Thursday, 30 April 2015

My Secret World: The Story of Sarah Records

Sarah Records was firmly rooted in Bristol culture. And despite the twenty-year gap since Sarah ceased production in 1995, the city’s love for the label is as strong as ever – as was shown by last spring’s sold-out Sarah all-dayer at Arnolfini.

Next month, on May 14, the film My Secret World: The Story of Sarah Records gets a fresh screening at The Cube in Bristol, followed by a Q&A with director Lucy Dawkins and Sarah co-founder Matt Haynes (which will be hosted by me). More info on the event here.

“How did we feel when Lucy got in touch with us?” Matt repeats my question back to me. “Surprised,” he says, in his usual unassuming way. “Because to us Lucy Dawkins was just ‘Lucy from Clevedon’, as that's how we knew everyone who used to write to us and we'd not heard from her since she'd last sent off for a record.”

In the days before the internet, Sarah operated from a flat in Bristol’s Windmill Hill, initially without even a phone line. Such was Matt and (Sarah co-founder) Clare Wadd’s DIY ethic that everyone who contacted them received a handwritten note or letter with their purchases. This could lead to a huge amount of time and care spent writing to the many people from all over the world who ordered Sarah records, and friendships were forged.

“But obviously we were flattered and excited, too,” adds Matt, “as it had never occurred to us that someone might make a film about us.” This is the kind of humble answer you’d expect from someone who once told me, years after Sarah had folded and he was busy editing the London-based magazine Smoke, that people were still contacting him who were writing their PhDs about Sarah Records.

“It’s been fantastic revisiting the Sarah years because so many people we used to know or write to have popped up on Facebook or Twitter, usually with less hair and more offspring but otherwise still the same, and they're just as excited about the film as we are,” adds Matt. “It's also slightly unnerving to discover that in all those years we weren't doing anything people all round the world were retrospectively discovering Sarah. When we released our final record, I think we were resigned to people gradually forgetting about us but the internet changed all that.”

Talking to Matt last year he said he loved the fact that so much Sarah music is now freely available online via sites such as YouTube and Spotify, meaning the music lived on and had been digitised – when most of it had only previously lived on 7” vinyl and home-recorded cassettes.

“As a music obsessive growing up near Bristol and then spending a lot of my adult life here, it has always surprised me how little known Sarah Records is in Bristol,” Lucy tells me ahead of the event at The Cube. “Inspired by Sarah's DIY ethic, My Secret World has been made over the course of four years, on a limited budget and by primarily a team of just two people: myself and Tom Readdy of Yes Please! Productions.”

True to the do-it-yourself ethos of Sarah Records (where white labels were hand-stamped, record inserts were hand-folded, and letters were hand-written), Lucy and Tom have done almost all of the work involved with making My Secret World themselves.

One almost inevitable upside was the outpouring from supporters of the label who were quick to offer their input. “Corresponding with people from around the world who still hold great affection for the label has been an aspect of making the film that has been really enjoyable,” says Lucy. “I have also been surprised by the number of young people that have been in touch, many of whom weren't even born in Sarah's lifetime.”

Which is proof, if needed, that Sarah's records are truly timeless.

I have two previous blog posts on Sarah Records which can be read here and here. Earlier this month, I wrote a piece about Sarah for Bristol 24/7 magazine which can be read here

Tuesday, 28 April 2015

'Birdsong' at Bristol Old Vic

Sebastian Faulks’s most popular novel Birdsong is an epic, time-jumping 550-page doorstopper. So turning the beloved World War One saga into a manageable piece of theatre was no small task for writer Rachel Wagstaff – yet she’s surely done Sebastian proud with this new production at Bristol Old Vic.

Indeed, Sebastian even creeps in for a few cameos in the production and – try as the costume team might to hide his trademark bushy hair under a peaked cap – there’s no escaping his presence… or his triumphant wave to the audience as the cast line-up for a deserved bow at the end.

