The music of our wedding

It was my fifth wedding anniversary on Saturday (don’t worry, I didn’t spend it writing this). As is usual when our anniversary comes around, I’ve been thinking a lot about not only our marriage, but our wedding day itself. In particular, all the music that played a part in that day. Music has always been a huge part of our lives, both before and since we met (at a music festival as it happens), so there was never any doubt it would also play an important part in our wedding.

We married at the Unitarian Church in Brighton, a venue which we had first attended, and fallen in love with, for a concert (part of the city’s Great Escape festival, which utilises pretty much every venue in town). One of the many good things about holding the ceremony there was that a piano and pianist came as part of the package, we just had to decide what we wanted him to play. We chose ‘Come Rain or Come Shine’, the Chet Baker version of which is one of our favourite songs, for my wife’s walk up the aisle, and ‘Here Comes The Sun’ for our exit from the church. For the intermission of the ceremony, where my wife and I disappeared off to sign the register, a less obvious choice, Aphex Twin’s Avril 14th, a brief but gorgeous piano interlude on an album otherwise comprised of discordant electronica. I like to think we were the first couple to ask for an Aphex Twin track to be played at that particular venue, but this is Brighton we’re talking about, so perhaps not.

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On the closure of Fabric

I only went to Fabric once, way back in 1999, on the second night it was open in fact. I had a great night, as far as I can recall 17 years on, but never ended up going back again. London was a long way from Manchester for a night out, and I didn’t have any friends living in the capital during my clubbing prime, so the opportunity never really arose. By all accounts though, it was one of the best, if not the best, club in London. Certainly, I was impressed when reading the line-ups advertised by Fabric, in the back of Mixmag or Jockey Slut, and they put out a fantastic series of mix CDs, some of my favourites of all time, mixed by  everyone from John Peel to Four Tet to Diplo.

But all this largely beside the point, even if I had never been to Fabric, or hated the music that they played, the decision to close it would still be monumentally stupid and short-sighted. Of course the death of 2 people in Fabric after taking ecstasy is a tragedy, but to think the closure of one nightclub is going to stop people taking drugs is ridiculous. If you close one nightclub, people will go to another one. If you close all the nightclubs people will take drugs in bars, or at house parties, or illegal raves or any of the other hundreds of places that people take drugs. More knowledgable people than me have pointed out that the closure of Fabric will actually lead to more drug users coming to harm, as they move to less regulated environments.

The authorities who revoked Fabric’s license claimed that it didn’t do enough to prevent drug use, including insufficient searches. Not only is that disputed by most people who ever attended the venue, the fact remains that people can hide drugs in places that nightclub bouncers are not allowed to search, so it’s impossible for any venue to entirely prevent drugs getting in. And once they’re inside, unless you’re watching every single clubber at every single moment, you’re not going to stop them being taken. If Fabric can be closed on this basis, so can any nightclub, and we can kiss goodbye to London’s clubbing scene. London should be developing and promoting its’ nightlife, as another way of attracting visitors and creating an image of a vibrant, modern city. Berlin promotes its’ techno clubs even on its’ touristy souvenirs (see my place mat below), but London seems to have chosen a different direction.

Many have put the case for why the decision to close Fabric was such a bad one, none more eloquently than co-founder Cameron Leslie, in his full speech to Islington Council, but why does it mean so much to me? I only just wrote about how clubbing is not really part of my life anymore, and most likely I would never have attended Fabric again, even if it had remained open. Given everything else that has happened in the UK this year, it might not seem a big deal, but it’s just another small step on our road to becoming a bland, joyless, unwelcoming land. Almost every club I enjoyed when I was younger has been turned into a Tesco Express or luxury flats. It may seem a weird thing to wish for as a parent, but I want my daughter to have the opportunity to go clubbing when she grows up, should she wish to. I want her life to be full of joy and I had a lot of good times in those places. I don’t want her to grow up in a country where they barely exist.

