What I said back then:
Around the time that I was a chronically insecure teenager, my only refuge was the Longacre Players. The slightly-more-grown-up version of Aberdeen Children’s Theatre, we met on Wednesday evenings instead of Saturday mornings, and we did proper theatre - I'm not sure if the story of how we put on Hamlet will appear here or not, but we did, and it wasn't half bad, he said modestly. Being theatrical types, we were natural show-offs, and because we were putting on a musical - 'Fiddler on the Roof, if memory serves - there was a piano in the rehearsal room. One or two of our number were properly musical, and able to bang out not just well-known tunes, but also current and even new songs - I remember being impressed at hearing 'Down in the Tube Station at Midnight' on that piano.
Upstairs at no.31 King Street is, therefore, where I first heard Madness. Not on the radio, or on someone's tape recording (this was before Walkmen, folks), but bashed out on the upright piano, either by Alec Innes or Rannoch Donald. Upon enquiring, I discover that it's called 'The Prince', and it's the next big thing. Which it was, really. But this sets me thinking. In 1979, I was listening to Madness and The Specials, to Joni Mitchell and Dire Straits (which reminds me...), to Prokofiev and Mussorgsky, to Ian Dury and The Police, to Tubeway Army and Ultravox, to Thin Lizzy and UFO, to - you get the idea. I find myself wondering whether there is too much music for me to take in today, but it was ever thus. Perhaps my life has simply become more full of other things - I no longer have the time to investigate all the new stuff, when I know I'm never going to get through all the Haydn symphonies... How soon can I retire?
What I think now:
Well, it wasn’t really about Madness, was it? It’s such a clear memory, though – I can picture that dusty upstairs room with its bare floorboards, the piano at one end, green and yellow Aberdeen Corporation buses lumbering by outside, and the carefully studied ennui so beloved of world-weary sixteen- and seventeen-year olds.
And I think my point about there still being too much music still stands. Very occasionally, something new gets through the noise of everyday life, and makes it past the pile of things I know I enjoy listening to as well as the pile of music (including most of those Haydn symphonies) that I know I ought to listen to – last year it was Manchester Orchestra’s ‘Simple Math’, and I know I wouldn’t have even heard it if I didn’t remember the eclecticism represented by what we used to play, sing and listen to in that room.
Well, it wasn’t about Madness, was it? Still, I retain a fondness for pretty much all of Madness, in spite of Zoe’s studied indifference. I like that they became National Treasures, because ‘The Prince’ didn’t really hint at that, did it?
Oh, and while I have no idea what happened to Alec Innes (I do know he was, perhaps still is, a proper actor), I was contacted by Rannoch a few years back; delightfully, he had Googled himself, and found my original blog. Hi, Rannoch. I’m still at it, I’m afraid!