Letters

I’ve just finished a stint on RR. The topic was writing. It nearly tipped me over the edge. This isn’t about that though. There were lots of nominations about letter writing and sending. I always listen to possible tracks at least twice if I can, and pay attention to the lyrics. A couple of the songs had great titles or lines that triggered a thought fox (my latest favourite phrase).

The title of Wilco’s song A Box Full of Letters reminded me of my own box of letters (also has a great hook though, that I can completely relate to “I just can’t find the time, To write my mind, The way I want it to read).

PJ Harvey’s typically sexy The Letter can be interpreted in a couple of ways I reckon, but on face value it was this line that took me back to my letter writing days “Who is left that
Writes these days?” – she’s referring to letters of course.

I went away to school. It was a necessity due to my father’s job which moved us around a lot. I went at 11 in 1983 and after my A levels worked as an Au Pair in Munich for 9 months and went straight to university after that. So from the age of 11, I’ve pretty much only gone home during academic holidays. As a result, letters formed a huge part of my life. I wrote a letter several times a week; to my parents, to my grandparents, to cousins, to my brother (who was at an all boys school). When I came home in the holidays, I would spend a lot of time writing to my friends, widely dispersed around the UK and all in the same boat – back at home where we knew very few other kids…

When my parents moved to their current house, they insisted the 3 of us finally remove all our crap from their loft, they didn’t want to cart it yet again. Amongst my detritus were all of the letters I had ever received, bound by sender in colourful ribbons. The addresses on the envelopes tracing the many places I’d lived over the years. There was no way I could store all of them myself. My mother and I began a day of wading through and re-reading her letters to me. They formed a fascinating personal and social history of banalities, family news and stories that place the letters in time. I remember one where she described in great detail the number and types of shops that had closed on our high street and the rising cost of essential items. It was the 1980s.

I culled so many of these letters, but I wanted to keep the essential ones. There were some in the pile from people I didn’t remember. There were letters from old boyfriends that made me blush. There were letters about not very much, but knowing someone had taken the time to write always made me feel important. I remember long summer holidays desperately waiting for the post, and then the 2nd post (remember that?).

The upshot is, I went into my eaves storage this morning. There amongst the old paint pots and dust sheets sat my current box of letters. The ones I saved from my mother’s fire. I couldn’t quite get it out unfortunately.

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I also found a mini trunk I’d forgotten about, where there were more letters and postcards. I also found 3 excruciating volumes of diaries I wrote in my A Level years. The pink one pictured is stuffed with more letters and notes handed between school desks – the precursor to snapchat.

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I think letter writing is a dying art. What do we need letters for nowadays when we can get hold of each other 24/7? I miss the thrill of receiving real mail. About 6 or 7 years ago I invested in a fountain pen and started writing to my mother again. We would still speak on the phone, see each other, text regularly, but the letters were about random stuff that had happened that day – funny things I’d forgotten about by the time I spoke to her next; a disastrous attempt to dye my hair, the colour of my new nail polish, how brilliant it was that I could pick sweetcorn at the local PYO farm. I didn’t tell her any family news – it was all about me. She would respond similarly and it became a way of reconnecting with her on a level we had somehow lost over the years. It lasted for some time, until we felt we didn’t need it any more. Give it a go and surprise someone – writing a note is a joyous thing.

So anyway – back to those songs that were nominated. Here’s the letters list:

St Patrick’s Day

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The last few years have seen me spend St Patrick’s Day afternoon at my friend Sue’s house watching England play Ireland in the Six Nations rugby championship. Her extended Irish family are always there as well as other local friends. It’s not traditionally Irish in any way; Guinness is substituted with Prosecco, Mojitos or Espresso Martinis served with tartiflette, an unctious French potato bake. It’s a beautifully warm, friendly, gorgeous time spent with people I love being around. Today will see a repeat of this gathering.

The Welsh Beauties post seemed to go down ok the other week (although, tbh, I’ve had no feedback from the person I originally made the little list for, so, meh to that) hence I’ve decided to do one for St Patrick’s Day, for Sue.

There are some heavyweight acts and artist hailing from the Emerald isle, here though I’m focussing on acts that aren’t of the world and chart dominating variety. I’d like to hear your suggestions too. Here goes:

Fionn Regan – The Meeting of the Waters

Originally from the coastal town of Bray, Fionn Regan has been around a while and I think there are some fans of his here. There’s a gentle, confessional feel to his music and I’m struck by the similarities with Sufjan Stevens, especially Regan’s earlier work. The 2007 album, The End of History, has a sense of Carrie and Lowell about it.

This track, The Meeting of the Waters, is from his 2017 album of the same name (video features the ever gorgeous Cillian Murphy), also check out the very beautiful Cormorant Bird.

