Write Here, Write Now: 12.10 – I’m Coming Down

Primal Scream – I’m Coming Down. “I’ve been drifting

I could have taken any track from Screamadelica, it’s one of my favourite records and captures the different moods and feelings from that time at the end of my first degree – after three years of study and having my musical ears opened, it seemed to bring many different genres and favourite artists together in one perfect record.

Seeing them play it live at Glastonbury was good, but didn’t really convey the magic of having the recorded music playing over headphones or from a set of speakers. It really absorbed me and threw me into a world of samples and exotic instruments, unexpected mixes and amazing musical climaxes.

I’m Coming Down had something I never thought I would like – a skronking jazz saxophone solo. But it turned out to be the absolute high point of the whole record, of all 11 songs. That moment at 4:30 when the saxophone peaks is so sublime, I don’t think I will ever hear anything as magical as that. The minute or so leading to that is the anticipation of pleasure, the delayed satisfaction of a moment that is just sliding into position like a well-oiled machine. And then, right at the end, the quote from Nastassja Kinski just seems like the perfect post-orgasmic conclusion to the by now, withered saxophone line.

It’s the track that is most represented by the strung-out sun on the album cover – at once soaring, but also scorched and enervated. Padded out with tinkling, prodded and patted percussion, narrated almost in a whisper by Bobby Gillespie, what sounds like keyboards and a warped synth sound, the sax blows and purrs, gradually finding its meandering way down the riverbed, then speeding up to pour over the cliff and spatter gloriously at the end of the track, reabsorbed into the rest of the mix before a pooling of notes and then the repeated “drifting, drifting” that started the song.

I’ve no idea who the saxophonist on the track is, though I read tonight that the inspiration was Pharaoh Sanders, so that should be a musician I try to listen to in the future,

Following a path set out before me, guided by the next marker on the horizon, drifting seems an unfortunately apt choice of words for me. For good or for ill, save for key pivotal moments and choices, life has been something that happened to me, rather than self-directed. As I left university, I found myself unclear what the future would bring, or where I wanted to be, led forwards by feeling, instinct and opportunities that made themselves known to me.

When I think about it, even the title is oddly appropriate for an end of university song – though I’m Going Down might have been slightly more apt.

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Write Here, Write Now: 12.9 – Truckin’

The Grateful Dead – Truckin’ “Just keep truckin’ along

The Gatedful Dead, if I have even heard of them before I went to university, were possibly the least likely band for me to get into. Possibly I would have thought of them as the worst long winded hippy seventies band imaginable. Then, when I got a bit into the sixties mythology, and realized their psychedelic reputation, I probably expected them to be weird acid experimentalists.

I don’t think I expected them to sound like some middle of the road country music outfit. At first, their songs seemed very tame, very safe, glee club singalongs. There still is a bit of that in my assessment of that, to be honest, but also their sheer ‘musicianship’ began to shine through, dread word though that is.

Jerry Garcia’s seemingly endless guitar soloing, the understated strength of Phil Lesh and Bob Weir’s playing. It got so that I went to see them play live in 1990 at Wembley – about a week before I saw The Sisters of Mercy at the same venue. It was quite a memorable autumn that year. I think I probably fell asleep during their performance of Dark Star, but I think I generally enjoyed it.

This song sounds a bit like the Ballad of John and Yoko. I’m no longer such a fan of their music as I was for that brief period when my eyes were being opened to new music. But they are a pleasant enough reminder of those years.

Write Here, Write Now: 12.8 – Wichita Lineman Was A Song I Once Heard

KLF – Wichita Lineman Was A Song I Once Heard.  “And from somewhere, I hear
Chill Out – a special album that I would put on late at night and drift off to. It feels odd just listening to one track from what is really one long musical journey with tracks bleeding one into the next.
After all the Tuvan throat singing, sheep herders, rolling stock and road noises, Elvis and Fleetwood Mac and Acker Bilk samples, this part of the album gets quite trance-like, with its synth arpeggios in between the DJ boasting.
Above all, it reminds me of the diverse soundscape and vibrant culture of the late 80s/early 90s Glastonbury festivals I went to. Something of the combination of west country landscapes and laidbackness, with alternative tribes and music fans, but particularly the long long summer days that made the experience of being in that place at that time so magical. Different musics as you walk across the site, vehicles of the Mutoid Waste Corporation revving up, crazed preachers or tripping crusties expounding – all just a part of it.
It sounds and feels what it might have been like to have been at one of the early illegal raves, scattered around the countryside, the excitement and adrenalin rush of the illegality, the E’s, the early morning, the shared experience – peak moments.
I used to love wandering up to the Greenfield late afternoon or early morning to gaze down at the whole site spread out before me. It felt like some kind of military encampment – an army on the move – a whole town, with all the camp followers crouched down around camp fires, waiting for the next event. I have no idea what the experience is like now, when attendance more than doubled from what already felt like an overwhelming number of people.
I loved the way KLF seemed like chancers, doing what felt like fun and infusing the listener with their prankster vibe. Musical ideas fizzing and cracking as they are bent and pulled together into a mix that works in delightfully unexpected ways. I think that’s where my love of the mash-up must have come from.
Two things I have never done – been able to figure out what the special phone number was that I should call, or listen to the original Wichita Lineman. Maybe one day.

