45 45s #28 Emily – Stumble (Esurient, 1989)

StumbleLet’s just pause right there, and linger over that word – esurient, meaning greedy or voracious.  17th century in origin, derived from the Latin esurire, and meaning to be hungry.  What a beautiful word, and what a great name for a record label.

Esurient was run by Kevin Pearce, whose previous activities included the sharp, exceedingly literate fanzines Hungrybeat and The same sky.  His view of pop music and any particular artist’s position in or outside its pantheon was, it is fair to say, uncompromising.  To quote his own slogan, Kevin was ‘Esurient for change’.  In my own fanzine of the time, writing about ‘Stumble’, I was unable to stop myself employing the phrase ‘the parturient Esurient’.  Yes, for better or worse, we had both swallowed dictionaries in our youth.

I played this single so much – Oliver Jackson’s baritone booming out at all hours – that the Jamaican guy in the bedsit next door asked me if I was into opera.

Nearly every time Emily or label mates the Claim and the Hellfire Sermons played, I went along to see them.  For the last Esurient event that I attended before leaving for a long sojourn in France, Kevin had managed to track down a copy of ‘Au revoir Daniel’ by Mireille Mathieu, and played it between the acts that night.  It was that kind of gesture, that attention to detail which made Esurient special (and in those days to source a song wasn’t anything like as easy as typing in ‘Au revoir Daniel’ into YouTube either).

In 2008 I wrote in rather long-winded fashion about ‘Stumble’ and its B sides, ‘Boxing Day blues’ and ‘Rachel’.  I quoted myself there from a 1998 piece on the Hellfire Sermons for Tangents: ‘‘Stumble’ is one of the best singles ever, and ‘Merry-go-round’, the greatest single never released.’  In 2003, 14 years after its release, Leonard Roberge of the Washington City Paper said that ‘Stumble’ was ‘Astral weeks in four minutes instead of 47’.  The song has travelled and stayed with me and a few others through time.  I have imagined putting together a compilation consisting of different takes of ‘Stumble’ – from the initial demo to the innumerable versions captured and recorded live, which ranged from acoustic with congas to ferocious four piece savagings.  I’ve heard the song in my dreams.  Dammit, I’ve even played it in my dreams; and in waking hours, I don’t play the guitar.

At this distance I can hear the odd flaw – occasionally straining for effect, Ollie shows himself to be the young, relatively inexperienced singer that he was, while the emotional psychodrama of the lyric leaves it somewhat ambiguous as to who is doing and who is being done to (is the wail of ‘Let me see you’ the plaint of the spurning or the spurned lover – a surprise ending or effectively reported speech?) but nevertheless, were I to be foolish enough to make such a shortlist, ‘Stumble’ would be right up there in the top five of this selection of 45 45s, and I still believe it deserves to be far better known than it is.

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