Monday, November 02, 2009

When I grow up, I want to be an old woman...

Michelle ShockedI took time out to go and see Michelle Shocked play the Drill Hall yesterday. The Drill Hall is one of those venues where my possible pasts catch up with me big time, and I am amazed to see how so many of them have made it into the present.

I went (up) to Cambridge in October 1988, aged 18, outwardly stroppy and inwardly terrified. I look at some of the photos from that first year and I really cannot believe my own balls. But I guess that's what being 18 is all about. There was nobody like me (there still isn't, but hey, there's nobody like anybody, I know that now) but after a couple of weeks I met E, who was from Cheshire and wore leggings and DMs. I was from Lancashire and wore leggings and DMs, and for a good while we clung onto each other like two ports in a storm. She had a very cool older brother, who was in a band called Wild Bill Harzia and the Malarial Swamp Dogs (if memory serves) and who, more importantly, was in a position to get me a ticket to see Billy Bragg play the Corn Exchange.

Now, I'd had a ticket to see Billy Bragg before. In September 1987, he'd played Blackpool Opera House and E had sorted us out with good seats. But then about five days before the gig, round at our friend D's, he'd held me by the throat and punched the wall next to my stomach. It was one of those nights that creates a spike on the graph of your life. That was the end of me and E, and not before time, but I always kind of regretted not holding out for my ticket.

So there I was, on 16 November 1988, at my first Billy Bragg gig. I went on my own. I still have the T-shirt. And the poster. It was another of those nights... and the support act was Michelle Shocked. She blew me away. Short Sharp Shocked is still one of my favourite albums of all time.

What I didn't know then was that 1987 was a big year for her too - she came over to the UK for the first time, played the Drill Hall, and that was the start of something big. This was a kind of 20 years on celebration of that, and the journey. And it was moving. Michelle Shocked has made it into the present big time. She played Memories of East Texas, and I cried, like I did when I first heard it 20 years ago. It's so weird to have an adult life that stretches out so far, with these powerful constants in it. In many ways she's a thoroughly modern heroine, and I am in awe. But these days she's also a serious god-botherer, and, you know, whatever works, but personally I can't be doing with that sheeeeeit.

I came away with a whole range of things to think about, none of which I'd really expected. And I'm still thinking about them. I feel a bit like the walking wounded. And not just because of my foot.


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Anonymous jonathan said...

Ooh Michelle Shocked. I saw her at Newcastle Riverside in what may have been the same tour you remember. 'If Love Was A Train' was the only song I knew cos I had it on an indiepop compilation (where it nestled, a little uncomfortably perhaps, alongside more poppy girl-fronted acts like the Darling Buds and the Primitives). I suppose I thought of Michelle as a female version of Billy Bragg, which (for all that I love Billy Bragg) is not really doing her justice from the sound of the lasting resonance she has with you...

8:20 pm  

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