Issue #82 July 16th - 30th 2004
On all sorts of summer and football
Spreading the love & wrestling with national power (an interview)
Only lovers left alive (only partly a review)
I wasn't sure what time it was, maybe three or four, and I had moved on from 151's to long islands, and I stretched back over a couple of chairs and stroked the bottom of her back, and I felt her arch into me and I realised that women were as near to heaven as I was to hell, so I stroked her some more and prayed for my soul.
She was 18. I was old. Her father was a director of a municipal bearings company down by the port, and she was fascinated by the hair on my arms because she didn't have any. We barely spoke, partly because I knew no Chinese, and partly because we were too busy stroking and being fascinated by one another. I never much liked talking anyway. If only all women were like this, then I could make it.
There's something deep in the soul of the Chinese; I can feel it in her eyes, burning into me, all that history and wisdom, centuries of living in a way so far removed from my own, and I have never seen a happier, more contented race of people in my entire life.
She buys me my next drink and I know she's no hooker. It goes down well, and she isn't drinking, so I wonder what the hell she sees in a guy like me when there's a million others, well, not like me, and so I say to her "why do you like me?" and she says "you have soul and living life", and I think I get what she means, and I think back to Clapham and Golders Green and no one there ever told me I have soul and living life.
I kiss her forehead. For some reason I want to kiss that more than I want to kiss any other part of her. Maybe I am trying to impart some of that deep old wisdom into my haggard old soul, I don't know. Scott the barman looks over at me and smiles. I like Scott. He's been here longer than I, and he gives me extra strong 151's, and when the place is quiet we play pool and tell each other tales about our daft meanderings over this silly fucked-up globe.
Tonight, though, is Friday, and the place is not quiet, it's heaving with tourists and natives, young and old, lost and found but mainly lost, and I am one of them, stretching back over the chairs again, making light of the centuries between us, glugging on long islands, and feeling as if there is no place on earth I would rather be right now.
We leave the club, and stagger out into another dawn. As we walk to the subway she never takes her eyes off me. It's disconcerting at first but then I let go of my Western mindset, my stifling self-consciousness, and just accept it for what it is; there is no other motive for her looking at me save for the fact she is equally as fascinated by me and what I am as I am with her.
I take her to her line, look her in her eyes, and say goodbye. I stumble into the toilets, throw cold water on my face, and look at what's left of me in the mirror. All these years I've convinced myself I wasn't phoney. I had probably looked like I knew something, but, in reality, I knew nothing. I was as phoney as the flabby mass I despised. And all it took for me to realise was an 18 year old girl that I would never see again.
All sorts of summer and football
There's summer in city, summer in the suburb and summer by the seaside too which beats them all I'd say. Then there's early summer and mid-summer, the difference lying in the fact that during the former the nights are still cool even when the days are scorching, while during the later the temperature doesn't drop for days (and nights) on end. It might sound unpleasant but since all we can do is move towards the future we may as well look forward to it, and so I do. Or maybe it is just that I like to think that time is on our side.
47. It's one of these days that turn into a celebration of being alive out of the blue. It's Friday and the hardest exams are behind me already. The torrential rain dies down as I leave the house. It's still windy and chilly, but only to the point that it makes me feel glad to be alive and able to feel the weather on my skin. The (Hidden Cameras-inspired) glitter on my face makes me feel like having fun as I ride in cars and buses to get to the opposite edge of town. Once there, I stand between a house and a field with a friend of mine for a while, as people gather. We talk about post-graduate courses which may well be the most boring subject ever, and yet my memory of that half-hour is that of staring at some, um, plants whose name I don't know but who are brilliantly yellow, golden and brown and white as they catch the last light of the day and laughing.
And later on, a lot later on, really late at night, we go out and get drunk, but no, getting drunk is not what it is - it is getting delightfully drunk, or maybe wonderfully drunk, I don't know - and even though it's cold this is enough to keep me warm and it's one of these times when it feels like the world is spinning around me and it glitters and shines in the dark, and I don't need to tell you I'm happy because you can see it for yourself.
48. I don't even understand football. All I know is that "we" have lost and yet made it to the next round, and so everyone is out celebrating the fact that we have lost because in some strange way this is still a good thing. It's funny, but then again it is also fitting because that's the sort of country we are.
