Sunday 25 September 2016

You're twisting my melon, man

Published 21/09/2015 | 02:30

History Channel: This is England 1990. Brendan O'Connor recalls the era clearly, though other regard it as a dim and distant past.
History Channel: This is England 1990. Brendan O'Connor recalls the era clearly, though other regard it as a dim and distant past.

It's a bad state of affairs when you can judge the authenticity of period drama because you remember the period. But that is apparently where I'm at now.

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I have been an avid follower of Shane Meadows's This is England. It started out as a movie and then there were follow-up TV series. It all follows a group of working- class kids in the UK Midlands, but the fun of it is the evocation of the various eras in music and youth subcultures through skins and mods and whatnot. Apart from a brief period hanging around with a cousin who was a Nutty Boy (as Madness fans were known back then) I never really dabbled in most of the subcultures that the This is England crowd did. I came of age just after punk, so my trajectory was new wave to Indie, and then Indie-dance, and the fringes of the dance culture.

Madchester, however, is something I do remember surprisingly clearly. I was a die-hard New Order fan and was reared on the aesthetic of Peter Saville sleeve designs, on the intersection of post-punk and the kind of icy but surprisingly soulful electronic music that emanates from industrial cities like Manchester, Sheffield and Detroit. I lapped up the myth of Anthony Wilson, Factory records and the Hacienda. I saw New Order at the Reading Festival when they came back from Ibiza having embraced Balearic beats and ecstasy. So when Madchester came along it felt like the next stage of my musical journey.

For my wife, watching the first instalment of This is England 1990 must have felt like watching Downton Abbey in the 1930s with a guy who has been a butler in a country house. I started to nitpick at the fact that all these people seemed barely aware of the Madchester scene when they went to a local hop. The songs playing were Fools Gold and Step On. Now obviously by the time those two were hits, certainly Step On, everyone knew about Madchester.

Anyway, you get the gist. My wife was really, really sorry she wasn't watching it alone. And I gradually realised, yet again, how many eras have gone under the bridge since I was young, to the point where no one cares about the details of 1990 anymore. It's been Disneyfied. Show some flares, play a few of the bigger hits and that's it. It's just like the sixties was a big amorphous blob of feel-good jangle for us when we were small. Everything from Bob Dylan to Herman's Hermits were all just the Sixties.

Now I actually play a certain amount of music from the sixties and the seventies for my kids, and they quite like it. But it does strike me that this is the equivalent of my parents playing music from the twenties and having us dancing the Charleston when we were kids.

The next day, my wife told me there was a certain amount of confusion among the parents in second class about the homework. I wondered how she knew this and why I was supposed to care. And then it dawned on me. My kid is in second class! I ran over and hugged my little schoolgirl tight. "You're half way through primary school!" I explained with high drama, "My little girl!" I'm a real laugh to be around.

At least she seems to be learning some useful stuff anyway. She came home the other day talking about pointillism and Georges Seurat, and how he died when he was only 31. That appealed to her. She loves a good death. If you wanted to give that child a good day out, bring her to a graveyard. Honestly. She loves them. Mostly I suspect because you can check how old everyone was when they died.

I have to admit I was pretty impressed that she was learning about things that mattered and getting the fine-art education I never got. But of course you know what the worry is now. As they start learning more about culture and ancient history they will surely at some point learn about the British electronic bands that brought the sounds of Kraftwerk and Detroit Techno to the UK, that eventually led to Acid House and Madchester. But will they learn the details correctly? I can see myself in there arguing with the teacher (All of whom are about 12 as far as I can see) about her leaving out the importance of New Order in the birth of acid house.

And she'll think, "God that poor kid. Her Dad is a right mad oul' fellah."

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