1998 – Mercury Rev, Sparklehorse, Embrace, Massive Attack

Sparklehorse 1998

It could have been the perception of circumstances, but for me, there didn’t seem to be any one really significant album this year.  There were some brilliant, glittering songs by some great artists, but again, not a whole album that I played to death.  Perhaps I just didn’t have the inclination to listen to whole albums or maybe the CD format ended the idea of two sides of a listenable length. I realise I could have just stopped playing the CD after four or five songs but that seemed wrong somehow. Or maybe other obsessions began taking over for a while.

When they heard snippets of the “Deserter’s Songs” album by Mercury Rev, friends were very quick and almost delighted to point out that maybe, just maybe, I’d grown soft, laid-back and perhaps a bit more mainstream in my musical tastes. Ha! Obviously they didn’t realise that I was also listening to albums such as “Good Morning Spider” by Sparklehorse, with the megaphone-voice and fuzzed up guitar-squall of songs such as ‘Pig’ and ‘Cruel Sun’. True, “Deserter’s Songs” is, in places, a little more wistful and gentle than usual but with song titles such as ‘I Collect Coins’ and ‘Opus 40’, it certainly isn’t mainstream and very few, (if any) songs that I’ve heard on the radio, feature solos played on a bowed saw. ‘Holes’ does and is weirdly brilliant.

I was really hopeful when I got the Embrace album, “The Good Will Out”. I loved the sparkle of the first track ‘All You Good Good People’ and the lushness of second track ‘My Weakness Is None Of Your Business’. The third song, ‘Come Back To What You Know’ begins in a slightly sombre mood but builds to a majestic, soaring chorus that quickly became one of my all-time favourites but then the rest of the album gradually got more and more disappointing and I rarely played it. We even put ‘Come Back To What You Know’ into The Rogues’ set list for a while.

Our summer holiday was two weeks spent camping in France (well, in a static caravan) and I would sing the song to James, sitting on my shoulders as we traipsed around various market places. For some reason, every time I sang the first line, he would giggle happily. I also kept him amused (or probably bemused) by singing “Hark I hear the steeple bells, they’ll all be open now” every time a church bell rang. Only I knew it was from a Bonzo Dog Doo Dah Band tune, everyone else just thought I was bonkers, but it became our private joke. He and I played for hours, making cardboard food to put on the barbecue which he would ‘cook’, or making sandcastles on the beach while everyone relaxed. We went on holiday with friends: Gary, the other bloke, and myself got into the habit of trying to find the cheapest possible wine we could find. In the end, sixty cents got us a box of red which we could probably have used to clean the drains! The campsite was close to Croix-de-Vie where I’d stayed with the Amizet family in my teens and we’d arranged beforehand to visit them one day. It was lovely to see them again after so long and we chatted in their garden for hours.  They were horrified to hear our exploits with wine, so Yves (the dad), gave us a very expensive bottle to prove, “just how good French wine can be.” The daughter Soizic, whom I’d last seen aged about six, was there with her husband, Jacques. He was a musician and, after talking for ages, he invited us to a gig that night with his band at a restaurant in town where I was invited to get up and sing. They couldn’t speak English at all but we played ‘Brown-Eyed Girl’, showing how music absolutely is a universal language.

I did manage some time on my own, going very early in the morning to visit and photograph a couple of huge standing stones that were close by. The pictures were good – but I was becoming increasingly dissatisfied with landscapes. The images that really appealed to me in all the magazines I’d started reading were portraits, but I had no one I either wanted to, or who was willing to be photographed. In July I’d been on an art training course at YPO in Wakefield with Tracey, a new teacher who’d been at Roughwood for a couple of years but whom I’d not really spoken to much. We talked, laughed and played all day; an instant connection made. After the summer I made sure we were on playground duty together and we talked, laughed and played forever. After reading a book called Painting With Words, I hatched an idea to actually paint someone’s face to resemble, as closely as possible, the picture ‘Weeping Woman’ by Picasso and then photograph it. She was immediately up for it and later in the year we did it. A new obsession began.

Tracey was also the only person I knew who’d heard the dark, pulsing rhythms of ‘Mezzanine’ by Massive Attack. It broods and threatens and contains the brilliant ‘Angel’ and ‘Teardrop’ but again, for me just gets a bit boring after a while. I needed something more: something that would come around the corner and hit me like a freight train.

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