Desert Island Discs - Bleep 24th Sept

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Toby
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Desert Island Discs - Bleep 24th Sept

Postby Toby » 24 Sep 2011, 22:19

When I think of my year of birth, it’s difficult to escape the notion that 1973 was a pretty bad year, at least in the UK. Although it was the inaugural year of our entry into the European Economic Community, there was an upsurge in IRA activity on the mainland and by December industrial action had seen the ushering in of the three day week, an almost medieval turn of events. It even saw the introduction of the Austin Allegro, arguably the hallmark of the intractable decline of the British automobile industry.

Notable deaths included J.R.R Tolkein, Noel Coward and one that dug a little deeper when I was growing up was the untimely passing of James Beck, who portrayed Private Walker in Dad’s Army, a TV program that my family and I would cherish greatly at a later age. Beck passed away from pancreatitis on the 6th of August and two days later, I came into the world.

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I was born into a resolutely lower-middle class family in Selsdon. This small village at the very bottom of the London Borough of Croydon had recently become famous for “Selsdon Man” - a phrase uttered by Edward Heath at a conference held by the Conservative Party in 1970 in a nearby hotel (that is now the Xfactor bootcamp). Both my father and mother were ultimately loners - him an only child who was traumatized greatly by his father leaving for another woman at the age of 14 and held onto far too tightly by a lonely mother, whereas she was born into a loveless family with a much older brother who spent the whole of WW2 in Burma and came back in 1945 when she was 13 a very different person. My father was denied a chance to go to University by his mother - if he had gone, I’m sure that his life would have been very, very different. Yet the two of them, my father working as a surveyor in Crawley and my mother at the Shepherd Neame brewery, met through Amateur Dramatics in Horsham and after a 3 year courtship (in which my father recently told me that he proposed to her in a cabbage patch) they married and honeymooned in Matlock, Derbyshire. In 1960 my brother Mathew was born and two years later, my sister Penny.

When I came along 11 years later, it would not be hard to say that the equilibrium of the family was knocked out of joint quite significantly. My sister took an instant dislike to me and it was not until my later teenage years that this relationship would be restored. My father was 45 when I was born and by the time I began to talk and walk, it was quite clear to me that this white-haired man could even be my grandfather - this severe distance between us to a certain extent meant that my brother became the paternal/cultural influence in my very early years.

Musically the Friths weren’t that unusual. My Father was 29 when Elvis reached these shores and it is fair to say that Rock ’n’ Roll passed him by entirely, although he did always like Bill Haley in later life. Similarly, my Mother was the same, although she did begin to acquire a taste for some pop records. They were big fans of Gilbert and Sullivan and other accessible Opera, as well as Dvorak, Haydn, Beethoven, J C Bach and the like. So it was my brother and sister who would play the formative roles of influencers in my musical life. By the time I was 3, punk rock had, much to my mother’s horror, taken a grip of my siblings.

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My initial memories of music are in the record covers themselves as I would go into the inner sanctums of my sibling’s rooms and look at these startling images. The one that stands out most prominently is Atomic Rooster’s “Death Walks Behind You” for the use of the Blake painting, but also Arthur Brown’s “Crazy World” and the Stranglers’ “Rattus Norvegicus”. I also have limited memories of hearing the Buzzcocks first album (when I heard it again at 19 it sounded very familiar) and hearing my brother play “Blackbird”, “Dear Prudence” and “Bungalow Bill” from the White Album. Other Beatles memories include watching “Magical Mystery Tour” and “Yellow Submarine” on TV - for a long time the melancholy organ on “Only a Northern Song” has remained a childhood favourite. I also remember my brother stencilling with paint a Jam logo on his wall.

Yet it wouldn’t be until I was six that my sister took me to Woolworths for my first single purchase - “Baggy Trousers” by Madness and then several weeks later “Stand and Deliver” by Adam and the Ants. Listening back to them now, I remember being utterly fascinated by the lyric “Pulling hair and eating dirt” at the time - although whether this was an early interest in coprophagia or not - only time can tell. I still like the rhythmic splendour of the latter - which might explain my interest in techno.

