Mixtape anniversary

June 5th is the anniversary of the fabled mixtape that lead me to indiepop. I wrote about it last year, and you can read about it by clicking on last year’s June archive if you’re so inclined.

As I’m of a certain age, I’m lucky enough to have been given mixtapes in three formats: cassette, CD and digital.  Today I’m turning back the clock and talking cassette.

Chris worked in a pottery factory (locally known as pot banks) as a data entry clerk. I was working there too – a stop gap job to save up some money to go to university. Chris was 26, which seemed ridiculously old and sophisticated to my 19 year old self. He liked The Fast Show, Jo Guest and Leek Town, though not necessarily in that order. Occasionally, our eyes locked as we bashed in orders for “12 dinner plates, 36 saucers” for exotic locales like the Best Western in Margate on our green screen computers. One day someone in the office discovered that you could send private messages on the data input system and all hell broke loose. This was 1996 – no-one I knew even had dial up, let alone a mobile phone and social media meant sharing your copy of More! magazine with a friend – you made your own amusement in those days, etc etc. Another girl in the office – I think her name was Nikki – streetwise, smart, a bit intimidating but in a nice way – infiltrated Chris’s message screen one Friday lunchtime: CHRIS TOLD ME HE LIKES YOUR TITS. I blushed scarlet, Chris cleared his throat and so began a slightly awkward flirtationship/fling, which lasted on and off for about 18 months, right up until a couple a weeks before I met the man I eventually married.

Chris had a broken heart and an extensive record collection. I find the two often go hand in hand. He seemed impressed by my breadth of pop knowledge (See Nikki? It was my personality that he liked really!) and I’d happily run my weekly purchases from Replay Records past him, hoping they would meet with his approval. 1996 was a good year for my CD collection. The aforementioned Replay Records was handily situated midway between where the first bus dropped me off and where I caught my second bus home. Usually I’d reserve the treat for a Friday pay day but other guilty midweek purchases were often secured and I was running out of storage space at home. I was living with Mum and Dad on the edge of the city. Going to gigs was probably limited to a yearly event. Music was something purely enjoyed on my handsome Marantz CD player. By the end of August 1996 even my mum knew the words to every track on Ash’s 1977.

All too quickly it was time for my leaving do. There was some surreptitious snogging and reckless fumbling outside the impressive burnt out remains of Hill Top Methodist Sunday School – a dramatic facade that Brett Anderson would almost certainly have referenced in song had he grown up in Stoke. Let’s not think about a Northern Brett Anderson. Parts of me might explode. There were promises to stay in touch and to visit me in deepest, darkest Wales. There was a definite sense of unfinished business; the kind of unfinished business that might terrify and intrigue a 19 year old church-going lass in equal measure.

The promised visit failed to materialise. There were a few glorious stolen hours one Saturday afternoon once the football season was over and the occasional snog on nights out but it never really went anywhere. Chris’s carried his broken heart around like some very rich women carry small chihuahuas in their handbags. I think I have that handbag. I was understandably wary of playing second fiddle and he kept telling me he was too old for me anyway and eventually I believed him.

Although Chris never arrived, a parcel from him managed to make the journey over the border. A cassette tape along with a handwritten guide to every track he’d painstakingly selected. I wish I could find the blasted thing now. The four tracks I do remember (and this is nearly 20 years ago, so I reckon to remember four tracks is pretty good going) were Dee C. Lee’s See the Day (later covered by Girls Aloud), Shannon’s Let the Music Play (an early 80s dance hit which wouldn’t sound out of place at Pop-o-Matic) a late 80s dance re-working of La Serenissima (he’d probably danced to it in a field during the Second Summer of Love) and Erasure’s Piano Song. The last track, clearly a reference to Chris’s ever present heartbreak, has bittersweet associations for me now. When I was married we had a shared iTunes account (NO NO NO! A shared account?  FUCKING WHY? This was a man who thought the Kaiser Chiefs were edgy. I was told separate accounts “weren’t possible” and sadly, I believed this sort of crap for years). So, many years later, not only did I have to get my head round my husband being in love with another woman (it happens, people live) but he then had the temerity of openly dealing with the heartache of his spurned advances by misappropriating my fucking music collection. I went right off Erasure for years…

Anyway, I remember the arrival of this mixtape as a source of absolute thrilling joy. This exotic, proper grown up man – 26, so old! – had gone out of his way one rainy afternoon to select a bunch of songs, unwrap a fresh cassette and painstakingly edit everything to perfection, fingers resting, ever-vigilant, on the pause button. His handwritten sleeve notes, read again and again, gave me goosebumps. I reckon they would again today, if only I knew exactly which box of correspondence they were in…

The arrival of the mixtape that lead me to indiepop some fourteen years later was no less thrilling, if bittersweet, arriving on my last official wedding anniversary in 2011, a couple of months before my divorce was finalised. Tracks painstakingly collected and arranged online one rainy afternoon by a 26 year old – 26, so young! – it was my formal, reintroduction into music again. It was the mixtape that lead me to indiepop, Sheffield, playing guitar and a million wonderful times.