49. Do you know that bit in 'The great Gatsby' where they talk about how they always mean to plan something for the longest day of the year but they always end up missing it? Well, I'm like that too. Or rather I used to be like that because this year I'm not, no - this year I manage to catch it. Such is my surprise about this that I jump off the bed where I have been trying to convince myself to study and run down the stairs and through to the next room where my mum is on the phone to someone and say, slightly out of breath, "do you know what day it is?"
A little later Lupe posts on the Pipas messageboard saying "happy summer! don't forget to bring a sweater and umbrella with you, specially today.. " which marks the occasion nicely too.
50. Alone in the house late at night, I watch a greek film so sweet and touching that even the director's idea of a psychedelic ending can't ruin it. I go to bed teary-eyed, whispering the long, complicated oath the boys in it used to repeat under my breath. I'm not sure what I'm promising but it seems essential that I promise something.
51. By now I've said I don't care about football so many times I'm beggining to doubt myself. And when "we" beat France and it seems to me that the whole of Europe is rejoicing - Tim who is Swedish cheers in unison with the neighbours this time (my dad and brother are out) and Ola, who is Polish, arrives a little later stating I must be proud - and Anders, who by the way is Norwegian, asks me if I still don't care about football when Greece is in the semi-final, I have to admit I do. A little. Even though the by now customary celebrations leave me feeling a bit left out because it's only football after all, and I'm not nearly half excited as everyone else. As I lie in bed part of me is wishing that they, too, went to bed already and stopped beeping their stupid horns so that I could forget about the whole thing and fall asleep.
52. Then again, there's a thousand things I care about more - for example, the sea. My parents decide to visit my brother at the place he is camping with his friends, and not only do they take me along but they play me a cd with Beatles covers for the first part of the journey too. They're not very good covers but I dicover that this doesn't matter much, the songs still make me happy -few things beat singing along to 'Here there and everywhere' while driving to the sea- and that makes me remember somebody who said "some days I think there have been better bands than the Beatles" and smile, because he does have a point and because it's so well-said, too. Some days it seems there will never be a band better than the Beatles, and today is one of them.
53. Ah, the sea. I love it more than anything some days too, and it is magical, but it also kind of lonely. Not the water of course but me, me when I am by it. All this beauty and no one to share it with, it sorts of gets to me. It's the old holiday problem, really, and it's been this way since I turned 11 or 12 and playing out stopped being all that mattered. I lie under a tree and dream away. I close my eyes and list the things that would be different if I weren't on my own, slowly colour the picture in and try to keep it in sight for as long as I can. The old holiday solution. The day moves on slowly.
Until late in the afternoon my brother comes up with a new holiday solution, that is, acting like we're younger than 11 or 12. He doesn't really mean to but somehow he gets us all in the wather playing, trying to swim under people's legs, diving off each other's backs, splashing water on each other and screaming with joy. As the beach is rather small and not very pretty, we have it all to ourselves and we can look as silly and make as much noise as we like.
When we get out of the wather I wonder how come I have survived some 10 or 11 or 12 years of not doing that sort of thing every day.
54.And the day gets more magical still when my brother ties some rope around a piece of wood (which he found lying around but is just perfect for the job) and onto the branch of a tree and, after some testing and starting all over again, he makes me a swing. This is quite possibly the first time he's being outright nice to me which just makes sitting on it better, though you'd think it's hard to improve on hanging from a tree, its branches moving, obscuring and revealing different parts of the trees on the other side of the cove and the sunset behind them and the sea in between as you swing. Hovering above a rather steep hillside in the proccess too but feeling braver about it each time.
And even though this greatness too is of the sort that I find too much to take on my own, as time goes by I find my mind empty of thoughts and the border that marks where I end and where everything else begings blurs, and this too reminds me of being younger than 11 or 12. And even though I know it's time to go I find it hard to stop swinging and get off.
55.But I do, and as we drive away darkness falls fast and my dad listens to, guess what, the football on the radio, the Czech Republic vs Denmark, or it could be the other way round for all I know, and you know, it's only football, but as we speed through the night and I half fall asleep I think of all the other people who must be listening to this all throughout Europe, and it makes me think some thoughts about the radio that I haven't thought in a while.
And even though I never felt so peacefully happy at the end of a day when I was five, I can't help thinking I feel like a happy five year old.
(...to be continued)
Spreading the love & wrestling with national power
Smiling and work are not two words that normally go together when I am talking. But when on the day I took two CDs by M J Hibbet to work I'm pleased to say that the words fitted together like friends and heroes. There were songs about pay day, and songs about love and songs about too many other things to mention. Each was a small story and enough to put a smile on my face... and for a girl who spends her day filing this takes quite alot let me tell you.
