It was 1996, and I was in the Lake District for a summer holiday with a friend’s family; music was key in-car entertainment and one of the principal tapes in the stereo of that lovely old red Volvo 240 estate was a selection of live cuts from Radio 1’s Mark and Lard show.
At the time I wasn’t really that aware of Radcliffe and Riley, but I was familiar with most of the bands on the cassette. Nestling in there was something new: Babybird and their curious single ‘Goodnight’. I’m like a TV ? Learning to swim ?
That song, and Echobelly’s ‘Car Fiction’, stuck in my head and on return to university I was greeted by my friend Jonny’s rabid, Sheffield-centric, newly-coined fandom for Stephen Jones’ odd fellows. He was frothing at the mouth about the explosion of home-made demos that Jones had released and, in October of that year, ‘You’re Gorgeous’ enjoyed an extended (eventually overlong) run in the higher reaches of the charts.
At some point we traipsed into Newcastle to watch them live. It might have been at the Riverside but I can’t remember and the internet isn’t helping me. We had the usual litre of Merrydown Vintage on a bench on the platform before boarding the train and pogoed around expectantly at the gig waiting for the violence to begin (we’d heard rumours of Jones throwing bottles into the crowd).
I don’t remember much else about the concert, possibly on account of the Merrydown, but I do remember us missing our train home and having to wait something like two hours for the next one. The pubs were all shut, and it was pissing it with rain. Somewhere near the station was a hotel and Al and I thought we might as well head over to see if we could get a drink. Jonny hung off at the back, sure we were going to get kicked out. As we entered the bar, who should we see but Babybird.
Jonny was having none of our suggestion to introduce ourselves; Al dove straight in, for which thank God as the night porter suddenly descended. Bless the band – they sheltered us for a little while, leant us their lighter so we could smoke our fags (thanks Luke ! A gent who looked like a male Bella Emberg), and eventually got bored and left us to be ejected.
So what about the single ? As it turns out, ‘Goodnight’ (catalogue number ECS24) is a jaunty indie-pop number whose best feature is definitely the swirly organ that opens the song and loiters throughout. Jones is no better than average as a singer; there’s not much range or expression and his limitations are exposed at higher registers. There are plenty of interesting images but not a lot of connected narrative or consistency. File under ‘ok’ or ‘temporarily diverting.’ To be honest, I think things were just getting interesting when Jones went extra-dark for ‘There’s Something Going On’. Record labels didn’t agree.
B-side ‘July’ could almost be ‘You’re Gorgeous’ as it begins, with Jones’ hushed delivery lying softly over quietly rippling guitar. It isn’t though, for which thank goodness. What it is is a pretty-ish querying of the way we approach holidays:
“I live all day to vacate the place I love
I work all day to leave the way I live behind”
It does contain a wonderful, albeit dated, line that has gained added resonance over the years. Well put, Jones.
“I wish that you were here
If I had a cellular phone
I’d drown it in my beer”