However after such an initial interest, by the time my brother and sister had moved out of home, music did really leave me until 1987 or so. I have vague memories of watching friends breakdance on mats at a school fete in 1983, but it was not an interest - I did not have a radio in my room, nor did my parents listen to it.

As a whole, my early childhood up until 12 or so was enjoyable - I did well at primary school and had a lot of friends. However I decided that I wanted to follow in my brother’s footsteps and go to a local private school called Trinity - this meant splitting from lots of kids that I had grown up with, as it was seen then that moving to a “different” school (especially a posh one) was a betrayal of some sorts. It’s fair to say that Trinity was a crushing blow that took some time to recover from. I had gone from being top of the class to being bottom, and whilst some subjects I excelled at (history, languages, english) the fact remained that I didn’t “fit in” - and in schools where competitiveness was bred like wildfire, this was something of a sticking point. I increasingly sought escapist refuge in role-playing Dungeons and Dragons with friends out of school that were younger than me. Unfortunately my academic achievements and the like suffered, causing a deleterious slide in my relationship with my mother, which sadly never resolved itself. Both my parents, who were very careful with money, sacrificed a lot for me to attend this school. My musical memories of this time are scattered - I remember the furore of “Relax” and enjoying the Pet Shop Boys’ West End Girls, with the refrain “West End Girls and East End Boys” - and also the Beastie Boys’ “License to Ill” for its Airplane cover. I taped music off the charts to listen to on my Sanyo Walkman, but never thought about buying a single or an album.

I’ve had to think carefully about the first piece of music to choose - the earlier ones mentioned were really like prologues - they did not impact enough for me to really obsess in any great way - in fact it would be a TV show that was the starter.



Michael Mann’s TV show, arguably the most popular of the 80’s, was a treat. I was allowed to stay up very late to watch it (I didn’t have a TV in my room and we didn’t have a VCR) and it was the opening sequence that I adored, in particular the dramatic synths at the start. Jan Hammer appeared on TOTP with a computer, which I’d never seen before associated with music and it was the beginning of a love of synth-based music that admittedly went into hibernation for some time. The same was with Stewart Copeland’s dramatic intro to the Equalizer.


My brother, who had dabbled with musical projects since leaving university and sensing my growing interest in music, began to ply me with tapes he’d put together. I inherited my sister’s Binatone stack stereo and started listening. These compilations were wonderfully esoteric - from Colourbox to very early acid house to early hip-hop, Nick Cave, Laibach, Tackhead, Mark Stewart and Einsturzende Neubauten. In those days of tape, fast forwarding was extremely tedious so I just absorbed them unconsciously whilst playing Kick Off on my Atari ST. I didn’t share or listen to music with anyone else - it was a solitary experience.

In early 1988 Mathew gave me a tape with Public Enemy’s “Yo Bum Rush the Show!” on it. I was hooked - it was an utterly intense journey of polemic, searing klaxons, hisses, thumping beats and rapid-fire delivery of lyrical content by an utterly unique double act. Chuck D’s baritone boom counterpointed in brilliant style by the joker-esque Flavor Flav. Then “A Nation of Millions” came out and I remember going to Our Price and purchasing a tape - my first ever album (at the age of 14 I might add - sheesh). This black object was welded to my walkman for probably six months or so and I learnt every microscopic detail, no doubt furthered by all the wonderful samples and the sheer amount of lyrics involved. I know that it’s a bit dry to say “hiphop doesn’t sound like this anymore” but there is a real element of truth in it - the production levels and amount of sound collage work going on with that album are still phenomenal, even if Chuck D did go down in my estimation when he said “House music is for Faggots”. Listening back to it now still raises the hairs on the back of my neck.



In mid-1988 Mathew, who had always held dreams of being a musician, was asked by his friend Robert Hampson to join Loop, who were starting to become a popular indie band. He was in the Melody Maker and suddenly my school friends thought I was cool (this was brief). UK and European tours followed and I was very proud of him. This then led to the opportunity to go and see him live - my first ever gig, in Cornwall of all places, supporting Hawkwind at a festival. My defining memories are of too much denim and black and how loud it was. Loop were good, even if deep down I wasn’t into them a great deal.

