Monthly Archives: November 2013

Underneath a thousand blankets, just to find a place

18. Dream All Day – The Posies                                                                                        1996

The legendary 1996 Reading Festival… Legendary for me, that is. Not particularly for anyone else I suspect – nothing special about the line up, nothing remarkable happened (beyond, maybe, the shambolic demise of the Stone Roses)… and yet. And yet it remains frozen in my  memory as one of my favourite weekends and, in hindsight, seemed to mark an important transition in my life. I hesitate to say that it drew a direct line between adolescence and adulthood but it does feel a little that way. I was 24 at the time; something of a late developer.

Don’t misunderstand. This is not, probably, going to turn into a lachrymose lament to my lost youth – I haven’t forgotten the mud, the hassle, the people, the hangovers, the Supernaturals, the puking, the dizziness, the traffic, the piss, the toilets and all the rest of it – but I’d be lying if I said there wasn’t a part of me that missed it. For a variety of reasons music has progressively become a less communal experience for me as I’ve gotten older. There was always a balance between the private, listening on my own at home, and the shared, out at a club or, as in this case, a festival. The balance has steadily tipped towards the private over the years and I regret that I’ve let that happen as there’s a whole range of things music can do beyond helping you sit around feeling sorry for yourself…

Surfing various other blogs I came across a brilliant event / idea that some people run down in Devon. The blog’s called Devon Record Club and the basic premise is that they get together on a regular basis, each bringing along a record, and they listen to ’em, discuss, and share their thoughts via the blog. Not complicated, bit like a book club. Bet it’s a lot of fun. Exactly the sort of thing that I, and friends, used to do informally – it was just a natural part of our lives to sit around and talk about why “Verdi Cries” by 10,000 Maniacs should always be in any top 5 best records list… So, if you’re in the Bucks area or fancy doing something virtually – must be a way for that work – then drop me a comment below…

Back at that festival there were inauspicious beginnings in 1996. I was working in Nottingham at the time and didn’t have a car which meant a meandering train journey through the midlands in the rain. Changing trains at a rain sodden Coventry station was just the thing to evoke the festival spirit; “sent to Coventry” indeed. Connection. The train to Reading picked its way down the country, the skies opened and it poured. I was listening to a compilation of old Kandi Klub (my old club haunt in Bristol) favourites during the journey, watching the rain splatter incessantly against the window, and thinking of old flames. Or, in some cases, old flickers. In the movie-of-my-life playing in my head (more of a straight to DVD cult classic than blockbuster success) this made me feel romantically nostalgic, melancholy, deep and imbued with the soul of a poet. To the untrained eye I may have appeared as a mildly sulky young man in need of a hair cut.

On arrival the rain stopped but the break in the weather was short lived and by the time I’d reached the festival site it was pelting down again and the ground had turned to mush. At this point the local Holiday Inn probably looked strangely alluring… Avoiding its charms I met up with I. and R. and we shuffled away to our tent, joining the slow procession past purveyors of, variously, bootleg tee-shirts, posters, beer and drugs. Perhaps it was the weather, or perhaps it was just experience, but the sense of anticipation from previous festivals (we must have been veterans of at least 10 by this point) was conspicuously absent this time out. It all felt almost routine. Fortunately that feeling didn’t last.

Friday. In the morning we trekked into Reading to buy provisions and a water proof coat. Weather noticeably improved after I’d spent £30 on said coat; I should have stuck with the strategically torn bin liner. Managed a quick pint in a pub on the way back and I guess that started it all off as we proceeded to drink for the rest of the day which obviously meant that we got drunk. Really drunk. I should mention bands that we saw that day but none of any note spring to mind. For much of the weekend the bands played a secondary part to our drunken letting down of hair, which is perhaps how it should have always been.

It’s not possible to try and recount a daily version of events from here on in. I doubt I could have recounted it later in 1996, let alone in 2013. Things passed too hazily, too drunkenly. The only constant was booze, each day building on the last to the, frankly, ridiculous events of the Sunday when I think we may have kicked off with vodka at breakfast. I don’t really know what it was about this year that was different to previous festivals in terms of drinking. We’d always had a drink before but we’d never really gone all out and just relentlessly gotten hammered.

Through the fog of time and alcohol there are still memories that loom large. They won’t make any sense – I think the point was that they weren’t supposed to – but they loom large. From beating each other about the arse with some discarded pipe lagging, to the straw fight by the main stage whilst The Posies were playing, to waiting for Billy Bragg in a torrential downpour… just small details that will mean very little if you weren’t there but never fail to raise a wry smile if you were. And then, of course, there was the lemon. At some juncture – may even have been as late as the Sunday (when the wheels really fell off) – someone found the aforementioned fruit. Nothing unusual in that. However, for reasons that even at the time made little sense, we decided to worship it for the rest of the day. Worship quite actively. Largely this involved chanting “lemon” a lot, passing it round to be fondled and kissed, and occasionally encouraging other people to temporarily join our little cult. That’s cult. Journeying round the site we proceeded in single file, usually running, with the leader holding the lemon aloft and the rest of us trailing in its wake; shouting our mantra in a bizarre call and response.

I think it was also the first time I was particular aware that I was getting older – that there was another generation coming up behind. Obviously now it happens all the time (usually in terrible circumstances – 22 year old newly qualified doctor having to check your prostate, that kind of thing). We ended up sat round our camp fire one night with a load of people from neighbouring tents who were all a good few years younger than us – I think they were 16 and 17 as I’m sure we had an astonished conversation about sitting with people born in 1980. They, in turn, were equally astonished that we’d been “lucky” enough to witness Ned’s Atomic Dustbin first hand: in their pomp no less. We were 24ish at the time and incredulous that anyone at a festival couldn’t have been born in the 70s…

Somewhere amid the drink, lemons, lagging, rain and sheer glee of it all, some bands played. Instead of appearing front and centre in my memory they seem to just provide the soundtrack – it was maybe the only festival I’ve been to where seeing the bands wasn’t the main reason for being there. I remember seeing Catatonia – I think Cerys came on stage wearing a big pair of boxing gloves – as we spent much of that day singing “You’ve Got A Lot To Answer For“, apropos of nothing. Otherwise ? The Roses headlined and were awful: lifeless, leaden and topped off by Ian Brown’s atonal apology of a voice. Experience the horror for yourself here if you’re curious. This should have been a massive disappointment as we were (are) all huge fans but, at the time, I think we just found it funny. Black Grape and The Prodigy were the other day’s headliners – the former were good fun, the latter were touting a set that was heard at pretty much every festival in Europe for three years. Beyond that, and the previously mentioned Billy Bragg and The Posies, I’m struggling. Looking at who played I could guess that we would have seen Rage Against The Machine, Drugstore, Super Furry Animals, Ash, The Wedding Present… but I have no memory of any of them. Did I get drunk because the line up was so poor or can’t I remember the line up because I got so drunk ?

