SWB on music and nostalgia

Four tickets. Four tickets for Bruce Springsteen, secured this morning, I can’t believe it. Our friends are taking their son, and so we thought we’d bring our girls along, though ingrates as they are, they weren’t impressed. ‘Do we have to go?’ was the reaction of the Small Child. ‘I’m only coming if we can stay in a tent.’ It’s not a festival,’ I explained, just a concert, on the Boucher Road. Her face fell again, (meanwhile, LSB started googling Glastonbury.)

I stressed the importance of the gig, telling them that they might appreciate good music, as it was for me, an awareness that peaked around thirteen when I stopped listening solely to Kylie Minogue and anything related to Neighbours.

It’s been a weekend bathed in nostalgia, kicking off on Friday when we ate our Nico’s pizza watching 90’s Top of the Pops, and on came Joshua Kadison* soulfully playing ‘Jesse’ on his piano. I used to LOVE that tune, and it also made me really want a cat, specifically so I could call it Moses. I was tempted to change my hamster’s name to Moses, but tiny and fawn coloured, he was more Bambi than commanding Old Testament figure. Funny, but listening to ‘Jesse’ now, the character Liz Danes, sister of Luke in the Gilmore Girls, immediately springs to mind. ‘A carried away cratur,’ The Mothership would say.

As I zoomed around doing errands on Saturday lunchtime, I caught a snippet of ‘Storytelling’ on Radio Ulster, and the writer Tara McEvoy reminiscing on the music which influenced her most as a teen; Nirvana, The Velvet Underground, and Ash, her first ever concert, to which she went with her dad in Botanic Gardens, and made all the sweeter since they both hailed from Downpatrick.

My first concert was to see UB40 in the Kings Hall in 94, closely followed by The Beautiful South in the Ulster Hall. I recall commenting to my friend (somewhat pompously,) ‘that I felt the acoustics were better in the more intimate venue.’ My lasting impression about these gigs was of one of underwhelm though, because the audience just ‘swayed about’ and I’d been watching My So-Called Life and wanted to go to concerts where you could really let loose. Fortunately, on the odd weekend in Bangor, we could go to see local groups , sixth-formers from the boys’ grammar school, who belted out covers of REM, the Manics and Guns n’Roses.  I was the one at the front, giving it stacks as I bopped around, head-banging and loving every sweat-soaked second of it. This was release; emancipation from teenage angst of a very particular brand in Northern Ireland. Despite my leanings towards evangelical Christianity, the hell fire and brimstone preachers still put the fear of God into me, and the soundtrack on the news was one of never-ending brutality. I was a worry-wart anyway, so this was undiluted relief, giddiness and transcendence from the everyday which looking back, I deem was not only welcome but essential.

Later on last Saturday, I took a collection of my old singles into Timeslip Records on Botanic Avenue. It was time to say goodbye to ‘Everything I do’, by Bryan Adams, ‘Suddenly’ by Angry Anderson and (Dear God) ‘When You Come Back to me’ by Jason Donavan. ‘That’ll be hard to shift,’ surmised the owner. ‘I’ll give you a fiver for the lot.’ I took it, only too pleased to get rid, and pocketed it to spend at my next stop, No Alibis to buy a book. (‘The Summer Book’ by Tove Jansson, if you’re interested.) But before I left, I took in the scent  of second-hand vinyl. Dominating the wall was a poster of Kurt Cobain, and a blow up of the ticket for the gig in the Kings Hall. Imagine, I thought, hearing ‘Smells like Teen Spirit’ live, with its signature discordant riff in all its raw elemental angst.  I glimpsed a poster for ‘Appetite for Destruction,’ on the stairs on the way out and immediately regretted my decision not to see Guns n’Roses when they played Dublin in 2022. Despite the state of him, aul Axl Rose can still hold a tune. Looking round the shop, I could have been sixteen again, DM clad in my tie-dye skirt from Fresh Garbage, as my brother and his friends played ‘Master of Puppets’ by Megadeth and ‘Enter Sandman’ by Metallica in our front room of our house on the Esplanade in Ballyholme.

On Botanic I met my old friend Karen who is over visiting from New Zealand. She and I used to go dancing as teenagers in Bangor, upstairs in Wolsey’s and The Windsor and later on took our moves to Crete, and Santorini, and to later still to the rum-soaked town of Chorini in the Caribbean. We reclined in a snug little booth in Maggie May’s, where the grungy music continued in the background and I told her how working there in 1998 had continued my musical education, as fellow waiting staff  introduced me to their choice of genres. It was a big YES from me to the Brit Pop fan who brought his Stone Roses and Primal Scream CDs into work, and a massive NO for the Ozzie girl who championed screechy-thumpy-ear-drum perforating shite from Berlin. ‘This is art,’ she would say, with something akin to reverence, in response to my anguished pleas to turn it the hell off.

One Saturday in August we had Cool FM on in the background, and suddenly the news of the Omagh bomb broke, just after the lunch-time rush, and we had to carry on, wracked with  disbelief, because what else could we do, except keep serving the all-day fry and burgers and chips, watching as customers took their seats in stunned silence and pointed hazily at the menu.

So many memories, nostalgia and growing-pains and new beginnings all meshed together, and digested over hot chocolate and whipped cream, with marshmallows crispy from a new blow torch our server was really keen to tell us about.  This is life, in all its beauty and absurdity, but distilled in a moment, of being with a friend who returns home to find a Northern Ireland, in many ways changed, but in others,  still unstintingly familiar. But given present world affairs, how lucky we are that we can come together, dip into the same pool of recollections, and for a moment be teens again, transported elsewhere, and can ask ourselves, What’s going on?

And while on the topic of Northern Ireland, and peace and music, I can’t not mention the old Chieftan of Irish Rock himself, Feargal Sharkey and you can tune in to his recent ruminations from ‘Have I got News You’ here.


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