In May 1989 I finished my GCSEs at Trinity and left. Looking back on it, I can safely say that the 5 years there were my unhappiest - I left with no friends (although I reaffirmed contact with two classmates about a decade later) and was very glad to move to another school for my A-levels. I didn’t even know what girls were.

That month though did contain a bright spark. Mathew, who was now getting a lot of music sent to him via Ivo at 4AD, sent me an album with a paint-spattered cover and a lemon on the front. I listened to it and admittedly on the first few plays it passed me by, but then something clicked and I suddenly thought this might well be the best thing I’d ever heard (which to be brutally honest was only a handful of albums). An obsession was born.



Upon reflection over 20 years later, my first musical love affair was like a mad teenage crush. You’re glad to have had one in those years, because such intensity at a later age is rather frightening. Given my relative lack of musical knowledge at that age, the Stone Roses were a sort of phenomenon to me, hopefully coming along to destroy chart dinosaurs such as U2, The Rolling Stones and Dire Straits. Yet their arrogance, mancunian braggadoccio and relative ability to write uplifting songs that recall the brightness of the Sixties greats can’t be denied. I know that the debut isn’t quite the album that many think it was and that there is an air of MDMA-influenced artifice about “The Second Summer of Love”, but even if hindsight can pull apart the myth, I can be satisfied that I was to a certain extent part of a very tangible “something” in those early days of their year of glory for the first time in my life. Even if it was just wearing silly clothes and flares, at 16 this was an important stepping stone. My brother, who became a huge fan as well, took me over the course of a year to Blackpool, Alexandra Palace, Spike Island and Glasgow Green, the latter of which was one of the most enthralling gigs I have ever witnessed.

By the latter half of 1989 I was now ensconced at a sixth form college and although it took a while for me to get used to new friends, things were picking up. Then in October it became clear that things were happening in Eastern Europe. I had picked up a love of history from my father and an excellent teacher at my previous school, Ian Cheyne. You could sense something extraordinary was going to happen with the reports of the Hungarian border opening, and then in early November, the Berlin Wall collapsed and perhaps more significantly for me anyway, the Stone Roses released “Fool’s Gold”, a 9 min 53 sec liquid epic of wah-wah funk. It was utterly different to anything I’d heard at that point - hypnotic, dark and hedonistic - and confirmed the Roses’s ascendancy into the mainstream, appearing on TOTP, which back then was a defining moment for a band “making it”. I felt proud to be a fan.

This was the beginning of my record buying days, helped somewhat by me getting a job at Europe’s largest second-hand shop, Beanos in Croydon. In those days, the shop was situated in the middle of Croydon’s Surrey St, an old market that was over 700 years old. The street was in the oldest part of town and had fruit and veg stalls full of old cockneys going “pound pound pound” and included seedy arcades staffed by sphincter-eyed hobbits that I used to waste my spare cash playing Nemesis, Salamander or Bubble Bobble. Beanos itself was a cornucopia of records, most of which I had no idea about and as a truculent 16 year old obsessed by the Stone Roses, wasn’t interested in. However, slowly but surely I built up a back catalogue of all the sixties greats, from the Beatles and Hendrix to Led Zeppelin, Yardbirds, Small Faces, Stones, Kinks and the Who. Mathew lent me a copy of Nuggets and an interest with sixties garage rock was born, most notably with the 13th Floor Elevators. My first narcotic experimentations started, with listening to “I Get Around” by the Beach Boys on mushrooms non-stop for 3 hours being a particular highlight.



