If you know this song, then you surely love this song. Who doesn’t? It would be so easy to take it and its wonderful lyric for granted, as we might so many of Ray Davies’ songs – ‘Waterloo sunset’, ‘Dead End Street’, ‘Big sky’, to name just three – songs which sound like they have existed forever and will go on existing forever. But listen again closely, as if for the first time. Hear a melody which has in it all the melancholic joy of the lyric. Hear those words, as particular as a prayer you’ve said from childhood. Recite them back. Believe them of yourself as if you were Ray Davies and had just written them (whatever or whoever he wrote them about). Remember that one day back in the sixties he had to bring this song into being, that it hasn’t existed forever. Hear in its unfolding how it will go on existing forever, an echo that will outlast the species of creature which created it.
Think of Kirsty MacColl’s wonderful version of it; think of her no longer being with us, and be grateful for still experiencing days. Think of the scene in Until the end of the world, Wim Wenders’ follow-up to Wings of desire, in which it is played and sung along to while Jeanne Moreau’s character lies dying. Think of how you found this single four years ago in a wooden crate in an antiques shop, its record company sleeve dishevelled, the vinyl dirty and more than a little scratched. Think of the lift it gave you to find it, of how you didn’t care one jot about its condition or the glaring mistake of the unnecessary apostrophe in the song’s title on the label. Think of how you only ever played it a few times because of all the scratches. Think of how you play your CD copy to your daughter, who of course doesn’t yet get it, who won’t get it for a good long while, you hope, because she is in among her days and has yet to lose something, anything, anyone. Think of so many things, of how songs like ‘Days’ and ‘This strange effect’ interweave with lives and can bring us to tears and make us smile and sometimes both at the same time for reasons at once hard to fathom and entirely comprehensible to any outside observer. God bless the Kinks. God bless Ray Davies. God bless everyone who loves this song.
It begins in June. A week after his birthday, in fact. A sickness falls upon the people of the earth. First accusations fly, then counter-accusations, then finally bombs. The apocalypse doubled. Wires fall silent as residual power fades. Only the odd transmission now, from who knows where and whom.
Reach for the dead
A couple are parted at the time of the apocalypse. In a week its work is complete and life as we know it is beyond hope of rescue. Everyone he knows and loves is dead, but for inexplicable reasons, some have survived, he among them, and he can’t help daring to hope that she may have been immune too. Away visiting in the hills of the north, perhaps she has been protected from the worst of the dual catastrophe.
For a few days, he remains at the far extent of the suburban fringes of his provincial city, keeping a low profile, sniffing out a sense of the scale of the disaster, and how he might navigate his way to her, for it doesn’t take him long to realise that survival depends on leaving for the rural isolation of the north. Enlarged, irradiated spiders climb the walls and drop into his hair, freaking him out almost more than the gruesome sights he encounters on the streets.
In a Jeep, and then on foot, he journeys to her. Dodges wrecks and barricades and attempted car-jackings. Goes off road when the main routes become impassable. Switches to walking when the petrol runs out. Sticks to the back ways, the lanes, a compass hanging around his neck, always aligned to the north. On the way he faces many dangers. Brigands wait at one end of a causeway across a marsh; with the press-gangers who have dogged his every step behind him, he cannot go back the way he came. He has no choice but to brave the cold, swampy soup of the marsh. On the far side, he comes across an orphaned child who has escaped from the brigands. He accepts his obvious duty to look after her. She has with her a dog, who will the very next day save them from a murderous psychopath, with a warning bark and then a savage attack.
He knows that his love will have remained where she was, looking after any of the frail about her to have survived and fearing the worst about him because of his proximity to one of the apocalypse’s many likely epicentres. But the mind is a powerful thing and half-wishing, half-deliberately she transmits to him that she is still alive, that she loves him, that she knows he is coming for her, and that just as she won’t give up on him, she knows he won’t on her, no matter what. He receives the messages in a feverish waking dream, the girl leading him by the hand. He burns hotter with the exultation of knowing that his love is still alive, that she waits for him. Neither knows how long it will take but both believe that one day, maybe sooner, maybe later, they will be reunited. He counts the days.
