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Tuesday, 19 August 2014

What's Gaelic for 'enough, already'?

For various reasons, I decided to delay watching the Scottish referendum debate, electing instead to catch up with it on media player.  It turned out to be pretty much everything I had expected and I’d be surprised if it changed anyone’s mind about how they are going to vote.  The most remarkable bit of the show occurred late on in the proceedings (at one hour twenty minutes into the programme, if you’re interested).  A young woman in the audience –in the context of a discussion about pensions, during which some folk had raised concerns about how independence might impact on them- put this question to the speakers:  

You’re talking about putting money towards pensions, but what’s being done for the Gaelic language?  As a native speaker, I don’t feel that enough of Scotland’s money is being put towards that.

I stared at the screen in disbelief.  Was it really possible that there were people walking the earth who thought that was there was a lack of funding for Gaelic? 

In the last few years, the Scottish Government has spent millions throughout the country implementing Gaelic language plans and introducing bilingual signs. I know I’m not alone in believing it absurd to have imposed these policies on the lowlands, where there has been no Gaelic heritage and where Lowland Scots has been the traditional form of speech. In fact, it’s worse than absurd; it’s an insidious form of cultural imperialism. I used to think that the Partick /Partaig sign at Partick train station was the most ridiculous and pretentious use of public money that I could think of.  Perhaps, I would joke, before that really useful Partick /Partaig sign was erected, thousands of confused folk were mixing up Partick with Habbies Howe or Ashby-de-la-Zouch. God, it must have been chaos back then!  But alas, this pointless signage is par for the course now that the SNP’s Kulturkampf is in full swing. 

According to the 2011 census, there were 58,000 Gaelic speakers in Scotland, with the vast majority gathered in the Western Isles.  Our nation has just as many folk who nominated either Polish or one of the South Asian languages as the one they used at home, but those folk don’t get their own signage or their own TV channel.  Yes … about that TV channel.  A report in the Scottish Review a couple of years ago estimated that the annual running costs of the BBC’s Gaelic language station ‘Alba’ were around £17m.  That represented 29% of the total budget for BBC Scotland, yet it catered for only 1.1% of the Scottish population.  Some of those figures were disputed, but a percentage point here or there doesn’t alter the narrative; Gaelic culture is already massively subsidised.

The Scottish Government (i.e. the taxpayer) funds the Gaelic Media Service. So keen are they to promote Gaelic that funding to this organisation was increased from £12m in 2010 to £18m in 2012. By any standards, that’s a generous hike. A few years ago, the ‘Scots Language Working Party Report’ concluded that: 
"All media organisations, and all agencies in the cultural sector which receive Government funding, should be actively encouraged to develop specific Scots language policies.’"  
The message couldn’t have been clearer: If you want to make publicly-funded art in Scotland, learn some Gaelic.     

In addition to its regular Gaelic programmes, BBC Alba routinely covers football and rugby in what some might say is a cynical attempt to boost its viewing figures.  Fans have to endure the absurd spectacle of games being described in Gaelic, but with all of the pre and post-match interviews being conducted in English, because -guess what- none of the participants speak the lingo. The BBC boast about Alba’s ‘growing’ audience, but the truth is that if a new free-to-air station called Nazi Stormtrooper Animal Experimentation Gold started broadcasting live sport, it would also boost its viewing figures; those  ‘improved’ statistics, in that sense, are meaningless. 

Anyway … back to that nice girl in the audience at the referendum debate. As I stared at the screen in bewilderment, I realised that I was experiencing a ‘Colonel Kurtz’ moment.  Kurtz is a character in Francis Coppola’s Apocalypse Now, which tells the story of an American Army Captain (Willard) who is sent on a secret mission into the Cambodian jungle during the Vietnam war. His task is to assassinate a renegade colonel -Walt Kurtz, played brilliantly by Marlon Brando- who has completely lost the plot and set up his own kingdom in the jungle, lording it brutally over a local tribe.  Willard (played by Martin Sheen) is captured by Kurtz and subjected to a number of rambling monologues about war, heroism and the nature of morality. The mad colonel, explaining his conversion to the darkside, relates a story about the US Army’s attempts to win the hearts and minds of the local population. He explains that his platoon had been sent on a mission to a local village to inoculate children against polio. The troops carried out their task but when they returned to the village a few days later, they found a bloody pile of tiny arms. The Vietcong had hacked off the limbs of every child who had been vaccinated by the hated Yankees. 
"And then I realized ... like I was shot.  Like I was shot with a diamond ... a diamond bullet right through my forehead.  I thought, my God... the genius of that! The genius!  The will to do that!  Perfect, genuine, complete, crystalline, pure."

