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!

‘Spillin’ The Beans – I bet you thought I’d gone for good…………

……………..But no, ‘Spillin’ The Beans is really back again.

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This week, because something reminded me of a long-forgotten blast from the past, I am going to talk about one of the lesser-known (obscure, even) bands of the early 1970s and that band is Gnidrolog. “Who?” I hear you say, “Never heard of them!” and, I reply “No, and who could blame you, because they only ever got played by John Peel and they managed to avoid commercial success completely.

So, who were they? Well, they were a short-lived band formed by two brothers, Colin and Stewart Goldring (the band’s name is a slightly-amended anagram of their surname) in 1969 and who existed until 1972, the year in which they released two albums. The first had the enigmatic title “In Spite Of Harry’s Toe-nail” and the second was the less oddly-named “Lady Lake“. Neither title caused much upheaval in the album charts and the band went its separate ways. Despite the lack of success, various members of the band went on to perform with better-known and far more successful acts, drummer Nigel Pegrum joining Steeleye Span and bassist Pete Cowling played with Pat Travers for many years. The Goldring Brothers themselves went on to form a pretty awful (and probably joke) “punk” band called The Pork Dukes, over which I shall draw a discreet veil. Gnidrolog, inexplicably perhaps, reformed in 1999 and released an album called “Gnosis” in 2000, which proved to be quite popular in Europe. The band has a page on Facebook.

The original lineup of the band was;

Colin Goldring – lead vocals, guitars, recorder, tenor sax, horn, harmonica
Stewart Goldring – lead guitar, vocals
Peter “Mars” Cowling – bass guitar, cello
Nigel Pegrum – percussion, flute, oboe, piano

and they were joined by John Earle on soprano, tenor and baritone saxes, flute and lead vocals for their second album.

So, you wonder, why am I writing about this obscure band? Well, it is because despite their obscurity, they did make some quite interesting music. They fit into the same soundworld as the likes of Gentle Giant, Van Der Graaf Generator and King Crimson., and you can detect all sorts of other influences in the music too, even a touch of early Bowie in the main vocals, although Peter Hammill is a more obvious reference point. One oddity is that, apart from one track on Lady Lake, the band doesn’t use any keyboards.

Of the two 1972 albums, the later one, Lady Lake is the more successful and accessible, but the first is the more experimental and contains the seeds of the more-polished later work. The music is pastoral in places, with a lot of flute, sax and other woodwinds. It also features spiky angular passages and discordant singing and playing to dramatic effect. It is very much music of its time, the guitar work and bass-playing is very early 70s, (especially on the first album, which has a couple of “sub-Fripp mixed with blues-rock wig-out” solos for example, as is the overall production and dynamic. The weird thing though, is that I hear little flourishes of this oddness in some much more recent music, such as on the second album, “Hidden” by These New Puritans. Overall, though, they are a band who are probably always going to be seen as a footnote in the history of progressive rock and the music of the 1970s.

So, have I whetted your appetites? I know, probably not, but if you are curious you can find their music on YouTube;

Lady Lake is here

In Spite of Harry’s Toe-Nail is here

 

‘Spillin’ The Beans – 2017 in sound – Week Three

Finally, time to put you all out of your misery with my third playlist of music I have enjoyed in 2017. Without further ado, well after the obligatory cute Festive image, the music will follow. Continue reading

‘Spillin’ The Beans – 2017 in sound – Week Two

Hello Pop Pickers, here is my second playlist of 2017 choons. Six more tracks that I’ve heard and enjoyed in 2017. Continue reading

‘Spillin’ The Beans – 2017 in sound – Week One

new years eve 2017

Over the next three Fridays, ‘Spillin’ The Beans will be looking back at various things I have liked and listened to as part of my soundtrack to 2017. Continue reading

‘Spillin’ The Beans – “Credits” by Wooter

This week, ‘Spillin’ The Beans is having a listen to an album that is planned for release in January 2018. The artist in question is Wooter, a.k.a Rowan Brind, a New York-based musician who describes himself as a multi-instrumentalist/music producer.

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Continue reading