At one point he and the young girl are travelling down a long holloway during a violent storm. It ceases as suddenly as it started, and at that moment the ash clouds are parted and sun breaks through for the first time since the week of the apocalypse. The canopies of the holloway shield the sunlight except for slivers and chinks. Distraught with wonder, he thinks: how could we have let such beauty go to waste? And yet somehow there are still birds to sing at the sight of the sun, offering the travelling pair hope.
With fierce determination, man and girl learn together the arts of hiding, foraging, and hunting, in that order of necessity. The girl has a better grasp of the fruits of the forest than he, while – having previously been a vegetarian – he learns to skin an animal through trial, error, and a book borrowed on permanent loan from an abandoned library. At night they search the airwaves on a battery-powered radio, but the only patterns in the static are the ones they imagine themselves.
When sickness gets the better of him, it is the girl who finds them an isolated house in which he can recover. The cellar has two exits. There they lie low. She makes him nettle tea and salves his sores with a paste made from the same leaves. With the plasticity of youth, she is adapting to the new state of things, this post-apocalyptic landscape, far better than he.
They resume their journey, but this time it is the girl who gives way, falling prey to radiation sickness. And now in another hideout, he nurses her back to health, using a pharmacy’s formulary and drugs, all the while wondering whether or not human evolution will be able to outpace the anatomical effects of nuclear fall-out. This girl is a survivor, though, and soon they are able to press on, close now to their destination.
Meanwhile, racketeers are keeping his love against her will, but because this is a story, an artifice, somehow her dignity will have been spared her; or, at least, she will not speak of it to him once she has been rescued. Though perhaps it might be that the brigand’s leader genuinely has fallen for her, and has shown himself to be a patient if dangerous man.
Split your infinities
Through binoculars he studies their encampment, an old farmhouse whose dry stone walls have been topped with barbed wire. He stakes it out and watches the comings and goings, the girl waiting patiently at his side, and the faithful hound at hers. When his eyes tire, she takes her turn to watch and note. On the third day he catches sight of his love at the back door, pausing for air with what looks like a kitchen implement in hand. He risks standing, so that she can see him, and anyone else might – a chance he feels he has to take. After a time she turns in his direction, and visibly starts. With his arms crossed in front of his chest, he signals a kiss. But she is called back inside, and needs must go, not daring to look round.
With the girl bedded down in a house as safe as any in these times, he keeps vigil into the depth of that night, awaiting the moment when he will attempt the rescue. Through binoculars, in the fading light of the evening, his heart has jumped to see a window marked with an X in parcel tape. Now he knows where to go, and what he has to do.
Nothing is real
His heart pounding, armed with wire-cutters, rope, a gun, and climbing gloves, he runs across the open fields to the stone wall perimeter. He cuts through the barbed wire, and follows the shadows cast by the outbuildings until he comes to the drainpipe he hopes will bear his weight. Even with the gloves, it’s a struggle to climb, but somehow he manages to make it to the roof that will allow him to access her window, if he can keep his balance across its apex. After a pause to steady his nerves, he runs it, and makes the safety of the wall. Then she is there at the open window and with his mind outside of his body he tells her to secure the rope to one of the feet of her bed. She has a rucksack of things ready on her back. She knew he was coming for her. They only dare to embrace once safely beyond the barbed wire perimeter, and that’s when his mind and reality both come crashing back into him.
It is their first day together as a family of three. The woman and the girl are shy of each other, but he can see the first signs of friendship and what will become love. He is mortally tired after the night and the days spent watching and one in which they tried to put as much distance between themselves and the farmhouse as they could.
They find the perfect house, one built into the side of a hill, all but invisible from the passing road. A nearby clearing in a wood becomes their allotment. Whenever they venture out, danger and distrust go hand in hand, but gradually, through chance encounters, a network is built of people intent on surviving whatever the poisoned world throws at them. All for one, and one for all, they stockpile food, fight off threats to their security and raise their children.
Come to dust
Dust storms are a condition of the new life, but safe in their hillside home, the growing family – now supplemented by twin boys whose survival instinct is as strong as that of their parents – rides them out, and afterwards, sweeps up everything back to a state that they are beginning to dare to think of as normal.
