The Church Of Me
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Kissing in the churchyard, I know a righteous woman

Tuesday, February 28, 2006
SATURDAY SUN

This Saturday just past was one of those miraculously near-perfect days for someone like me who likes nothing better than to spend an idle day roaming freely and semi-randomly around London; although it was extremely cold (well it is winter, and more snow is expected round these parts before we’re out of it), the sky was a flawless blue and the sun fulsomely bright – it felt like the first day of spring. This is not unreasonable, since my life in general at the moment feels like the first day of spring (oh, for summer to wing her way across to me and make it wholly – and holy - perfect!).

Breakfast at South Kensington, for a change; Picasso’s is splendid, but sometimes it gets a little too crowded and I yearn for a little more space, so sometimes I venture to its sister restaurant/café five minutes’ walk to the north for my full English. It was nearly deserted, which suited me fine; observing that auburn glow of the sun and leaves falling against and kissing the lower edges of Harrington Road. Then to Knightsbridge, on foot, down through Pelham Street, the boutiques, dry cleaners and croissant shops tending their mid-morning opening; then onto Walton Street, which temporarily makes me forget I’m in London and instead transports me to never-forgotten Sundays in Stamford or Knaresborough; leafy dappled walls, shops whose modest fronts betray their immodest prices. Eventually, just before reaching Harrods, I swerve to the left, cross Knightsbridge proper and enter another maze of haphazardly formal, small, moneyed streets; I emerge from Trevor Place on the opposite side of the road from Knightsbridge Barracks, at the spot where, in October 1998, the accident occurred. However, on this occasion, I use the zebra crossing (as I should have done then) and the 52 bus bearing down on me, this time stops to let me across. This westerly part of central London is still largely vacant of people, or traffic.

Onwards, by bus and foot, thereafter, variously to Highgate, Kentish Town, Camden, the Fulham end of the King’s Road (disappearing benignly into Putney Bridge, and looking in this sunlight almost Barcelonean) and Putney itself (completing my own lopsided geographic circle) before heading back home just as the sun begins to recede; already revelling in the day retrospectively, thinking passionately of such future days where I will not be alone, about the deeper joys which await their gain.

Inevitably, certain songs and music wended their way into and through (though not out of) my mind during Saturday (not least, Nick Drake’s “Saturday Sun,” proposing a nicer future than its author was to receive), and here are some of the most prominent:

ANDREW GOLD: “Looking For My Love”
Buried deep within Gold’s third album, All This And Heaven Too (1978), are many strange and wonderful things awaiting discovery for those who choose to go beyond the hits – three on this particular album: “Thank You For Being A Friend,” “How Can This Be Love?” and the superlative “Never Let Her Slip Away” – and this is one of them; a strange and unsettled ballad set to becalmed Fender Rhodes piano, occasional abrupt guitar, tympani and harmonium (all played by Gold), which never quite resolves into a steady chord sequence; always diverting into other uncertainties. The harmonium summons up the way in which the landscape on either side of Putney Bridge makes you think of the seaside; the general tenor of the song is immediately comparable with Gilbert O’Sullivan’s “Miss My Love Today” from the same year, and maybe also with early David Ackles. I don’t suppose that I need to empathise with the song’s sentiments that deeply – given that I’ve found “my love” – but it’s handy to keep in mind, as with the consideration of what was lurking behind Chris Rea’s garden walls.

