It is October 22, 1992. I am 17 years old and, to be honest, I’m not enjoying it very much.
I’m in the 6th form at a draconian Catholic school in a town called Mansfield. It’s a place whose cultural life consists of a bowling alley, a dilapidated cinema and the world’s ugliest bus station. There is little else worthy of comment. I keep my head down and wait for the day when I can pass my exams and get a ticket out of there. I get through the angst ridden days by taping The Mary Whitehouse Experience off the radio, borrowing Smiths albums from the local library and trying to get my oversized black jumper to look like the one worn by The Cure’s Robert Smith.
I also have pen pals. They provide my lifeline to the outside world. One of these pen pals, Rebecca, has been sending me tapes and getting me into music beyond the compilations of the Indie Top 20 that I can get from the library. She sends me tips on the records she is buying. This week she mentioned one by a band whose name I’ve not heard before, they’re on tour with current indie faves The Frank & Walters, but by the time I read her letter we’ve missed the gig.
The band in question are being treated with suspicion by the weekly music press, that I have to order in specially at the newsagent, because they are signed to a major label. But Rebecca agrees with the positive opinion of our favourite critic Jon Homer, who is outside the cliques of King’s Reach Tower at Teletext’s music pages, and suggests that I listen for myself.
After school I go to the local Andy’s Records, whose only attraction is their large bargain bin full of vinyl singles. CDs are a bit out of my pocket money price range and besides I have nothing to play them on. I rely on the mark-downs they keep at the back of the shop when I want to hear anything I can’t hear on Fabulous One FM.
I find the mysterious and hitherto unheard Creep on sale for 99p and another 12 inch EP by the same band, reduced to 49p. I pick up a few other discs and head home.
Back in my bedroom in our small semi-detached, semi-rural house, I set up the cheap beige plastic record player that my mother has recently bought from the local supermarket. It has a very low output, but it’s lightweight, meaning my brother and I can move it from room to room easily and listen in private.
I sit on the floor, plug in my headphones, remove the EP from its sleeve, put the vinyl on the turntable and drop the flimsy tone arm on the groove. As the needle crackles, I turn the sleeve in my hands and wonder who these blokes in bad shirts and sunglasses are. The song starts with conventional bass and drum lines. The vocals come in, so far so good, and then the lyrics start to get interesting. Just as I begin asking myself if he really just said that… the guitar crashes out of nowhere and this thing that sounded like the oddest ballad I’d ever heard becomes something else entirely. Shivers up my spine. The swoop of the crescendo and that noise. And where does that voice come from?
I pick the needle up and put it back to the start, I have to listen to this again, in case I was imagining it. I play it again, I play the other tracks. I play the other EP, Drill, and then come back to Creep again. Nothing in the other songs really prepares me for it. I go to the bottom of my wardrobe where I keep a stack of music papers, and hunt through the last few to see what I had missed about this band. I hadn’t heard this on the radio. I open a spread in the NME. It begins “Thom is 5’4’’ and swears a lot” and proceeds to describe a band at odds with prevailing trends, at odds with what was expected of them, but in tune with my world view.
I wrote in my diary that night, “bought Creep. Loud and cruel and good”.