Who can really remember what happened thirty years ago?

I have been filming a series of video oral history interviews asking interviewees to recall events of twenty or twenty five years ago. Some people have total recall it seems “as if it were yesterday”.  Others are hazy and generous enough to talk about the effects of aging on memory.  Some want a good old natter about the old days whilst others remember documents or artifacts during the interviews and rush off to get them which triggers another round of memories.

Now the tables have been turned and I am being interviewed for some different research leading to a book and being asked questions about thirty years ago.   Daniel Rachel , musician and author of the wonderful Isle of Noises, is writing a book about music, politics and counterculture of the 80s in the UK.  I have met him a few times now but only just had my interview. A taste of my own medicine.

I have shown him old rough-cuts of video,  articles, photos but the crunch came when I was asked to remember and think and put it all together in words to be recorded.  Its hard.  I remember so many moments and so many people, but the chronology- that’s another matter.  I don’t even know who owns some of the footage I produced or some of the photos I have kept – can I publish them, or not? Who knew I was the only person with an old VHS copy of a 90 minute rough cut of the Red Wedge Tour?

We talked about the setting up of Red Wedge and how I got involved.  Why set up a video group at all to make a video diary of the tour?  The growth of independent film and video  in the context of the new Channel 4.  How Red Wedge did or didn’t relate to Artists Against Apartheid.  How did I end up in Senegal simultaneously interpreting on stage at a gig for 60,000 Youth with Harlem Desir of SOS Racism which was linked to Paris and New York?  What was it like making Jerusalem with Paul Weller and the Style Council and did I really know what it was about?  Were you hurt by all the criticism of the film?  Were the band? What did I do during the AAA concert on Clapham Common, where was I during the show?  Why did I go to Naples with Red Wedge and etc Of course I was asked a lot about the experience of the tour and everyone on it but mainly during this interview a series of flashes of memory and sensations, feelings and conversations and a lot of fun.  And actually just how well everyone got on and got the job done.  I remember seeing Elvis Costello sing Shipbuilding  in a community hall in Newcastle – and that is something I shall never forget.

This frontier of interview , oral history , history and memory is the territory of my work about the BBC at present.  But its hard at the moment not to get sidetracked into my own memories of the me before the BBC.  I still need to work out some sequencing.  But being asked why there is no footage of the Smiths playing at our gig in Newcastle has really put me on the spot!

I’ll post photos just as soon as I track the photographer down.

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Filed under bbc, memory, music business, oral history

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