Ships – Where We Are

This Dublin based duo won the Irish Choice music prize for their album Precession last year. Their music is synth led and rhythmically dreamy. This track is also beautifully heavy on the bass and features some lovely vocal harmonies. There’s a bit of a Jan Hammer feel about the whole thing – it makes me want to dig out some shoulder pads.

Pillow Queens – Favourite

I’ve literally stumbled upon Pillow Queens in the last 2 weeks. They fit in quite nicely with my current infatuation with all things girls and guitars. Their latest EP, State of the State, came out only yesterday and it’s a cracking listen. I love the riff in this track, the vocal overlay and harmonies makes it such an earworm. And I just love the fact that I can hear their accents in the vocals (check out their track Rats for more of that). So, my mission now is to persuade the aforementioned Sue to come with me to see them in April at our local sweat box.

Hozier – Take Me to the Church

I’ve chosen this one because when it came out my ballet-loving daughter was obsessed with the video featuring Sergei Polunin – this isn’t the official video for this song btw. We watched it together over and over. The grace, power and beauty of the movements is mesmerising and inspired her to make up her own moves (in fact she’s out in the garden right now, behind me as I type, dancing her own steps). The song itself is also full of emotion – the visuals and the music make for a powerful combo.

Two Door Cinema Club – What You Know

My almost 15 year old son pays no attention to the music I try to introduce him to – turning away with disdain in most cases. Not so when his girlfriend suggests something he’s never come across – oh no, then it’s the best thing he’s ever heard. That’s how we came to have the whole “Have you heard of Two Door Cinema Club, Mum?” conversation. This track is not at all the sort of thing he listens to usually (he’s into rap, hip hop, trap, grime etc), but this song has ended up on constant repeat, blaring from his bedroom or from the stereo in the kitchen when he’s on washing up duty. And that is cool by me – it’s infectious, harmless and the lyrics aren’t nearly as vile as some of the stuff he listens to. These boys are from Northern Ireland, so I’m not sure how that fits with the St Patrick’s Day thing; here’s hoping I’ve not offended anyone.

Let me hear your suggestions for music from the Emerald Isle. Also, let me know if you think this could be a regular feature and perhaps I’ll start gathering info about national days etc.

Sláinte!

Welsh Beauties

It’s been a while since I showed my face around these parts. We are into the 3rd month of 2018 already, can you believe it (white rabbits and pinch/punch etc)?  1st March is St David’s Day so I made this mini list of 5 Welsh beauties for a Valleys boy I know and thought I’d share it with you too.  Let me know what you think.

Estrons – I’m Not Your Girl

I owe you guys a huge debt. Especially Panther, Shane and VW for going on about Slowcoaches at the back-end of last year. Had you not and had I not gone out of my way to listen to them and other bands like them, I’d have likely never stumbled upon Estrons (I think this translates as either Strangers or Misfits – but happy to be corrected). This Cardiff based outfit are on blistering form on this track, I’m Not Your Girl.  It’s a feisty take on insecurity and relationship nonsense. It’s loud, it’s catchy and I’ve had it on continuous loop for many weeks now. I’m gutted to have missed them at my local sweat box in September. Also look out for other ace tracks from them; Glasgow Kiss and Make a Man.

 

Trampolene – Beautiful Pain

A former regular at RR, TracyK (@perlalaloca) and possibly here too is doing a weekly mixtape project over on Twitter. She kicked off the project with her own mix which is where I first heard this track by Trampolene.  In fact, I’m ashamed to say, it was the first time I’d heard anything by them; it seems they’ve been around a while. Hailing from Swansea, their debut album, Swansea to Hornsea, features Beautiful Pain. It’s a lovely, dream-pop number telling the heart-rending ache of falling in love. The lead singer also dabbles in spoken word performance and the album features some of his poetry. As an aside, the poem called Ketamine reminded me of a story a friend told me about his experience with the said substance and made me smirk at his stupid dabbling.

 

The Gentle Good – The Fisherman

The Gentle Good is Cardiff multi-instrumentalist Gareth Bonelio and winner of last year’s Welsh Music Prize for his album Ruins/Adfeilion. Again, another artist I’d never heard of. He’s a folk musician with a Johnny Flynn sound about him. The Fisherman, is about loneliness and isolation and apparently a nod to American author Richard Brautigan whose classic beat novel Trout Fishing In America happens to be next on my pile of books to read.

 

Toby Hay – Claerwen

I love the sleeve art for Toby Hay’s album of instrumental tracks, Gathering. It speaks of wilderness, nature and wide open spaces.  The commune between man and beast.  All the tracks by the mid-welsh folk musician have a mystical quality to them.  Listening to this one is like wandering through a meadow in summertime, watching the dust motes catch the sun sparkles and the dandelion seeds take off on the breeze.  It’s beautifully dreamy.

