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Never Let Her Slip Away – Andrew Gold

Andrew Gold was practically bound by genetics to become a successful musician. After all, he was the son of Oscar-winning composer Ernest Gold and the most sought-after ghost singer in Hollywood, Marni Nixon*.

After a couple of aborted attempts at launching a career as a recording artist, Gold  worked himself up a full-time career as a musician, arranger, songwriter and producer. He was recruited by Linda Ronstadt for the recording of her 1974 album Heart Like a Wheel and quickly became her de facto bandleader and lieutenant. Some of the songs on Heart Like a Wheel (including her hit cover of Dee Dee Warwick’s You’re No Good) were more or less played entirely by Gold: guitars, keyboards, drums, everything.

His work with Ronstadt brought him to the attention of 1970s LA’s singer-songwriter kingpin David Geffen, who signed him to his label Ayslum (Jackson Browne, Joni Mitchell, Judee Sill, the Eagles, Tom Waits, Warren Zevon, etc.). In the US, he hit big with his single Lonely Boy, from his second album, and Thank You for Being a Friend**, from his third. But in the UK, he had a third, even bigger, hit.

Gold recorded Never Let Her Slip Away for his third album, All This and Heaven Too, the cover of which saw Gold in a white suit and top hat, with a cane, doing a dance move. You might assume from that picture that Gold was a Warren Zevon-style smartarse unlikely to write a straight ballad without some sort of angle or ironic distance.

The great thing about Never Let Her Slip Away is that, despite how cleverly it’s written (and it is; there are some ninja-level chord changes in there), Gold wrote the song and sang it from a place of total sincerity. There’s no side at all. Part of the way that Gold projects that sincerity is the sparseness of the arrangement. It’s simply him at his keyboard with a crude-sounding percussion loop. OK, maybe in an ideal world he’d not have included the proto-1980s smooth-jazz saxophone (or got a different player), but it doesn’t spoil the song at all for me; the player, Ernie Watts, wouldn’t win any prizes for taste and subtlety here, but like Gold, he doesn’t sound fake or insincere. When recording a song like Never Let Her Slip Away, that’s crucial. To write and perform a song like this, you have to mean it.

Gold was always popular within the music industry, with artists and producers appreciative of the breadth of his talent. That goodwill can be seen in the range of artists who he worked with; uncredited on this record as a backing singer is none other than Freddie Mercury.

*Nixon was the uncredited singing voice of Audrey Hepburn in My Fair Lady, Deborah Kerr in The King and I and Natalie Wood in West Side Story.
**Yep, the one that would become the theme to The Golden Girls.

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Franco Building – Jonathan Meades

In early January 2012, I was discharged from hospital and sent home to adjust to life as a heart failure survivor (hypertrophic cardiomyopathy – prognosis, at the time, not all that good).

It’s hard to fill your days when can’t walk even a few hundred metres without needing a long rest to recover. You don’t leave your house an awful lot, and even doing the things you enjoy can become tiresome. New enthusiasms are a godsend.

Soon after I was discharged, BBC4 broadcast the first episode of Jonathan Meades’s series of films on France. I’d seen some Meades before (his Queen Victoria film in 2001, when I was home from university; I missed the start of it, though), but this was the first time I’d had the opportunity to watch one properly, and I was transfixed. Here was a singular TV presence: dark-suited, ferociously eloquent, idiosyncratic, unapologetic, scabrous (lists that end without a conjunction are a Meades speciality).

The Guardian described him as exploring France like a man trying to poo a dictionary, but you don’t learn many new words watching telly these days, so it certainly didn’t seem like a valid criticism to me. I found all his other films online, going back to his early Abroad in Britain stuff, and devoured it all. All of his films merited a rewatch or two (or three in my case), and so they became a kind of life raft, something to cling to during long, boring afternoons or evenings otherwise filled with nothing.