This also seems like an attack on electronic music itself. I’m old enough to remember, if not actually have experienced, the Criminal Justice Bill of 1994 which was ostensibly focused on closing illegal raves, but with its’ specific attacks on music with repetitive beats, was really an attempt to criminalise and destroy dance music culture altogether. Now, again under a Conservative government, those attitudes seem to be returning (witness the ridiculous attempts by the Fabric review board to claim that music with a higher BPM led to an increase in drug use). Well, they may have closed down the illegal raves and driven dance music into nightclubs in the 1990s, and they may well be trying to drive it out of the nightclubs in the 2010s, but it will always find somewhere else to go. For a long, long way back in human history people have congregated, taken mind altering substances, and danced. No matter what happens they will find a place to continue to do so. I’m just sad to know that Fabric will no longer be one of those places.

Blog – The Pixies Conundrum

A minor conundrum arrived in my e-mail inbox today. Pixies are once again touring in the UK this winter, but for a change they’re playing my home town of Leeds. So what’s the conundrum you might ask? My all time favourite band playing in my home town, buying tickets as soon as they go on pre-sale tomorrow is a no-brainer surely?

I mean, there are always concerns about getting a babysitter, but having two grandmas nearby means we’re usually ok in that regard. Having recently acquired both a child and a mortgage, and with a car next on the list, money is tight enough that we can’t just spend £60 in concert tickets on a whim If we wanted it enough I’m sure we could find a way to pay for it though.

So, why aren’t I jumping at the chance to buy tickets? When I first became a Pixies fan, it was well after they had first split up, and there was nothing I longed for more than a reunion. So much so that, when they actually did reform to play the Coachella Festival in California, I seriously considered spending thousands of pounds flying to the festival in case it was their only gig. As it turned out, that really wasn’t something I had to worry about. I saw them 5 times over the next 5 years, and the gigs were everything I hoped they would be, some of the best of my life. But despite that, the law of diminishing returns began to apply. The first few times were joyous, emotional occasions, the crowds having thought they might never get to see this band again. By the fifth, whilst it was still a great gig, it wasn’t that different from going to see any of my other favourite bands. Familiarity hadn’t bred contempt, but it had lessened my excitement a bit. I thought maybe I would leave it a few years before seeing them again.

In the meantime, the band themselves recognised they had to freshen things up a bit. They started putting out in new material on a more consistent basis in 2013, having only previously recorded 2 songs in nearly a decade since they reformed (one of which – Bam Thwok – I am rather fond of). To be honest though, the new material has been hit and miss, or even worse, just average. More significantly Kim Deal left the band, also in 2013. This is a big deal for me. Musically, I love Pixies the most when Kim is to the fore, or at least on equal footing with Frank Black, and emotionally it just doesn’t feel right if Kim isn’t there. I have friends who are insistent the band are just as good without her, but I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t feel that way.

So, do I decide that I’ve had enough great live Pixies memories to last me a lifetime, and that I don’t want to witness what may be the beginnings of a slow decline. Or do I just bite the bullet, buy tickets and accept that, whilst it will most likely still be a pretty good gig, it won’t be a life changer. Either way I’d better decide pretty quick, those tickets won’t last for long.

Blog – A proper writer?

As I’m sure I’ve mentioned before, I recently (or recentlyish) wrote a chapter for a book about Joy Division and today (Ian Curtis’s 60th birthday) is the day the book is finally released. So does that now make me a proper writer?

I love writing, obviously, otherwise I wouldn’t spend so many of my precious spare moments writing this blog. I never intended the blog to be a springboard to a career in writing though, and that is still the case. I actually quite enjoy my real job, although it is one that I suspect many people would find awfully boring, and am happy to keep writing as a hobby.

Still though, it’s pretty exciting to have some of my words in print, it gives me something to show off to my friends and family (and don’t worry I certainly will be doing that). It’s more permanent than the many thousands of words I have poured onto the internet, and it gives me the ego boost of knowing that there are some other people out there who think what I write is worth reading.

I also really enjoyed the writing itself, writing a piece that was more in-depth and much longer than anything I publish on the blog, researching, drafting, re-drafting, knowing that there was no way I could go back and edit my work once it was done. Even if only for my own amusement I would love to write similar, longer pieces in futures.

My instinct as an English person is to self-deprecate, and minimise my own achievements, but I have to admit I’m proud of what I’ve done. To be in the same book as Stephen Morris (who wrote the preface), Kevin Cummins (who wrote the intro) and loads of great writers makes me happy. And if this turns out to be the only thing I ever get published, well, that will be enough to me.

