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Write Here, Write Now: 12.6 – The River That Runs With Love Won’t Run Dry

Swans – The River That Runs With Love Won’t Run Dry

I awoke this morning in the blackest night

I said that in 1989 I was moving away from goth. Well, yes, kind of. With my temperament, it’s probably not a style of music I am ever going to be able to completely leave behind. I could pretend that Swans’ album The Burning World was an exercise in intense acoustic psychedelia, and there might be something in that.

However, one listen to Michael Gira’s morose bass monotone on this and other songs, and you’d be hard pressed to squeeze a licorice Rizla paper between Swans and the Sisters. A leopard never changes his spots.

Whatever. I already had the previous album, Children of God, which was not quite as gentle as this one, and when I read the reviews of this one felt I had reached the sweet spot between goth and acoustic folk. While it sounds gentle on record, once in the live setting, the songs really come alive and take on a spirit of their own. Another great gig in Portsmouth, the band played soft but loud and with such strummed intensity that it was a complete bouncy castle wall of sound that enveloped, cushioned and absorbed the audience with a  power that didn’t let go for the whole night. It really felt like being possessed and I completely loved it.

I couldn’t hear a thing for a night after that, but it was worth it. Sometimes the sheer repetition of mundane words and phrases can take on charismatic and talismanic qualities ans such was the case that night.


Write Here, Write Now: 11.19 – Possession

The Sisters of Mercy – Possession “Taking over

And so to my first proper goth record – First and Last and Always. I’m not sure when I first heard Joy Division, though I do remember being surprised that they were pretty much the same band who released Blue Monday, so it must have been before the Sisters of Mercy. Bauhaus, I think, came later.

But the pivotal moment for me was when I was up at a gathering in York and among the casually-dressed group, there were about 4-5 with dyed black spiky hair, black jeans, long white shirts or band t-shirts and black leather jackets with band names and icons on the back, chief among these being the Merciful Release image and Bauhaus face. These radically-different looking guys with their (to me) unknown musical taste were fascinating – as much for their compelling aesthetic as for their carefree attitude and aura of cool. Something clicked and I realized that I wanted to be in that tribe.

When I returned down south, I asked around at school and somebody did me a C60 recording of F&L&A. I remember the first time I listened to it at my desk. It sounded monotone, grey, aggressive, gloomy and impenetrable. The songs bled one into the next and it was hard to pick out melody or any distinguishing features. I think I persisted because of the impression I’d got up in York, but also because there was something haunted and haunting about the music.I didn’t like it at first, but I recognized there was something in the murk that would start to appeal after a few listens.

And so it was – the bass lines, the 12 string guitar, particularly on the first side, and the intense lyrics and baritone of Eldritch they gradually hooked me in and gave me a soundtrack to the intensity of my late teen adolescence.

Possesssion was probably one of the least prepossessing songs on the album, which is why I chose it tonight. It sounds like despair and desperation soundtracked by motorik bass and timkly piano notes, with swirly ghost sounds halfway through. Somehow it sounds like Eldritch is being defensive with his aggressive words. He’s hurt, so he’s lashing out. Hardly a great emotional role model, but as an introvert, not keen on being open with my feelings, it felt like there was great power in the words and the way he would sing them – a a carapace against the world.

Write Here, Write Now: 11.1 – Golden Brown

The Stranglers – Golden Brown “Never a frown

Having finished Rocktober, I’m at a bit of a loss as to what theme, if any, to have for November. It’s going to be a busy month, so I might avoid having a theme at all – it might not make it any easier to choose a suitable song, but I can just choose whatever takes my fancy.

The Stranglers mark a transition for me between pre teen years and adolescence – between village life, and the move to a bigger town and secondary school. Rattus Norvegicus and No More Heroes, now that I recall, were both records that my friend from last month’s tribute blogs had and let me record. Much giddy immature pleasure was taken at Peaches and Peasant in the Big Shitty. And then they continued to feature in my collection after the big heavy metal purge.

As a band they had elements of rock, and punk and fitted in alongside the new wave bands of the early eighties with tracks like this one.

It was one of several songs on a compilation tape that I used to hear when doing evening pottery classes. We had a series of twenty something pottery teachers and they were an awesome novelty at our boys school, introducing me to things far beyond the dry subjects of the curriculum – a world of fashion, pop, youth culture, which gradually got me yearning for more than just small town life.

This track is so evocative of the smell and feel of wet clay, of dried out hands, of caked-in tools, of mounds of clay being pounded and formed before being put on the wheel or coiled into pots, or shaped, of students at their ease around a table, working on pieces and sharing conversations that ambled here and there, breaking off for glaze or slips to be stirred or dipped, or for another student to stick his head round the door. All the while the harpsichord and keyboard potter on in a similar relaxed tempo, with a bit of mellow excitement thrown in with the guitar solo.

I spent many happy hours in the pottery studio learning and improving my techniques, exploring where my imagination and creativity would take me  in the medium of clay. It was very freeing, and every time I hear the opening bars of Golden Brown, I am taken back to the brown clay I used to love.

I think, on balance, this month I may look for more songs that inspired me in my teenage years – there are many.

Write Here, Write Now: 10.27 – Smoke On The Water

Deep Purple – Smoke On The Water “No matter what we get out of this

This was an epic song when I was young. I loved the riff and the myth of the band in Geneva watching the fumes barrel out over Lake Geneva. I was never one to try the power chord out on a guitar, no matter how many years I struggled with music lessons. I should have pushed my classical teacher more away from the correct posture for holding a Spanish guitar and plucking notes.

Listening to it now I far prefer the detail of the drumming, the fat bass sound, the organ chords making themselves heard behind the big lead guitar sound.

