Friday 31 July 2020

Do I Belong Here?

I've been banging the drum for Such Small Hands, aka Wedding Present bassist Melanie Howard, for some time now. I make no apologies for this, because I think she is beyond brilliant. Melanie's debut solo album Carousel is coming soon, and last night she released this teaser track from it. In her own words, Do I Belong Here? " about how it feels to be in a room with someone who should know you inside out, but instead feels like a total stranger." Good, isn't it? I realise I might use the phrase "beautiful melancholia" quite a lot but, in this case, it really fits.

All the links you need to find out more about Melanie, including how to order that album, are here on the Such Small Hands link tree. In the meantime, feast your ears on this:

Oh, and this is available to download from Bandcamp on a "name your own price" basis.

Monday 27 July 2020


Bad memories are like kitchen knives, aren't they? Devilishly sharp, an accident waiting to happen. Over time, if they are not used, they get tucked away too - you know how you might stick an old knife in that kitchen drawer that has all the odds and sods in. Maybe, if you're good, you'll wrap it for safekeeping (yours and the blade's), either in newspaper or, if you're a chef, in a proper old-school cloth knife bag. And there it would lie, forgotten.

Until such time as you reach into your kitchen's "random" drawer, scrabbling around for something else, maybe a fuse, or a tea-strainer. Maybe another memory. Perhaps you'd forgotten the knives were there. They might not be quite as shiny anymore but they're still sharp, just waiting to inflict a nasty injury should a grasping hand stray too close, perhaps inadvertently grabbing hold of something that it should really leave well along. Because however well you hide them, however cluttered and dark that drawer is, sharp knives will always cut deep.

Was going to accompany this with The Knife by (very early) Genesis but that's probably a bit niche for most of you. Here's a brilliant, if slightly disturbing, video from Radiohead instead.

Friday 24 July 2020

Blue Friday: The Day Before You Came

I've written about the original recording of this song before, under the auspices of the Clandestine Classics theme, and some day I'll wheel out the 12" mix of Blancmange's cover version for a Monday Long Song. But today is Friday, and not just any Friday but a Blue Friday. So here's co-writer Benny Andersson's achingly beautiful piano-only interpretation, from his 2017 album Piano.

I know it will, to borrow Rol's phrase, irk the musos, but this is brilliant. Spine-tingling, lump-in-the-throat, hairs-up-on-your-neck brilliant. You might disagree, but you'd be wrong.

Monday 20 July 2020

Clandestine Classic LXII - Sweetest Smile

The sixty-second 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.

In the car at the weekend, Radio 2 was on (don't judge me). Pick of the Pops, no less, with current host Paul Gambacini, trawling through the chart of August 1987. Why, I wondered, as Paul skipped past Star Trekkin' by The Firm without hesitation, does this programme never play the novelty records of the day?

All thoughts of Klingons on the starboard bow, however, were quickly pushed away as Paul got to number 8 in the chart for that August week 33 years ago. These days most people remember Black, aka the late Colin Vearncombe, for the excellent Wonderful Life. But this, also taken from Colin's debut album and released as a single in-between Wonderful Life's first release (when it peaked at #42) and its re-release (when it peaked at #8), is equally brilliant. In fact, I'm going to go out on a limb and say it's even better. It's certainly been an ear-worm for me since Paul played it at the weekend. And isn't it a shame that Colin felt he'd been labelled something of a one-hit wonder, when he was so clearly anything but?

Sweetest Smile also hit #8 in the UK chart, so it's maybe pushing the boundaries of what could be considered clandestine, but since everyone remembers Black for the other track ... either way, it gave me an excuse to blow the dust off this series. It's also very much of it late-80s time... but no less fantastic for that. What do you think? Such beautiful melancholy ... maybe I should have saved it for a Blue Friday post.

Thursday 16 July 2020

Social parasites

I would like to give up Facebook. Twitter and Instagram too. But I can't, for each of them have hooks in me. There are people on each platform that I only interact with on that platform ... and so to ditch it would be to lose contact with them. Because people don't do email anymore, do they, not for keeping casual contact. And letters? When did I last write anyone a proper letter?

And I know, I know, about unfollowing people without unfriending them, to keep my timeline tidy, and I have all my security and privacy settings set as stringently as possible. But even so. Do we have to accept that this is how life is now? Because it's not even symbiosis, is it? Mark Zuckerberg and his merry shareholders get more out of knowing all about me, my life, my friends, my family, my interests, than I get out of seeing photographs posted by a woman I worked with twenty years ago, don't they? Otherwise, Facebook wouldn't be free. Information is power, and we're giving social media platforms all of our power, freely, in exchange for a handful of beans. It makes me deeply unhappy, and yet I am still entrenched. What, I wonder, am I craving so much that it ties me to these social parasites?

Life was easier when there were just letters and phone calls, wasn't it? I'm in the phone booth, it's the one across the hall...

Monday 13 July 2020

Monday long song: Daffodil Lament

...posted for no other reason that that I fancied a bit of the late Dolores in my headphones this morning. This may not be their finest hour, but it somehow encapsulates the entire Cranberries sound, their raison d'être, their very essence, in one six minute song. The way it shifts too, changes gear, to narrate the stages in dealing with the end of a relationship ... well, that's quite something too.

Friday 10 July 2020

I'm sorry to serve this up but you need to watch it

I know hindsight is 20/20 but, in case you were wondering why the UK has had a disproportionately high number of COVID-19 related cases and deaths, here's an excellent, factual and depressing recap of the actions taken by the absolute shower that run this country. Really worth watching, because there's a danger, I think, that we are getting used to the combination of ineptitude and arrogant disregard served up to us by Johnson, Gove, Rees-Mogg, Patel and the unelected Cummings, just because it is served up so very often. And if too many people get used to it, if too many just accept it ... it becomes normalised, and that should not - must not - happen. Because when you string all the bad and ambivalent decisions together like this, God, it beggars belief.

With the size of the Tory majority, and the fixed-term parliament act, we are almost certain to be stuck with this shower until 2024...

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?