It’s 11.45 on a Saturday night and I’m waiting for my 14-year-old son Marlais to come back from his first gig. He’s been to see the legendary rap group Public Enemy, playing at the Roundhouse in London.

He’s not new to the scene... 

He’s been to festivals with me, hung around in Oasis’ dressing room, and watched the New York Dolls from the side of the stage when he was little. But this is the first time he’s gone with a friend, even though his friend’s dad went too. I’d have liked to have gone myself, but my mate sorting the tickets had gone off to Glastonbury and—rather unsurprisingl—it was impossible to get hold of him.

Never mind, I told myself. I actually interviewed Public Enemy three times early on in their career, when I was working for New Musical Express. One meeting was in Switzerland, another in London and a third in San Diego. I particularly remember that last time because I was knocked to the floor from the front row of seats—a hapless victim of the screaming teenage girls running to get hold of the band’s arch-prankster and timekeeper Flavour Flav. 

Even before I’d met them, I’d reviewed their debut album Yo! Bum Rush The Show and absolutely loved it. A new sound using old sounds—an album that originated from radio- station jingles, raps and a call to arms. They were, like my namesake James Brown (the Godfather of Soul), cleverly playing with The Clash’s political sensibility. 

It sort of amused me that Marlais was going to see them. He’s 14 and I’m 49, but here was something he’d discovered himself that I’d enjoyed myself decades ago. There’s a whole generation of kids learning about the icons of rap from each other—not from their parents.

 

How was it?

Just as I’m about to call his friend’s dad, I hear the gate hitting the bins and see them coming up the steps. I open the door, say thanks to the other adult for taking them, and notice how enthusiastic Marlais is in saying thank you and goodbye to his friend Finn. I close the door and ask the all-important question, “How was it?”

The look in his eyes says it all. Positively beaming, he catches his breath before saying, “It was amazing. We left Finn’s dad up in the balcony and went downstairs, and told security our dad was inside and had our tickets. Then we went right down to the front. Flavour Flav jumped down and hi-fived me!”

I see in an instant that he’s just realised there’s a whole different world out there to the one he’s experienced already. There’s no holding back when Public Enemy play live—it’s bomb dropping, scratching, beats and rap that just carry you along. It’s truly inspirational. For a moment, I see the light in his eyes, and I recall the total and utter excitement I used to feel at live gigs when I was his age. 

 

Long lost gigs

Public Enemy and James Brown

Somewhere I’ll still have the tickets for concerts by The Jam, The Ramones, Chuck Brown & The Soul Searchers…not to mention the fledgling U2 and Depeche Mode. As a teenager, the process was what I loved most of all: getting my ticket, waiting for the day, getting down to the venue—usually Leeds University Refectory or The Warehouse—waiting through the support act and then getting down the front, squashed in tight by leather jackets. I’d come alive when the main act came on. 

An hour and a half of mayhem would follow—relentless, pounding music and the most vigorous thrashing around I could endure. By the end my clothes would be totally soaking and the ringing in my ears wouldn’t stop until the next day. 

 

Reliving my youth

One of the early joys of parenthood was realising I could once again walk through my own childhood as my first son discovered water pistols, Subbuteo and matchbox cars. In fact, there are so many opportunities to revisit where—or what—you’ve been before, but it hadn’t occurred to me that my eldest son would make his own tracks through a world I’d also adored. Skateboarding and computer games were his last big interests, and they seem to be as permanent as playing football in the street was for me. So to see this sudden enthusiasm for live music knocked me over. And I’m happy about that. 

You never know what will happen to your kids, but you hope they’ll achieve all they are capable of and have fun along the way. At present, the rules, boundaries and basic behaviour requirements of school seem beyond Marlais for a whole week at a time, so maybe something else will help direct him to where he’s meant to be.

Yesterday we walked into a book-shop and he asked for The Catcher In The Rye. “A teacher told me to read it,” he said. Just 24 hours later, he’s almost finished it.

Like father, like son—bands, gigs and the spirit guide of J D Salinger are the life blood of young manhood. It can’t wait for all the great books and beats that lie ahead.

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