Roots and Influences invites our favourite artists, local and afar, to curate a playlist of 10 songs that have inspired their career to date. The final instalment of our collaboration with our favourite local record stores sees Alastair from 81 Renshaw share his 10 pivotal tracks. From car journeys with an iPod Mini as a kid, through to present day sharing tunes with customers in-store, read on to relive some golden moments of his life so far…
“My name is Al and I have worked at the record shop 81 Renshaw since it opened in early 2017. As upsetting as it might be to the people who tell me I’m living their dream, I kind of fell into it. I was in the right place at the right time, happened to be passionate enough about music and had some relevant retail experience. In order to write this piece (picking 10 tunes that have influenced my taste) it has forced me to confront two things:
- I must recognise the people in my life who have shared their musical loves with me and ignited a passion of my own for particular artists and records over the years. I’m a musical magpie, show me something good… sorry it’s mine now. It’s already occupying a space in my ever expanding heart.
- I have been forced to examine what it is I love about music and I think, as simply as possible, it is this: music allows an artist or group of artists to communicate something profound. By which I mean invoke an emotional response that allows the listener to examine their own relationship with themselves and the world, in a way they otherwise couldn’t. It’s like shining a torch on a thing you knew was there, but couldn’t articulate or necessarily understand before. So, bear this in mind as we go down my rabbit hole of roots and influences. The connection I feel to songwriters and lyrics that match up to the instrumentation in a cohesive way to communicate feeling, is pretty huge when it comes to shaping my musical tastes. Up first – ‘Tubthumping’ by Chumbawamba… Just kidding.”
Nirvana – In Bloom (1991)
Very little remains of my love for the earliest of my musical tastes. A heady combo of late 90s/early 00s pop-punk and nu-metal. While ‘Enema of The State’ by Blink-182 was the first album I ever bought and ‘Infest’ by Papa Roach the second, I’m not sure I could pick a track off either of these that holds anything bar nostalgia. However, the same is not true of the third album I ever bought, ‘Nevermind’ by Nirvana. I think buying that CD was a rite of passage for any child aspiring to carve a path as anti-establishment, but in the most conformist way. The album still holds up to my mind, having recently given it an extensive revisit after its 30th anniversary. This track ‘In Bloom’ showcases Nirvana at their best. Quiet verses. Noisey Choruses. Simple. But that’s its secret, much as kids in ’77 realised they could make a band, Nirvana gave me that very false hope also. The lyrics of this tune in particular spoke to me, taking aim squarely at the people jumping on the alternative rock band wagon. They didn’t get you Kurt, but I did. Still do.
Radiohead – Paranoid Android (1997)
One lunchtime at a school in Grantham I was typically sat in a music practice room with my electric guitar, smashing out the riff of ‘Smells like Teen Spirit’. An older boy came in, stood quietly in the corner for a couple of minutes, and when I had finished coolly asked “you into grunge then?” I looked him dead in the eye and said, “that’s by Nirvana actually.” “No, grunge is the genre. Nirvana are a grunge band.” He then very patiently sat with me and taught me how to play ‘Everlong’ by Foo Fighters. Upon asking him what he was into, he asked me “have you ever listened to Radiohead?” I had not. “Meet me back here, this time tomorrow.” So I did, and he gave me a burnt CDR of ‘OK Computer’. ‘OK Computer’ is a masterpiece and this tune off it does everything I want a Radiohead song to do, even now. Composed in 4 sections, it takes you on a journey through what isn’t always a pleasant musical landscape. But in terms of an emotional impact, it is unrelenting. It sounds rich and deep. Proper magic.
David Bowie – Starman (1972)
After a somewhat unsuccessful relationship with a portable MiniDisc player in my early teens, I quickly upgraded to a silver iPod Mini. This was a massive new thing for me, it could hold 4 whole gigabytes of music, so I quickly went through my Dad’s CD collection to bulk it up more than anything. If you *could* carry 4 gigabytes of music, I thought you absolutely *should*. I used to love putting the whole 4GB on shuffle and seeing what happened. One day on a drive to visit relatives, a song came on I had never heard before and it stopped me dead. I looked down at the black and white backlit screen and there it was: David Bowie – ‘Starman’. I loved the idea of the collective consciousness waking up to an extraterrestrial from the cosmos. The little hammerings of morse code in the instrumentation felt really neat. It’s quite a cinematic tune and lyrically really paints vivid pictures in my mind. Spine-tingly stuff. Takes me straight back to that long car journey with my white headphones stuck in my little ears every time I hear it. And that moment started a life-long love affair with Bowie, that persists still.
The Smiths – Reel Around The Fountain (1984)
The story behind this one is similar to the last. Another of my Dad’s CDs that was discovered through my iPod. But on this occasion my Dad actually recommended it to me. I think he could see that I was locking into a sad white boi aesthetic early doors and thought that Morrissey’s morose lyrics, coupled with Johnny Marr’s twinkling guitar, would really speak to me. He was right. This song was the first Smiths song I ever heard and, as much as Morrissey is now an absolute write-off, it was very refreshing to have a masculine icon who was sensitive and openly emotional. I felt a kinship with him. He was sad, but he had a wicked sense of humour and he could see the beauty in a sad, pointless and cruel world. Although the drum production on that first album is so painfully 80s, it’s almost unforgivable.