Here it is, anyway, for posterity:

reading96

For me the weekend acted as some sort of pressure valve – releasing the pent up stress of a transitory period in my life. The friends that I had in Nottingham were leaving and I had long been looking for a way to move down to London – it took me another 18 months or so but I eventually made it. I’d left University a couple of years prior to this but I think this was the weekend that drew a line under that phase of my life before I moved on to the next – a last outpouring of childish glee before settling in to the serious business of careers and houses and relationships and being a grown up.

So The Posies make the list. Not particularly because I think it’s a great song – it’s a decent slab of power pop but there’s lots of stuff in that genre that I’d ordinarily pick ahead of this (for starters I’d have to dig out the short lived, under appreciated Silver Sun). It’s here simply because I can’t hear it without being back in a field, jumping around, chucking straw (only down due to the mud) at my friends having pretty much as much fun as it’s humanly possible to have.

Anyone up for a 20th anniversary reunion in 2016 ?

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You’re invisible now, you got no secrets left to conceal

17. Like A Rolling Stone – Bob Dylan                                                                   1989 (?) – 2013

I believe this is what might be referred to as “messing with the big boys”. I’m not going to kid anyone with a Greil Marcus impression (although I reckon I could muster a “what is this shit ?” to a few Dylan albums) and I’m no Dylanologist so I won’t try to be either. However, it would be wrong to avoid Dylan in this list as, firstly, I am a huge fan and, secondly, so much of what I love in popular music can be traced back to him in some way. Given his catalogue it’d also be relatively easy to pick out something suitably obscure or lesser known but it wouldn’t be true for me: this was the song that made me “get” Dylan and it is a magnificent fucking juggernaut of a record.

I have American radio to thank for this. Don’t get me wrong, I suspect I would have caught up with this song at some point in my life, but the first time happened to be on some classic rock station in the States. You know the ones – we guarantee to play “Stairway To Heaven” (full seven minutes, no commercials) in the next half hour: don’t touch that dial. I imagine the novelty wears off if you actually live in the States but, personally, I bloody love those stations. Anyway, there I am, on what must have been one of the last holidays I took with my parents and sister, sitting in the back of the rental car, and on it comes.

Bang. That snare drum. Everything in my world stopped when I heard that stick hit that drum. It’s just one beat. One note. It snaps you to attention like a gunshot. Bruce Springsteen later said “…on came that snare shot that sounded like someone had kicked open the door to your mind” and I’m not going to argue with Springsteen.

After that snare, and a heartbeat on the kick drum, comes the band, tearing into the song as if they’re trying to grab hold of it and wrestle it to the floor before clinging on for dear life. Al Kooper’s organ – astonishing that the part had just come to him – dances on top of the rising swell, propelling them all forwards, pitching them into Dylan’s words.

Dylan is many things but principal amongst them he’s a writer, a poet. Early on in his career his words are so good that he needed little else to sustain a song: an acoustic guitar, some repurposed traditionals, and that dizzying, ineffable poetry. For me though the golden mid period (early-mid period, what do you call it ?) that began with “Bringing It All Back Home” and culminated in “ Blonde On Blonde” remains the best marriage of his words and music. Three of the greatest albums ever made ? You bet. In fifteen months ? Oh yes. It’s staggering. Throwing off the constraints of working purely in folk forms – and the (perceived) constraints of his audience’s expectations at that time – seemed to release a flood of creativity in him.

In his own words “Like A Rolling Stone”, in written form, initially emerged as ten or twenty (it wouldn’t be Dylan if he was consistent) pages of “vomit”, spewed out on his typewriter. It’s easy to hear the bile in the song and, for a long time, that was mostly what I took out from it: that snarling, sneering how does it feel ? Dylan’s vocals, along with the whipcrack song start, and glorious tumult stirred up by the band, make for a hugely visceral song. For a while you just sit and let the force of it hit you full in the face. And revel in it. As a means of giving expression to an utter disdain for something then it takes some beating and, from time to time, you wouldn’t be human if you didn’t feel that way.

Very recently though the song has really opened up to me in another way, largely because of the final couple of lines which have cast the entire piece in a different light. If most of the song is the hurricane that blows everything away then the final couple of lines are the acceptance that it’s all gone and finding salvation in being free of it all:

When you ain’t got nothing, you got nothing to lose

You’re invisible now, with no secrets to conceal

The protagonist in the song has, in pretty literal terms, lost everything and is now effectively invisible – everyone has seen her fall, there’s nothing to hide, and she’s got nothing left to lose. It’s not hard to take a less literal read on this too: stripping everything back, having your secrets revealed, can be liberating – nothing can touch you now. In that context the chorus doesn’t necessarily have to echo with quite the same mocking refrain:

How does it feel

To be on your own

With no direction home

Like a complete unknown

Like a rolling stone ?

Maybe it actually feels pretty good: free to do anything, go anywhere, be anything you want. Emotionally that’s the essence of what I take from it now.

The other thing that fascinates me about “Like A Rolling Stone” is how raw it is, how it’s almost constantly on the brink of falling apart. Famously Dylan and the assembled band struggled to record it, attempting it across a dozen or so takes but only running through the entire song once – the version preserved forever – on take 4. It was, in many respects, a glorious accident; from changing the original time signature from a 3/4 waltz to the now standard rock and roll 4/4, Dylan switching from piano to guitar, and Al Kooper  – a session guitarist not even booked to play on the song at all – deciding to sit in and contribute that Hammond organ part. It sounds like a glorious accident, seven people creating something in that moment, with the ever present threat of the whole thing collapsing at any moment. There’s a section towards the end (in the lead up to “when you got nothing, you got nothing to lose”) which would simply never be released now as the song almost self destructs – people drop out of time, lose their way, are allowed to catch up, and then the whole thing just about coheres again through the chorus. The whole thing is almost like something that found them rather than the other way round, something in the room that they heard or felt and did their best to reproduce. Maybe that’s why they struggled to replicate it.