Unlike the novel, which is set before, during and after the war, Birdsong the play centres on our hero Stephen (Edmund Wiseman) and his experiences during the war, using carefully constructed flashbacks to weave in what happened in his past to make him the detached, distracted, tortured man he is.

Edmund is stunning as the controlled, tightly wound Stephen, while Emily Bowker is compelling as the alluring and unhappy Isabelle. But among the excellent cast is a surprise element (well, surprising to me) – former Blue Peter presenter Peter Duncan who is fantastic as Jack Firebrace, the resilient miner. I shouldn’t be surprised – Peter has been acting since the 1970s and would probably rather he wasn’t best remembered to me as my vintage of Blue Peter host!

The claustrophobia of Sebastian’s novel is echoed well in the tight sets, and especially the scenes in the tunnels where the imminent sense of danger and terror is evident in every line. None more so than those uttered by terrified soldier Tipper (Max Bowden), whose ultimate actions are entirely understandable in the circumstances but no less shocking.

Birdsong is a story of courage, horror and heartbreak. And it is all the more shocking simply because it is based so clearly on events that tore apart the lives of hundreds of thousands of people.

Birdsong is performed at Bristol Old Vic until May 9. Click here for more information and to book tickets. 

Thursday, 23 April 2015

'Shop Girl' by Mary Portas

There’s something about Mary Portas that is very compelling. Like her or loathe her, she’s a force to be reckoned with and she gets stuff done. I’ll hold my hands up: I’m a fan. I like Mary's forthright manner, her no-nonsense approach, her can-do attitude and her ability to achieve change while failing to suffer fools gladly or otherwise.

A certain amount about Mary’s private life is already public knowledge. We know both her parents died when Mary was a teenager and that she learned to fend for herself from an early age, scrabbling to make ends meet. We know she worked her way up from a window dresser at luxury department store Harrods to turning around the public perception and fortunes of Harvey Nichols. We know she was married to Graham Portas for many years, but is now married to Grazia fashion editor Melanie Rickey, and that she has children from both relationships. We know her as a dominant but kind TV personality who turns around failing high streets and businesses. I wouldn’t mess with Mary. But I would like to go for a drink with her.

In her memoir Shop Girl all of the above is reinforced. The book mostly covers Mary’s early years: it spells out the closeness she has with her four siblings and the adoration she has for her mother - who clearly lives on in Mary’s defiance. We see Mary struggling to keep the family together after her mother dies and the awful way her father abandons his family after the bereavement. We see Mary start to build her career in Harrods and then test the waters on her own.

And there Shop Girl leaves us. Presumably ready for part two when we see Mary take on Harvey Nichols and really make her name. And the thing about Shop Girl is it does leave you wanting more. It’s an easy read and a quick read. The style is very readable, broken down into bite-size nuggets which, especially in the early stages, are largely nostalgic - remembrances of Boots No 17 make-up counters, R Whites lemonade, certain TV programmes and books of the 1970s that will doubtless appeal to others of a similar age who have the shared childhood.

The sections covering her mother’s death and the family’s shock and grief are truly heartbreaking and I read them through watery eyes. There’s no call for sympathy or woe-is-me attitude, simply a raw depiction of the fallout for the family in the wake of the loss and the appalling abandonment of her father - leading to a second kind of grief for the five children, who inevitably become even more closely knit.

However, despite telling stories of the rawest and most personal times in her life, you finish Shop Girl feeling that Mary has successfully told a great story while playing her cards close to her chest. You don’t leave the book feeling you know much more about Mary than you did beforehand. But you do finish Shop Girl feeling as if you have spent some time with Mary, enjoyed her company, strengthened your respect for her… and that you are itching to read the next instalment.

