I remember the scene, two Northerners stuck just north of Brighton because they thought living in the south may be fun for awhile. We should have known everything would go wrong on the basis that they put the Northerners in the same flat, keeping us away from the rest. The whole place was not surprisingly filled with people from the south except for Billy from Wales and Tony from Newcastle, who only came down during the school holidays. Then there was me and Dave, he was from Newcastle and I was from Liverpool. The four of us along with Billy’s partner Vince who visited occasionally made a little Northern enclave in the south.
All this provincial thinking and paranoia was very real in the late 80’s as we tried to figure out collectively what the hell we were doing with our lives and ourselves. The first night in the local pub the landlord moved the ashtrays as the Northerners may steal them, and welcomed us with “so you’re the two who got on their bikes.” He also I think raised the price of beer and would not let us keep a tab, he did however allow us at the lock ins until we took too much money from the locals playing darts and bar billiards. He liked to keep us in the public bar not the lounge thereby ensuring the local sensibilities were not hurt. It all seemed good clean fun at the time but was it really, we found reasons not to like our neighbors and they apparently had no trouble disliking us on a daily basis. This was all veiled in an attempt at humor. With the time and distance that has happened I am able to say that we probably caused this as much as being victims, in fact there is no probable about that.
I spent a lot of time traveling on trains at this time. The only way of listening to music portably was a walkman and cassettes to play on it. Dave and I began something of a joint cassette collection, luckily we enjoyed much of the same music and somehow managed not to buy the same albums too often. The problem was really we could never really remember who bought what very well. This did result in some confusion when the inevitable move happened for the first of us. Eventually it was all decided by a long drawn out drunken conversation about who bought what when and there may have been arm wrestling.
I became adept at the Liverpool to Haywards Heath journey and could manage to not raise myself above ground in London as I passed through. Making no eye contact and keeping the headphones up loud so nobody was inclined to start a conversation. After Dave left the job I was eternally reminded of my Dads parting words as he dropped me off on the way south, “you’ll be back,” funnily when I made the longer trek from Liverpool to Oregon he never said the same thing, rather mumbling “we’ll be over “instead.
One album we never argued about who it belonged to was Green by R.E.M. This was mine, not because Dave didn’t like it but because it became so important to me that Dave had to go get his own copy. In the end we had two cassettes, two L.P.s and then eventually two C.D.s. It was very likely the most bought album in the Our Price records in Haywards Heath on the strength of our buying alone.
It was not so much that we were big R.E.M. fans, we just for some reason connected with that album. It was joyous, cynical and determinedly serious in a truly funny way. Tonight as I played it again for the first time on vinyl in many years I was taken back to that dingy damp smelling flat we shared and relived the fun of Green. It was the album that lifted the spirits of two northern boys in the south so far from home, it was the album we danced to and laughed over and for visitors was one of the most accessible things we were listening to at the time. It used to get played to the uninitiated and those who made it past the Crass singles and Bob Calvert marathons. It raised our thoughts after the claustrophobia of the Talk Talk listening parties with the bass on You Are Everything alone.
Along with the Waterboys and whisky it eased the tensions of a hard night working with difficult kids and on the weekend would allow us to let loose. To this day I have never owned another R.E.M. album, for me everything I needed was in that one album. I know I am undoubtedly missing out but it may be too late, although I am now tempted to go ahead and get more.To this day when tracks from Green come on I will smile and take the time to listen all the way through. I know the running order of songs but not the names and I can still remember that goofy drunken dance we taught people on a Friday night in the pub as we took over the jukebox.