Thou Shalt Not Twist Thy Neighbours Melon

Religious? Our so-called columnist? We think he might have started having lockdown fever dreams. Get a priest…

Did I ever tell you the story of how I failed to become a house music superstar?

In the late 1980s, the Second Summer of Love changed my home city of Manchester into one massive Ibiza rave. Newsagents replaced their pick ‘n’ mix with ecstasy pills; everyone tattooed the smiley symbol on their face, which in retrospect was a bit pointless. I was a teenager and my only dream was to badly mime keyboard playing on ‘Top Of The Pops’, just like all of my heroes.

I was a good church boy back then, so we were discouraged from such worldly desires. Moses famously said, “Ye shalt not twist thy neighbour’s melon” so my drug of choice never went beyond sherbet dib-dabs. I studied the Bible (the only verse that stayed in my memory was the very rude Ezekiel 23:20) and, like tonnes of other church kids, I learned a musical instrument. Why? Because in church culture, if you got good at music, you could join the worship band: our own mini version of ‘Top Of The Pops’. My friends were assorted Bible bookworms just like me (imagine a ‘Muppet Babies’ version of the ‘Vicar Of Dibley’), and every one of us had our chosen instrument. There was the bespectacled Anita with the twitch: she did woodwinds. There was hairy William who liked Dungeons & Dragons: he had knack for drums. There was studious Simon who played the church organ like a demon, er, I mean, angel. And me? Synthesisers all the way.

Which leads me to the time when our church went on a weekend trip to a ramshackle farmhouse. The adults yabbered about theology to the sound of braying sheep, while us youngsters looked for hidden corridors. Old houses always had hidden corridors. In a dusty annex, we found a music room housing a jumble of neglected instruments. An out-of-tune acoustic guitar, a scuffed trumpet, a mangled oboe, one too many tambourines. Hairy William suggested a jam session, as if we would suddenly become the next Devo. Simon was already sleeve-wiping dust from the piano lid, eager to get going. I was 50-50, but there among the orchestral clutter was my holy grail: a Yamaha keyboard with a missing middle C. I instantly imagined myself as Rick Wakeman, but sexier, if that was at all possible. “Let’s jam!” I declared, clutching the synth in my fully-Lynxed armpit. Actually, I probably didn’t say that, but you get the idea. Out of the way, 808 State, Fat Roland’s taking over.

Good job we were in the relatively soundproofed annex. I Marshall Jeffersoned that synthesiser to pieces. As long as we weren’t in the key of C, my choppy rave chords soared above Anita’s meandering oboe and Hairy William’s 16 tambourines (he was surprisingly dexterous). Infinite monkeys on infinite typewriters: we were bound to be headlining The Haçienda within the week. Our pride didn’t last long. In the middle of it all, I’ll never forget Simon. He sat frozen at the piano, fingers rigid, unable to play a note. Simon needed order, not loose improvisation. Without sheet music to follow, the poor lad had a real Ludwig van Breakdown. 

It was my first and last attempt at a band: less a Summer of Love, more a damp autumn of discontent. House music survived happily without my input. Over 30 years on, I’ve never stopped messing with synths, but always in my own company than in the presence of a terrified amateur organist. I never did get to mime on the telly. The smiley face? A mere whimsical smirk as I wonder what could have been.

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