A famous line from a song by Dire Straits, “Money for nothing and your chicks for free”, summed up the culture in the mid-eighties in places like Winchester. Thatcher was at the height of her powers, kicking the unions’ arses up north and the Yuppies down south were creaming off the nation’s wealth shouting “Loadsamoney!” Living and studying in Winchester during this period, many aspired to become the latter. However, for me, it was a completely different picture, yet Dire Straits are still my favourite band.
Per my previous blog, the period from autumn 1984 to summer 1987, I was living in splendid social isolation. I came to sixth-form college from a ‘special needs’ school as the only one, rather than from one of the mainstream comprehensives in a ‘year group’. Combined low self-confidence and living with Cerebral Palsy (CP), I felt unable to ask my peers if they minded if I tagged along to the pub and other out of college social events, to which nobody thought to invite me.
As with most young people, music became. and still is, a massive part of my life. I’ll briefly take you back to April 1984, just after the Easter holidays at Treloars, (the ‘special needs’ school I attended). Prior to this time, my musical collection consisted of a couple ‘Shaking Steven’s’ albums and a C60 cassette (a blank tape you could record music on to illegally, like ‘downloading’ today for those of a younger generation) of Meatloaf’s ‘Bat Out of Hell’ album and three Paul Young tracks. I played the latter so much, my dorm mate at school was put off the album for ever! Anyway, another mate of mine said “I’ve got this great cassette to play you”, ‘Alchemy’ double live album by Dire Straits. I was not disappointed. The first track ‘Once Upon A Time in the West’ blew my mind. It was an eleven minute laidback guitar masterpiece, and there were three more ten minute plus tracks on the album. This was my type of music, generally known as ‘Adult Orientated Rock’ (AOR) or some pretentious over indulgent shite!
I purchased the aforementioned double album, with a record token I received for my birthday that year. At the time I had a second-hand mono tape recorder, received from my aunt a few years previously. To be fair, this was good for what it was. However, there were much better systems out there such as Stereo ‘Ghetto-blasters’ and hi-fi stack systems, that many of my mates at school had. In the summer of 84’, my Dad encouraged me to get a holiday job. I applied to places like ‘Sainsbury’s’ as a shelf stacker. At the interview when asked if I could work under pressure, I was struck by fear. Part of living with CP, I have poor hand-eye coordination. This combined with low self-esteem I told the interviewer this job wasn’t for me. Basically I felt I would be sacked as soon as starting the job. Anyway, by the end of that Summer I secured a paper round delivering the weekly free rag ‘The Winchester Extra’. Although the pay was far from great, it did give me a bit of financial independence. Given I had no social life most of my earnings went on music. My first major purchase was a brand new ‘Ghetto-blaster’ at a cost of around £50. This brought a whole new dimension of listening to my sounds.
In the early part of 1985, I don’t remember the details as to where and when I came across the fatal advert, I joined the ‘Britannia Music Club’. Basically the club seduces gullible people like I was at the time with fantastic offers. What the small print said was that you needed to buy a further six albums at full price in a certain time-scale, otherwise you’ll get billed the full price for the original offer. On top of this, every month you receive a catalogue and a recommendation of an album you may like. The catch was, if you didn’t want it then you had to send a slip back, otherwise it would pop through your letterbox whether you wanted it or not. Either it was a case of paying the return postage or paying for the album. Although this was bit of a con, joining Britannia enabled me to build up my music collection quite quickly.
One of the albums I purchased on the original Britannia offer was ‘Love Over Gold’ by Dire Straits, the first track ‘Telegraph Road’ was a fourteen and half minute blockbuster. At the time Dire Straits were seen as a typical Yuppie band, along with U2, Peter Gabriel and Simple Minds, appealing to the up and coming people in places like Winchester. It was an opportunity to show off how good your CD player was by playing your mates albums such as Dire Straits 1985 multi-platinum selling ‘Brothers’ in Arms’. The irony was these bands appealed to me because their music was socially aware. ‘Money for Nothing’ on the ‘Brother’s in Arms’ album a song adopted by the Yuppies, was a comment about the ever increasing indulgence of gadgets such as televisions and microwave ovens. ‘Telegraph Road’ was a song about the decline and unemployment in the North-East where Mark Knopfler, the band’s lead singer comes from.
I still fondly listen to the stuff that got me started on the road to becoming a musical record and CD collector geek. I’ve a much better stereo system now, and really appreciate putting on my ear phones and chilling out to my favourite albums. Firstly because of the clarity and the detail through the cans really adds something special to the songs. Secondly I can reflect back on this time and think how far I’ve come since and what I’ve achieved in my life.
“COMING UP”, in good old TV fashion, next month’s blog is all about my introduction to modern art and making sounds on toilet rolls!
Jarmin Apple, August 2019