April – June 1988
April – The house price boom is reported to have boosted wealth in London and the South-East by £39B over the last four years, compared with an £18B slump in Scotland and the North-West of England.
April started with a Buzz Club – Saturday 2nd. A couple of Brighton bands, Blow Up, who had previously been on Creation and later signed to Cherry Red and 14 Iced Bears. Both bands shared members and there was a nice vibe, although only about 75 people to witness it. (Read about it in slightly more detail here).
I had a visit at work, in Our Price Guildford, from one of the area managers. When this happened, you knew you were about to be moved to a different shop. I had been assistant manager for a while now, so if I was considered to be doing a good job it would be to a bigger branch. I was told that from Monday I would be assistant manager of Richmond . This was great news! A lovely big shop and practically London!
It made getting to work a little trickier, but a whole new experience and wonderful for that. There was a coach which went to Hammersmith from outside the Duke of York on the London Road, Camberley. My Dad would drop me off each morning and up the M3 to Richmond I would travel. I read while we were on the motorway. Simone de Beauvoir ‘The Mandarins’ was one such book.
I loved this shop. We used to get the odd famous person coming in – I served Joe Jackson (very tall) and Lloyd Cole had been in the previous week (darn! But I saw his credit card imprint – hooray!).
It being a large shop, there were more members of staff than usual. Courtney had recently returned from playing soccer in America and added a touch of glamour. I think there were about ten of us. The manager, Pete, was getting married my first weekend there so I was in charge for a couple of weeks.
Danny and I continued to go to plenty of gigs. We were fans of James who we had seen supporting The Smiths in 1985. Their new album kept getting delayed. I had bought their Factory 7″ the ‘Jimone‘ EP which I thought was brilliant and their debut album ‘Stutter‘, which I was less sure of.
‘What For’ eventually came out and I got it on 12″ – I thought it was wonderful! Off we went to see them at the Town & Country Club.
We went to see Lloyd Cole and the Commotions play the biggest venues we had seen them in – Poole and Wembley on 14th and 17th April. It was odd to be seeing them at such cavernous halls and I’m not sure I enjoyed the gigs as much as the previous ones. I did love the album they were promoting though, ‘Mainstream‘.
Support for both shows came from another band I had been into for a while, from Wigan, The Railway Children.
21 April – The government announces that nurses will receive a 15% pay rise, at a cost of £794,000,000 which will be funded by the Treasury.
We decided to put ourselves in the studio and record a couple of Bluetrain songs. ‘20 Years’ and ’You’re My Reason To Be’ with Richard on guitar. As usual, we borrowed the mini bus my Mum had for her nursery school football team to get ourselves and our gear to London to record.
Rudy came along and laid down some keys. The songs turned out well and we were happy. Both of these are on the ’Best of Bluetrain / Some Greater Love’ album released as a cd on Plastilina Records in 2008. A vinyl version of this album (including a couple of added demo tracks) came out on Berlin label Firestation Records, in 2020. It sold out in about a week and so was issued on cd for Japan, this also sold out very quickly.
We carried on playing live including supporting Cath Carroll‘s band, Miaow at the George Robey in Finsbury Park, London. Miaow had featured on the iconic C86 tape and I loved this song, ‘When It All Comes Down’.
Up and down on the coach I went every day. Reading or looking out the window. As the evenings grew longer and the sun started to get warmer, we would head over to Richmond Green after work and get drinks from the pubs around it. Sitting around laughing and chatting. These were great times. Nothing to worry about, hanging out with a new group of friends and starting to dream of the future.
On a long Sunday walk on the army ranges in Frimley Green with my dog Otto, Danny and I started to hatch plans. We wondered what it would be like to go to California, hook up with our last guitarist Mark and give Bluetrain U.S.A. a go. Excited, we phoned him as soon as we got in. Completely forgetting the time difference his poor mother picked up the phone at 4am, ‘Hi, can I speak to Mark please?’. He got out of bed and spoke to us, agreeing it was a cool idea.
We picked a date in July to go – the 4th actually, and started to get ready. Saving for the flights was the first thing on the list!
More gigs first though, Martin Stephenson and the Daintees at the Town and Country Club on April 19th.
24 April – Luton Town FC beat Arsenal in the Littlewoods Cup final at Wembley 3–2.
May – The first group of sixteen-year-olds sit General Certificate of Secondary Education examinations, replacing both the O-Level and CSE. The new qualifications are marked against objective standards rather than relatively.
The Primitives at the same venue a few weeks later, 11th May.
The Rhythm Sisters were from Leeds and played the West End Centre on 13 May, not a Buzz Club gig but at the venue where we ran it, we went anyway. Baggy Levis, bleached hair and a VW Beetle – the look of the moment!
