Sunlight on the snow
Well whaddya know, snow has fallen in the dead of night and the morning is all white with green and red brick peering through the gaps. Except already it's melting away leaving nothing but grey. The sky is stone, too, and there's precious little cheer. So whatcha gonna do? Put another record on the jukebox, baby, let music works its magical ways.
Do you remember the days when the jukeboxes had vinyl records in them? Do you remember those 7" singles with the middles missing that came out of those jukeboxes and you could get for like five pence a dozen in the second hand stores? Mostly they were all worn out, but often the ones you wanted anyway were the unpopular songs, and they weren't so scratched. There was a store in Ayr we used to go to all the time and we'd buy armloads of singles with our pocket money. They were nearly all complete crap, but we didn't give a shit. We used to take 'em home and stack 'em up on the spindle of our old red Marconiphone, watch 'em fall onto each other as they played through. We danced in the light of the moon.
Which is all crap of course. There was no moon and I never could dance. But what the hell.
I have three 7" singles in front of me right now, and at the arse end of 2001 that somehow seems like a minor miracle. I want to kiss the people who still stick out 7" singles. I want to kiss them for being so in love with ancient technologies, for dragging me screaming with joyrage back to my childhood, and... and... that non-existent moon and my singular failure to dance.
First of those singles is by Lovejoy! who some will recognise as being one-time Blueboy Keith (with various chums along for a ride - sorry chums, I don't know what ace bands you might have been in before and I don't want to suggest that Lovejoy! is 'Keith's band' because that would be so ROCK and Lovejoy! are anything but That) and here Lovejoy! indulge themselves by covering two Biff Bang Pow! songs. Biff Bang Pow! of course being the one-time band of one-time Creation and Poptones boss Alan McGee, and if that makes you want to rage and scream, than hang on a minute because if you took all the horrors of McGee the record company mogul and the nasties he foisted on the world and wrapped them up in a big plastic bag and chucked them in some incinerator (I'd say 'recycle' to be eco-friendly but really you know you do NOT want shit like Oasis and Five Thirty back in your world), well... um, this metaphor has lost it's way with me being too busy dreaming of burning all the crap, but what I was going to say was, um, imagine all that utter rubbish, and then imagine the opposite, and in terms of sheer beauty, well, THAT was Biff Bang Pow!
And speaking of burning the rubbish I suddenly remember the 'pyre of pop' we had planned for our Beach Party ultimate Indie-fest, back in the summer of 1988. Except it pissed it down that whole week and the plan fell through. I can still picture it in my head though... it's marvellous.
But Biff Bang Pow! They made a clutch of simply divine singles and albums and then split, with McGee devoting himself instead to pouring other people's trash into the world, which was a shame, but there you go. Lovejoy! here give us two old BBP! favourites: 'Hug Me Honey' is all simple strums, tinkling icicles and growling cello stabs in the dark; the kind of song you recall from autumn into winter mornings past with a breaking head and heart, the vision of That Smile and Those Eyes hammering against you with every note. 'The Beat Hotel' is similarly ravaged, a celebratory giving up the ghost to the echo of heartbeats and sunglassed stares at the sun; a shrugged acceptance of the twists and turns of life and a love of something you know somewhere inside doesn't appeal, but still, you can't help yourself, can't help the way your heart cracks open and bleeds on the carpet. Biff Bang Pow! made such treasures and they're mostly hidden in dusty alcoves awaiting rediscovery. Maybe Lovejoy! can help point the way to a whole new generation.
Well, it's nice to dream.
Next up are Slipside, who do a kind of grand chiming guitar and organ number on 'Sleeptalk', and a more acoustic strum on the very lovely 'Six Strings' that builds and stretches its limbs out there on the hearth, catching the last vestiges of warmth from a dying fire. It's all a bit muddy sounding, which might be just my run down record deck, or might be intentional, but it's fine by me because it sounds Just Right, like a daydream beamed into my Saturday morning from fifteen years ago, making my spine creep and jangle.