 

Candelas – Llwytha’r Gwn

I can’t recall how I first came across Candelas, but I absolutely love this song. Just as when I listen to Gwenno, I have no clue what they are singing about, but I know I like it. There is something very sexy about a duet when the voices compliment each other even when they are so different. This song fits that bill for me. The featured artist is Alys Williams. I don’t know much about her or Candelas other than they come from Llanuwchllyn in North Wales and only sing in Welsh. If it’s all as good as this, then that is cool by me.

 

Wales has a fantastic heritage of producing superb musicians and singers. Which other artists can you recommend from “the land of song?”

Saturday Shuffle

I thought I’d start a new thing in my usual slot. This is not hugely dissimilar to WOYT. I’m going to hit shuffle on my player of choice and see which three tracks come up next. I’ll post them here as tracks and pop them into the box too. It would be lovely to hear what you think (about this new idea and the music).

Oddly, the 3 tracks that came up first are all from compilations.

I do believe I may have nominated the first song for an RR theme on cheating – it had already been zedded some time before, but it does what it says on the tin etc.

Jackie Mittoo popped up 2nd. One of a couple of excellent Studio One compilations we have of his lovely keyboard sounds. Keyboard King of Studio One is probably a stronger collection but this track does very nicely.

The Best of David Bowie: 1969 – 1974 is a 20 track collection I borrowed from my friend Dr Rob and promptly ripped it. I have just 6 Bowie albums in total; this is the only collection though and is full of hits. This is a brief song about a short-lived affair that makes him miserable. All we know about the girl is, she has long blonde hair and is more than likely the Devil’s daughter. The opening reminds me of something by Badly Drawn Boy and the jaunty sax and strings make this a cute song of heartbreak.

What comes up when you hit shuffle?

Instrumentals 2017

On the occasions I’ve done RR this year, I’ve produced an instrumental playlist to go alongside the A & B lists.  I’ve been collecting instrumental tracks from this year and thought I’d share it here in the same vein.  There are only a couple that contain some lyrical content – but it’s marginal.  I couldn’t find all the tracks on YouTube (but the full list is intact on Spotify), so I’ve had to skip some or swap them for something else by the same artist.

What else have I missed?

Tin Man – Sarah Winman

I can’t imagine any of you are that bothered, but in case you want to read something while waiting for the Festive ‘Spil Ones, or if you are thinking of a last minute book gift to buy tomorrow, I’ve just written my first post since February over at my own place.  Here it is:

A Fiction Habit

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This time last year, I suggested we talk about love.  Shall we do it again?  I think we should.

This year has seen even less writing here than last year.  Despite the lack of new “content” I got lots of visitors (that story’s for another time).  Although I’ve not been active here, I’ve been writing bits elsewhere and short pieces for work.  My year’s been hectic beyond belief with nothing more than everyday life and surviving it, which has inevitably impacted my reading choices.  In the main, I’ve chosen slim volumes this year; brevity has been everything.

Writers have to work hard with short fiction (I’m not suggesting that writers of longer fiction don’t work hard btw).  I continue to marvel at how writers use style and language to convey a story in a short volume.  What they leave out tends to be almost as important as the words…

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The Wheel of Your Tune

The Wheel of Your Tune works like this; I metaphorically turn my spinning top to reveal a random letter and number. The letter relates to an artist or the name of an album in my collection and the number relates to the track by that artist or on that album. This week’s spin landed on I6.

The track I’ve chosen is 1049 Gotho by Bristol band Idles. Idles have grown their following this year probably due to being picked up by BBC Introducing. Before that, I saw a writer I follow on Twitter talking about their visceral and energetic delivery. The name of their album, Brutalism, suggested a rawness, bleakness and modernity – I pictured the buildings of Park Hill estate in Sheffield where my husband was at university; a blot on the landscape and beautifully post modern all at once. I had to give it a listen. So on a journey into town at the end of March, I put it on at full volume and enjoyed the assault on my eardrums. “Commute noise” I called it.

Visceral is a good descriptions. The undercurrent of their pulsating bass/drums combo paired with the singer’s close-to-the-mic shouty delivery, almost spitting the lyrics out, makes it a physical listen. It’s a breeze-block of an album; sturdy and rough. Yet there is genuine warmth and humour in the lyrics. The stream of consciousness song writing style suggests depth of thought and honesty. I love them like I love Savages and Sleaford Mods. Their observational contempt is refreshing and their noise sonically and accurately articulates my on/off frustration with life.

My son and I saw them on a beautiful summer’s evening this year, just as the sun was setting at a very tame, small festival local to me. The crowd was tiny and mostly made up of a hardcore of travelling fans all kitted out in Idles awesome merch. And what absolutely lovely fellas they were too. It was a lovely moment, just me and my boy.

Anyway, enough of my blather. I really like this album. You wouldn’t put it on if you had family round for Sunday lunch there are plenty of other opportunities though. Another one to listen to through headphones or on a decent stereo.

I’d love to hear what you think of Idles.

What’s your I6?