This is the fourth and final instalment in a nostalgic series of articles by guest writer Em Johnson, where she interviews people she admired in her youth.
I think in lockdown everything past feels like a dream. A fantasy of sorts. Did we really exist like that? Who are we again?
Messaging my friend Loz was a summary of how weird the last year has been. I found myself remembering his band, Rhythmic Coughing, and how much they were a part of young Em’s ‘Punk Manchester’ existence. Rhythmic Coughing regularly supported bands I loved, and I quickly found myself going to watch them in their own right. I’ve always been drawn to bands with strong vocals and harmonies, and the way Loz was the biggest and loudest instrument in the band blew my mind.
Loz was slow to respond because he has a wonderful young son called Ted – we exchanged messages in the wee hours as I was stealthily chewed by Jackdaw. Talking to him took me immediately back to the joy that is support bands – you show up to watch someone else, and you are taken apart with the visceral joy of something nearer and more raw. Rhythmic Coughing were often that band. You stood at the back with a pint, and then they hit you. And I always found myself smiling and talking to them. Simple pleasures? Remember them?!
“Yeah, that was a very special time wasn’t it? Life to me at that time was about friends, music, passion, doing things (throwing your energy at something and see what happens) and, most of all, having a good time – getting the endorphins and adrenaline going. Not having any responsibilities of note. The band was like the perfect blend, the coming together of all that. Especially friendship and good times, both in terms of playing gigs ourselves and going to gigs and discovering music and life in general.
“By the time the Manc Punk Scene was in its full flow, we were finishing sixth form and starting uni and it was just a brilliant, brilliant time – playing or going to gigs all the time, not getting hangovers and just saying yes to everything.
“There are things that I look back on and know we could have done better as a band, but in terms of the vibes and the approach to living at that age – I wouldn’t swap it for anything, we were very very lucky.
“The songs document our teenage growing ups really – our first girlfriends, first drugs, first shags and it’s nice for us to retrace these times in our lives through our music. Clearly some songs were ‘better’ than others and there’s things that I cringe at from throughout our time writing music, but I couldn’t really care less about that now – we had a great time being in the band and hopefully that translated to some people that heard our music or saw us play.”
I left promoting to become a grown up. I had a job that didn’t balance well with late nights and loud music. This series was inspired by wondering what everyone else’s aged lives looked like. What kind of plants they have. How their mid life crises have been. I’m weirdly obsessed with people more than music these days, and I’m fascinated by drawing a line between the two.
However the punk scene never fails to surprise me. Just when I think I’ve heard everything:
“I’m an Opera singer!”
“Well, I was until this thing called Covid-19 shut down the industry, but I’ve been lucky – I teach singing alongside my performing work, so I’ve been able to increase that side of things since the pandemic hit. I always wanted to perform on stage when I was younger and didn’t really mind if that included music or not, but as time and experience went on so did my musicianship.”
Yes, that’s correct. The Manchester punk scene spawned a bloody opera singer. And a good one at that. It shouldn’t be a surprise, it’s not a surprise, but crikey he is good.
But at his heart he’s still a touring punk kid, right? What makes that?
“Humility and not taking things for granted for a start. When we were on tour with the band we would sleep in the van most nights. Some lovely person would give us a floor and a spare bed occasionally, but more often that not it was van seats, van floors and tents by the side of the road.
“We would often have breakfast at McDonalds and wash in the toilets – you’d have to go in pairs so one person could watch the door while the other washed their bellend in the sink. Glamorous. So later in life, when I did my first theatre tour and we would stay in Travelodges, it felt like a real luxury … whereas to the other members of the cast they might have been hoping for somewhere a bit comfier.”
This series has made me feel both old and young. Young because I’m reliving a lot of the passions I had growing up, and I’m reminded of how much purpose music and gigs give me. Old because I’m just so besotted with the people that my friends have become. I knew I was growing up, but it still seems to have shocked me that they have too.
So Lawrence made a job out of music. The dream of so many people. What advice does he have?
“Say yes! If in doubt, do it – dream wise that is, especially when you don’t have proper responsibilities. As I write the answer to this question I’ve got my 10 week old son Ted asleep on me (we’re listening to Jackson Browne) and, in the short term, my personal and professional dreams are on the back burner, but even though I have to make slightly more responsible life decisions now I am still very much a dreamer.
“Ted’s certainly hearing an eclectic mix of artists already, as Ali and I have very different taste in music, but I wouldn’t have it any other way for him, to be fair. Music is going to be a big part of his life no matter what he wants to do with himself. His mum is an opera singer too and had a contract in Norway when she was pregnant with him. He would kick her without fail when she sang a particular phrase and similarly would kick back when the brass in the orchestra got going. So he’s been responding to music since he was in the womb – whether they were kicks of approval or disgust we’ll never know, but I’m choosing to believe the glass half full option. The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree with this story – my mum was an opera singer too and was a full time member of the chorus at Opera North in Leeds. She was performing on stage until late in her pregnancy with me and I would apparently always start kicking off when the brass erupted. Maybe this is why I’ve always had a soft spot for horns in ska bands. We’ll say so. But, yeah Ted … pick up an instrument as soon as you can lad, you’ll be glad you did.”0
So my friend Loz grew up – but his lungs didn’t need to grow as they were always firing! Young Ted has an amazing life of music ahead of him too. It’s an absolute delight to catch up with someone who pushed the boundaries of music and still does.
“Music has always been a prominent part of my life in many ways – what with my parents both being professional musicians and working in the music world to this day. I was encouraged to try different instruments when I was young and my parents were happy and able to pay for piano or singing lessons. I’m very lucky to have had those opportunities but unfortunately not everyone can have the same support I did. There are some fantastic charities out there that strive to help those that can’t afford the cost of instruments or lessons. If you’ve got a musical instrument gathering dust in the cupboard and two or three lockdowns didn’t provide enough time or inspiration to pick them up and start playing again, then please consider donating your instrument to Music For All. Nice one.”
Read Em Johnson’s other articles here.
Subscribe to the Shout Louder newsletter! We’ll send the latest podcasts, articles and punk rock news straight to your inbox.
Leave a Reply