Tuesday, 18 February 2014

Influences #1: Cousin John

My voyage of music discovery wasn’t entirely self-navigated. I was ably assisted by a number of co-pilots whose input proved invaluable in reaching my current destination. None more so than my cousin John, a guy who owned one of the most extraordinary record collections I’ve ever known.

I used to love visiting Auntie Margaret and Uncle Stuart; I’d call in regularly on my way home from school and never once felt intrusive or unwelcome.  In addition to their unconditional warmth and sincerity, the other big attraction for me was John’s records.  It was through this horde of vinyl that I discovered some of the biggest and most influential names in music – the Beatles, Queen, Bowie, Peter Gabriel, Led Zeppelin – John had a seemingly inexhaustible supply of rock music which to a burgeoning music buff like myself, was a gold mine, a kind of exotic array of mysterious curios. 

And they were everywhere.  The front room had row upon row of records lined up on the floor in no particular order (that I could make out), while upstairs in the attic bedroom was an endless stream of singles and albums that lit up an otherwise dark and rather dingy area – the perfect environment for listening to rock & roll.  It was there I discovered John’s collection of early Queen singles.  To this day, he remains the only person I’ve ever met to have owned an original 7” of ‘Keep yourself Alive’, Queen’s debut single from 1973.  Wikipedia notes the single “was largely ignored upon its release and failed to chart,”[1] so it seems even more unlikely that it should turn up in a sleepy market town in deepest darkest Devon. Yet I’ve not only seen the proof, I held it in my very hands, took it home and played it on my record player!

Yes, John was an absolute music nut like myself, and he took great delight in nurturing his younger cousin’s curiosity and fascination with rock music. I remember him playing me Led Zeppelin’s ‘In Through The Out Door’, Kiss’ live double album ‘Alive II’, singles by the Cars, KC and the Sunshine Band, John Lennon. I remember coming across the word ‘Motown’ for the first time when a compilation album in one of the piles caught my eye. The B-52s debut was another intriguing and hugely influential find – I’d never come across that sort of skewed quirkiness before. But the very best thing of all was that John had no qualms whatsoever about lending me records. There were times I would leave the house with a carrier bag crammed so full of LPs and singles, my arms felt like they were about to fall off by the time I got home.

John and his record collection were my keys to the world of rock music. Guitars were the only real way forward for the young Robster, and I’ve never looked back.

John’s still buying music. Much of his old collection is gone sadly, but these days he scours charity shops and car boot sales in search of obscure and undiscovered gems. It doesn’t seem to matter what it is – classical oddities, film scores, long-forgotten crooners of the 60s and 70s – it’s music he’s after, because music still clearly means a hell of a lot to him.

I owe John a great debt, he inspired me greatly in my formative years and I still listen to a lot of the stuff I discovered thanks to his generosity and patience.

And while his rendition of the Rolling Stones’ ‘Brown Sugar’ on the karaoke is totally rockin’, you really haven’t seen anything until you’ve witnessed John in skin-tight leopard-print trousers belting out ‘Do Ya Think I’m Sexy’ – ‘tis truly a sight to behold. Rod Stewart? Pah! Give me John any day!


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