Rock around the Christmas tree

25th December 1998 at 00:00
FOR me, Christmas 1972 marked the end of an era. It was the last time I remember lying awake almost dematerialising with pure excitement.

I was in my first year of secondary school and had felt obliged to put an embargo on toys as presents. Like a country that imports supergun barrels but claims they are drain pipes, I did, however, allow myself a couple of Corgi die-cast racing cars under the guise of models for the "collection" I was allegedly starting.

But it was a cassette recorder I really coveted. Any cassette recorder would have done as long as it could tape and replay Alice Cooper and the heroes of glam-rock I had recently discovered. Whereas puberty and adolescence in general seemed to take me an eternity - I'm still not convinced I'm through it all at 38 - my musical taste went from Rolf Harris to rock in about three seconds.

It was "School's Out" that did it. Cruelly released at the beginning of the English summer holidays and hence close to the end of the Scottish ones, it played me into Lanark Grammar.

A cassette recorder cost slightly more than my parents would normally have spent on a present for me. My mother tells me I made several noble speeches expressing understanding that they might not be able to get me one. In the end I think they would have taken out a second mortgage rather than suffer my attempts bravely to suppress aching disappointment.

My brother and I went to bed early on Christmas morning. We lay in our parallel twin beds speculating on what we were about to receive. Between us was my father's alarm clock. Had its function been to wake us up it would have been totally superfluous. Rather, it was to ensure that we remained in bed until at least seven o'clock.

My Dad had taken us to the Watchnight service at church. I relished the experience of doing an adult "stay up late" thing. I enjoyed it all the more for not having to wear the starchily-uncomfortable pink paisley pattern shirt with matching broad-ribbed tie that was apparently the minimum standard of dress that God would allow in His house during non-festive visiting hours.

Now the glad rags were draped over a chair. The clock advanced grudgingly as I worked out the records I would bootleg off the Christmas edition of "Top of the Pops" if I got what I wanted. Elton John's "Crocodile Rock" would be one. The lyrics seemed to contain the lines "...ah whannabann on Fridee niiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiigh When Sooseh wohah dressooo tiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiigh...", but I remembered dancing to it with a pretty classmate at the first-year party. (It took me a year to realise she'd had a soft spot for me, by which time she didn't have it anymore.) I did get what I wanted, on the audio front at least. The cassette recorder was chocolate brown and grey, badged with the name of a now long-forgotten importer. It had three white keys, one each for fast forward, rewind and play, and a red record button. A cassette had been inserted in it ready to roll.

With some trepidation that it might self-destruct like Jim's in "Mission Impossible", I switched it on. A voice instantly recognisable as my father's, wishing me a happy Christmas, came from the speaker. My Mum, a Goon Show fan, chipped in with a Bluebottle impersonation.

Later over the holiday period I would record both the Last Goon Show of All and my Uncle George playing the "Ying Tong Song" on his false teeth but these Milliganesque delights were sideshows to Radio Big G.

Big G was my nickname, because my first initial was G and I wasn't a big, tough hardman.

The eponymous radio station consisted of top 20 hits recorded through a microphone. Of somewhat low fidelity, these songs were enhanced by my DJ-style introductions. Unfortunately, my voice had the "sch" impediment of the pre-pubescent, so I came over as a sort of falsetto Sean Connery with more slevvers. "That wasch 'Ballroom Blitsch' by the Schweet, who have knocked Little Jimmy Oschmond off the top schpot."

To my shame, I not only binned these tapes many years ago, but pulled apart the casings first, lest some garbage-raker was tempted to find out what was on them. Save us from po-faced self-consciousness.

I have decided that I am going to have one bout of insomnia over the Christmas break. I will not lie awake replaying classroom incidents that I feel I could have handled better, nor will I worry about implementing Intermediate 2 physics or the performance of my Higher class. Instead, I'm going to get pure jumping with excitement over whether Kathleen's bought me the "Best Glam Rock Album In The World. . . Ever!" for Christmas. Wanna be in my gang, my gang, my gang?

Gregor Steele

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