When did listening to music become such a solitary habit for me ?
Not since the days of a dreadfully miserable teenager wishing for all his heart to be deemed cool enough to like The Stone Roses and Ride, listening to CNFM103’s indie-heaven-in-a-local-radio-show “Jive Alive” on a black-and-electric-blue double-tape-deck and radio stereo in a darkened room lit only by feverishly managed candles, has it been like this.
Walking up Whitehall to Charing Cross tube, heart rent by one of those amazing missives that Letters of Note so valuably circulate for the wonderment of all, I was listening to Low’s ‘Just Make It Stop’. Such a pretty song: gentle and consistent, a lovely full sound, fine, desperate harmonies (turn it up, really let them overwhelm you, let them block out every other noise, they will almost be too much to bear). It was a magical moment. The lights there in SW1A can be beautiful and there is something ancient and powerful in that road when it is hushed and light on people.
So I heard that new song from this long-running band on Gideon Coe’s excellent 6Music show on the 26th of February (still on iplayer !) while I was doing some work at home. He introduced me to so many new things that night and they’ve dominated my listening since. He played The Tuts’ “Tut Tut Tut” which I really get a kick out of and which itself takes me back to that same bedroom-fan period (although I knew regretfully nothing about the riot grrrls bar THAT L7 appearance on The Word until I started Sara Marcus’ excellent “Girls to The Front“). Ladies, you’re on first, but in the good way. He played The Birthday Kiss’ “Worth It” (new single not out yet – although I prefer the free download “Choking” from their bandcamp page); and Adam Green & Binki Shapiro‘s “Pity Love” to name a couple. Ever since then I have been chiding myself to catch up with the tens of ‘something new’ stored up over the last few months and WOW. What the fuck was I doing waiting ? The stand-out, just for interest, is Night Beds‘ “Ramona”: a lovely ballad with that sort of haunting ‘recorded-in-space it sounds so distant’ guitar line that I wish had been around for ever (although I can’t help wishing the drums had a hit more roll and drive to them).
All of the above is brilliant. Exhilarating. Life-affirming. Beautiful. But poignant. But melancholy.
It made me yearn for Our Price and Virgin in Durham. Every trip to the shopping centre culminating in a lengthy flick through the racks on racks of budget cds and singles to find the likes of Gogh Van Go’s “Bed Where We Hide” or Number One Cup’s “Divebomb” or Maria McKee’s “Life is Sweet” (who knew ?). It took me back to the day I skipped lectures to be the first in town to buy Tori Amos’ ‘Boys for Pele’.
It also took me back to the betrayal of buying Nine Inch Nails’ “Pretty Hate Machine” at bargain price from under a friend’s nose. Oh remorseful purchase. I remember so many occasions of coming back icy cold from Old Elvet to find Jonny Green happily ensconced in my easy chair smoking Camels, tapping ash into the lid of a tobacco tin, listening to his newly acquired “My Puppet Pal” by Tiger, or reading the inlay card to one of my cds, instantly launching into an impassioned recommendation for one of the Sheffield bands he so raved about (The Leadmill ! The Leadmill !) like Seafruit. Jonny Green, so nakedly enthusiastic, who turned me on to Silver Sun with their Dodo and Ant artwork (Insectatron as IndieGojira !), and Cake and “Fashion Nugget” on promo cassette with black and white inlay card.
Peter Duncan and me in our shared college room, listening in the dark with beds pushed to one end to be able to talk late into the night, with Cranes’ “Loved” and “Forever” on the stereo, marvelling together at the air-raid-siren of “Clear” and the sweet romanticism of “Paris and Rome”. In the deep Durham winter, sitting in the beer garden of the peerless Angel Inn surrounded by snow, enjoying Counting Crows’ “Murder of One”. Dancing with Pete upstairs at Jonny’s house to the Beastie Boys’ “Root Down”. A glimpse into the Donovan draw maintained by John McIver – surely not even the Sunshine Superman knew his output was that prolific ? With those people sharing, enhancing, helping to explain and bring to life all of those precious records. Music is magic, music exploration and excavation in company even more so.
Where are you now, Jonny Green ?
I came back to the rest of Gideon Coe’s marvellous show after the event and it continued to amaze. The echoes grew louder. The Broken Family Band were on. Once upon a time they featured Jen Macro who I first saw and was blown away by in Blusher, supporting my friend Andy Mills’s band Dead America, in turn supported by the genteel, affable Chris T-T who genially filled-in for a back-up band who went missing at short notice. And then, a recording I played to death on that old black-and-blue tape deck: That Petrol Emotion live at Reading University in 1990 that (I think, and probability suggests) John Peel played to me, self-conscious, isolated, desperate-to-be-included, all those years ago in that bedroom.
What does all this mean ? Music can save your life, sustain your life, all on its own, even all on your own. But listening together, with the music reverberating around those shared walls, heard by all those communing ears, everything explodes with possibilities.