Memory Songs

By James Cook

A personal journey into the music that shaped the 90s

Thursday, 13 October 2016

Do You Remember the First Time? #1. Suede

Over the next few weeks I'll be posting a series of extracts from the book (and also stuff that didn't make the cut) under the title Do You Remember the First Time? Named after the Pulp classic, these posts will contain fragments of writing about that revelatory moment when a new song or artist arrives in one's life . . . please feel free to share, and let me know about the first time you heard one of your favourites bands.

For the first installment we must travel back to the dank Autumn of 1992, when I was living in a bedsit in a very un-swinging part of London, recycling tea bags in double figures . . . 


One bleak Thursday night in September, after a fully balanced evening meal of spaghetti, two fish fingers, and half an onion fried in economy marge, I repaired to the sitting room to watch Top of the Pops. (Not a long walk: it was conveniently located only a few inches from the kitchen.) I was anxiously awaiting the debut performance of a group that had special significance for me, ‘The best new band in Britain’, Suede.   

There was a chance, however, that my precious television – ailing for months – wouldn’t survive to the end of the transmission. This was troubling: if it broke, there was no money to buy a new one. And anyway, the shops were closed.

Suddenly they were on. My chest tightened. Despite, or because of, the tiny white portable set with a coat hanger for an aerial, they sounded pretty good. Vital, feral, alive. Eschewing caution, I turned the volume up to ten, the noise threatening to split the cheap plastic sound-hole. The picture quality was so poor it appeared as if they were playing inside a carwash.

Through the televisual froth, the singer, Brett Anderson, sashayed in a fair impersonation of Morrissey; flicked his fringe as if he was Bryan Ferry. In profile, he revealed an impressively aquiline, almost Bowie-ish nose. He sang the words to the verses (I could only make out ‘lover-ly’ and ‘glitter’) with a Johnny Rotten snarl on his lips. The sheer ardour of his performance was entrancing. The song Suede were playing, ‘Metal Mickey’, lacked the regal beauty of their first single, ‘The Drowners’, but compensated with a sort of unreserved self-assurance. The kind of swagger a song can only gain when its writers have come into contact with adulation for the first time: the difference between ‘Love Me Do’ and ‘Please Please Me’. This was a group that had been given permission to surpass themselves. Oh Dad, she’s driving me mad, went the chorus. It could have been a line from Carry on Camping, spoken by Jim Dale. Yet they didn’t seem like they were joking, especially the guitarist, a slight, bolshy-looking young man (who went by the mild-mannered name of Bernard). He thrashed and writhed, and sometimes punched the top of his Les Paul.

Hang on a minute, a Gibson Les Paul?

No ‘indie’ musician had ever dared to play that guitar in this way – using distortion, bending notes – while wearing a wide-collared shirt. It was an egregious allusion to the 1970s: Mick Ronson, Marc Bolan, Jimmy Page. And he was doing it on national television. This, I thought, could have serious implications for the country’s youth . . .

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