My parents loved to sing. Dad sang light opera in his deep baritone. My mother was a little less tuneful. It did not stop her though. They were love birds, singing to each other. Oblivious to everything else. She always sat on his lap and he did not seem to notice that she was off key.
Singing as a family made long car journeys tolerable. Scout campfires blazed to our songs. Comic ditties brought light relief, Irish rebel songs brought the passion of injustice raging in our hearts.
Pop and rock music was not so readily available. At my friends house, we watched Top of the Pops and listened to his records, slowing down the 45’s to 33 rpm to try to work out the lyrics.
It was always at friends’ houses. Friends’ houses to listen to music. Friends’ houses to escape the control at home. Friends’ houses to hear their first attempts at starting bands.
Trying to learn the guitar myself, my cheap acoustic became a monster, and it got the better of me. The neck was as thick as my arm and the action was intolerably high, so I gave up on trying to make a decent sound with it. I never gave up on the dream though.
We had a Dansette record player and a few old albums in our sitting room. The sitting room was “the good room”. It was reserved for special occasions and always kept neat and tidy. It had a bookcase with rows of encyclopaedias. (If you don’t know what they are, google them to find out what we did before google.) Sofa and chairs with antimacassars crocheted by my mother. A glass cabinet with Waterford crystal. A black and white wedding photo of my parents alongside the framed papal blessing of their wedding from Pope John XXIII.
The thing was, you didn’t go in there. Normally.
When I started working part-time jobs as a teenager, my mother suggested that I could buy a record to play.
Little did she know what she had started..
The special occasions in that room became my adventures into music. The first record I bought for myself was a 7″ single by the Sex Pistols – their cover of the Eddie Cochran song, “C’mon Everybody”. Soon, that special room was exploding with loud, expressive music which helped me to deal with my teenage angst in a musically cathartic way. I drew band logos on my school books and my bedroom door. Debbie Harry gazed lasciviously at me from my bedroom wall.
Music initially showed me boundaries. I was influenced by the music my friends liked. But ultimately, it showed me how to break those boundaries. I bought a cassette of Rod Stewart’s Greatest hits, and because he was wearing a pink jacket, I was taunted that I was gay. Luckily, the same bullies had not seen the back cover of one of my favourite albums, Lou Reed’s “Transformer”.
I didn’t care about the gender or sexual orientation of the singers, I just cared about the music. But I also became aware that their “gender bending” was about freedom. Freedom of expression, freedom of speech, just plain freedom. A freedom I did not feel in my suffocating small town, Catholic, 1970’s repressed Irish society.
Music brought me on a journey. It spoke to my heart, in all its raw emotions. Whether it was Freddie Mercury singing “Somebody to Love” or Bon Scott snarling “Touch too Much” or that new Dublin band, U2, with their intriguing guitar & drum sound on “I Will Follow”.
I’ve managed to learn to play guitar. I’ve been lucky enough to meet and to know musicians. I’ve attended concerts by world class artists in huge auditoriums and in small back rooms with 2 or 3 people in the audience.
I am eternally grateful to all the musicians who have had the courage to climb on a stage and share themselves through their music. You have made my world a better place.
Music opened me up. And it still does.
If you’d like to hear a pretty random (and small) selection of some of the music which touched me along the way. Check out this Spotify playlist:
He lives peripatetically, creates images, loves beauty, uses words and attempts to play the guitar – not necessarily in that order.
(he also makes silly Dad jokes and dodgy double entendres)