Maybe I’m getting old. After all I am officially in my mid 40s now, just crossing over from where I’m closer to 40 to where I’m closer to 50. And that does make me feel old. But hell this isn’t about feeling old. This is about disengagement.
Last week I read a tweet from the BBC News team saying Rita Ora had scored her third number one single in the UK. And I didn’t even realise she had a new single out. I don’t listen to Radio One, or when I do listen to it I find it annoying beyond belief. I rarely listen to Radio Two – I would listen to Ken Bruce’s show in the mornings regularly but have lost the ability to be thrilled by the same forty songs over and over again. Is that “Love train” by the O’Jays? Then it must be ten past eleven. And I get frustrated screaming at idiots at Popmaster. I do hear local commercial radio in the car sometimes and they play the same songs over and over. My son’s viewing habits have changed slightly – he isn’t so obsessed with the music channels on Sky so I don’t keep up there so much. Rita Ora may have been all over the television promoting it on – I don’t know – The One Show or Paul O’Grady or whatever, but I don’t watch much TV either. So it’s understandable that Rita Ora’s single passed me by. It isn’t the sort of song I could actively look out for on Spotify either. Had I known of its existence I might have looked for it, given it a listen and filed it away.
Is this a problem, and if so who is it a problem for? Maybe it’s a problem for the promotions team behind Ora. There are other recent number one singles that I have been aware of and heard though I wouldn’t go so far as to say I actually liked them. For Ora to remain so completely off my radar but to be number one in the UK seems odd to me. Was it my fault that I missed it? Probably. As I’ve explained I am certainly not the target audience for her music and I don’t inhabit the media where it may be played and promoted.
But there’s a nagging thought behind all this. Not so much “Am I missing out on anything?” Because that makes me sound like the character in “Losing my edge”.
But I feel like I am less engaged in the charts than before. I admit that there isn’t a lot of chart music that I like, but I do like to know what’s going on. I may not keep up with who is climbing and dropping but I know about new entries and what’s hot and what’s not. But so much chart music this year hasn’t been as interesting as last year. For instance we buy the latest Now compilation whenever they come out, it’s nice to have something to play in the car. “Now 85” is a total classic, lots of great songs on there. But the latest compilation “Now 87” is nowhere near as good. Disc One has all the hits you’d expect but Disc Two…well it starts off with a few hit singles (and frankly I can’t see the appeal in Pitbull at all) but from track 11 to track 22 is a stretch of songs I’d not heard before and didn’t really wish to hear again. Sorry London Grammar… I adored “Strong” last year. The first time I heard it was in the dining rooms at Butlins at the start of the summer holidays and it felt like the earth had stopped moving, it sounded so different and out of place with the noise and chatter and clanking of cutlery. The song hovered over the room like a ghost, and it continued to hover over the whole summer holiday. When we reached Torquay for the final week in August it was everywhere and I’d end up discussing it with hotel staff – “I love this song” – “So do I”. Even my son noticed that I liked it before flicking to the next music channel. But my God they’ve got boring quickly….
But disc two of “Now 87” isn’t that good not because I don’t recognise the songs but because the songs aren’t that good anyway. I hate to admit it but “Riptide” by Vance Joy stands out like a beacon amongst the dross. I know little about him / them (it’s a one man band under a name, another Owl City if you like) but I liked that song a lot. Australian, you say? It shows, in the nicest way. And shall I make the American Authors / Michael Gove joke or can you do that one yourselves? I wonder about these Disc Two songs though. Were they really hit singles and I didn’t notice? Or are they just there to fill up the numbers?
The problem for me is that I feel the blog hasn’t helped me at all. I’m stuck in the past listening to old records and reliving my ‘glory days’. Not engaging with new music there. But on the other hand there has been new music I’ve discovered through the internet and recommendations which has excited me. The “Blank Project” LP by Neneh Cherry is wonderful, a record which is sparse yet rich in melody, rhythm and ideas. The recent single by The Autumn Stones was excellent – like good (early) Psychedelic Furs going glam with Paul Simpson from the Wild Swans singing over the top, and that horn line is insistent, compulsive, driving into your head. Although I prefer the alternate acoustic version, the flute adds a mysterious folky edge, sounding like shoegazing going freak folk. The Metronomy LP “Love letters” is minimal – is almost demo-like in places – but has songs of astounding quality, simply played, concentrating on the experience and the music. It’s one of those records I wish I made. A recent recommendation for Courtney Barnett led me to her music – not the sort of thing I would usually consider, it even sounds like Sheryl Crow in places, but there is a wit and intelligence at play within the words that is striking on first listen and gets under my skin as I delve deeper. Talking of intelligence, there’s also Sleaford Mods who sound like the true voice of Britain at the moment – dead end jobs, unemployment, beer, austerity, no sign of escape. If Chap Hop is Michael Gove’s kind of music then Sleaford Mods should be Ed Miliband’s, or it should be what he is listening to, to understand the state of the nation Truly a voice from the streets.
(I’ll go off on a rant about Goldie Lookin’ Chain here. They should have been the voice from the streets and they are Newportians and as proud local boys I should be praising them for their wit and wisdom. But I have never felt any affinity with GLC. It helps knowing that their act is a pose – they are playing at being the kind of characters from the Ringland and Alway estates here, the kind of dead end council estates that Sleaford Mods document rather than celebrate. Sadly knowing people who know them, it’s just an act by a bunch of posh boys who want to appear tough. Oh they say they are satirising chav culture. That’s ok then. One of them’s a local councillor for St Julian’s. Hmm )
And there’s old music as well. An album I discovered quite by accident was “The National Gallery Performing Musical Intepretations Of The Paintings Of Paul Klee”, recorded in 1968 and which is as mad as it sounds. It could be awful, a bunch of session musicians trying to be far out – but in fact it’s oddly wonderful. Lightly psychedelic, tuneful, slightly mysterious, stilted but always interesting. Somewhere between the Peanut Butter Conspiracy and the United States Of America. Being the cultural ignoramus that I am it makes me want to know more about Klee’s paintings. And then I’ve been digging into Wendy Carlos’ back catalogue too, and “Snowflakes are dancing” by Tomita is the kind of record I should have heard years ago, but sounds oddly familar as well. And I’ve been playing “Shields” by Grizzly Bear a lot too. At the time I played it incessantly then put it away but in digging it out again it still sounds as fresh and wondrous as it did before. Those last two songs…. And I don’t know where Dot Dash were hiding for years, their brash sharp power pop is the sort of thing I love to bits.
There is always music, new and old, to excite and extend. But then I go back to my original point – do I feel engaged with music? I should do, I’ve been to more gigs this past month than I have in almost two years. I’ve actually been in social situations with real live people (Hi Paul, Hi Ray!), watching musicians make music. But I don’t feel Goldfish is helping. I’m being too critical, listening to music and thinking “Yes I can write about that” rather than just listening to music for pleasure. I need to stop considering what to write about, and not worry if there isn’t anything to write about. There is no overall plan for Goldfish, it goes on as long as I want it to, an experiment to express myself and write a bit and see what happens. No wise insights, no amazing writing skills, nothing different to a thousand other blogs out there. Only they are better than me. Wider ranging, better read, better ideas, better insights…
So maybe it’s time to disengage for a while. Not worry about writing, not worry about being cool or on top of everything that happens. I have always believed that the right music comes into your life when you need it most, so it’s time to let that happen. Does it matter if I miss a Rita Ora single? No not really. Is there music to be excited about out there? Of course there is. Well it will come to me when I need it. I just need to be patient and stop worrying.
Next time – we’ll see when we get there.