The end of my A-levels in July 1991 saw another love affair begin (although sadly my attempts with the opposite sex were still non-existent - I was the shyest teenager imaginable and it would not be for another 18 months years that I would have my first kiss, let alone a girlfriend), one that I can safely say will probably be with me until I die. Again, I have to thank my brother for him introducing me, although it was the beginning of our divergence in musical taste. He bought me a ticket to see Kraftwerk, a band that he’d played tunes to me before (from Computer World). July 16 1991 will always be a formative date for me - seeing this peculiar band arouse a thrilling display of consumate theatre, technology and cinematic hypnotism that transcended all the gigs before it. The tune that always stuck with me from that night was Tour de France, mostly because of the use of old footage that reminded me of Tati’s “Jour du Fete”, a film that I had cherished a great deal as a young boy. It was intensely atmospheric- a musical meme that I guess started back with Jan Hammer - but also wonderfully European, which was a byword for sophistication in my eyes. That summer I travelled around France with my best friend and every time we drove past a peloton it pricked something in my consciousness about a band that was resolutely outside of the confines of what “rock music” or indeed any music was about.

I didn’t go to university despite getting decent enough grades. Looking back on it, I should have, but knowing my personality and my level of application, I wouldn’t be able to study something I didn’t like, so instead I threw caution to the wind and spent the next 4 to 5 years or so travelling around Europe, returning to the UK to do odd jobs for 3 to 4 months or so to fund it. It was a formative period of my life - I threw myself out of my comfort zone into new countries and loved it. Musically, this was a strange period though. Because of the nature of my travelling, my listening habits stuck mostly to tapes of old Beatles albums, Kraftwerk's "T.E.E", a tape of Can my brother made me, Soft Machine, plus of course the burgeoning post-Madchester indie scene that some of my friends enjoyed. My sister was going through her dub reggae phase and I became acquainted with Augustus Pablo, Lee Scratch Perry et al. All that changed though, when I went to Berlin.

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Although I had enjoyed travelling around France, Spain, Italy and parts of Eastern Europe such as Prague, Budapest and Poland, nothing really compared to the newly-formed capital of reunited Germany. My love of history had escalated during this period and this great city was like a living, breathing lesson of the last 100 years. I got work easily labouring in the biggest building site in Europe and would spend my spare time getting acquainted with East Berlin, which at that time was a hotchpotch of decaying suburbs being repopulated by a mixture of artists, musicians and others. It was gloriously cheap (I was able to get a room in a shared flat for about DM200 a month in Prenzlauer Berg), fascinating and exciting.

If Detroit is the birthplace of techno and the UK the catalyst for its exposure to the world, then Berlin would be the place where the genre solidified and became more of a form as it were. I had been interested in the sound for some time - in fact a seminal moment would be hearing Nitro Deluxe’s “This Brutal House” in a greasy cafe in Haltwhistle in 1987 whilst on a scouting trip, but if anything it was like a closed off phenomenon to me as the association with ecstasy, which was a drug I had not touched, was enough to create a barrier to my participation. More presciently, I didn’t have any friends who liked the music.



Hidden amongst the dilapidated, crumbling buildings that were near the centre of East Berlin was Tresor. Situated in the depths of an old department store, it was a simplistic club with a rough soundsystem and lighting that consisted just of strobes and a fog machine. The motto was simply “Tresor never sleeps”. As an initiation into the world of clubbing, it was utterly intense. Sometimes Tresor would open on a Thursday and not finish until Tuesday. You could turn up at 9am and it’d be just getting going. Detroit’s Jeff Mills, who had moved to the city in 1992, would play 3 deck minimal techno that would utterly annihilate me - a hypnotic and astonishingly funky barrage of weird, abstract noises, phasing, delaying and at all times threatening to sound as if it was going to collapse. What made it so compelling was that Mills seemed like he was just about keeping it from all going out of time - as such this sense of tension was utterly vital. I would stagger out of Tresor drenched in sweat, not really knowing what had happened to me, lost for words at times. Another love affair was born. When I returned to London, I found Lost, which was the British equivalent and I felt at home again.

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It seems a bit strange to fast forward over 5-6 years so quickly, but between 1995 and 1999 I lived something of a nomadic lifestyle, helped out by an inheritance from my great-uncle Smut (I’ve never known why he was called so) that took me to the USA, Asia and Australia, the latter of which I stayed in for 2 years. The 5 months or so spent in the US were amazing - covering the entire country by bus and train - but Japan even more so, where I lived in Tokyo in a friend’s empty flat and got to go out with lots of lovely Japanese girls. Tokyo, like New York, is a city that you literally can be hypnotized by - the sheer kinetic energy that flows through the streets propels you along, helped by the faint idea that you might actually be in the future. One thing that I loved to do in this amazing city was just to walk about at night and admire all the neon and the sheer wonder of the place, listening to beats on my newly acquired mini-disc player, which at the time was the cutting edge of technology.



