Oh goodness I don’t even know where to BEGIN with today’s Rock ‘n’ Roll High School. I’d say there are no words, but the truth is that there are too many. My guest is Christopher Penman, guitarist and co-founder of seminal, fictional, 80s British band Banks Forest. Christopher also stars in my latest book, my first full-length novel, Bring Me Back. I was anxious to give readers a better look at Christopher’s adolescence and particularly his musical roots, since that’s something that I was able to only touch upon in the book. Plus, every minute I get to spend with Christopher is memorable. I love reading the details of the first time he saw a live band and, of course, it’s amazing to read about his musical influences. I didn’t mind learning about his favorite make out song either.
Swiftfields Secondary School, Stourbridge, England, Class of ’80, Currently: Founding member of Banks Forest, musician
Band and/or song that reminds you the most of high school: David Bowie. Graham from Banks Forest and I fancied ourselves intellectuals, even if our marks in school never reflected it. There was something effortlessly cool and artistic and most of all, cerebral, about Bowie. I loved that his music was a mix of direct 70s rock and spacey experimentalism. He’d been around for years by the time we were in secondary school, so I think part of the appeal was that we thought we were being true music connoisseurs. I have fond memories of listening to Ziggy Stardust on my dad’s wobbly old turntable (side one, especially) through massive headphones so my mum would have no idea how loud I was playing it.
Favorite piece of music memorabilia (poster, t-shirt, etc.) in high school: A t-shirt of the cover of the first album by The Clash. You know, the black and white image of the band with “The Clash” in red across the bottom and military green on the sides. It was quite a cheap shirt and I wore it until it was in tatters, holes at the armpits, a complete disaster. My mum begged me to throw it out and even enlisted one of my older sisters, Kate, to nick it from my bedroom. I was onto them though. I’d stuffed it under my bed.
Band that you hated that everyone else at school seemed to love: Bloody Cliff Richard. It was really the girls that liked him, something about that helmet of hair and satiny shirts. We couldn’t talk about how much we hated him because the girls would get angry and I, especially, couldn’t afford to have the ladies on my bad side. To this day, I can’t hear “We Don’t Talk Anymore” without wanting to strangle someone. I’m all for camp, but that song is bollocks.
Best show or concert you saw in high school: The Jam, right after their first album was released. Graham and I went, even though we were a bit young. I think we were thirteen or fourteen. I’d never seen a band before and it wouldn’t be until I’d seen a few more shows that I truly realized how special The Jam was live. They had such raw intensity on stage. Frenetic. Hyperactive. They wore black suits and ties with proper dress shirts and they played as if their lives depended on it. Brilliant. The crowd went crackers, especially when they played “In The City”. It was mayhem. I went home that night thinking I’d better start doing more than mucking about with dad’s old guitar.
Best high school make-out song: I know I’m going to get a lot of guff for this, but I’ll say “If You Leave Me Now” by Chicago. It’s the only song I’ve ever heard that has an acoustic guitar solo, quite the ballsy move if you ask me. It was quintessential 70s American soft rock and the girls loved it. They were putty in my eagerly roving hands as a result. When you’re a sixteen year-old with overactive hormones, that’s all you really care about.
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