I was lolling around in my flat in Headingley, Leeds. We were playing the old game of ‘Shut Your Door and Turn Your Music Up’. Rock in one. Jazz in another. Pop in a third. Sometimes five going at once. Last night’s weed still wafting around. In the communal kitchen, last week’s dishes sat patiently in the sink, awaiting their third turn, roll-up stubs smeared across them. Empty bottles of Southern Comfort and Newcastle Brown alongside one another on the worktop. The fridge empty but for stale milk, a frozen Findus Cod in Butter Sauce and some faggots from Morrison’s – a bargain at 15p for 3. They stank of wet dog – no-one seemed to want them. In my room, on my wall a poster of David Cassidy and a supply of darts. Julian had the famous Athena image of a woman playing tennis, rubbing the ball against her bum. Mick had a map in his room. Just a map. Of the Pennine Way. Whatever that was.
What do you want? It was 1974. Erm, is that nearly 50 years ago? Wow. Thankfully we have all moved on from then - social attitudes, behaviour, musical taste.
We were an odd lot. It was all competition. The football clubs we supported (Derek’s was Fulham, and he never heard the end of it), who won at cards, our taste in music. Southern Softies and Northern Realists, and The Bloke Who No-one Really Knew in Room 5 – how DID we end up with him?
Stress levels were rising, exams in the offing. But I never did the studying thing. I looked for any excuse not to revise. I’d already been to Wetherby racecourse to take my mind off such bourgeois concepts. Only to a point: I was, after all, doing Economics, and within 3 years I’d be working for IBM. The others were students on the same course. My specialism was third world growth (apparently I was an idealist), someone else statistics, two were on accountancy options, and I think the Genuine Northern lad was studying the economic history of the working classes. Though maybe that’s more a cliché than a memory.
I wasn’t doing any work that day. I was not prepared to countenance such an abject dereliction of student duty. Besides, Sue was still in my room. The accountancy boffins meanwhile were alone, never happier than with their double entry.
Julian opened his door and Rod Stewart came out. ‘I can’t work with all this noise!’ Derek opened his and you could hear the platter of Little Feat. ‘Just turn it the fuck DOWN!’. I couldn’t bear this garbage, so I turned my Ornette Coleman Free Jazz LP up really loud. It’s an album of two separate jazz quartets. Playing at the same time. Unwritten, unstructured improvisation. They say it takes some getting used to.
Someone else wandered out into the corridor and started shouting about everyone else’s music. Mostly mine. I think it must have been the guy from Room 5. (What DID he look like?) He liked The Bay City Rollers (not, I think out of irony), and Tamla Motown - the Temptations in particular.
Now we all had our doors open, with a cacophony of free jazz, rock, pop and AOR clashing and bouncing off each other. Anger, despair, hangovers – here we go again. Shouting at each other. The discordant music shot through my head like sheet metal bouncing off the walls. Sue came out of my room and gently put her hand on my back. This itself seemed to quieten us all down, and two tracks also came to an end in two rooms. Rod Stewart stopped sailing around, Little Feat stopped seeping through the crack in your door. Suddenly all that was left was Ornette Coleman and The Temptations. A clash for the ages. Titans. Behemoths. Cultural dystopia.
Except it wasn’t.
We all stood there waiting for someone to make the next move, when a freeform trumpet from my room filtered out and worked its way into Cloud Nine in Room 5. Total synchronicity. A line, improvised, about four bars long from my room, that totally fitted with the key, the rhythm, the pace, the feel of a pop song in another room. We all smiled, unbelieving, recognising what had just happened. We'd all heard the same thing - it felt precious straight away.
Now, I may have some of the details wrong. I probably have. No I certainly have. I still don’t know where the guy in Room 5 came from. (What WAS his name?).
I had written a piece for this blog about why we like what we like. I ended up with a list of reasons. It was really me trying to figure out why I like what I like, the same way that The Long Player Listening Project is not about how clever or widely-listened I am, but a celebration of music – its variety, meaning, resonance for me. Reminding myself how big the world of music is, man! And how much I love it, how central it is for me.
I reached a conclusion for myself - why I like what I like. It’s partly of course prejudice, assumption, personal history, values. But mostly it’s about sharing – making music with other people, going to a gig together, getting recommendations you love - and others you dispute. Listening to music together, building shared experiences with that soundtrack.
So why this story in Leeds 50 years ago? Why now? Simply because it’s the clearest example I can find of the serendipity of music, of how the unexpected can bring people together, how we find out more about ourselves and others through it. I like Little Feat now, I like The Temptations. (I still draw a red line at Rod Stewart.)
I may not remember his name or what he looked like, but the guy in Room 5 gave me a gift that day that I will always treasure.