The music here is stuff fixed in my mind like the mile-stones of my life.
It all started like this: I was maybe 8 or 9. So 1969 or 1970. Swarcliffe Junior School, Leeds, England. Our class was sitting on the hardwood floor of the hall used for morning assembly and PE and so on. A teacher, who I cannot remember, took us there because that was where they kept the record player. It was mono. That's what they were back then. Anyway, I sat there with my classmates in all my small musical ignorance and the teacher put on an LP. It was Prokofiev's Peter and the Wolf.
I'll never forget that magical time when that story came to life. It was like I was finally introduced to a couple of people I was supposed to meet. Hello Story. Hello Music.
It's not surprising—all things considered—that there were no books and no story telling in my childhood. When I was very small my mother read nursery rhymes to me. I still remember looking at the pictures on the pages and listening to her voice. Once I hit five though and started school, that was the end of books in our house. It's pretty astonishing though that I grew up in a musical void, because my mother was once an accomplished pianist. The theme music to TV shows was the closest I came to a musical education. But every time we went to my grandma's house, I'd head straight to the piano room and plonk away. There was something about piano that drew me like a magic come here spell. I remember my mother coming into the piano room from time to time. She'd start playing and everyone would come in and listen to her. She loved the attention. I loved watching her fingers dance on the keys. It always seemed like more magic.
She's very old now and can't even remember being an accomplished pianist.
And then I was 11 or 12. My mam bought me my first record player for my bedroom. It was stereo! even if I had no idea what stereo actually meant. We bought it at a big shop in Crossgates, Leeds. They gave a demo using a demo LP with a variety of music. I suppose I was excited at the prospect of having my own record player, because I still remember the track we listened to. It was Eumir Deodato's funky version of Richard Strauss' Also Sprach Zarathustra'. Mmm, come to think of it, maybe it was actually the real thing.
So there I was with my first ever record player and it was a stereo—what ever that meant—and I had nothing to play on it. A neighbour, Peter Atkin came to my rescue. Although he was a few years older than me, his mental development was closer to mine than boys his own age. I remember playing Action Man with him.
His mother, Greta, gave me porridge for breakfast three mornings a week because I liked her porridge and thought my mam's was awful. My mam didn't mind because to her porridge was nothing noteworthy. What really raised her ire though was that I preferred Greta's Sunday Dinner. Sunday Dinner in Yorkshire is something like Sunday Service in more pious parts.
I grew up in a place and a time where you could just walk into neighbours' houses with hardly a knock on the door. Greta didn't really approve of Peter playing with me because he was older. I suppose she was worried about his development. Well, Greta's dead now and, last I heard, Peter is an alcoholic.
Any way, he heard I had my new stereo and came over and gave me two or three singles. They were all Alice Cooper. Needless to say, I became a big Alice Cooper fan. One of the singles was almost certainly from School's Out:
Pretty much immediately I took to music like a priest to sin. Around that time I asked my mother to buy me a piano. She said if I learned to read music she'd buy me one. So I said, "Teach me."
She wrote the essentials on a big sheet of paper and I took it to school with me. It was my final year of elementary school.When i got home I said I knew how to read music. She was surprised. Obviously she was expecting I'd completely forget about wanting a piano once I looked at all her squiggles and the names of squiggles and how long each squiggle lasted etc. She tested me. I passed. She bought me a piano and I started lesson. After about 12 months of hammering several bits were repaired with bubblegum. She bough me another and this one was really worth hammering.
My first teacher though was an old grandma type lady. I progressed quite quickly. After six months i started composing music. i still have the manuscripts. It's junk, of course. But it just goes to show there are things inside us that really needs to and really will come out. The way we are born is the way we are.
So now I was studying piano and music came second only to dreams of romance and were usually intermingled.
As I wore out those Alice Cooper singles, I came across The Sensation Alex Harvey Band on the Old Gray Whistle Test, a late night BBC2 music show in which the bands always played live.
click here to watch the video.
There was definitely something about Alex Harvey that caught my interest. But I have to admit, the thing that impressed me more was the sexual mystery of the lyrics. Well, I was only 12.