By Andrew McCombe
November 10, 2013
I seem to have been born at a pretty good time for music. My parents aren’t big music fans; my mother used to be into Glam Rock and bits of Hendrix whilst my father used to play Country music on Sunday mornings. How that mix started my musical journey from Glam Rock to Hip-Hop and beyond is anyones guess.
My first memories of anything being 'to do with music' was when I was quite young. My mother had a handful of 7 Inch singles and a small battery powered record player. I remember playing the records on it and pulling the record back and forth and liking the strange noises it made (which possibly makes me the UK's first scratch DJ). I also remember having no batteries for it so I simply pushed the record round with my fingers and listened to the 'tss tss tssh' from the needle.
The first time I remember hearing music that stood out from everything else was around ‘77 or ‘78. I remember being at home playing with my Action Man whilst the radio was on (or ‘wireless’ as it was called then) and hearing a very futuristic sounding tune. It was quite fast and had a quite eerie melodic rising rhythm running throughout whilst a lady sang over the top. This turned out to be 'I Feel Love' by Donna Summer. If you look at the charts for that time you can easily see why it stood out.
We used to go to my Nan’s on a Saturday and would go to the local disco held at the church hall. My brother and my cousins (actually they were Uncles that were either the same age or younger than me) would run around the dance-floor, getting in everyones way, sliding around on our knees as little kids do. This must have been 1978 or 1979 and the DJ would play a lot of rock music. There were older teenagers that had patches of exotic sounding band names on them: AC/DC, Black Sabbath, Deep Purple and Saxon. Some of them simply wrote the band names on their denim jeans and we thought these kids were soooo cool. I also remember one night when there was a load of Punks who caused some trouble and got thrown out. This was a church hall – spitting and pissing up the wall wasn't allowed! Me and my brother/cousins were ready with broomsticks, just in case they smashed the doors down. :)
For Christmas one year (1980?) I asked for a Walkman and I got one! I also had my first ever cassette tape – ‘12 Gold Bars – Status Quo’. I remember lying on my bed listening to it and thinking that this was the best thing ever. Not long after that I started to take notice of music – what was in the charts, what was on the radio and what was on TV. Saturday mornings were all about Tiswas until that age but then I started watching the music shows that followed.
It was through this that I got into something that defined me. I was listening to a taped recording of the official BBC Radio 1 chart show when I heard a song that simply stood out as being different. Whilst the media were all over Duran Duran, Culture Club and the whole early 80’s Synth Pop thing, I heard one song and decided that this was what I wanted from music.
The song wasn’t a song – not properly. It had guys talking over a hard electronic beat. It had laser sounds. It had a robot voice. It was [‘Planet Rock – Afrika Bambaataa’] and I loved it. From then my love affair with non-guitar music began. I had a small Coca-cola can transistor radio which I would listen to every night after bedtime, travelling up and down the dial in the hope of finding more of this amazing music. I remember catching John Peel introducing ‘Eurythmics – Sweet Dreams’ and I loved the synth line but hated the singing (and I still sometimes wonder why people ruin music by singing over it).
Then, in 1985, a school friend gave me a cassette tape which had two albums on it. Side A was Steetsounds' NY vs LA Beats and Side B was ‘Mantronix – The Album’. I’d already been buying vinyl records from the local recordshop (A.S Records in Cannock) and had bought my first ever 12 Inch (‘Run DMC – Sucker MC’s’) as well as a few of the ‘novelty’ chart tracks of the time such as ‘Melle Mel’s – White Lines’ and ‘Paul Hardcastle – 19’ but this cassette was something different. It was raw, stripped down and bass-busting. The first time I heard ‘Needle To The Groove’ I was awed by it. That kick drum, that vocoder, the weird scratching and the ear-splitting snare just blew me away.
Then I caught a radio show which was simply awesome. Mike Allen's – ’National Fresh’ was broadcast on Friday nights at 8 to 9 pm on Signal Radio and I religiously recorded it every week on one cassette, alternating weeks between side A and side B. It wasn’t until recently and the internet that I found out that the show had been born a few years earlier on London’s Capital Radio but as I live in the West Midlands and didn’t know anyone from London I never got to hear about it.
National Fresh introduced me to the rawest side of hip-hop. Until then I’d only heard what was being played on mainstream British radio and these tended to be tracks that had a novelty side to them. Now I was listening to the raw, rough, edgy stuff coming straight out of New York. Rappers with cool, exotic sounding names, kick ass drum rhythms, fast flowing rapping, occasional interviews and the National Fresh Frontline Chart. It was here I first heard of LL Cool J, Public Enemy, Def Jam, Schoolly D, The Fat Boys, Skinny Boys, Big Daddy Kane, Eric B & Rakim etc etc etc.
At around this time (1987) the BBC started a show on BBC2 between 5 and 6 pm. It was Janet Street-Porter’s brainchild and consisted of shows aimed at youth culture. One of these shows was ‘Behind the Beat’ and they featured interviews and videos of graffiti art, rap and UK soul bands. They covered the Def Jam tour and showed a couple of concerts – one was LL Cool J and the other was Public Enemy and this is where the live show clips from PE’s ‘It takes a nation of millions to hold us back’ album come from. This was mind blowing. Not only was rap music great to listen to, it was awesome to watch too. I became a huge PE fan from the moment I watched that show.
When Public Enemy released ‘Nation of millions…’ I bought it on cassette from Woolworths just before I joined a few friends on a bus ride to Birmingham. I was so impatient to listen to the album I went to a market stall in Cannock and bought a cheap walkman and batteries so I could listen to it on the bus. It was worth it.
I was now firmly fixed as a Hip Hop fan and naively refused to listen to anything else. I bought as much as I could on vinyl, collected the Streetsounds Electro series, learned all the words to PE, LL Cool J, wore a bomber jacket with a Def Jam logo on the back and started learning scratching (which on an Aiwa Midi System was quite hard!).
House music was growing and at first I hated it, dismissing it for taking samples from Hip Hop. It was only when i heard a 303-based track that I embraced house and got into the rave scene, but more on that later.