Hazy Recollections…

Hazy Recollection #1

The police. Policing. To police a situation.

police |pəˈliːs|

noun [ treated as pl. ] (usu. the police)

the civil force of a state, responsible for the prevention and detection of crime and the maintenance of public order. local people have lost faith in the police. [ as modifier ] : the coroner will await the outcome of police inquiries.

  • members of a police force: there are fewer women police than men.
  • [ with adj. or noun modifier ] an organization engaged in the enforcement of official regulations in a specified domain: transport police.

verb [ with obj. ]

(of a police force) have the duty of maintaining law and order in or at (an area or event): (as nounpolicing) : a ten-point plan to improve policing.

  • enforce regulations or an agreement in (a particular area or domain): a UN resolution to use military force to police the no-fly zone.
  • enforce the provisions of (a law, agreement, or treaty): the regulations will be policed by factory inspectors.

ORIGIN late 15th cent. (in the sense ‘public order’): from French, from medieval Latin politia ‘citizenship, government’ (see policy1). Current senses date from the early 19th cent.

 

The following recollection, the first in a series spanning a particular moment in the early 1990s, concerns what is known as ‘youth culture,’ particularly in connection with the phenomenon of House Music,[1] and the restrictions placed upon it by those in ‘authority’ – those who, we are meant to believe, ‘know what’s best for us.’

But first, we need some context. Growing up, as the youngest sibling of five, means you get to experience music, how should I term this, somewhat vicariously – does that work? You know, music that you’ve grown up hearing around and about you before you even decide that you like music in the first place. Your brother sitting by the record player playing records by The Jam over and over again; records that you’ll sit listening to over and over again when he’s out, because he’d throw a fit if he saw you actually touching them – Down in the Tube Station at Midnight being one of those records. And then there’s the pressure of what to buy when you have a certain amount of pennies to spend in Woolworths’ record department (no cassette tapes, no CDs, remember, just records) – older brother convinces you that you should really be buying The Purple Hearts’ Jimmy, when what you really want to buy is The Vapors’ Turning Japanese, just because you really like it, and you’re only 6 years old, after all. So that’s one sibling dealt with, albeit briefly, as he was, then, in his post-Punk-turned-Mod-weird-juxtaposition phase.

The next brother up’s musical tastes were never compatible with mine, a thing I was able to recognise even at such a tender age. The next brother up from him’s fixation at the time was with Blondie – Debbie Harry in particular, judging by the massive poster of Debbie Harry in the nude on the wall of his bedroom; a bedroom I had to walk through to get to the only toilet/bathroom in the house. There’s a sister too, but she’d already left home so I couldn’t begin to guess what she was listening to in 1980. All that’s left then is parental musical tastes – Country and Western, Big Band music (Glen Miller and stuff), and that’s not going to do much for many a 6 year old.

So there you go. I latch onto the thing nearest to me and develop a fixation of my own – The Jam. But I’m only six, so I can’t ‘experience’ going watching them at gigs as my brother did. Then they break up in 1983 (?) and I’m still only 9 or 10 at that point. I get into The Style Council, ‘cos there’s no other option, really, but that was never really going anywhere useful, and there are barely any other kids I know around me who like them, so that doesn’t help you to bond with others, musically speaking.

Then comes the next phase: experimentation. The time where you try things out. Some things fit and some just don’t, but it’s all part of the process of developing tastes of your own. Liking Madonna. Hating Heavy Metal and/or Rock. Discovering The Who. Finding Motown records around the house and really liking the sound. Developing a taste for Northern Soul. But the big problem with much of this is that it amounts to very little. Madonna doesn’t mean anything, really. The Who are old. Motown and Northern Soul have passed. There’s nothing around in my time, from my perspective as a 17 year old in 1990 – this is a recollection of an actual thought I had whilst walking into a pub to meet friends. Not long after, I went to The Stone Roses’ Spike Island gig. The experience was good, but it all still seemed a bit old-fashioned: buy a ticket; turn up; be ‘entertained’ by crappy acts before the headliner comes on; be ‘entertained’ by The Stone Roses, who sounded way worse than they did on vinyl (still no CD player for me at this time); go home.

Now we get to the crux of the matter. Feeling somewhat disconsolate, disenchanted, and other dis- words, I needed, or felt like I needed, something more. Something real. Something that didn’t belong to any other generation – just mine. Nothing new here, I am completely aware of that, but that’s how it felt at the time. And then I got into a car with four of my mates, and we went out…

Fast forward a few months, probably, it’s very hard to attach any sort of linearity to the year I spent immersed in House Music,[2] and I’m standing in the car park of a motorway service station – I’m sure it was Birch (M62), but it could have been Anderton (M61). A host of cars are parked up. Music is blasting out of many of them, as ours probably is (an old orangey coloured Vauxhall Cavalier if I remember correctly, or a newer Fiat Punto, metallic blue (?), if I don’t). People (mostly, but not all, young) are out of their cars, talking, dancing, whatever. There is a lot of noise, but no hint of unrest, violence, or anything else untoward. We are on a car park in the middle of nowhere. There are no residential areas to speak of. It’s about 12am (again, if my memory serves me well, could be earlier, but could be later).