That love of “atmosphere” in music was encapsulated brilliantly by Josh Davis. I knew the Mo’Wax stuff from the first Headz compilation, but when his debut album came out, it was a real game-changer. For one thing, the sheer range of samples went outside the brief of other hiphop samplers, taking onboard all sorts of unusual bands and acts, most of whom I’d never heard of. Yet before the internet really came to life, finding out about this music was still a real effort. You needed friends and people really into the music. Although my best friend is very much into his music, for at least a decade or so we never converged - he was into metal when I met him - and although we share a love of hip-hop and electro, I always felt as if I needed a new tutor now that my brother’s musical influence had waned.

I guess part of the reason why, as much as I love BCB, I’ve never really felt a part of it is because several years previous to it, I joined two other electronic music communities. One was the 313, a mailing list devoted to Detroit Techno, and the other Overload, which had a message forum supporting its magazine. These two communities, the latter in particular because most people were in London, have given me a social circle and group of friends that I never imagined could be possible. It was and continues to be a inexhaustible supply of fun, amazing records and great times that has changed my life. As such, it’s always been my first port of call when it comes to community.

I came back to the UK in 2001 and quickly settled into a relationship with a girl, but a year or so later it became clear that her lifestyle and attitude towards things weren’t compatible with my constant partying and the like. I wasn’t ready to settle down and hell, I had a new load of friends that I wanted to be having fun with. Deep down it was if the fun gland in my body was still pretty full and wasn’t shrivelling up any time yet. The summer of 2003 in particular stands out as brilliantly memorable - barbecues every weekend, smoking too many cigars, drinking far too much beer and a trip to Barcelona for the Sonar festival with about 35 other people. I don’t have many true “summer” albums, but Fennesz’s “Endless Summer” was about as perfect as it could have got then, being a wonderfully abstract collection that had wormed its way into my affections. My interest in music at this point became a lot more academic in some ways as I explored noise, “modern classical” and the like. Music to me was a very serious subject, not something disposable.

Good things don’t last forever though. In 2004 my mother was diagnosed with terminal stomach cancer. Looking back on it, I can see that the next 3 years or so were a huge blur. In some respects it was good that her pain didn’t last long and she was gone by the end of the year. However it took me some time to really get over it because we weren’t close.



Music does heal however - in 2005 I was given a mix made by a weird Dutch guy called I-F who looked more like a biker than a DJ. The music contained therein sounded like the worst thing I’d ever heard. Then I listened again and became convinced that it might just be the best thing I’d ever heard. I’d begun to love old 70’s disco, but the sheer naivety of this stuff was on another level. The music - italodisco, or european synthesizer disco music to be precise, was a gorgeous, escapist slice of hedonist idiocy and the complete polar opposite to all the “serious” stuff I’d been listening to. It was also gloriously gay and helped to convince me that in general those types of clubs were much more fun (I wish I’d known this when I lived in Berlin!).

In 2006 I began to sort my somewhat haphazard lifestyle out a bit. I moved to a new house in South London (after spending a few months with the Slider et LMG) and ensconced myself in getting “my shit together” as it were. A redundancy at my employers in 2008 got my a new job and for the first time ever in my life I got a significant “perk of the job” - a future wife. Sounds unusual, but I joined a firm that ran online dating for a major newspaper and 4 months later we met. She doesn’t share my musical intensity as much, but soon after we got together, it became clear that we would most likely be spending our lives together. We get married in December.



If there’s one thing I can say about all this is that the internet did change my life. It gave me a whole world of music I listen to, it gave me an amazing group of friends and it gave me a future wife. All hail the internet.