After one afternoon of listening I decided it was time to find out more about this band and decided to interview MJ Hibbet. And so, many email problems and a few weeks later, the interview can be found here:
What is the first thing a person should know about you (personally) and the rest of the validators?
The first thing people should know about us, is that we're here because we want to be. I think that about covers it - we've all got full-time jobs, we've all been in bands before, and none of us harbour any illusions or delusions about doing this "professionally" as a "career". It's so DREARY seeing bands who's mind is only on the next pay cheque, or how many gigs they have to do to justify their existence. We don't NEED to do this, we WANT to do this, and I think that makes us make different music and certainly behave much more nicely than the soppy twits we seem to be up against these days.
Also, we are ALL red hot lovers. Maybe that should be first?
Do you ever feel like banging your head against a wall when you see bands with little talent getting a lot of recognition?
Well... I used to, yes, because I couldn't understand WHY on earth it was happening, and sometimes, in DARK moments of DOOM (i.e. getting home alone around midnight, pissed, after a rotten gig) I'd convince myself that The Forces of THEM were stopping US from getting anything.
As time went by and I got learned up in the twisted corrupt ways of the "music" "industry" I realised that, actually, those sort of bands only get any mentions because their record companies paid massive amounts to magazines and radio stations to put them there, and that it was no reflection at all on whether they're any good or not. Sure, we all get caught up in the hype sometimes, but the joy of ROCK is that, eventually, people will have to actually LISTEN to the records these bands have made, and then it's all over for them.
That's why, I think, RADIO is such a purer and all round nicer medium than PRINT. Some wazzock in the NME can take a back hander and talk up some ghastly joyless dirge that sounds like a cross between The Style Council and REO Speedwagon at 33rpm (no need to name names, there seems to be a new one of these every 5 minutes at the moment!) as much as he or she likes, safe in the knowledge that it'll be a good few weeks before anyone actually HEARS it, especially if it's a "live act" who won't EVER be playing outside the M25. By the time anyone realises what a load of old rubbish it was, said wazzock'll be on to their next pay cheque. HOWEVER, with The Radio, you've got to put your money where your mouth is almost immediately...
Or maybe that's why we hear so much about "playlists" now, so that the DJs can blame somebody else?
Anyway, to get back to the point, eventually I realised that being completed ignored by the mainstream print media was simply because we had no advertising budget (and, slightly, because I'd never been in a band or shared a flat with any freelance journalists!), and was nothing to do with anything else. The lovely thing about this was that it made me appreciate the fanzines, webzines, the BBC local radio and the community stations - the people I've met and talked to in these places have all been FANTASTIC - actual ENTHUSIASTS who LOVE what they do and do it for that reason.
So no, I don't bang my head against the wall anymore, but I can show you plenty of scars from when i did!
What do you enjoy most about being in a band?
Ooh, loads of things! The most obvious thing is that it's a chance to hang around with your mates in a GANG and do things together - most of my friends live in different parts of the country now, and have Responsibilities, so you don't get much of a chance to get together. Doing a gig as a BAND means you're guaranteed to get at least four of you mates together there, and hopefully give plenty of others an excuse too! With The Validators these days, many of our gigs feel like extended Wedding Receptions, as we bump into old friends and friends of friends who've turned up for the occasion... to be honest it's sometimes a bit of a drag to have to interrupt things and go on stage for half an hour!
It also makes Showing Off a lot easier - when we do a Validators gig there's four other people to talk to afterwards and go "WOW! We were GRATE!" or "Shall we have a drink to make up for it?" (delete as applicable). When it's just me on my own I have to go outside and ring my girlfriend, to inflict her with what I thought about it, as nobody else ever wants to know!
ARTISTICALLY (hem hem) speaking, when you get a Good Band together who KNOW each other well there's no feeling quite like it. When you actually get in the GROOVE it's an amazing feeling - when there's five people all acting that tightly in unison, all playing together and FEELING what the others are going to do next, it's like the barriers in your BRAIN come down and you get a sense of something else altogether... the closest other thing I've ever felt to it was when I was a teenager and we used to have a Mirror Dinghy. Me and my brother, RACING along together leaning out of the boat as far as we could to stop it going over, that feeling of pure JOY and excitement unfettered by rules or regulations or social mores - that's pretty much what it's like when you hit a really good spot in a band.
All in all, it almost makes up for the NIGHTMARE BEYOND IMAGINING that is Trying To Sort Out The Amps!