Write Here, Write Now: 12.7 – ‘Cause Cheap Is How I Feel

Cowboy Junkies – ‘Cause Cheap Is How I Feel. “…memory leaves my stomach churning

Appropriately enough I think I picked up this record cheap, having heard about The Trinity Sessions, and figured they must be worth checking out. Not rated as highly as the previous record, because it was the first album I heard, I have a soft spot for The Caution Horses.

At first I remember not liking it. It was slow, dull, conventional country music, I thought. But then the languorous unhurried charms of the music began to grow on me, not least all the incidental instrumental flourishes and fills – beautiful complements to the main voice.

The power of quiet music – a force that is unrelentless, no matter how gradually it creeps over you. Gently-strummed guitar, pedal steel, accordion and steady tapping drum beat all give strong support to Margo Timmins’ stream of language pouring in measured but constant flow. She has a voice that tickles the ear as it enters, that makes you wait for the full sense of her words, that draws out sounds and tones, then falls away to make room for instrumental interactions.

At the time, I think I would have loved to have fond someone to fold up under the warm blanket of this comfort music. It was not to be, but I could at least enjoy the bittersweet warmth of these songs when need arose.

 

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: 12.5 – Have I Told You Lately?

Van Morrison – Have I Told You Lately?
fill my heart with gladness, take away my sadness

Glastonbury 1989 was a pivotal experience for me – so much new music that I hadn’t even thought of listening to before. Much of it was in the folk/celtic end of pop – Hothouse Flowers, The Waterboys, The Proclaimers, Fairground Attraction – great gigs from all of them. But what amazed me, up front at the main stage to get the most from the big names on the Friday was that the Reid Brothers, Eddi Reader, and a few others from that list all came round to the front, by the security fence and the bouncers to watch this guy called Van Morrison.

I didn’t know who he was, except I half thought he used to be in Velvet Underground with Lou Reed and John Cale. Then this rather tubby, balding figure emerged halfway through a sunny Avalon summer’s day and proceeded to own the stage, performing astonishing song after astonishing song with a versatile and skilled band.

This song off the recently released Avalon Sunset, was typical of the laid back, lush atmosphere he created across the surface of the crowd and out, all the way out to Glastonbury Tor, off in the distance. There was a stillness, a sense of dynamic calm, brought about by his confident mastery of his craft.

The rippling of the piano, the purr, swell then collapse of the violins bring out the feeling in the song, though Van Morrison’s voice is tender and full of gratitude. It is such a lovely song, it overcomes the schmaltz that must have made it the choice for thousands of weddings since its release, by its sincerity – it isn’t trying to cause an effect. It isn’t why, why, why. It just is.

And it opened the rigid, music paper-imposed doors of my rigidly confined listening habits to a musical world unhemmed by genre boundaries. Which was no bad thing.

Write Here, Write Now: 12.4 – Gyrate

Eat- Gyrate “Negotiate. Terminate. Gyrate

While I was at home over the summer, I caught Eat on an MTV-style programme playing Mr & Mrs Smack, and I think Summer In The City. The first of these songs, with its slide guitar and spare sound – just the guitar and pounding drums, it seemed – captivated me. It was an extraordinary sound – nothing like it.  I wanted to hear more and so bought the Sell Me A God album, and then got to see the band live that autumn.

They were a complete joy – swamp blues meets hip hop meets warehouse rave fronted by Jim Morrison/Michael Hutchence. I danced non-stop the whole evening. It was such inventive chaotic music, I loved it so much. It was like being in the Australian film  ‘Dogs In Space’.

I think that experience (and having gone to Glastonbury and seen the travellers there) pushed me from wanting to be a Goth, to wanting to be a squat grebo – it seemed like so much more fun. Bigger, more chaotic hair, more colourful clothes and a change from winklepickers to big DMs and army boots. I remember one pair of black drainpipe jeans, in particular, that got patched at the knee with progressively brighter colours, ending up with acrylic paints on.

I think ‘Gyrate’ captures the band at their early chaotic but creative height – wonderful fat rhythms, intense and nonsensical lyrics – not so much a song as a fantastic groove. This was a record released in the same year as the Stone Roses debut. Indie dance was becoming a phenomenon, and I was getting my dancing fee ready for it.