BARRY GUY and The LONDON JAZZ COMPOSERS ORCHESTRA: “Stringer Part II”
I was very pleased to discover on Saturday that 1980’s Stringer has finally been made available on CD; certainly its tighter connections with “jazz” curiously seem to serve Guy’s composer mode better than the indeterminate ramblings of later LJCO pieces. Though given the painterly connections which Guy made a point of mentioning in relation to his compositional structures, it’s unsurprising that “Stringer Part II” summons the spectre of Mussorgsky’s Pictures At An Exhibition, though the formality is here defined by a steadily rising and ebbing circular line of whole tones and half-tones – not that far away in design from something like Harry Miller’s “Traumatic Experience” – over which the trumpet of the featured soloist, Kenny Wheeler, forms a proud and noble arch of lyricism. Hearing it was like glimpsing, through an orchard-blessed avenue just behind Pelham Street, the imposing front entrance of the Victoria and Albert Museum; still a startling sight, even though I have known every square inch within that establishment for nearly a quarter of a century. On Saturday at about eleven in the morning, it simply felt right. Also, given that the remaining three parts of Stringer in various ways fall prey to the trap of trying to cram too many soloists and sub-groupings into a limited timeframe, the quietude and stead of Part II, in which there is but one soloist, is refreshing, like an unexpectedly juicy slice of melon purchased somewhere in Kensington Gardens.

BOB DYLAN: Not Dark Yet
None of these is an especially merry piece of music, thus far, and yet the defiantly weary ball-and-chain dragging of Dylan’s voice astride – glued to - the dual shuffling, rattling percussion of Brian Blades and Jim Keltner (“It’s not dark yet…but it’s gettin’ there”) and the phantom murmurs of Daniel Lanois’ paraphernalia make me anticipate the forthcoming summer far more eagerly than…well, whatever the 2006 equivalent of “Don’t Worry Be Happy” turns out to be (probably Corinne Bailey Rae, this year’s true recipient of the mass JESUS DO WE HAVE TO GO THROUGH THIS AGAIN scream. Whatever “people” say about her, truly that’s what she’s not).

NEW FAST AUTOMATIC DAFFODILS: Big
Presenting itself in my subconscious for easily the first time in 15 years is this Madchester cut-off from the dawn of the ‘90s (sigh, what misplaced optimism). I wonder if anyone could get away with this now (among other things it helped invent the Beta Band) – five minutes of skeletal but vital drumming, a “White Lines” bassline, 1981 New Romantic funk guitar, a rudimentary sax chorale, and a doleful Northern vocal repeating a few biological non-sequiturs (“The desert grows three miles a year/It just grows/Let’s call it a garden/It just happens”). And the record, as it will be, just happens, wonderfully. I’ll be resuscitating the Paris Angels next.

KONONO NO 1: Kule Kule
Not that far away from the New FADs, really, but in other ways about as far away as you could get; an absolutely thrilling foray of hypnotic multiple drums and multiple thumb pianos which could virtually place this – and its parent album, Congotronics – as the missing link between the Miles of In A Silent Way and the Davis of Pangaea. Can’t wait to hear how this will sound in the summer (ditto the second CD of Aerial).

THE MANIC STREET PREACHERS: I Live To Fall Asleep
Not many people took notice of 2004’s Lifeblood, but I have found it to be a very wise and extremely moving piece of work, with one of its peaks being this mutant ‘70s AoR offering (not that far from Andrew Gold, either in melodic structure or lyrical subtext). But again, as the closing “Cardiff Afterlife” sorely underlines, eventually you have to leave all this sadness behind, lest you fall asleep and miss the future, smiling serenely at you through your own forgetful mists.

FUNKY MONKEY: Peaceman
There is an indestructible memory in my heart; one of walking up towards Magdalen Bridge at ten to five in the morning of May Day, 1999, listening to the Monkey Mafia’s take on Fogarty’s “Long As I Can See The Light.” In truth it was pretty ropey – as was its parent album, even though I never got rid of it – but at that precise moment it felt absolutely apt and riotously right. Beneficent, in the most productive of ways. The other piece of Big Beat-ish music which has lodged in my mind from that era is this one. I don’t know what became of Funky Monkey – they had a couple of albums out, then a strange compilation of the two with additional new tracks – but they were great in a Screamadelica comedown kind of a way, and this ten-minute epic, with Denise Johnson on vocals, slowly builds up to a gorgeous and heartbreaking major/minor melody over a beat which, if not exactly floor-filling, fills important spaces in my former dark night with blessed flashes of life-justifying light.