What record do you think everyone should own? Why?
It's got to be Revolver really hasn't it? I know it's the number one dull choice for Middle Aged Music Magazines, but you'd have to admit it's there for a reason. I could (and, given BEER, do) waffle on for HOURS about it's Importance In Pop Music and all sorts of dreary things like that, but quite apart from the MIND SHAGGING advances in recording history, the ASTOUNDING levels of invention and casual GENIUS throughout, and the fact that they made SUCH an experimental record whilst still the number one teenage heartthrobs on the planet, it is a beautiful collection of exciting, sexy, beautiful and funny songs that go direct to the heart. It's ACE.
I think everbody should own it because it would show that being popular doesn't necessarily mean being gormless and fake, being experimental doesn't necessarily mean being po-faced and ugly, and being "serious" and insightful can also be fun. These are things we all need to be reminded of, a LOT!
I'm going to have to do the compulsory friends of the heroes question, which is:
Who are your heroes and who has inspired you?
As you can probably tell from the above, The Beatles, very much indeed, and (GIRD THYSELVES) especially Paul McCartney. I know he's put out lots of dodgy records and had lots of dodgy haircuts, but he's spent the last thirty odd years refusing to give in and become his own tribute band, and do exactly what he wants to do. I wouldn't recommend anybody listen to much of his mid-80's stuff, but I do think the early 70's albums, like Ram, Red Rose Speedway and Venus & Mars are CRUELLY ignored. The latter especially has some really beautiful Nature Poetry (oh yes!), often at the same time as DRUG CRAZED LUNACY about space ships and Marvel Comics Super Villains. What more could you want?
I'd also have to say, for inspiration, Alan Moore. I love the fact that he writes dense philosophical tracts at precisely the same time as he does fantastic crazy new ideas, political satire, nostalgia, adventure comics, and wraps it all up in hilarious jokes and a proper real life poignant understanding of human beings. He's the Beatles of comics, I guess, I wish I could write like he does!
to be continued...
Only Lovers Left Alive
It had been a long weekend, and that's putting it mildly. It had been good, thoroughly enjoyable, but exhausting. We had taken the early morning flight from Manchester to Barcelona at about 5.00am on Friday, meaning that we were skulling cervesas grande at the beach side bar by lunchtime. This combined with the usual 'first day of the holiday madness' meant that the rest of the weekend was spent either teetering on the brink of self destruction, or going at it hell for leather in order to maintain those initial high standards which had been set.
By the time we pulled into Rochdale in the small hours of Monday morning I felt as though I had been pummelled by a heavyweight drinks manufacturer, hung-over, but not beaten I deemed that it was only right to have a last cheeky drink before going to bed.
And so early this week I found myself seeking some kind of solace, a shelter from the proverbial storm. I had arranged that I would have a clear diary for the week, so on paper it seemed that recovery would be simple. With this as the master plan I decided that a day out in the fresh air, away from the stifling 35 degrees of Barcelona, and the chilling 4.5 degrees of export strength lager and so I set course for the most beautiful place in the world.
I'm not going to tell you where this is, because it's my place, and there is no reason why you should not be able to find your own 'most beautiful place in the world'. I admit that all our criteria would be different, but you'll never convince me of the existence of a more perfect location. The last time I told anyone about this place the lad I told took his girlfriend there and asked her to marry him. She said 'yes', but that is not the point, the point is that he had stolen something from my place. He had taken a glorious moment of emotion that could only be heightened by the surroundings, he took it, and it should have been mine. Now, it'd take something special for me to take anyone there, I go on my own and treasure those feelings of tranquillity, of awe, of wonder, of peacefulness and of gentle reflection. This won't be relinquished easily.
However, I will describe this place. It's at the northern end of a reasonably large lake in northern England. The land is actually owned by the local water authority, and as a consequence I have to trespass to gain access. I climb the wall and drop down onto the soft, mossy mulch of rotting leaves and branches, remnants of last autumns shedding of the old life, in reverence to the new. Filling the cleave between two mountain ridges, a glacial valley carved from the rock thousands of years ago, the valley sides slope harshly upwards from the shimmering, gleaming surface of the placid lake. Swathed in deciduous woodland for the first few hundred feet, before the valley sides become too steep, too rocky, and too exposed to support much greenery. Above this level rocky outcrops and banks of scree make for unassailable walls to keep me safe in this haven. Only 20 or so miles away are places, lake side towns and villages thronged with oblivious visitors. Ice creams and postcards, leisure cruises on paddle steamers. But not here. Here there is only me.