“My broken house behind me and good times ahead”

“I may not seem quite right, but I’m not fucked, not quite.”

“And I miss you, but luckily there’s music, luckily there’s music to get me through”

“I was a young man starving and drinking and trying to become a writer…and I remember that apartment, the smell of mice and dust…all the kisses I lost to your neck”

“I know you have a heavy heart, I can feel it when we kiss”

“And long for all of them to fall in love with you…But they never do”

“I wasn’t designed to move so fast…I wasn’t designed to have so much past…Another sorry message that I need to send. And another situation that I have to end.”

“But she could kiss. Oh yes.”

Kiss a girl and maybe she’ll replay it in her mind from time to time, for a couple of years, at least. Well, if you’re any good, she might. Make her a mixtape and she’ll remember you nearly twenty years later.

LIFE IS SHORT. MAKE HER A MIXTAPE.

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Yesterday Dreaming

This post feels extremely bloated. I apologise for the lack of editing and for the self-indulgence.

Today, 5th June 2014, would have been my tenth wedding anniversary. In previous years these milestones have left me a bit wobbly but today, expecting trouble, I felt curiously okay. Divorce can be the emotional equivalent of having the shit kicked out of you and being left in an alleyway that stinks of piss. Eventually you stagger up and get back on your feet but your faith in people and your experience of the world is altered forever.

Three years ago, on the date of my seventh wedding anniversary – an actual anniversary in that case, since I was still going through the divorce process at that point – someone made me a mixtape. It was a lovely act of thoughtfulness and kindness at a time when I was struggling to keep myself afloat. After losing my home and my marriage, the tories decided I needed to lose my job as well and my mind hummed with the constant buzz of anxiety. A few months before, I had spent two hours sat in the Samaritans office, uncertain of how I could continue to put one foot in front of the other. Barely eating and resorting to self harm, I clung to any sign of hope that life could be okay again.

The majority of the songs on the mixtape were new to me but many of them seemed to have been written just for me in that way that good songs often do. I’ve listed them in a random order below. You may well be familiar with many of them but to me most of them came from this new world that I was just starting to navigate. In 1996 I was buying an album a week but after that – pretty much around the time I met the man I married – my collection had stalled and I’d been living in this curious world where I’d occasionally buy a CD to use as background music for a dinner that was punctuated by conversations about house prices and pensions. 1996-me would have been utterly perplexed by what I’d become. I remember how excited I felt when earlier in 2011, a man from Cleveland asked me what my Top 5 Singles of All Time were. It had been so long since anyone had cared about my opinion on music and I’d somehow managed to spend over a decade of my life with a man who didn’t know who Johnny Marr was.

Anyway, that mixtape in full (random order):

This Year – The Mountain Goats

Don’t Look At Me (I Don’t Like It) – The Lovely Eggs

Strange Fruit For David – The Wave Pictures

Eighties Fan – Camera Obscura

The Fear – Pulp

Never Here – Elastica

Roseability – Idlewild

Painting And Kissing – Hefner

I Lost You But I Found Country Music – ballboy

When Under Ether – PJ Harvey

Up Jumped The Devil  – Nick Cave And The Bad Seeds

Lua – Bright Eyes

Come On Let’s Go – Broadcast

Roll Bus Roll – Jeffrey Lewis And The Junkyard

Bled White – Elliott Smith

If you’ve mainly been listening to background music for nearly a decade then hearing The Lovely Eggs for the first time is quite an experience! Pulp’s The Fear and Elastica’s Never Here seemed to want to remind me of the reality of what I had lost rather than the fantasy of married life that my brain had concocted up,  while the refrain of This Year contained a kernel of hope that things could be enjoyed whilst also being endured. Eighties Fan’s mix of melancholia and longing for love seemed pitch perfect for the time. Strange Fruit For David with its lines about marmalade and sculpture seemed to reference Baudrillard or at least reflected the new ideas and ways of thinking that I was being introduced to. Lua called to mind a time where just seeing the word “Grimsby” on the BBC weather map could reduce me to tears (now it just makes me smile). Painting and Kissing and I Lost You But I Found Country Music both feel eerily prophetic.  Roll Bus Roll became a gentle call to action.

