There was a short period of time when Jeremy Healy was a hero of mine. Back in 1982, before I really knew what clothes were for, I was smitten by a pair of musical designer tramps called Haysi Fantayzee, featuring Jeremy ‘Jeremiah’ Healy and the lovely Kate Garner. I’d never seen donkey jackets look cool on anyone, even Michael Foot, so it was rather a surprise to see these two leaping around on Top of the Pops, strutting a ‘style’ that looked, for about thirty seconds, like it might catch on. Apart from hits like John Wayne Is Big Leggy and Shiny Shiny, they were famed for this scruffy appearance, their saucy utterings and their penchant for drawing designs on their clothes and footwear using silver and gold felt tip pens. Heroic! Continue reading
Archive for the Conspicuous Consumers Category
You know how record shop staff are: bored, indifferent, clockwatching, hate dealing with enquiries or, indeed, any member of the general public. Well, having celebrities stroll into your shop is easily the highlight of any day/week/ month/ year. Incredibly famous people have to go to the shops too!
And so it was one day in late 1994 when I was confronted by the wonderful broadcaster Sue Lawley while I was working in Putney Our Price. Ms Lawley was a bit of a legend music-wise anyway, as her name would was regularly sung to the tune of The Police’s ‘So Lonely’. Now, this is funny once, twice, maybe three times at a push, so I would have thought someone like Sue Lawley would have quickly sickened of such antics – after all, this was the woman who once had a rant about the supposed pointlessness of sundried tomatoes on live TV. Continue reading
This blog has already warmly welcomed the Green Party’s proposal to introduce tax incentives for vegan converts but not even the most militant plant-eaters among us could have predicted it would receive the support of Mary Harney TD. While I and many others are still more than a little worried about the content of her forthcoming statement on the issue, word from government sources is that Ms Harney’s conversion to the cause is “deadly serious”. If so, this will represent the single most positive step she has taken in her tenure as Health Minister.
Besides the Harney’s heavyweight backing, other mooted proposals include using celebrity vegan and former Miss World Rosanna Davison to front a campaign aimed at school children, where re-education on popular myths, such as the health benefits of dairy products, is already well underway (I for one am absolutely delighted my daughter is now receiving soya milk in class), as well as subtle condemnation of lazy parents who hold children’s parties in burger joints.
While this will inevitably wind up ICSA members (as well as countless others, like those who are already gearing up to protest against the forthcoming ban on cruel, outdated “sports” like horse and dog racing), it’s truly wonderful that the government of Ireland is actually putting the health of its citizens ahead of commercial “imperatives”. I Have Grave News salutes all concerned for their magnificent efforts in trying to change the way we think, eat and farm, especially in this gruelling week of NAMA horror. Continue reading
The Road To Hell is paved with mistaken identities, unseen stars and close brushes with celebrity you’d never know you’d had. And to think I almost missed the man who did his best to put the “miserable” in Middlesborough. One late, thoroughly horrid, Thursday night at the old Our Price store in Neal Street, Covent Garden in 1996, I was the reluctant manager on duty, accompanied by two other staff, one on each floor; it was a typically slow end to the day, with only one or two stragglers flicking through the racks to kill time before traipsing home. I sat in the basement office with my canteenth coffee of the day, doing my level best to stay awake, when my colleague Nick came to fetch me. “Hey Johnnie, come and see if you recognise this guy.”
I followed him out to the counter and he pointed out a middle-aged man milling around the Rock/Pop A-C section; faded, brown leather jacket, highlighted hair which was ‘fashioned’ into an old-rocker mullet, and an unkempt painter-decorator beard. I shrugged, he looked like he could be anyone. “I think it’s Chris Rea,” Nick whispered. The man turned around slightly, so I got a better look at him. “No, it isn’t,” I whispered back. “It’s just a sad lookalike. I bet you he’s been in the same band since he was 18, and still thinks he’s 18.”
The man continued browsing for a few seconds more before, unable to find what he was after, came up to the counter. He opened his mouth to make his enquiry, and it was like a spontaneous burst of Auberge or Driving Home For Christmas filling the store: “Have you got The Cardigans?” came the astonishingly familiar, gravelly rasp. “Fucking hell,” I thought, “it is Chris Rea.” But we didn’t have any; The Cardigans were cool band du jour and we were all out. And that was that. He nodded forlornly and left.
