37. Teacher

37. Teacher

S.Rhatigan/ J F Morrison ©2000

I have a lot to learn, some lessons though I seem to have to keep learning, like when to speak up and when to shut up… still haven’t mastered that one despite the many great teachers I’ve been fortunate enough to have had. I think some people just cannot be taught and I’m one, however that too is something I’m starting to learn how to do, in my dotage!


Photo Derek Ridgers

Autodidactic, apparently that’s me.  It’s not that I don’t want to learn, I just don’t always want to be taught. I’m impatient, I want to know everything without all the hassle of learning, listening and observing.  I want to discover for my self and I certainly don’t want to give anyone else the credit for my achievements, or in fairness my failures.

For example one of my best teachers is my man, Manfred, or ‘Poor Manfred’ as he’s affectionately known near and far.  When we first met I was computer illiterate. It was 1996 and I was still splicing and gluing and photocopying and posting flyers and updates to my mailing list about gigs etc using a label maker and my old typewriter, which was missing a few letters.  It was all very lo-fi-diy, that was what I was into.  So when my new boyfriend, a software engineer no less, offered to set me up with a pc and printer and the ‘internet’ of all things, I was understandably, or not, extremely resistant.  I think he was visiting me from Germany every few weeks for a year or more, watching on flummoxed by my refusal to embrace the technology that he knew would eventually change my world, along with everyone else’s. I finally caved in and agreed to be helped.

Little did he know what he was letting himself in for.  Within 20 minutes of setting the PC up  I wanted to design my own website, market my gigs, record my band, animate videos and I wanted to do it now. By myself! Patiently he talked me through the frustrating basics those first steps everyone needs to learn, usually by being taught.  Unless of course you want to use a manual or help function, which I certainly never would!  A lot of swearing, gnashing of teeth, hair pulling and tears would be endured before I finally got going and that wasn’t just ‘Poor Manfred’.  But get going I did and a very wide range of skills I learned along the way, however they were always with a particular task in mind, a means to an end.  Like the Cushy Productions website.

Today, to set up a basic site like that would be a doddle. You plug into a template like WordPress and hey presto you have a website.  There were no plugins like that back then.  So Manfred set me up with an Adobe Pagemill html programme and I tortured a simple but quite well functioning website and blog out of it.  I frequently ran into brick walls and would think nothing of calling Manfred at all hours of the day and night, wailing furiously about how stupid the bloody machine was that it didn’t know what I was thinking and seemed to go out of it’s way to sabotage my vision at every turn.  With monumental calm he would talk me down from the precipice of madness and pick through my previous hours labour methodically, explaining as only a German software engineer can, where I went wrong, and maybe suggest an alternative route, only to be told to keep his bloody suggestions to himself and off I would streak headlong into the next brick wall and again and again and again and still to this day God help him!

But the Cushy web site actually worked and we developed a very nifty email marketing template which still works and the site has good original content and I’m very proud of it.  I could have perhaps invested some time in a formal course in web design and web marketing and capitalised on all that experience, possibly carved out a solid career from it, but for me that was never what it was about.  I wanted to make music and this was simply a tool to help me get my music heard. The whole learning thing was just something that had to be endured.

I guess the teacher/pupil relationship is hard for me because of my em, ‘control’ issues.  I had a rough ride in school, what with my short attention span, repeated insubordination, combined with the rather embarrassing belief that anything I had to say no matter how inane was more interesting than anything anyone else had to say, particularly during maths!  If I had/have one weakness however, it was/is flattery.  Unbeknown to most of my hapless teachers they probably would have enjoyed my complete submission had any of them ever said anything nice about me to me.  I would have done anything to please, anything but stay quiet and learn that is.

But really at the bottom of it all, we all want to feel special, like we’re a bit more special than everyone else, right? And who better to make us feel special than our teachers. It’s an awesome responsibility and one that should never be abused of course.  Teachers have all the power. Or do they?

Teacher the song was inspired by a tabloid story at the time about a young teacher who had run off with his 15 year old pupil to France. There was a terrible bru ha ha with tabloid hacks swarming all over the small village where they were holed up. I was struck at the time by how willing and complicit the young woman appeared in the editorial as compared with the almost naivety of the older teacher.  I remember thinking I could have been that girl, so I wrote a little story about how that balance of power between teacher and pupil might swing with certain personality types involved, and this is the result. I certainly could have been the girl in the song too, yep that could’ve been me alright!

So this recording was one of the latter day Rhatigan ‘unfinished’ masters.  I transferred it from 8 track 1/4 ins tape the other day with the intention of recording the missing vocal in the middle and doing a few overdubs.  But it turns out my recently repaired Fostex R8 is running a bit slow and the track is a little flat of concert pitch. with the result the new parts I tried sounded unpleasantly sharp.  In fact barring some minor lyric changes and backing vocals it is as it was back at the dawn of the new millennium.  I really like this song and I’m so pleased to finally ‘finish’ it, though of course it isn’t quite right, not really finished….

Christ will I never learn?

PS: I’m rushing this blog to get it uploaded before I fly to London to celebrate my friend Gina Birch’s birthday.  Gina was one of my favourite ‘teachers’. We met while she was gigging with The Hangovers in the mid nineties.  We became friends and she came and recorded a few songs at Cushy and played at the Cushy nights at the 12 Bar Club in London.  She is an inspiration to so many musicians, artists, friends…  Not just for her punk pedigree, being a member of seminal punk band The Raincoats but also as a video director.  Her work is very unique and every one she has worked with has leaned a lot!

PPS: The photo was taken by photographer Derek Ridgers, whose portraits of London club life over the last 30 years are wonderful and can be seen in his 2012 book London Youth.  The photo was shot in a mansion on South Audley St in Mayfair where another wonderful friend Debs Hinkinson was living at the time.  Another great teacher, Debs throws the most wonderful dinner parties and I was always delighted to be asked along as her commis chef.   Thanks guys xxx

Suzanne Rhatigan vocals guitar keyboards
John Morrison Bass
Paul Murphy drums