My first encounter with the music of BMX Bandits came about quite by chance when one day I happened to stumble upon a live performance of a song called In Your Hair. It was the summer of 2013 and I was 27 years old. This performance had existed on film for most of my life, and yet, here I was seeing it for the first time. This band had actually formed the year I was born, and yet, here I was hearing and seeing them for the first time. I couldn’t believe that nobody had ever thought to push this band in my general direction but, at the same time, I was kinda glad they hadn’t ‘cause it made the discovery all the more special. It was on an old video cassette belonging to my aunty and uncle that I found the performance and I was quite instantaneously captivated. Not so much by the song, the quality of the sound was actually quite poor, but more so by the guy with the bright blonde hair in the bright red shirt, the guy holding a Cindy doll and singing those playfully confrontational lyrics.
“I’m in your hair, I’m in your hair, and I’m staying there”
The guy’s name, I would later discover, was Duglas T Stewart. Duglas has since become something of a personal hero to me, as well as becoming one of my very favourite singers, and writers, of songs. Duglas captured my imagination the very moment I laid eyes on him. He was camp, colourful and daring. He was courageous, and yet, he also had a vulnerability about him. He was, to put it simply, my kind of pop star.
Obviously, I knew I had to hear more, and so, I had a look in my local record store in the hope I might find something by BMX Bandits and, as luck would have it, I found an album called BMX Bandits In Space. My first thought, when I came across BMX Bandits In Space, was that it had the most beautiful album artwork I’d ever seen. I couldn’t wait to get it home and listen to it.
“I’ve been drifting in space for so long, endlessly singing the same song”
BMX Bandits In Space is an album of great depth and beauty, it moved me greatly at the time and it continues to move me to this day. There is, to begin with, the beauty of the sound. It is a sound that manages, at times, to capture something of the vast unknown of space itself, the loneliness and the wonder, whilst also managing to feel somehow homely and warm. It offers an escape beyond this world but it is also deeply personal. I love escapism but I also love things that are very real and come from the heart. When these two things can be combined in art, I often find that to be the most satisfying thing of all. It’s not the easiest thing to explain but it’s something I have found in a lot of the music of BMX Bandits. I find joy in their songs but it’s a kind of joy that includes within it an understanding of great sadness. Duglas is clearly a dreamer but he’s also a real human who’s been through some very difficult times. I’ve always found it hard to separate seemingly conflicting emotions such as excitement and fear, happiness and sadness, and so, I often find art that is simply one thing or the other to be somewhat alienating. It is, I think, this seamless blend of the happy and the sad, the imagined and the real, that caused me to feel such an affinity with this music, to connect with it so deeply and so quickly.
The timing of my discovery also had a lot to do with why it had such a big impact on me, it was the first time I’d connected with a collection of songs in such a strong way in quite some time. To further understand why this was, I think it would help if I told you a little about where I was in my life at that time.
A few years prior to this, I had lost my mother. I guess I’d be stating the obvious if I were to tell you that losing a parent is tough. What is maybe less obvious, or at least it was to me, is the way that it effected not only the way I felt about the past and the present but also the future. It wasn’t simply a case of feeling sad about my mum, there was also a feeling of not knowing who I was anymore, or who I wanted to be. And so, the very things that had defined so much of who I was up to that point, the music I listened to, the books I read, the films I watched, became almost alien to me. For a long time, I struggled to connect with anything. All my life, I’ve struggled with anxiety and depression, and I struggle to this day, but the thing that has always gotten me through has been the artists and writers who’ve been through similar struggles and have expressed these things, through their art and writing, in a way that’s made me feel less alone and comforted me, or those who’ve created alternate worlds and allowed me to visit and escape my reality.
What I was experiencing at the time though, was a new kind of depression, never before had I felt such a disconnect from the things that make me who I am. At times, I wondered if I would ever fully regain my enthusiasm for music, and this made me very sad. And so, the excitement I felt when I discovered BMX Bandits was made all the more so, simply for the fact that it was so unexpected. It was almost like I was a teenager again, watching an old video cassette and getting excited about a band, I had really missed this feeling.
Since then, I have delved further and further into the back catalogue of BMX Bandits and I have found a great many treasures. From the infectious joy of their very first single E102 to their most recent single My Girl Midge, a song that, like so many BMX Bandits songs, The Sailor’s Song being another perfect example, manages to be both sad and joyful at the same time. There is something very special about BMX Bandits and that something is, I believe, Duglas T Stewart. What makes him so special? Well, I think it’s simply the fact that he is honest and open and has always been true to himself. Regardless of whatever else may be going on around him, he goes his own way. A perfect example of this is the way that in the early ‘90s, when everyone else was trying to sound like My Bloody Valentine or Nirvana, Duglas instead had the stated aim of making “pretty music”, which led to the creation of a very special song called Serious Drugs, a song that I really can’t imagine coming from anybody else, especially at that time.
Discovering BMX Bandits was more than just the discovery of one band though. For me, it was also the rediscovery of music in general. It was as though the door to music had closed and I’d lost the key, and then one day, out of nowhere, Duglas had come along and said, “I see you struggling to open that door, I have a key you can use. Here you go, try this.”
As things stand today, music is once again a huge part of my life. I discover new music that excites me on an almost daily basis, I go to shows regularly and I’ve made lots of new friends, all through a shared passion for music. I guess it was inevitable really, that I would regain my enthusiasm for something that had always meant so much to me, but, had I not watched that old video cassette when I did, it could have taken me a whole lot longer to get to where I am now, and I’d have missed out on a whole lot in the meantime.
I expect that a lot of people in my life are already aware that BMX Bandits are one of my favourite bands, prior to reading this though, they might have wondered why that was. Hopefully, there’ll no longer be any need for such wondering, but, if you’re still not sure, perhaps the best way to understand would be to have a listen to their music.