A Musical Youth In 70s Wigan: The Hollies, The Bullies And Saturday Night Fever

Proving DJ’s haven’t always been cool. A memoir of ten criminal records from the 70’s that provided the soundtrack to my formative years on a rough estate in Wigan...
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I was raised on one of the roughest council estates in Wigan in the 1970’s where, despite the “Best Disco In The World circa 1978” being a short bus ride away, the world of parallel trousers, amphetamines and sweet soul music were eschewed in favour of snorkel parkas, Double Diamond and Slade. There wasn’t a single cool person on my estate for the whole of the decade. Despite Wigan Casino memberships growing exponentially in recent years at a rate equalled only by the Sex Pistols/Free Trade Hall attendance, I suspect this was true across the town. Black men were who your mam had “run away with” (usually around teatime when you were getting peckish) and the only exceptions to this rule played for the rugby team and managed to escape by 6pm on a Sunday.

Don’t get me wrong. Musically, I’d got there by the time things started sprouting down below in the early 80s and a lifelong obsession with soul/dance music began in earnest.  I’ve more than made up for my “wilderness years” (aged 9–13) since and the vinyl collection has grown ever more sumptuous as the years have passed by. Nonetheless, I still remember my formative decade with a certain fondness and there will always be tunes that, if the moment and the wind are right, transport me instantly back.

Like this little lot:

1. Middle of the Road – Chirpy Cheep Cheep 1971

I was only three but apparently, when they used to sing “where’s your mama gone”, I used to get upset at the thought of being parted from her. So there you go. Before the stroke, the brain tumour, the sodding off to Longsight, the strange men, the coming home to find my bedroom rented out, the selling off of my books and toys and the slow descent into the Julie Walters character off “Dinnerladies", there was a mother who I loved more than anything in the world.

2. The Osmond’s – Crazy Horses 1973

Another one where I don’t recall the song as much as my juvenile cohort John chasing the school oddball round the playground, constantly bellowing the “Waaaah waaaah” refrain at him until he wet himself. Yes, I know, but it was the 70s and bullying in our school was as prolific as head lice. As I recall, the Osmond’s fared badly on our estate in the battle of the boy bands with proto chavs The Bay City Rollers. Another mate’s older step sister went so far as to paint “Bay City Rollers” on the shed wall in white emulsion, which remains to this day. She later made the local news when his dad was convicted of “attempting to procure an abortion with an ornamental dagger”. She was 14. It was his dad’s child.

3. Peter Frampton – Show Me The Way 1976

Now entering the phase where stuff I was hearing on TOTP and the radio was starting to enter my consciousness. I remember this one because a) it’s got a catchy hook b) my adolescent mind found it hard to distinguish between Peter Frampton and Paul Nicholas and c) John’s (see point above) older brother had “Frampton Comes Alive” on record. To this day, I’ve never actually heard this album but judging by its’ present day position as a car boot staple alongside Boney M’s “Nightflight To Venus” and Gloria Estefan’s “Cuts Both Ways” it must have achieved some degree of popularity.

4. Tavares – More Than A Woman 1977

Not just this one, the whole of the “Saturday Night Fever” soundtrack which my uncle James always seemed to be playing whilst getting ready to go out. An all round top bloke who I’d spend many a night with in years to come, drinking Kestrel and watching Rambo in his council flat. Until usurped by my uncle Jimmy bringing a Chinese takeaway home after a night out (an act of unparalleled exoticism in my young eyes) he held the title of “Coolest Man in the World” and I loved watching him putting on his best clobber and splashing on his Brut. Suited and booted, he’d then inform me he was off up town to “do a bit”. Christ!! Why couldn’t I do a bit? Even though I hadn’t got a clue what bit it was I wanted to do!!!

