As the summer holidays of 1989 approached I was more excited than usual about the prospect of six weeks away from school.
The reason was simple…I was going to America.
I hadn’t ever been outside of the UK up to this point and now I was going to be flying to America to spend the entire summer with some people I hadn’t ever met.
That needs a bit of explanation.
My dad had appeared on the pages of the Mormon Church newspaper…something to do with a Scout jamboree…and an eagle eyed Utah based Mormon had spotted his name; Bob Laird. This had piqued the interest of the Utah Mormon because he was also called Bob Laird. You need to understand that Mormon’s, for reasons we don’t want to get into here, have a fascination/obsession with genealogy. There is nothing a faithful member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints likes more than a good rummage through the births, deaths and marriage records trying to locate their great-great-great-great grandmother’s first cousin. I’m not exaggerating. They love it. That and being nice. Need to find a distant relative? Ask a Mormon. Feeling a bit down in the dumps? Make friends with a Mormon. Nice people.
So, Utah Bob managed to find my dad’s address and sent him a letter introducing himself. He was an older Bob, a former professor at Brigham Young University, and over a period of a year or two he and my dad became close friends, regularly writing letters and speaking on the ‘phone. That friendship eventually led to Utah Bob inviting my family to come and spend a summer with him and his wife. Two things made that unlikely…my dad’s aversion to flying and the cost. Eventually it was decided that I would be sent as the Scottish Laird Ambassador.
It was during that visit that I discovered Neneh Cherry’s “Raw Like Sushi”. I heard “Buffalo Stance” on radio or television and was struck by how very different it was to the sort of thing I was listening to at home. It was, obviously, a pop song but it was also, in some undefinable way, something else too. I have a very clear memory of being in a massive shopping mall in Provo, Utah and finding the album in a record store. I had to buy it on cassette because the only means I had of listening to music was on my Walkman.
Despite the shockingly high temperatures of a Utah summer I decided to walk back to Utah Bob’s home so that I could listen to this curiosity immediately. There were no clouds in the sky, no breeze and hardly another soul to be seen on the street…primarily because walking any distance in the desert, which is what the Beehive State is, can cause death, well, extreme discomfort at any rate. I don’t remember the heat. I remember “Buffalo Stance” and “Manchild” and “Inner City Mama” and “Outre Risque Locomotive” and “Love Ghetto”. I remember thinking that this sounded like the future of pop music. I remember staring at the front cover as I walked along the “sidewalks” of Provo and thinking that Cherry looked like the coolest, sexiest, most beautiful girl I had ever seen.
I was sixteen, I was thousands of miles from home, I didn’t have any friends to talk to about this incredible music (I was fairly sure Utah Bob wouldn’t be all that interested in the fresh new sounds of Neneh Cherry) but I didn’t feel down about it…the sun, the feeling of being a stranger in a strange land and the newness of the music all made me feel; cool…or something. I wasn’t cool of course, I was the same as I was at home…acne ridden, awkward and a bit disconnected. That didn’t seem to matter though…and that is the mark of a great record, that it can remove you from the everyday concerns and worries and put you in a different place altogether, even if that is only for a little while.