Memories of early 90's Brighton
Out of Time
Michael Stipe of REM noticed that any given fan's favourite REM album tended to be the one that came out straight after that fan graduated from college.
My fav REM album is 'Out of Time' - as near a perfect album as ever made. And yes, it came out the year after I graduated. REM have just reissued and repackaged a 25 year anniversary edition of Out of Time. I played it again today. Still sounds good. But I've never drifted away from it. It's one of those very few albums that form the core of my musical taste. I probably consciously play the whole album through once a year - every track.
When Out of Time originally came out I lived in small flat in the Kemptown area of Brighton*. On the way home from my job, job, I used to stop off at The Hand in Hand pub, and - in my memory anyway - Out of Time was always playing.
Awkward Pivot and Segue
Brighton's changed pretty drastically between then and now. Whilst it still maintains the old Regency squares and buildings, the pier and the pebbly beach, it has been infilled, taken over, gentrified, redeveloped, stuffed full of wanky coffee shops and i360's. It always had a certain kind of Bohemian hipness - a post-war Berlin vibe where anything goes within the bubble. Well not anymore - it's corporately trendy. And that isn't the same thing at all.
Yeah, I know I sound like a things-were-better-in-my-day drone. Let me carry that burden, readers, for the road is long. With many a winding turn.**
The Brighton of the early 90's was still seedy, much more parochial than now, bathing in the afterglow of Graham Greene, with wide open derelict spaces right in the centre of town (it wasn't yet a city). There were loads of uneven car parks where buildings had been demolished (or bombed) but there was no money to redevelop. Shops were closing down. Even the main shopping centre was falling apart. The UK was in the middle of a recession. Our 'now' culture forgets that stuff happened before Brexit. Yeah - we've had recessions even before 2008. The shock, eh?
Brighton still returned two Tory MPs at the 1992 election, as did Hove.
The pubs in town pretty much still had their original names and weren't the marketing confections they'd later become but real boozers. I remember one - The Bath Arms - still there right in the middle of the Lanes. The furniture was all shabby - I remember always sitting on the same saggy and ripped sofa. Now add to this faded glory the ever present waft of cigarette, pipe, cigar smoke which fugged the air, and clung to your clothes and hair. Yes, pubs had a real atmosphere in those days!
In my mind's eye, it was either a dreary wet winter's evening or a fabulous summer day. No in between. Shuffling around in a black denim jacket, through the rain, taking shelter in a derelict shop front, maybe accompanied home by some girl I'd just met in The Basement nightclub down on The Steine. Well, the club's all gone and I never saw the girl again. She was called, er, Anna? Maria? Don't worry she won't mind my confusion; I told her my name was Bryan.*** (Yeah - see my October 18th blogpost about this girl. So I turn my life into stories? Sue me!)
For a couple of years I lived in a fabulous - landmark - four bedroom flat at the bottom of Grand Avenue in Hove. Private car park, internal lift, brass fittings, front and side stone balconies overlooking the seafront, two bathrooms, cricket pitch sized internal hall. I paid £137 a month and the landlord - trying to sell the flat - just couldn't give it away. The price was around the £130,000 mark, I seem to remember.
I enrolled in night school and got myself an A level in Theatre Studies. If I have a fault - it never takes much for me to fall into pretentiousness. Now imagine me doing a Theatre Studies course - pursuing a theme through Strindberg, Stanislavsky, and finally Steven Berkoff. I seem to remember being at the premier of Berkoff's Brighton Beach Scumbags at the Sallis Benney Theatre October 1991... I suspect I was tumbling up my own arse at a furious pace.
(My girlfriend at the time complained I was often 'theatrical'. I acted all upset about this and stormed away to write a song about that very conversation. What an absolute, horrific nob!)
I formed a band. We played in all the shitty Brighton pub venues for no money. I named us Charlotte's Treat (after Charlotte Street in Kemptown) before changing the name to Tempting Alice. When the band broke up I started - and ended - my solo career in The Great Eastern pub, Trafalgar Street, autumn 1992. As it was next to Brighton college I managed to get quite a few of my drama classmates to attend. Unfortunately for my self esteem, one of the few other blokes on the course chose this exact moment to announce he was coming out. Selfish bastard; I played on oblivious. No one listened. Or clapped. And I broke a string. Afterwards, I pocketed the £20 and never played a solo gig again.
Out of Time?
Interesting that Hitchens was writing (beautifully as ever) last week about Oxford in the context of Leonard Cohen whereas I chose Brighton in context of REM and Out of Time. I started writing this piece back in August but because I thought it was a solipsism, a vinegar stroke of an article, I never published it. I've attended to it, edited it, changed parts, deleted much in the last three months however. And my conclusion?
The music still plays. The buildings are (mostly) still there but the streets beat to a different set of people. Who I knew, the relationships I had, gone, absolutely. Failed domesticities. The friends, dispersed, mostly not lamented. The work, ignored at the time, forgotten now completely. Occasionally, turning a corner in Brighton I encounter the shiver of yesteryear's ghost. Just faintly - 'like an ill-remembered character from a novel read years ago, or the strains of a once familiar melody playing softly in another room'.**** But mostly, the past is a different country and, more than that, half a world away.
* When I say Brighton, I mean both Brighton and Hove. Although their characters are quite different, I moved seamlessly between the two. Of course, they are now joined as one city.
** Fun fact - Elton John played piano on The Hollies - He Ain't Heavy He's My Brother. Why I sledgehammered that reference in, who knows. How unsearchable are my judgements.
*** Bryan Robson. Geddit!!! Oh, I was a hoot in those days. For youngsters - he was a footballer and captain of England when I cared about this.
**** @Tim Robson - The Song of Vivian. I apologise for quoting myself but sometimes - not enough - I am a fucking great writer.