5. Manfred Mann’s Earth Band – Davy’s On The Road Again 1978

For the lyrics alone, this will always be my uncle Michael. Ne’er do well, prolific liar and petty thief of my football shaped moneybox. Almost put my nan into an early grave when he made the front page of the local rag for “making funny phone calls” to a woman in the flats opposite. Highlights include finding him hiding in the coal hole, hooking for Swinton Rugby Club and his claim, upon my enquiry as to the health of my two cousins, that “our Andrea works in a sewing factory……and our Lisa’s a linguist with the United Nations”. Last time I saw him was again on the front of the local paper. Thankfully, no lewd phone calls this time. He’d won a pie eating competition to raise money to send a disabled child to Florida. He probably ran her over in the first place.

6. The Hollies – I’m Alive (Twenty Golden Greats 1978)

Another album I remember vividly. To her credit, my mam never had any time for the Beatles. It’s a view I share and genuinely believe they’re the band Gerry and The Pacemakers could have been if they’d had the courage to take drugs. She was bang in to Gene Pitney and The Walker Brothers. Then there were The Hollies. She loved The Hollies and I know the words to every single song on this brilliant album. Thanks mam. It wasn’t all bad I suppose.

7. Lindisfarne – Run For Home 1978

This will always be Paul whose dad was in prison. High on illicit viewings of “The Sweeney”, we fantasised he was some top armed blagger who’d gone for one last big job and went down in a blaze of glory, only getting nicked after taking out 12 coppers whilst still getting his pants on. The amount of black eyes sported by his mam on his release meant the truth was probably less savoury. Paul never came into school one day as it transpired he and his two sisters had been taken into care for their own protection one night. I’ve never seen him since.

8. Michael Jackson – Rock With You 1979

Probably the coolest track on here and certainly the only one I’ve played in recent memory. My aunty Jean used to send me to the local shop “Causey’s Records” (think “Mr Shifter” stocked almost exclusively with product by K-Tel) with a list of 7 inch singles and I bought this alongside Cliff’s “We don’t talk anymore” on the same visit. She was fantastic my aunty Jean and straightened me out when it got really bad for me later on. She also had good taste in music (Cliff aside) and drunkenly let slip one night that she’d been asked to go back to the hotel with one of either the Four Tops or The Temptations after a gig at the Willows in Salford but had to decline as she was driving the 5am staff bus the morning after.

9. ELO – Don’t Bring Me Down 1979

Seeing as my mam married an absolute bastard, I spent a lot of time with my granddad. A squat, rough, tough no nonsense man, possibly of Brazilian extract (it’s a long story) who’d escaped a life down the pit after the war by going on the wagons. One of the few tracks he didn’t instantly label as “bloody shit”, it always seemed to be playing on one of the endless Radio One’s roadshows I insisted he endured as we trundled up and down the country together. To be fair, he was more a Mantovani man. I also recall his best mate, a rum cove called Ernie who had an abundance of chest hair, glasses like the old bloke out of Brotherhood of Man and a caravan which we borrowed for my one and only holiday of the 70s (Cala Gran in Fleetwood).  My granddad died weeks after retiring aged 65. He collapsed at the bar of his local boozer one Sunday afternoon and I’m told still had his pint and a smouldering Capstan Full Strength in his hand as he hit the deck. It’s what he would have wanted.

10. Freda Payne – Band Of Gold 1970

Bit of a cheat timings wise but worthy of inclusion because it was around this time I decided that I did know better than anyone else musically after all. Though released far earlier, this one will always be Tiffany’s Under 18’s during the early 80s. It was a strange period musically. Wigan Council was yet to rue its decision to (allegedly) burn down the Casino, Northern Soul was yet to undergo one of its’ many revivals and Russ Winstanley was marooned in some bizarre musical hinterland playing unadulterated shite to a bunch of kids. In amongst tracks like “Summer Holiday” and German oompah music, he’d drop Northern standards like this one, Martha Reeves’ “Third Finger Left Hand” and The Invitations’ “Ski-ing in the Snow” to a largely apathetic crowd more interested in who was getting fingers and tops round near the burger bar. Funnily enough, I’m yet to hear Russ drop German oompah music on his weekly show on Radio Lancashire. He has played the theme from Joe 90 though, which is bad enough.

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