It’s Saturday today – a day for emptying the rubbish into the correct bins (paper, plastic, compost and general) and then going to the organic market for the weekly shop. In Bonn, everything is within walking distance. It’s a far cry from the days of living in a small Worcestershire village where everything could only really be reached by car. On a Saturday then, my job was also to dispose of the rubbish. But rather than dispose of it in suitably colour-coordinated wheelie bins, at our house, I took the paper and some of the plastic into the garden and burned it on an open air bonfire. The ashes would be used for compost later – that was our one compromise for sustainability.

But it was a real pleasure to create a pile of detritus and set light to it, sit back and watch the whole thing catch fire and send wafts of smoke over the neighbouring fields. Not quite the Lake Geneva shoreline, but my small local equivalent, I suppose.


Write Here, Write Now: 10.23 – Wheels Of Confusion / The Straightener

Black Sabbath – Wheels Of Confusion / The Straightener. “Long ago I wandered through my mind

Continuing my trawl through the Black Sabbath back catalogue, and I come across a track that’s quite apposite for another anecdote, and is a pretty good song in and of itself.

Dominated by Iommi’s guitar high in the mix, Ozzy’s vocals seem almost incidental against the rolling and pounding clatter of Ward’s drumming. And then there’s a pause before what must be The Straightener – a fine race to the finish after the frantic climb of the first part, streamlined guitar chiming against what must be a mellotron backing it up, finally fading to close.

Exploits got more challenging as we grew older and the most daring was when we went to the railway line across the fields from the village and put penny coins on the tracks, retiring quickly down the embankment before a train came. Those we found afterwards were of course incredibly flat and stretched. Then my friend decided it would be fun to put his y-fronts on the line. Amazingly they were still there, lying beside the tracks  when we ventured up after the next train had gone past. The skidmarks left behind by the train wheels would certainly have raised confusion in the eyes of his mum if she ever saw them.

I think the adrenalin of the moment left us gasping. As time passes and memory becomes foreshortened and compressed, it is such highlights of life that get recalled, while more mundane and routine events get forgotten or if remembered at all, are recollected as a composite of many repeated similar actions. The picture I have of my friend, frozen and stored in the recesses for so long, becomes less focused and more blurred as it ‘defrosts’, than when it was just a label on a mental box in the attic, though in the process, little dribbles and specks of memories dribble out.

Write Here, Write Now: 10.19 – Child In Time

Deep Purple – Child In Time “You’d better close your eyes

Possibly my favourite Deep Purple song, it used to be because of  Lord’s organ playing and Gillan’s histrionic vocals. Listening to it for the first time in ages recently, what impressed me most was Paice’s drumming, and to an extent Glover’s bass playing – the rhythm of the song. Powerful strokes, but with a subtle touch that carry the listener through the extended organ, vocal and guitar solos, the steady bass hum that marks continuity even as the lead instruments burst forth in pitch and volume. Fortunately, Blackmore’s guitar isn’t that noticeable against the other instruments, apart from the solo towards the end, which I must admit is pretty spectacular.

When I think about the songs and groups that my friend and I used to listen to, a fair few of them were derived from Deep Purple – Rainbow, Whitesnake, Gillan. There was definitely a family of bands that pursued a similar sound. What was the appeal? Loud guitar rock. The lyrics didn’t really mean very much – they were just words to sing, and convey the feeling generated by the song. Even now, I was surprised to read that the opening lines don’t go as follows:

Sweet Child in Time. You’ll see the light

Of course, it makes more sense. But back then, lyrics were not as easy to get as they are now. Slurred, indistinct vocals meant that it was often a case of guesswork what was being sung.

Putting myself in the footsteps of the child I was back then is nigh on impossible – both I and my friend are effectively for me children lost in time, preserved as the scantly clear memories that survive.


Write Here, Write Now: 10.16 – Kyrie

David Fanshawe – Kyrie (African Sanctus)

Quite often I will call my children in for lunch or supper and they are so absorbed in their Playmobil world, that I don’t think they are being rude in not coming to the kitchen, they have just got themselves so involved with the characters and the stories they are creating, that they just don’t hear me or register the meanings of the words. I may be being charitable, but it seems to take them a few repeated requests to respond and join us.

I mention that in relation to tonight’s song because, back in 1978, David Fanshawe’s African Sanctus received one of its world premieres at Worcester Cathedral and our family had tickets to go and see it. My friend wasn’t interested in it at all, and back then I didn’t fully appreciate the appeal of the innovative combination of African and other world music with classical and Christian choral music. However, I was intrigued enough even back then to want to go.

But then my dad found out that David Fanshawe was giving a talk a few days before the concert – would I go with him to hear? At the time he asked me, a few hours before the talk was to start, I was deeply involved, with my friend, in some Lego construction project, with pieces spread out all over the floor. My friend wasn’t interested and I was torn between staying and going. It might have been worth a listen, but I was too absorbed in what I was doing to tear myself away.

I don’t know if, had I gone, David Fanshawe would have made a big impression on me. The music was I think fun enough, a bit like the instrumental ‘Zambezi’ probably would have been my honest reaction back then. What I remember was the internal conflict about the talk. In the mid 80s I decided I would go with my dad to the ETH in Zürich to witness a talk by an English physicist with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis. The fairly unknown Stephen Hawking made a reasonable impression on me with his pre-Brief History talk for science novices, so maybe I learned from my mistake, or maybe they balanced each other out. I think now, whenever an opportunity comes up to try something new, I do try to grasp it with both hands and enjoy the experience.

As to this song, it is magical in the way it glides from muezzin’s call to choir’s song, then meanders between the two, no false notes between the two, before fading.