Friday, 17 April 2015

'The Light Burns Blue' at Bristol Old Vic

Ahh, the case of the Cottingley fairies. Do you know it? You might have seen the 1997 film Fairy Tale, which is loosely based on the story. Or you might have seen a glimpse of the famous photos that crop up from time to time. Here’s one…

Maybe, like me, you studied the case in depth for an academic paper. But my feeling is that unless you had quite a lot of pre-existing knowledge of the story, The Light Burns Blue may seem a little confusing - as it takes up this fascinating story, but in a space of just 75 minutes throws in an enormous amount of related (or loosely related) ephemera, which could be a bit baffling to someone not already clued into the nitty gritty of the story.

Here’s a bit of background to the Cottingley case, since it’s a fascinating story...

In the late-Victorian and early-Edwardian eras, the principles of belief were stretched to their limits by the debate surrounding the ability to photograph the dead (a growing trade owing to the grief that consumed the nation after the multitude of deaths caused by World War One) which raged between the scientific and spiritualist communities. This led to one of the 20th Century’s greatest mysteries: when teenagers Frances Griffiths and Elsie Wright apparently photographed fairies in the Yorkshire village of Cottingley. What with folklore fairies being considered to be the stolen souls of lost boys (aka soldiers killed at war).
Spiritualism appealed to many Victorians who found traditional religious doctrine unacceptable, and who were unsatisfied with the materialistic world view that was emerging from 19th Century science. Spiritualists hoped the sceptics would feel too foolish to object because doing so would imply they were too stupid to understand. While scientists found spiritualists infuriating because their arguments never answered the questions posed to them by scientists, yet the spiritualists remained unshakeable in their belief. But if something cannot be explained, is it still real?

Any link between science and spiritualism demands great stretches of the imagination and this led to great take up for the newly Westernised religious philosophy of Theosophy, which subscribed to the notion that there were invisible life forms if you chose to believe in them. For the many grieving the loss of loved ones in the war, this was an obvious comfort. (The Bristol branch of the Theosophical Society is alive and well, by the way.)

The Cottingley story went public in 1919 when Polly Wright sought advice from the Theosophical Society, to which she subscribed, about two photographs of fairies her daughter Elsie, and Elsie’s cousin Frances, took in 1917. In 1920, a Theosophist photographic expert viewed the pictures and stated they were genuine. It wasn’t then long before Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, another Theosophist, also became involved, having lost a son in the war. He was steadfast in his belief that spirit photographs could not be forged. There was also the assertion that in a British society that had long been under the staunch rule of Queen Victoria there was no possibility that little girls were capable of fibbing. Frances and Elsie did not admit they had faked the photographs until 1981, and Frances still maintained that at least one of the five pictures was real.

If the mind desperately wants to believe in something, is it wrong to prevent that? To me, the magic in the Cottingley photos lies in the fact people wanted to believe in a fantasy, and the girls produced pictures of what they believed fairies to look like.
Phew! So that was, in a nutshell, the case of the Cottingley fairies. There’s a lot more to it than that, but in the interests of space let’s leave that as background info and move on to The Light Burns Blue, which uses all of the above as its basis.

The Light Burns Blue is a production by the Bristol Old Vic Young Company, which is made up of people aged 11 to 24, all of whom are dedicated to making exciting and bold new theatre pieces. It is produced by Tonic Theatre, which is committed to supporting women into theatre roles. And it is a delight to see females playing roles that were unquestioningly male at the time of the story - eg newspaper editor. And it is a pleasure to see a predominantly female cast, acknowledging that the vast majority of theatre (and all arts) is skewed towards men.

Writer Silva Semerciyan clearly became caught up by the magic of the Cottingley story, but in her research she seems to have uncovered so many loosely related areas (such as Madame Helena Blavatsky - the head of the Theosophists; Nellie Bly - an American stunt journalist) that she has added into the mix, potentially over-egging the plot pudding.

That aside, The Light Burns Blue is a fun, involving and thought-provoking study of how we address grief. Daughter Elsie, who is seemingly not gifted at school but a talented watercolurist, is caught between parents who are grieving for their son who was recently killed at war and their concern over Elsie’s future since she possess no apparent marriageable skills. As such, in this play she is given the job of painting eyes onto the closed eyelids of the corpses of soldiers who are being photographed for portraits by their desperate families. Death and grief overshadows every action in The Light Burns Blue - and possibly the predominantly female cast underscores the fact that a phenomenal population of the male population was brutally murdered at war.

