Nov 24th: Henry Normal – How Chesterfield Changed My Life

In the run up to November’s “IEG Presents at Chesterfield Labour Club” host for the evening, MATT McATEER got a wonderful email from the headline guest – HENRY NORMAL. Anyone with an affiliation to Chesterfield in any way should read it…

HenryNormal Nov

HOW CHESTERFIELD CHANGED MY LIFE

“You might not consider Chesterfield a place of radical ideas and cultural awakening but for me it was.

I’d no idea where Chesterfield was before I moved there in the early eighties. I’d been told it had a crooked spire but hadn’t been told anything else. I knew no-one.

I started work at an insurance brokers in the centre of town just next to the shop that sold electric organs and I had a small bedsit in a block of newly built apartments.

My work colleagues were friendly, but we didn’t really socialise outside of work so occasionally I found myself sitting in the local pub on my own. I was determined not to just sit in my flat.

I took to reading as much as possible and was already writing comedy and poetry although mainly for my own amusement. I dressed very traditionally at the time. I wore a suit for work and had short hair. I’m told I had been mistaken for a policeman sitting on my own drinking. One day though I struck up a conversation with a couple a few years younger than me. Tracy and Dids two students from Chesterfield college on the Arts Foundation course. Within weeks we became friends and they introduced me to further friends Phil, Ivan, Judith and a distinctive couple called Rat and Pat.

I saw an address on a musical fanzine that was published in Chesterfield by a character called Faye Ray. Now Faye Ray is, of course, the heroine in the story King Kong. so I knew this was a pseudonym. I searched out the publisher and plucking up courage I knocked on the door. It turned out to be Steve Waterhouse, a beautifully kind and generous man who was a local activist and ran a community centre in a portacabin called ’48’.

It was Steve that inspired me to make that leap of faith and quit insurance to pursue my dream of becoming a writer. I owe him a great debt.

All the arts crowd I met in Chesterfield had such energy for life and optimism about the future. A very different attitude that I was used to coming from a council estate in Nottingham. In this seemingly sleepy backwater, lives filled with creativity were all around me. There was also a great sense of community. Something I’d not experienced before.

I handed in my notice and used both the money I’d saved up and my pension that I’d cashed in, to buy half shares in a new indie record shop just outside the centre of Chesterfield with Dids. The shop was Planet X records and after a couple of years we moved to just behind the spire.

These were the last days of vinyl as we knew it, before Cd’s really took over. It was much harder than I thought running a record shop and we made very little profit.

I started performing poetry both locally and around the region, especially in Sheffield and I adopted the name Henry Normal.

I helped at a dance night Dids used to organise with Rat and Pat called Gotham City. I usually did the door. I drove a few of the local bands to gigs including once a band called ‘Criminal Sex’. I supported many Chesterfield bands on stage like Body Factory, Substitute Flesh and most memorably The Bland.

Gotham City would occasionally put on bands and I got to meet Pulp and Dig Vis Drill both of which I went on to perform with around the country, including at the famous Marquee Cub in London.

Jarvis broke his legs around this time falling from a window. I would have to wheel him on stage in his wheelchair. Morrissey had been wearing fake glasses and a hearing aid on stage as an affectation, and I’m sure some people though it was Jarvis going one further. It did make me laugh when he danced his characteristic moves, but in his chair.

One of my favourite memories of Chesterfield is the informal football matches we used to play – Planet X versus 48. It usually turned into a sort of goths verses hippies affair. with a sprinkling of punks and soul music fans included.

I loved the sense of community of those days in Chesterfield and the great characters. I fell in love with a girl who moved to Manchester to go to University so I moved with her. There I met Steve Coogan and Caroline Aherne and got involved in television. I look back on Chesterfield with a great fondness. If I hadn’t have had my time there I would not have been ready for Manchester and a life of creativity.”

Henry Normal…

HENRY NORMAL headlines the Independent Electric Group presents, at Chesterfield Labour Club, Saturday 24th Nov, 8PM.

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