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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



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.