BILL EVANS: Peace Piece
“It’s a great piece of music,” said my dad about this, “but it’s not jazz.” Nor does it need to be. Evans, alone in the studio, working up an intro to a reading of the Leonard Bernstein show tune “Some Other Time,” gradually easing into bitonality and atonality and then final resolution over an unaltering left-hand piano motif. And it still feels, 34 years after I first heard it, like being resuscitated with kisses bestowed by the kindest of angels.

CAT POWER: Where Is My Love?
I’d meant to write about the new Cat Power record, The Greatest, long before now, but you know how it goes; there’s just so much to write about, to take into account, at the moment, and that can’t be a bad thing (and Broken Social Scene, who demand to be written about in a new and enticing way, and I’m busy working on that). Recorded in Ardent Studios, Memphis, just like Sister Lovers; and just like Sister Lovers it’s a “soul” record, not in terms of gratuitously and snidely ripping off tired memes (did someone mention Corinne Bailey Rae again?), but a record of the artist’s soul. Certainly there is discreet accompaniment from various distinguished Memphis players, but to term it “Chan Marshall goes R&B” is missing several points (and also demonstrates how some critics cannot tear themselves away from rephrasing misleading press releases). The careful, hymnal Salem Sunday School clunk of Marshall’s piano is evident from second one of track one – the title track – as is the fact that she is singing about not being “the greatest”; the silence which greets the key line “Stars of night turned deep to dust” is eerily similar to that which comes at the equivalent point in Aerial.

While lyrically The Greatest trawls the same abyss of uncertainty about life which defined 2003’s You Are Free, musically it is more expansive – but only up to a point. All the signifiers which appear on the record, be they Nashville fiddles or pedal steels, or Tadd Dameron churches of brass, or the bizarre doo wop-derived backing vocal fills on “Willie,” all materialise at a distance, as though on the other side of a gauze screen; and yet, as with the more considered Mazzy Star, the arrangements are in absolute concordance with the emotions Marshall strives to convey.

And even through all this despair, Marshall’s is a voice which reassures and comforts. Listening to her plead for the return of her “sailor” on “Islands” or defining herself against the buoyant, but unreachable, whistling on “After It All” (“With your back to me against the wall/And make demands with your angry hands”) I hear not an urge to die – for, on the solo “Hate,” she counterparts the “I hate myself and I want to die” motif with the aside “Can you believe she repeated that?” – but a lagoon of a voice waiting for me to dive into it, to swim in it, to absorb its waters of love, to catch the welcome under the pauses in her breath and stay in that dwelling evermore.

Eventually she comes through on the side of life, on the admirably ferocious closer “Love & Communication” which mixes Peter Buck guitar and Badly Drawn Boy electric piano with an unstoppable, ascending (half-tone by half-tone) staccato string arrangement and reaches the conclusion “Love and communication you were here for me/At this very moment cuz I found you on the phone/You called me/And you were not hunting me.”

But the most miraculous moment of The Greatest is its epicentre, “Where Is My Love?” – such a simple song, played on an elementary piano and underscoring synthesisers, such complex passions, such yearning and such fulfilled hope.

“Horses running free/Carrying you and me…/Safe and warm/So close to me/In my arms/Finally/There is my love…” And you can feel the smile forming on her lips as she sings the word “There,” so close upon the sigh of exhausted contentment with which she pronounces the word “Finally.” I know that others have commented on the mothering qualities inherent in Chan Marshall’s voice, and that’s what I feel too; her voice promises, flows with streams of, nurturing and healing; and somehow this is what last Saturday intangibly communicated to me, in ways only one other Reader could truly understand – the pain is done, the penance has long since been paid; now open up joyfully and let her come to you, and into you, and you into her, and allow both souls a further lifetime of happiness.


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