It’s Music, Jim – But Not As We Know It

In which The Author recalls a
New Year’s Eve in Carmarthen

Many years ago, we stayed with my mother’s sister in Carmarthen for New Year. My cousin Julian was a year older than me; his brother Matthew is a year older than my brother Phil. This four-year gap in age was enough to separate the cool teenagers from the mere kids, and so an uneasy truce held between the two camps for most of the holiday.
On New Year’s Eve both sets of parents went across to the Guardsman, just over the road, to party with friends. We stayed at home to party with each other. There was no booze, no drugs, and no girls. It wasn’t much of a party, in retrospect. But …
We stayed up and watched the end-of-year edition of The Old Grey Whistle Test. Youngsters reading this will probably recognise the title of the show from Top of the Pops 2, which often digs into the OGWT archives for its source material. One video they played freaked me out entirely. I’d never seen or heard anything like it.
I had pretty unconventional tastes even then, I suppose. My mates were into straight rock/metal. My brother’s mates were into the Mod revival – the Jam, Secret Affair, and by way of retro trends, the Who and the Small Faces. Julian and Matthew were into punk. I was into Hawkwind, and slightly later, Gong (see ‘Leaving No Turn Unstoned‘). Fairly left-field stuff for a sixteen-year old. I wasn’t reading music papers or exploring any deeper at the time. All that was in my future.
But I’d never encountered anything quite like this before …

I think my total bewilderment at this bizarre video probably opened my mind to what could be achieved by non-musicians who decided to dabble in music. Two years later I was listening to SPK and Einstürzende Neubauten, and taking my first tentative steps towards seeing bands.
Later that night, the ceasefire collapsed. A pillow fight broke out between the older and younger branches of the family, and an expensive light fitting was broken. None of us were sure who actually fired the kill shot, but there sure was hell to pay when the adults returned.
Every time I see this video I think of that weekend in Carmarthen, and wonder where it went wrong for the four of us …

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