How my science teacher taught me about a lot more than Magnesium ribbon.
The Appliance of Science
Discovering new bands and artists is something that always fills the heart with hope. Thanks to the world wide web the ‘next big thing’ is now just a click away, yet many moons ago you really had to dig deep to find the tunes that would change your life.
With so much new music available at the touch of a button, it’s hard to remember back to the days when the NME and Melody Maker were the leading publications on UK music. I think it may have been around the Bronze Era. As a 15-year-old Madchester fanatic, these magazines led me to find some great bands like The High, The Fall and Flowered Up, plus a few stinkers like Candy Flip! Their cover of ‘Strawberry Fields Forever’ may now seem horrendously twee, but it gave me one of my first encounters with a break beat; the drum pattern that has sculpted my musical tastes ever since. Even a quarter of a century later, I am still slightly obsessed with everything related to the break!
During my gloriously spotty teenage years, my next-door neighbour was a massive indie fan. He was a little bit too ‘goth’ for my palette, but at the age of 15 he did thankfully take me to my first ever live gig; ‘James’ at the Birmingham Hummingbird. This was my first encounter with the Manchester band and also the first time I’d ever feared for my life. The tight capacity venue and crowd movement in the centre of the audience literally swept me off my feet, something I haven't felt since! I’ve learnt to stand in the corner out of the way, preferably near the bar.
It was around this time that I discovered my favourite band of all time, though through a very unlikely source. As my musical affiliations became more apparent though my loose fit clothing and variety of horrendous hairstyles (see Clint Boon ‘Mad Monk’ below from my 16th birthday), my diminutive attention to school work began to hit rock bottom.
Classroom tables became an easel for my compass and tutors given short thrift to the work I was supposed to be partaking in. That was until one of my lecturers tried a far more unusual approach to garner my attention. Step forward bow legged, ginger haired science teacher Mr. Bradley.
Mr. Bradley was one of the youngest teachers in the school who still played football and had a down to earth attitude that set him apart from the other tutors at our institution of boredom. He was ‘one of the lads’, though had the nasty habit of giving out homework. He called us by our nicknames and we invented a few choice ones for him too. The affectionate 'Mr. B' soon became 'Bean Sebastian', which somehow later mutated into the somewhat derisory 'Beans a Bastard'!
Between smoking rolled up paper lit with Bunsen Burners and stealing magnesium ribbon to burn in the toilets, I think we shared a bond. I’m pretty sure he covered for me the time I ‘accidently’ drank a bottle of Thunderbirds at lunchtime and puked all over the science lab. We were dissecting fish that afternoon so I had a reasonably strong alibi. Thankfully Mr Bradley sent me home due to ‘illness’. I was only 15 at the time and certainly no thespian when it came to acting sober. My zigzag across the field, in full view of my classmates, probably confirmed that this was no mystery, one man epidemic.
Mr Bradley knew I was into music and we talked a lot about bands and football. Unfortunately our friendship didn’t make me try any harder at school, but it certainly gave him an element of control over me in the classroom. You try not to make your friend’s lives a misery, so my outlandish behaviour was saved for lunchtimes and other lessons. I must point out that I wasn’t totally disruptive at school, I just thought there were more fun things to do than learn! Did he befriend me for a quieter life? Maybe, but it was our shared love of music and football that created our bond. Not test tubes and tripods.
One day he brought me in a tape. Not a mix tape, we weren’t going steady. One side was a Glasgow band called Love and Money with their album ‘Strange Kind of Love’. The other was The Smiths ‘Strangeways Here We Come’ and with that, a love affair began. Though not between Mr Bradley and I!
I had obviously been aware of The Smiths, but I had given them a wide berth as they were my neighbour’s favourite band. I'd cringed as he'd danced by himself to 'Panic' at the Top of the Town 'Nappy Night', but I guess I judged the band by my neighbour’s cover rather than find out for myself. Yet thanks to my favourite school teacher, my ears were finally open.
The production on ‘Strangeways’ was totally sublime. From the opening piano jangles of ‘A Rush and a Push’ all the way to the bleak but beautiful acoustic of ‘I Won’t Share You’, the album to this day is still in my top five. The intro to ‘Last Night I Dreamt’ still sends a shiver down my spine, whilst like Morrissey, I always ‘dance my legs down to the knees’ to ‘Paint a Vulgar Picture’.
Many Smiths fans will point to other albums as the best, but to me ‘Strangeways’ was my first love. I was then able to go through their amazing back catalogue and discover one of the greatest bands in the history of British music. The less said about ‘Love and Money’ on the other side of the tape, the better!
I sometimes wonder what happened to Mr Bradley. Is he still teaching somewhere? He could be a headmaster by now. Or perhaps he’s still in the science lab being one of the lads. Older and wiser, but still introducing quality music to annoying little tossers like me.
It’s amazing that such insignificant acts can mean so much to a person so many years later. I still listen to ‘Strangeways’ every now and again and I am instantly transported back to my school days. The idiotic hair, my 25inch straight leg school trousers, my ‘Style Menswear’ plastic bag, covered head to foot in Kouros aftershave. Clueless!
I'd love to buy Mr Bradley a pint and thank him for my introduction to The Smiths. I’d let him know how even though I didn’t make it as a scientist, my serious love of music saw me forge an average career as DJ for a decade.
I was never cut out for the lab coat that’s for sure, but here’s hoping Mr Bradley continues to offer his pearls of wisdom to students in the same way he did for me. He may have created a quieter classroom for himself in 1988, but his introduction to me of The Smiths is still remembered a quarter of a century later…