This realisation convinces Kurtz that his side are merely playing at war, while the Vietcong actually mean it. From that point, he starts to pursue his own agenda, free from the phoney moralistic constraints of the American chain of command. 

What’s being done for the Gaelic language?" said the young woman, firing that diamond bullet right into my skull. "As a native speaker, I don’t feel that enough of Scotland’s money is being put towards that.” 

I saw, in that instant, a perfect, complete, honest, crystalline statement of an absolute truth. I realised, with blinding clarity, that that there is literally no amount of money that will satisfy special interest groups. None. However much money you give them, however much ground you concede, they will always want more. They are so focused on their special interest that they are unable to look at the world in the way that most of the rest of us do. They are incapable of any degree of objectivity, because every aspect of their experience has to go through the filter of that special interest. 

I’m not saying that there is anything wrong with that. And I’m not saying there is anything wrong with having a Gaelic TV channel. I’m all for it, although I don’t see why it should have become the BBC’s role to help re-establish a culture through the medium of television.   
All I’m saying is that the next time you hear someone from a special interest group claiming that their special interest is under-funded, remember that nice young woman in the audience. In her world, ‘more’ is never going to be ‘enough’.  

Saturday, 9 August 2014

Principles, schminciples

If the number of petitions and statements circulating on the various social networks are anything to go by, a lot of people appear to be happy that Glasgow City Council has decided to fly the Palestinian flag above the city chambers.  Perhaps they see this as a principled display of solidarity with an oppressed people; others might see it as a tawdry example of gesture politics.  A statement from Lord Provost Sadie Docherty said that the flag was raised ‘in solidarity’ with people who had been affected by the conflict in Gaza.  She added that “We hope that peace can be found to ensure the human rights for the people of Palestine."

This concern for the fate of Palestine’s children is admirable and, no doubt, sincere.  We should all be concerned about what is going on in Gaza.  We should all be hoping, praying and, where possible, working towards a peaceful solution to the conflict.  It is important for any civilised society to have a set of common values and principles that it is prepared to stand up for.  We are right to feel frustration and horror at the suffering of innocent people and, wherever children are suffering, that frustration and horror should be all the more profound.  

There have been a number of reports in the last few years of Hamas using child labour to construct the Gaza tunnels.  The most commonly quoted figure is that at least 160 Palestinian children died during the construction of said tunnels.  During this time, I don’t remember seeing a single facebook or twitter petition about it; nor can I recall any statement of condemnation or outrage from Glasgow City Council.  

If we were that principled about preserving and protecting human rights, you’d think that multiple deaths through forced child labour might have registered on our radar at some point.

Wednesday, 16 July 2014

Making an album part 4: I’m not with the band

Although I’m working with several different people on my album, I’ve chosen not to go down the route of forming a band to record it. Instead, I’m bringing in musicians as and when required. I’ve been in plenty of bands over the years and I’ve always been the main songwriter, but being a ‘one-person-does-most-of-the-writing’ kind of band is not necessarily the greatest formula for longevity.  When the songwriting is a truly collaborative process, with everyone having a more or less equal say in the composition, you’ve probably got a better chance of keeping everyone in the band happy.  But that’s not usually how I prefer to work, for reasons I’ve been exploring with a psychotherapist for the past decade or so (another three or four years, she says, and I should be almost out of the woods).    

Assuming that talent and hard work are already in place, one of the things that can keep a band going is momentum; you not only have to recognise when you have it, you need to be able to capitalise on it.  From a songwriter’s point of view, momentum –or even the illusion of momentum- can only be maintained as long as the musicians believe that the songs might be able to take them places.  With the benefit of hindsight, I can recognise the point at which various bands I’ve been in have lost momentum and belief, but failed to notice it.  When that happens, it’s possible to trundle along for months and months, a bit like that Bruce Willis character in The Sixth Sense, not knowing that he’s actually dead. 

Up until sometime around your mid-to-late twenties, it’s relatively easy to maintain the enthusiasm, energy and belief required to maintain a band.  At that stage, you are pretty resilient because, essentially, you believe that a big break might be just around the corner; but keeping a band together gets harder as you get older, particularly if the gigs you are playing aren’t bringing in much money.  As the years pass and you start to realise that you are still quite some distance from earning a crust from music, you’ll sometimes wonder why the hell you are still doing it. And, as band members start to accumulate significant life baggage, the option of suffering for their art seems somehow less attractive. 

