Monthly Archives: December 2017

Write Here, Write Now: 12.30 – When Heart Is Open

Van Morrison – When Heart Is Open. “Slowly opening

From the moment of the opening of this song, I am at ease. A slurring guitar chord leads into a horn fanfare and flute accompaniment. And the song, it eases into its lengthy unfolding.

Meandering forth, along elongated bass lines, languorous, yet passion-filled. Repeated lines, dragged-out words as Van pauses to admire the view. No hurries here. Getting ready for the walk in the woods. Does the walk ever start? Probably not. Time is etiolated so much that a few seconds of real time, of paused reflection are stretched out for 15 minutes.

There is a rhythm. While it sounds to be dawdling, getting lost in cul de sacs of instrumentation, Van throws out a few more lyrics, a few mumblings to chivvy it forwards, even if it is to pursue the prospect of getting dressed for the cold weather.

Baby, it’s cold outside. Cold and damp, seeping in under the sills and around the door frames. Van must go outside, just not yet. Any moment now for sure. He’s on the cusp, approaching the threshold. Incrementally, fragment of movement at a time. “No coming and no going

Meantime, let’s enjoy his consideration of some girl’s approaching puberty. The flower slowly opening at the same speed as Van’s front door.

Flute and guitar, horn and bass, resonating, then fading as Van predicts a tryst and then stops, to a final flute and horn flourish.

This could be my favourite song of all. As much as anything else about it, it would be because of the first time I heard it, I was in a small cottage in rural, coastal Devon in the autumn reading week at university. Not much reading took place, but that day, after wandering the beach in search of driftwood for the fire, the advancing evening and long night saw a group of us drinking and getting stoned to a selection of music, until, in the early hours, semi-comatose, Common One was played. I listened in a dream-like state, as Van intoned for what seemed like hours. The environment, the atmosphere, the mental state, the company was perfect. A trance of mutual incomprehension, yet perception took place at a deeper, more primitive level.

Nowadays, I use it as a soporific, a lullaby for my young daughters. As they drift off to sleep, exhausted after their unbound energies poured out over the day, I am happy for them to enter a tiny corner of the imaginative world that Van created with this song. Semi-conscious familiarisation with its many minutes means that, in later life they may reencounter the song, as if for the first time, yet feel primal associations that stir early unfocused memories, through the gentle tones of this calming and comforting piece.


Write Here, Write Now: 12.29 – Rolling In the Deep

Adele – Rolling In The Deep. “almost had it all

I first heard this song (probably ages after it was released and everyone else had heard it) when I saw this clip. I think I may have heard of Adele, but hadn’t heard anything by her before. But the power of this performance, in a radio station studio, the confidence, the fervour of the chugging guitar, the naked vocals joined by the stomping drum beat, the emphasis added by the high hat, the number of different tunes, the empowered scorn that builds and builds to the full flood of the chorus – it was overwhelming.

Every time I hear it, I’m still awed by the spontaneous expression of strength, of regret, of channelling, mining, dredging of all the feelings that were exposed by being rejected, yet the voice still comes out composed and bold. There are so many riffs, earworms in the song that linger in the head after the song stops and ebbs away.

And that’s another great thing about the song. It just stops on a word. Done. Complete. Nothing further┬áneeds to be said. Wow!

The backing vocals just add to the power of the song. Mixed in with the pounding piano chords, they are complete phrases, complementing and adding dimension to what is being expressed by the lead vocals – coming in when Adele first lets rip as if to say “You go, girl! We’ve got your back”, It reminds me of the version of Respect sung by Aretha in The Blues Brothers. Aretha is angry, but don’t go looking to her backing singers for sympathy – they are right there with her – reinforcing the message – “You done wrong”

It is a completely perfect song.


Write Here, Write Now: 12.28 – Dashboard

Modest Mouse – Dashboard. “Every dawn you’re surprising and in the evening ones consoling

Coming to the end of the year and scanning my collection for songs to blood about, I realise the are so many songs and bands not covered, classics I haven’t yet taken the time to write about. I could continue this blog for another 10 years and the would still be songs uncovered that would merit the time and individual attention. The canon of music is great, with and ever-growing. The time spent writing, reheating, playing and recording stretched towards infinity, even for recordings that seem ephemeral.

Modest Mouse are a band I’ve only really come across since I’ve been in Bonn, although that is still almost 14 years, the record this song is taken from is 10 years old. Who knows where the time this, as they say?

I do feel I’ve only started uncovering the joyful music that this band recorded. Listening to this song, inspired by Planes, Trains and Automobiles, and written on the day Johnny Marr joined the band, I love the intensity of the sound, the interplay of guitars, the insistent beat of the drums, the complex rhymes and fast almost spoken flow of the lyrics.

