Desert Island Discs: Fireplug -- 16th October 2011

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Desert Island Discs: Fireplug -- 16th October 2011

Postby Fireplug » 16 Oct 2011, 11:16

I'll start this as I will no doubt continue, bereft of originality; like Molony, I was born in Ashington in the north east of England back in December 1974.

Any episode of 'Who Do You Think You Are?' that set out to trace my family history would spend a lot of time filming around now-closed coal mines. My dad was the first man for generations who hadn't worked down -- or at least for -- the pits in some form or another. Apart from some spectacularly misjudged flirtations with military careers (one of my ancestors found himself in the Charge of the Light Brigade), I'm basically bred from people naturally selected to not bang their heads on low ceilings.

But my grandad wouldn't let my dad to go down the pit. For all the romanticising about coalmining and the communities it built, it must be remembered that it was a hard, dangerous and unpleasant job. Instead, my dad served his time as a mechanic and by the time I came along he was working as a skilled tool maker in a local factory. My mam was very bright, like all of her family, but not many girls from coalmining towns went to university back then. She was a secretary, and proud of it.

We lived in a tiny terraced flat upstairs from my dad's aunt, five doors along from where my grandad had been born. I was surrounded by family, friends and neighbours who left their doors open. The old pit slag heap loomed at the bottom of our garden, filling the horizon.

Music was always at the heart of our home life. My dad was a hi-fi nut who used to build his own speakers and my parents would sit together and listen to records every night. My dad also had an old piano and, despite low self-esteem about not having formal music grades, could play almost anything by ear. He used to do requests at parties, turning them into a sort of proto-karaoke, but I can't remember it: he sold the piano to make space when I was about five, something both he and I always regretted. The record player stayed, however, and the hi-fi kept getting upgraded.

I could pick a lot of records from this time but with only eight choices in this exercise I have to be ruthless. I'd also just as soon gloss over my early Adam and the Ants obsession. Especially the makeup. My aunt from downstairs gave me a stack of copies of The Beatles Book magazine. I didn't have a clue who they were but I soon found out...

Let's fast forward a few years. We'd moved out of the flat and into an ex-council semi-detached that my parents had actually bought. This was a huge status thing for them, to own their own home; none of my grandparents ever did. Unfortunately it coincided with the factory my dad worked at closing down and an extended period of real financial struggle. At school, everyone's dad seemed to be on the dole. We were considered well off because at least my mam still had a job. I was sheltered and loved but even I noticed that, outside of our house, everyone seemed angry all the time.

My dad's enthusiasm for music may have rubbed off on me but his taste didn't. I love him but he listened to some bloody awful records. It was all Klaus Wunderlich, James Last, Geoff Love and the like; when ABBA represents a relief from the cheesiness you know that you're in trouble. Despite this, my first pick is one of my dad's. I am choosing records that mean something to me, not my eight favourites. I came to dislike Genesis, but the first side of this album sounded really powerful on the hi-fi and, to my eight year old ears, it was exciting and menacing. This one's for my dad, despite the title of the track.

[youtube]DHNMa-wcdWk&[/youtube]

We'll jump forward again. Imagine the pages flying off a calendar or something if it helps. Anyway, 1988.

I was at high school and I hated it. I was bright but lazy; well-liked but not liking anyone in return. Hormones really weren't kind to me at all. I'd gone from being an OK kid to a teenager who was too small to be a tough guy but who was furious all the time and didn't know why. Like many gloomy adolescents I found myself becoming a metaller, ill-advisedly trying to squeeze my stocky legs into skinny black jeans and decorating my denim jacket with band patches. It was all dragons and Tolkein and fantasy nonsense and while I liked it, and banged my head to plenty of Iron Maiden records, something was missing. AC/DC and Aerosmith were my favourites but they seemed like someone else's bands. They all did; it was all music someone's big brother told you about. Then my friend Richard turned up with a D-90 tape that he said I had to listen to. We went to his bedroom and, on a hissy midi system, he played Appetite for Destruction.

Fucking hell.

I did a tape-to-tape copy there and then and took it home. I had no idea who Guns N Roses were, or what they looked like. I wouldn't see the album sleeve for another year or so. There was no MTV in our town, no rock radio. I just had this tape, that I played and rewound, played and rewound, of a band that sounded as pissed off as I was, with amazing solos, great rhythm guitar and loads of swearing. It became my favourite album the second I heard it and it still is. Fame and success stole Guns N Roses from me, gave them to the world and then broke them but, for a while, this was MY band, and my album, and when you pressed play -- or later dropped the stylus -- and THIS came out loud, everything made sense.



