In 1988 I left school. If I was Groucho Marx I would add, “It was about time, I was forty four.” But I’m not Groucho Marx and I’m not that witty.
Besides, I was only thirty-seven.
Okay, okay, I was just seventeen and I left school due to the fact that my resolve not to learn anything had been very successful. I just didn’t seem to be that good at anything and had heard that there was something called the Youth Training Scheme that school leavers could join, which would pay you for not being good at anything.
So I signed up for a Pitmans course. Now there was no Wikipedia back then. All I had for research was the weekly copy of the New Musical Express which I bought religiously. I used to dress up in a robe and sandals when I walked into Martin The Newsagent’s. Incidentally, not once, in all the Martin’s I have visited in the UK, have I ever met the ubiquitous ‘Martin’ himself. I think he’s made up. A bit like John Noakes.
The other fountain of knowledge available to me in 1988 was Ceefax.
It was through Ceefax that I learned about JHP Training, in Cwmbran, which offered a YTS course of ‘Pitman’ qualifications. This included typing, spreadsheets and wordprocessing. As computing was the only thing I was good at back then (I loved my Amstrad CPC6128), I signed up.
I was one of only two boys in a class of thirty. The other fifty six breasts, all arranged in pairs, belonged to twenty-eight girls.
This was my idea of hell. At 17, I was petrified of girls. They fascinated me of course but scared the hell out of me. So I made a beeline for the only other male in the room. He wore a green anorak and had a distinctive appearance. A few years later, the term ‘grunge’ would be applied to his kind of look, but in 1988, all I had to make do with was ‘pit of infinite angst’, which is how he came across to me.
“Hi,” I said, sitting next to him.
He had headphones on. In 1988, the earpieces of headphones were still attached to a band that went over your head. The earpieces were usually cushioned in small balls of coloured foam that were often blue. Coincidentally, blue was also the name of a classic Joni Mitchell album, as well as of a slightly cosmetically challenged boy band.
He pointed to his portable cassette player.
“What are you listening to?” I asked him.
“All About Eve,” he said, showing me the cassette inlay.
I took it off him and studied it carefully. Scrutinising the covers of albums was something that any self-respecting music lover did in the 1980s. The cover of this one was dark. Gothic, in fact. I knew what gothic was as I had read Anne Radcliffe’s ‘The Mysteries of Udolpho’ over the last few months, heralded as the first ever gothic novel.
I was into my 18th and 19th literary classics. While all my friends were head banging to Def Leppard and Bon Jovi and drinking Newcastle Brown Ale, I was at home reading Wuthering Heights and The Mayor of Casterbridge, sipping mead from stone goblets.
“Have a listen,” said my new friend, identifying himself as Ian, passing me the headphones.
The track listing had songs with titles such as ‘Flowers in our Hair’, ‘In the Clouds’, ‘Gypsy Dance’ and ‘Apple Tree Man’, it had a slightly hippyish feel about it.
I listened to ‘In the Clouds’.
“This is good,” I said to Ian, who by now had pulled out a gardening magazine from his rucksack and was studying it closely.
I continued listening and quickly realised I was enjoying myself. I did what any self-respecting teenager did in the 1980s. I asked him to make me a copy of it.
All About Eve, to me, was Julianne Regan. To a lot of us back then, the singer *was* the band. Def Leppard *was* Joe Elliott, Duran Duran *was* Simon Le Bon, Dollar *was* that nice looking bird and the other bloke. I began to see gorgeous pictures of Julianne gracing the covers and inside pages of magazines such as Smash Hits, Melody maker and Patches. She even turned up in a copy of Whizzer & Chips, which I still used to buy in secret. I don’t know why I bought it in secret – I used to end up reading it in public on the bus.
So, a few months later, being the proud new owner of an Amstrad midi sytem with a built in CD player, I was eager to amass an instant CD collection. With a generous amount of money given to me by my grandparents I went into town and bought some CDs. They were – The Kick Inside by Kate Bush, The Best of Bryan Ferry & Roxy Music and All About Eve. That was it. That’s as much as my generous £40 bought me as this was still in the age where it was rare to find a CD for less than a tenner. But I didn’t care. It was a new hi-tech medium of listening to music and I was there! I was there when it all happened!
I ended up seeing All About Eve live on two occasions. The first was at St David’s Hall in Cardiff but the second, and most memorable time, was when I went to the Fairport Convention festival in Cropredy, in the summer of 1989. I was barely 18 and it was my first ever festival. It was where I was handed my first ever Eccles cake. I think All About Eve played the early Saturday afternoon set. I do remember them playing ‘In The Meadow’ as their last song and they pumped up the volume and layered on the guitars until it almost became a thrash metal song. I remember sitting there, in a field with 20,000 other revellers, having one heck of a good time.
Great days and great memories. As Simon & Garfunkel once said, they’re all that’s left you.
Many years later and I still enjoy listening to that debut album and it takes me back to a halycon age when nobody questioned why you were on the dole and the thought of carrying a telephone in your pocket was frankly ludicrous.