Six months after receiving the mixtape, I was getting ready to move to Sheffield. I sometimes think that playing that mixtape must have been some sort of Indiepop Bat Signal to the North.

The last couple of years in Sheffield have been fucking ace. Not without challenges  – there’s nothing like three years of living alone to make you acutely aware of your own demons and peccadillos – but in the main they’ve been fucking ace. In two years I’ve gone to more gigs that I’d gone to in the previous twenty years combined. I’ve played at drunken Indiepop singalongs in pubs. I’ve danced at the best sticky disco in town*. I don’t want to think of an existence where I’d never seen The Sweet Nothings or The Mini Skips or Velodrome 2000. Or danced in my kitchen to Town Bike and Lardpony. And the thought of never having heard of Indietracks just breaks my heart. In short, 1996-me would approve.

Some people stagger out of the piss-filled alleyway of divorce. I’m slowly dancing my way out of it with sparkly trainers on my feet. I’ve stumbled and I’ve accidentally trodden on toes in the process but I’ve done my best to keep on moving because that’s all I can do.

I’ve long since lost my belief in a god – another casualty of 2010, I’m afraid – but twenty years of Anglicanism has a habit of sticking in your head. I’m reminded that Ecclesiastes tells us that there is a time to mourn and a time to dance. Or was it The Byrds? Either way, from now on I won’t be thinking of the 5th of June as the wedding anniversary of a failed marriage. I’ll be remembering it as the date that I first heard the mixtape that led me to Indiepop.

*yeah, this is probably a euphemism.

LostinIndiePop and 50% of The Sweet Nothings at Indietracks 2013

LostinIndiePop and 50% of The Sweet Nothings at Indietracks 2013. My Best Grown-Up Birthday Ever.

 

Indietracks 26 July – 28 July (or forever if you keep wearing the wristband)

Friday

Running parallel to the railwaytracks, at a speed far too dangerous for someone now officially quite old, I charge into Dan Hartley’s arms like some unhinged Celia Johnson bellowing “I’m at Indietracks!”

Forgive my overexuberance, Dan. But it’s Indietracks! More precisely it’s my very first Indietracks. And it’s my birthday.

And I’ll forget the preposterous length of time it took the taxi to arrive. And the searing heat that I know will finish me off before the weekend is done. Because The Mini Skips and Daniel (sans Norbert) Dentressangle have just sung the most melodious version of Happy Birthday that I’ve ever heard – to me! And they have cards and cake and presents and I have lollipops  and I have seen glow in the dark pants and I am surely the luckiest girl in the world ever.

Oh and there’s bands, too. The Tuts! All boisterous with their eminently danceable pop tunes. And Bis, playing Kandy Pop and giving me flashbacks to half a dozen floppy-haired boys in oversized t-shirts who frequented dive bars in Birkenhead and who now almost certainly have pension plans, babies and have their weekly shopping delivered by that nice man who drives the Ocado van.

And look, everyone I know is here. And yes, Linda from Ready Steady Girls disco, you certainly may take the best ever photo of me in existence. And I’ll dance so hard that I’ll create two holes in the ground and someone will take a video of the crowd including me doing my shuffle and post it on the internet and despite hating all recorded images of myself I will watch it about 76 times.

And the moon. The beautiful moon. And beer. And more of my friends. And a disco in a train shed. And a vintage train journey in the dark. With all of my friends, drunken and smiling.

And I get to do all this again tomorrow?

Indietracks, where have you been all my life? I’m in love.

Saturday

Seriously. I get to go back?

Camera Obscura at breakfast. No, not on the stereo. On the next table. You don’t get that at your glastofest, do you?

Another beautiful train trip. Waffle with chocolate sauce on a picnic bench with Kiri.

Holymarymotherofgod, it’s Indiepop singalong! Which is all kinds of perfect in its usual venue of The Closed Shop pub in Sheffield but, for one sunny afternoon only, is in a moving train carriage. I know, let’s sing “We’re from Barcelona” whilst sat next to someone who lives in Barcelona, whilst simultaneously shaking some dangerously cute musical instrument with bells on. Let’s pick “Who’s Got The Crack?” and pollute the minds of nearby toddlers. Let us sing joyously and with levels of abandon that are entirely inappropriate for this level of heat. Are we going to sing anything by The Just Joans? Of course we bloody are. This is Indiepop Singalong. And it’s the greatest thing ever.