Let's tunnel through time again to 1993. I'd listened to a lot of hard rock music by this point and was still a very angry young man. I'd been ready to leave town when I was fourteen; by eighteen I was smashing myself off the walls of my cage. University was going to be my way out. Unfortunately -- as a result of a combination of poor attendance, contempt for school and a local pub that did trebles for a quid before exams -- my predicted five A's at A-level ended up spelling DUDE instead. Suddenly the exit door was closed.

I had always wanted to be a zoologist and work in nature conservation. For years I had done volunteer work at weekends in local nature reserves and it was the endorsements from people there, a strong interview and some undeserved "he's OK really" letters from my teachers that convinced Manchester University to waive their requirements and let me in, on the proviso that I did a four year Zoology degree instead of a three, with the first being spent in neighbouring Stockport.

And so, with a single bound, I was free.

Within a week of arriving in Stockport I was off my head every day. There was no Uni accommodation so I ended up in a bedsit with an incredible cast of characters, none of them students. There was a divorced lothario who pretended to be a successful businessman to seduce married women; a functional but alcoholic accountant who sat on the floor, played punk singles and drank himself to sleep every evening; the occasional appearance of 'Bad Eddy' who was always on the run from someone/thing, started fights with a cry of '"ANARCHY!" then went missing for weeks on end and the guy who was to become my friend, a hard-fighting, motorbike-racing hippy with a great record collection and a freezer full of magic mushrooms. He knocked on my door to introduce himself with a spliff and the game was on.

And somehow, in the next few months of dropping out of Uni, slamdancing in hardcore gigs, racing motorbikes in the streets, plotting mischief, fighting, laughing and bouncing from one adventure to the next, high as a kite, something amazing happened: I calmed down.

Maybe I got the small town frustration out of my system. Maybe the drugs helped. Whatever it was, I was smiling again, developing patience and, for the first time in years, the knot in my stomach was loosening.

One of my friend's records was always on when we were coming up on mushrooms. It's not trippy music but it always transported me. I can't listen to it now without feeling a slight sensation of lightness and bliss. It opened up folk music to me as well, a constant source of pleasure, but this was the soundtrack to me becoming a nice guy again.



Those years were the most intense of my life and it's from this period that many of my selections will come. The Stockport/Manchester experience ended badly, of course; that sort of lifestyle's unsustainable. People started to get hurt, the 'charming rogue' criminals we hung around the fringes of started to kill each other, the thrill started to wear off and a nervy, scary vibe was taking over. My mam was worried to death of course, and wisely threw me a rope; a summer job she'd found for me, "to save a bit of money -- you can go back to your bedsit in September if you like."

I didn't move back in with my parents but rented a flat with a female friend who shared my tastes for loud parties and gleeful naughtiness. One day my grandad turned up with a newspaper cutting: an advert for another job -- nature reserve ranger, 3 year contract. One problem: degree needed.

Uh-oh.

But I applied anyway. I got an interview and I must have impressed them -- I got my dream job after all.

You couldn't live in Manchester in the early 90s without hearing a lot of Stone Roses and I had become a fan. The whole 5-year wait, NME-hype thing passed me by but, when this came out, I thought it was amazing: a little bit hard rock, a little bit stoner, a little bit groovy. It's still the guitar intro I'm playing when I walk onstage in my rock star fantasies.



The next three years as a ranger were incredible. I moved away from my psycho lady friend and into a hippy commune, then into an old stone cottage where I roughed it: chopping my own firewood and really living the outdoorsman lifestyle. This hardy, healthy and rugged existence was somewhat blemished by my weekends which were spent in my converted Toyota camper van, driving around the country and going to gigs and happy hardcore/drum n bass raves. I was having the time of my life -- my old friends were delighted that I'd finally chille dout and decided that they enjoyed my company again; I was young, single, in shape, in bands and meeting lots of girls; the miserable metaller was a distant memory. I could easily pick a cool dance track from this period of time but that would be disingenuous. The group I listened to most was one my Manchester friends turned me onto but again, later fame would take them away. Regardless, this blast of optimism perfectly sums up my feelings back then.



When my three year contract was nearly up, I was in line for my boss's job but he wasn't leaving until the following year. A perfect opportunity arose to fill the gap: six months in Italy for on a habitat management project. No real pay but flights, accommodation, food and some basic pocket money included. My mam, ever-reliable, loaned me money she couldn't afford to buy an acoustic guitar. I filled my rucksack with CDs and some small speakers and off I went.