If you’re lucky, the business side of your operation will be looked after by a manager, leaving the sensitive artists to concentrate on playing music, drinking and showing off.  I’ve had several managers over the years; most of them were nice enough people, but were often largely ineffective when it came to the main item on their job description: helping the band become much more successful.  The management continuum has ‘autocrat’ at one end and ‘best friend’ at the other, with lots of variations in between; each style has its advantages and disadvantages.  I once had a particularly autocratic manager who terminated our contract over an argument about the clothes that were to be worn in a promotional shoot.  The manager wanted me, as the vocalist, to dress in a certain way.  What he called -with a straight face- ‘his people’ had carried out some research into ‘winning’ colours and styles and had come up with what they believed was the perfect formula.  This appeared to involve me dressing as what a Victorian novelist would have described as a popinjay.   I thought that what I was being asked to wear would make me feel even more stupid than usual, so I politely demurred.  We couldn’t find a sartorial middle ground, so the manager, rather less politely, ripped up our contract.  Sometimes it isn’t just about the music.           

Autocrats can be tricky to work with, but having a friend as your manager is also not without its pitfalls.  Someone who is very close to the musicians might be unable to bring the necessary hard-headed objectivity to what should be a business relationship.   

I was once in a band that was booked to play a big student rally in a park on the south side of Glasgow.  The placard-wielding students were marching from the centre of town to the event, which was to include a number of guest speakers and some live entertainment (namely us).  As the park started to fill up, we sat backstage slugging warm beer and nibbling at the corporate hospitality crisps.  Our manager, god bless him, said: “This is it, lads!  This is going to be the turning point.  Having slogged for some time around various pubs and clubs in the West of Scotland, slowly but surely building a reputation as we clawed our way from the depths of nonentity to the giddy heights of relative obscurity, we felt that yes, indeed, we might well have been on the cusp of a breakthrough to a bigger audience.  The organisers had very kindly given us the choice of either playing our set as the students were arriving at the park (i.e. warming the audience up for the speakers) or going on after the various student leaders and politicians had worked the crowd up into an indignant frenzy.   

To a band accustomed to performing in grotty, sparsely-populated bars, the crowd that day looked to be of Woodstockian proportions and we were buzzing at the possibility of performing for them.  As bodies continued to flood into the park, the manager announced that we would go on after the speeches; this, he suggested, would give us ‘maximum impact’.  We all agreed.  Why –so our thinking went- should our unique brand of rock and roll play second fiddle to a bunch of boring old speakers?  No way, man!  Let the politicians do their bit and then we’ll rock this place!  Hell, yeah! This is the turning point!  With the benefit of hindsight, our manager’s statement was probably correct, but only if by ‘turning point’ he meant ‘career-defining clusterfuck’.  It was certainly the point at which I realised that our plans for world domination were sadly unsupported by anything approaching a coherent strategy. 

Not knowing our collective arse from a hole in the ground, we had chosen to ‘top’ the bill, having given no thought as to why hundreds of students had bothered to walk all the way from the city centre to the south side.  They were there to protest, to listen to speeches, to vent some spleen, to stamp their feet and shout ‘Tories Out!’ (although it was such a cold afternoon that I’m pretty sure that some of them must have felt like shouting ‘What do we want? Some hot chocolate, please!’)  

By the time those speeches had ended (and there were more than one or two), that Woodstockian throng had already started to dwindle; by halfway through our opening number, the crowd had shrunk in size by about 50%.  Once we were three or four songs into our blistering set, the remaining punters could comfortably have been accommodated behind the goal at a Ramsden’s Cup preliminary round tie between East Stirling and Stenhousemuir.  During our last number, what was left of what I’m now embarrassed to call the ‘crowd’ could have gathered in the average student bedsit and each of them would have had more than enough room to swing a cat.  It’s not that we were that bad a band (honest), but we were certainly stupid enough to deserve everything we got that day.  Had our manager been more than just a supportive buddy, had he been capable of strategic thought, he would surely have advised us, in the strongest possible terms, to go on before the speakers. 

So if you ever get invited to play at a political rally, kids … just remember exactly where you are in the food chain.                                 

