Most people had to learn to love rock and roll. But in my case, I was born rock and roll.
In the early 2000s, my father was a frustrated rocker forced into bank work by necessity. Monday to Friday, he was a placid clerk in a tatty M&S suit. But by weekends, he was a surly, aging punk, who wore a Grateful Dead t-shirt over his beer belly and had a pointy little fringe which he trimmed in the bathroom mirror with nail scissors. When I came along, I was raised as his musical protege. All his university friends had moved out of Northern Ireland’s gully to greener pastures, he hated everyone at his job, and since my mother had morphed from the mad haired, Siouxse & The Banshees-loving girl he thought he’d married to a reticent woman with a penchant for Robbie William’s swing album, he was badly in need of a musical companion. So when I grew up into a gawky, wonky-fringed tweenager in plaid trousers and his worn-out Nirvana shirt, he was thrilled. And so my childhood played out – I bopped along to ‘Rid Of Me’, tried my darndest to find something to hum along to in Astral Week’s volatile noodlings, and nodded politely to ‘Funhouse’ by Iggy and The Stooges – a fact I blame for the severely limited hearing in my right ear today.
You might wonder why a child would succumb to such an outrageously mature musical diet? Well, I was from rural Northern Ireland, had no friends to speak of (bar a boy in my class, known for his body odour, who forced me to play jedi fights with him at breaktime with bits of plastic tubing) was only granted limited use of the television set, and had a radio that only tuned into the sports stations and a station that broadcast mass 24/7 – I was in a bit of a cultural vacuum My dad, however, was thrilled! I was the pal he’d never had. I was going to be the next Kim Gordon, right?! He was going to buy me a guitar for christmas! He let me have a sip of his beer one time! He’s awesome.
But then… DOO DOO DOO DOO DOO… DOOO! DOO DOO DOO DOO DOO… DOOOOO! One day, while making the most of one of my half-hour TV sessions, an advert for a band caught my eye. But not just any band, a boy band! With cool, flicky haircuts! And earrings and stuff! And they played music that I could sing along to! Not just screaming and loud guitar that made my ears hurt. They had proper, hum-along melodies! And choruses! Wow! My brain exploded for the first time with the sheer, emotive pleasure of a proper bubble-gum pop song. And the name of this seminal band, the auteurs who could inspire such awe? McFly.
I was hooked, and I needed my fix. My television time was up (heralded by the oinking of a china, pig-shaped alarm clock my mum kept on the kitchen dresser) so I had to be crafty. I grabbed my lime green fisher-price tape recorder from my bedroom, and dived behind the sofa while my mum took up position at the television, pretending to read while hoarding the tape recorder in my lap.
And after a while… doo doo doo do doo…. doo! The advert came on again! I pressed the ‘record’ button, and hurried up to my room. There, I played the 30 second snippet of McFly’s first single, ‘Five Colours In Her Hair’, over and over and over again. It was the first thing I heard when I woke up, and the last thing I heard when I went to sleep at night. I made up a dance routine, which involved jazz-handing to every ‘doo doo’ and shaking my hair a lot, like a deranged horse. I was obsessed.
I had made vague hints to my mum about my new obsession, and was promised a copy of their debut album, ‘Room On The Third Floor’, after I finished my eleven plus exam. The exam came and went, and I gently reminded my mum about her promise. ‘Oh yes, that’ she muttered. ‘Jim, could you run to Tescos and pick up that CD Katherine asked for? It’s McFee or something.
‘McFly!’ I cried, aghast. ‘It’s McFly.’
‘McFly?’ My father looked disgruntled. ‘I’ve never heard of them.’ Nevertheless, he drove off. And came back with his brow furrowed. ‘What IS this?’ he demanded. ‘I put it on the car over and it’s BOLLOCKS!’ I was affronted. My whole body seemed to pang with absolute embarrassment and shame, the kind only ever prompted by parental sneering.
‘You’re right, they’re really bad, I don’t even like them, really.’ I mumbled, miserably. ‘A friend told me to get it, you can leave it back to the shop, if you want…’
‘No! She’s a young girl and she should be allowed to listen to whatever music she wants, Jim!’ my mother trilled. She fought my case, and eventually my dad relinquished the CD. I was far too ashamed to take it whenever he was in eyeshot, so I waited until my parents went to bed, crept downstairs, and retrieved the CD from the kitchen counter. Back in my bedroom, I slotted the CD into my radio set and lost myself in a forbidden world of illicit pop pleasures.
But sadly, such passions burn bright but fade fast. In less than a week, I was tired of McFly, and the CD was eventually tossed into a black bin bag, which my father hauled, with relish, to the charity shop.