March 1977 and I’m just about to be introduced to a piece of plastic called ‘The Pink Parker’. Four tracks, pressed up in neon pink vinyl. I’m at a friend’s house in Casaeldona, Belfast, her sister has a boyfriend that’s a bit of a dude. On Thursdays, he comes over with a bunch of records and sometimes I’m around to hear them. In previous weeks it’s been The Eagles and Steve Miller, but the dude has recently cropped his hair and he doesn't wear the cowboy boots so often.
So he brings ‘The Pink Parker’ out of the bag. Lots of ceremony, because he knows we are watching. He opens the picture sleeve and then fetches out the luminous disc. After an introductory crackle we hear Graham Parker and his version of the old soul stomper, ‘Hold Back The Night’. Here he is, a weedy fella from Deepcut, England, wailing the song from the deeps of his heart. The brass section swings and Graham lets us know what it’s like to be profoundly haunted by the girl. She’s perpetually in his dreams and when he opens his eyes, her presence is there, scaring him to death.
I adored the croak of his voice. Graham Parker sounded worn and harassed and you believed him. The music had a sense of urgency, never letting him relax, and this also accented the drama of those songs. Soon after that first hearing, I got my own copy of the EP – alas, in black vinyl – and I also loved ‘Sweet On You’, ‘White Honey’ and the indefatigable ‘Soul Shoes’. I followed the guy’s progress through the music press and onto Top Of The Pops and then I noted that he was gunning for American success and the UK critics were becoming more interested in the younger punk rock contenders.
Later, I came to understand what pub rock was about and how it helped to prep a nation for punk. I also realised that Graham Parker had taken a great deal from the Caledonian Soul of Van Morrison and that his work had then been appropriated by Elvis Costello and Joe Jackson.
I guess I was also disloyal to Graham, but on a recent and significant birthday, I did perform a rowdy version of ‘Hold Back The Night’ on stage. It was an important connection to my younger self. And of course I won’t ever forget that evening in Belfast when I was literally dazzled by ‘The Pink Parker’.Way to glow.
(Graham Parker plays the Limelight Belfast, 22 September 2013.)