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The passing of time.
So many bile inducing crimes.
My body broken.
My mind failing.
My heart no longer racing.
But there was a time when things were different, when I was young, sharp in mind and even sharper in attire. I travelled the length, and breadth, of this septic isle to see this band, that band and every other band. Dublin, Dundee, Humberside, London, Manchester, Sheffield, Liverpool, Leeds and everywhere above, below and to the left of them.
Them was heady days.
I would look at the gig guide in the Melody Maker, or the NME, and plan who I wanted to see… usually it was everyone. Then I would go to the local record shop and buy a ticket, maybe two if someone could be persuaded to come along with me. When my friend Chris was available we would drive in his battered, red, Lada to the venue, with a specially made mix-tape providing the soundtrack.
“Compulsion” I tell Chris “Are going to be the next big thing. New Wave of New Wave. And Shed Seven are supporting.” We hadn’t heard Compulsion but there had been a glowing review in one of the music weeklies and that was enough for us. Shed Seven we had heard of, we had both bought their debut single “Mark/Casino Girl”…us and enough other people to propel it to number 80 in the charts. You can laugh at that all you like, it probably equates to more people than who bought The Lathums album last year and it got to number one.
Sitting in Lucifer’s Mill long before the gig is due to start, we spy Rick Witter. I sidled up to him, he’s about the most famous person I have met up to this point in my miserable life, and introduced myself. We chat about music and the gig and then I ask him for his autograph. I haven’t ever asked anyone for an autograph before but I know it’s a thing you are meant to do when you meet someone famous.
“Have you got a pen?” Rick asks.
I do not.
The barman has a pen.
“What do you want me to sign?” Rick asks.
I don’t have anything.
Rick finds an empty packet of guitar strings and signs it: “Roll out the barrel, Rick Witter”. “A Maximum High” is one of the great indie pop albums.
Yes it is.
Don’t listen to those slightly sniffy former NME hacks who are attempting to rewrite history by pretending that they weren’t just as dizzy as the rest of us about “Going for Gold”. They loved it then. They still love it. They just have to pretend they don’t love it because…reasons, or something.
I don’t have to worry about reasons, or anything.
I love Shed Seven.
They were just like me.
They loved The Smiths, and they wanted to be in a band, and they were young, and they were ordinary, and they had ambition. Unlike me they had talent. They could write pop songs that filled the dance floor of every indie club in the country from the first second of the intro. Live they were simply thrilling, honey. Rick Witter, whippet thin and turbo charged. Alan Leach somersaulting over the drum kit. Banksy looking like he was channeling the spirit of Johnny Marr and Keith Richards at the same time. Don’t believe me? I could care less, as our American cousins might have it. You do the math.
Their first album, “Change Giver”, had spawned a couple of hits (Dolphin and Speakeasy both made the top thirty, Ocean Pie the top forty) but it was “A Maximum High” that made them stars. Five top thirty singles in a row, one of them cracking the top ten (Going For Gold). They were everywhere. “TFI Friday”, “Live and Kicking”, festivals, headline tours, and the album itself nestled snugly inside the top ten (and going gold in the process).
Like everyone else in the nineties I wanted to be in a band. My first live performance was at a Church talent show (I’m not making this stuff up) and the first song in the set was a cover of “Bully Boy”. I was so nervous I had the inlay card from the cassette of the album in my hand so that I could read the lyrics. It was awful. I mean really awful. I’m not being self-deprecating. It was hideous. But for those three and a half minutes I felt like a King.
That is part of the charm of Shed Seven. They make you believe that it really could be you. They make the whole thing look effortless. “Sure, writing fifteen consecutive top forty singles is easy. Yeah, of course you could three top twenty albums in a row, take a near twenty year hiatus and come back with another top ten album. Simple.” But it isn’t simple. It takes great skill, craft, guile and intelligence. If it was really all that simple then the snoots and the snobs who like to take shots would all be doing it. And they are not.
There were bands who enjoyed greater success, who shifted even bigger numbers, who sold out huger and huger venues…but few of them brought as much joy to their audience as Shed Seven. “A Maximum High” is the best encapsulation of that, of why someone like me, himself not afraid of a bit of snoot and snobbery, will defend them to the death. It’s a rush and a riot of an album. Frantic and fun. Full of boom and bombast. It makes my heart beat faster and reminds me of a time when I really did believe in things getting better.