So we’re back in a hire car on holiday in the States. I’m sat in the back utterly transfixed for six minutes. We’re a long way from musing on the nature of creativity – twenty pages of vomit alchemised into one of the most famous songs ever recorded via one complete take and an essentially busking organ player. A very long way from the sense of release in being revealed or being open. Even still some way from what became an abiding interest in 60s counter culture, particularly in the States (it was Ken Kesey and “One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest” that fully lit that fuse). Just at the start of those things. Some of them only becoming apparent now.

How does it feel ? How does Dylan make me feel ? Like my world just got a whole lot bigger.

……

There’s an interesting “interactive” video on Dylan’s site if you want to hear the original version of the song (here: http://video.bobdylan.com/desktop.html). It was surprisingly hard to find the original on Youtube which is why I went with the infamous “Judas” performance at the top of the entry – I love that version too (the confrontation in it is compelling) and the whole back story although they kinda lurch into the song and it doesn’t have that same snare crack that hooked me in the first place.

Addendum (March 2014): the vagaries of the internet… that “Judas” performance has now been removed from Youtube as well so I’ve had to stick a less than satisfactory version from Letterman on instead. You all know it anyway, right ?

Like an extra arm, you are a part of us…

16. Goodbye England (Covered In Snow) – Laura Marling                                                2010/11

Since my daughter was born, just over six years ago, there’s pretty consistently been snow each winter in England. Growing up I remember snow as a rare event – I don’t know factually whether it was, it may just be the vagaries of memory – whereas now it seems to arrive every year.

It’s divisive, snow. With adult eyes I view it as a wearying inconvenience: scraping the car, clearing the drive, being cold and wet, dangerous on the roads. Through a child’s eyes, of course, it’s a massive adventure: building a snowman, throwing snowballs, slipping and sliding, and the delicious prospect of the cancellation of school.

“Goodbye England” was the lead single from Marling’s second album “I Speak Because I Can” and was the song that, to me, heralded the arrival of a very special talent. Her first record “Alas I Cannot Swim” is extremely good but what has struck me as miraculous about Marling is her progression from record to record in such scant time. There’s a discernible growth in confidence in her four albums, appearing in relative quick succession over the last five years, with each building musically on the last. It’s the closest thing I think I’ve heard in my lifetime to the sort of artistic evolution that, say, Dylan or Mitchell went through in the 60s. Ryan Adams also came pretty close for me in the run from Whiskeytown through “Heartbreaker” and up to “Love Is Hell” but there aren’t many others. I appreciate that puts her in some fairly exalted company but I think it’s a valid comparison; I genuinely think she’s that good. I guess there’s an argument that she wears her Bob and Joni influences too freely but, frankly, who doesn’t if you ply your trade as a singer songwriter with an acoustic guitar, and at 23 it’s not like she hasn’t still got time to transcend those influences.

I could have included a number of Marling’s songs in this list and, in fact, originally I’d intended to go with “Sophia” from her third album “A Creature I Don’t Know” – partly because I adore it and partly because I distinctly remember hearing it for the first time and just laughing at how absurdly good it was. So here’s a link to the video for “Sophia” as a little bonus: it is a marvelous thing.

For a while last year – if I’d been writing this last year – then I’d almost certainly have gone with “Night After Night”. Does it borrow a bit from Leonard Cohen’s “Famous Blue Raincoat” ? Yes (which she happily acknowledges). Does it matter ? Not really when it sounds as assured, as poised, as stunning as this. So there’s a link to that too: it is also a marvelous thing.

Or “Flicker & Fail” (very, very Joni Mitchell), or “I Was Just A Card”, or the brutal “Master Hunter”, or the also pretty brutal “Saved These Words”. There are worse ways to spend a Sunday (or any day but I’m posting this on a Sunday) than watching and listening to these.

“Goodbye England” though is the one that I return to with affectionate regularity and, in the spirit of the overall list, has the most personal associations. The song seems to be concerned with the breakdown of a relationship and a desire to escape but those aren’t the reasons that it really chimes for me (although the escape thing is something of a recurrent theme in stuff I like). Marling recounts a story about visiting a hilltop as a child with her father and looking at the snow covered landscape. So struck with the beauty of the scene, and no doubt contemplating the passage of time as his daughter grew up, her father asked her to one day bring him back to the same place, to remember how beautiful the world could be; just once before he died. It’s a feeling that you get a lot as a parent, those peculiar moments when you briefly see the world afresh through your child’s eyes and simultaneously understand how fleeting those moments are – in a way that your child doesn’t. It’s incredibly bittersweet, somehow wrapping up a sudden, strong sense of your own mortality and a desire to preserve the innocence of childhood. It’s not unhappy – those moments can be almost perfect – but there is an abiding melancholy to it. This song does that to me every time.

Sometimes serendipity lends a hand. The song begins with the lines:

You were so smart then

In your jacket and coat

My softest red scarf was warming your throat

A couple of winters ago I was building a snowman with my daughter and she was traipsing through the white stuff dressed in a red coat and scarf. I think in the context of the song that it’s presumably Marling remembering that her father was the “smart” one with her scarf warming his throat but it doesn’t really matter to me – it instantly triggers the memory of a little girl cheerfully conversing with the snowman rising up out of the ground.

IMG_3853

As the song develops it explores the tension between leaving and staying that Marling feels as (presumably) a relationship ends, reflecting ruefully on the nature of love:

And a friend of mine says it’s good to hear

That you believe in love, even if set in fear

Well I’ll hold you there brother and set you straight

I only believe true love is frail and willing to break

She moves from disbelieving regret (I wrote my name in your book… only god knows why) to frantically pouring out some kind of explanation in a letter (I wrote an epic letter to you… it’s 22 pages front and back) before asserting that it’s too good to be used. A moment of candid self awareness – I tried to be a girl that likes to be used – before, finally, the confident assertion that I’m too good for that: there’s a mind under this hat and the decision to go (And I called them all and told them I’ve got to move).

That middle section is brilliant; sketching out the whirlwind of emotions and uncertainty that accompanies the breakdown of something in eleven perfectly judged lines, capturing the random little asides that the mind throws in to the mix. The wry, self deprecating and I bet you that he cracked a smile following only god knows why is a great touch, as is picking up the thread of being used – from her own letter being too good to be used to recognising that she had played a part that wasn’t her, wasn’t good enough for her, and that she was also too good to be used.

The tension in staying or going then wraps us back into that moment on the hill with her father, now torn between running away (as an independent adult) or returning to her family:

Feel like running

Feel like running

Running off.

And we will keep you

We will keep you, little one

Safe from harm

Like an extra arm, you are a part of us.

