My Desert Island Discs – with notes


‘Smile’ by The Fall

It was 1988 and I was seventeen. All my friends were Smiths fans, and I secretly liked The Smiths, but I wanted my own band. A band that would act as a replacement religion. It was a Friday night and we were queuing to get into The Hacienda as usual. And I was sick of the queue, sick of the rain, sick of the poser knobheads in baggy clothes. And so I suggested we tried somewhere else. We didn’t have to walk far. Next door was a club called The Venue. It was an underground club and as we descended the dark stairs from the street into the belly of the club, I could hear a demonic bassline throb through the floor accompanied by a tribal drumbeat. Over the top of this glorious noise was mad ranting man singing some of the weirdest lyrics I’d ever come across. I was in love. I screwed up my Harrington jacket and flung it into the middle of the dance floor. I had discovered the thing that would be a constant in my life from that moment on. I could have picked so many different Fall tracks, but I suppose this one is the one I play the most. It’s the song I play before I go out at night to pep me up. If anything can give me the energy to get off the desert island, this is it.

‘I Loves You Porgy’ by Nina Simone

Music was always playing in my house. My mum loved music. My dad loved music. They played blues, rock and roll, folk and jazz. Christmas Day evening. We have all eaten too much. The grown-ups have drank too much. My dad’s best mate, David, is cadging a fag off my mum. He asks my dad to play it. My dad doesn’t need to ask what. He always asks my dad to play it. Dad reaches into the record cabinet and pulls it out. He slips it out of its cover and places it on the turntable. He lifts the armature and the disc begins to spin. He gently lowers the needle onto the record. The piano starts, a little meander, before Nina Simone starts to sing, ‘I loves you Porgy, don’t let him take me, don’t let him handle me and drive me mad. If you can keep me, I want to stay here with you forever and I’ll be glad.’ No one says a word. We are overcome with the sort of emotion that no one can describe.

‘The Message’ by Grand Master Flash

I didn’t have a record player. I had a tape recorder. When this song came out, a friend of mine had the single. I would go round to his house and go into his bedroom. We’d listen to it over and over again. We would enter the song. It was like a film. I begged him to let me borrow it. I think an exchange of money took place. A bribe. I played it on the family record player when everyone was out, a piece of paper on the table, a pencil in one hand. I’d listen to each line, lift the needle and right it down, then repeat it, until I had the whole thing down. Every word. Then I memorised it, until I knew it off-by-heart.

‘Mister Garvey’ by Burning Spear (not to be confused with Marcus Garvey)

I didn’t get reggae until I discovered the bong. I was in my late teens. I was stoned. I was in a friend’s house and he was playing reggae. But instead of my usual response, ‘put something else on’. I could feel the bass reverberate through my body, up my spine, right through to my fingers. I got hooked on reggae. Roots reggae and dub reggae. Social Living by Burning Spear was and still is my favourite reggae album. I could have picked any track on this album. Mister Garvey has an hypnotic groove. So smooth, so cool, no fool.

‘I Hate You’ by The Monks

I got into The Monks, like so many things, through Mark E Smith. The Fall did a couple of Monks covers on their 1990 album Extricate (including ‘I Hate You’ – although perversely Mark called it ‘Black Monk Theme’). They were an American garage rock band who wore nooses for neck ties and all had tonsures. It was a toss up between this and ‘Shut Up’ (also covered by The Fall on the album ‘Middle Class Revolt’). They were well ahead of their time. Their only album Black Monk Time is one of my favourite albums.

I Wanna Be Your Dog by The Stooges

We are back in The Venue on that Friday night some time during 1988. I’ve stopped dancing like a maniac to The Fall and now I’m dancing like a maniac to The Stooges. The Stooges were another band The Venue introduced me to. I love The Stooges, particularly their self-titled first album, which this song is taken from. As soon as that distorted guitar starts and that strange pounding single note piano riff (played by John Cale) you know you are in for the ride of your life. Then Iggy sings, ‘I’m so messed up, I want you here.’ AND he means every word.

‘Simpering Blonde Bombshell’ by King of the Slums

‘Oh bugger this for a lark, a night doing moonies with the lads. All my gifts they lie unexpended and the lights in the little houses remind me I’m cold.’ We are back in The Venue again. It wasn’t this song it was a track called ‘Fanciable Headcase’: ‘Little things please little minds, come on then, please mine. You’re not much to look at but look who’s talking… I’m easily led when I’m going nowhere.’ I think it was the screeching violin that first got my attention, the desperation in the lyrics came next. I bought the compilation album Barbarous English Fayre. It is still one of my favourite albums. I was working  in a factory in Newton Heath. I was seventeen. I saw my life stretched out in front of me: it was one of cold, hard industry, grey skies and drizzle. It was bus journeys and chip butties. It was blue overalls and steel toe capped boots. One of the lyrics on the album is ‘I’m stood on the doorstep, the moon’s full on, the roofs are wet. I shin up the drainpipe, the Pennines are in range. I slip back down to my life in this town. My God, I’ll end up breeding whippets.’ My dad used to breed whippets, as did my granddad. I could see Winter Hill from my bedroom window. All I could think of was escape.

‘Kill Your Sons’ by Lydia Lunch

It is wrong to call this a cover of the Lou Reed song. What Lydia does to Lou’s song is steal it from him in front of his face, tear it to pieces, re-make it in her own image and fling it back at him, screaming ‘FUCK YOU!’.


About headspam

I'm a writer from Salford, now based in Bradford. I've written for theatre, radio and TV. And the following books: King Crow (novel: Bluemoose Books); Couples (poetry: Valley Press); Cafe Assassin (novel: Bluemoose Books); Mr Jolly (short stories: Valley Press) Author page:
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  1. Atar Hadari says:

    See now – if you ever get invited on the show – you’ll have to betray what an “oldie” you are because your choices will already have been posted here and people will KNOW you haven’t listened to anything new since you wrote this list. Better write another list and keep it in a safety deposit box for use in case of media emergency…

  2. LostSleep says:

    I can identify a fan of The Fall in the first five minutes of meeting them. I have done this correctly twice.

  3. jim greenhalf says:

    You’ve come a long way from Winter Hill, Michael. You’re not going back, except to visit. You’ve freed yourself from the fear of that reality.

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