I’m forgoing the delights of the Coronation Street themed workshop “Nosing with Norris” (Sorry to Our Glenda from Coronation Street Blog –  a guest post from me soon, I promise) to watch The Pale Spectres and I’m glad that I have because their songs are as jangly and lovely as the videos that I had watched of them online suggested they would be. Perfect, perfect pop. And I will be mightly disappointed later when the Merch Tent is all out of their CDs. During their set, Vinnie (aka ‘Good Cop’ from The Mini Skips) decides we are forming a band with an all-female line up and that band shall be called Sex Education Sweetshop. Or Sweatshop. We can’t quite remember. Anyway, bagsie keyboards and awkward eye contact with all of the cute boys in the front row.

The Understudies, I am sorry but as I do my slightly boppier dance to the fabulously danceable parts of your set my Doc Martens of some 21-years standing fall apart –  can you claim it back on indiepop expenses, please? You are lovely people and I deserved a bigger opportunity to bop. Sheffield again and soon please. I beat a hasty retreat to change shoes. I’ve got everything in this bag. I really have. Everything bar a foldable handistep.

A sit down. I am a tad woozy. The cool breeze wafting through the station entrance is appreciated and I get to watch  a security team work their dullest ever shift, at a festival festooned with posters of Norris Cole, where you can buy a can of cloudy lemonade from a station bar for a quid. Pacha in Ibiza, with its 12 euros bottles of Sprite this is not. Someone told me yesterday that they have witnessed one fight in Indietracks history and afterwards the two combatants shook hands (and probably swapped badges).

SECRET MERCH TENT GIG! Well, not that secret as everyone seems to know  about it and there is a huge appreciative crowd for The Just Joans. Those of us who attend the Sheffield branch of the Indiepop Singalong have a soft spot for their lovely tunes and I defy you not to sing along with an obligatory Scottish accent. Later, I get to hold an umbrella over Katie of The Just Joans as she walks from the ladies to the train shed and it was an honour to keep rain off the owner of such a beautiful voice. I love the honest humour of their songs and after hearing Durex Puppy (“You’d better think twice before you stroke him”), I did have a quiet chuckle to myself and made a mental note to send a link of it to a couple of my friends.

Ahh! The Wave Pictures. I nearly forgot you were on. I’m glad that I didn’t because you gave me one of the best moments of the festival. No, not Spaghetti, though dancing to that was bloody good fun. And no, not entertaining improper thoughts about one of you. Though that was fun, too. No, it was David Tattersall singing Sweetheart as the heavens slowly opened and the drizzly rain merged with the drizzly tears on my face. Here is love in a lyrical nutshell: When I’m with you I wish I didn’t have to go.

I am now in the front of a long queue of people getting rained on, but I don’t mind getting rained on in the slightest because not only do I have the loveliest new umbrella (thank you Vinnie), and now two lovely badges from the jolly nice people from Pop South! who are queueing next to me but because I am waiting to watch Haiku Salut in the church. Now I saw Haiku Salut in Sheffield a few months ago and was all of a quiver afterwards but this set with its light show and the wonderful setting was even closer to perfection. There is so much longing and plaintive ache in their work that my heart wants to start doing that thing where it starts folding in on itself. These days I try and avoid this feeling at all costs – sometimes I worry that I’ll never come back from it – but there are lovely people all around me and I know I’ll be safe, so I go with it. And the applause at the end of the set brings me back. I am a now a dribbling wreck in sore need of a dance in an engine shed.

That’s handy. Because there’s one over here. And there’s a bloody long wait for Camera Obscura, who are being moved from the main stage to the slightly less thunder and lighteningy train shed.  And while we’re waiting let’s chat to some lovely lads from Bradford (cheers for the vodka fellas) and get mistaken for Markie’s wife. This is Indietracks! Even the rain cannot touch us!  We are invincible!

Not quite. Kev and Linda’s Ready Steady Girls set, due to take place in the marquee is a casualty to this outpouring of weather. Weather sucks. I am gutted. Kev and Linda – surely the nicest couple in Indiepop (and that’s a lot of nice) – are gutted. On the car journey back we are treated to some absolute corkers that would have been part of their set and I am doing my best 60s girl group dancing in my mind.  We arrive at the Premier Inn,  where I go back to my room and scribble down the lyrics and chords for Sex Education Sweetshop’s debut single (available from the Indietracks 2015 Merch Tent).

Sunday

Oh god. This is not good.

I am a migraineur. My triggers include: hot weather (tick), overexcitement (tick), alcohol (tick) and now wonderful indiepop festivals.

