Do you remember what you were doing on the 10th March 1994?
Of course you don’t.
Nothing of any note ever happens on the 10th March. Specially not in 1994.
Ah, but the thing is I DO remember what I was doing then. Not only that but I’ll never forget it.
My girlfriend studied art in Dundee, which isn’t quite the same thing as studying sculpture at St. Martins college but it was, for a provincial boy like me, a slice of something vaguely exotic. The problem was that she was meant to be studying art in Glasgow and on that basis I had applied for a degree course at the (sort of) University of Paisley so that I could be close to her. She didn’t get accepted to Glasgow…I got accepted to Paisley, so now we were both stuck in fairly grim and grimy Scottish towns on opposite sides of the country. Every Friday I would take the long bus journey to Dundee so that we could spend the weekends together. I would buy two of those little football picture story comic books (I know it would be better if I lied and told you I pored over a dog eared copy of Rimbaud but I can’t lie) and a can of Coke from the newsagents in Buchanan Street bus station and then settle in to whatever mix-tape I’d made for the trip. Arrival in Dundee would be followed by lots of snogging and then a trip to Blockbuster to hire a video (like Netflix and chill but with a tape and pic ‘n’ mix instead of a stream and hardcore supersex) and then a trip to the student Union for the indie disco.
But this story doesn’t take place on a Friday…it takes place 24 hours earlier. That means that the main event here was so monumental that I had decided to skip my Friday lectures just so that I wouldn’t miss it. I wasn’t the type of boy who skipped lectures, I hadn’t ever bunked off school even. I was, to use the hip language of the hep cats, a square daddy-o. What could have prompted a good boy to do something so wicked?
I’ll tell you what.
Shed bloody Seven.
Three days earlier I had trotted along to the record shop to buy a 12″ single; “Mark”. That decision had been prompted by positive noises about the band in the music press. The dreadfully named New Wave of New Wave was still very much a thing at that point, Britpop was still in its embryonic stages, and Shed Seven were touring with the much punkier Compulsion. A few weeks after the records release the Melody Maker had this to say about the Sheds;
“…Shed Seven’s beautifully posed, epic music is different. Not so much New Wave of New Wave as post-Smiths, they’re taking the insular bedsit angst of Morrissey’s early music and subverting it with a brash and insensitive sexual narcissism.”
(The Newest Wave, Melody Maker, March 1994)
I arrived at Lucifers Mill with the girlfriend and my mucker Chris as soon as the doors opened. Nobody else was there. Well, Compulsion were there. And Shed Seven. Sat at the bar was Rick Witter. Even at that point it was obvious this was a boy (we were both boys then…manhood seemed a long way off) who was destined for stardom. He had presence.
I worked my way to his side and asked for his autograph. I reckon I may have been one of the first people ever to do so. The only thing for him to sign was a pack of guitar strings. I handed over a pen and Rick wrote; “To Max, Roll out the barrel. Rick Witter.”
I was giddier than a giddy schoolgirl on her way to the national giddy schoolgirl championships.
What followed was a set from a band at the very start of their rock ‘n’ roll journey playing with the confidence of The Rolling Stones but with songs that were worth listening to and with a cocksure confidence replacing the just being a cock. They were staggering.
A few months later and Britpop was the official musical movement of a generation and Shed Seven were right at the heart of it. Over the next 5 years they had 13 top 40 singles. Any one of those singles would comfortably go toe to musical toe with anything released by any other band of that time.
Lots of people get very excited by certain Oasis and blur singles from that era but “Dolphin” is better than “Sunday Sunday”, “Ocean Pie” is better than “Wonderwall”, “Getting Better” is better than “Parklife” and “Chasing Rainbows” is better than almost anything ever.
As a live act I don’t think anyone else comes close. Shed Seven never gave you anything other than everything every single time they took to the stage. Rick Witter is a man who looks like he’s your best mate, no airs, no snobbery, an everyman and yet he also looks like the brightest star in the sky. The rest of the gang are musicians who play with fire in their bellies, with joy, with skill and who provide music that forces you to sway, to stamp your feet, to clap your hands and dance like this is the only music you’ve ever wanted to hear.
Now after a lengthy hiatus the gang are back. A new album, a sold out tour and two blistering singles that make even their own glorious back catalogue of hits look like warm ups for the main event. The musical landscape has changed considerably since the 1990’s but I think that when the end of year “Best of 2017” lists are being assembled it is more likely than not that “Instant Pleasures” will be riding high. The two tracks that have already been released, “Room in my House” and “It’s Not Easy” hint at an album that will lift your spirits, soothe your soul and blister your feet. I’m not sure what else a body could want.
It’s been 23 years since that night in Dundee and, sadly, I didn’t manage to get tickets for the forthcoming live dates but those who did are going to have one of the best nights of their lives. The girlfriend has gone. Chris has gone. Shed Seven were gone but unlike the other two I’m delighted to welcome them back.
Roll out the barrel.