
We hitched back to Lancaster the next day. As soon as we got back, we put the tape on.
All the memories, still fresh in our minds. It was only 48 hours, but it shaped the way I thought about music for years after that.
And after all that... "Safety Net" made it onto CD at last...as part of the Rough Trade Compilation "indie Pop" It's wonderful. Buy it, listen to it,whatever.