IN FIVE DATES WHICH SADLY I COULDN'T REMEMBER...
I sadly though
(well actually happily) was the sort of person that would ruminate for
hours about Peel sessions, what songs would be played at concerts and
inundate record labels with phone calls enquiring about 'release dates',
apologies to anyone who had to 'deal with my enthusiasm' while working
at Rough Trade or Virgin. How do you describe the group you have loved?
As I have said already, the way some songs affect someone is an entirely
personal thing and in some cases can be shared as a common experience,
again I cite Wonderwall and the Final Countdown as examples of this. Microdisney
however cannot be really shared as such- perhaps because they meant so
many things to so many people. My elder sister was swept along by my enthusiasm
and loved their addictive melodies and thankfully she was not also a music
'saddict', one per family I guess is the limit. So to answer my question
I think describing the five key dates in my relationship with Microdisney
should just about sum up what Microdisney meant for me. It will never
truly detail the hours spent repeatedly listening to songs or the optimism
and enthusiasm it engendered in me but it'll have to do.
The clock comes
down the stairs was out and this concert for a Glasgow Tech Xmas Ball
(ie in front of people who largely didn't care about the bands playing)
was another fine example of what Microdisney were capable of. The
3 London Demos, pre-Crooked Mile Summer 86
are better than long thought over masterpieces. The optimism continued
when I obtained a copy of their first demos for the Crooked Mile album.
Five songs showing maturity, and a fresh melodic dynamic, thanks to the
introduction of the brilliant James Compton. Mixing the optimism of signing
with Virgin, melancholy and the typical ascerbic lyrics, they created
songs the like of which I had never heard before. This combined with the
last Peel session would surely produce an album that would easily surpass
its predecessor. Well I guess that was the plan and certainly live they
were at their peak when you think of songs like Rack they could never
fail. Sadly however Crooked Mile wasn't half as good as it should have
been. In fact I must have listened to it as an album a maximum of about
four times preferring the demos and Peel sessions and poor quality bootlegs
that I had recorded. And each time I listened to it the worse it got.
Lenny Kaye massacred those songs and I'm not one to bear grudges but he
destroyed them and I think Microdisney with it. A clock comes down the
stairs style production would have suited the songs better, the demos
released themselves would have been more fitting.
5 La Grand Place in Mons, Belgium, July 1988 I know it's over
Sitting in a café
on la Grand Place in Mons, I wasn't really surprised when I read in the
NME that it was over and by that time I had become disillusioned and so
had they by all accounts. Musical differences, dwindling crowds ('Microdisney
are playing to smaller and smaller crowds' Sean told me with a foreboding
air of resignation the last time I saw them in Dundee), a record company
unable to 'market' them. As is often the case with the end of a relationship,
I was bitter. Towards the record company, to Lenny Kaye the devil incarnate,
now apparently selling popcorn in a suburb of Nowheresville, Wisconsin,
well if he isn't he should be), the record buying public, (how could they
all not recognise this band's merits, its a free country I would tell
myself), to myself, I could have been more fervent in my selling of the
band to interested parties (that said, I did convert a large number to
the Church of Microdisney) and I guess I was bitter to them to an extent
for not coming up with the goods. But more than feelings of bitterness
I guess I was just sad for them. Apart from the things I have already
mentioned, music is about times and places and experiences and moments.
Their moment for me was between 84 and 86. At that time no other group
created music that meant so much to me and made me happy or sad. I was
very glad to have had such a pleasurable first musical relationship with
such a group.
Last time I saw them, we didn't really have much in the way of an interconnected world, finding and listening to music was done in a wholly different manner and the content which artists created was way less disposable than it is today. If you spent £5 or £6 on an album you would not dismiss it like you can today with everything in effect free.
So is it relevant to review an album and bring back it to the attention of a public. I believe that indeed it is both relevant and in a way essential in order to capture and evaluate both the artistry and the quality of this album and the rest of the work of the band.
Coming down to London as I had done on what can only be described as a bit of a pilgrimage, was interesting in several respects. The world and London has changed considerably, the cold war has gone, financial and other bubbles have burst, we have moved on and the changes which the political establishment which inspired much of the music of that era have faded into the past, only to be replaced by a new set. But the songs to be played remain the same. The same hurt, the same anguish, expressions of human emotion, joy, elation, anger and frustration, these have not changed in that time. And perhaps that is what binds us or well me at any rate to them; the personal, albeit often times oblique, references that you can possibly tune into that touch you. Yes I'm afraid I never got much of that feeling hearing Whitney Houston on the radio.
The concert itself? Obviously, I would have liked to hear so many more songs, roughly one hour more of songs that I listened to endlessly back in the day, how can you do Loftholdingswood and 464 without doing, Teddy Dogs. And The Clock comes down the stairs without Harmony Time? Then only one song from Crooked Mile? I think there were nine others that deserved to be included.
The Clock comes down the stairs itself was a joy to hear like that. I don't recall ever hearing And ever being played live and they were all beautifully performed, even if I couldn't help noticing slight hesitations, well 30 years after all. The standouts for me, I guess were my favourite songs, Horse Overboard, Begging Bowl, Are you Happy and surprisingly as it was not one of my personal favourites at the time And, which was centred around the keyboard and an amazing suite of chords. That said, Genius and Sean's masterful guitar outro on Goodbye its 1987 were also brilliant.
Then came the rest. I had never heard Everybody is dead played live, which was my personal favourite song for about 5 years and that was exceptional. Loftholdingswood lump in throat time, Pink Skinned man and Sun, stirring bedsit memories although I never lived in a bedsit. There were so many special moments, 464 and the pent up rage gracefully segwaying into the melodic charm of the main verse and chorus and back again. The glorious harmonies on Singer's Hampstead Home and the home recording vibe of Michael Murphy, nothing out of place, everything fitting in very nicely.
Then the repartee of Cathal, self deprecation never felt so good which made me smile, his voice was as true as if he had been singing those songs every week for the last 30 years. Sean's guitar work was as special as always making the trickery look so simple, not even giving you an idea of the undoubted countless hours of work composing those intricate melodies. Jon's bass work with Tom's constant rhythm deceptively simple but masking the melodic basis on which the layers of other melodies sit so easily. Rhodri Marsden and John Bennett filled in missing elements with great skill and Eileen Grogan completed the picture doing June Miles Kingston's parts and more rather beautifully.
Not to mention the harmonies, the tightness and the passion this makes me think about the chemistry of the band. Very much a case of the whole being in my opinion greater than the sum of its parts. Which leads me thankfully to my final questions. Those song were written at a time and in a place which has gone so what drove them in terms of inspiration is probably completely different to what it would be now. But could this group of four individuals write and record another Horse Overboard or a Birthday Girl? Something which would be relevant today, but musically so much richer than a great many other bands on the current musical landscape?
I believe, sorry no I know that the answer to those questions is a definite of course they could. The question which they have already answered in the negative however is would they want to? Well, Sean, Cathal, on the day after Scotland beat England in a cricket match, stranger things have happened. People just want to dream, no?