Franc was fifteen and I was thirteen. He worked at a petrol station and had more cash than me, some of which he spent on records. When a significant purchase was made, Franc would invite me over for a listen. Metamatic by John Foxx was one of those occasions. The album sounded windswept, European, Ballardian, and featured virtually no conventional rock instruments (there’s a bit of bass). Of course, being thirteen I didn’t realise any of this; I just found the music a little odd. Now, it makes me think about chic people ignoring burning airliners as they crash over and over again into Palladian-style shopping malls, but in 1980 it just sounded a bit cold and brittle (and I preferred Gary Numan).

But Metamatic’s cover was something else. John Foxx seemed to have distilled the essence of the pop times  – detached, robotic, smart, arty into one simple striking image – stripped down to the most basic elements – himself, looking like an academic or a scientist, and a big light. It was a bit like something out of 2001, A Space Odyssey, or the Chorlton version of Jean Luc Godard’s Alphaville. And the cover was a perfect reflection of the music he made.

Cover design by John FoxxThe afternoon of the Metamatic session, Franc played Reproduction by the Human League and some Gary Numan. Listening to these lumps of black plastic whizzing round on their belt-driven turntable, I felt like the future was just around the corner. Franc said he thought John Foxx was the most futuristic of the three. (Years later Gary Numan told interviewers he thought so too.) I agreed on the grounds that I didn’t really know what he was talking about.

Time passed and Franc stopped asking me over for listening sessions. A two-year age gap is a big one when you’re at school, and understandably I think he thought I was cramping his style.

That Xmas, one of my presents was Boots tokens. So I immediately entered into negotiations with my mum to get rid of them. She wouldn’t go for it at first on the grounds that there was a big Boots in Southampton and there might be something in there I could buy…

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