It shouldn’t have happened like this. Pinpointing a particular event that changed your life sounds like the pretentious hellspawn of all humanity’s interest in self-analysing voyeurism. But musical epiphanies are made easy to spot when bands are kind enough to give you no choice than to change your tastes. Despite a totally inauspicious setting – the beautiful confines of Hereford Leisure Centre – September 1998 became a turning point. The Manic Street Preachers were the reason for even fucking being there. Maybe they’ll play some stuff off ‘The Holy Bible’, perhaps Richey could turn up for a jam, it should be fun. Yeah, RIGHT. First there was the small matter of a Scottish band called Mogwai, who somewhat strangely had been handpicked as tour support. Strange when you consider, by all available accounts, that they blew the hosts off stage all tour. Strange to see the pure anguish on kiddie eyeliner-n-feather boa Manics fans, fingers to ears, RUNNING out of the mosh pit, itself rendered static by unadulterated air-guzzling feedback. Strange that, having started the show clad in homemade president masks, Mogwai overrun and incur the wrath of MSP stage security; guitarist John Cummings is THAT close to forcible removal having spent 15 minutes individually de-stringing his instrument. Onlookers are stunned, shocked. Mogwai have never bettered this moment. I, meanwhile, have just been saved from a lifetime of indie noncery.
I liked to play computer games. I still do. My sister's room was just down the passage. I always heard her music coming through the wafer thin doors. I didn't like it. I didn't dislike it. It was just there - always in the background: Alice in Chains and Pantera, then Blind Melon and Metallica, then later on Menswear and Oasis. Surely then, you might think, that the subliminal soaking my mind took would have created some sort of crazy rock monster. Me? Never. Then she left. I had to find my own music. I now realised that I needed music. Always. I barely functioned without it. I struggle to function without it. Such a dependency on something so material? It may sound absurd to you but that auditory battering my unconscious took was to stay with me forever. You will rarely find me now where there is quiet. My peace and quiet involves the music that I find to be peaceful; that I find to be my quiet. My mother disagrees. The material aspect was never an issue for me. It was never about style. It was never a craze. Fads are for losers. I'm me. Not my music.
I went to see the 'Chili Peppers on their Blood Sugar Sex Magik Tour in the early 90's. Supporting was Henry Rollins, promoting his album 'End Of Silence'. I'd read a lot about him in the music press, and expected intensity from the word go, but he disarmed us all by bounding on stage like an enthusiastic schoolkid, and it was only when the music started that he proceeded to move me in a way I had never thought possible. I'd felt a lump in my throat before, sure, and laughed or perhaps felt an irrepressible smile launch from my lips, but this was different. Perhaps it was because of his very real trauma at losing his best friend, Joe Cole, shot in front of his eyes during an armed robbery, and the way he subsequently went on and on about how we should rejoice at being alive.... and the way it turned his raging hardcore howls into primal events, matters of real life and real death... or maybe it was the way it was magnified by the incredible synergy of the band, the way they would seamlessly and instantly turn from whisper to firestorm without any apparent timing cue... I don't know. All I do know is that I left feeling as if I had been lowered into a blast furnace to taste the heat of Rollins' catharsis and found a new way to be awed.
From a complete standing start, last November a friend told me solemnly “You, of all people, must own Songs:Ohia - The Lioness”. Having nothing but a tentative trust in an opinion I did as I was bid, knowing and expecting nothing. Once home, the jewel box glinted at me whenever I passed where it sat during the remaining daylight hours. When full darkness fell, I set about my ritual. One by one, candles flickered into life within my room, then when all was quiet and readied, I lay down to wait for The Lioness. Sparse acoustic guitar, then a voice to carve up the soul. I’m frail and trembling as the aura begins to seize, then gently force itself into my mind. One by one, songs pour into the ground simple, but oh so complex, details about keeping a love affair alive. “The heart is a risky fuel to burn.” Unsought for feelings of inadequacy in the shadow of a strong, determined woman - the Redhead - come spilling forth. Words gnarled through painful and incisive truths are free falling around my ears, leaving nowhere to hide. Instinctively, I sit up with elbows forced down between knees as fingers grasp for each other, grasping hair behind my head. Eyes search feverishly a darkened ceiling, registering nothing, then on my side, foetal with knees pulled rapidly to my ribs to protect a now gaping hole. "I want my last look to be the moon in your eyes." I’m distraught but warmed. As unexpected as kindness from a stranger, and just as treasured.
More personal accounts will be coming your way in Part 2, next week.