To the stars through difficulties
In the year of two thousand and eighteen a strange, peculiar, wonderful and poorly written thing happened.
The Mild Mannered Army.
Of course the truth, as ever, is not quite as pure or simple as that.
The truth is that The Mild Mannered Army started in July of 2014 with a piece about style/fashion that took my immaculately dressed mother as a case study. At that point I just wanted to write…about something or anything but nothing in particular. I wrote another article about style later that month, this time about skinheads. The first piece I wrote about Morrissey was a review of his “World Peace is None of Your Business” album which I remain very proud of because of a didgeridoo “joke” that only I have ever found funny. Finding out that I was to become a father was the focus for the last piece in the Genesis of this site and then there were a handful, a clutch, a few articles over the course of 2015 before…
For all of 2016.
The Mild Mannered Army, it appeared, was just another dismal failure to add to the long list of even more dismal and even less successful endeavours in my life.
In June 2017 though I bought a record player.
I got it home and brought what was left of my record collection out of storage.
The first album I listened to was “Some Pop” by Mantaray.
I really love that album.
Listening back to it that day I felt impressed to let other people know how much I love it by writing about it. I requested a new password for this site because I had forgotten the previous one and started to type…a few hundred words later I had finished my first article on Britpop.
Suddenly I had this idea that maybe I could write about the one thing, outside of my family, that really matters to me…music. The bands, records, concerts and scenes that had meant…that mean…so much to me. Music that moved me. Music that soothed me. Music that soundtracked my life. Music that made me dance. Music that made me cry. Music that made me feel not quite so alone. Music that mattered.
Over the course of 2017 I wrote another 27 articles.
Like this one about Sleeper.
And this one about the Star Shaped Festival in August.
Then there was this one about bloody Thurman
In October I interviewed the brilliant and brilliantly entertaining Mark Morriss.
Shed Seven released their best ever record in November, the fabulous Instant Pleasures.
I finished the year off with a few pieces…including this one about Kula Shaker.
I also started to use Twitter to try and share what I was doing…but not really. I didn’t really understand Twitter and I didn’t know how to reach the people who might be interested in what I was doing. I didn’t even know if anyone would be interested.
Why had I started?
If I am being honest, and I don’t see why I shouldn’t be, I had been through a difficult period. I had been diagnosed with a chronic health condition in 2016 that had led to my being signed off of work for six months, the bulk of which I had spent either in bed or in the house. On one occasion I had gone to the doctor to pick up a prescription and left the pharmacy a few minutes later with a carrier bag filled to bursting with drugs…antidepressants, pain killers, lotions, potions, anti-inflammatory pills and goodness knows what else. I remember sitting at the bus stop outside of the pharmacy and looking at that bag and just sobbing. Weeping. It wasn’t a cathartic weeping…it was a hopeless and final feeling release of all sorts of awful thoughts.
I felt like my life was…closing.
I couldn’t see how I would ever be able to enjoy anything ever again.
Writing those 27 articles and finding people who shared my passion for the things I had written about made things…brighter.
Slowly, very slowly, I began to make steps out of that despair to…somewhere, else.
New ways of thinking.
Not quite a new me…but nearly the old me.
By this time last year I was…better.
Not healed…but better.
I won’t ever be healed…it’s not that sort of problem.
God help us…happier.
I set myself a few targets for 2018 related to the site.
I wanted to write one article a month…so far I have written more than two a week.
I wanted to feel like other people might find something of value or worth or interest in the site…that I can’t ever really know but I have found friends through it. I know how that sounds. Like Jay’s “football friend” in “The Inbetweeners”…imagined. But it’s true…really, really, true.
I’ve been the recipient of incredible love and generosity from some of the people I have written about.
Then there are a whole huddle of people who fly under the banner of Star Shaped…for sure they run a club and curate the Britpop event of the year with their festival but they have done more for me this year than that. They have been kind, supportive, generous and gracious to such an extent that I couldn’t explain it with my limited vocabulary. I’m more grateful than I could ever really say.
There have been so many highlights this year…
In January I interviewed Richard Herring, Jake Shillingford from My Life Story and Harrold from Elcka.
February saw me interview one of my favourite bands, The Supernaturals, and see Morrissey, The Stereophonics and Paul Draper in concert…but the highlight of the month, maybe even the year, was interviewing Patrick Duff of Strangelove; one of the few people in the world of popular music worthy of the label “artist”.
In March I wrote twice about Salad…the band not the food…which is, I think, testament to how great they are. I also saw Embrace in concert…which was every bit as good as you think it was. The real joy of the month though was interviewing Soda who are, arguably, the great lost band of the Britpop era. A story filled with hopes, dreams, tragedies and heartache…you should find them and then love them like I do.
James Cook, The Flamingoes, agreed to speak with me in April and that conversation was just a delight for me. An interesting, educated, thoughtful, creative and gifted man. His book “Memory Songs” is a joy…anyone who cares about music, memories, family, love and life should read it.
What happened in May?
Pretty boring month.
Something did happen.
One of the best bands in British pop music history toured the country to celebrate the first ten years of their flawless back catalogue…that’s right, The Bluetones were out and about and it was magnificent in every way.
June was strange. The highs included seeing Mark Morriss a couple of times in concert and interviewing Gary from Lick. The low was having to write a piece about Morrissey that seemed to signal the end of a “relationship” that I had been involved in since 1988. That article got a fair bit of attention and also attracted a fair amount of unpleasantness in my direct messages! Still…the truth is always the best policy.
I met and interviewed indie legends The Primitives in July…which was nice.
James released, another, amazing album in August…Living in Extraordinary Times. I tried, valiantly, to write a review…not easy for a record that covers politics, relationships, family, pain and love; sometimes in a single song.
September was all about one thing.
The Britpop event of the year.
From the spiritual home of Britpop.
The crazy kids and hip cats of Star Shaped delivered another incredible festival with the likes of Chris Helme, Geneva, Northern Uproar, Echobelly, Ocean Colour Scene, The Supernaturals, Black Grape, The Real People…and the usual pitch perfect DJ sets.
As glorious was round two of the Star Shaped festival that I attended in London in October!
I also finished, after about two months of work, my piece on the definitive story of Britpop in fifty records.
Something beautiful happened in November.
Jaime Harding returned to the stage with Marion.
That show was, without doubt, one of the most joyous and beautiful moments of the entire year.
Sleeper returned with brand new music in December…their first single since I had a full head of hair and the ability to flip a girl’s heart as opposed to her stomach. “Look at You Now” suggests that their new album is going to be something quite, quite special.
I also saw James and The Charlatans on the same bill this month…no, I’m not making that up; it really happened.
The year will finish with Cast and Travis in concert over the next 48 hours…as fine a way to end a year as I can think of.
Thank you to all of you who have read anything I have written this year.
Thank you to all of you who may made the effort to send me messages, questions or comments.
Thank you to those hardy souls who braved an encounter with me in the real world.
Thank you to everyone who agreed to speak with me for the site and for the podcast.
Thank you to those of you who have offered advice and encouragement.
A special thanks is reserved for Mr Nick Amies and each of the souls involved with Star Shaped, particularly Rob, Hannah and Jill…I owe each of you a debt I’ll never be able to repay.
And finally…to Kitch; thank you for everything.