“Little one” is what Marling was often called within her family and, serendipity again, is also something that I call my daughter – I doubt it’s uncommon. The “we will keep you” lines deliberately borrow from the mice’s “We Will Fix It” song from Bagpuss, a British kids show from the 70s, which perfectly distills the sense of comfort and nostalgia in returning to the safety of her parents. On another level the Bagpuss tune itself is adapted from a 13th century folk round (“Sumer Is Icumen In”), something that I imagine Marling would be well aware of and that she may well have picked up from her parents; her father was also a musician and ran a residential recording studio, her mother was a music teacher. If it is a nod back to her parents, grounding the song back in a folk tradition which they may have taught her, then it’s a lovely touch. Even if it isn’t then it’s still a delightful moment in the song, it doesn’t need the context to work.

The sense in the song is that her choice is to strike out on her own (it’s called “Goodbye England” after all) but with a promise to return:

I will come back here

Bring me back when I’m old

I want to lay here, forever in the cold.

I might be cold but I’m just skin and bones

And I never love England more than when covered in snow.

I guess as a parent that’s the best you can hope for, that your child grows up confident and assured enough to strike out on their own but always with that promise to return. Like an extra arm, they are a part of us. So next time it snows there will undoubtedly be part of me that sighs heavily and prepares to shovel lumps of it off the drive. There’ll also be part of me though that puts this record on and remembers the privileged time I spent in bringing up my daughter, the opportunities to see the world anew, and the many, many glorious, transient, bittersweet moments along the way.

Don’t you know how sweet and wonderful life can be…

15. Let’s Get It On – Marvin Gaye                                                          Bath, 15th May 2004

A snapshot.

There’s a photograph of him from that day that snap framed the exact moment between being lost and found, taken in the pause as every pair of eyes in the room looked away, looked towards the entering bride and momentarily left the groom. That moment of waiting, anticipating the conclusion of the long procession along the Assembly Rooms’ corridor; it must have been no more than two minutes but it stretched out and back across the five years that had brought them to this point.

Back to…

New Year’s Eve in 1999 and a short break in Scotland, invited to see in the new millennium with a group of friends. It had been a full on black tie big bash with a free, help yourself bar. That last point had seemed particularly important at the time. There’s a photo of him on the night, grinning, holding aloft two bottles of spirits, concocting some poison. They’d gotten happily drunk and she’d ended up falling into the side of the marquee attempting to spin a small girl round in a whirling dance. The child had burst into tears and retreated to look for its parents. She’d sat enveloped in tent and guy ropes and they’d laughed helplessly at each other.

Back to…

New York in February 2000, snow underfoot, tramping their way across Central Park, picking their way down 6th, then Broadway, all the way to Battery Park beneath the long, twin shadows of the World Trade Center. They’d taken the ferry across to Ellis Island, snatching time on deck to gaze back at chrome and steel rising from the sea, before retreating back inside against the biting chill. There’s a photo of him atop deck, hat pulled down over his ears, pointing gleefully at that glorious skyline. The hat and the grin make him look a little unhinged. He feels a little unhinged: giddy with happiness and hope.

Back to…

Carefree days living in West London, first in a small rented place – friends crashing on the pull out futon in the front room, having to tiptoe through their bedroom to use the bathroom – and then in a marginally less small place that they’d bought. Long walks up the King’s Road. Short walks to Ciao at the end of the road, evenings spent eating, drinking, talking and laughing.  His 30th, she’d surprised him with a party in town and friendly faces, past and present, had gathered to share the celebration: a photo of him on the night showing his delight that someone would take the trouble to arrange this for him. And finally back to that botched engagement, back in New York, 2002… But not too botched because here they were.

And now…

Everything in place. Friends and family assembled to bear witness to their promise to each other; a promise that, in reality, they’d made in private years before. All gathered amid Georgian elegance, their day continuing the long tradition of celebration in this venue; he could imagine the ghostly fragments of functions past. He knew how it was supposed to go; the service, signing the register, walking out as husband and wife, drinks, photos, more drinks, dinner, the speeches, and the first dance. A simple set of steps but a million details, each seemingly carrying the threat of catastrophe: they wanted it to be perfect. His speech was ready and they’d picked a fine song as their first dance; full of love, sass, desire, confidence, and fun. It spoke of the promise of setting out on something. It was perfect for them, for the day.

Later on there would be photos of them locked together in that dance, mouthing the words, making each other laugh with pulled faces and jokey moves. Not taking it too seriously whilst knowing it was the most important thing in the world.

Afterwards they’d told him that he’d looked uncomfortable in those moments before she appeared. Had been pacing the floor restlessly, unable to settle – fidgety and anxious. Told him in that good natured banter about worrying whether she would turn up; he took it in the spirit it was intended. He hadn’t been worried; he’d been terrified. Not because he had any doubts that she would be there but because she was a part of him now and to be apart left him feeling less than he was.

She appeared and he exhaled a breath he hadn’t been aware he was holding, a broad and natural smile breaking out on his face. The missing piece returned to him, slotted back together, made whole.

Is there anybody out there ?

14. The Wall – Pink Floyd                                                                                                       1987-

I’ve been spending a bit of time with Roger Waters lately. I won’t lie, he’s not what you’d describe as a “fun guy”. He won’t be put in charge of the children’s entertainment at my daughter’s next birthday* and you can scarcely send him out for a pint of milk without him writing an allegorical concept album about it. “Milking Them Dry” – the story of Daisy, a beautiful friesian that feels alienated from the rest of the herd following the loss of her father in the Second World War and plots revolution against the farmer’s oppressive yoke . Working song titles: “Milking It (Full Fat)”, “Escape (curds and a-whey)”, “Milking It reprise (Semi-Skimmed)”. It’s a sprawling double album and he looked cross when I suggested he could edit it down and release it as “Condensed Milk”.

So we don’t share many laughs, Roger and I, but I still like him. He’s interesting, makes me think, and he’s got a healthy suspicion of authority that appeals to me. He’s compassionate too, underneath that slightly prickly exterior. You have to let him be in charge though. Can’t even tell you what happened when I tried to take the TV remote off him.**

There are a few scenes I like to imagine happened between 1978 and 1980. In one of them Jimmy Carter doesn’t go out jogging, the Iranian hostage crisis doesn’t take 444 days to resolve, and Ronald Reagan remains frozen in memory purely as an actor. That one, though, isn’t entirely relevant to the song at hand. Fragments from the ones that are pertinent might sound something like this.

