All Songs – by Benjamin Judge

Sleeve notes for a mix-tape.

In a box in a box in a box; twenty three cassette tapes; every recording of every band I have ever been in.

Allow me to be your catalogue.

  • Item One: A debut album, exactly forty five minutes long so it will fit neatly on one side of a C90 tape.
  • Items Two, Three, Four, Five: Cassingles recorded over Commodore 64 games. Wiped and replaced, ruined, garnished with yellowing sellotape.
  • Item Six: An EP which features a spectacularly ill-advised a capella cover of Copacabana, the only other copy of which was sent to Melody Maker and failed to make Holly’s Demo Hell.
  • Items Seven, Eight: The demo tapes for our second album. An album so bad that even I can’t be bothered to own it.
  • Items Nine to Twenty Three: More crap.
  • Item Twenty Four: Hand written sleeve notes. All lyrics Judge, Katz, Brereton, Bold, Jordan, Pedley.

Track One: Untitled Demo, 1990

Grizzly Adams has a beard on his face

Vinyl has never represented the underground. Vinyl was never punk. How could four thirteen year olds from Walsall record an album on vinyl? We didn’t have money, or talent, or instruments, or songs that anyone wanted to hear. We had a Philips Roller and a handful of things that made a noise when you hit them. We had pep. We had blank cassettes and blind ambition. We had one track minds for one track recording. We pressed play and record. We anticipated the democracy of a digitised future. Our music was a MySpace page, a Spotify playlist, a YouTube video. A YouTube video that nobody watched or shared or ‘liked’ because it was rubbish.

Track Two: Young, 1989

When I was young
I was so young
Ben was young
Jim was young
Can you guess what this song is about?
It’s about young people

Ian, the boy singing Young, is dead. Has been dead for nearly twenty five years. A car crash, between my house and his, a drunk driver, and that was that. He was fourteen years old. The band carried on, dedicated our second album to his memory, but there was no escaping the fact we were getting worse without him. There is a definite Manic Street Preachers after Richey Edwards’ disappearance vibe to our work for a while. Which isn’t to say that we were ever any good, or that we ever wrote a song as bad as Your Love Alone Is Not Enough, just that we were two bands, before and after, Joy Division and New Order. Ian was our anti-Curtis, he kept us fun, and it would be a long time until we were happy again. And yes, of course, there were other factors – hormones, booze, puberty, unrequited crushes, the lure of the legal high, the ridiculous decision to buy actual musical instruments – but without him we went from:

Track Three: Robin Hood, 1989

King John spat out all sixteen teeth
A mouse ate them, he was underneath


Track Four: Untitled Song, 1993

If I gave you a black rose, what would you do?

Every mix-tape has a song that doesn’t fit the mood. The song that should be edited out but isn’t. The song that made sense at the time but doesn’t now.

I was thinking about cassette tapes and I remembered Jacqui.

This is my best story about cassettes.

It’s 1997. Jacqui and I have been together for a few weeks. She has stayed at my house on a few occasions but nothing has happened. Nothing much. We are young and skittish and new. We have our whole lives ahead of us. No rush. But this is a perfect summer morning and we are in bed. The sun makes a corona of the curtains. We bask like lizards. Sleepy-eyed she breaks from my kiss and says, “I’m ready”, and as she says it the tape we’re listening to clicks, stop, and there is silence, smiles, nervous smiles. And if I turn the tape over there will be twenty, twenty five minutes of music before the silence returns. And I want this to be perfect. And will twenty five minutes be enough? And what if we are in the extremes of some strange passion when the tape stops and we are bathed again in silence? And what if this huge awkward silence swallows us whole? And what if my mom comes back from the shops early? What then? And so, I push the switch from tape to radio and-

“Princess Diana is dead.”

Track Five: Manilow, 2005

He’s the lyrical Pete Beale
You say it’s not real
But see
He climbs trees like a squirrel
When he’s scurrying free
He’s thinking about how cold it will be
Winter could bring starvation
He’s gathering nuts for the whole hybernation

Manilow was the last song I recorded. The last tape. I’ve been clean for ten years. I gave away my bass and my amp. My electric guitar is in the attic where it will stay until my daughter turns eleven or twelve and wants to start her own band. I’ll pay someone else to teach how to play it. The tapes are hidden away, in a box in a box in a box, with the photos and school books and certificates that map my youth. I got a low passing grade in second year conversational German. I got the Best in School Award in the NatWest Maths Challenge. I paddled a canoe. I grew a hyacinth. I wrote a song about the woman who ran the newsagents.

Track Six: Shop, 1994

You work in a shop,
You don’t sell a lot,
You don’t wear a badge,
And your face looks like Madge

Memory is cruel. Jacqui will always be the girl I didn’t sleep with because Diana Spencer died. An anecdote. A perfect where-were-you-when. But memory also softens, and in a way that recorded sound cannot. That first tape, that music, older than Leisure, older than Loveless, older than Doolittle, is all that remains of Ian. It is the legacy he didn’t ask for. It makes him a fly in amber. Nezahualcóyotl, contemplating the futility of existence, said “at least we leave our songs behind.” But what if the songs you leave behind are rubbish?

Track Seven: Plinky Plonk, 1989

Plinky plinky plonk plink plonk plinky plinky plonk
Plinky plinky plonk plink plonk plink plonk plink
Plinky plinky plonk plink plonk plinky plinky plonk
Plinky plinky plonk plink plonk plink plonk plink
Plinky plinky plonk plink plonk plinky plinky plonk
This is the noise when I wee on a floor

In my dreams Ian tells me he is alive and, in my dreams, still, I believe him.

All lyrics Judge, Katz, Brereton, Bold, Jordan, Pedley.

Benjamin Judge graduated from the Centre for New Writing at The University of Manchester in 2012 with a master’s degree in Creative Writing and big dreams. His work has been shortlisted for, published in, and rejected by various awards, anthologies, magazines and websites and his creative non-fiction story, Drinking Coffee with My Father in The Most Expensive Cafe in Manchester, won the Real Story Award. He exists on Twitter as @benjaminjudge. He feeds the birds but doesn’t trust them.