I’m one of those people that have to have music on in the background. Music is the soundtrack to my commute, cooking, running, writing and the thing I turn to when I need cheering up. I’ve been surrounded by music since I was child and, whilst I didn’t grow up in a typically musical household, my childhood was peppered with artists like Paul Simon, Chris de Burgh, Annie Lennox, The Eagles and Queen interspersed with Italian ones like Lucio Battisti, courtesy of my Italian mother.
Music memories from my youth mainly come from our trips to Italy for the summer. They started with a two day drive across Europe and were accompanied by the above artists. And a box of Pearl Drops if anyone remembers them. A few years ago I heard a track from the album ‘Graceland’ by Paul Simon and it transported me straight back to the holiday drive. The countries and towns we ticked off from the route list our father had given us to stop us asking “are we there yet?” (including passing through a town in Bavaria, Germany called Wank. Honestly, Google it); listening to Black Beauty on my Walkman; the aforementioned Pearl Drops; the overnight stay in Austria where I was encouraged (read forced) to ask hotel receptionists for “zwei zmimer mit bade bitte schon” just because I was studying German, and the moment we crossed over into Italy and my mother finally relaxed. With about 15 years of European car journeys under my belt, I can proudly say I know every word to every track of Graceland.
When I was old enough to have my own ghetto blaster, my pride of joy, I became one of the many millions of children born in the 1970s who taped, yes taped, the BBC Radio Top 40 every Sunday. WITHOUT FAIL. I knew precisely how long each side of a cassette would last before I had to turn it over and press record. The Top 40 covered two cassettes and when the time came to turn it over I would stop anything I was doing, race to my bedroom, turn the tape over, press the big red record button, check it really was recording, look at my watch and then wait patiently for the next time check. The Top 40 was the soundtrack to my week. I played the songs endlessly; danced around my room to Annie Lennox’s Broken Glass trying to hit the high notes and made up dance routines to Girl in the Mirror by Michael Jackson.
As I moved to college and then university, dance music became the genre that I obsessed over, and still do to this day. Garage music (totally different to the garage music now), drum & bass, techno but above all house music. University is a liberating experience for most people; you’re suddenly thrown into a place you don’t know with people you’ve never met and you have to find your kin, and study of course. Then and today, music brings people together and as friendship groups formed my group’s thing was house music and everything it made you feel, and do.
The club scene at Portsmouth University was big and I was completely in to it. I loved dancing and house music made me feel euphoric and alive. I valued clubbing over my degree, regularly missing French lessons on a Monday morning to go to Top Shop and buy an outfit for the following weekend’s club night. My friendship circle started to include DJs and as such my music choices incorporated the likes of Judge Jules, Pete Tong, Brandon Block, Jeremy Healy, Sasha, John Digweed, John Kelly, and Seb Fontaine. Some weekends we’d drive in convoy from Portsmouth to clubs in London like Strawberry Sundays on the Embankment or the Manor House on the outskirts of Bournemouth. It was our pilgrimage, and one we took seriously.
I started collecting house music cassettes from our local Portsmouth record shops. Sets from DJs and club nights like Fantazia, Retrospective of House 91-95, Renaissance – The Mix Collection by Sasha and John Digweed and the Positive Ambient Collective. They had bright colourful album covers; Renaissance’s were like something from an art gallery and I even had a triple cassette case, my favourite, Retrospective of House 91-95 with a hologram on it. I treasured them.
Maybe 12 years ago when I was living in London, renting and moving for the umpteenth time I found them in a box. Upon seeing them I lit up inside. I remember touching them, picking them up and opening the cassette holders, reading over the tracks and smiling as I heard the tunes in my head. Like Graceland, it sent me straight back to my university days and felt like a warm hand on my heart had opened up the flood gate of memories. Music affects people in different ways and for me the only way I can describe it is if I imagine my body like an empty jug being filled with water. As the music starts, the jug fills slowly from the bottom. When the music builds it fills more of me and starts to shake and bubble, and when the beat hits it froths, fizzes and over flows over and over and over again. The beat gets me every time.
But they’re just cassettes aren’t they? I’d moved on to CDs and the ipod Touch by then and hadn’t listened to the cassettes for ages. I didn’t even have a Walkman. So, I binned them. And I didn’t think about them until a year ago when I heard one of the tracks on Annie Mac’s dance show on BBC Radio 1. Oh to hear that music! It was delicious, and I had to have access to those songs again! I started throwing track and album names at Alexa but she didn’t really understand. She gave me Renaissance and Café del Mar, the usual Ministry of Sound and Cream but not what I really wanted to hear. I can’t believe I’d disposed of those cassettes. I’d thrown away history, emotions, break ups, club nights, adventures and the soundtrack to the some of the best years of my life.
I was sure there were collectors out there looking for my cassettes, could someone have the same memories but stupidly want to get rid of them? Well Hallelujah! Whilst Alexa disappointed, Amazon didn’t, (does it ever?) and I’m glad to tell you that Retrospective of House 91-95, new, will set you back a cool £1,190.24.
For where music sends me I think it’s worth every penny.
– Claire Starford