Tuesday, 7 July 2020

To the birds

One of the few redeeming features of early lockdown was that nature had space to breathe. If you ventured out on your state-approved single instance of daily exercise, chances are you saw more wildlife, more birds. Or maybe not more, but more noticeable, with the distraction of man and his many inventions removed. Something else that I noticed, on various walks and bike rides, was how poor my knowledge of native flora and fauna is. Turns out I'm very average indeed at identifying trees, flowers, mammals and birds, so much worse than my parents' generation (I kept thinking, "Mum would know what that is ..."). I resolved to do something about this.

Step one: birdlife. This wasn't step one because I had a well-thought out plan, but simply because I stumbled across the 1952 Observer's Book of British Birds in a charity shop, for the princely sum of £1. And it is fantastic. Imagine 1952, Britain finally emerging from rationing and the dour post-war years. This small book, with its plain tan cover, tiny print and total lack of photographs could not, on the face of it, be more austere. But open it up and it's a real surprise. For starters, 236 birds are described in detail, as you can see on the left (click to embiggen). And whilst there are no photographs, there are 200 or more beautiful, hand-drawn illustrations, 100 in colour. It doesn't explicitly credit them, so I'm guessing they're by the author, one S. Vere Benson. They seem so lovingly produced, and give so much more than a 1950's photograph would - they seem more alive, somehow.

Then there's the purple prose in which Benson describes the birds - just look at how the "very dainty" goldfinch has a "high tinkling twitter, reminiscent of Japanese wind-bells. Song, similar and fairy-like." Fairy-like! What does a fairy sound like? And how many readers in post-war Britain would identify with the sound of Japanese wind-bells?

And this is far from exceptional. The linnet's song is described as "almost dreamy at times", whilst the wren's is "full of penetrating and jubilant trills". In more general descriptions, the hedge-sparrow "has a quiet, mouse-like way of creeping about under bushes". I don't know for sure, but I suspect modern equivalents of this book are not written in such florid terms (unless there are any twitchers out there who can tell me otherwise?).

And - bonus - this 1952 edition is currently selling on Amazon for upwards of fifteen quid! Not that I plan on parting with my copy ... but nice to know, regardless.

Anyway, here's the song that immediately came to mind to accompany this post: To The Birds was a B-side to Suede's first single, The Drowners, all the way back in 1992. I was going to embed the vanilla studio version, but have gone for this huge live rendition from 2016 since, if you're anything at all like me, you've been missing the unbridled joy of gig performances with an intensity that is almost physical ...

Friday, 3 July 2020

Blue Friday: What's That You Say Little Girl

I'm not doing any more Songs for Tomorrow posts, partly because I'm running out of good songs with "tomorrow" in the title but mainly because, the longer I work from home and can't easily go to visit my friends and parents, the more yesterday, today and tomorrow seem interchangeable.

So, a mini-revival for the occasional Blue Friday series. I've written about Stephen Fretwell once before, and this is another track from his 2004 debut album Magpie. What's That You Say Little Girl is a delicate, voice and guitar ballad... and if you think the penultimate verse offers an upbeat ending, a way out, wait for the kick of the last lines...

Thursday, 2 July 2020

Sleeper, locked down, stripped back

Not the Wedding Present this time, but a couple of lockdown renditions from Sleeper. Little Annie was a B-side, back in the day (different versions were featured on the flip-side of various formats of Delicicious and Inbetweener). Dig is an album track from excellent comeback The Modern Age. And here's another Sleeper bonus for you - you can download the lockdown version of Vegas for free from their merchandise store, right here. What are you waiting for?

Friday, 26 June 2020

Songs for tomorrow: Maybe Tomorrow

Are Stereophonics a Marmite band? Maybe. This is alright though, isn't it? Or MOR-by-numbers? What do you think...?

Thursday, 25 June 2020

The Unewsual IV - you're gonna need a bigger board

How would you react? Paddle like mad, or think that paddling = splashing = drawing the shark's attention?

I ask this as a layperson who attributes all he knows about great whites to Hooper and Quint...

Wednesday, 24 June 2020

Rain finally makes the roses grow

Last month I wrote about a planned online mini-gig from Martin Rossiter. The event was beset by technical difficulties and was aborted after one song (and much buffering). This was frustrating for everyone and, if truth be told, probably a bit embarrassing for Martin and organsiers/facilitators Star Shaped... so they had another go, last night. And it was quite wonderful. In years to come, if pandemics and lockdowns don't become the new normal, we'll all have a lot of unusual and lasting memories to take from our current situation, and one of mine will be standing in the kitchen, tea-towel in hand, breaking out in goosebumps twice during a stripped-down, piano-and-voice Olympian...

Oh, and the new song, Rain Makes The Roses Grow, teased last month, finally got an airing!

The whole shebang was also a fundraiser for NHS Charities Together and you can donate here if you like. When I last looked this had raised more than two and a half grand, so well done to all concerned.

I am loathe to embed a Facebook post but until I can find a better way of presenting the gig, here it is...

Martin Rossiter Mini Show!

Martin Rossiter performs a mini show to raise money for our courageous NHS workers.

Posted by Star Shaped Club on Tuesday, 23 June 2020

Set list:

  • I Can't Help Myself
  • I Must Be Jesus
  • Rain Makes The Roses Grow
  • Olympian
  • Three Points On A Compass