Tuesday, 22 December 2015

Clandestine Classic XLIII - New York

The forty-third post in an occasional series that is intended to highlight songs that you might not have heard that I think are excellent - clandestine classics, if you will. Maybe they'll be by bands you've never heard of. Maybe they'll be by more familiar artists, but tracks that were squirelled away on b-sides, unpopular albums, radio sessions or music magazine cover-mounted CDs. Time will, undoubtedly, tell.

It occurs to me that, prior to today, I have only posted three clandestine classics during 2015. I've dropped the ball, in other words. Between now and the end of the year, I will try to remedy that, starting right now with a track from Stephen Fretwell's 2004 album Magpie. I first saw Stephen live, supporting Travis, in my previous life, way back in 2005, and I was a bit blown away. Here was a singer-songwriter with terrific acoustic chops, laying down slice after slice of bittersweet melancholia. So much was I impressed that I went straight out the next day and bought the album, and then... Then. Then, I was a tiny bit disappointed, truth be told. Magpie is a solid album, of that there's no doubt, but some essential aspect of the Fretwell I'd seen live hadn't translated to the studio recordings I was listening to. Having said that, there were moments of gold on there. What's That you Say Little Girl is beautiful, for starters, and the terrific Run got picked up as the credits music for Gavin & Stacey, assuring Stephen a flirtation with a wider audience (you'll have to wait until about 1:54 in for the bit you'll recognise).

So I could have chosen either of those songs but instead went for New York. It's heartfelt but downbeat, and that's exactly how I felt back then, as long-term readers of this blog may (but probably won't) recall. Back then, a NSFW chorus that begins "Fuck what they say. Fuck it if they talk" was exactly what I was ready to hear. As was the notion of upping sticks with a lady friend and heading off to chase dreams, regardless of how people might react. I was pump-primed, in other words, more receptive to this song than I would ever be at any other point in my life.

As it turned out, I didn't up sticks and run off with an inappropriate woman (not then at least, ba-doom-tish!). Looking back at this song now, I can appreciate the delicate interplay of guitar and piano, the careworn delivery and, most of all, the fine observational narrative lyrics, to whit, "I'll get a job in a bar, you could be a waitress and serve cheap cigars to fat moustachioed men in suits - you'll look cute." It's the cute pay-off that makes this, I think.

So there we are. New York is probably not Stephen Fretwell's crowning achievement, nor is it necessarily even the best track on Magpie, but it is today's clandestine classic because, let's not forget, these are supposed to be songs new to you that are beloved of me. Me, me, me. Even when I'm writing about Stephen Fretwell, or anyone else for that matter, secretly it's all about me, you see. If a boy can't navel-gaze on his own blog, where can he? So here's that debut album, if you have money to spend. Or there's always YouTube:


  1. Would love to read more about your NY experiences too, Martin. As for Stephen Fretwell, by pure coincidence, we were talking about Gavin and Stacey this morning for a very random reason - and then I read your comment, come here and find the link to Run and the bit I recognise, as you say.