But I digress; back to the album.  I’m playing bass on a couple of the tracks, but the majority of the songs require something a bit more sophisticated than the root note simplicity I can just about get way with. I had a great session a couple of weeks ago with the very talented Fraser Sneddon (pictured above).  I’ve played with Fraser before and know that he can be relied upon to nail some really wonderful bass lines.  Hearing the bottom end of my tracks start to take on a bit of heft and groove was a joyful experience.  I enjoy the experience of sitting face-to-face with musicians and talking about what you want to achieve with an individual piece of music.  A good player will usually give you options when it comes to specific parts.  I like to give talented people their head and let them interpret the part as they will.  I will then make one or two suggestions, with perhaps a point or two about emphasis or rhythm here or there.  I might suggest that the part needs to be more or less aggressive, or perhaps requires more or fewer passing notes.  Little alterations can sometimes really alter the feel of a piece. 

The best recording sessions occur when folk are relaxed and feel confident enough to experiment a little.  My co-producer on the album, Eddie McArthur at Stealth, has a much better ear than me for spotting little tuning fluctuations or deviations in timing.  Our preferred method is to get the player to run through the parts a couple of times to loosen up and then get a version which is more or less the part we imagined.  Then we’ll pursue the ‘what if?’ strategy, which involves letting the player wander off-piste to see what kind of unusual or interesting stuff gets thrown up.  The wonders of digital editing will often allow us to construct a part which might be a mixture of the basic idea, the loose ‘off-piste’ take and maybe a dollop of additional studio surgery.        

Another way of collaborating on recording projects is to have musician friends send you stuff through the miracle of electronic mail.  For this album, Alan Robertson –a former colleague in the band ‘Gum’- has been recording material at home and firing it off into the ether; somehow, it ends up on my laptop.  Alan’s one of those chaps who can knock out a tune on a variety of instruments, a great ideas man with a good ear for hooks and textures which can help add flavour to a piece.  Fraser and Alan both make excellent contributions to the song I've linked to here.  Since I posted the original demo (featuring just a vocal, an acoustic guitar and some rudimentary piano), they have helped me flesh it out a bit.

I said at the time that I was hoping that it would one day inhabit a lusher soundscape and, thanks to Alan’s electronic noodlings and nurdlings (and what I hope is the judicious use of some backing vocals) I think the track is now close to being complete.  Another tweak or two and it’ll almost be there.

Saturday, 28 June 2014

The day we (nearly) won the World Cup

25 years ago, Scotland hosted the FIFA under-16 World Cup. I attended quite a few of the games with some football-loving friends, having been part of the small minority who appeared to give a damn about the tournament in the early stages.
During the group phase, the authorities tried to entice fans by staging ‘double-headers’ in which the paying customers got to see two games for the price of one. Even with that incentive, those early games didn’t attract much support, with attendances at some grounds barely scraping into four figures. We were among a crowd of around 6,000 at Hampden to watch Scotland open the tournament with a dismal draw 0-0 with Ghana, but public interest started to pick up as our campaign gathered momentum. Attendance at the matches had doubled by the time we played our group decider against Bahrain at Fir Park.
Bahrain, as it happens, became our second favourite team because of the stylish football they played. They had a cracking wee player (I think his name was Abdulaziz) that we particularly admired. He was ‘old school’ in the sense that he liked to run at defenders, often outwitting bigger, stronger boys with his guile and skill. He reminded us a bit of Pat Nevin, although –to his credit- he didn’t actually wear a Cocteau Twins t-shirt on the field or carry a New Order limited edition white vinyl 12-inch around with him.

As the Scots fought their way to the knock-out stages, public interest grew further still. Indeed, such was the excitement that the kick off in the semi-final at Tynecastle had to be delayed, as 30,000 punters crammed into the ground to watch our boys take on a gifted Portugese side that featured several members of their so-called ‘golden generation’, including Abel Xavier, Miguel Simao and Luis Figo (who, even then, was quite majestic on the ball). That game went as many of us had expected. The technically-gifted Portugese enjoyed most of the possession and created most of the chances, but we just knew that there was something magical in the air. Brian O’Neill scored with a header from a corner and somehow the obdurate young Scots (coached by Craig Brown and Ross Mathie) held out for a nerve-jangling, backs-to-the-wall 1-0 win. The very concept seemed difficult to absorb: a Scottish football team had qualified for the World Cup Final!

