They say that the things you listen to as a teenager determine your listening habits for life. (I don’t know who “they” are, to be honest, but it seems the sort of thing that people who say they like listening to stuff, your Stewart Lees, your Grimmys offof the thing that Grimmy’s in, and your Fearne Brittons, would say.) And like most people who encounter a fatuous aphorism on the internet I’m not going to quibble with the veracity of it, particularly when it is true. What I listened to as an angst ridden teenager hiding in my room refusing to engage with humanity did determine my listening habits for life.
Over the years as a connoisseur of the medium of audio I have acquired up to three singles, a number of cassettes, and an extensive CD collection. The foundations for that CD collection were set down long ago. In childhood.
Music was not a big thing in my house growing up. My mum and dad didn’t have a big record collection. There was the Andy Williams Christmas album, the Jim Reeves Christmas album, the Mario Lanza Christmas album, and an album called Welcome to Scotland – which featured poetry readings, atrocious music, whining, and left the listener feeling that if this was Scotland the production team were welcome to it. The Welcome to Scotland album was played rarely in the house. I remember hearing it only once, when visitors had outstayed their welcome and my mum and dad wanted to go to bed. (In those terms the album was very effective.) The other albums tended to be played at certain fixed points throughout the year (mainly in December, although occasionally into early January).
Without much music in the house when I was growing up I didn’t really listen to music on the radio, and avoided the programmes on the television about music. For people of my age watching Top of the Pops or listening to the chart countdown was some sort of ritual of maturity. I didn’t watch Top of the Pops other than on Christmas day when the telly got left on and no-one could be bothered to get up and switch it over or off. And I have still never heard a chart countdown, other than in hospital where a visiting doctor is reading things to passing medical students. People at school would talk about this band and that band and I had no idea what they were going on about.
But I did buy some stuff. And when I borrowed cassettes from the local library, would record them.
So what appeared in my extensive teenage record collection?
The first album I recorded (tape to tape is killing the music industry, you know) was the Yes Minister episode Doing the Honours. The other side had, I think, The Devil you know (where Jim Hacker thinks he’ll go to the European Commission). I’d never seen the show at the time, but the writing was so sharp and the characterisation so strong I could bear listening to the episodes again and again. After that I recorded the whole of the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy Primary and Secondary Phases – and spent more time listening to the latter (Rula Lenska and john Le Mesurier’s wise old bird) mainly because the recording was better. And there was a Not the Nine O’clock News album which had the trucking song, Gerald the gorilla, and the rest – and which I listened to so frequently my mum and dad bought a copy for me for Christmas.
The library also had a copy of the audio release of Genesis of the Daleks – a compressed version of the TV six parter, and I still take to crying “what about Sarah and Harry?” and “primitive but undeniably a Dalek” at my spouse and the children at inopportune moments.
The first album I bought with my own money was a Hancock’s Half Hour cassette in a market in Blackpool. It had Twelve Angry Men on one side and The Lift on the other. I learned them by heart, and when a couple of years later Radio 4 broadcast a series of Hancocks over the Christmas holiday (beginning with the TV Set) I recorded the lot. Home recording became important to me. C60 cassettes filled with Whose line is it anyway (the episodes with Stephen Fry and John Sessions), Knowing me, knowing you; Saturday night fry, and the like.
At school I had an art teacher, obsessed with Bob Dylan – who played the whining nasal moan at class after class, to the approval of a bloke in the class who played guitar and nodded along to the music. I complained about this being played in the class and when asked what I’d listen to had a class subjected to the Barry Cryer guest appearance in Saturday Night Fry where Barry promised he could provide a lewd ambiguity for any occasion. This was not generally popular. But to be fair, was as unpopular as Dylan in that only two people in the room liked it. Ostracised and cast adrift from my peers on account of having nothing in common I retired from foisting my taste on people
And as I went through school and on to University and beyond I acquired Goon Shows, I’m sorry I’ll read that agains, Round the Hornes, as much Hancock as I could find commercially available, as well as the newer stuff that made it on to cassette – Fist of Fun, Harry Hill’s Fruit Corner, On the Hour and the like. In front of me as I type I have the Knowing me, Knowing you cassette releases from 1993. Eventually I moved from comedy to radio dramas. I got the George Smiley adaptations with Bernard Hepton as Smiley (vastly simplifying le Carre’s plots). Maurice Denham Maigrets, and from there classic serials.
From my teenage years then stopping to listen to something was primarily listening to comedy or drama. And while in time I bought some music it is still the case. When I look at the MP3 collection I have today it’s full of comedy shows either recorded off air (I have all bar two episodes of Down the Line) or acquired through the late lamented audiogo or CD rips. My CD collection has the complete Hancock radio series. My MP3s include Les Dawson, Kevin Eldon shows, Eddie Robson’s Welcome to our village please invade carefully, as well as repurchases of old worn out cassettes from twenty years ago.
So, I go to bed most nights listening to a comedy. Just as I did as a teenager.