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3 June 2008

Exposing little Richard

Herring ponders his stalled teenage song-writing career, and wonders whether he really can blame eve

By Richard Herring

I am working my way through my old diaries and schoolbooks and folders full of childhood memorabilia as preparation for my new Edinburgh show, “The Headmaster’s Son”. My dad was the headmaster at the secondary school I went to and I am hoping to prove that this fact caused the psychological damage that explains why I am such a fuck up as an adult – unable to commit to anyone, making my living telling knob jokes and generally being a pathetic excuse for a human being.

Alas all the evidence thus far in suggests that I loved being at school, was reasonably well adjusted and that my parents provided me with a secure home and a perfect example of a functional monogamous relationship, so that all my faults can only be blamed on myself. But I refuse to accept that I can’t go all Philip Larkin and heap all my problems on to them, so I am going to keep digging away until I find something that can explain my delinquency.

It might take some time.

Daily I am discovering awful embarrassments that do at least make for a potentially funny show. Although I was principally interested in comedy even when I was a young teenager, and generally bored by music, I did write a lot of awful poetry and a few even more awful songs. Studying music for O-level left me with the misapprehension that I was capable of composition, even though I knew next to nothing about popular music. I liked the Beatles and then I got quite into a band called Japan, who were, if truth be told one of the more embarrassing New Romantic bands, mainly because unlike the other useless tripe on offer from this Roxy Music-inspired genre, they took themselves incredibly seriously.

Dave Tozer and me loved the David Sylvian fronted pop combo though, at least for a couple of months, until all our friends became anarchist punk rockers (it being about 1982 by now, so we were only five years out of date). My appreciation of Japan was forced to wither on the vine and I pretended to like Crass, the Sex Pistols and the Dead Kennedys instead. I actually genuinely do like most of those bands now, but back then I was a reluctant convert, being a bit square and nervous about rebellion. Because my dad was the headmaster? Or because I was just a fearful, swotty twat? Let’s blame my dad. It’s easier.

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Anyway, I found a bit of sheet music on which I had written what I suppose I hoped would one day be some kind of hit record. But how many pop composers write their songs out properly on musical staves? And can’t play the guitar? And can only play the trumpet, really badly?

My friends and me (or probably mainly my friends and thus by default me) were massively opposed to anything commercial or fashionable – it was pretentious and false and the refuge of the shallow and pretty, but brainless.

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Of course, an anti-fashion pose is just as pretentious as a fashion one and we mainly hated the vacuous sheep who bought trendy clothes and records from the charts precisely because they were outwardly sexier and more popular than us. We were arrogant idiots who thought we were clever and knew everything. One of my diary entries is about my excitement at reading a biography of Gandhi. I said, without any sense of my own ridiculousness, ”I wish I could have met him. I think we would have had a lot to share.” Oh dear.

In hindsight I wish we could have just dressed up like Adam Ant and enjoyed ourselves. Instead we dressed in old men’s jackets and kipper ties and army trousers. And I got a nice checked purple shirt and a burgundy tank top from Pfaff’s (the trendiest clothes emporium in Weston super Mare).

Anyway, my sprawling mess of a pop song is about what I saw as being the most pervasive evil of modern life – trend! Yes, not racism (which it seems still faintly amused me even in the early 80s), not sexism (with my confusing philosophies about girls who put out being slags and whores, whilst decrying the fact that the good girls I hung out with were frigid), not the Falklands War or the Tory Government or Nuclear War or the IRA. No, Trend.

Ironically for a song against trend it was very much in the style of Japan, one of the most stupidly faddy bands of all time. Here we go, with my own self mocking comments in bold –
“The problem that we face is trend!
Dyed hair, outrageous clothes and being someone else.
In the desperate attempt not to look human.
There is
Sunglasses on a cloudy day
When someone’s talking, you’re looking away,
Never smiling and trying to look gay,
When you’re not. (that bit’s quite good)
Ha! (a derisive and dismissive laugh)
That’s trend.

The problem that we face is trend.
Songs that mean nothing, full of cliches and good looking people, (Wow, setting out my stall there. Expectations about how meaningful and uncliched my derivative song would be have now been raised)
In the desperate race to get to number one.
Videos with no connection to the song,
Haircuts simultaneously short and long – (a stinging critique of Phil Oakey from the Human League there, who I now don’t believe deserved derision compared to most of his contemporaries)
Political points about nuclear bombs (taking the piss out of Duran Duran’s non-political, but still fairly rubbish observation “You’re about as easy as a nuclear war”, which in fairness comes from an even worse song than this one)
On Top of the Pops?!
Ha! (how ridiculous- compared say, with this song, which is brilliant)
That’s trend!”
And there it is. The anti trend song, which I no doubt dreamed would one day get me on Top of the Pops (I would one day be on Top of the Pops – Stewart Lee and I presented a couple of shows in the mid 1990s and I was incredibly excited to be there and it remains probably the highlight of my career), and create a new trend of anti-trendiness, which would have the welcome side effect of making swotty kids with the exact correct school uniform who played in the school band and carried their stuff around in a briefcase, rather than an Adidas bag, suddenly cool and attractive to girls.

I wish I had had the guts to dye my hair and not smile and not look at people when they were talking to me. But I was just too much of a childish knob to ever pull anything like that off.

Alas my song remains unrecorded and unperformed, but I’ve got the sheet music (if any bands out there want to record it, then please feel free to get in touch – though obviously you’ll have to pay me all the royalties that you’ll make off it). I think it might still get to number one. Too late for me, but maybe in time to turn some podgy 14 year old headmaster’s son out there into a bit of a sex symbol. Hopefully meaning he’ll lose his virginity before he is practically 20. Hypothetically.