14 May – Wimbledon F.C., who have been Football League members for just eleven seasons and First Division members for two, win the FA Cup with a 1–0 win over league champions Liverpool at Wembley. In Scotland, Celtic beat Dundee United 2-1 in the Scottish Cup final with two late goals from Frank McAvennie to complete the Scottish double.
We had another Buzz Club on 4th June. The Raw Herbs (for a longer account of this gig including live recordings click here) who released a few cracking records on the wonderful Medium Cool label. Knowing we were saving for America we didn’t want to take any financials risks. The band didn’t cost much, it wouldn’t be mad busy but we wouldn’t lose any money, so we booked them. It was thanks to going to see The Raw Herbs in London the year before that we had first seen The Stone Roses – who supported them! (Read more about my Stone Roses stories here) so I always had a soft spot for them and was happy to give them a gig. It was a nice line up, with Bristol singer, Rodney Allen (later of the Blue Aeroplanes and Buzz Club regular) plus Somerset indie kids, Poke It With A Stick both supporting.
Unemployment is now below 2,500,000 for the first time since early-1981.
2 June – U.S. President Ronald Regan makes a visit to the UK
The 11th June was a busy day at work. It was the Nelson Mandela 70th Birthday Tribute concert at Wembley Stadium and on tv all day. People would see artists they liked performing and then come into the shop to buy their music. Along with the already hugely famous artists – Sting, George Michael, The Eurythmics, Simple Minds – an unknown singer called Tracy Chapman played a couple of slots. We had had a massive delivery of her album the day before, none of us had heard of her so didn’t know why. As soon as her first performance was over people started to come in ‘I’ve just seen a singer on the Nelson Mandela concert….’ her album absolutely flew out of the door.
Time was getting nearer for our American departure. We’d got the money together and paid for our flights. British Airways from Heathrow, July 4th. We needed to keep saving to have money to survive. Tough decisions – to sell my semi acoustic and our beloved Beetle.
Michael Head of The Pale Fountains had a new band, this time with his brother John also in the fold. Shack played a gig with The Darling Buds at Dingwalls on 13th June and of course we went. We had put The Pale Fountains on at The Buzz Club in 1986, one of their last gigs and were very keen to see Shack. (Click on the link to hear a live recording of the Buzz Club gig).
We had a farewell Buzz Club on June 18th. Bluetrain played and when we’d finished our set I parted with my guitar – pre arranged, to a Buzz Club regular – Ozzy. If you still have it Ozzy, I hope you’re treating her well!
One more gig in London to go to – another band who we had put on at the Buzz Club – A Certain Ratio, supported by London band Soho (a couple of years before ‘Hippychick’) on 25th June at The Astoria.
Lots of great albums were getting released – The House of Love debut, The Sugarcubes ‘Life’s Too Good’ and a brilliant single, ‘Don’t Go’ by The Hothouse Flowers. I was still spending money on records when I should have been saving – but I needed to make compilation tapes to take with us so it was very sensible I figured.
A new dance scene was also starting to appear with this strange record –
Not long before we went to America, our Bluetrain drummer, Kevin Moorey took Danny and myself to a Sunday lunch time club at the Queens roundabout in Staines. It was run by Phil Perry, who later started Full Circle in Colnbrook near Heathrow. Kev and his mate Del, got properly into it. We didn’t stay long, sort of made a mental note and headed off. Seed planted.
At work I was plucking up my courage to resign. Chris, the area manager was due so I thought that would be my opportunity. When he arrived, I said ‘Can I have a word please?’. I told him my news and he said ‘that’s a shame, I’m here to promote you to manager today’. I was a little shell shocked and actually ever so slightly torn, but I knew the bigger picture made sense and resigned!
The week before we left, in July 1988, we had a farewell party at my parents’ house in Frimley Green, Surrey. My friends from Richmond came. Friends from the area came. Strangers attempted to get in but were warded off by Del and a few others.
We got some decks, set them up in the rumpus room, (the largest room in the nursery), put some strange silver paper my Mum had rolls of, over the lights, took the kids’ paintings off the walls, and played some records. We asked some friends to dj. One of my brothers owned some home made disco lights – a few coloured bulbs, flashing inside a tin foiled lined wooden box, which we plugged in. Looked pretty cool actually. Kevin was there, wearing cut off denim shorts, (cut to just above the knee with the end bit turned up), a white vest and an A Certain Ratio whistle round his neck.
We played a mixture of 60s soul, 70’s funk, indie guitar music, Factory Records music and had ourselves a fantastic night. Around 70 of us. At about 6am Kev wanted to go to the gravel pit lakes down the Hatches in Frimley Green as it was such a beautiful morning. We walked around chatting and laughing in the early morning sunshine.
We sold our Beetle to my friend Marie-Lou‘s brother. Returned home (given a lift by my Dad) slightly dewy eyed.
The departure day was getting nearer. Our parents were looking pleased and a little sad. We were excited and a little scared.