The Sounds of the Suburbs: an 1980s Adolescence

21 August 2017

Growing up in Accrington, a town in the north of England best known for its football team, Graham Caveney’s 1980s adolescence was shaped by his obsession with music, his growing love for literature, and his mission to get out of his hometown. But it was also an adolescene tainted, at the hands of the head teacher at the Catholic grammar school Graham attended - the same man responsible for the education his parents saw as his golden ticket, his way out of Accrington, and a chance to do better than they did.

The Boy With the Perpetual Nervousness is Graham’s memoir, a story of growing up a part of the ‘Respectable Working Class’ in Britain in the late 1970s and early 1980s, his obsession with music and books, and the lifelong effects of the abuse he suffered at the hands of his former mentor.

Here, Graham shares his ‘Sounds of the Suburbs’; the songs that were the soundtrack to his teenage years growing up in Accrington,

T. Rex: 'Hot Love' and 'Jeepster', both released in 1971.

Fey and Byronic, Marc Bolan's impish brand of rockabilly camp provided me with the first pieces of vinyl I could call my own, later provoking my dad to the inspired question: “What the bloody hell's 'a Jeepster' when it's at home?”

Dr Feelgood: 'She Does It Right', released in 1975.

Pub-rock pioneers who foreshadowed the punk explosion. The guitarist Wilko Johnson was the scariest man I'd ever seen, a real-life Frankenstein's Monster whose head  thrust back and forth in ways that appeared to alarm  him.
 

Fox: 'S-S-S-Single Bed' released in 1976.

Noosha Fox was the original pop vamp, a goth before such things were thought of. Pouting and playful, seeing her on Top Of The Pops was like encountering the musical equivalent of Marlene Dietrich.

Jonathan Richman and The Modern Lovers: 'Afternoon', released in 1977. 

An wide-eyed mix of  skiffle and child-like doo-wop that my friend Johnny Mullen brought round to my house with the simple instruction, Stop listening to whatever you're listening to and listen to this instead.
 

Patti Smith: 'Because The Night', released in 1978.

Originally written by Bruce Springsteen, this sultry, haunting ballad became my companion throughout a miserable fortnight in a caravan in Fleetwood. A mix of Rimbaud, Joan of Arc and Charlie Chaplin, Patti Smith changed the template for what a (especially female) rock singer could be.
 

The Pretenders: 'Brass in Pocket', released in 1980.

Where to begin? The smokey voice with its just-outta-bed drawl, the lyrics blending threat with promise, the attitude, the presence, the red leather jacket. Chrissie Hynde was my first all-consuming crush. (She still is.)
 

The Clash: 'Bankrobber', released in 1980.

Ska-inflected English punk but with nods to the mythic American wild west, with backing vocals that seemed to be chanted as much as sung. My friendship with Dave Hesmondhalgh was cemented through our mutual obsession with  Joe Strummer.
 

Au Pairs: 'We're So Cool', released in 1981.

The first Au Pairs album was the bedrock of my political education. They sang about the false promise of romance and the politics of sexuality in songs that were underpinned by clean-cut bass lines and Lesley Woods' acerbic vocal sneer.
 
The Fall: 'Rowche Rumble', released in 1980.
“Last orders half-past ten” mocks Mark E Smith on the live version of this track sent to me by Johnny Mullen to soften the pain of my job as a glass collector at a WMC where the last orders were indeed half-past ten.
 

The Feelies: 'The Boy With The Perpetual Nervousness', released in 1980.

Intoxicating insistent rhythms that veer between arthouse garage and stripped down minimalism. Their first album possessed me and transported me. It was the antidote to the darkest days of my adolescence.  
 
 
The Boy with the Perpetual Nervousness

The Boy with the Perpetual Nervousness

The Boy with the Perpetual Nervousness, by Graham Caveney is the memoir of an 80s adolescence navigated via literature and music, the English class system – and the impact of and recovery from abuse.

Publishing in hardback and e-book on 7th September 2017, it is available to pre-order now. 

Read extract