Twenty years ago I was having my passport checked in some godforsaken Turkish airport, and feeling more than a little nervous.
I had recently seen Midnight Express and although the strongest thing in my back pack was some spearmint tic-tacs, that didn’t stop the waves of paranoia sending the sweat trickling down my sunburnt back.
Suddenly the heavily armed, scarily uniformed guard leapt down from his stool to embrace me warmly.
‘Forest! Brian Clough!’ he yelled, failing to notice me wincing as he slapped me warmly on the back in a state of high excitement.
He was, unlikely as it might seem, a Forest fan, and he had noticed my place of birth was listed as Nottingham.
That’s what being a fan is about – connecting with other people with whom you have absolutely nothing, and yet everything, in common. Turkish passport guy felt this strong affinity to me because I had been born in a place many thousands of miles away from his own home; he was nothing short of thrilled to feel that connection over a very halting conversation about Archie Gemmell and his ability to be all at once literally ALL over the field.
My first experience of being a fan, though, was not watching Brian Clough’s Red and White Army. I LIKED watching Forest play, but I am not a football FAN. I see the beauty and the poetry of the game but it doesn’t sing in my blood.
Though I like a lot of bands, I was only ever a fan of Queen.
In fact it’s not an exaggeration to say that being a Queen fan defined my teenage years. Being a fan in those days was a pretty serious business. It involved scanning the magazines and the papers to make sure you got all the right clippings. Queuing up outside the record shop (Selectadisc, RIP) for newly released records. Sending off my SAE to the Jackie at the Queen Fan Club – still going strong, incredibly enough, and in the Guinness Book of Records too.
Fandom was – still is – a great outlet for all those raging hormones. When all the boys around you seemed, well, a little dull somehow, there was always Freddie oh and Freddie was never ever dull.
Feeling like you belong to something can be a lifesaver in those dark teenage days when you feel like you are the only one who feels SO ALONE, so disconnected from everything. But it isn’t just a question of belonging, it was a way of being too. Queen weren’t just a band for me, they were the philosophy, the design for life – the camp, the sarcasm, the excess, the lust for life. Over the top, and never taking yourself too seriously – ‘if a thing’s worth doing, it’s worth overdoing.’
These days I am, of course, way too old and sophisticated to be a fan.
Fandom is one of the things you are supposed to grow out of, like acne and wetting the bed. Well I have pretty much grown out of both of those (apart from the ONE TIME) – but I haven’t grown out of the desire to connect with something, to be passionate and even fanatical about.
Looking around me, lots of people still feel the same way, still paying good money to go and see – and maybe even scream at – their teenage heroes: Robbie Williams or McBusted. Following a football team is a for many a lifelong commitment; there’s no divorce proceedings that can stop you following the same team. You can check out any time you like, but you can never leave. (So watch out One Directioners – you’re in this for the longhaul….)
It’s not Queen for me anymore though. My fangirl tendencies now point in an almost comically different, and certainly unexpected, direction.
I liked a lot of bands in the 1990s; The Bluetones weren’t even top of my list. I loved Nirvana, Green Day and Blur; I thought Jarvis Cocker and Thom Yorke were incredible performers. I played Jagged Little Pill till I could mimic every one of Alanis’s annoying vocal catches.
But somehow, when all the CDs started gathering dust, I just kept playing The Bluetones until the lyrics were as familiar to me as the Bible verses I learned as a child and these days much more meaningful.
Like every fan, I am a little embarrassing, even gushing, on this subject; I am ready to tell anyone who wants to listen, and many who don’t, about how the poetry of the lyrics, the delicacy of the melodies and the subtlety of the harmonies all combine to create something magical.
These songs, the poetry of them – well it’s hard to put into words the way that they have accompanied my life, the passionate love affairs, the low moments and the painful, poignant corners.
They give me the feeling that someone else knows what it is like to be my kind of human, my kind of weakness and joy and love. Mark Morriss writes about, sings about, what is in my head and heart. The feelings that are not always easy to express in words, the feelings that are common to us all but at the same time entirely unique.
But fandom now, for me, is a little different, from the days when your heroes lived in a golden land far far away. (Or in the case of The Bluetones, Hounslow.)
Nowadays my heroes live on my Facebook friends list and my Twitter feed.
I helped to crowdsource Mr Morriss’s last album. We have chatted, awkwardly; I have even bought him a drink (which was, I have to tell you, a high point for a fangirl, even a middle aged one). I know his bar order, and can have a pretty good guess at his neuroses. (Which is not a criticism – if he wasn’t neurotic, then his poetry would not be so excruciatingly resonant.)
But, I am still a fan, not a friend.
And standing in the crowd last night with the other fans, feet sticking to the floor, exchanging glances when he mixes up the lyrics (to be fair, there are a LOT of lyrics), feeling a sense of belonging to something, is still a pretty wonderful place to be.
A history of Selectadisc here: