published: 27 /
In his regular 'Vinyl Stories' column Dave Goodwin talks to Pennyblackmusic writer Fiona Hutchings about her passion for Madness, Queen and Mark Morriss whose records are amongst her favourite albums
This month's victim in my ongoing 'Vinyl Stories' column, which explores the boxes of record lovers, is another one of my writing colleagues here in the world of Pennyblackmusic. Fiona Hutchings started writing for Pennyblack is 2009 and her first piece was a review of the Nottingham Splendour Festival. Fellow Pennyblack writer Peter Allison had bought her a ticket so she could finally see Madness live as a 30th birthday present. Fiona contracted swine flu not long beforehand but managed to shake it off in time to go. Fiona has since reviewed countless albums and singles, interviewed artists including Mark Morriss and Woody Woodgate and for quite a while wrote the 'Website of the Month' column.
Fiona says, "My older brother has a decade on me and it was him who first introduced me to music. He's always been a huge Queen fan and one of my earliest memories was listening to his albums on crackling vinyl and as I got older he would make me mix tapes."
Fiona's choices here are in no particular order of preference, so this would seem like a good place to introduce you to Fiona's first choice.
Queen/'The Works' (1984)
"I was five when this came out and 'The Works' is the first Queen album that I can really remember my brother playing over and over again. My deeply religious father was horrified by pop music in general and the blasphemy of "God knows I want to break free" meant singing along with Freddie wasn't just good fun, but it was also an excellent way of rebelling quietly but consistently. That album has everything. The hand clapping rhythm of 'Radio GaGa', the drama of 'It's a Hard Life', 'Machines' is pure Sci Fi and 'Man on the Prowl' is fantastic rockabilly. All nine tracks are so different and yet slot together perfectly and I had carefully constructed my own imaginary videos for each and everyone. Do I still strut around the house like a peacock with half a mic stand in hand while it blares out? That would be telling..."
If only we had a time capsule to take ourselves back there, eh? Strutting like a peacock indeed! I do admit to a little air vocals myself when i was younger but mine involved half my dad's snooker cue when he had gone out. Back to Fiona's early start in life.
Fiona continues, "I had, what we might euphemistically call, a difficult childhood. My big brother moved out, my mum left and my father is a very troubled person who kept my younger brother and myself more and more isolated as we grew up. So, my Walkman and my radio became my only friends. Swapping between Radio 4, local commercial, Radio 1 and Atlantic 252 kept me well informed on everything from 'The Archers' to Acid House to the latest boy band phenomena."
"At fourteen I left home with just the clothes on my back and got a couple of jobs to support myself. I spent virtually everything I owned on purchasing my own Hi-Fi and then set about creating my own music collection. I still loved Queen (and can still remember my utter disbelief when I heard of Freddie Mercury's death in 1991) and remain a fan to this day, although I have mixed feelings about their post 'Made in Heaven' output. I sometimes helped by brother DJ for parties and at youth clubs which meant an excuse to play lots of both 80's pop and cheese as well as dance and rock."
"At fifteen I discovered Madness via a free CD with 'Q' Magazine featuring 'House Of Fun' and fell in love. I was really attracted to the mix of influences from reggae to new wave to rock steady with a bit of everything else thrown in and the lyrics that ranged from depicting kitchen sink dramas to the slightly ridiculous. Through them I also found the more political leaning music of the Specials and the Selecter and I still love them just as much now. Madness were the first band I felt like I discovered for myself and that was important. It became part of my identity. Even now people text or message me because Madness are going to be on TV or they just heard them on the radio and that gives me comfort in a weird way." Which leads us conveniently on to Fiona's second album:
Madness/'One Step Beyond' (1979)
"Madness first graced 'Top of the Pops' at almost the exact moment I entered the world. At fifteen years old I took that as a sign we were meant to be together somehow since we both started making noise around the same time. I could have picked any of the Madness albums they have released since 1979, but after buying the 'Divine Madness' compilation I started constructing my complete collection from the start. There are four singles here alongside EP tracks like 'The Bed And Breakfast Man' which I loved, alongside more unexpected tracks like 'Chipmunks Are Go' and 'Land of Hope and Glory' which conjure up images of a marching platoon and a rag tag gang of Borstal boys respectively. Plus this album features 'In the Middle of the Night' about George, the knicker stealing newsagent and it still makes me laugh."
Mansun/'Attack of the Grey Lantern' (1997)
As we move on we quickly stumble into Fiona's next choice, "I came of age in the mid 1990's so I embraced Britpop, adding plenty of Mansun, the Verve, the Bluetones and Pulp to my increasingly eclectic music collection."
"This album sound-tracked my dissertation after what felt like many months of writers block. Initially I became aware of Mansun because my friend Rob included 'Stripper Vicar' on a mix-tape he made for me. He, rightly, figured the bizarre tale of the cross-dressing man of the cloth would tickle my fancy. The whole album is an almost psychedelic trip through the minute of British life, relationships and the darker corners of society that lurk in plain sight and the images it conjured up for me are the reason I managed to get the (hons) on my degree. 'Wide Open Space' in particular seemed to encapsulate the dissociation and disconnection I felt at that point in my life as I struggled to figure out who I was and what the hell I was meant to be doing next. Not all the memories I have related to this album are happy, but ultimately it still feels like a very part of the songs that soundtrack this particular movie."
