Me dad knew a bloke who could sort out BSB satellite TV on the cheap, so he went round, tiled his bathroom and in return we leapt up the social order as the proud owners of the revolutionary ‘squaerial’.
Murdoch was just beginning to start his assault on British television and a few people, mostly through Alan Sugar’s Amstrad venture, were getting SKY TV with its topless darts and even ruder German soft porn.
We, on the other hand, had BSB and its 10 channels of fuck all, but dad saw it as a massive snub to the evil Murdoch empire and he actually believed he was on a one-man crusade to bankrupt the devil who’d trampled on the workers so arrogantly at Wapping.
We also got this big square saucer thing on our house, which when you’re 12 years old is fascinating. And ace for getting your mates round to throw tennis balls at.
Despite being a purveyor of second-rate shite, BSB also boasted a decent music channel and this is where I saw a video that had a great impact on my life. It was around 1991 I think, because the Gulf War was raging, or had just finished, and the Happy Mondays had released Loose Fit.
I was at an age when you start to experiment with life’s pleasures and realise there might be more to life than spending hours on the park trying to replicate Lee Martin’s FA Cup final replay winner against Crystal Palace. Stuff like wanking. And getting your posher mate with SKY to tape RTL’s late night porn hour – just don’t tell me dad. He’d fucking kill me if he knew I’d been colluding with Murdoch to get my rocks off.
A mate’s brother was three years older than us and he was into music in a big way. He’d come in on the end of the embarrassinglynamed ‘Madchester’ scene and he had all the records from that era. We used to nick his records and tape them. My favourite C90 had the Mondays’ Pills ‘n’ Thrills… on one side and the Inspiral Carpets’ Life on the other. I loved playing it on loop in me Boots own brand red ‘walkman’.
My favourite song was Loose Fit. I was intrigued by the sound of a match being struck as a cigarette was lit in the intro and the continual effect of someone smoking it throughout the track. The video was equally as evocative and watching if for the first time on BSB made me feel ‘funny’. Not because Ryder wore make up in some parts (I was a veteran of German porn by this stage, so a pasty bloke from Little Hulton doing bad drag wasn’t going to have an explosive effect), but just because it was completely different.
The band looked amazing, swaying under daft fringes to the bass line, with Ryder blowing smoke out in a way that could have made millions as an advertisement for Silk Cut.
He wore what I later discovered was a Ralph Lauren Polo golf jacket. It was beige and the collar had tartan on the underside – I immediately wanted one. They all had baggy jeans on and some had flares, so I immediately mithered me mam to get me some for Christmas. I wasn’t allowed flares – my dad said they were for ‘nine-bob-noters’ – so I had to make do with a big baggy pair of no-makes from Stolen From Ivor.
I read up on the Mondays and that whole scene, through old copies of NME and Sounds and together with my mate and another friend of ours called John, we became entrenched in our new musical heroes.
The next time we pilfered records we would study the covers. Pills ‘n’ Thrills… famously featured a vivid, colour-saturated sweet wrapper collage. Its legend grew when the distributors withdrew it amid fears over copyright. I loved it and was absorbed in the beautiful creation by Salford graphic artists Central Station Design. I still love it to this day. I remember designing a cover to go with the Mondays/Inspirals C90 – I cut up sweet wrappers and stuck them on the back of a cereal box and then drew a big Inspiral Carpets ‘Cool as Fuck’ cow over the top with a Crayola crayon. It wasn’t great.
Loose Fit was the first single I ever bought with my own dough (me nanna had previously bought me the seven inch of the Frog Song). It was a cassette single and was less than a quid from Woolies. I was disappointed by the cover. It was dark and dirty, made from boiled fat, as I later discovered, it wasn’t bright and dayglow as I’d hoped.
The legend of Central Station was on the wane in our expert eyes, but they regained their credibility with the cover for Judge Fudge. John bought it. Years later the Carroll family, cousins of the Ryders, informed me that they’d melted plastic in an oven to create the effect, but at the time we thought it was plasticine. It made you want to touch it and play with it.
I borrowed it off John and desperately wanted to keep it, just because of the cover. I even tried to steal it by stealth – hoping he’d never realise I’d borrowed it.
Around this time John had started regularly raiding his hippy parents’ cannabis supply. The rougher lads round ours would go to his and get stoned and he’d tell us at school about the adventures they had and how they put the Mondays on while they smoked cos it ‘sounded even better high’.
John reckoned the Central Station Design team did their work stoned. He even adopted a walk like Ryder and would study footage of the Mondays to perfect the stoner look.
I was completely enthralled, but I was too into playing football to dabble in drugs at that age. He had the gear, the haircut, the walk and he had the soundest parents going.
He was supremely intelligent, despite being caned most of the time. He was a walking embodiment of Central Station.
John was killed when we were 15.
He was hit by a drink driver. It was devastating at the time, even though we weren’t as close as we had been because his drug use had spiralled beyond weed and he was more likely to be tripping out to Led Zeppelin than drinking to The Lemonheads as we were at the time of his death. Zeppelin were such a big influence on him that they played Stairway to Heaven at the end of his funeral, a song I still find difficult to listen to.
I remember going to his mam’s soon after his death to see if she was OK. She invited us in, wistfully stoned. She probably wondered how her stash lasted longer after John’s death.
Susan was a lovely woman, heart broken and full of regret that she hadn’t spent more time with her son while he was still with her. In a typically hippy-like gesture she asked all John’s friends who paid her a grief-stricken visit to go up to his room and take something of his as a permanent reminder of him.
I can’t deny that bad thoughts went through my head and I was tempted to go and hunt out that Judge Fudge cover. But, we hadn’t been brought up that way and we just couldn’t go through with taking something that wasn’t ours. I’d still have got accused of stealing it when I got home, even if I’d have fully explained the situation.
Despite having no intention of removing anything, I still wanted to have a look around his room for the Judge Fudge record. I imagined catching a glimpse of bright red or yellow sticking out from his pile of vinyl. I didn’t see it.
And after his death I never saw the actual cover again, until this year.
It is the one image that reminds me of him and of that time – and subsequently why I love music and all that surrounds it as I do. Loose Fit may have kick-started things, but Judge Fudge cemented my love.
The next time I’d see it would be in huge technicolour silkscreen print in the Central Station Design exhibition at the Richard Goodall Gallery this summer.
Glimpsing Judge Fudge up there on the wall brought memories flooding back and made me deal with things I’d hidden away for 15 years. I was quite tearful standing there, within the glass confines of the gallery, with the secretary looking at me as if I was having a breakdown.
It’s testament to the power of record covers and good designers, like Central Station, that such emotions are evoked.
A power that means even second-rate singles like Judge Fudge will remain with you forever.