It was one of those typically English summer evenings when the air was thick with roses and the sky burnt a pink horizon. There might have even been a fox screeching somewhere. I was sitting in front of the television sipping a gin & tonic as the sun went down over Glastonbury. Or it could have been Reading, hardly matters, I do festivals like most other middle-aged people do. Sitting comfortably. 1975 took to the stage and I remember thinking: Now there’s a band of 4 scrawny kids from Birmingham playing just the kind of infectious rock’n’pop that will end up directly on to the pages of this blog. So here it is, 1975 with their biggest hit “Girls”. That night spent in front of a sea of festival flags coincided with me finishing “31 Songs” by Nick Hornby, a book of essays based on his favourite songs. The book is kind of like this blog, except way better. (National Book Critics Circle Award winning better in fact.) In the beginning of the book he makes it clear he does not want to write about songs as memories. No walks down memory lane about what he was doing when Rod Stewart was asking if he was sexy on the radio. (Kids, look it up, it’s a song. I was in Italy and it was the summer of ’79.) Whereas I definitely don’t filter the songs here through memories either, reading “31 Songs” made me realise I definitely filter a lot of songs through a decade. Ironic as Matt Healy & Co are called 1975 but seriously, does anyone else hear Howard Jones on “Girls?” Or do I have a box of 80s crayons and I just keep colouring in?
I’m nothing but captain obvious so I have to admit, at first I went for the hair. Look at it. It’s towering, defiant, stubbornly juddering forward, in a hurry to go somewhere and determined to get there before Daley. The first track I ever caught on Youtube began with conversations. The kind that go on in every bar on any given night, voices exaggerated by drink, points getting lost in the noise. I thought this is going to be one of those awful mobile phone jobbies where the music shrieks, the bar beats down the vocals and nothing else happens but a bad headache. What befell was a voice that should not happen in this gray little island of ours. That voice belongs to the gritty streets of the eastern seaboard, owns the universe, has written the book of stages and God forbid, should be kept out of the grubby little hands of A&R executives forever. Listen to this, whether you’re a man or woman, I dare you not to melt. After two long years since I fell in love with”Pretty Wings”, finally a bona fide radio single is ready to take over the airwaves. Jessie J is lending her pulling weight on “Remember Me” to help kick some proverbial doors open and that hair remains as adamant as ever. I sometimes wonder what they put in the water over here, for these freewheeling and quirky brilliancies of nature to happen.
On a day when most of the country is experiencing Jubilee hangovers literal or metaphorical, it seems rather presumptuous and self-centered to tie in a very pedestrian music blog to the biggest celebration the nation has seen in hundreds of years. When I first heard the song “Sing” written for The Queen’s Jubilee by Gary Barlow (Take That) and Andrew Lloyd Webber (known for his musicals like Phantom of The Opera) I was left completely underwhelmed by their conventional “schmaltzy” song including an oh-so-predictable children’s choir. (What did I expect them to create for an 86-year-old monarch? Drum and bass?) In fact for a few months now, I have been so underwhelmed by most music in general I have taken an unofficial break from this blog as I have felt there is nothing left for me to say. My existential music crisis aside, this weekend when the country settled in for 4 days of celebrations and rain, I caught the documentary of the making of “Sing” on television. To create the record, Gary Barlow travelled to all corners of the Commonwealth to find the voices and instruments that would complete the patchwork of music representing The Queen and her reign of 60 years. Not professional musicians or stars, but ordinary people with extraordinary gifts. And what I was completely swept away by, was the unbridled joy that came through these people. The happiness music brings them and the elation they share with the world around them. There are no top 10 lists nor stylists or entourages, but merely drums created from rubbish as in the case of the Nairobi Slum Drummers or a voice so celestial as in the case of the aboriginal singer Gurrumul, that it lifts the song to whole new astral heights. So, whilst I get over myself and my very literal Jubilee hangover, this weekend reminded me what this blog is all about. It’s all about joy.
On Monday 16th April 2012 the heavens looked dull with rain as I boarded my tube train heading east. People around me weight down by the looming week, London blurry in constant grey. There was a pile of filing waiting in my in-tray, coffee on infinite drip, chatter on dinners and weekend TV. Lunch was a wash out, a hasty sandwich at my desk, afternoon a race against the clock. When 5 o’clock landed it did so with a heavy thud; another day, another dollar, gone. And all the while I was settling in to my predictable Monday routine, this was happening just a few miles away from my desk. Jack Savoretti is one of those uniquely European hybrids; Italian born in England, educated in Switzerland and effortlessly defying all linguistic and cultural barriers of the continent. His poet curls and Dirty Romantics backing band just beg for a cafe soundtrack, afternoons mired in heavy soup of coffee aroma mixed in with Jack’s soft and oh, so seductive voice. He has his sights set much higher than coffee shop daydreamers of course, and has already 2 albums under his belt. “Before The Storm” will complete the trilogy on May 28th. As much as I moan and whinge about London at times, I should remember how lucky we are living here. The world comes to us and you can find music everywhere. Even on a prosaic Monday afternoon.
For 19 years and counting Later…With Jools Holland has been a British TV institution. The format of the show is simple. Each week Jools Holland (a pianist and a bandleader) invites five bands and/or artists to his studio. They all perform in the round, the five bands literally forming a circle on the studio floor with audience members filling in the gaps between. The show kicks off with a jam session with all the artists involved, then moves on to individual performances. And did I mention it is all broadcast live. With real instruments. There are no backing tapes, no lip synching, no auto-tune to hide behind in. Even more exposed part of the show is ‘the spotlight’, where an invited artist takes the middle of the floor, performing literally in a single spotlight. A few weeks ago into this solo spot stepped a relatively unknown 22-year-old Londoner with a guitar and a voice like liquid gold. Lianne La Havas writes delicately intimate songs, accompanied by a few rudimentary guitar chords, but when combined, they just make the music dance. It’s like a beautiful waltz between the sung melody and the simple arrangements. Her mother is Jamaican, her father is Greek and she was born in London. Sometimes I think it’s this crazy boiling pot of a town that somehow creates these perfect storms of talent, like diamonds forming under pressure or stars colliding in a vast random universe producing awe-inspiring beauty.