Comedian Ian Stone’s memoir is a riotous tale of his teen obsession with The Jam
- Credit: Archant
The East Finchley comic delves into bullying, family breakdown and hero worshipping Paul Weller in the thoroughly readable To Be Someone
For five heady years in his teens, Ian Stone was in the grip of an obsession.
He had endured bullying, anti-Semitism, his parents’ acrimonious divorce and a terrible 70s diet.
But football and punk music - specifically The Jam - offered a brilliant diversion.
The comedian and radio host remembers seeing the band for the first time
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at The Music Machine - now Koko - in Camden Town.
“It was December 21st, 1978 and I was 15 years old. I still remember everything about that gig, what it felt like being in that crowd, hearing them playing all those old soul numbers, I was 10 feet away from the stage and it blew my mind. Afterwards I thought ‘I am going to see as much live music as I can’.
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And he did, taking weekend jobs to buy tickets, he saw The Police, The Clash and Queen - at his favourite venue The Rainbow in Finsbury Park.
“Freddie knew how to reach the back of a big hall”.
He also tried to sneak into the Hammersmith Odeon and ended up stranded on the roof, and was about to be thrown out of a Brighton Hotel when Paul Weller himself intervened and invited him to the bar.
The East Finchley comic describes those heady years in his memoir To Be Someone (Unbound £16.99) which transports readers back to The Jam’s debut single in May 1977 - a glorious spring when Red Rum won the Grand National for the third time, and The Queen celebrated her silver Jubilee.
“My first gig was Rock Against Racism in 1978. We walked from Trafalgar Square to Victoria Park Hackney - a hell of a long way - and saw Tom Robinson and The Clash, it was my first political event.”
He also recalls the strikes, terrible food and racism.
Brought up in Harlesden then West Hendon he attended synagogue and Jewish schools.
He “didn’t pay a lot of attention” at either North West London Jewish Day School or JFS in Camden where pupils from nearby Holloway Boys “would do Nazi salutes outside the school gates and make gas noises at you”.
“It was pretty nasty, kids were feral in the 70s. They were just doing it to wind us up, but it’s still shocking to write about.”
He was also bullied by JFS peers for “being the wrong sort of Jew”.
“Even for a Jewish school I had a big nose, I was a bit timid and didn’t push back. It was unpleasant but nothing that 30 years of therapy can’t fix! It seems so long ago but writing about it did bring it back up again.”
It didn’t help that his home life was unhappy.
“It was fairly toxic, my parents hated each other and their marriage was disintegrating. It was music and football - watching Arsenal, that feeling of being part of a group that supported the same thing, where I found my place. The first time I saw Paul Weller I just wanted to be him, and when he talked he sounded like me and my mates.”
An early gift for making people laugh led him to give it a try in later life.
“The first gig was of course terrible. I stood there with a dry mouth and my body shaking”.
But his wife overheard a comment: ‘He’s terrible but the material isn’t bad’ which spurred him on do to local gigs like the King’s Head in Crouch End.
After one set, comic Dave Schenider came up and said ‘I love what you did’.
“I ran home to Finchley celebrating ‘if someone like Dave thinks it’s funny that’s something I can cling to.’”
He talks warmly of the 90s comedy scene alongside the likes of Jo Brand, Bill Bailey, Lee Mack and Phil Jupitus.
“Most of them are lovely, really good people, very aware of their own failings, supportive rather than competitive. You see some on the circuit for an instant then they’re presenting Saturday night prime time TV, but you plough your own path.”
His easy-going bantering style blends political edge with great storytelling and proper belly laughs which have served him well from The Comedy Store to The Edinburgh Festival, where he was voted the Comedian’s Comedian.
He’s also scooped a Sony Award for his Absolute Radio Rock N Roll Football show with Ian Wright, and been part of Alan Davies’ successful football podcasts.
Then everything came to a juddering halt.
“I was supposed to be at Glastonbury,” he says.
“After 29 years, the longest I’d had off was 12 days. After 13 weeks my family want to kill me. I try to stand up in front of them every evening but they don’t seem that keen!
“One travels hopefully but social distancing and comedy just don’t mix. You need to be packed in with 200 people in a club, not sitting two seats apart with no atmopshere.
“I don’t see myself performing any time this year. Let’s hope for good testing or a vaccine so we can get back on stage safely.”