The first album I ever bought was Graceland by Paul Simon. I was 14 at the time and, though I remember liking The Police and Adam And The Ants a few years earlier, until that point I’d never really been into music. (I was a late developer in many ways!)
Graceland is a pretty cool record to be able to say was the first you ever owned. But it was by fluke rather than by design; I liked the single You Can Call Me Al (and the classic video featuring Chevy Chase) and bought the album on tape off the back of that after I was given a Walkman for my birthday.
The rest of my early music-buying life consisted of whatever was in the charts at the time: Level 42, Curiosity Killed The Cat, Living In A Box, Go West, The Pet Shop Boys. Typical mid-80s pop fodder.
Cool I was most definitely not.
Then in the summer of 1987 I was given a cassette by a friend to listen to. It was a record he’d copied (probably using ‘high speed dubbing’, as that was way cool back in 1987) and I don’t remember it even having anything written on the case. Just an unlabelled C45 tape from Woolworths with some badly-recorded music on. The final song on side one cut out half way through.
I distinctly remember listening to that cassette for the first time and being blown away by it.
28 years later, and last week I went to see the band which made that record again. They’re still making new music, still touring relentlessly and still selling out arenas. The UK gigs are the culmination of a 100 date world tour this year.
Seeing them again made me realise something. It made me realise that I can trace back nearly three decades of music listening to that one album. My musical taste has ebbed and flowed over the years, from rock to indie to britpop to chillout and a lot in between.
But I can see a direct link between the likes of Pink Floyd and Oasis and Led Zeppelin and Radiohead and Kings of Leon and Pearl Jam and Embrace to sitting in my bedroom listening to a poor quality cassette tape nearly 30 years ago.
So why write about it here? It’s pretty obvious I have a sentimental soft spot for this band and, hopefully, why that is.
But I also have huge respect for them.
On new year’s eve 1984, the drummer was involved in a car crash and lost his left arm. The band stood by him and, rather incredibly, he learned to drum again by replicating what he used to do with his arm with his left foot. He’s still in the band today.
In 1991, one of the guitarists died suddenly after a long battle with alcoholism. The band decided to complete and release the album they’d been working on in tribute to him.
As grunge swept all before it in the early 90s, the band went from being possibly the biggest on the planet to being unfashionable and ‘irrelevant’ in the space of just a couple of years. Record sales plummeted. But where most of their contemporaries quit, this band stuck at it.
And then in 2013, a current guitarist announced he had cancer and has been battling it since. But he remains a very active member of the band both in the recording studio and on tour.
Most bands would have fallen at any single one of those hurdles.
I notice with a wry smile that One Direction have said they need to “take a break” because they’re tired. Their record company has described their five year career as “an incredible run”.
But this band has kept going, and is now approaching forty years into a challenging but hugely successful career.
Their staying power, mental stamina and unwavering self-belief is something that, whether or not you like their music, you can’t help but admire.
They stick together, they support one another, they stand by the music they love and believe in, fashionable or not, and they’re committed to being the best at what they do.
Throughout nearly four decades they’ve unapologetically stuck to who they are and what they are. They’ve never tried to be anything else.
These are qualities that we can learn from.
A year ago I left the security of salaried employment to set up as an independent consultant. A move like that when you have three kids under six is always going to be risky, but it was a calculated risk. And it’s paid off.
This year has been fantastic. I’ve had the opportunity to work with some large brands but have also really enjoyed helping out small companies too. One of my favourite days was back in the Spring: I spent a couple of hours advising a local cafe about targeted social media before driving to Honda HQ to work on the rollout of a European content management system in the afternoon.
It’s been diverse, it’s been interesting and it’s been very, very busy. But without the same self-belief and commitment displayed by my favourite band, it would never have happened.
All of which is a very long-winded and complicated way of saying: believe in yourself!
It doesn’t matter who you are reading this. Whether you’re the marketing manager for a major consumer brand, the founder of a tech start up, an account manager in a PR agency or an intern, set out your stall in 2016 to achieve whatever it is you want to achieve.
Be brave. Persevere. Stick with it.
Be yourself. Have integrity. And believe in yourself.
2016 could be your year. You just have to believe it.
And if you’ve haven’t guessed already, the band I went to see last week is Def Leppard. The album that came to define my musical taste was Hysteria.
I told you I wasn’t cool. But you know what? I really don’t care 🙂