Joy Devotion : Ian Curtis and The Importance of Fan Culture is out now on Headpress. Thanks to Dr. Jennifer Otter Bickerdike for making this happen.

My memories of Bowie

Back in November I wrote about the Day of The Dead, and grief and loss. It felt like I’d been writing a lot about those  subjects in 2015, so as I wrote that piece I made a silent pact with fate. By writing about this one more time, I’m drawing a line under 2015, and 2016 can be a year where I don’t lose anyone I care for, or any musicians who matter to me, ok?

Sadly, fate has a way of ignoring this kind of pact, unspoken or otherwise. Little did I know however, how quickly 2016 would fail to keep its’ side of the deal. The first thing I heard when I turned on the radio on Monday morning was “this is not a hoax” and the news we had lost David Bowie to cancer. I was surprised at just how upset I was. I’m not usually affected so badly by the deaths of musicians, and I can’t claim to be Bowie’s biggest superfan. But somehow this was shocking, significant and hugely sad.

I thought of my memories of Bowie. My formative musical years, were the early to mid 1990s, which coincided with Bowie’s grunge and drum n bass periods. I think it’s fair to say that these were not Bowie’s peak creative years (although I retain a fondness for some songs from the era, such as Little Wonder, below) so I didn’t quite grasp how important he really was, even though I read about his influence and history in the music press often enough.

Glastonbury 2000 was my moment of Bowie revelation. I nearly didn’t even watch his set (god knows who I had been planning to see instead), but changed my mind at the last minute and headed to join the thousands and thousands of people at the Pyramid Stage. I was rewarded with one of the best live shows I’ve ever seen, as classic song followed classic song, almost the entire crowd bellowing along to every word. During the set I had the thought “oh, so this is where the bands I like got all their ideas from” (Suede, I’m looking at you in particular).

From then on I delved into his back catalogue a little deeper, finding out what a diverse, innovative and influential artist he really was. But he still wasn’t such a huge part of my life in many ways. He kept mainly out of the public eye, not feeling the need to maintain a huge media presence and his new material was sporadic. He’d crop up in a cameo in Zoolander, or championing some new band (he never lost his love for new music. Pixies, Goldie, The Arcade Fire and TV on The Radio are just a few of the bands younger than him who he covered or collaborated with).

So, I didn’t have too many direct memories of Bowie, compared to those who grew up in the Seventies and Eighties, but he never seemed to be too far from my mind, especially since I met my wife back in 2009. (David Bowie I Love You) Since I was 6 by Brian Jonestown Massacre became one of our favourite songs. I remember dancing to Let’s Dance at an alternative Eighties night in Brighton, and wandering down the street singing “Blue, blue, electric blue” on another night out.

Still, Bowie was mainly on the periphery of my life, so I’m surprised my grief at finding he’s gone, just as I was surprised at the impact it had on almost everyone I know, young to old. He touched all our lives, from my wife’s grandma who she remembers singing Starman in the kitchen, to my friend’s toddler who can do the handclaps in Space Oddity already.  I think he was just one of those people who we always expected to be there, until suddenly he was not. It felt more like the loss of a family member than the death of a celebrity.

So I spent Monday at work moping, with my headphones on, listening to his music. Even now I discovered songs I wasn’t familiar with before (My Death, his cover of a Jacques Brel song, is astounding, and I previously had no idea he’d released a live album from Santa Monica, where my wife grew up). I then went home and spent the evening lamenting with my wife, talking of our Bowie experiences. I was just about to go to bed when the house phone rang. A phone call at that time is rarely a good thing, and so it proved.

Whereas the death of Bowie had felt like the loss of a family member, this actually was. It was my mum calling to say my grandpa had died. He was nearly 90, had been unwell for some time, and no longer really knew who I was. I can’t claim we were extremely close even before his illness, but he was still my grandpa. Many of my happiest childhood memories also belonged to him, even he could no longer remember them himself. Somehow a day which had begun with such bad news had ended with even worse.

Not the way I had hoped or expected 2016 to begin, but I take comfort in the fact that both Bowie and my grandpa lived remarkable lives, in their own very different ways (my grandpa grew up in Poland during the 1920s and 1930s, which may give you a clue). Cliche it may be, but the only lesson we can take from this is to enjoy and appreciate our lives and live them to the full, as one day, be we 49 or 69 or 89, they will end.