Wednesday, 24 September 2014

Too old for indie-pop? Is all this nostalgia A Good Thing?

I resent being too early for stuff, and it seems to have happened all the way along. I was born too early for skateboards, and I would have been a fantastic skate girl... or BMX stunt rider... or any of that. I ran a super wee record label in the 1980s and 1990s, using a computer only for typing and printing out my newsletters and tape inlays on a dot matrix printer. I bought those massive sheets of stamps from the post office and even had a PO Box, where I would go to get an elastic-band stodge of letters most days. 

It was truly fun, but how great it must be to make music nowadays with a World Wide Web! Where you can tweet to fans worldwide, and facebook-invite them to secret gigs. That would have been good back in my day. But, like a 19 year old girl trying to learn skateboard for the first time, would it be an embarrassing spectacle to do it all again on YouTube or at some festival, when you are comfortably middle-aged?

The first album 1989 - Little Stones as yet not re-released in digital format

I quite like writing a blog. It's helping me to sort things out in my mind; gradually I'm building a jigsaw puzzle of my life in music - a life in music which I thought ended last century.

If I'd been a bit more successful, I'd be a has-been, but, with a rather insignificant streak of success that runs to a few aging pop-kids in Spain, Japan and the USA, I'm not even a has-been.

For at least ten years, I made no reference to the music I had been involved with. I didn't play the CDs, I never pulled out a guitar to drunkenly strum out 'Sunday Never Comes Around', I kept myself to myself and forgot about the life in music.

But something has changed in the last couple of years. I think it started when somebody told me that there was a lot of stuff on the Internet about my band PO! So, of course, you google yourself and it all starts, doesn't it?  There are Wikipedia articles and strange YouTube videos put together by fans, and people saying back in 2005 that I have disappeared. No. Not disappeared, just tried a bit of ordinary life. It was all right.

That is, it was all right for a bit.

I guess it must be like experiencing some exciting gay encounters in your youth, but deciding to go straight in order to have a family and please your family because you think it will go away and that you can control it. And I've seen people do that for a good few years. Half a lifetime, even.

But you can't forget about it for ever. The Person inside starts knocking loudly and calling "Hello?" and you start to have ideas and urges. I began to watch live performances again, with a mixture of thrill and dread. But now I'm paralysed, not knowing what to do. Is it all just stupid nostalgia and vanity, or do I need to go back to music? Should I try to write and perform songs looking like some middle-aged mumsy? Songs about tennis elbow and parents evenings? I don't think so. I could write the same songs about the same subjects as I always did, because not much has really been achieved on the 'wielding of power and the situations that result from it' front, has it?

 I do still have a massive prejudice that pop music is for young people and that it's greedy to hang on in there once you can actually afford instruments and you know too many of life's secrets. To persuade me, many friends have come up with the names of 'veteran' performers who are eternally young and very respected, but I just don't know.....

Or... and this does seem more attractive... I could forget my real position as wage slave, single parent and coward, and just promote What Has Been.  I could work out how to get my old music officially online and see if anyone today would like it. Is that crass nostalgia? Cashing in on the 7"s in my attic? The songs are good, if you like that sort of thing... but how many people like that sort of thing now? I did work hard on the songs and could say a lot about the life and meaning of each one. I reckon if enough people express an interest here, I could be coaxed further.

I am rather intrigued by the number of people in Romania reading this blog. PO! did have fans all over the world, but I had not thought there were any in Romania; so, say hi please, people. Shall I carry on doodling with the old music in this way, or shall I look for a promotion at work and spend some time getting the shower and the car radio fixed?


  1. Hello Ruth,

    Some of us artists find the fact that nobody gives a damn what we do liberating - it's a big advantage we have over Fleetwood Mac, Kate Bush, Kanye West and Jake Bugg and one of the main reasons we are better than they are. If you want to do some music you should do some - Van Gogh didn't sit around waiting for permission to paint flowers. He probably had time to get his car radio fixed too.

    Let me know if I can help with any of the technical stuff - I put out CDs that nobody likes all the time.

    A. Jenkins

  2. Interesting post. I think that there is no external factor exerting any kind of pressure with this question. There is no "should I / shouldn't I" to answer to here. You won't be held accountable, whichever way you decide. The question is much rather "do I want to or not". You don't need a particularly good argument for one or the other.

    I realise there's a lot that can be said against "has-beens" getting together again (seriously though: this is indiepop - who "has" ever "been" anything, really?). I've seen quite a lot of these bands in recent years, bought their records (re-issues as well as new stuff). And I've found one of the things that's really good about them is that they've come to realise they will neither ever make it big nor will they change the world dramatically. There's no need to prove anything to anyone. They do it because it makes them happy and people listen to it because it makes them happy. Does that make this kind of music less relevant? Probably. Does it make it less enjoyable? Definitely not. Does it all come down to disposable nostalgia then? In a way, yes. But there's more to it.

    See, I've just returned home from a weekend away from kids and job and unfixed showers, seeing The Popguns for the very first time in my life. I loved it. It won't turn my life upside down and it won't make me want to take to the streets to start a rebellion (but then what does, once you get past 40 ...). But it accomplished other things. It reminded me of who I was when I fell in love with their music for the first time. And being reminded of the person I was then changes the person I am now. Ever so slightly, but it does. On top of that, the sheer brilliance of the performance rewarded me with one of the most beautifully spent hours I'll have this year. That's not embarrassing and it's not nothing.

  3. For at least ten years, I made no reference to the music I had been involved with. I didn't play the CDs, I never pulled out a guitar to drunkenly strum out 'Sunday Never Comes Around', I kept myself to myself and forgot about the life in music.

    Is that really true, by the way? Sad if it is.

    1. Yes; normality got me and it was all right. What got me out again was when Patrik Fitzgerald was due to play a Leicester gig and the promoter Kevin Hewick persuaded me to come out of retirement. I did it because PF was the first record I heard John Peel play, and I went out to buy the 7" and wrote a fan letter to him. I still have his reply.

  4. Odd, I've also been listening to Patrik Fitzgerald again recently. I've often think it would be a good thing if the current political class could listen to Irrelevant battles.

    For various reasons that are not in the least interesting, I find myself in Leicester from time to time. I was pleased to find recently that the Charlotte had reopened. I popped in and it reminded me of days nearly thirty years ago now.

  5. Should I try to write and perform songs looking like some middle-aged mumsy? Songs about tennis elbow and parents evenings? I don't think so.

    You set this up and knock it down for yourself. Because you know that the things you've always written songs about still matter. And they would still matter if you wrote new songs about them now.

    1. Yes, you're right. I should do it before it's too late. And one never knows when that might be the case. Thanks for reading and commenting on the blog. But who are you, Northerner of mystery?

  6. Oh, shit!

    I wrote a long message to you but it has disappeared! Well ... I just wanted to say hello. Boxes on 7"s in your attic? Wow!

    Miguel (still allive --- but older and balder --- in Madrid)

    1. Hello Miguel; nice to hear from you!