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Tim Chipping

Ranting & Reeling

Tim Chipping’s monthly column

The chronological rerunning of Top Of The Pops (minus any episodes removed because they contain historical nonces) has reached 1981. This was the year when music started to affect me in ways that would be lasting, profound and get me beaten up by bigger boys.

My first musical passion arrived when I was still in nappies. “I was 28 years old…” But while I’d been transfixed by the multiple beauty of ABBA, jittered by Sparks and claimed pop as my overriding interest by the mid-’70s, 1981 was when I discovered it could do stuff to your insides as well as your face. Stuff that made my life feel significant (even if that was just Toyah Willcox getting amateur dramatically cross about hair dye.)

Watching that year’s TOTP now, I know these songs so well. But I also know the impressions they left with me, like visiting a house you used to live in. Imagination’s Body Talk, with its sloth-funk bassline tantalisingly too old for me, conjures a youth club jukebox and girls way out of my league (because I was an actual child). The Stray Cats sound like the nerves I disguised whilst lying to some teenage rockabillies about my true musical leanings, after they spotted my leather jacket. Adam & The Ants is feeling like I belonged, not to my own town but to London where everyone, I imagined, had a white stripe across their nose. I knew what Stand & Deliver was about when I was ten. I don’t any more.

These songs and their effects are so familiar because I used to tape them off the telly, then play them incessantly. In time-honoured fashion a small cassette recorder was placed against the TV ­speaker where the recording would be inevitably ruined by dog barks when the milkman came to collect his money. It seemed like if I didn’t capture them they’d disappear and be replaced by something terrible by Coast To Coast or Stars On 45. It became an obsession.

And this is where I crowbar an indulgent stroll down my own memory pavement into a tenuous reference to folk music. Because I’ve just bought the two new additions to Topic’s Voice Of The People series, the first of which contains a blood-pumping selection of tunes played by Irish musicians in London in the 1950s and ’60s. Recorded in pubs and flats by the likes of Peter Kennedy, Bill Leader and the album’s compiler Reg Hall, It Was Mighty! exists only because these men were so enthralled by what they heard they felt compelled to record it. This is a specific time and place on tape, the incidental noises almost as important as the music. The sound of a people making themselves at home.

If my C90s of mono ’80s pop and woofing had survived they’d be of no use to anyone. Adam Ant had the foresight to record his music in a studio, rendering my efforts with a pause button futile before I’d begun. But the value of these recordings of The Early Days Of Irish Music In London is inestimable, in addition to the abundant quality of the tunes and musicianship.

Where would we be without ­obsessives with portable tape recorders? Still here, but the music wouldn’t be as good.

Tim Chipping


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