The 20-strong cast relish in the varied roles they have, and work tightly as a well-rehearsed cohesive team. Although the story focuses on Elsie and her refusal to confess (but why must she only confess? Why can she not also be coerced to confirm?), there is no sense that this is a one-woman show. Although I wondered why the need for Elsie to either or admit or confirm was so strongly pursued - what was Semerciyas searching for by seeking truth, when in my mind the real story was the reason why so many people willingly bought into the idea, almost unquestioningly, that fairies do indeed live at the bottom of the garden if only you believe. Because if you don’t believe, the fairies - like Tinkerbell - will die. And if the fairies die, your sons will never come home from war. And that’s the real story of Cottingley.

The Light Burns Blue is performed at Bristol Old Vic until April 18. Click here for more information and to book tickets.

Thursday, 16 April 2015

Bristol Festival of Ideas 2015

The Bristol Festival of Ideas is, in my opinion, one of the very best things about our fine city. Established in 2004, the team curates a rolling calendar of several hundred events throughout the year, with a concentrated month of fascinating talks, walks, screenings and events specifically in May.

No topic is considered out of bounds by the Festival of Ideas, and in the past I’ve experienced everything from a PowerPoint presentation by Wayne Hemingway hilariously pulling hideous housing estates to pieces; a screening of the (almost) four-hours long Western movie Heaven’s Gate; and a debate between Howard Marks and Peter Hitchens on whether drugs should be legalised. And a whole raft of topics in between.

For now, here is my very edited selection of the cream of the crop from the Bristol Festival of Ideas and their May brochure. Enjoy… and don’t leave it too long to book as their events often sell out in advance.

Thursday, May 14
FOI say: “Some time between the ages of 40 and 50, you pass your life’s halfway point. For those who believe in youth culture, who were part of the 1990s rush that transformed Britain into an open-minded, hedonistic, artistic centre, this is more than a shock. It’s unthinkable. Middle age is for someone else, whether that’s Jeremy Clarkson or Victoria Wood.”

I say: “Miranda Sawyer was my career crush as a teenage wannabe journalist. I read her stuff in Smash Hits, The Face, The Observer and onwards. I forgave her the Daily Mail column. She influenced me more than any other writer. Read her book Park And Ride please. And go to see this talk. Do it.”

Thursday, May 21
FOI say: “Colm Tóibín is one of contemporary literature’s most critically acclaimed authors. He talks about his career and writing, in particular his new non-fiction work On Elizabeth Bishop, an introduction to the work and life of one of his most important literary influences—the American poet Elizabeth Bishop, and his eighth novel Nora Webster, which dramatises the life of a woman and her family in a small town in Ireland in the late 1960s.”

I say: “Colm Tóibín’s novels are extraordinary and fascinating. The characters he creates are people running, hiding and searching. He recreates past times as if both he and we lived through them, rather than reimagined them. His novels are beautiful but challenging. I love them.”

Friday, May 22
FOI say: In her bestselling autobiography Bedsit Disco Queen, Tracey Thorn recalled the highs and lows of a thirty-year career in pop music. But with the touring, recording and extraordinary anecdotes, there wasn’t time for an in-depth look at what she actually did for all those years: sing. She sang with warmth and emotional honesty, sometimes while battling acute stage-fright. Part memoir, part wide-ranging exploration of the art, mechanics and spellbinding power of singing, Naked at the Albert Hall takes in Dusty Springfield, Dennis Potter and George Eliot; Auto-tune, the microphone and stage presence; The Streets and The X Factor.”

I say: “Tracey’s FOI event two years ago was one of the highlights of that year’s festival. She spoke to a packed out Arnolfini with wit, warmth and an endless raft of amazing stories from her drama-packed life. This event is going to sell out, so book your ticket pronto.”