In many ways the new life is an idyll that surpasses the old. But it’s impossible not to look back, and mourn what has gone, what has been lost from the world. Mourn the individuals, the millions, the billions who died. In any individual who survived the end of the world, the will to do so must have been strong, but both the man and the woman have a sense that this is fed by the determination of the species as a whole not only to endure, but to live free. The fate of the dead informs all of the living yet to be done.
These two pages from Pantry For The World are the continuation of the piece comparing and contrasting Momus and McCarthy (which began here), with dollops of Billy Childish, Wings of desire, Jeanette Winterson and Malcolm Lowry thrown in for good measure. Laying my text over an interview with Nick Currie from French music magazine Les Inrockuptibles, this is just about the best laid-out page I ever pasted together. I love the photo of McCarthy, obviously taken around the time they were releasing ‘Get a knife between your teeth’.
But my verdict on The enraged will inherit the earth was extremely harsh – ‘Sitar-y guitar sounds and meek mediocrity’! It’s a much better album than this suggests, and as one of only three McCarthy made, it has to be cherished, though it’s true it’s not quite at the level of their first and third. But it contains some of Malcolm Eden’s most striking lyrics (‘What our boys are fighting for’ neatly aligns soldiering and football hooliganism) and some of his most devastating, unsettling and arch attacks on the liberal left (‘I’m not a patriot but’ skewering those who lent their support for central American ‘freedom fighters’ while simultaneously withholding it from the ‘terrorists’ ‘not far away’ from Britain). And Tim Gane’s melodies are as lovely in essence as Laetitia Sadier would make them on Banking, violence and the inner life today and later with Stereolab.
To continue the compare and contrast theme here in the 21st century, let’s pair one of those lovely Gane melodies in the form of ‘An address to the better off’ with Momus’ Stock, Aitken & Waterman parody ‘Lifestyles of the rich and famous’ from his Don’t stop the night LP. Plus the video of ‘Keep an open mind or else’ for its rarity value.
The second page has Momus’ explanation of who Momus was. En français.
Though he tried, Wim Wenders could never top Wings of desire. Never mind the wonderful German actors – Nick Cave! And Peter Falk! In the same movie!
- McCarthy – An address to the better off
- Momus – Lifestyles of the rich and famous (via UbuWeb Sound)
- McCarthy – Keep an open mind or else
Bristolian Nick Hand is cycling clockwise round the coast of Britain, raising money for the Parkinson’s Disease Society and making short audio-photo documentaries about artisans and other inspiring folk he meets along the way. I love this idea of a journey being productive as well as a challenge with an end goal. You can see the films on Nick’s excellent website, which will also show you that he’s just started working his way up the west coast of Scotland.
More than a bit prissy, this piece, but it was genuinely touching to be given a book in a bookshop, even if as I suspect was the case the bookseller in question ran her shop as a pretext for social interaction rather than because she needed to make a living.
It’s been years since I read or re-read any of the many authors on these two pages, save for C.S. Lewis, inspired by Philip Pullman’s ideological objections. I forget quite why I did it, but I made up the novel Edward’s crumby day and its author Grantley Trillo, and got an earful from one or two people for doing so. I’ve occasionally felt that by way of restoring the natural order, I should write a novel of that title and with the characters I sketchily outlined, but given that no-one uses the word ‘crumby’ any more, I would have to pretend that it had been discovered in a distant relative’s attic where it had lain undisturbed since it was written in the seventies.
I still maintain affection for Richard Brautigan’s books. I used to wonder whether the Coen Brothers would ever adapt one of his stories, as it seems to me that two or three of them have taken some essence from Brautigan – The big Lebowski, O brother, where art thou?, perhaps The Hudsucker proxy.
Of Bukowski’s Factotum my chief memory is of Henry Chinaski being the sole person in his class of would-be taxi drivers to know that the only time it’s legal to take your eyes off the road is when you involuntarily do so by sneezing.