So, on the warm afternoon of 24th June 1989, 58,000 folk turned up at decrepit old Hampden to see our lads acclaimed as world champions. We travelled in hope, but also a degree of expectation. As tournament hosts, we had undoubtedly got the rub of the green a couple of times (particularly against the Portugese), but we also had a fantastic young team.
This time, surely, it was going to be our turn? Ian Downie gave us an early lead before, midway through the first half, Paul Dickov added a glorious second. I can still visualise –from my standing position on the old North Terracing- his stylish chip over the Saudi goalie. We were playing brilliantly. They might as well give us the cup now, we all thought, because this is going to end up about 5-0. Not only were we going to win this thing, but these lads were going to develop and grow and become actual world champions by 1998 or 2002. It was surely only a matter of time.

Alas, there were several things that we had failed to take into account.

There was the fact that the Saudis were dirty big cheating buggers who were all aged about 25 and were over seven feet tall. Did they feed these lads steroids with their breakfast cereal back in Saudi Arabia? There was the fact that they had already come back from two goals down earlier in the tournament and (SPOILER ALERT) had also won a penalty shoot-out.

The main thing we had overlooked, however, was a metaphysical concept that -until that point- had been way beyond our ken. As innocent lovers of the beautiful game, we had not yet come to the crushing realisation that there was an immutable law of the universe stating that Scotland fans can never, ever enjoy a triumph on the world stage. How innocent we were.

After that glorious opening spell, our lads started to wilt in the heat. In spite of the Saudis being reduced to ten men –men being the operative word- we blew that two-goal lead and ended up drawing 2-2. We even missed a penalty during the course of the game. Brian O’Neill was the player who fluffed his lines and, to rub sulphuric acid in that gaping wound, the poor lad also missed the decisive penalty in the shoot-out at the end of extra-time. “Oh, how cruel a mistress is fate!” I remember the guy next to me shouting at the time. Or maybe he shouted: “Jesus fucking Christ!” My memory plays tricks on me these days.

The Saudi lads may have taken ‘our’ cup, but for a couple of weeks, the country was under the spell of a brave, dedicated and talented bunch of young footballers. The Scotland team in that final was: Will, Bain, Beattie, Marshall, McMillan, Bollan, O'Neil, Lindsay, Downie, Dickov and McGoldrick. The used substitutes were McLaren and Murray.

Some of those lads drifted out of the game, but quite a few of them went on to have successful playing careers. But whatever happened to them, whatever jobs they are doing now, I hope they are comforted by the knowledge that, for what they achieved in the summer of 1989, they will always be heroes.

Friday, 23 May 2014

Top of the Pops, 24th May 1979: Rise of the machines

Watching re-runs of old editions of Top of the Pops reminds me that the show could be exciting, tedious, brilliant and stupid, often within the space of forty infuriating minutes. Whichever week of whichever year you’d care to drop into, you’ll find that the charts were pretty mediocre, with sometimes only the occasional gem sparkling among heaps of anodyne rubbish. On a bad week, Top of the Pops could make you feel that the music business existed just to rub your nose in the futility of existence. On other occasions, the stars would align and the tastes of Joe and Josephine Public might roughly coincide with yours. Then you could allow yourself to believe that everything in the world was good and that pop music was a truly wonderful thing.

Once in a lifetime, you might win the lottery and encounter an episode that so faithfully reflects your musical worldview that you’ll be tempted to think that the producer had rifled through your record collection and opted to share your exquisite taste with the nation. This happened to me one evening, late in May 1979. An episode of Top of the Pops (shown recently on BBC4) featured Roxy Music, David Bowie, Elvis Costello, Blondie, ELO, The Skids and a ‘new’ act that had already exerted a powerful grip on my musical imagination. I loved all of those named artists, but the new act that night – Tubeway Army, led by Gary Numan- somehow felt like ‘my’ discovery.

I had heard Tubeway Army for the first time a couple of months previously, while listening late one night to John Peel’s show on BBC Radio. Sitting in a corner of our living room with the headphones at ear-damaging volume, I would have been hoping that the show would throw up something interesting. John Peel played stuff you wouldn’t hear anywhere else and -if you could abide the default setting of 'indie bloke' freemasonry- you could usually expect to find some excellent music in among the (often deservedly) obscure flotsam and jetsam. Midway through what had been an average middle-of-the-week show, he played a track called Down in the Park and duly transformed my musical world. It was a menacingly atmospheric, yet hauntingly beautiful slice of electronic pop and I hadn’t heard anything quite like it.

