Monday, 21 December 2015

Why I call myself the Shrieking Violet

I wrote this in response to a recent article in the Guardian about the decline of the name 'Nigel'.

Why I call myself the Shrieking Violet

I call myself the Shrieking Violet because of a man called Nigel: Nigel 'Nig' Hodgkins, my Year 9 English teacher, who had a bowl haircut, big, round glasses and a 'flying jacket' (and as a result was mocked a lot by the girls at my all girls' school for being hopelessly uncool). At the age of 13/14 I didn't say very much (didn't know how), but wrote copiously. My main ambitions in life were to be editor of the Times (the family newspaper of choice, and therefore my main source of cultural knowledge), a rock 'n' roll music journalist or on Top of the Pops (or possibly all of those).

A lot of the time I felt like if you weren't loud you were ignored, seen as being stupid or dismissed as having nothing worth saying, but Mr Hodgkins noticed that I did have things to say and once said he knew that I was 'no shrinking violet'. This stuck with me and I determined that I was going to be a 'Shrieking Violet' instead of a 'shrinking violet', and that I was one day going to have a band with that name. 

One day after class someone asked Mr Hodgkins who his favourite band was. He said 'oh you won't have heard of them' and wrote 'L-o-v-e' on the board. I loved them, and excitedly exclaimed 'I love Forever Changes'! It turned out Mr Hodgkins wrote for the Penguin Book of Rock & Pop in his spare time. I used to get the bus to Canterbury to go record shopping at weekends, so I started going and standing in the 'music' section of Waterstones, on the first floor, and reading 'Nig Hodgkins'' entries in the Penguin Book of Rock & Pop – which included Pixies, Beach Boys, Husker Du and Public Enemy. 

After a couple of years Mr Hodgkins left our school. He'd always said that the '80s were the worst decade for music, which I vehemently disagreed with (I still think the eighties might be my favourite decade for music), so as a leaving present I made him a tape of my favourite '80s songs, called, of course, 'Making Plans for Nigel' (I stretched '80s slightly to include 1979/1990). I first heard 'Making Plans for Nigel' when I taped it off Steve Lamacq's Evening Session, and it's still one of my favourite ever songs, with one of my favourite ever guitar solos (when I moved to Manchester they used to play it at Smile at the Star and Garter, and I used to think of Mr Hodgkins as I danced around).

The last time I saw Mr Hodgkins was at the Canterbury Fayre music festival, when I was 16, in the summer holidays after my GCSEs (the same summer holidays I spent recording my first ever album, on cassette tape), out in the rolling Kentish countryside surrounded by hop fields. Love were headlining, playing Forever Changes in its entirety, complete with horns and strings, and it's one of the most transcendent musical experiences I can ever remember having, ferocious and mellow at the same time, of its time but also still so forceful and so bright and fresh. Arthur Lee died a couple of years later, so I'm so glad I got the chance to experience it. I still wear the Love t-shirt I bought at the festival, which is increasingly washed out and ragged but I intend to keep wearing it until it falls apart.

I hope Mr Hodgkins is still writing about music and going to gigs and being passionate and inspiring about what he does!

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