Without at all wishing to be dismissive of how potently affecting his stories are, J.D. Salinger, like Kerouac, increasingly seems to me to be an author of truths for people in their teens and twenties. And I wonder if Salinger’s silence and Kerouac’s burgeoning misanthropy in later life relates to each man’s realisation of this, and that they lacked the energy or the wherewithal to re-establish themselves as authors of truths for what comes after that explosion of cynicism and idealism. They may in fact be extreme examples of the connected generality that people read less fiction and more non-fiction as they age.
The book end people are from a book I used to spend hours perusing at my grandmother’s house, The Film Show annual. The film stars are ‘Bachelor girl in Hollywood’, Suzan Ball, and ‘avid reader’ William Holden, who is shown in another photo with his life partner: ‘Bill relaxes in the garden with his wife Brenda Marshall who gave up a promising film career to look after her husband and children.’
[Canadian director Norman] McLaren always tried to convey a sort of stream of consciousness in his movies. The irony is that his movies were painstaking to make, and he relied heavily on deliberate editing and careful consideration. And there is a conflict there; a strange dichotomy at play between the joy of creating and innovating despite (in McLaren’s case) an almost inhuman attention to detail. That tension is always on my mind. Our albums are at times fidgety; in this case, we basically spent the majority of a whole year working on about nine or ten songs. It’s hard to do that and try and make them feel spontaneous and uncalculated. And to be honest I’m not totally sure if I would want them to sound completely ‘carefree’. I kinda like ‘the sound’ of the tension between those two extremes.
An interview with Jeremy Greenspan of the Junior Boys by K-Punk highlights the imminent arrival of the Canadian duo’s third album, Begone dull care. If it can match the previous two for their oxymoronic mix of painstaking care and unhurried unfurling of 21st century soundscapes – not to mention heartfelt, bluish-boy singing – then I for one will be happy.
The Clientele’s That night, a forest grew EP is finally available for purchase (you can hear it in full here). Already discussed in these pages, ‘Share the night’ is the stand-out song of the four; once again Alasdair languidly tosses out fragments of which poets would be proud (‘as the baby bats fly through the porcelain cracks’) above music which sounds like Greeting from LA-era Tim Buckley informed by three subsequent decades of dance music. ‘Retiro Park’ runs it close with its somnambulant vocal, blurred at the edges, melting like candle wax. In keeping with groove the Clientele have found within themselves, Mel has downed the fiddle and scraper to add piano and organ to this and the other songs. ‘Retiro Park’ shares its Northern soul stomp and glide with ‘George says he has lost his way in this world’, a title which allows us to hope that we might have a Freshies thing going on here. Younger readers may not be aware of Chris Sievey’s group, whose singles – before Chris turned into eyeball-headed Frank Sidebottom – included ‘I’m in love with the girl on the Manchester Virgin Megastore checkout desk’, and ‘I can’t get ‘Bouncing babies’ by the Teardrop Explodes’. As I recall the latter was extended parenthetically outwards by a further factor of one: ‘I can’t get ‘I can’t get ‘Bouncing babies’ by the Teardrop Explodes’ by the Freshies’, only my memory can’t dredge up the name of the smart alecks responsible.
The George in question in the Clientele song is George Henderson of Dunedin-based Flying Nunsters the Puddle. ‘I’ve lost my way in this world’ appears on their recent LP, No love – no hate, which is well worth the price of admission, with meandering guitar lines that teeter thrillingly on the edge of disaster but just about keep their balance. George reveals himself to be the missing link between another man who lost his way in this world before finding it again – Vic Godard – and Guided By Voices’ Robert Pollard, whose state of certitude about his place in this world I’m not qualified to comment on. Obviously I would like to prevail upon someone to progress this Puddle-Clientele chain one further step by penning ‘The Clientele say that George says he has lost his way in this world’.
There is still another joker on the new Clientele EP in the form of the title track, a spoken word companion piece to ‘The garden at night’, with a spiral staircase of guitar whose spirit if not actual hook I would wager has been borrowed unwittingly or otherwise from ‘Ten feet tall’ on XTC’s Drums and wires.
Clientele completists can also (and again at last) grab the download-only Bookshop Casanova EP, featuring their cover of Television’s ‘The fire’ and ‘The girl from somewhere’ – a song which would have fitted comfortably on either The violet hour or Strange geometry – from a variety of outlets (listed here on the Clientele’s forum), a number of whom rather charmingly describe the girl as being from ‘nowhere’ rather than ‘somewhere’.