Trumpets blare out and there is a sinewy, winding bass line finding its way through the song, leading the listener in a merry trail. And then there’s a lie at about halfway through the song, when it all sounds like it has been immersed under water.

Three more songs. I can’t guarantee they’ll be my favourite songs ever, but I’ll try to find some good ones.

Write Here, Write Now: 12.27 – Starshine (Dub 09)

Gorillaz – Starshine (Dub 09) “Never gonna find me

Gorillaz’ first album and Laika Gone Home are, for me, part of an honourable tradition of good albums that were rendered even greater by a remix version being released. Such as Massive Attack’s Protection/No Protection and Primal Scream’s Vanishing Point/Echo Dek .

I remember walking the streets of London to the sounds of Tomorrow Comes Today, 19-2000, etc, and loving the big bass sound and space of the music. And then, I discovered t by e Space Monkeys remix album in Crouch End library and not knowing what it was. Once I heard it, it just reinforced my life for the original album and I put both onto a minidisc player, set to random. Dodging and ducking between the stationery north London traffic on my bicycle, this was the ideal music to listen to, keeping me relaxed yet alert.

There’s a superb s end of timing to this song. It knows where it wants to get to, yet it’s perfectly happy to take all the time in the world to get there. The original, stretched out, has all the shades filled in with diversions, dub reverbs, radio signals, riffs on the original melody, whatever feels right. And underneath it all is the current, deep bass acting as the musical backbone to all the free for all going on around.

I don’t listen to it so much the days – mainly because it’s so much in my head, I don’t need to.


Write Here, Write Now: 12.26 – Tender

Blur – Tender. “Tender is the night

Towards the end of the month and the year and a sweet, sentimental anthem, not to say dirge, yet also earworm.

Ponderous and lumbering, its ungainly stomp and its call and response singing is quite endearing.

Damon Albarn was born the same year as me, so we are definitely of the same generation. Brought up in East London and Essex with Quaker influences on his life, i often find things in his songs that touch me or that chime with my own experiences.

A very charismatic and confident performer, there’s no way I could ever have done many of indeed any of the things he’s done with his life. Nevertheless, it’s been interesting to follow his career and listen to the music he has made. I think it’s good to have someone as creative and experimental, yet with pop sensibilities and an ear for melody in existence.

Tender, the song, is a bit of a round, a song sung in parts, round and round, endlessly. It’s the sort of rousing thing we’d sing at Quaker events, though usually with more direct themes of peace and fellowship. It’s got a hopeful, encouraging message, which is good because it’s a notorious earworm, particularly the Graham Coxon refrain “Oh, my baby. Oh, my bay-bee! Oh, why? Oh my!“particularly that Oh my is a very English expression. Understatement and pathos, as we are encouraged to knuckle down and get on with it.

Pretty valuable message for Britain right now, I’d say.

Write Here, Write Now: 12.25 – I Was Born On Christmas Day

St Etienne – I Was Born On Christmas Day “I’m so glad that I just got my pay!

A seasonal song of North London, both for the band who are so associated with the area, and for my memories of Christmas work one year, based in Hampstead.

St Etienne were for me the equivalent in the nineties of New Order in the eighties and Gorillas in the noughties – essentially an indie band with at least one foot in the dance floor and one ear to the ground, tracking interesting and complementary new influence for their evolving music – with great singles emerging seemingly effortlessly in succession.

The Xmas 93 single was in the middle of one such great run. I think I bought it without even hearing it first, assuming it would be good.

It’s a somewhat unusual Christmas song. Harmonica instead of sleigh bells, thumping, galloping beat driving the song forwards, honks from a bass saxophone. And above all that, or rather, mixed in with all that, are the voices of Sarah Cracknell and Tim Burgess, almost blase about the urgency of the music around them.

In terms of picking a seasonal song for today, the are loads of traditional carols and Christmas songs I could have chosen. Around the time the single was released, I spent December selling Christmas cards in Hampstead. We had a cycle of traditional and modern pop songs, both of which I got very familiar with. Let it Snow was probably my favourite.

Merry Christmas to all!

Write Here, Write Now: 12.24 – One of Those Rivers

Dodgy – One of these rivers. “Let’s not worry about, what we haven’t got”

Going back to 1996, and to a song be that was released in the UK when I was out of the country and so muted it on first time round.

Dodgy are one of those bands I just saw as being Britpop runalongs – doing something similar to more successful bands.

Bit this is a gloriously optimistic song with such an uplifting chorus. The chunky acoustic guitar string, the take-off with the banjo plucking, the harmonised singing, it all makes for tremendously relaxed listening, and gives hope that will still be well.

Get help but by the by