Brothers in Arms

1985. What were you doing in 1985? I was a year out of school, a year into an electronics apprenticeship, and a year out of my depth. I was working in a factory and wondering how the fuck I’d managed to find myself doing something for which I had neither skill nor notion. In truth, as much as I wanted to go to university, I just hadn’t wanted to stay at school for another year to secure my place. I’d applied a year earlier but failed my maths and so didn’t get in.

I applied for the job on a whim and got it just before Christmas 1983. I’d no real idea what it meant to work or how my life would be changed. I’d been used to prospectuses telling me how wide my choices would be, how wide my horizons would become and then at the job interview them telling me how my future would depend on the interests of the business. I should have run away then. I didn’t. A year and a bit later I was sitting in windowless room with a soldering iron, some schematics and no real clue why either of them were important.

I worked Monday to Friday but the weekends were mine. I would get on the bus or sometimes borrow my dad’s car and go up to Edinburgh and visit the shops. I didn’t really do much shopping. I never really returned home with much of anything. I would go into John Menzies and HMV on Princes Street for magazines or records. There was a music shop just down from the King’s Theatre off Tollcross where I would go and ogle the instruments. I liked to have lunch in the cafe between the Lyceum Theatre and the Usher Hall. I had a season ticket for the Lyceum that year and once a month or so, on a Wednesday night, I would go and see each new production the theatre had in rep. There was a Liz Lochhead translation but maybe not production of a Moliere play. I think it was Tartuffe that year. I also saw Sandra Dickinson and Peter Davidson in Barefoot in the Park which I remember really enjoying, mostly I think because she appeared on stage at one point in her bra. I was young. I was smitten. Please don’t judge me.

1985 was the year Dire Straits released Brothers in Arms. Dad’s car didn’t have a cassette player. It didn’t even have a radio. Lada’s didn’t, not in those days. What we did in the absence of a cassette player was install my cousin in the backseat. He had a travel radio cassette player which he would put on his knees and we’d listen to it. When we ran out of tapes or the player ran out of batteries we’d sing. We could do a reasonable three or four part harmony version of Fat Bottomed Girls. Of course that meant that we had to have a band. Another story for another day.

I bought the vinyl version of Brothers in Arms and played it on my new hi-fi which had a record deck, twin cassettes, a graphic equaliser and an amplifier. It didn’t have a CD player because that would have been another £200 and I couldn’t afford that. I would buy some albums on vinyl and others as cassettes depending on whether Iiked the artwork on the sleeve. I had every Sky album bar the first one on vinyl, including Cadmium and The Great Balloon Race when they were just getting a bit weird. There were bloody vocals on The Great Balloon Race. What were they thinking?

So, Brothers in Arms. Douglas Adams went all music journo about Mark Knopfler and I didn’t really get it. Guitarists have always been over-promoted. Bassists and drummers do all the hard work and lead guitarists and singers just have to turn up and put the flashy stuff over the top. Wankers.

I listened to the album today for the first time in a quarter of a century and to be honest, it doesn’t really stand up any more. I quite like the lyrics in Money for Nothing but Brothers in Arms as a track is overworked and a bit histrionic. The rest is really just padding. In spite of that, I was carried back 35 years to the sights, smells and sounds of 1985. I can smell the solder in the technician’s room and I remember what that new hi-fi smelled like when I pulled it out of its box for the first time. In a bag, up in the attic, there are Iron Maiden tour t-shirts from Powerslave and Live after Death and if I had a head for heights I would go and dig them out. I have even managed to briefly conjure up that feeling of uselessness I used to have whenever I was around a girl I liked. That wasn’t weird at all.

It’s the same distance in time between now and 1985 as there was between 1985 and 1950. That really needs some serious thinking about. I’m not sure there was much conception of such a thing as popular culture in 1950. Music sales depended on sheet music. Mass communication was via print or radio. International travel was more likely to be by boat than by air. Very little that we take for granted now was common or even possible then. And in 1985 we still had phone boxes and coal mines, two things whose importance at the time I’m not sure I could explain now to someone born since then.

You get this in lieu of a birthday post. I was too busy enjoying myself yesterday to write. Thanks to everyone who took the time to send me a message. I had a lovely day.

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