1. The Early Years

I was born in Coventry, Warwickshire towards the tailend of a rather inclement March 1968, the first child of Patricia and Roger.

We lived in a little village called Frankton for the first 18 months of my life, then, when my sister Julie arrived on the scene in 1969, we moved to Nottingham.

Obviously I have zero recollection of this part of my life, but according to my Mum, I was a happy little chap with a rather short fuse and a propensity to sing loudly and wander off into other people’s gardens, although not necessarily at the same time.

We moved again to the outskirts of Loughborough in late 1970, and my second sister Claire was born on New Year’s Day ’71.

And then there were three. What a handful.

It’s around this time that I can start to recall certain life events. From an early age, I was encouraged to be musical. My mum thought it was a good idea for me and my sisters to have piano lessons. I embarked on my grades at the age of 6, going to weekly lessons with an old lady called Mrs Preston who taught classical piano. To be honest I have little recollection of these lessons!

I’ve fond memories of early school days which included getting scolded by various teachers for not towing the line, having real trouble understanding the basics of maths, but loving reading and english, where I showed real promise by all accounts. I was still attending weekly piano lesssons, but apparantly I was more interested in improvising once I’d nailed the sheet music. These lessons continued right up until we had to leave Loughborough for the leafy suburbs of Nottingham once again in April 1975.

This time, we lived in West Bridgford, and I do remember my next piano teacher, an affable old guy called Stan Haywood. He was a very good tutor actually; I progressed easily through a couple of grades in the two and a half years he taught me. However, the lasting memories of these weekly lessons is less about the music I learned, more about the nice biscuits my Mum laid on and him laughing out loud at me farting! He really was a great laugh.

I attended the local primary school, Abbey Road and made some good friends in West Bridgford. We spent the long, hot summer of 1976 there, the whole family basking in the searing heat with the sounds of the radio hovering on the air; I guess it must have been around this time that I developed a serious interest in the weekly chart on Radio 1. One of my earliest chart memories was when Mike Oldfield’s ‘Portsmouth’ hit the top five in November of that year, and I also have strong recollections of The Manhattan Transfer hitting the number one spot with ‘Chanson d’Amour’ in early 1977.

My Mum and Dad bought me a Boots Audio CTR500 mono radio cassette player for my birthday in 1977. Man, what an amazing gift! I still recall the excitement of receiving this, it was a truly treasured object and I immediately set about taping all kinds of music [illegally of course] with gay abandon from either Radio 1 or Trent 301, the local Nottingham indie radio station. Various Agfa, BASF and TDK ferric tapes were filled and refilled. I’ve still got one of two of them; they’re almost worn out!

I spent a couple of weeks in early 1977 suffering from a bout of chicken pox along with Julie and Claire. My Grandma came to stay to help my Mum and Dad out, and it was whilst she was there she asked me if there was anything I’d like whilst she was in town. I asked if she could buy me my first single, which was by a band called the Electric Light Orchestra. I’d really been getting into their latest hit ‘Telephone Line’. It still resonates heavily with me now. So it was actually my Grandma who started my vinyl addiction..

I have another really strong memory – the purchase of my second record. Frank Farian, the super-producer of the day had a hit with his studio band Boney M around the same time – it was an infectious cover of the Bobby Hebb soul classic ‘Sunny’. As a 9 year old, I loved that record to death; I had to own it. So whilst on a trip into Nottingham with my Mum, we entered WH Smith together and headed downstairs to the record department, where I asked the assistant to play me a copy of the single, just to check that it was OK and wasn’t warped or scratched. I’ll never forget that feeling as the sound of Boney M played, not just in the record department, but over the whole floor of the shop. It was my choice of record, and everyone in the shop was listening to it!

From here on, any pocket money I managed to save went on 7″ 45rpm singles. They were magical, circular bits of plastic that brought my world to life. Some singles made a real impact on me, and still possess the ability to give me frisson – to the uninitiated, that’s the phenomenon where the hairs on your forearms spring up. One of these was Raydio’s ‘Jack and Jill’, one of the earliest hit singles to use synthesizers for pretty much everything on the track. I bought this as a tenth birthday treat for myself.

In early 1978, we moved yet again; this time to the south of the country to a small hamlet called Hughenden Valley, just outside of High Wycombe, Buckinghamshire. This time, the move was more permanent – I ended up doing most of my formative growing up there.

Hughenden is a beautiful place, right in the heart of the Chiltern Hills, and we lived on the side of the steep valley. My Mum found a new piano teacher – literally right over the road from where we lived. Her name was Valerie Harris, and I took weekly lessons with her for the following six years.

But by this point, I was more than fixated with pop and chart music, less than interested in learning the classical disciplines of Mozart and Debussy. Either way, it was a useful and invaluable skill to learn and I’m forever indebted to my Mum and Dad for insisting that I persevere with my RSM grades.