Saturday, May 23
Caroline Criado-Perez
FOI say: “Every day, all around the world, women are reinventing what it means to be female in cultures where power, privilege or basic freedoms are all too often equated with being male. Caroline Criado-Perez, one of the most vocal and tenacious campaigners of her generation, talks about the first woman to cross the Antarctic alone; a female fighter pilot in Afghanistan; a climate change activist who scaled new heights; a Chilean revolutionary turned politician; the Russian punks who rocked out against Putin; and the Iranian journalist who dared to uncover her hair.”

I say: “She's Caroline Criado-Perez, people. What more do you need to know?!”

Saturday, May 23
Daughters of de Beauvoir
FOI say: “Imogen Sutton’s prize-winning documentary interweaves Simone de Beauvoir’s life with those of the women she influenced through her life and work – in particular through The Second Sex. After the screening Ann Oakley and Angie Pegg, who contributed to the documentary, join Imogen Sutton and broadcaster Harriett Gilbert for a panel to discuss what Simone de Beauvoir’s writing means today.”

I say: “It’s important we keep people like Simone de Beauvoir alive in the minds of the new wave of feminists coming through, so that the influence and importance of her work is never forgotten. Her writing may not be the easiest to read, but the message is still critical.”

Thursday, May 28
Yasmin Alibhai-Brown
FOI say: “England may be a small country on a small island, but its inhabitants have always had a boundless curiosity about the world beyond their shoreline. From the nation’s modern origins in the Renaissance, travellers have eagerly roamed the globe and been enticed by the diversity and richness of other civilisations. And while this appetite for adventure has often been tainted by aggression or exploitation, the English have also carried within them a capacity to soak up new experiences and ideas and to weave them into every aspect of life back home, from language and literature to customs and culture.”

I say: “I was lucky enough to hear Yasmin Alibhai-Brown speak at the Women of the World Festival in London two years ago and she was stunning with her calm and authoritative warmth. When asked an idiotic question from the audience, she took the speaker down in the best way possible. When asked a sensible question from the audience, she invited the speaker to contact her for real help.”

Saturday, May 30
FOI say: “For Hadley Freeman, American movies of the 1980s have simply got it all. Born in the late 1970s, Hadley grew up on a well-rounded diet of these movies, her entire view of the world, adult relations and expectations of what her life might hold was forged by these cult classics. She puts her obsessive movie geekery to good use, detailing the decade’s key players, genres and tropes, and how exactly the friendship between Dan Aykroyd and John Belushi influenced the evolution of comedy.”

I say: “Oh boy, this is going to be the most fun event of the whole festival. I would like to challenge Hadley to a quiz to find out which one of us has the best knowledge of 1980s movies… because it could be a close call. Hadley’s columns in The Guardian are one of the highlights of the whole paper, and her book Be Awesome was a pithy and smart call to arms for young women today.”

Monday, June 1
FOI say: “We all want the future to be fairer and happier. Journalist and writer Zoe Williams believes that we need to make that happen collectively. It’s not enough to sit back and watch as our NHS slides away from us; as the young and low earners are forced out of London; as hundreds of thousands of people nationally drift into poverty; as education becomes increasingly divided and as the wealthiest five people in Britain earn more than the poorest 20%.”

I say: “Another favourite writer from The Guardian, Zoe Williams knows her shit. And if reading her book and/or hearing her talk doesn’t inspire you to take action against a country falling into the gutter, frankly, nothing will.”

Wednesday, 15 April 2015

'Word Drops' by Paul Anthony Jones

For the bookish, the wordists, the nerdists, the swots... Paul Anthony Jones has compiled you the most absorbing and fascinating dip-in tome you will find all year.