Suddenly, what was an enjoyable and peaceful gathering turns into something nastier as the crowd is charged at by police officers. In the months leading up to this one particular night there had been no problems with incidents of this sort. We had stopped at many service stations around the Midlands and the North West of England (Hilton Park, Keele, Charnock Richard, Hartshead Moor, Sandbach, and others). Most of these stops followed a familiar pattern. Park in the car park. Buy some drinks, chewing gum, ciggies, whatever, from either the petrol station on sight, or from within the service station itself. Drinking alcohol was anathematic to all attending. Violence was anathematic to all attending. So why the sudden burst of aggression from the police on this one particular night at Birch Service Station?

This is an interesting question when you pay attention to the definition of ‘police’ inserted at the front of this piece, which clearly states that the ‘maintenance of public order’ is a chief mandate w/r/t the service. What followed, soon after the police decided to charge the non-violent but very noisy crowd, was akin to that of a riot situation. I remember seeing missiles thrown at the police, and more than a few hand-to-hand scuffles, before the police retreated. For any innocent bystanders (presumably truckers, mostly, at that time of night) the whole thing must have been terrifying. As with countless nights that had passed before, and all without any sort of incident, this particular night would have remained peaceful if it had not been for the intervention of the police. Now that is a sobering thought.

Why the need for violence from the police? What does this speak of? Arguably, the problem with it all was that none of it was regulated. Arguably, another problem was that we had decided to make our own entertainment. Arguably, and this one is stretching things a little, but hell, why not, we were operating outside of society, albeit briefly, and I’m sure none of us, or very few, actually had the time or inclination to sit and think about this as it was happening. And I’m afraid I won’t stand for silly arguments that state that it was because drugs were being used that the police resorted to acts of intimidation and violence; because drugs are everywhere, and the police refuse to go after the really big players, either because they are too afraid of them, or for even more seditious reasons that I won’t go into now, but to which I may return at a later date.[3] No, those who ‘know best’ had noticed a threat to society and they had decided to stamp it out, by whatever means necessary.

But in spite of the police, and their acts of violence, I do believe that many a ‘convoy’ set off from Birch Service Station that very night, not all finding the same destination, I imagine, and my compadres and I ended up in a disused warehouse with music blasting out all night long and way into the following morning, having not parted with money in order to get into the warehouse, and having been greeted most welcomingly by all whom we had met during the night (hugging strangers had become customary, almost mandatory at such events), and having witnessed nothing but sheer unadulterated pleasure through the mediums of music and dance. This was Revolution. We were just enjoying ourselves too much to realise it. End of Hazy Recollection #1.

[1] I don’t really want to get into footnotes but I must explain that House Music is the only term I’m willing to use to explain such things as: nights spent at clubs; impromptu gatherings in fields and disused buildings where sound systems would be set up and those attending would just dance; and larger organized events, such as the ‘Revenge’ nights, where a similar thing would take place.

[2] I had heard House Music songs prior to this time, but remained unaware as to what extent things were happening in terms of a youth culture movement that I could actually get involved in. There is a whole world of difference between standing listening to Farley ‘Jackmaster’ Funk, Steve ‘Silk’ Hurley, Marshall Jefferson, A Guy Called Gerald, M.A.R.R.S., etc., with your mouth wide open, being amazed at how radical the songs sound, but still either seeing this on a TV in your parents’ house or listening with friends at the back of a school bus, neither of which are going to allow such radical potential to grow into anything useful, and then the contrast, of dancing in the middle of a room (field, warehouse, whatever) full of sweaty, wild-eyed kids who don’t care about anything else, it seems at the time, other than the music, and dancing to it. And prior to experiencing this for the first time, conventional nights out to pubs, clubs, etc., had usually ended in a sort of ritualistic violence – drink, have a good time, and then watch as someone kicks off and the rest of you pile in until you’ve either kicked the shit out of the ‘others,’ or bouncers and/or the police break things up. Being able to express yourself, free from the worries of violence and hatred, is liberating, it really is.

[3] To give an example of this I’ll use Liverpool in the mid 1990s. Anyone with any sense of what was happening on the streets of Liverpool knew who the BIG drug dealers were, but they were ‘untouchable.’ The police turned a blind eye to what was going on.

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