I remember exactly where I was when I first saw The Smiths’ video for This Charming Man. I was clearing away dinner dishes on a Monday evening and watching Riverside, a short-lived music/arts show aimed at teens and aired on BBC2 after 6pm.
I will never forget hearing Marr’s intro and Morrissey’s amazing opening line. I looked at the TV and saw a man in a blouse and beads waving flowers around. I’d never seen anything like it. I was in love with the sound and the look.
Riverside is long-forgotten but who can forget The Tube, the live music show that kickstarted many teenagers’ weekends? It was broadcast from my hometown, Newcastle. It is celebrated along with Viz, Bloodaxe Books, Kitchenware Records and other Geordie cultural gems in Sweet Dreams! 1980s Newcastle, published by Tyne Bridge publishing. The book is packed with great stories and even better photographs!
I was 10 when the 1980s started and had hoofed off to University by the end of the decade. I write about my experiences of this era in the book and here is a snippet. Most of this ended up in the editors’ bin due to lack of space:
An avid reader, I saw membership of Newcastle’s Central Library as the pinnacle of my progression from my local branch in Felling via Gateshead’s Central Library.
Newcastle’s library building wasn’t as old the Lit and Phil but I still found it impressive. With its reception desk and grey polished floors, I imagined that this would the type of library I’d use when I got to university. Funnily enough, this turned out to be the case as Hull University’s library was extended around the same time in the 1960s.
I enjoyed watching Newcastle’s librarians at work scanning and stamping books, wheeling trolleys filled with returns and navigating the Dewey Decimal System. I toyed with the idea of studying librarianship at university but was advised against it by a librarian who thought I’d find the topic too dry. She suggested I stick with my first choice, English. I’m glad I did.
The Central Library was where I explored my interest in poetry, which started when I was 15. Inspiration hit me one April evening like a big wet, cold fish and I started writing a poem a day. It was a very exciting time and I was hungry for poetry, particularly English and North American 20th century verse.
I found what I needed in the Central Library. I swallowed anthologies containing Roger McGough, Edna St Vincent Millay, Vernon Scannell and the poets of the Great War. I discovered Imagist poetry and fell in love with the work of my very own Fab Four: Philip Larkin, Stevie Smith, Sylvia Plath and ee cummings.
I was keen to meet other writers so I began writing in pencil beside certain poems “if you like this poem, please write to me.” I recall only one reply and that was from the poet Alan C Brown. He wrote to tell me about writing group he was involved in but I was too shy to get involved!
I was very much on the fringes of the 1980s poetry scene. I was too young to participate fully and suspect I blotted my copy book with some editors by being too cocky. I still have rejection letters from most of the North East magazine editors. I didn’t want to take on board their constructive criticism of my work; I just wanted to connect with other writers. The only way to do this was by sending in my work.
My first pamphlet of poetry, Bed and Breakfast with Lydia Lunch was published by a Gosforth-based small press in 1986. My work also appeared in Bossy Parrot, Bloodaxe Book’s 1987 anthology of young Evening Chronicle poets. In 1989 I set up Jonathon (note not -athan) Press with my friend and fellow Chronicle poet, the late great Iain Pigg. It was Iain’s baby, really. All I did was swan around town on his arm, trying to promote the project. I didn’t care too much about the poets Iain chose to publish; I just wanted to hang out with my mate.
It’s very sad to think he’s been dead now for over 16 years. He was a very talented man and I miss his wit, his unconditional love and his singing.