June 5th is the anniversary of the fabled mixtape that lead me to indiepop. I wrote about it last year, and you can read about it by clicking on last year’s June archive if you’re so inclined.
As I’m of a certain age, I’m lucky enough to have been given mixtapes in three formats: cassette, CD and digital. Today I’m turning back the clock and talking cassette.
Chris worked in a pottery factory (locally known as pot banks) as a data entry clerk. I was working there too – a stop gap job to save up some money to go to university. Chris was 26, which seemed ridiculously old and sophisticated to my 19 year old self. He liked The Fast Show, Jo Guest and Leek Town, though not necessarily in that order. Occasionally, our eyes locked as we bashed in orders for “12 dinner plates, 36 saucers” for exotic locales like the Best Western in Margate on our green screen computers. One day someone in the office discovered that you could send private messages on the data input system and all hell broke loose. This was 1996 – no-one I knew even had dial up, let alone a mobile phone and social media meant sharing your copy of More! magazine with a friend – you made your own amusement in those days, etc etc. Another girl in the office – I think her name was Nikki – streetwise, smart, a bit intimidating but in a nice way – infiltrated Chris’s message screen one Friday lunchtime: CHRIS TOLD ME HE LIKES YOUR TITS. I blushed scarlet, Chris cleared his throat and so began a slightly awkward flirtationship/fling, which lasted on and off for about 18 months, right up until a couple a weeks before I met the man I eventually married.
Chris had a broken heart and an extensive record collection. I find the two often go hand in hand. He seemed impressed by my breadth of pop knowledge (See Nikki? It was my personality that he liked really!) and I’d happily run my weekly purchases from Replay Records past him, hoping they would meet with his approval. 1996 was a good year for my CD collection. The aforementioned Replay Records was handily situated midway between where the first bus dropped me off and where I caught my second bus home. Usually I’d reserve the treat for a Friday pay day but other guilty midweek purchases were often secured and I was running out of storage space at home. I was living with Mum and Dad on the edge of the city. Going to gigs was probably limited to a yearly event. Music was something purely enjoyed on my handsome Marantz CD player. By the end of August 1996 even my mum knew the words to every track on Ash’s 1977.
All too quickly it was time for my leaving do. There was some surreptitious snogging and reckless fumbling outside the impressive burnt out remains of Hill Top Methodist Sunday School – a dramatic facade that Brett Anderson would almost certainly have referenced in song had he grown up in Stoke. Let’s not think about a Northern Brett Anderson. Parts of me might explode. There were promises to stay in touch and to visit me in deepest, darkest Wales. There was a definite sense of unfinished business; the kind of unfinished business that might terrify and intrigue a 19 year old church-going lass in equal measure.
The promised visit failed to materialise. There were a few glorious stolen hours one Saturday afternoon once the football season was over and the occasional snog on nights out but it never really went anywhere. Chris’s carried his broken heart around like some very rich women carry small chihuahuas in their handbags. I think I have that handbag. I was understandably wary of playing second fiddle and he kept telling me he was too old for me anyway and eventually I believed him.
Although Chris never arrived, a parcel from him managed to make the journey over the border. A cassette tape along with a handwritten guide to every track he’d painstakingly selected. I wish I could find the blasted thing now. The four tracks I do remember (and this is nearly 20 years ago, so I reckon to remember four tracks is pretty good going) were Dee C. Lee’s See the Day (later covered by Girls Aloud), Shannon’s Let the Music Play (an early 80s dance hit which wouldn’t sound out of place at Pop-o-Matic) a late 80s dance re-working of La Serenissima (he’d probably danced to it in a field during the Second Summer of Love) and Erasure’s Piano Song. The last track, clearly a reference to Chris’s ever present heartbreak, has bittersweet associations for me now. When I was married we had a shared iTunes account (NO NO NO! A shared account? FUCKING WHY? This was a man who thought the Kaiser Chiefs were edgy. I was told separate accounts “weren’t possible” and sadly, I believed this sort of crap for years). So, many years later, not only did I have to get my head round my husband being in love with another woman (it happens, people live) but he then had the temerity of openly dealing with the heartache of his spurned advances by misappropriating my fucking music collection. I went right off Erasure for years…
Anyway, I remember the arrival of this mixtape as a source of absolute thrilling joy. This exotic, proper grown up man – 26, so old! – had gone out of his way one rainy afternoon to select a bunch of songs, unwrap a fresh cassette and painstakingly edit everything to perfection, fingers resting, ever-vigilant, on the pause button. His handwritten sleeve notes, read again and again, gave me goosebumps. I reckon they would again today, if only I knew exactly which box of correspondence they were in…
The arrival of the mixtape that lead me to indiepop some fourteen years later was no less thrilling, if bittersweet, arriving on my last official wedding anniversary in 2011, a couple of months before my divorce was finalised. Tracks painstakingly collected and arranged online one rainy afternoon by a 26 year old – 26, so young! – it was my formal, reintroduction into music again. It was the mixtape that lead me to indiepop, Sheffield, playing guitar and a million wonderful times.
“My broken house behind me and good times ahead”
“I may not seem quite right, but I’m not fucked, not quite.”
“And I miss you, but luckily there’s music, luckily there’s music to get me through”
“I was a young man starving and drinking and trying to become a writer…and I remember that apartment, the smell of mice and dust…all the kisses I lost to your neck”
“I know you have a heavy heart, I can feel it when we kiss”
“And long for all of them to fall in love with you…But they never do”
“I wasn’t designed to move so fast…I wasn’t designed to have so much past…Another sorry message that I need to send. And another situation that I have to end.”
“But she could kiss. Oh yes.”
Kiss a girl and maybe she’ll replay it in her mind from time to time, for a couple of years, at least. Well, if you’re any good, she might. Make her a mixtape and she’ll remember you nearly twenty years later.
LIFE IS SHORT. MAKE HER A MIXTAPE.