There’s another Clientele cat to bag while you’re at it, and that is their ‘Your song’ from film musical The bigtop, and its accompanying and cunningly titled soundtrack album Songs from the bigtop. As far as I can tell the movie hasn’t seen the light of day. All of the songs for the film were written by its director, Devon Reed, who then collaborated with the group for whom he had written the song, so if nothing else you can rest easy in the knowledge that the song is not a cover of the old Elton John chestnut. It is in fact a rather lovely miniature to stand alongside ‘Bicycles’, and the Clientele inhabit the song to the extent that you would swear it was a MacLean original.
Last but not least, there is Country music: songs for Keith Girdler, Keith being the erstwhile singer for Blueboy who sadly died last year. The Clientele have contributed a re-recording of ‘Breathe in now’, a song demoed prior to Strange geometry, alongside tracks by Trembling Blue Stars, the Would-be-goods, and Biff Bang Pow!, as well as Blueboy’s fellow Sarah stalwarts St. Christopher, the Wake, and the Orchids. Released by Siesta, the proceeds from the album are being donated to the Martlets Hospice in Hove.
Perhaps it was necessary from a verité point of view, but the early appearance of Ken Russell as a talking head in mock rock documentary Brothers of the head nearly killed my interest in it. Ken may have had his time in the sun as a provocateur, but directing the Who’s Tommy does not make him a viable witness to be called upon when discussions turn to mid-seventies music. It gives one the immediate and very possibly unfair suspicion that the film – directed by Keith Fulton and Louis Pepe and adapted by Tony Grisoni from the Brian Aldiss novel – may well have been made by old farts attempting to relive their youth. Not an attitude we tolerate round these parts, obviously.
But after this early hiccup the film hits its stride, and the eponymous brothers engage you with their interconnected personalities, at first wary then going with the flow as they travel from rural hermits to punk pioneers. If Syd Barrett and Richey Edwards were averaged out and doubled, with minor differences then applied, you might get close to Tom and Barry Howe. Accents aside – more Forest of Dean than coastal Norfolk – the Treadaway brothers do a fantastic job of playing conjoined twins, alternating between oneness and writhing against each other in supreme irritation at not being able to break free of this indissoluble bond. Tom is quiet and noble, while Barry teases and taunts those who come within their orbit, homing in on their motives. The contrast with the group’s appointed manager, whose acting as a hard bastard with repressed homosexual tendencies is an archetypal dog’s dinner, is stark.
Predominantly written by Madness producer Clive Langer, but working with Pete Shelley for the key song ‘Doola and Dawla’ (though Pete’s involvement seems to consist of cheekily pinching the guitar hook from his old mate Howard Devoto’s ‘Shot by both sides’ [NB see comment]), the music, like the boys, exists in a bubble, with few reference points given beyond early Kinks as an exemplar for how brother Barry should play guitar, and Tommy. They produce prototype punk with tinges of Hawkwind, noticeably different from the pub rock one initially thinks that they would more likely be playing in 1975. According to this documentary, the Bang Bang anticipate punk by at least a year. Unless they are aware of the Hammersmith Gorillas, this is a note which may jar with anyone who has at least a rough sense of what happened when, particularly since the film switches between fantasy freak show and grimy reality.
The plot is a woman, Laura, who falls in love with Tom. She may or may not have been responsible for an attempt to explore the possibilities of surgically dividing the twins. The ending seems arbitrarily sudden after the careful cultivation of this plotline and of the Bang Bang’s bubble milieu but Brothers of the Head is a bold effort and for the most part a world away from previous entries in the annals of often dubious films about rock music. It’s roughly equidistant from Brothers to This is Spinal Tap and Velvet goldmine, the more recent memory of and surface similarities with the latter film possibly being the reason why Fulton and Pepe were persuaded to make a mock documentary out of this freakish material rather than a straight piece of fiction. With that greater ambition, they might well have produced a film that was considerably more artful. As it is, Brothers of the head is refreshingly odd.