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In the second in her new series, 'A Life in Music', in which she will be talking to a Pennyblack writer about how music has affected and influenced them, Cila Warncke speaks to Fiona Hutchings,
Growing up in Sheffield, Fiona Hutchings’ earliest musical memories are of her older brother’s record collection. Her sonic inclinations blossomed to include the ground-breaking sound of synth pop and Madness’s subculture-defining oeuvre. For more than a decade, Fiona has written about everyone from Duran Duran and Del Amitri to Amy Winehouse and Andy Whitehouse for Pennyblackmusic. This, despite the catastrophic impact of not one but two brain haemorrhages. Here, Fiona discusses the life-altering, life-affirming power of music.
What musical cultures did you identify with most strongly as a young person?
At the very beginning, I was into Queen. My older brother was ten years older and he was a massive fan. The first music I got into for myself was Madness and ska when I was about 15. I wore dockers, cut my hair short, wore a bomber jacket. I realized that [look] could be misinterpreted so I quickly changed it. I turned 16 in 1995, so was into Britpop: Pulp, Blur, Oasis but also – being from Sheffield – synth like Heaven 17 and the Human League.
What was your first gig?
Joe Cocker. I went on my own and bought the average age of the row down by about fifty years.
What are the biggest differences in your musical taste between ‘then’ and ‘now’?
One thing I did on my blog, AdLibbed, was invite people to talk about their favourite albums. Everybody seemed to pick something they discovered at about 16 years of age. My musical tastes have expanded but that core from my teens has stayed consistent.
What attracts you to an artist/band?
I’ve always seen videos for songs in my head. So, if a song tells a story, or evokes a lot of images, that’s what I’ll track down. The songs I really like are a bit – anthemic is probably overselling it – but there is a clear image; they evoke a strong emotional reaction.
What’s a band you used to love that makes you cringe now?
I’m reluctant to say, as my husband is going to read this and I’ll never hear the end of it, but Stereophonics. He hates them. I played their first two albums almost every day. When we moved in together, I had a Kelly Jones poster that mysteriously disappeared.
Who’s an artist you came to late but now love unreservedly?
Depeche Mode. I was aware of them because I loved 80s synth but then saw a documentary called ‘Synth Britannia’ and thought, “Wow, I need to get into them.” I started reading books, listening to their music, watching documentaries. I’ve never seen Depeche Mode live but ‘Never Let me Down Again’ is one of my favourite songs. I’d love to be in the crowd, just for that song.
What three gigs meant something extra-special to you?
• Madness at Nottingham Splendour, just before I turned 30. For half my life, I’d wanted to see this band. I felt complete disbelief they were actually there in front of me.
• Mark Morriss of the Bluetones, in 2012. The year before, I’d nearly died of a brain haemorrhage. For a long time, I couldn’t listen to music, couldn’t tolerate noise; I was exhausted and got disorientated quickly. Morriss, who I’d interviewed for Pennyblack before, was playing a tiny theatre. The gig was seated, it was quiet, he chatted a lot. To realise I could still [enjoy music] was really special.
• Caro Emerald in Sheffield, 2017. It’s rare my husband and I get to go to gigs together. But he’d gotten me into her music. We got dressed up. It was spring. I was the healthiest I’d ever been. I felt good. It was a fantastic night together. Shortly thereafter, a scan found another brain aneurysm.
How have your health challenges affected your relationship with music?
The first aneurysm ruptured and I almost died. When I was in hospital, my husband brought my iPod, my friends brought me CDs, but I couldn’t listen to them. I didn’t understand myself without music; it is such an important part of who I am and how I relate to the world. Later, I was diagnosed with auditory processing disorder, I have trouble sorting out noises. If I’m out and about, listening to music helps; I can focus on it instead of the noises around me.
When and how did you get involved with Pennyblackmusic?
I’d always been a music nerd and did media at university, so wrote for university magazines and stuff. Then, when I had kids, I had to step back. I started a blog that was a bit about parenting and a bit about other things. It wasn’t working so I started writing about music. A friend introduced me to John [Clarkson], who is lovely. I have come and gone a bit, but have been writing for him for about 12 years.
How would you characterise a) Pennyblackmusic and b) your contributions?
It’s eclectic, wide-ranging. Whenever a new magazine comes out there are well-known artists and people I’ve never heard of, but they all get the same love and attention. Pennyblack isn’t a snobby, ‘I know more than you’ magazine. It is approachable, inclusive and intelligent. One thing I’ve always tried is not to badmouth [artists] for the sake of it. The ‘NME’ or ‘Melody Maker’ used to just trash people but it takes longer to write a thoughtful article than to slate somebody.
What’s been your most memorable interview for PB?
When the drummer from Madness, Woody Woodgate, formed a solo project John asked me if I wanted to interview him. I was so afraid of making a fool of myself that I turned him down. John sent a kind email back saying, “I think you should do this.” So, I did, and was so glad I did. Woody was lovely. It meant a lot to me.
Why does music writing matter?
Music is intrinsic to my understanding of the world but you need something more to access it, to understand it, to give it context. I’m the type of person, when I like a band I read books about them, liner notes, everything. People who read music writing are music fans. We’re writing for each other. Sharing.
What inspires you as a music writer?
I am working on a book that’s been around in different forms since I got ill. It’s about getting into music, losing music. I love talking to people about the music they love, why they love it, what it means to them. When my husband and I met, we made mix-tapes for each other. That is a whole heap of communication. Now, my children are in their teens, they’re developing their music tastes. We spend time together talking about music, watching videos on YouTube.
Describe an image that encapsulates your life in music?
Dave Goodwin who does ‘Vinyl Stories’ on Pennyblack interviewed me about my vinyl collection. In the photo, I’m holding my ‘Now That’s What I Call Music 1’ vinyl and I’m laughing. The joy I get from talking about music, discovering music, waiting for someone’s new album to come out, is summed up in that photo.
What are your vocations?
I work in mental health as a psychotherapist for young people, which I love. It’s what I’ve wanted to do since I was a teenager. I love talking to people and helping them figure out stuff.
1. What is the first song you remember? Queen. ‘Tie Your Mother Down’. My brother had it on vinyl and he would get me to sing it to his friends when they came round.
2. What song would you play at a wedding? My husband and I walked into our wedding to ‘It Must Be Love’ by Madness. We walked out to the ‘You and Me Song’ by the Wannadies.
3. What song would you play at a funeral? ‘One Step Beyond’ by Madness. My loved ones already associate Madness with me, I don’t want to ruin any other bands for them.
4. What is the song you never get tired of? Belouis Some ‘Imagination’. I saw the video on MTV as a kid. It was the first time I’d seen that much nudity.
5. Who is the artist you’d most like to be? I’d like Freddie Mercury’s charisma and Dave Gahan’s nine lives.
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