Regular curator of tunes Liz Buckley is back in charge of the Standard Issue playlist and, on Valentine’s Day, she’s pausing for a bit of romance. Sort of.
The music of love. To paraphrase Morgan Freeman, a dance as old as time. Not always with penguins, but sometimes. Love songs. They can fill your senses, swell your heart, fill your eyes and break your heart.
But not all of them are that bloody obvious, some of them have really, really made me laugh.
Damien Rice – The Blower’s Daughter & Lisa Hannigan – Silent Night
The first Damien Rice album came along in time for Valentine’s Day 2002. I was rather taken with it and definitely on the cusp of asking it out. It was delicate and sensitive, reedy and weedy, the musical equivalent of an under-weight, bookish boy with floppy hair and rickets. You try to coddle him by buying a soft, fluffy jumper only for him to make big holes for the fingers. Charmingly pretty yet hopeless. Just my type.
The album’s like a lovely pub lock-in with zero chance of a fight, just promises to do it all again the next night. You imagine a soft-focus cloud whenever Lisa Hannigan’s vocals join in with the melodies, the two voices together giving the feeling this album is a courtship, the sweetest of meetings with the softest of people.
I went to see Damien and Lisa play the album at the Shepherd’s Bush Empire in 2003, my eyes bright with expectation at the charm of it all. The reality was that it unbelievably quiet, the quietest gig I have been to in my life, in fact, probably the quietest drink I’d ever had. You could hear perfectly reasonably-voiced people say, “Are the loos this way?” as though they were mic-ed up to present Blind Date.
I tried to focus. I could vaguely hear a man whispering on stage. I squinted, as if this would help me hear better. Damien Rice was singing The Blower’s Daughter with Lisa beside to him. The lyrics are beautiful. Which, luckily, I knew in advance. I tried to get nearer, as though making them bigger would help. Gradually they were my focus. “Can’t take my eyes off of you/can’t take my eyes off of you”.
My heart started to soar as I moved in and the crowd disappeared. Then, despite the quietness of the gig and despite it being on the actual record, for the very first time I noticed Damien Rice ends the song with a laugh and mutters under his breath “…’til I find somebody new”.
The flippin piss-taker!
The National – Sorrow
The National’s lyrics are very poetic. You won’t know that, even if you’re in The National because Matt Berninger sings in such a low register, only ghosts can hear him. It’s rather a devastating delivery that I have to be brave to listen to, as it does have a clear effect on my mood. It resonates to your core and leaves you vulnerable. I know every note, and the songs overwhelm me with their romantic sadness. The National nearly always sound like they’re suffering the worst emotional pain and it transfers onto you. The sort of albums that makes you cry on trains then worry you’ll be tweeted about. (“Sorrow found me when I was young. Sorrow waited, sorrow won.”)
I went to see The National at the end of last year with my friend Elaine and her brother Steve. There we were, arms around each other, Elaine singing along (maybe she Googled the lyrics?), me making the sounds of all the main key-words. Emoting up to the stage that we too were feeling maudlin in love, we understood his beautiful pain and were a bit teary for him. Then Steve knocked me on the arm and shouted “OH, BOO HOO! Y’know?!” and it made me laugh like a drain.
PJ Harvey – This is Love
I love PJ Harvey so much I get a bit tongue-tied when trying to talk about her. She’s strong, she’s beautiful, she’s smart and when she plays guitar, the world stops. I once saw her unplug the microphone when playing her first album and her voice still filled the venue, resonating to the ceiling and making you half expect the walls to fall in.
PJ Harvey. By Dave Mitchell via Wikimedia Commons
And lo, it came to pass that when I had to sing at a friend’s birthday party – we all had to take our turn on severe penalty of being labelled no fun – so I thought I’d sing PJ Harvey. It was my chance to be that alluring, that strong, that thin. Except, I’d not considered how funny I’d find the all the powerful, Bodica-style delivery when coming from my daft face. The boom needed to deliver “This is love, this is love, that I’m feeling” just makes the embarrassed side of you pretend-beat your chest and giggle like a teenager who’s seen a willy. You blare on with “I can’t believe life’s so complex / When I just wanna’ sit here and watch you undress” but you also need to be careful you’re not looking at your friend’s mum when you come out with that.
“Keep the walls from falling on me, tumbling in”. Oh I know Polly, I bloody know.
Tom Waits – Hope That I Don’t Fall in Love With You
Tom knows. He knows what a broken heart is, what the bottom of a second whisky bottle is. You want to talk about love songs, go to Tom and drag over a rickety chair. This is my favourite of all his heart-stopping laments. He doesn’t even want to start talking to anyone new for fear of it happening all over again. Why would anyone put themselves through that pain again? Like tracing a scar with a knife. His second box of 20 Marlboro Reds is almost as red as his eyes and he’s upset over something that hasn’t even happened.
I was listening to this song, heart full, eyes brimming, telling him in my mind that I understood, he was being sensible and that I’ll get the drinks, when I dropped my iPod into a pram and a baby handed it back to me. I’ve always found the song pretty amusing since then.
Tom Waits. By Gut (Anna Wittenberg) via Wikimedia Commons.
Gruff Rhys – If We Were Words (We Would Rhyme) & Martin Carr – Goldrush ’49
Always end a column for Valentine’s Day on a wedding I say, and, conveniently enough, two of my dearest friends are got married this week. Lee and Darren. Hello guys, if you’re reading. They probably will be as they’re lovely. Look at their photo, aren’t they cute? *throws confetti*
For the ceremony, they asked if my friend Laney and I would be witnesses, which, of course, was a bloody delight. We do! Except, we suddenly realised that’s kind of “best man-y” – there’s a sense of responsibility right there, as well as a questionable adjective. So, alongside a more traditional present, we thought we’d embrace our new-found position and set about asking some of their favourite famous people to send them nice messages. We collected a few lovely things from various favourites, comedians and musicians they like, but Gruff Rhys was really The One. They travel to see him, If We Were Words (We Would Rhyme) was their first dance at the reception and the soppy way they look at each other when they hear it is adorable.
Handily enough, my lovely friend Martin Carr was supporting Gruff Rhys on tour in December so I asked if he would speak to Gruff, to see if he would record a little good luck message. It would make Lee & Darren cry. The true aim of any good friend.
Because Martin is amazing, not only did he not delete my texts, he did something about them. Repeatedly.
First Gruff had the idea to sing Here Comes The Bride for them and record a small congratulations… Give that man a medal! Our hero. Oh hang on, the audio didn’t work.
OK, no matter, there’s still a while to go before they needed to soundcheck for the gig. They tried again. Same set up. No, hang on, this time there was just SCREETCHING on the video playback, nothing but feedback. Which would be perfect if it was the Jesus & Mary Chain… maybe I could spin this? The troopers they are, next attempt, one of Martin’s backing singers tried to record the whole mini-saga they now knew the script to, onto her phone, in case that was the problem. The results were still distorted. Perhaps the venue had a signal interfering with phones? Theories abounded and there are various video clips of these adorable, huge-hearted false starts and I love them all for repeatedly trying to help me.
Personally, I say what better present can you possibly have than your favourite musician busting a gut to repeatedly try and make you happy when it won’t fucking record. Thank you Gruff and Martin, I can’t TELL you how grateful we are. But let me try, via the medium of a short article in on online magazine.
You can buy Martin’s excellent new album here.
Please do, it’s the least we can all do.
Department manager at an independent record company. Liker of Frank Sinatra and Nick Cave. Very sudden laugh. Pasty but tasty. Quite tired.