Next morning, we replayed the CCTV video to show unbelievers that we had been visited by Mr Rea; well, there were many slow days in there. The one line he’d uttered to us became something of a catchphrase. In fact, if anyone ever asks me to do a Chris Rea impression (and oddly enough, people have asked in the past), all I can actually say to impersonate him is, “Have you got The Cardigans?”
It was a sticky, early-summer’s morning in 1992, in the air-con-free Our Price, Selfridges concession; as usual, there was only a mother and child browsing the racks, the place was spotless and well-ordered, and my manager was making the soporific staff rearrange the dust around the till area. It was just then that this tall, upright, elegant and highly distinguished man strode up the steps and up to the counter. “Good morning,” he said, ever so politely. “Can you tell me, did ‘Strawberry Fields Forever’ by The Beatles ever make it on to an album?” For a brief period, I was a bit taken aback at the sight of him. I didn’t want to utter the corny line, “but… aren’t you George Martin, legendary Beatles producer and one of the 57 people known as ‘the 5th Beatle’?” , just in case I’d got it wrong. So I said, with as much authority as I could muster, that I thought it was on Magical Mystery Tour, but I’d check. “Oh, and can you see if Sgt. Pepper ever came out on CD, please?” he asked, as I stepped away. Once behind the scenes, and flicking through the Beatles’ section of our back catalogue, my manager, who was a massive Beatles fan, and a good two feet shorter than me, shook both my shoulders as he squawked, “that’s George Martin! Fucking George Martin!” I know, I said, he wants to buy ‘Strawberry Fields Forever’ and Sgt. Pepper. “Does he?”
When I returned with the items, the man who was to become Sir George was chatting to the mother and child who’d been browsing. He looked the CDs over, thanked me profusely and said, “I’ll take them.” I don’t mean to be impolite, I said, but why don’t you have these already? Don’t they just send them to you? “I do get things sent to me,” he smiled back, “but I also give things away all the time.” He paid with his credit card and off he went, the proud owner (not to mention producer) of two Beatles CDs. Returning to semi-reality, the previously browsing mother cheerfully handed me a Lulu Greatest Hits CD she wished to purchase. “You know that guy you just served?” she said with wide-eyed wonder. “He knows Lulu!”
During my 57-year career slaving working in record shops, I met, and served, a fair number of famous people. Each and every time I did so, I proved how unsuited I am to journalism; I was constantly tripping over my words, employing undeserved platitudes and making all of my well-known punters feel entirely ill at ease while they were supposedly shopping for pleasure. After many of these encounters I stored away little ancedotes, which I’m going to regurgitate here, pretty much for my own amusement. As a brief intro, I moved from Ayrshire to London in 1989 to escape unemployment, the fate of many a Scot under the Thatcherite regime. As a stop-gap (they all say that, in the beginning), I began working for Our Price, a music chain store well known for harbouring knowledgable, witty, cigarette-and-coffee stenched staff, and attracting customers who were put off by both small indie-store snobbery and megastore impersonality. Initially attracted by this potential slacker existence, I was, unfortunately, placed in an Our Price concession at the rear of the ground floor in Selfridges department store on Oxford Street. Staff were restricted by Selfridges’ dress-code (shirts, ties, “non-aggressive” footwear), “no quibble” refund guarantee (‘you’ve had this 78rpm Andrews Sisters gramophone record for 68 years but you no longer like it, that’s no problem, sir’) and the kind of snooty, rich, upper-class twit clientele that no other Our Price store’s staff ever had to put up with.
The up-sides were that the largely wonderful staff (many of whom are still friends of mine) were steeped in jocular cynicism, and we also had a good, steady flow of celebrity traffic. My first famous customer was one of their regulars, The Cure’s Robert Smith. I was called through to help out on the classical music counter as there was, unusually, a queue. “That gentleman there is first,” I was informed. Oh shit, I thought, it’s Robert Smith senza makeup. We didn’t have famous people where I came from. He said hello, I trembled, he smiled, I smiled a hello back and grabbed his pile of about six CDs. Only then did panic set in. The CDs were not out ‘live’, we kept the discs behind the counter; I suddenly realised that classical CDs were filed by catalogue number and not alphabetically by composer – no one had shown me this. Still, I had my pride, I wasn’t going to let that stop me from serving Robert Smith. Only, I was. Ten minutes later, I was still crawling around the floor looking for the first one; the queue had gone, the classical assistant assumed I was fine and disappeared, and I had to make a bumbling apology to The Cure’s frontman for my lack of competence. In all fairness to him, he was very nice about it. Thank you, Robert Smith – since I became a music hack, I haven’t once reviewed a Cure product. That’s because I owe you one.