On June 14th 1994, Arthur gave me a record voucher. This was extremely generous of him, most unnecessary but much appreciated. And remembered 26 years later. Counting Crows’ first album had been released the previous year and I decided to use this voucher to find out what all the fuss was about. For some reason, I bought the cassette version. Poor choice of medium but a brilliant choice of music because it’s one of the best debut albums of all time.
Later in 1994 I saw that Counting Crows were playing at The Corn Exchange in Cambridge. I asked Roo if she wanted to go but she said that she didn’t. I went by myself. The doors opened at 7:00 and the support band were on at 7:30. I arrived at 7:35 expecting to find a desultory twenty people at the front and the place mainly deserted. To my astonishment, it was like walking late into a very lively party. As Chuck Berry would have said, “the joint was rockin’, going round and round – reelin’ and rockin’, what a crazy sound”. The support band had started playing. I had never heard of Cracker before this moment but I was immediately won over. I have subsequently bought all their albums and their first eponymous release is one of the best debut albums of all time (although there is fierce competition).
Lockdown is being eased on Saturday – that’s in two days time. For some reason, our glorious leaders have decided to re open pubs on a Saturday and we have all been encouraged to go to a pub. What utter madness. Can you imagine what some of these pubs are going to be like? How on earth are the pubs going to maintain social distancing, even if the rule is now “one metre plus” whatever that means.
Opening on a Monday would have been more sensible to avoid the novelty value. It’s going to be worse here because Brighton are playing Norwich in a match that, if they don’t win, could lead to their relegation. Pubs that show football on TV screens are going to be rammed.
One of the worst things about lockdown is that we are now all left to make up our own minds, individually, about what is safe and what isn’t. It’s been reassuring to speak to my friends over the last few days and find out that none of them have any intention of going anywhere near a pub over the next week or so until, hopefully, things calm down and it’s possible to behave responsibly.
Roo wasn’t very impressed when I got back from the Counting Crows/Cracker concert and told her how wonderful it was. That is, until I bought “Cracker” and she listened to it. Anyone listening to side one would be immediately blown away by the melodies, humour and great playing. Their genre is “bar room rock” (I’ve just made that up). We went to see them at The Borderline in London three or four years later. It was great. It was a standing gig and we were very near the front. Johnny Hickman played really dirty lead guitar with a terribly lascivious look on his face. In front of us were two couples about half our age and they really had a good time. They laughed, they talked and they danced. Wildly. And without any regard for anybody else, particularly us. On the fifth time when one of the guys barged into us while he was “dancing”, I pushed him hard in the back. He turned to me and asked me why I was spoiling his fun. Naturally, I went into major sarcastic mode and asked him if he was enjoying the gig. He told me that he was and I said I was very happy for him. Which puzzled him but didn’t effect any change in his behaviour. I bet he’ll be the first one in a pub on Saturday lunchtime, probably supporting Manchester United.
The leader of Cracker is David Lowery who had a group called Camper van Beethoven. Martin and I had been to see them at the Mean Fiddler a few years earlier. They had a ridiculous song called “Take The Skinheads Bowling” which still brings a smile to my face. The other members of Cracker include Johnny Hickman and Davey Faragher on bass (who has also played with John Hiatt, Elvis Costello and Richard Thompson). Various other musicians have played on their nine albums including Charlie Gillingham of Counting Crows.
The opening song on “Cracker” is “Teen Angst (What the World Needs Now)”. It’s got one of those driving insistent beats and it’s the sort of song that you’re sure you’ve heard before. The words are very funny. “What the world needs now are some true words of wisdom like la la la la la la la la la la la la. What the world needs now is another folk singer like I need a hole in the head. What the world needs now is a new Frank Sinatra so I can get you in bed” Great guitar and very sardonic singing.
On June 8th every year, Roo plays the second track non-stop on repeat for about an hour. It’s called “Happy Birthday To Me” It’s got another driving beat and more ridiculous lyrics. “I remember you, you drive like a PTA mother. You brought me draught beer in a plastic cup”
The next three songs are equally good and I particularly like “St. Catejan”, in which, for some reason, David Lowery is begging for just another drink of water. I can’t work out the connection. The last track on side one is “Mr. Wrong” which is just great. It tells the story of a loser trying to pick up a girl and trying to impress her with some flowers, although he’s too broke to afford any. He’d prefer not to meet her family because “they’d probably send me back where I belong”. He urges her to forget Mr. Right and come and spend some time with Mr. Wrong. Why not come into his car because he has some great pornography, a worn out muffler and “a ten pound flashlight rolling in the trunk.” I am pretty sure that Mr. Wrong will be fighting my friend from The Borderline to be first in and last out of a pub on Saturday. Me? I’m going to get my hair cut.