Sweet 16 – Anna Meredith and her band T-shirt bluff of 1994

"I told them how much I loved Bill & Ted, and one of them was like, 'Oh, I went to school with Keanu Reeves,' and I thought, this is my in with the heavy crew"

In 1994 I was doing an odd mix of trying desperately hard to be cool and do the things that I thought teenagers should be doing, and really loving nothing more than playing in about a million different youth orchestras and wind bands, all the time. Every night after school I would go off and do some geeky orchestra.

I’m the oldest in my family, so I didn’t have a way into music from an older brother or sister, but I have one very cool school friend called Sarah Robertson who had a 9-foot stack of Melody Makers, so we’d all hop onto the back of what she was into. She had an undercut and piercings, and we all had giant Docs with our names Tippex’d on the side. I had a massive A on one and an M on the other – I thought it was pretty cool, although I had white laces, which I later found out was a Nazi thing, which was unfortunate.

In my orchestra world we were in the stage of everything having to be a bit dirty. So I remember that the guy I lusted after a lot in wind band, who had long, curly hair and a million friendship bracelets up his arm, once saying to me, “yeah, I can’t wear any of my clothes clean, so as soon as my mum washes them I’m out in the garden rubbing them with dirt.” And I was like, “oh yeah, man, totally” – be still my beating heart.

We went to a lot of gigs, but most of the time I didn’t know any of the music. The very first gig that I went to was the Velvet Underground, but the caveats on that are: I hadn’t heard of the Velvet Underground; and then we got there, to the Edinburgh Playhouse, wearing our best Docs and flowery skirts and band T-shirts, and we’re watching the band thinking why isn’t anyone here? Everyone was outside drinking – I thought that must be what you do at a gig. We were ready to go – “that was so great; they were so good” – and it turned out that that was the support act. I had no idea there was such a thing as a support act.

I also went to a lot of Blur shows, and Teenage Fanclub, and the Posies, Pulp – all that stuff. I enjoyed it without knowing the songs, but I’ve always been a bit of a wuss, so I’d be there worried about getting home on time. There was a kind of kudos if you pretended to find a band that could be yours, and my band was Throwing Muses. And also Dinosaur Jr, which you can see in this photo, which was taken at Euro Disney when I was there with the National Wind Band of Scotland. We played to precisely nobody, but I was wearing my brand new Dinosaur Jr T-shirt – I had heard none of their music, but I loved the cow.

I know lots of composer friends who were writing little pieces when they were six; that wasn’t me – the first piece I wrote was for my GCSE equivalent, on one of those single-finger keyboards. You had to headbutt the keyboard to change the sounds because there was no spare hand. But I didn’t want to be a composer; I probably thought I might be a clarinetist or maybe do creative writing.

My status at school was not high – I was much mocked, and so geeky. By sixteen I’ve got a few of the trappings, but a couple of years before that we’re talking big plaits, giant badge of a clarinet, and a huge rabbit scarf. This is at a school where everyone else has a perm. And that might sound quite cutesy and About A Boy, but it was quite a hardcore comp, and we were locked in for the day. People would throw coins at my head. And what was even worse was there was another girl who was referred to as a hotter version of me. People would say, “if you don’t do that I’ll tell people you fancy Anna Meredith”. It was horrible, but I don’t really blame anyone – looking back at myself, I think, God, what an annoying little shit; you’re trying so hard.

I remember trying to gain some extreme kudos, because my dad is Canadian and we went to see my Canadian cousins, and I told them how much I loved Bill & Ted, and one of them was like, “Oh, I went to school with Keanu Reeves,” and I thought, this is my in with the heavy crew, as we called them at the time. So she photocopied me a page of her yearbook, which had a photo of him on it, and I took this thing back thinking it was my way in, and it was the most unfortunate thing that a Dairylea Triangle squished onto Keanu Reeves’ face, and then I tried to fill it in with felt-tip, and nobody would believe me. It was this awful, cheesy disaster.

As told to: Stuart Stubbs

Check out previous Sweet 16 columns with the likes of Wayne Coyne, Adam Green, Carly Rae Jepsen, Riz Ahmed, Johnny Marr, Shirley Manson, Matt Helders and many more. Or listen to our Sweet 16 live podcast series.