Nick Drake – Road (1972)
University was a pretty big time for me expanding my musical tastes. All of a sudden I met loads of people who were as mad as I was about music, but they also knew a lot more than me. Their parents had different CD collections from mine. In halls I lived next to this guy Ollie (still friends to this day) and he got me into a lot of stuff. He was (and is) an excellent guitarist. One day I walked into this room and he was playing this intricate finger picked piece. The tuning was strange, the sound was stark and haunting. I asked him what it was, it was ‘Road’ by Nick Drake. After spending an evening listening to music with Ollie, I went back to my room and listened to everything Nick Drake had recorded. One of my proudest moments in the shop was selling someone the ‘Treasury’ compilation after they asked me the somewhat awkward question, “What’s the best folk music?” I will never forget putting on the opening bars of ‘Pink Moon’ and watching them hear it for the first time.
Daniel Johnston – Walking The Cow (1983)
Another gift from Ollie. It still blows my mind that I never thought to check out what the frog thing from Kurt Cobain’s t-shirt was… By the time I got a copy of ‘The Kurt Cobain Diaries’ for a Christmas or Birthday I probably wasn’t interested enough to follow up on Kurt’s hand-scrawled greatest albums ever list. If I had, I would have found ‘Yip! Jump Music’ by Daniel Johnston. This was the first song I heard by Daniel Johnston. Just one of those casual conversations where Ollie innocuously asked if I’d heard of something. The answer was usually ‘no’. In this instance, he said “he writes songs about Casper The Friendly Ghost and stuff” I said “they’re not really about Casper The Friendly Ghost though, right?” he goes “no, they definitely are.” I was intrigued. He stuck ‘Walking The Cow’ on. From the opening children’s animal noise thing to the early chord organ stings, I was hooked. It was haunting, it was troubled, but it was so pure. That’s what I love about Daniel Johnston. It’s all out there for you. You just got to get on the wavelength.
Prince – I Could Never Take The Place Of Your Man (1987)
Another university friend of mine was a guy called Matt. We just hit it off and ended up living together in second and third year. One day we were just sat in silence in the front room, I think I was reading or on my laptop or something, then quite out of the blue he said to me “Alastair, tell me, have you ever listened to Prince?” Those nine words changed my life. Matt recommended a greatest hits comp to start me off and I was off. I went through everything, early period, late period. I had written the guy off as some 80s pop star and I found a musical marvel who could effortlessly create music. ‘Sign O’ The Times’ is a real gem. It’s like a funk and pop mash up of ‘Sgt. Peppers’ and ‘What’s Goin’ On’. And this is a particular banger from that.
Miles Davis – Flamenco Sketches (1959)
In my final year of uni, I hosted a jazz show on student radio with my friend Harry and my friend Kieran (now best known as member of excellent local band Bye Louis). I didn’t know much about jazz but was keen to learn. Doing that show gave me a love for the genre. I think it can be quite a difficult thing to get into, so I suggest people start how I started. In our first show we focused on the year 1959 and looked at 4 albums from that year. ‘Kind of Blue’ by Miles Davis, ‘Mingus Ah Um’ by Charles Mingus, ‘Time Out’ by The Dave Brubeck Quartet and ‘The Shape of Jazz to Come’ by Ornette Coleman. Listen to those 4 albums, see what you like about them and go from there. Forwards, backwards, who played on what, what labels were putting out who and see where you end up. This is the final track on Miles Davis’ masterpiece ‘Kind of Blue’. It’s the beginnings of modal jazz. It’s a moody tack that conjures a rainy day. Davis’ trumpet sounds so clean and crisp. It’s a track that takes its time and sucks you in.
Joni Mitchell – The Last Time I Saw Richard (1971)
My friend Lucy had been trying to get me to listen to Joni Mitchell for an age. I must admit, I put it off a lot. Nothing sucks the dopamine out of something more than feeling obligated to do it. Eventually I read an interview with Prince where he said he was into Joni Mitchell, so I finally got round to listening to ‘Blue’. What a record… It’s a classic for a reason. This track for me is still one of the saddest things I have ever heard. It is unflinching in its precision. A no holds barred take on becoming disenfranchised with romance. The whole record opened me up to that US 1970s folk rock as a genre. While my love for the whole Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young gang is strong, I owe it all to Joni in the first place.
Richard Dawson – The Vile Stuff (2014)
In 2014, Matt sent me a link to a video on Whatsapp with the message “Alastair, you are my only hope, everyone I’ve showed this to thinks it’s awful and I’m beginning to think I’m crazy.” 15 minutes later I sent a message back saying “I think that might be the best thing I have ever heard.” Richard Dawson’s epic about his relationship with alcohol for me sums up everything I like about music. There is a charm and humour in the lyrics despite the vocal being guttural and raw, the Beefheart-esque guitar work takes you to another world entirely. There is some ancient part of my brain being lit up despite the fact that the subject matter is firmly of the day. I have since shown this to a lot of people who have thought I am also crazy, but I can live with that.
The Melodic staff have found it really interesting to go on a musical journey through time with 81 Renshaw. Alastair has provided some closing food for thought on his selections, which acknowledges the gender bias within his choices:
“I would like to address the lack of female representation in my choices. There are now plenty of women in music whose work I love and had a profound effect on me, but I think I had set my musical tastes before I realised that they were sexist. Growing up I wasn’t consciously aware that I was gravitating more to the work of men in music, but looking back I recognise a bias to giving more time to males. I have since sought out the work of women that speaks to me, and think it’s always worth discussing these things when the opportunity arises. But I could not in any good conscience not mention this.”
We appreciate that this is something that can happen a lot within our gendered society. Thankfully, efforts are now being made to close the gender gap within the music industry, although there is still much work to be done. We hope this acknowledgement can spark some personal reflection about your own record collection and how we can shed light on women in music – past, present and future.
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