Growing up and passing time much the same as I did during my adolescent years, Fiona tells of one of my great disappointments and one I can really relate to. Can you remember those 'Top of the Pops' albums from the 1970s and 1980s? They crop up from time to time in 'Vinyl Stories', and Fiona certainly can,
"I spent countless hours scouring the charity shops of Sheffield for records, CDs and tapes from virtually any genre you care to mention. One particularly memorable haul included 'Hole in My Shoe' performed by Neil from 'The Young Ones', a 'Top of the Pops' 1978 compilation (Imagine my disappointment when I realised they were all covers), 'The Planets Suite' by Holst and a 12" version of 'The Final Countdown' by Europe. When I met my now husband at university we spent a lot of the early days of our relationship trading mix-tapes. Through him I gained a deeper appreciation of Radiohead and the Manic Street Preachers, Idlewild and Belle & Sebastian. One of the things I enjoyed the most about getting to know him was finding out about the music he loved and sharing my records with him. We enjoy arguing about the best tracks by any band you care to name but he will never understand my love of dance music."
Various Artists/'Now That's What I Call Music' (1983)
To go back to the hours Fiona spent, as I did, trawling through shops in homage to the black wax, she has picked out her next choice from doing just that:
"I can still clearly remember buying the very first 'Now' album from the British Heart Foundation charity shop on Castlegate in Sheffield in 1994. The shop has since been demolished but every time I walk past where it used to be I invariably think of this record. I bought it in part because it featured the Madness track 'The Sun and the Rain' which is one of my favourites (but obviously I already owned it in countless other formats) but also because the first ever 'Now' album, on vinyl no less, felt like a real find. As pop music artefacts go, this one was a bit special. I did live in hope that the hours I spent weekly crouching over piles of discarded records in dusty corners of these charity shops would one day yield a real treasure, that I would fulfil my destiny as the record related Indiana Jones. I'm still waiting..."
Yes, me too, although I have found some of my records in exactly the same way as I am sure that the reat of us have? The beauty of vinyl, it's addictive. And as we get older our musical tatses change as did Fiona's. She goes on to speaks frankly about some sadder times,
"As I get older I guess my taste continues to evolve in as much as I seem to add more artists and ditch very few. So many songs evoke such strong memories for me. When that's a positive memory then great but when it's a sad memory or painful it does feel like the song becomes irrevocably tied to that and sometimes I have no choice but to let the song go. For years 'My Way' by Frank Sinatra was a song my grandfather would sing to really wind my grandmother up (who couldn't abide Frank 'Bloody' Sinatra) and it made me laugh. It was the song played at his funeral and now always makes me cry. There are songs I associate with past relationships that throw me right back to a party or a gig and the memories aren't comfortable. Equally whenever I hear any track from 'Big Ones' by Aerosmith I am reminded of a fantastic final year at school as part of a small group of friends playing music and pretending to be Steven Tyler most break times."
"When I became very seriously ill six years ago with a brain haemorrhage I was totally unable to listen to music at all for quite some time and it took months to slowly build my tolerance to noise of any kind back up. I couldn't listen to my iPod when I was out because it distracted and confused me. People bought me CDs as get well soon presents and they stayed un-played. I felt I had lost a huge part of who I was, but reasonably enough everyone else was concentrating on the fact I wasn't dead so didn't view the loss in the same way I did. Further diagnosis revealed that plus the brain haemorrhage I had tinnitus and auditory processing disorder. At one point it looked like attending gigs was out of the question both because I was now physically disabled as well as struggling to cope with the sheer level of sound, but I found a way around it all using a complicated combination of pacing my life before and after a gig, seating options, ear plugs and occasionally gritting my teeth."
It seems like a good idea at this point to give you Fiona's last choice and thank her for this month's 'Vinyl Stories'. There are, once again, some parts in here that I can relate to and remember those exact times and recall the same hours hunting down the records. Fiona ends with an album that...well...I'll let her tell you the rest...
Mark Morriss/'A Flash Of Darkness' (2014)
"Following my brush with death in 2011 there was a period where it seemed like listening to music, never mind going to gigs, was part of my life I had lost and would never regain. So Mark Morriss occupies a special place in my heart because the first gig I did manage to attend in 2012 was a small solo show he put on in Sheffield. I wrote about it for Pennyblack a few years ago ('Gig of a Lifetime' - Mark Morriss, Lantern Theatre, Sheffield, 2012) I have chosen the album he released a couple of years later in 2014 though because this was the album he signed for me when we finally met. I had interviewed him and we had chatted on Twitter having been introduced via a mutual friend. I still occasionally look at that album and my eighteen year old Bluetones loving self still can't quite believe he knows who I am."