Better yet, however, are Melodie Group, whose 'Summerness' is a great drum machine driven beauty with yet more of those gorgeously sad (I think someone calls them 'minor') chords chiming across the top, like Jackson Pollock dropping streams of paint across the glass. 'Summerness' is a gem of understatement, a restrained cascade of sparkler dims on the prairies. It's all midnight blue; cracked streaks of paint across the landscape of your lost love. Mesmerising dissolution of the moment you fell.
Of course Melodie Group isn't really a group at all, but is instead mainly singer songwriter Roy Thirlwell on his own, and he has the good sense to record a song called '1989'. It's not the Clem Snide song, but it's a peach nonetheless, being all simple acoustic guitar and dark, lonely vocal, like Robert Forster at his beautiful, bleak best. Ditto 'Small Grinning Thing', which really is maybe more Grant McLennan in the lyrical bent and the melodic dips. Gorgeously bare and deliciously lonely, whichever way you look at it.
It's had me digging out their mini-album from 2000 Seven Songs for a well overdue replay. Lusciously paced and with perfectly spaced sounds kissing and dancing in the smoke screen of 1950's cinemas, these songs are the kinds of songs made by, say, Arco in a slightly better mood, or East Village covering the softest songs of Felt. 'Skin Dive' in particular is a delight of slo-motion Hockney swimming pools in the dead of night; Philip Marlowe sitting alone smoking a cigarette and watching the ocean crash on rocks. Divine.
There would be enough evidence from the Melodie Group recordings alone to suggest that Roy Thirlwell is one of the great unsung songwriters of the current age, but thankfully there's even more proof in the recordings of The Windmills. In The Windmills Therlwell joins forces with Dan and Tony Pankhurst, Pete Spicer and Rob Clarke, and in doing so produces some of the finest, most upliftingly down-beat Pop since, well, I have to say it again, since East Village ripped hearts apart with their awesome beat noise back in the late '80s and early '90s. There's clearly some kind of homage being paid to East Village in the sound of The Windmills, but that might be just my thoughts running away with me, and really unfair anyway because the Windmills themselves actually formed initially in 1984 themselves, so maybe it's truer to say that East Village sounded like The Windmills, but there you go. It's probably also true to say that Windmills are still (rightly and thankfully) in thrall of groups like prime Go-Betweens, or The Loft when they were well oiled and lubricating the Living Room, or Hurrah! at their absolute magnificent peak, or Hellfire Sermons at their most roped in and melodic best, which is to say the best of all you can imagine. Windmills are taught and tense, languorous and cooler than cool all at once, which is no mean feat. After their reformation in 1999 they laid the groundwork on the excellent Edge Of August album and have now delivered another real beauty of a record in the new Sunlight collection. There are so many minor Pop classics on Sunlight it's simply criminal that they aren't airing full time on MTV instead of shit like the godawful Starsailor. There's only so much weary talk of 'authenticity' you can take when it comes to Pop, after all, and if the likes of Starsailor go to such great lengths to convince us of their 'worthiness' and 'sensitivity', then you just know they've got to be faking it; turning on the manufactured 'sadness' for the plastic tears of the massed ranks of 'tortured' students, so sad because the girl they fancy from their Chemistry class likes Destiny's Child instead of the Stereophonics. The Windmills, on the other hand, simply go their own way, by-passing the usual 'references' and short-circuiting notions of 'authenticity' by being only natural, by dipping and rising in the manner of the long-distance runner in the mists by the canal every December morning. And naturally The Windmills make sounds for the Autumnal and Winter months, dropping notes that remind of summer and its hazy smiles in the most elliptical of manners. Previous singles 'Drug Autumn' and 'When It Was Winter' are simply gorgeous moments; perfect Pop events frozen in time by the finest of sculptors hands. 'When it was Winter' especially is something to behold, being all magnificent fuzzy chords and crystalline notes bending into the heavens like the Northern Lights just visible in the sky over the tops of the shipyard cranes; a bunch of ragged-hearted Beat outsiders singing a hymn to the moment held in time, guitars clutched high and tight and proud.
The snow is all gone, and I love The Windmills with all of my heart.
© Alistair Fitchett 2001