In his anthology Word Drops: A Sprinkling Of Linguistic Curiosities, Jones has taken his popular blog Haggard Hawks to the logical next level and curated a compelling collection of etymological treats for word geeks. This is Jones' third book, and since his previous two are also on the same theme (their sub-titles are The Story of English in Ten Phrases and Expressions, and The Origins of English in Ten Words) it seems he's found his niche in life.

Word Drops is very much a book to dip in and out of. It's a series of endless (but linked) words, coupled to their origins, meanings and a quantity of footnotes so great that they would put even David Foster Wallace to shame. 

Some of the discoveries are simple and quaint: grandfather clocks take their name from a Victorian song called My Grandfather's Clock, while St Lucia is the only country named after a woman - really? How depressing! Perhaps St Lucia would be the only 'adamless' country - meaning a place inhabited entirely by women. One can but hope.

Other entries are more educational: as a runner, I am unsurprised to learn that the first treadmill was a man-powered mill for crushing rocks that was used as hard labour punishment for those in Victorian prisons. But I was fascinated to see that 'foul-mouthed' was yet another of the phrases coined by William Shakespeare that has endured into modern everyday speak (see also ' a foregone conclusion', 'in my mind's eye', 'the truth will out' and literally hundreds of others). 

However, my favourite entry in Word Drops is surely this one:

The Hindi equivalent of 'it's no use crying over spilt milk' - ab pachhtaaye hote kya, jab chidia chug gayi khet? - means 'what's the point of crying when the birds ate the whole farm?'

Because there's no point arguing with it.

Word Drops is a nerdist's paradise. An intricately researched and elegantly put together collection of wordy nuggets. I challenge you to flick through the book, open it at any page and not find something worth sharing with someone else. 

Thursday, 2 April 2015

RIP Acorn Records (7 December 1973 - 4 April 2015)

Chris and I in Acorn last Saturday... when I stood behind the counter one last time

When I was 15 I started the best Saturday job ever. I worked in the local independent record shop… and through that job I got to hang out with PJ Harvey, was given my own pirate radio show, and met a lot of amazing people. This Saturday, that shop is closing. So I’m writing a few words to celebrate the passing of one of the UK’s last real record shops…

Yeovil may not be the coolest town in the UK. It may be more famous for making military helicopters and for formerly housing its football team on a sloping pitch, but one thing it does/did have in its favour was a bloody brilliant independent record shop. Acorn Records, which I flatly refuse to call by its moving-with-the-times newer name of Acorn Music. I became the original Saturday girl there in 1993. And I never really stopped working there until 2000.

This Saturday (April 4), Acorn will close its doors for the final time since opening in 1973. It should be noted this is not due to failing sales or a lack of enthusiasm from the record-buying public, but because owner Chris Lowe has decided - quite reasonably - that after 42 years of record-selling fun times it’s now time to put his feet up. (He won’t put his feet up, by the way. I’m not sure he knows how.)

Chris and Rob with Alan (centre), one of the reps, when PJ Harvey's 'Rid Of Me' was released. Photo by Alan Harwood

Chris set up Acorn with his friend Rob Bacon in 1972, although Rob sadly passed away in the late-1990s. Rob ruled the roost from his first floor office, from which he dispensed wisdom and bite-sized nuggets of information… all the while listening to the latest football results on his radio. On the day that Chris broke the news to me about Rob’s cancer, I promptly sold 10 empty CD cases to a customer… and then had to chase him up the escalator to reunite him with the CDs that should have been inside.

Independent record shops are few and far between these days, as chronicled in the book Last Shop Standing (which Chris was involved with; here's an extract from The Independent) (and which is also a film). But Acorn is/was one of the very last ones. Even in the early 1990s when I started coming into my record buying own, there were still a lot of choices in Yeovil. On the humdrum end of the scale, there was WH Smith and Woolworths. A bit more fun was the relatively short lived Music Market (first 7” I bought there? Amazulu), or the chain store Our Price (first 7” I bought there? Bucks Fizz), which was later superseded by HMV (I never bought a record there: they don’t sell any). There were also plenty of places you could find second hand records if you were prepared to rummage and delve - there was a model train shop that had a few racks of second hand vinyl, some old junk shops that had a real hotchpotch of records, and more charity shops than you could shake a stick at. Choices were limitless. It seems hard now to imagine how easy it was to buy vinyl back then.