I couldn’t quite grasp all of the detail, but I knew that the song told a story. The lyrics seemed far removed from the bog standard new wave fare, painting a nightmarish scene in which the park was not a place for the local folk to gather and enjoy the scenery; it was, instead, part of a minatory landscape in which killers, government agents and ‘rape machines’ roamed, brutalising a cowed populace. At the end of the track, Peel said something like: ‘Blimey … that sounds like a Pink Floyd for the 1980s’. He was wrong about the Pink Floyd bit, but absolutely right about the ‘blimey’. To a lonely teenager imagining himself at the centre of an alienated and hostile universe, Gary Numan really hit the sweet spot.

That weekend, I hunted down the Replicas album and quickly became absorbed in its dystopian and decadent fantasies. It appeared to be a concept album set ten minutes into a totalitarian future in which population control was maintained by government surveillance agents, people had relationships with synthetic humans and the city was patrolled by thought police and sinister assassins in trench coats. Numan’s musical schtick was part-Bowie (particularly the Low album) part Kraftwerk, part Brian Eno, with maybe a little dollop of early Ultravox thrown into the mix.
Lyrically, it was clear that he was heavily influenced by the paranoid, hallucinatory writings of Philip K Dick, William Burroughs and –to a lesser extent- JG Ballard. For a young reader who was devouring dystopian science fiction by the bucketload, this album seemed like a perfect reflection of my view that the world was on the verge of forming a strange and unsettling relationship with burgeoning technology. Whatever was going to happen, I just knew it would involve synthetic humans, sinister government conspiracies and androgynous young guys in make-up, playing synthesisers.

Utterly mesmerised, it was the first time that I was aware that an artist’s image might be almost as important as the music. Numan had perfected an androgynous robot stormtrooper look (no doubt heavily influenced by Kraftwerk) and it made him stand out a mile in an era when most new wave bands made little concession to ‘image’, beyond wearing drainpipe jeans and perhaps a skinny tie. On that iconic Replicas sleeve, Numan looks fantastic: dyed blond hair, kohl eyeliner, black nail varnish, black shirt, tie and trousers. With respect to the Replicas narrative, the cover shot is ambiguous; it’s not clear whether the guy in the room is a victim or a victimiser. Why is he dressed like that? Is he one of us, or is he one of those 'machmen'? Is he a government agent or maybe one of those synthetic humans working in the sex trade? What’s going on in the park outside his window? How come the ‘reflection’ in the window has his hands clasped together while the person in the room hasn’t?

As a growing army of teenaged Numanoids wrestled with these questions, the prosaic reality gradually emerged over the next couple of years as Gary went on to become a massive pop star. We discovered that he was actually just a shy young man (diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome) who had managed to articulate and brilliantly exploit his melancholic fantasies about alienation and androids. He was just a 21-year old kid from Slough who didn’t know much about anything. Jesus, he even admitted to voting Tory in an interview. If he’d been more worldly wise, he’d have known that that is an unforgivable sin in the right-on world of rock journalism. Needless to say, he was pilloried for years on the back of it and his relationship with the press quickly declined from ‘curious’ to ‘bad’ to ‘catastrophic’.

In spite of the various press maulings, it’s probably fair to say that Numan has had the last laugh. Two decades after it first appeared on Top of the Pops, Are ‘friends’ electric? was brilliantly re-imagined by the Sugababes for their number one hit Freak like Me. He has enjoyed a recent upturn in commercial and critical fortunes and his music has been cited as a powerful influence by the likes of Basement Jaxx, Armand Van Helden, Foo Fighters, Afrika Bambaataa, Nine Inch Nails and Marilyn Manson.

By the time Are ‘friends’ electric? had made it onto that edition of Top of the Pops in May 1979, I was already boring my friends rigid with my ridiculous zeal for Gary Numan’s music. My ‘discovery’ of this weird and wonderful artist allowed me to feel quite smug as his song made its steady way to the summit of the charts over a six-week period, progress which –by today’s standards- seems positively glacial.

During that time, the synthesiser was transformed from being a 'progressive rock’ instrument played by classically-trained bearded blokes in capes into something quite sexy, sitting right at the epicentre of pop culture. And, without anything resembling a recognisable chorus, a strange song about a robot prostitute topped the charts for four incredible weeks. I’ll always love Gary Numan for that.

In the words of the song: “You see, it meant everything to me.