The project I'd flown out to work on was a disaster, a comedy caricature of piss-poor Italian planning. But I was sharing a big flat with three Catalan girls, one of whom I immediately fancied. I wasn't shy back then so I told her. She wasn't too sure of my intentions but agreed to go for a pizza with me. By the end of the meal I was in love with her and six months seemed like forever away. But it came round more quickly than I had imagined.

I was young, and stupid, and not ready to settle down. I couldn't commit beyond the end of my time in Italy. While I was humming and hah-ing she ran out of patience and quite rightly dumped me. I flew home to England, broken.

Some months, and letters, and phone calls later and I was picking her up from Newcastle Central Station. Getting back together wasn't on the cards but we both needed a bit of closure and a conversation that didn't involve crying or shouting at each other. During her stay, as I was driving her around the beautiful Northumberland countryside near Kielder, I was falling in love with her more than ever but resigning myself to just being friends. I put on a random tape from the glove compartment. There was always a good chance of it being Atlantic or Stax because my car was always full of that music, but it was this one:



We looked at each other, she burst into tears and, basically, that was that: I was moving to Barcelona. We were young and stupid and in love and we still are, thirteen years later.

I've listened to a greater variety of music in the years since I moved to Catalonia than I ever did before. Mojo, then BCB, turned me onto loads of great CDs that I either bought or could cough for. Many of the records that I love most would come from these years. But this isn't my list of favourite records, or even records that I still like; it's snapshots of my life.

An exception is the following. I can't remember when I first heard it; it feels like I've known the song my whole life but I doubt it's more than ten years. When it came to choosing a song for our wedding, there was no option but this. My wife has indeed brightened my northern sky.

[youtube]DvUTT9nasCw&[/youtube]

There isn't a single song on this list that's less than seventeen years old, which I suppose means that I am becoming a fossilised old fart. I'll address that by including one that's fairly recent, albeit (like my other choices) mainstream and not very BCB. I first heard this on The Slider's Facebook page, of all places, and immediately loved it. This arrangement blows the album version away. It's sublime.



The last few years haven't been all easy: screaming babies in the house, losing my job, some health issues, going self employed. But life's still pretty great. Having my wife and kids around -- despite the crushing mundanity of domestic routine, the post-apocalyptic desert that is my social life and the endless small sacrifices -- fills me with a contentment that's deeper than I could ever have imagined. Sometimes I just look at them and I feel like that song sounds.

But I'm still an angry little rock fan underneath. I don't do drugs any more so I need another way to keep calm. Martial arts and combat sports have been a part of my life, on and off, since I was twelve. When I need motivation to train, when weariness makes lead of my legs, this is the first tune on my headphones. I started this list without originality and I finish on utter, unadulterated cliché, and I am not ashamed. If I'm going to swim home from a desert island, I'll need to listen to this first. The fact that the film it's from is, at heart, about falling in love not fighting is no coincidence.



Choosing a single book's impossible, surely? It would have to be something to remind me of food, my other great love. Or maybe of science. Or, or.... er.....can I have an enyclopaedia? The Britannica? At least the Larousse Gastronomique. I have no interest in taking fiction.

A luxury? First thought is a survival knife or maybe my guitar. But no: I'll take a photo album of my family and friends.

Oh and I bought my dad a keyboard, a few years ago, to replace his long-lost piano. He still plays nearly every day, as happy in his musical world as I am in mine.

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Re: Desert Island Discs: Fireplug -- 16th October 2011

Postby Fireplug » 16 Oct 2011, 11:19

And yes, I've just realised I've picked nine songs not eight. It's written now, tough shit...

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Re: Desert Island Discs: Fireplug -- 16th October 2011

Postby ConnyOlivetti » 16 Oct 2011, 11:39

great! really enjoy that!
thanks!
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Desert Island Discs: Fireplug -- 16th October 2011

Postby Molony » 16 Oct 2011, 11:45

Nice one. I enjoyed reading that and I had no idea that you were a fellow Ashingtonian. Or that you were virtually exactly the same age as me. Small world.

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Re: Desert Island Discs: Fireplug -- 16th October 2011

Postby Hugh » 16 Oct 2011, 11:53

That was a great, great read Steve. Thanks.

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Re: Desert Island Discs: Fireplug -- 16th October 2011

Postby Jock » 16 Oct 2011, 12:34

Lovely stuff.
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Re: Desert Island Discs: Fireplug -- 16th October 2011

Postby Fireplug » 16 Oct 2011, 12:49

Molony wrote:Nice one. I enjoyed reading that and I had no idea that you were a fellow Ashingtonian. Or that you were virtually exactly the same age as me. Small world.


