Barrow-in-Furness in 1984. Before the internet; before downloads; before iPods. I was 12 years old and listening to records and cassettes. My good friend Luke lived with his dad who had an amazing stereo set up: record player, reel-to-reel recorder and huge speakers set all around the living room. Our favourite pastime, after practicing for our future career as BMX professionals, was to go back to Luke’s house, listen to music and write articles for our ‘zine which we never published. The song that brings this time back to me: Liar by the Sex Pistols. We loved the Sex Pistols and were seduced by the idea of anarchy and punk.
Whatever you think of John Lydon, the way he sang those lyrics, you couldn’t deny that he meant it! “Lie, lie, lie, lie, lie, you lie, lie, lie, lie, lie, tell me why, tell me why, why d’ya have to lie?”
Five years later, at the age of 17, I became the proprietor of The Famous Skateshack, an indoor skate park in the sketchiest industrial estate in Barrow. The original proprietor had set up the Skateshack for his son, a keen skateboarder. His son had since decided that he was more interested (much more interested) in getting stoned than skateboarding and his dad had lost interest. It was a big deal for me at 17 and soon after taking over we held the first of many competitions – pay £5, bring a sleeping bag, ride or skate on the Saturday, sleep under the ramps and then enter the competition on Sunday. About 100 people came.
A write-up in one of the national magazines that covered the competition said that this wasn’t a bmx competition, this was a rave with a bmx competition attached. We went through a lot of stereo systems, the speakers would regularly break due to a mixture of playing music as loud as the stereo would go and the huge amount of dust that they would absorb from the warehouse.
If there is one song that sums up this memory, it would be Rags and Bones by Nomeansno. When I first started playing this song, some of the skaters would laugh at the lyrics. They soon came to love this song as much as me, “And I am married to a cigarette butt, lying in the gutter.” There are not many songs I can think of that are so good to hear really loud. Nomeansno make an amazing amount of noise for a three-piece band. Their lyrics are clever and catchy and the bass guitar is played like a lead.
(Ed. note: This live version starts with 2 Lips 2 Lungs and 1 tongue, followed by Rags & Bones. You can’t get enough Nomeansno really.)
Since leaving school, I had worked in the shipyard which was the main employer in Barrow. At the age of 20, I was laid off and on the dole. I grew my hair long and spent all my days and many nights riding, skating and doing other, less legal and more mind expanding things, at The Famous Skateshack. My best friend at the time, Leon and I shared a taste in music. We would often lie on the big ramp, looking up at the rafters in the ceiling, talking crap about all the brilliant things we were going to do and generally enjoying life with few responsibilities or worries.
The soundtrack was something by Jesse Garon and the Desperadoes, perhaps, “Billy the Whiz”. No doubt exacerbated by the state of mind we were in, the music we listened to, as well as being loud seemed to just flow along, as though it was getting ahead of itself. I loved discovering new music. Often, when you first heard a song, you didn’t really like it but different parts would catch your attention until you eventually appreciated the whole song as well as the individual parts that made it up.
At 21 I did probably the bravest thing I have done in my life, I went to work on a summer camp in upstate New York. The camp was for people with special needs and it changed my life. I had found something that I enjoyed doing and could do “for a job”. Going to America was a huge culture shock. I had to adapt my Barrovian accent to be understood. It was also my first real experience of the world beyond Barrow.
I decided to train to be a social worker and on returning to Barrow, enrolled in college then, two years later, set off to take up a four year social work degree at The University of Bath. I was so excited to be leaving Barrow. The song that I remember from the time, which I felt was about my own life, Bad Town by Operation Ivy – all together now, “No (no more), No (bad town), NO MORE BAD TOWN” and repeat.
After university, following a brief period living in New York, I got a job in London. We lived in Camden Town and were lucky enough to see a lot of great bands play live. The internet had changed music and living in London meant that music was also much more accessible anyway. The iPod really revolutionised the way I listened to music. Living in London is great but it’s important to have some tunes for the tube.
After five years in London, we (my wife and I) decided we were grown up and ready to settle down. Rather than buy a tiny house in a not very nice part of London for a lot of money, we decided to move back up north and buy a decent sized house in a decent part of the countryside for a reasonable amount of money.
These days I enjoy a virtuous outdoorsy vegan and family centred life while still working to make the world a better place. Many of the things and people who were heavy and positive influences are no longer part of my life. I understand that life moves on. I’m a great believer in progress and development and I’m truly happier, and definitely healthier, than I have ever been – but it’s also great to look back and still feel the same appreciation of these songs as I had when they were the soundtrack to my life.
Oh, I almost forgot, a fifth song, one that sums up my life today. Well, it would have to be the Mickey Mouse Clubhouse song. Even though we all know that Disney are fascists and must be stopped – but that’s a lesson I can teach my daughter when she gets a little bit
Paul lives with his wife and daughter (the dog emigrated – it’s a long story) in the Lake District in the UK. Having just celebrated his one year veganiversary, he is busy looking for other ways to become the ultimate human. So far this has included fell running, cycling and long walks in the Lake District. He still works in social work, supervising a small team of social workers who work with people with the most complex needs in the area. You can check out his progress on completing the Wainwrights as well as other feats of athletic, intellectual, ethical and artistic excellence over at his blog.