……

The members of Pink Floyd reconvene at Brittania Row Studios to discuss working on the follow up to Animals. They’re running out of money after a series of ill advised financial ventures and about to incur a huge tax bill.

Dave Gilmour:      We need to record an album… I know the last tour wasn’t much fun but I can’t see                    another way…

Nick Mason:           Has anyone got anything ?

Rick Wright:          Perhaps we can get back to the more atmospheric stuff – more textural, modulations. A little softer than Animals.

Dave Gilmour:      Yes, yes, I think that could really work

Roger Waters:      I’ve got something.

Nick Mason:        Great, Roger, let’s hear it.

Roger Waters:      Well… it’s a twenty six song concept album about personal isolation, dealing with traumatic loss in childhood, which rails against institutionalisation and the abuse of authority. There’s some secondary themes about seeking personal annihilation through substance dependency but I just included that to lighten things up. It ends with every important authority figure from my formative years putting my psyche on trial as I struggle to hold on to my sanity.

Dave Gilmour:      Erm…

Roger Waters:      Hang on… there’s more. When we tour it we’ll physically build an enormous wall on stage so that no one can see us. It’ll be a powerful statement about the separation between artists and their audience.

Rick Wright:          Are you sure about this Roger ? It sounds quite personal. Maybe it’d be better suited to a solo album…

……

Executives from EMI, Floyd’s record label at the time, gather to hear a first playback of the album. One of them (let’s call him Exec number 1) is on the phone to the CEO who’s awaiting their verdict.

CEO:        How’s it sounding guys ? You know I don’t wanna hear that stuff about pigs taking over the farm again.

Exec 1:   I think it was sheep boss.

CEO:      Pigs, sheep… it’s all pretentious crap to me son.

Exec 1:   I think it was that peculiarly British sense of satire boss – you know, tracing the lineage from That Was The Week That Was, Orwell, all that stuff.

CEO:       Like I said son, crap. Now please tell me this is sounding like Wish You Were Here. Not that “Have A Cigar” song though. What the hell was all that about ?

Exec 1:   I have no idea boss. Okay, the playback’s starting…

There’s a pause as “In The Flesh ?” begins…

CEO:      Talk to me guys !

Exec 1:   It sounds great boss – like a straightforward rock album. You’ll love it.

CEO:      What’s that sound in the background ? It sounds like World War 2 kicking off in there. Is that a plane dive bombing your building ?

Exec 1:   Er…it’s on the record boss. I think Roger’s working through some of his feelings about the loss of his father in the war…

CEO:      This is what I was talking about. I don’t want that shit. No one wants that dark stuff anymore. What’s it called ?

Exec 1:   The Wall.

CEO:      The Wall ? No one wants that. Jackson did “Off The Wall”. Off the wall is cool. Even “on the wall” might be okay. Over the wall. Work with me here. No one wants the actual wall.    

Exec 1:   Boss, there’s a song about kids not liking school – it’s kinda catchy.

CEO:      Okay, we can maybe salvage something out of that…

……

A suburban dinner party in late 1979***

Margot:  Jerry ! Jerry, would you decant that Blue Nun please darling. Tom and Barbara will be here soon.

Jerry:      Yes Margot, it’s under control.

Margot:  Can you put on some music too. Something suitable, you know I don’t really like your records Jerry.

Jerry:    I know Margot. What about that Pink Floyd ?

Margot: Oh if you must. Not the one about the donkeys or whatever it was please Jerry. One of those relaxing ones.

Jerry:     Don’t worry, it’s the new one… I expect Tom and Barbara will love it.

Margot:  Yes. That’s what I’m afraid of.

……

Much to the relief of EMI and the band “The Wall” was actually a huge commercial success, currently tracking upwards of 30 million sales worldwide. Much like The Who’s “Quadrophenia” and “Tommy” – its distant rock opera cousins – it also spawned a film adaption, a distinctly gloomy dystopian affair starring Bob Geldof. It’s not much of a date movie. It’s also not much of a dinner party album; sorry Margot.

What it is though is a hugely ambitious piece of work. It’s a record I must have had during my formative years (which may explain a lot…), initially hearing about a third of it on a home-taping-is-killing-music cassette that my Dad had before later discovering that the record didn’t abruptly end midway through “Another Brick In The Wall pt 3” but actually had another hour to run. It’s a record that particularly appealed to my teenage self – it was about something and seemed important even if you weren’t quite sure what. I guess, for me, it was probably the nearest equivalent to mooching around Parisian cafes and ostentatiously reading Camus or Sartre. There weren’t many Parisian cafes in Plymouth or Bristol. In those days there wasn’t even a Costa. Now that’s dystopia.

So, despite being a record that’s fundamentally about personal alienation, it’s not one that especially resonates with me of late or during periods in my life when I’ve felt down. It’s just one that I find really interesting, it largely appeals to my intellect rather than my heart. I always find something new in it, always think I’ve uncovered a little more of the puzzle that Waters has put together. I still can’t decide if it’s not half as clever as it thinks it is or much cleverer than I’ve ever given it credit for. As previously stated it’s certainly ambitious – taking on an apparently autobiographical view of Waters’ childhood, facing in to feelings of abandonment after the loss of his father, and tackling his increasing sense of isolation. All via an elaborate metaphorical construct – the wall – which he builds around himself to cut himself off from everyone around him. In case that wasn’t enough there’s also a tranche of stuff (which was extended in the film and, latterly, in “The Final Cut”, Waters’ final album with Floyd) exploring the dangers of totalitarianism and the horrors of war. It’s consciously not lightweight.

I’ve dwelt on Roger Waters thus far (perhaps a little unfairly – Roger, if you’re reading this, it was all meant affectionately) and it’s hard not to listening to late period Floyd. He was undoubtedly the principal driving force in the band by the end and ultimately it broke the group apart until Gilmour picked up the pieces and released “A Momentary Lapse Of Reason”. It’s a great shame that the group lost its capacity to collaborate as, odd songs apart, the final two Floyd albums, for me, lack some of the darkness, some of the bite, that Waters brought to the party whilst his own solo output lacks the musicality of the best Floyd records. They were better together. The best moments on The Wall highlight this too. It’s often (and I’ve largely done it here too) thought of as very much Waters’ album but Gilmour’s contribution in particular is immense. Whilst he only gets a writing credit on three songs – “Young Lust”, “Comfortably Numb”, and “Run Like Hell” – his guitar playing is absolutely phenomenal throughout, culminating in “Comfortably Numb” and the solo to end all solos.