Up in the night with one of my weird auras, I arrive in Butterley wearing the biggest pair of sunglasses known to man, with the hope that my head can survive two sets on the train.

A mad scramble through the vintage carriages – yet another moment which calls to mind A Hard Day’s Night – and we finally make it through to the overcrowded carriage where Pete Green is playing. Well, it sounds like Pete Green, all Northernness and lovely wist and catchy choruses that people can instantly sing along to. But I can’t see a bloody thing. Pete, what can I say? Your fans are not only devoted but are also extremely tall. I stand at the back and watch this timed-to-perfection set via the distorted reflection on the train carriage ceiling and the screens of half a dozen camera phones.  No view of the act and watching via a tiny screen. This truly is The Pete Green Wembley Experience. Next time I’ll bring my handistep.

Exiting the Indietracks sauna, I catch part of The French Defence’s set, which is just as good as the Sheffield set I saw a couple of weeks ago but the heat of the church is proving too much of struggle and so I embark on a slow wander around the site, buying a pretty necklace made out a domino and hugging Marianthi for being one of the team that has made this whole glorious cardigan-clad carnival of joy happen.

Hurrah! It’s the wonderful musical stylings of The Mini Skips! Woop! And they’re on the train! Oh god, more heat!

What I love about The Mini Skips is how quickly they draw you in to their world. And Vinnie and Mark’s world is real and honest and their voices are harmonious even if their viewpoints aren’t. It’s a clever trick this,  opposing sides in song and it works so beautifully. Even when they’re not doing their Good Cop/Bad Cop numbers, songs such as The Foghorn Song just ooze loveliness. Special mention to Daniel, the brass/wry quip section.

What better way to finish off a lovely afternoon of indiepop by having an acephalgic migraine and scaring your friends to the point that the Red Cross Team are called. Not my finest hour but can confirm that the Red Cross Team were very lovely and at least I can say I used all the available services at Indietracks and got a free health check into the bargain.

The Harvey Williams Another Sunny Day marquee moment was clearly special  – you could see it on the faces of everyone around – and I was just really sad that I hadn’t properly come round yet to fully appreciate it. I managed some Gopal’s which restored me, if not to full health, then at least to a level to have enough energy to do a bouncy shuffle to Don’t Look at Me (I Don’t Like It), a song from the fabled Mixtape That Lead Me to Indiepop. The Lovely Eggs generated a lot of excited bouncing and audience interaction and it was great to be in a friendly crowd having  a superb time when I was still feeling a bit out of sorts.

HELEN LOVE. HELEN LOVE. Best migraine cure ever! (well the best one that I’m prepared to admit to on a public blog)

So much of what I’ll remember of this festival is the smiles on everyone’s faces, whether I knew you or not. And surely the brightest smiles were on the faces of THE HELEN LOVE GLITTER ARMY. Witness exhibits A and B: Pete Green’s glitter-cheeked grin as he threw an arm around Tonieee’s shoulder, murmured something about giitter guns before they disappeared off smiling like five year olds who’ve just opened their eyes on Christmas Day to see that Santa’s delivered two of everything on their list. As the glitter guns are fired, I manage to catch one solitary piece of green glitter. Seriously, the sheer joy in the room during this set. I wish I could bottle it. I really do.

So nothing can top glitter guns and bouncing around to Helen Love. Can it? Can it?

INDIEPOP SINGALONG ON A PRETEND BEACH. WITH ONE OF THE JUST JOANS! AND THE WENDY DARLINGS! AND DANIELLE, THE DEAD STYLISH ONE FROM THE SWEET NOTHINGS! AND DANIEL FROM DANIEL AND NORBERT DENTRESSANGLE! AND LOADS OF OTHER PEOPLE BECAUSE WE ARE ALL INDIEPOP SINGALONG!

And Markie making the executive decision to play Eighties Fan by Camera Obscura (Thank You) and leading us all so beautifully (come the Indiepop World Takeover look no further for a leader). And Tonieee finally getting to play more mandolin as people were requesting mandolinable songs. And wonderful drumming by Kevin keeping our drunken choir all in time. And Pete Green happily slumped in a deckchair like a pissed-up uncle on a family day trip to Blackpool. And Vinnie dancing so beautifully at the back. And me, sat in a sandpit in a lovely frock.

And running into the train shed, hand-in-hand with Dan Hartley, to dance to Aztec Camera.

They said it would be ace. It was double ace.

Oh, Indietracks! When I’m with you, I wish I didn’t have to go.

When I’m with you, I wish I didn’t have to go.