Bedlington Station-ian really but born in Ashington Hospital.

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Re: Desert Island Discs: Fireplug -- 16th October 2011

Postby Minnie the Minx » 16 Oct 2011, 13:18

Really enjoyable reading Steve and a lot of the songs and sentiments resonate very closely with my own. I could have kept on reading it all day.
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Re: Desert Island Discs: Fireplug -- 16th October 2011

Postby Moleskin » 16 Oct 2011, 15:52

Excellent!
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Re: Desert Island Discs: Fireplug -- 16th October 2011

Postby Corporate whore » 17 Oct 2011, 10:53

Bump
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Re: Desert Island Discs: Fireplug -- 16th October 2011

Postby Leg of lamb » 17 Oct 2011, 19:47

I knew this one would be a special one and I wasn't disappointed.

What are your top cooking tunes, Steve? I'm imagining some sort of Jamie Oliver-style cash-in CD, but with heavy metal instead of landfill indie.
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Re: Desert Island Discs: Fireplug -- 16th October 2011

Postby the masked man » 17 Oct 2011, 19:59

Again, a remarkable read. Always look forward to reading these.

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Re: Desert Island Discs: Fireplug -- 16th October 2011

Postby WG Kaspar » 17 Oct 2011, 20:47

A great read indeed, enjoyed it immensely.
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Re: Desert Island Discs: Fireplug -- 16th October 2011

Postby Belle Lettre » 17 Oct 2011, 20:58

I really enjoyed that! Well done indeed.
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Re: Desert Island Discs: Fireplug -- 16th October 2011

Postby Copehead » 17 Oct 2011, 23:10

great stuff swearing to Nick Drake.

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Re: Desert Island Discs: Fireplug -- 16th October 2011

Postby Magilla » 18 Oct 2011, 02:12

An astonishing write-up there, Fireplug. I was especially impressed by your evocations of life in a gritty mining town, as that's the sort of thing I've only ever seen on TV, in books, etc. Fantastic stuff, pat yourself on the back.
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Re: Desert Island Discs: Fireplug -- 16th October 2011

Postby Harvey K-Tel » 18 Oct 2011, 02:43

Nicely done, Fireplug. Very touching, too.

Shame about the music.






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Re: Desert Island Discs: Fireplug -- 16th October 2011

Postby trans-chigley express » 18 Oct 2011, 05:51

A wonderfully honest warts-and-all summary of your life.

Fireplug wrote:Oh and I bought my dad a keyboard, a few years ago, to replace his long-lost piano. He still plays nearly every day, as happy in his musical world as I am in mine.

and this was a lovely way to round things off.


Fireplug wrote: bereft of originality; like Molony

Thought this was a bit harsh though!

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Re: Desert Island Discs: Fireplug -- 16th October 2011

Postby Fireplug » 18 Oct 2011, 15:11

Leg of lamb wrote:I knew this one would be a special one and I wasn't disappointed.

What are your top cooking tunes, Steve? I'm imagining some sort of Jamie Oliver-style cash-in CD, but with heavy metal instead of landfill indie.


Yeah, ideally some hard rock. Aerosmith, Jaded Sun, Electric Mary, The Answer or something like that. In reality it's probably a Disney soundtrack or CBeebies plus screaming, crying and the sound of breaking things in the background while I hurriedly try to just get food on the table.

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Re: Desert Island Discs: Fireplug -- 16th October 2011

Postby Jeemo » 19 Oct 2011, 11:05

Fireplug wrote:
Leg of lamb wrote:I knew this one would be a special one and I wasn't disappointed.

What are your top cooking tunes, Steve? I'm imagining some sort of Jamie Oliver-style cash-in CD, but with heavy metal instead of landfill indie.


Yeah, ideally some hard rock. Aerosmith, Jaded Sun, Electric Mary, The Answer or something like that. In reality it's probably a Disney soundtrack or CBeebies plus screaming, crying and the sound of breaking things in the background while I hurriedly try to just get food on the table.


Nice right up Steve, I met the guys from Electric Mary two years ago in Baltimore, nice guys, shite music. :lol: There were playing at the PRS Experience and they had just finished their last number, and the crowd wanted more. In true Rock n Roll style the singer said We'll keep playing as long as you want us too. Then PRS himself walked on stage, singer looked at Paul. Thank you and Good night.
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