There are a few guitar solos I know by heart. Not to play, clearly, but I can hear them whenever I want in my head, every inflection, every note. “Comfortably Numb” is top of that pile. It’s not fast, not especially showy, and there aren’t actually that many notes but it’s huge: epic. We should reclaim the word epic specifically for this guitar solo. I don’t think anyone balances tone quite like Gilmour, those squalling slabs of noise, like being buffeted in the wind, and pure, clean high notes. Few guitarists have his capacity for space either; he understands when not to play or when to leave a gap. His sound on that solo is enormous; I had a vision of him standing in a warehouse in front of a monstrous array of Marshalls blasting it out but a quick search seems to suggest that he doesn’t use a Marshall, gets all of his distortion from pedals, and prefers to record via a small amp in a small room. So, just shows how much I know…

Musically, in many respects, “The Wall” is fairly straightforward by Pink Floyd standards. It’s largely a rock album and most of the songs – albeit they knit together – clock in around the three or four minute mark. It even contains a “hit” – the education establishment bashing “Another Brick In The Wall pt 2”. It’s interspersed with snippets of dialogue and snatches of voices from Waters’ imagined past (“how can you have any pudding, if you don’t eat your meat ?”) but it’s far less experimental than the albums that preceded it. This may be just as well given that the overall concept and lyrical concerns are so grandiose – hanging those ideas on music any more complex and the whole thing might have just collapsed.

Lyrically it’s great and Waters expresses his main themes through a range of voices, principally via his gestalt character Pink whose story “The Wall” tells – it’s a device that puts a little (but frankly only a little) distance between Waters himself and the lyrics. Through Pink we get a frightened child looking to his mother for protection, a process that starts the construction of the wall (“Mother did it need to be so high ?”), the failed husband (“day after day, love turns grey, like the skin of a dying man”), the rock star (“I am just a new boy, stranger in this town, where are all the good times, who’s gonna show this stranger around ?”), and, slowly, the lonely, broken man driven to the brink of insanity (“I’ve got wild staring eyes, and I’ve got a strong urge to fly… but I’ve got nowhere to fly to”). Alongside that we also get the cast of supporting characters – his mother, the school master, a groupie, and then various nightmarish, hallucinatory voices from within Pink’s / Waters’ damaged self. It ultimately culminates in the freakish spectacle of “The Trial” in which Pink’s derangement is such that he imagines various key figures from his past putting him on trial to answer the charge of showing feelings – to which he can only plead “crazy, crazy, toys in the attic… I am crazy”. He’s found guilty and the wall is ordered torn down: he must face the outside world again.

The album closes on a curiously ambiguous note with final track “Outside The Wall”. A plaintiff clarinet picks out a gentle melody and Waters sings the following lines, each one echoed by a supporting choir, almost murmured in the background:

All alone, or in twos,

The ones who really love you 
walk up and down outside the wall.

Some hand in hand
 and some gathered together in bands.

The bleeding hearts and artists 
make their stand.

And when they’ve given you their all

Some stagger and fall:

After all it’s not easy 
banging your heart against some mad bugger’s wall 

It’s never explained what happens to Pink. The inference in the song is clear – there are people who will love you (and, in this instance, potentially save you) but you have to be prepared to let them in and they won’t wait around forever – but whether Pink manages to escape his isolation isn’t apparent. Perhaps the final clue rests in the way that the album is bookended. It begins with the words “…we came in ?” and ends with “isn’t this where….” suggesting a repeating cycle. Perhaps he isn’t fated to escape.

Waters though evidently did. Whilst not all of his post Floyd output is to my taste he’s never less than interesting and there was something genuinely touching about seeing his reconciliation with the band at Live 8 in 2005 before Rick Wright’s death three years later. “The Wall”, in more recent years, has taken on new life – particularly post the fall of the Berlin Wall – with some of the broader anti-totalitarianism themes perhaps assuming greater prominence but, for me it remains largely a more personal document; a fascinating glimpse of an artist openly working through his own internal struggles and coming to terms with his past.

……

*although… can you imagine ? It would be amazing:

–  “Dad, Dad, look at that inflatable pig !”

–  “It’s a searing critique of the bloated nature of capitalism inspired by George Orwell’s savage satire of Stalinism: authority corrupts and inevitably leads to totalitarianism”

–  “No Dad, it’s definitely a pig”

–  “….”

–  “Do you think he knows any Disney songs ?”

**brilliantly, of course, Roger Waters is also the name of one of the beavers in a Sylvanian Family (a set of children’s toys comprising various families of woodland animal folk) which I can’t believe was accidental – particularly given its description as “everyone’s best friend because he’s always very friendly and jolly” !

***will make more sense if you’ve seen the late 70s British sit com “The Good Life

As long as we keep our stride, I believe we’ll be fine…

13. Walking To Do – Ted Leo & The Pharmacists                                         2013 and the future

I had a wobble today. A sense of wondering what the point in carrying on with this was. Maybe I’d gotten a little too obsessed with the WordPress stats page (there’s nothing more dispiriting than a day of no visitors and no views) and a little removed from the original point in writing again.

So what was the original point ? I guess it was a combination of things. In part a recognition that, in some shape or form, putting thoughts down on paper (in actuality or virtually) has been a part of my life since I was 12 or 13 and not doing it cuts off an important outlet for me. Also, in part, a desire to prove to myself that I could commit to and complete a writing project of a certain size and scale – this was a way in, a route to getting past a novel length number of words within a defined timescale. The 42 was plucked somewhat arbitrarily based on my age at upcoming birthday next February and, slightly more esoterically, as a reference to the answer to life, the universe and everything from “The Hitch-Hiker’s Guide To The Galaxy”. There have been a number of occasions in the last few weeks when I wished I’d picked a nice, round, small number like 20. Finally, the point was that this was intended to be about me as much as it was about a bunch of records – a means for me to work some stuff out after a difficult couple of years. My choosing to do that in a public space stemmed from a genuine desire to connect with people, both people I already know, and maybe people that just found this stuff. Being honest about certain things – not always being okay, depression, a love of country music – has generally been a positive experience and prompted a richer connection with people. Not everyone obviously, I appreciate the country music thing is hard for some people to accept.

There’s a place I go sometimes and I don’t know how I get there. Why would I ? It’s not somewhere I want to go, just somewhere I end up. It’s a place where I’m locked away inside myself. Stuck. There’s a bunch of metaphors that I’ve thought to myself when I’m there – it’s like being deep under water, not able to surface; it’s like being overrun with weeds, nothing else can grow; it’s like being in a cave, it’s dark and you can’t find the way out. None of them are really adequate and I don’t have the breadth of expression in my writing to explain it. Put in clinical terms it’s depression and it’s fucking horrible.

