glenatron: (Emo Zorro)
Over the last few years it has gradually dawned on me that I am a middle aged man now. Once, however, I was a long-haired chump who loved music.

This started quite suddenly around the time I was 15- I started learning to play guitar and listening to various guitar music ( ahem... much of it was Dire Straits ) and the kind of turn-of-the-nineties cheese rock that was the thing at the time. Later I discovered U2 and it blew my mind a bit because here was a band playing guitar in a way that I could ( sort of almost ) emulate and yet they were a real band making real records. That was a pretty exciting thing to discover. In the autumn of 1991 I got a copy of Achtung Baby and REM's Out Of Time, which are probably my favourite records by both bands and I started to realise that what I really wanted was music that touched my heart and carried me away with the ideas it conveyed.

In 1992 I finished my GCSEs and left school for sixth form college. This was a big deal because until then I had really spent my time with school friends who I had been around in many cases through the preceding two schools, so it was very much a male group and I basically didn't know much about being around girls. At sixth form I began hanging out with a new social group, including some friends I had made later in secondary school and finally I was in the company of girls too. Obviously I immediately fell in love with everyone I met and was horribly, cringeworthily embarrassing ( and self conscious, and embarrassed ) as I now realise is the fate of all teenagers at some point.

So suddenly my life was a heady social whirlwind full of amazing rollercoaster highs and lows. I was a total idiot, but it was so exciting- I still clearly recall the unbelievable intensity and somewhere I retain notebooks full of terrible poetry and lyrics from those days which are the closest thing I have to a diary.

As 1993 began as this social group began to take form and it's fair to say that it was the most amazing year of my life to that point. Luckily it was also an excellent year for music, so I had a great soundtrack. Maybe everyone has an amazing soundtrack to some equivalent period of their life, but this is mine.

The year began with me mostly listening to records from the year before, mostly ones I had borrowed from my friend Alf, so it was The Lemonheads with Its A Shame About Ray and Sugar with Copper Blue. I found both of these in a charity shop last summer and they still stand up very well. I had already extracted most of the goodness from Nevermind that I was going to but I was still enjoying Ten - my controversial opinion is that the letter is probably a better album, for all that it wasn't the peak of the zeitgeist. Just at the end of the year my friend lent me the first two Levellers albums and I couldn't believe it- here was a band playing music like the Steeleye Span my parent had played while I was growing up, but modern! It was so cool! They were one of the great unifying bands of my generation- there was only one way of life and that was our own.

One of the early year records I got in 93 was Sweet Oblivion by Screaming Trees. Mark Lanegan's brilliant, gravelly voice over the dark seventies-tinged rock of the Trees was like a flame to my army-surplus combat-trousers-wearing moth.

During the spring I had a tape on which I had Are You Normal from Neds Atomic Dustbin on one side and The Looks Or The Lifestyle by Pop Will Eat Itself on the other. The former was alright, but suggested the band were a bit of a one-trick pony, the latter I totally loved- Fuzz Townsend is an amazing drummer and it is baffling to me that the template for mixing dance and rock that PWEI created wasn't really followed up on for another fifteen years or so, though it is more or less the standard for most pop now.

As the year wore on I actually joined a band too. The Way Out Exits were really something. Listening back that something might be terrible, but that's neither here nor there- we were a band playing our own original songs and we were cool because we thought we were. Our singer couldn't sing, I started on guitar but switched to bass after our first practice, none of us could entirely play in time and our drummer was amazing. The first time we practiced we basically played Enter Sandman for three hours. I remember on the drive home ( getting a lift with mum, obviously ) thinking "yes, this is the real deal!" It was a late spring evening and the evening light on the water meadows was beautiful.

While I was doing every household chore I could think of in the hope of earning enough money to afford a bass amplifier, I was listening to the old Best Of REM on my personal stereo, building up an affection for So Central Rain and Driver 8 that persisted ever since.

In the summer our group of friends went out for a week of camping holiday in Cornwall and it was the best thing ever. Actual best thing ever. On the train down we forgot our tent and one of our group had to go back on an epic adventure to retrieve it. We sat on the beach and drank Thunderbird wine through a straw while our friend Steve narrated farmer stories in a stupid west country accent. I bought a copy of the second Red House Painters album while we were there and it was totally depressing and beautiful and not fitting at all but I loved it. I had a "Simon and Garfunkel for easy guitar" book and it turned out our friend Penny had a beautiful voice so we played those songs a lot. Also Levellers songs because those were super easy.

When we got home my parents were away so the band moved in at my house and practiced for a week. During that week, on a trip to town, I got hold of a copy of Fuzzy by Grant Lee Buffalo. We got a short set together and on the last night we played to our friends. It was the most unbelievably exciting gig I have ever played. I am sure we were terrible but it was awesome fun and gratifying when our friends realised that we actually were a real band playing real songs. It hardly mattered that we were playing them very badly indeed.

We were up all night partying then, and the next day took a lot of tidying up before my parents came home. When the last of my friends left I just broke down and cried for a very long time. I felt as though nothing would ever match up to that fortnight and to an extent I was right. Also I hadn't slept for thirty hours, so I was pretty easy to tip over into an emotional state.

Summer turned to autumn and we went back to college. I passed my driving test ( the day before we went to see the Levellers live ) and suddenly had freedom. It's hard to express how much difference that makes when you live in a village with very poor public transport links. Suddenly you can socialise almost whenever you like.

During the autumn I bought Together Alone by Crowded House - now I know they are not a very cool band but I still think that is a beautiful record and the production is amazing. It really holds together as a single work of art- each song stands out but everything flows together perfectly. I still listen to that when I want to feel autumnal.

I remember sitting on the old sofa in the new conservatory at Rivendell ( my parents house ) and listening to that album the night I came home from my Biology A Level field trip. That night I decided I didn't want to study Marine Biology at university because that field trip had been agonisingly boring and I couldn't face three more years of that. I had almost sent off my university application form, so I had to tear it up and pick a new subject out of the air. I chose Psychology and Philosophy but in retrospect I'm very glad the Psychology side ended up by the wayside.

The other CD that ruled my listening habits during that autumn was A Slight Case Of Overbombing, the Sisters Of Mercy best of. I now have all of their albums, but I think that best of is actually better than any of the albums. The tracks were remixed and remastered in a way that worked very well and it also has the brilliant Under The Gun as its opening track. It's just a tremendous album from one of the most incendiary songwriters in rock. Of course, half the time you have no idea what he's on about, but man whatever it is it sounds cool.

That Christmas I was given two CDs among my gifts- I can't remember what my main present was, but those CDs have stuck with me - the second Pearl Jam album ( which is, you know, fine ) and Little Earthquakes by Tori Amos which I am listening to right this moment and I have never not loved. In fact when I was at university it was posters of Tori that ruled my walls. I'm not even certain that it's her best album ( The studio version of To Venus And Back might be, or Boys For Pele ) but it is a truly great record.

So that was probably my most intensely formative year. And it was twenty years ago now. I am considerably more than twice the age I was then. But - and maybe any year of this significance would seem the same to someone as music-oriented as I am - looking back from this distance I still can't think of a year that provided a greater haul of amazing albums. Especially if I was to include the records recorded that year which I got later ( Gentlemen, Giant Steps, Siamese Dream, August And Everything After ) and ruled absolutely over the next few years of my musical life.

July 2017

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