What was the first 7” I bought in Acorn? They Might Be Giants, ‘Birdhouse In Your Soul’, 1989. I was served by Mandy, who I would later work alongside.

Mavis (who still works in Acorn, aged 87) and Mandy, who was there when I first joined. Photo by Alan Harwood

Things that happened to me as a result of Acorn Records:

     Acorn was my first ever Saturday job, which I started in April 1993 when I was 15 and 2 months. When offered the job I was told the day’s wage would be £20 cash. I very nearly said: “No way! That’s too much money!” Seriously. (My previous job had been cleaning the local arts centre two evenings a week after school, for which I earned £5 a week).

     As a result, I saved enough money to buy my first ever Sony hi-fi stack from Curry’s… and later my first ever car (a VW Polo from my older brother, who had recently wrapped it around a lamp post and must have been laughing as I handed over £500).

    My confidence improved in leaps and bounds over the ensuing seven years of on/off work at Acorn. I went from being a very shy, introverted, awkward teenager to being someone who could cope with life and people. I worked every Saturday, sometimes after school, and regularly during school holidays. It didn’t feel like work, because I loved it. Chris used to say that working in a record shop wasn’t just listening to records all day… but a lot of it was.

My signed 'Rid Of Me' LP, from when Polly, Rob and Steve came to do an in-store

    PJ Harvey used to pop in! Just as she was going stratospheric, local music star Polly Harvey from Bridport came in on the day her second album Rid Of Me was released (May 1993) to play an in-store set and do a signing. So I came down after school to help out. Polly, drummer Rob Ellis and guitarist Steve Vaughan were all fabulous – and signed my LP (as Rob had briefly worked in Acorn, he wrote “Good luck as my replacement”, which I thought was pretty special.) You used to see Polly around quite a lot back then – whether buying hairspray in Boots or hanging around at local gigs by bands like Gutless and Elliot Green. She was always extremely friendly. True fact.

    I met my teenage sweetheart Ben in Acorn (*sigh*). He was in a band by the way AND doing an art foundation course. Therefore he was super cool. He also wore t-shirts that he had hand-painted himself. There was no better boyfriend for me at that time.

    When I went to Yeovil College to do my A’Levels, people I had no recollection of would come up to me and ask, “Are you the Acorn girl?” because I’d sold them some records in there the previous weekend. I felt pretty cool, not gonna lie.

    My record collection, which was by no means shabby as I was a committed music geek from a very young age (I blame this on having three older brothers, one of whom in particular was especially keen on music), became phenomenally huge. When the record company reps would come round on their weekly visits, I would blag loads of promos off them… as well as scooping up lots of advance copies of exciting new records that were sent to the shop for pre-release plays. That’s how I got a copy of the debut Oasis album, signed by all of the existing line-up.

    I was invited to host a three-hour Sunday afternoon show on the local pirate radio station Shockwave, which ran for six months in 1995. ‘Teatime With Jane’ mostly mixed retro easy-listening gems (ironic easy-listening was briefly cool at the time) with Big Beat (which was definitely cool at the time, thanks to labels like Skint and Wall of Sound), and it worked quite well. Hosting a show from a spider infested back room of a boxing gym (now knocked down and turned into flats) worked less well - particularly as there were vats and vats of what could only be urine from the male radio hosts piled up in the corner. And a big window from which you were supposed to make your escape if the police came knocking (it was a first floor studio. Although ‘studio’ seems a very grand word for it). I was the station’s only female presenter.

A big part of my life is coming to a close. Bye bye, Acorn. The shop may be closed, but turntables everywhere will keep spinning with records bought from your ace shop over the past 42 years. Happy retirement, Chris.

My 16th birthday card from the Acorn posse of 1994