I wasn’t there today but there was a wobble. I was a bit flat. Could hear that, at first, small, insistent voice that wanted to just give in, sink into it, and stop bothering with anything. Because: what’s the point ? I was trying to write. Trying to force some words out about Springsteen’s “The Wild, The Innocent & The E-Street Shuffle” and feeling mildly intimidated by it. The record is so good and he’s so important to me – in a way far beyond anyone else covered on the 42 so far – that I’ve been running a bit scared of trying to tackle it. My gung ho attitude to it first thing this morning (the product of a couple of weeks of pure, unambiguous happiness and contentment) quickly evaporated as I got stuck in clichés about melting pots of musical styles and hyperbole about New Jersey’s favourite son. Or at least that’s how it felt to me. Reading it back some of it’s not so terrible.

So I stopped doing that. I stopped doing that and, perhaps with half an eye on the weeds analogy above, I raked leaves up in the garden. If you know me at all you’ll know that this is somewhat out of character. In fact, I believe it may be the first time in my life that I’ve raked leaves in my garden. After all, what’s the point ? They’ll only fall down again next Autumn.

But there was something in it that got me to thinking about tending. Obviously, in a literal sense, about tending to the garden but – and here’s that forced metaphor again – also about tending to myself. It was the first time in a long time that I’d been aware of that nagging, disruptive, unhealthy voice in my head telling me that I was worthless and had chosen to quiet it. Not in a dramatic way, just in the simple act of finding something else to do. In not continuing to bang my head against its own internal brick wall. That image doesn’t work does it ? How can you bang your head internally ? You get the general idea. There’s a wonderful bit in the Steve Coogan / Rob Brydon series “The Trip” (which I’ve already referenced in “The Winner Takes It All” piece) where Coogan trys to cross a river across a series of stepping stones but gets stuck, and subsequently falls in. Brydon baits him by shouting “you’ve got stuck halfway to your destination, you’re stuck in a metaphor”. Well, clearing the lawn of leaves I was stuck in my own.

When I came back into the house the record that I put on was this one. It was deliberately chosen because it has become my go-to record for hope, for determination, and for helping me believe that everything will be okay. It’s not a record that’s specifically about depression but it acknowledges that life sometimes throws up the “cruel and hard” but that you’ll be fine if you stay on your feet and keep walking. It’s enough in the ballpark of how I feel for me to force my own interpretation onto it – to adopt its positivity and spirit as rallying cries. If we were doing a quick round of “what’s your theme song” (really ? you’ve never done that ? must just be me) then, lately, I’ve tried to make this mine.

It’s fairly straightforward lyrically, adopting an extended metaphor about life being a journey to be walked through and how two people can draw strength from each other by walking alongside each other. There’s a neat rejection, early on, of the idea that meaning in life comes from some external, higher power:

Would you take me where my feet feel happy in their own time

And the cathedral of reason let’s the bells chime

And the lighting is fine ?

I’m old enough to know that people waiting for some big sign

Should quit their waiting on the Divine

Divine is what’s in your mind

From then on it’s a message of companionship and support – a sharing of the journey, a sharing of perspectives – and a clarion call that there’s more to do, more to see:

I see the road is long so get on my side – there’s a whole lot of walking to do

And if we stay on our feet, we’ll make it in our own time

And though the road has got some steep climbs, I believe we’ll be fine

Towards the close there’s a quieter section (you musician types might refer to this as “the break down”) which, literally, recounts the places that the singer and companion have journeyed together: my house to your house, Bethnal Green to the tube, Aoyama to Shobuya, Rock Park Creek to the Avenue, and on past the zoo… There’s a whole lot of walking to do. It’s brilliantly done, rooting the song back in reality after the abstracts of the original analogy: this is where we’ve already come from, where we’ve already been… Still lots of places, literally and figuratively, to go in future.

Right at the close the song unwinds with a jubilant call and response, pitched full of joy, life and defiance:

Well I’m here – and you’re here – and it’s true: there’s a whole lot of walking to do

And I’m cool – and you’re cool – and it’s true: there’s a whole lot of walking to do

There’s no fuss and I trust – I trust you: there’s a whole lot of walking to do

And you’re strong and I can be too: there’s a whole lot of walking to do

And you do – and I do – there’s a whole lot of walking to do

There’s a clue too in the “you do, and I do” that the companion in this song is Leo’s wife, which clearly makes sense in the context of the rest of the song. I always take that as my read anyway and this is another song that reminds me of the continued strength and support of my own wife. I always think of her in that final section of the song.

It finally ends with the sound of glasses chinking as if everyone’s sat in a bar, surrounded by friends, and enjoying life. I adore the end of this song. I adore the whole song and am indebted to a very old friend for introducing me to Ted Leo. I love that it doesn’t gloss over that life can be hard but that it’s okay, if we stick together we can get through it. I love that, musically, it kicks righteous ass: if you want to ignore the words and just jump around inanely to it, go right ahead, this song will serve you well. I love that it’s smart; richly observed without disappearing up its own arse (which may or may not be where I’m currently headed). But whatever, love makes you crazy and I love this song.

So, now we’re a long way from the wobble. A long way from the deep sea depths or the choking weeds or the cave. We’re out in the open, drinking in the air, grateful for being alive, for sharing it with some incredible people, and with some belief that there’s more to come. And that it will be good.

There’s a whole lot of walking to do.

And every breath we drew was hallelujah…

12. Hallelujah – Jeff Buckley                                                                                        Bristol, 1995

“It”. The difference between good and great. The intangible quality that separates countless singers with guitars from a star. That rare combination of talent, application, attitude, look, feel, and passion. Jeff Buckley had it. Had it in spades.

Sony execs must have been rubbing their hands together with glee when they signed Buckley; he sang like an angel, was a guitar virtuoso, and looked like a film star. His voice could be Robert Plant one minute, Nina Simone the next, and finish up pitching sounds that would bear comparison with only, maybe, Liz Fraser amongst recent singers. His guitar playing ranged from delicate, intricate picking to ragged distorted chords; fusing rock, jazz, blues, hymns, East and West. Feted to be the new Dylan, the new Springsteen, the new Led Zeppelin, the new Van Morrison: take your pick, who knows which path he’d have trodden.