Luxury item - A Football

Book - Jaroslav Hasek’s The Good Soldier Svejk - my favourite book of all time and I never tire of reading it.
Last edited by Toby on 27 Sep 2011, 11:39, edited 1 time in total.

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Jeemo
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Re: Desert Island Discs - Bleep

Postby Jeemo » 24 Sep 2011, 22:28

Nice one Toby.
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the masked man
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Re: Desert Island Discs - Bleep

Postby the masked man » 24 Sep 2011, 22:32

Another very good read - some vivid recollections. I'll listen to all the links when I feel a little less tired.

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Re: Desert Island Discs - Bleep

Postby Moleskin » 24 Sep 2011, 22:44

Excellent!
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Re: Desert Island Discs - Bleep

Postby Arthur Crud » 24 Sep 2011, 22:52

Wow that was well written Bleep...as someone who was living in Britain at the time I can particularly relate to the Loop/ Beanos/ Stone Roses phases 8-)

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Re: Desert Island Discs - Bleep

Postby Moleskin » 24 Sep 2011, 22:54

Yeah, forgot to mention - I was an occasional customer at Beano's during the time you were working there. (I don't suppose I'm the only one on here though)
@hewsim
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the masked man
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Re: Desert Island Discs - Bleep

Postby the masked man » 24 Sep 2011, 22:58

Yes, I always paid a visit to Beanos when I was in Croydon; maybe I was served by Toby at some point...

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Re: Desert Island Discs - Bleep

Postby Belle Lettre » 24 Sep 2011, 23:00

Wow.

I loved the Berlin stuff. And I would never have had the courage to just go off like you did. It's wonderful to read about.
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Re: Desert Island Discs - Bleep

Postby Jeff K » 24 Sep 2011, 23:09

It's been quite a journey for you so far. The Tresor club sounds like it was an amazing experience. My life has been so boring compared to yours!
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Re: Desert Island Discs - Bleep

Postby Hugh » 24 Sep 2011, 23:12

A great read, Toby.

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Re: Desert Island Discs - Bleep

Postby Copehead » 25 Sep 2011, 02:00

Fascinating.

I've seen your brother play live. loop were excellent.
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Re: Desert Island Discs - Bleep

Postby The Modernist » 25 Sep 2011, 02:22

I was another Beanos guy, probably a good few years before Toby worked there and I don't think I ever bought much, just hung around.

I had no idea Toby had travelled so much -what a fascinating read. Nice one mate.

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Re: Desert Island Discs - Bleep

Postby C » 25 Sep 2011, 06:43

A robust read Toby

Well done lad!




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Re: Desert Island Discs - Bleep

Postby ConnyOlivetti » 25 Sep 2011, 07:08

Indeed a robust read!
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Re: Desert Island Discs - Bleep

Postby BlueMeanie » 25 Sep 2011, 07:11

Outstanding read Toby. I was at Beanos so often that you must have served me sometime. The old shop reminded me of Branson's first Virgin record shop above a shoe shop in Oxford Street, dark, cramped and smokey.
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Re: Desert Island Discs - Bleep

Postby Molony » 25 Sep 2011, 11:23

Well written and a thoroughly enjoyable read. Thanks.

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Re: Desert Island Discs - Bleep

Postby Bungo the Mungo » 25 Sep 2011, 13:54

really enjoyed that, Pussy is not a matter of fact.

in particular the influence your brother had on you. you've mentioned loop a few times, but always rather fleetingly, despite them being something of a BCB cult favourite.

loved the lucid stories on the stone roses, they really were quite important for a certain generation.

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Re: Desert Island Discs - Bleep

Postby harvey k-tel » 25 Sep 2011, 15:07

Nice one, Toby.

"spincter-eyed hobbits"

:lol:
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Desert Island Discs - Bleep

Postby Rory Bellows » 25 Sep 2011, 20:43

Excellent , thanx !
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Re: Desert Island Discs - Bleep

Postby trans-chigley express » 26 Sep 2011, 01:00

My, you're a more well-travelled man that I thought. I enjoyed the honesty of your schooldays, you really didn't seem to fit in at Trinity.

Top stuff, thanks.