2000 – The Magnetic Fields – 69 Love Songs

2000 - The Magnetic Fields

I’ve no idea where I first heard about “69 Love Songs” by The Magnetic Fields, probably the New Musical Express, but I’m so glad I decided to get it. What could have been a chore, listening to sixty nine songs and trying to sift out the wheat from the chaff, was an absolute delight. The mostly short, witty songs, strong on melody and even stronger on lyrical genius, are often like sketches rather than fully-formed, over-produced works but that’s where their charm lies. The instrumentation is unusual, mixing synths with ukuleles and drum machines with banjos (to name but a few) and the words have the poetry-of-the-mundane that I so love about bands such as The Smiths. As soon as the singer professes, “It’s only fair to tell you, I’m absolutely cuckoo”, on the first song, you know it’s going to be good. Later on he tells us, “Well, my heart’s running ’round like a chicken with its head cut off.” One of my favourite lyrics is, “The Book of Love is long and boring, no one can lift the damn thing up. Some of it is just transcendental, some of it is just really dumb.” And so it goes on, veering between the heart-achingly beautiful and the just plain daft – exactly what being in love is all about I guess.

Ideas for my photography were coming thick and fast, making connections and following leads. Tracey and I were still on with the ‘calendar series’ of great paintings recreated, but it sparked another idea of using the empty frames from pictures and showing body parts or faces through them – a kind of living art gallery I suppose. We painted a huge piece of hardboard black, cut rectangles out of it and fastened gold coloured frames over the holes. Getting the lighting just right was the biggest challenge, as Tracey positioned herself at various (probably very uncomfortable) angles showing various body parts and I pressed the shutter. I entered one of the pictures into the January round of the Photographer Of The Year competition – theme, ‘The Body’ – in Practical Photography magazine. It’s a fairly prestigious competition, so was absolutely thrilled to gain a top twenty place and have my picture published. Of course, I entered each month after that and got nowhere but it didn’t matter, I’d had a picture published.

James had been riding his little red bike with stabilisers for a while and we’d regularly spend Sunday afternoons over at the Victoria Quays in Sheffield, looking at the ‘Rosie and Jim’ canal boats or running, riding and kicking a football around under the bridge across the far side. There are a few ‘Cadman Lanes’ in Sheffield, dating back to the time of the cutlery makers known as ‘Little Mesters’, which is what most of my ancestors on dad’s side were. One of these is at Victoria Quays, along with Cadman Bridge, so we often went there to take a photograph or have a picnic. Fortunately, he was too young to either notice or understand when, on one such occasion, we were huddled in a doorway having a bit of lunch, and two lads came past, patting their pockets and muttering about not having any change. They thought we were begging!

Having already been to his first soccer school at Wingfield (and been picked out as talented by a bloke from Newcastle), James was pretty advanced in his physical development, but I was quite surprised when, in March, we were down under the bridge as usual and he managed to ride without the stabilisers for the first time. I was so proud but he just laughed and carried on, enjoying the sensation of balance and movement. It was the day after St Patrick’s night, always a late one for The Rogues and I was shattered but, along with a great song or a new creative idea, James’ smile when he found he could do something new could always lift me up and give me a burst of energy.

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