Personally I suspect he’d have taken an artistic route more akin to Joni Mitchell than, say, any of her male contemporaries – a restless evolution of his sound and a deeper exploration of ever more complex musical forms. I doubt it’d have been necessarily very commercial but it’s impossible to second guess now. Van Morrison came out of “Astral Weeks” with “Moondance” and Springsteen reigned in some of the eclecticism from “Wild, Innocent & The E-Street Shuffle” to produce “Born To Run” so perhaps Buckley might have found a way to simplify.

We’ll never know, of course and it remains frustrating that there’s so little material – a solitary finished album (“Grace”) and the patched together recordings that may or may not have gone on to be its follow up (“Sketches From My Sweetheart The Drunk”). What there is, outside of that, are reams and reams of live recordings – seemingly every time someone pressed record on a mixing desk Sony / Columbia would subsequently release it. Whilst in some respects there’s a faintly depressing aspect to this as the label look to milk their ear marked “legacy” artist – their cash flow projections somewhat inconvenienced by his premature death – it does also provide a fascinating glimpse into Buckley’s evolution as a musician and singer.

The best pre “Grace” document is the “Live At Sin-e” recording, originally put out as an EP in 1993 but then issued as a full double album ten years later. It’s just Buckley, a telecaster, and a couple of hundred people. It’s clearly an environment in which he feels comfortable; there’s a lot of joking around, whether it’s improvising a song to help people find their seats (and then imagining the equivalent punk version for CBGBs), mashing up Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan with Nirvana’s “Teen Spirit”, or calling for “Jim Morrison levels of reverb” via an impromptu tease of the opening bars of “The End”. There’s also, in the same spirit, a lot of improvisation, stretching his own songs out as if he’s still working out the kinks, and extending and shaping the covers like he’s trying to unravel each song to suss out how it works  before he puts it back together again. Inevitably some of it’s pretty raw and not everything works. The version of “Lover, You Should’ve Come Over” (which is a stand out on “Grace”) is a bit of a mess and beset with tuning problems and there are moments when some of the goofing around outstays its welcome.

Much of it though, often when it’s more focused and slightly less experimental, is stunning: a gorgeous, fragile take on Edith Piaf’s “Je N’en Connais Pas La Fin”, a melodic run through Dylan’s “If You See Her, Say Hello”, a sensuous “Strange Fruit” (Billie Holiday, Nina Simone), and an utterly lovely read of Van Morrison’s “Sweet Thing”. It’s worth stopping for a second to look again at that set of covers. That’s Edith Piaf, Nina Simone, Billie Holiday, Bob Dylan, and Van Morrison that he’s taking on and making his own as a 26 year old without a record to his name.

And then there’s “Hallelujah”. Back in ’93 the song was far less known than it is now, thanks in no small part to Buckley’s version. Written by Leonard Cohen Buckley uses John Cale’s interpretation as his template and it closes “Live At Sin-e”; the recording is probably the closest point of comparison to my first encounter with the song. At the time, in the months following graduation, I was back living with my parents and working a temporary job dealing with customer queries about their invoices for a mobile phone provider. It was a set of circumstances distinctly lacking in romance or magic.

Buckley was playing at The Fleece And Firkin (now The Fleece) in Bristol to promote “Grace”, it’s basically a pub with a stage, capacity probably around three hundred. The sort of place you can get within feet of the performers and reach on to the stage to pinch a taped down set list at the end. In all honesty I had principally gone that night to see Bettie Serveert who were supporting as I was a big fan of their “Palomine” record. I’d heard some buzz around Buckley and was curious but hadn’t heard a note of his music.

The gig was a revelation. I was there with a friend from school who’d ended up working at the same place as me, in much the same circumstances, and that time at work was significantly enlivened by his conversation and camaraderie – one of the few bright spots in an otherwise gloomy time. I suspect I started watching Buckley’s set with a slight “come on then, let’s see how good you are, impress me” attitude and, early on, the signs weren’t good. He had constant sound issues during the opening songs and some technical glitches, neither of which seemed to help his mood; he seemed tetchy, unable to really get into his performance – the malfunctions interrupting his (and consequently our) reverie. Slowly but surely though he (and band) turned it around; the equipment started to work and they wove a captivating spell.

Buckley was impossible to take your eyes off. On stage he had charisma to burn; a very attractive, sensual man oscillating (wildly) between little-boy-lost vulnerability to lithe sexuality. Irrespective of gender or orientation the man just had “it”. He was also impossible not to listen to. He had the technical chops but his much heralded four octave range doesn’t really tell the story. The range of expression in his vocals was breathtaking, although that’s probably the least appropriate adjective to describe them given his sustain. He sent notes out like birds taking wing: soaring, swooping, climbing and diving. “Grace” as an album acts as a fine showcase for his voice from the pure falsetto of “Corpus Christi Carol” to the heady languor of “Lilac Wine”, the resignation of “Last Goodbye”, the pain in “Lover…”, through to the free style screams of catharsis he lets loose at the close of “Grace” itself. It was a glorious instrument and to hear it in the flesh in such intimate surroundings was a genuine privilege and one of the finest live performances I’ve seen.

He closed with “Hallelujah”, I think it was an encore. Just him and a guitar. You could have heard a pin drop. If you had you probably would have asked it to be quiet. It was just jaw droppingly good. Astonishing. Staggering. Go to town with your own superlatives but he held all of us rapt, perfectly still, in thrall to seven minutes of perfection. We left shaking our heads in mild disbelief. I think I bought “Grace” the next day.

The song suffers a little now for its relative ubiquity, everyone from Bono to X-Factor winner Alexandra Burke has had a go at it. You can argue the toss over whose version is definitive – it seems to usually boil down to a straight fight between John Cale, KD Lang, and Buckley; maybe Rufus Wainwright – but the version I heard first is always the one that sticks for me. Towards the end of his life even Buckley started to lose some of his sparkle in performing it, listen to the recording on “Live At L’Olympia” and he sounds a bit like he’s going through the motions amid the audience singalong (to be fair the cut on “Mystery White Boy” that splices in The Smith’s “I Know It’s Over” is much better). But in the beginning it was, and remains, sublime.

In 1997, at just 30 years old with the world at his feet, he was gone. Drowned whilst swimming Wolf River in Memphis. Speculation persists that he intended to take his own life – vehemently denied by his family – and I guess that the fact that toxicology reports indicated nothing in his system could be read either way. His death was ruled an accident.

It was also, in some respects, an accident that I saw him that night in Bristol. It’s ironic given the dedication and determination he applied to his undoubted gifts: his artistry and musicality was no accident.