Dedicated to my late brother-in-law, one of the world’s biggest Connells fans…
BY FRED MILLS
It will come as no surprise to learn that many of my fondest music memories are from the mid ‘80s when I was living in Charlotte, NC, and the college rock scene—the mostly indie-based precursor to the alt-rock explosion of the ‘90s—was thriving. In this space and elsewhere on the BLURT site I’ve written lately about everyone from the Dream Syndicate, the Gun Club, Green On Red and Winter Hours to Dumptruck, R.E.M., Dreams So Real and NC’s Snatches of Pink, with a side dish of college rock godfathers Big Star and Dwight Twilley. We, as music consumers, do tend to focus on the records and the concerts that were our soundtracks during our so-called formative years, and I’m no different. The ‘80s were a pretty big deal for a lot of us, and there were a lot of bonds formed back then that endure to this day.
One of those bands, for me, was surely Raleigh’s Connells, whose run starting in the mid ‘80s lasted for more than a decade, during which time they not only became mainstays of college radio but also made modest inroads into commercial radio and MTV—and, with the release of the single and video for 1993 album Ring track “’74-‘75” they also turned into Top Ten stars in Europe. I was a huge fan from Day One and frequently wrote about the band in the publications I scribbled for back then, zines like The Bob, Puncture and Option, along with Charlotte weekly Creative Loafing. In fact, such was my public devotion to the group and its likeminded musical peers that my friend and fellow scribe Byron Coley, in a review of the Connells for the notoriously cranky but influential Forced Exposure, described the band and the album quite succinctly: “More Fred Mills southern jangle pop.”
Ouch. Well, I’ll take that as a compliment, ‘cos it was true.
I was also fortunate enough to see them numerous times over the years, typically in Charlotte clubs like the Milestone or the Pterodactyl or occasionally when I visited the Triangle (such as this R.E.M.-headlined one at Meredith College in May of ’85 where they along with Don Dixon and the Pressure Boys were an opening act; in the video at about the 1:08 mark you can see what I think is the back of my head). A decade or so later, when I was living in Tucson, the band came to the Old Pueblo to play at the Downtown Performance Center, so naturally I went out to see them and I was greeted with hugs and high fives all around—just a great feeling to be in their presence again and to know that they considered me a friend.
All of this came rushing back this morning while reading the online version of the Raleigh News & Observer. As I noted in a BLURT news article:
Longtime fans of North Carolina’s Connells – a mainstay of the late ’80s and early ’90s, they still perform occasionally in and around their homebase of Raleigh – will remember the “’74-’75” video from the band’s Ring album. The song was a minor MTV hit here in the states but went absolutely massive in Europe, and it was bolstered by the below video filmed by acclaimed director Mark Pellington (who also did hit vids for U2 and Pearl Jam.
Today in Raleigh’s News & Observer music critic David Menconi wrote a kind of where-are-they-now article about the people who were in the original video (they were mostly at Broughton High School, which is where several members of the band attended); a photo gallery of those people as they appear in 2015 accompanies the article. Even better, the newspaper put together a newly edited version of the video, plugging in visuals from the photo shoots of the people – including the members of the band in 2015.
The project, by Menconi along with Juli Leonard and Travis Long, had to be as emotional to create as it is to view—you can see it HERE at the N&O. It’s fascinating to view the original 1974-75 yearbook photos of the folks, followed by what they looked like in the early ‘90s at the time of the original video shoot, and then followed by what they look like now. Their smiles and glances, even in a couple of instances outright laughter and embracing of loved ones who had also appeared in the clip as children, have a certain bittersweet quality that’s hard to describe, so I’ll just suggest you watch the clip and see what I mean.
Digression: I also suggest you scroll quickly past the following image of yours truly circa 1974-75 unless you are a masochist. I have no idea why I feel compelled to share this with you, but “over sharing” is what Facebook hath wrought among the populace, eh? [Image posted by absolutely no popular demand whatsoever. – Blurt Photo Ed.]
Postscript: What affected me even more deeply than the video, however, was an additional memory it stirred up, of my former brother-in-law, Tommy Huntley, who was from my hometown and was also the cousin of Connells guitarist George Huntley. Rightly proud of the family connection to a band that was nationally known and, eventually, internationally famous, Tommy would drive up to Charlotte whenever the Connells were slated to perform and we’d go see the show together. A couple of years older than me, there’s no question he loved the band just as much as I did and he was unique among many of the old hometown crew in that he continued to nurture a hunger for discovering new music even as he approached middle age.
Tommy passed away unexpectedly a little over ten years ago, from a heart attack, and when I was at the funeral I ran into George Huntley for the first time in ages. By this time he was no longer in the Connells, having launched a successful career in real estate, but I know the big smile was genuine when I told him how much his former band had meant to Tommy. Music has that unique power to link folks together somehow no matter what the distance is or how much time has elapse.
In that regard, I’d like to dedicate this modest appreciation of the Connells to Tommy. I hope you are up there, brutha, humming along this morning to “’74-‘75” just like I am…