It was 1978 and I was 13, kicking my heels a long way from home and keeping myself busy by giving myself an education sorting through two bookcases filled with old vinyl: my Uncle's record collection, the treasure trove that was to change my life in every respect.
I'd already fallen in love with Hard Bop drumming and images of American Ivy League clothes from those LP sleeves at least two-days ago at this point and was by now very happily hooked on both, creating a daily routine for myself of listening to as much as I could, reading all the sleeve notes and checking out all the visual clues I could get of the style of the genius musicians I'd suddenly stumbled across by accident. I still have my old notebook diaries of tracks, dates and an ever growing series of shopping lists.
I couldn't separate the music from the clothes and from the style of their presentation on those old LP sleeves back then. They were a total sensory experience combining skills from many disciplines all brought together to produce perfect artworks to me. The music, the clothes, the styling, the photography, the typography, the sleeve notes , the smell of the cardboard, the texture of the paper liner, the weight of the thick black vinyl inside.
I tried to talk to my Uncle about all this and he just nodded. "Gesamtkunstwerk", he replied. "Bless you", I said and fetched him a handkerchief...
I'm writing this with my late Uncle's copy of Bags and Trane (Atlantic, 1961) in front of me and it is still a perfect thing to me. A part of the soundtrack of my last 35 years and one of the milestones which marked the start of my real life, after my previous 13 years of moving slowly towards who I was meant to be.
So who was I meant to be? With this LP and others I could tell you about another time I felt I'd found a home at last. A stylish place with nice neighbours who you never minded if they made a noise because the noises they made were so good.
And there were also new clothes to go with it all too! Different clothes. Familiar/Unfamiliar items which captured my imagination just as much as the brilliance of the pairing of Bags and Trane themselves.
I've described what I was up to as me giving myself an education back then, so what did I learn?
1) I needed a haircut ASAP. Something cropped and serious, but a world away from anything 'Skinhead'. My floppy 'Huge Grant' (Did he even have hair like that back then?) style had to go.
2) There can be a hardness in softness/ Checking out the cover shot on the LP the shirt collars and jacket shoulder lines were soft, unstructured and relaxed. But from two of the most disciplined musicians I'd heard so far? Trane especially came across to me as really tough, or maybe that's just what I wanted to project on to him? I liked the idea of 'sloppy' clothes (By regimented English standards) and a razor sharp creative brain at work. I liked the contrast. Later I was to learn that that was actually a very commonplace combination, but what did I know at 13? Before I went to live with my Uncle I only knew City of London Accountants and those in the Legal trade who were all as uniformed as the little lead soldiers in my toy fort.
3) A shirt, a tie and a suit needn't be a shirt, a tie and a suit ! These Ivy League clothes can be wonderfully subversive. Not to most Americans, I agree - who consider them Conservative - but their Conservatism is nothing compared to that of the English... I just fell in love with the idea that a haircut, a shave, a suit, and a shirt and tie could be done on the sly so that it all looked straight from a distance but was really saying something else. That seemed to reflect a part of me that went very deep: to be myself and to get away with it!
And so I went shopping for my first Blue buttondown and slim Dark knitted tie...a story for another day!
- Jimmy Frost Mellor