Fashion by Craig Deeley
Like many families in the 70s and 80s, we had a radiogram in the living room. For anyone under the age of 30 – this was basically a radio (with a built-in record player that could hold up a stack of about six records at a time) which was as big as a sideboard, looked like a sideboard, and was covered in ornaments and picture-frames.
So, to all intents and purposes, a sideboard. I was always fascinated by radio as a child. In the Birmingham Evening Mail in the 1970s and 80s, underneath the TV listings you could also find radio listings. I used to make a note of the frequencies and see if I could pick up these magical-sounding radio stations up on my trusty stereo in my bedroom: Mercia; Beacon; Wyvern. I’ve always found something cosy and reassuring about the crackling sound of medium-, long- or short-wave radio. Short-wave fascinated me the most– every small turn of the tuning-knob seemed to lead to a foreign voice, unfamiliar styles of music, or weird beeps that I could only assume came from aliens planning their attack. I really felt like I was listening to the rest of the world and beyond. This was probably not the coolest pastime for a teenage boy, particularly at weekends, so I kept it to myself. I never went to youth clubs, robbed pick ‘n’ mix or played football – I listened to the radio.
I was the only teenager I knew who listened to the Archers. And Radio 2. Even in those days I found Radio 1 a bit too modern, and that was when Simon Bates was prime-time. It seemed that at school most people tended to fit into friend groups according to their musical tastes: the heavy-metallers; the soul-music boys; the rockers; the new romantics etc. I didn’t fit into any of these cliques; but I was never lonely – I had friends in all of the groups so I felt like a Venn diagram intersection of the groups. Despite my old-before-its time taste in music, I did have a lot of lovely friends who I think were drawn to me because of my amazing sense of humour and my modesty. I liked some chart music – this was back in the hi-tech days of taping the Top 40 off the radio on Sunday evenings on to a cassette and developing split second reflexes to cut out the DJ talking over the beginning and end of each song. I did like soul music, and some folk music, but my metal never really got any heavier than T’Pau. I adored TV theme tunes (even today I’m happy to own ‘Mary, Mungo & Midge’, ‘Swap Shop’ and both ‘George & Mildred’ theme tunes); sound effect tapes and most of all, easy listening: Frank Sinatra, Matt Monroe, Andy Williams – just the sort of music that became acceptable kitsch-cool in the late 90s. I was clearly ahead of my time, but while it was happening I did feel like I was committing a coolness faux pas.
We probably think of a faux pas as something that you commit once and, having been told about your mistake by someone close to you, or on Facebook, move on. The most common faux pas seems to be that of fashion. Faux pas, as we all know, is French for ‘not those trousers’. And if it was a crime, well, lock me up because I’m a repeat offender. When I was a teenager I remember thinking a pair of jeans I owned were a bit too flared, so I decided to sew the bottoms of the legs into a tapered shape. I looked like I sewn two ill-fitting denim pelmets on to my ankles with cotton that didn’t even match the colour of the jeans. The same year, after putting on some weight, I decided to wear braces rather than a belt to hold my trousers up. I can still hear the voice of my friend’s sister telling me that the braces should really be worn on the outside of my t-shirt. It was a white t-shirt, so I looked like I had metal buckles for nipples. Up to the age of 16 my hairstyle was a side parting you could test a spirit level on. Then one day, out of the blue I decided to change, and began to sport a spiky mullet that would make Paul Young wish he’d kept hold of that hat he kept bragging about laying down.
But we grow up, and as I matured, generally, the less I cared about following a fashion. Quite the opposite – I often decided to make a stand against following trend, be it fashion, technological fads, music (my mobile phone ring-tones over the years would prove the latter). In fact, I held out against getting a mobile for as long as I could, and only finally got one when my family bought me one for my birthday. In hindsight, though, a mobile would have come in handy all those years before. I knew people who were always late. When confronted, they would claim they were being ‘fashionably late’. Just so you know – it’s not fashionably late if you arrive with wet hair. Looking back, I would have loved to be able to send a text to say, “I see you’re fashionably late again; well, I’ve fashionably left”.
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Craig will be appearing with Foghorn Improv in “Singing In The Fog” – an improvised musical, at the old Joint Stock on Thursday 27th November.