The first record I ever owned was the single of Laurel and Hardy’s song The Trail of the Lonesome Pine. I’m not proud of that, but it’s the truth, so the record may as well show it. I seem to remember I was given it for Christmas 1975, but I can’t blame my parents — I’d definitely asked for it. This when Bohemian Rhapsody was at number one. Let us never speak of this again.
The second record I owned was a cassette of Abba’s Greatest Hits Vol 2, probably around Christmas 1979. Annoyingly, I can’t find the tape any more, but I have MP3s and I can happily say that this album has stood the test of time much better than Lonesome Pine. It’s packed with superb songs by any rational standard, and Eagle in particular still sounds gorgeous.
Everything changed for me musically in my second year at secondary school, 1980, when we covered the Beatles in music lessons. Part way through that series of lessons, John Lennon was assassinated, which brought the music home all the more powerfully. I quickly became obsessed by the Beatles, and borrowed the Blue Album from our music teacher, Mr. Bergen Peck. I begged my parents to buy me my own copy for Christmas that year.
We were not a well-off family. When my parents married, in 1957, they were only able to get a mortgage on their £2,200 house by having saved every penny they earned for years before; and for years afterwards, there were no carpets in the house, that being a luxury they couldn’t afford. Things were much better financially by the time I was growing up, but we still didn’t have a lot of money to throw around on things like double LPs. So instead, my parents got the girl across the road to tape her copies of both the Blue Album and the Red Album — which I’d never ever heard at that point. I got both tapes and a personal stereo for Christmas. Apart from the VIC-20 the next year, it was probably the best present I ever had.
It’s hard in these days of MP3s and instant availability of most songs on YouTube to realise what these tapes meant to a twelve-year-old boy in 1980. I listened to them incessantly. I think I must have single-handedly disproved the idea that tapes degrade on repeated listening, otherwise my copies would have been erased right down to silence before the end of 1981. All hail MEMOREX Chromium Dioxide II C90 tapes!
I still own those tapes:
On the left, the Red Album, with the track-list written in my untidy twelve-year-old handwriting. On the right, the Blue Album. (For some reason, I rewrote the track-list for this one, years later, in different handwriting. When I look at it now, it seems somehow inauthentic. I wish I’d kept my original inlay.)
My love for the Beatles remains unimpaired 35 years on — though of course I listen to a lot of other music as well now. Most years, I listen to every Beatles album at least once. Come to that, a Beatles album often creeps into my Most Listened list for the year (Sergeant Pepper in 2010, Help in 2011, Abbey Road in 2012). Among the 56 different songs I’ve sung in folk clubs over the last three and a half years, 11 of them are Beatles songs (and apart from them, only Dar Williams has more than three).
For years I’ve held out the fond hope of one day going to a Paul McCartney concert. (With John and George dead, he’s the only realistic option, but in any case he’s always been my favourite Beatle.) But for one reason or another, I never got around to arranging it, and I thought my chance had gone once he hit seventy a couple of years ago. But some time back, I’d mentioned this to my friend Jon, and this morning he phoned me: would I like a ticket to see McCartney at the O2 arena in May?
Yes, McCartney is 72. No, his voice is not quite what it once was. Yes, I am only seeing a Beatle, not The Beatles. Yet, it’s inconvenient to travel from the Welsh border to the London Docklands. Yes, the price is exploitative. But I don’t care. I’m going to see Paul McCartney!