Tuesday, 28 July 2020

City vs United, the Heartbreakers or Queen - No contest for me - A tale of music and football

Music is indeed a strange thing. We all have our own tastes. Mine are not mainstream. For many years (up until the petro dollars arrived in Mancherster), I would draw parallels between my musical tastes and my football club. I supported Manchester City. They were mostly rubbish, but I felt it was a far more preferable route to take than the easy path, supporting United. When City won, it really meant something, because they were so good at losing it when it seemed easier to win. A succession of bad managers, stars who never quite fulfilled their potential, but every so often a Kinkladze would turn up, dribble through the whole Southampton team and score the most beautiful of all goals ever, and you'd realise why. They were never boring, they would mostly break your heart, but occasionally they'd be spectacular, such as the famed 'Maine road Massacre'. when the stars all aligned and they stuffed Manchester United 5-1 in 1989, in the days when such things simply never happened and Derbys were a biannual humiliation. Friends would say "I can't understand why you support a rubbish team, especially when they aren't from round here". I just knew they were the team I wanted to support. The rundown stadium, in the heart of Rusholme was somewhere I always felt at home, especially when they were doing things like throwing away a first half lead of 3-0 against Bournemouth. Meanwhile United clocked up the trophys and filled the silverware cabinet, it all seemed rather fake and vulgar to me, not so much the team, who clearly worked hard, but the Johnny come lately fans, who judged the stadium by the quality of the prawn sarnies.

You may wonder what this has to do with music? I realised that my music tastes in many ways mirrored the team I supported. The bands I really loved were bands full of flawed geniuses. The sort of band that you never know whether they would blow your mind or simply blow their minds on booze and drugs and be incoherent. Most of the best bands I've seen have also been the worst. A good example is The Heartbreakers (Johnny Thunders moob, not Tom Petty). You never knew whether Johnny would amble on, veins full of smack and fall asleep half way through the show, or bound on, and play the most searing set of Rock and Roll you'd ever see in your life.

I was asked by a friend to explain my choice of football club in 1999. Man Utd were winning the Champions League Treble, I saw City beat Gillingham on Penalties in the 3rd tier play off. It was the most spiritually uplifting moment at a football match. I brought my nine year old nephew, a City fan (who had been teetering on the cusp of a United allegiance). City were 2-0 down with 89 minutes on the clock. They equalised. Just before the penalties, my nephew looked at me, worried and said he thought he was having a heart attack. I told him that it was real excitement, the type only Manchester City will ever give you.

I was reminded of the explanation when I was discussing Live Aid with a friend. He asked me who I though was the best band. To his shock, I said the only band I saw was Status Quo. I'd made the wise decision to go to Dingwalls, to watch the Alternative Live Aid. I was drawn by the appearance of Johnny Thunders. Johnny alienated the audience, who were there to feel good by saying "Someone is going to make a lot of money out of all this" and proceeding to launch a stream of invective at all and sundry. He looked a tad worse for wear. It was perhaps a rather depressing day. But a couple of years later, I rocked up at the Marquee, expecting little and got the best 45 minutes of live rock and roll I've ever seen. When Johnny died, I wasn't surprised, but I was saddened. He was a rock and roll star, who lived by his own rules and always looked the part. The songs were filled with drug references and punk nihilism, but some of his music was too beautiful for this life. His acoustic album Hurt Me is the most vulnerable and honest of any album. I find it hard to listen to as it is just too raw. Thunders started as the guitarist in the New York Dolls. Strangely the band I always feel are the Manchester United of Rock and Roll also started as a glam rock outfit. Oddly, I can remember their first appearance on TOTP and thinking they were pretty good. I thought they were a bit like a British Alice Cooper, accessible rock. Punk wasn't around and 1974 was the end of the Glam era.

At the time Seven Seas of Rhye seemed a bit edgy. I liked up tempo noisy rock and this was perhaps the best example of the genre at the time. I'd liked Bolan, but Queen seemed a bit harder. I was eagerly awaiting the follow up. What arrived was perhaps the most shockingly awful piece of music it has ever been my misfortune to encounter. Whilst I'd liked Seven Seas of Rhye, it passed just about everyone else by. That was not the case with the follow up. Bohemian Rhapsody was a monster seller. For decades you couldn't avoid it. If it wasn't bad enough being pompous, self indulgent nonsense, it was off an album called a Night at the Opera. I could think of nothing I'd less rather pay good money to watch than opera, so I ritually burned my copy of Seven Seas of Rhye. I decided on the spot that Queen were the Manchester United of Rock. All of my cousins who were Manchester United fans loved them. All of the people at School who were bullies or morons and supported Manchester United liked them. I tried to reason with one that Seven Seas of Rhye was a better song, but they hadn't even heard of it.

I was musically lost (at the time, I'd not heard of the Dolls). Bohemian Rhapsody launched a short period of the most awful, overblown, bad rock music. There is nothing that ruins a rock song more than an operatic tone and pretentious lyrics. Given that everyone loved Queen, I just assumed I had a screw loose. Then on June 6th, 1977 I saw the Ramones at The Roundhouse. No opera there. No ten minute guitar solos. Short and to the point lyrics. No overblown make up, just jeans, t shirts and ROCK AND ROLL.

It was a moment in my life that altered the course of my life. I spent all of my money on vinyl. There was very little punk music out and our record shop in Mill Hill didn't have much. The first punk album I bought was Puremania by The Vibrators. It was the only album in the shop. The second was LAMF by the Heartbreakers. It was a music I connected with. The first track on the album was "Born To Lose". It was a message I instantly connected with

When you watched Thunders perform, it wasn't theatrical. It was in your face. His Guitar solo's are not crafted virtuoso pieces, that subtly reel you in. They grab you and won't let go, like a rabid rottweiller. It always felt like the whole thing could fall apart at any time, often it did. But it connected and you wanted to be a part of it.

I always thought Queen to be distant and aloof. When we saw Thunders at the Marquee, Thunders spotted one of my band mates in the audience smoking a spliff. He announced that it had to be handed over immediately, in exchange for a  bag of coke. The spliff was taken and smoked on stage. The coke? That never materialised, like many of Johnny's promises. To me, this was City, they give you something, they give you a cherished set of memories, but they didn't give you what you wanted and were better for it.

As for Queen? Well I thought they couldn't record a worse song than Bohemian Rhapsody, but they managed. To me "We are the Champions" will always be associated with United at their most obnoxiously arrogant. I guess that for most of the 90's and 00's City had no real reason to play such a song, wheras United had lots, but my least favourite team cavorting to my least favourite piece of music was simply a fate far too horrible to contemplate.

For City, the song I most associate with the period is Wonderwall by Oasis. To me it is Maine Road, Soggy pies and flat warm beer. The smell of ciggies on the Kippax. The Etihad and the trophies is something different. My son, a millenial City fan has no idea. Although Oasis are to many the sound of City, to me it was The Heartbreakers and Born to Lose I would turn to in my moments of footballing despair. Queen with their mock pomp or the Heartbreakers breaking your heart whilst making you feel human. We are the Champions in a stadium full of Prawn Sandwich munchers or Born To Lose, crying in my beer after another  relegation. I know which I'd choose. You either get it or you don't.

1 comment:

DaveO said...

Rog, the follow up to seven seas of rye wasn’t bohemian rhapsody but killer queen. Then there was also Now I am Here, after killer queen before bohemian rhapsody.