Here I sit and watch, not particularly intently, but you seem to feel things happening as much as you see them. The air is clear and pure, the sky a hint of pale blue, with a hazy sunshine bathing the scene. When you notice it the birdsong is almost deafening, but it's just as easy not to notice it. The gentle waves are pushed up onto the rocky shore by the gentle breeze, which brings with it soft aromas of fragrant blooms scattered around the vista.
At the far end of the valley, way off in the distance I can see the weather coming in. Dark clouds are crowning maudlin sheets of rain, but experience tells me that I have a good hour or so before the elements make their way down the valley to where I am. I'll be able to watch them envelop the beauty, as though nature's reminding me that this isn't my place after all, that I'm just a visitor, and she can take it all back whenever she wishes.
I half sigh and know that I'll be heading off back soon, back to the town, back to the dirt and the noise, back to the endless rumble of urban living. I know how to block this out, and I reach for my only concession to modernity whilst here, my life support machine, my mp3 player. I scan through the list of artists and albums, something for every mood, something for every place, and something for every memory. It has to be the right choice, my music is encroaching into nature's regime here, and I need to compliment it, I cannot conflict. And there it is, immediately, 'Play'.
The Soft Set offer gentle soothing summer grooves. A hint of a west coast sound, but had The Beach Boys come from Wigan then I'd be referring to that 'South Lancashire Sound'. It's a feel good sound, chiming guitars and infectious melodies. And it matches the location perfectly. With a definite leaning towards The Go-Betweens and the C86 guitar based subculture that was so criminally ignored the world over. Occasional forays into Belle and Sebastian country, imitating, and possibly emulating Roger McGuinn and Johnny Marr in places, this album is a writers dream - and it's not long before 'Only Lovers Left Alive' is lulling me back into those arms of contentment once again.
Initially 'Stop Talking' rips through the calm, still air with a serrated harmonica, edgy yet melodious and setting the scene and the style for the rest of the album. With intelligent progressions, both subtle and elegant The Soft Set are driving a coach and horses through the 'all style no content' ethos that pervades today's popular music with such disappointing results. That's not to say there is no style here; there is a certain panache, an educated musical and lyrical sensibility. Who could possibly reject this?
'The Spread' is a little more angular, almost coming at you from more than one direction, I can feel this through the rocks, and it echoes off the trees, it's a more expansive sound than the opener, and hints at slightly more rockier elements. Immediately reining in these wilder horses though is the plaintive 'Somewhere Far Away', a touching tribute to those of us who care to, or indeed dare to dream.
'Maplewood Avenue' and 'Christmas Lights' provide more of the same well worked simple melody laden pop tracks, whilst 'St. Francis' introduces a touch of distortion, and a chunk of reverb, and it's not the only place you'll find them going for it on the album.
'Disappear in Dreams' and 'Brief Glimmer of Hope' provide a solid foundation on which they build the more artistically inclined ending to the album. They are certainly not a one trick pony, although they have a distinctive sound and style, there is a wealth of variety here.
By this time I can no longer see the far end of the valley, the clouds have descended and the rain has reached the far end of the lake. The sun is doing it's best to drive through the haze and occasional glimmers and shimmers glint off the waters surface. Itself becoming more and more agitated by the ensuing weather system. It's still warm, the cooling summer breeze gently wafts the echoing, sumptuous tones of 'Like Glass' through the early evening. 'I Wanted to Say' is almost a companion piece to 'Somewhere Far Away', a desperate, yet dignified stab at an explanation, and you know that nobody is going to hear.
Closing the album, just as the first fine spots of rain reach me, is 'Standing Around'. It reminds me of both They Might Be Giants and The Stranglers, it has that upbeat folk pop rock beat. Yeah, more of a beat than a rhythm, and it descends into a flurry of distorted vocals, and re-emerges with a euphoric trumpet solo to draw the line in the sand that says "We are The Soft Set, and this is what we do...".
And with that the album is over, the rain is coming down heavier now, but the green canopy above is shielding me from any sort of drenching. I can smell the intensity in the air, and feel the heady atmosphere against my cheeks. And so it's back up the slope, through the trees, and climb back over the wall, just by the sign that says 'Property of North West Water, Keep Out'. Yeah right, you're not going to stop me coming here, no way.
Dash back over the road and jump in the car, it's really coming down heavy now, and I'm looking through for something to listen to on the drive home...yeah, that'll do, perfect. The Soft Set.