Life Is Like A Box Of Records: Derrick Johnston

Life Is Like A Box Of Records: Derrick Johnston

My name is Derrick Johnston. I play in a punk rock band called Uniforms and co-run Make-That-A-Take Records. I also play solo under the guise of Tragical History Tour, usually against my will. Thanks to Halina and Podcart for having me pick some landmark and milestone records.


Jerry Lee Lewis – Great Balls of Fire

Music used to scare me. My father was in the armed forces and listened to a lot of classical, which terrified me as a small child. My mother plays guitar and used to be a folk singer, so I also remember a lot of nicely picked acoustic guitar playing has a wonderfully sweet voice that used to lull me to sleep, but I don’t really remember a record that excited me until my uncle played me the A-side of a Jerry Lee Lewis hits collection. I was a pretty hyperactive child and the music was so wild that I couldn’t help but get into it. Looking back, that record more than any other sent me on an early path to punk rock hell.

The Shamen – Ebenezer Goode

I was born in the early 80s so remember a lot of bonkers rave and happy hardcore from when I was a youngster. I guess it was around the early 90s that I really began to take an active interest in music. My sister and I started writing silly pop songs around then. I didn’t really understand it at the time but there was always something anarchic about it attractive to me; that and the fact that it was obnoxious, in the best possible way. I’ve been able to recite this song pretty much word-for-word for over 20 years. I recently found a copy of the Boss Drum LP for £2.99 in the Oxfam Music shop in Exeter, an absolute bargain.

Nirvana – Territorial Pissings

My sister is a little older than me and always had pals and boyfriends who were into music, so a lot of that trickled down to me. I remember watching Jonathon Ross when Nirvana came on and played ‘Territorial Pissings’ instead of ‘Lithium’ and it was so outrageous to my young mind that I never forgot about it. I didn’t start playing guitar until a few years later but this was one of the first songs I learned when I did. We went on a primary seven school trip for a week to York and I had Nevermind and the first Rage Against The Machine album on either side of a TDK tape that I eventually wore out.

Black Sabbath – War Pigs

My first “proper” band was with my friend Michael, who is part of MTAT to this day. We started playing music together when I was about 13/14 and already into loud, abrasive music that annoyed my parents, sibling and friends. I loved Oasis, Sex Pistols, Offspring, Dead Kennedys; Michael loved Iron Maiden, Led Zeppelin and Manowar. I was never hugely into those bands but Black Sabbath were the band that Michael was into that I loved. Where Zeppelin, Maiden, Michael Schenker Group and such like were guitar wizards, it was too other-worldly and unattainable for me, but there was something altogether more sinister and primal about Sabbath that resonated with. Plus, it’s a super-fun song to sing in a dumb blues drawl.

Bad Religion – Generator

Where Michael introduced me to the world of metal and doom, I’d like to think I helped open his eyes to the world of punk a little. I could easily any number of songs from the old Epitaph/Fat Wreck Chords compilations, but it was this particular banger by Bad Religion that forever intertwines us; the perfect collision of rowdiness, harmonies, woahs and shred. We grew up in a small Perthshire village and this song will always remind me of pinging along the Alyth/Blairgowrie road with the windows down and the stereo up, usually whilst trying to take on the other tacky-spevvers and avoid beef. Punk rock, innit?

King Crimson – 21st Century Schizoid Man

There are few things I enjoy more than sitting in our spare room progging and grinding out endless riffs that I’ll never get round to using. While I’ve thus far resisted the temptation to buy a Rush record, my love of spaced out prog rock is undeniable. In The Court of The Crimson King is one of my favourite records of all time and it’s been with me since a child. Harry Tosh, father of my friend Euan, is one of the raddest dudes I’ve ever met and had an incredible record collection. I heard heaps of music for the first time through him. We listened to it in the car park of some stately house at which Harry was providing catering, I believe. This is a timeless LP that warped my young mind and still does.

Skee-Lo – I Wish

Rural Perthshire is about as far away from the epicentre of hip-hop as it was possible to be but I remember watching MTV’s “The Grind” when Skee-Lo popped up and performed this track live. I knew nothing about hip-hop save for the 90s dance/pop that was played on the radio and this is probably the first rap song that I could deliver word-for-word from memory. It’s certainly not the coolest of records but it was the first hip-hop single that I ever bought and opened up a world that I never knew existed beyond Beastie Boys and Run DMC. I saw the Beastie Boys at T in The Park one year (98?) and some dude spewed on my shoes.

Against Me! – Pints of Guinness Make You Strong

Cliché though it may be, Against Me! entered my life when I needed them; they were the band that taught me that it was okay to scream with an acoustic guitar. I had graduated and was directionless, hurt and in turmoil, like most 21/22 year old. I had started playing solo the year before, my latest band had broken up and I was by myself; this song more than any other gave me the required push to get my finger out. Laura Jane Grace is one of my favourite songwriters of all time and Against Me! played the greatest rock’n’roll show I ever did see at Fest 10 in Gainesville, Florida. Incidentally, I still suck at playing this song despite all my years of endeavour.

John Lennon – Imagine

This is clearly the most ubiquitous song on the list but it’s a song that has resonated throughout my life, always seeming to pop up at moments of emotional gravity and/or clarity. I can’t remember when I heard it for the first time but I remember learning it on piano after my grandmother passed, the night I first played a show on guitar, and the lilting piano is etched in my mind. It makes me think of love and warmth and looking out over city skylines with my heart on my sleeve. I found an original 7” from 1971 when we cleared out my dad’s house, which is an ironic thing to treasure given the lyrics and nature of the song. I never did find that Jerry Lee Lewis LP though.

Tim Barry – Wait At Milano

If there’s one moment of being in a band that will stay with my until forevermore than it is standing at the side of the stage in Tempe, Arizona with Jamie as we watched Tim Barry command and emotionally connect with an audience like no other I’ve ever seen. There were people crying in front as Tim wrestled with his mic stand and our collective demons. We were on tour in the States and only couple of weeks after my father’s funeral and while Tim wrenched out this tale of redemption, we stood at the side and watched in awe with tears streaming down our faces. I was lucky enough to play again with Tim in Glasgow and told him how poignant I’d found that moment and thanked him for it. Tim is one of the good guys; a solid gold hero and an inspiration.

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