While I was working backward through his archive, Meades’s TV output slowed. He is not, it should be said, just a writer and performer on TV. His talents are many. But he has spoken in interviews about how difficult it now is to get series or programmes commissioned and adequately funded by the BBC. In truth, the lack of funding directed towards BBC4 programme making is everywhere evident: 15 years ago, there was something interesting on most nights, and a new music documentary most Fridays at nine. Now, new shows come along much less frequently, and are evidently made for less money than previously.

Meades’s last series with high production values was On France. His recent films Ben Building and this week’s Franco Building, which completes his quartet of films about the architecture of Europe’s great 20th-century dictators (I’m holding out hope for Tito Building, though), are evidently the product of straitened circumstances. In his older films, Meades inserted himself physically into almost every shot: as he discussed the architecture of the Soviet Union, or 1960s big-tech structures in the UK, or Belgian suburbs, he’d stand there, in his suit and dark glasses, thunderously declaiming to camera. He was fond of visual, in-camera jokes that depended on his conspicuous, hitman-esque presence.

His more recent work sees much of his narration delivered in a studio, in front of a green screen. To make it more visually interesting, Meades is superimposed on buildings, or behind buildings, as he discusses them. Still images are photoshopped, some segments are illustrated with animation or static drawings. He’s doing his best, but the budgets are clearly not what they were. We should, I suppose, be grateful that he’s still allowed to make films at all. Especially, this one: Franco Building, broadcast this week, sees Meades in uncompromising anti-religion form. I’m surprised no one senior at BBC4 got cold feet about showing it. I’m sure there will have been complaints.

Their loss. Franco Building was thrilling. From Jerry Building to Ben Building, Meades has never shied away from showing the horror of these despotic regimes, and there were ample shots of human remains in mass burial pits and sinister orphanages in which the children of dead Republicans were housed and re-educated (that is, indoctrinated) after the civil war to show the enormity of Franco’s regime. But tourism was the programme’s throughline, from the posh hotels that sprang up in the 1950s to house well-heeled pilgrims and culture tourists walking the trail to Santiago de Compostela, to 1960s high-rise blocks in Benidorm, which long-time Meades watchers won’t be surprised to find he has a great deal of sympathy for.

Neither will long-time Meades watchers need reminding of where the birthplace of modern mass tourism is: Prora, on the German island of Rügen, where the arm of the Nazi state called Kraft durch Freude (Strength through Joy) built eight identical blocks, parallel to the beach, measuring nearly three miles in length. In light of Meades’s evident horror of Prora, the murderous regime that built it and the others that copied it, his sympathy for Benidorm’s sometimes kitschy, sometimes pleasingly futuristic towers may seem surprising. But then, Meades has always preferred bad taste to middlebrow taste.

In a week where the prime minister has announced via the Queen that he will suspend British parliamentary democracy for five weeks because it doesn’t suit him to face any opposition to his plans for a no-deal Brexit – plans supported by a only a fraction of the population, and an even smaller fraction of MPs – it may do us good to remember what actual fascism results in, but also how actual fascism starts. There are parallels. Perhaps one day, in a more enlightened era, a successor to Meades – an older, crustier Owen Hatherley, perhaps – will make a programme called Boris Building, but let us hope that won’t be necessary.

Dummy at 25 – Portishead’s masterpiece

The first thing I heard was horror-movie Hammond organ, with an extremely present snare drum cross-stick and jazzy double bass underpinning it. Then the song seemed to turn itself inside out. There was a sampled bleating kind of noise, and a drum track so mercilessly compressed that the ride cymbal made a sucking noise, as if being played backwards, with a backeat that sounded more like a bell than anything resembling a snare drum. Then a vocal: intimate-sounding, close. “I’m ever so lost,” the singer declared. “I can’t find my way.”

The song was of course Numb, from Portishead’s Dummy. The album’s lead single, Numb made my head spin round. This sound – I had no name for it, and I still don’t think there’s a satsifactory one. Certainly not “trip-hop” – was composed of some elements I recognised (bass, scratching, vocals), others that sounded bizarre and novel to me (that tolling, sucking drum track) and an old black-and-white-movie vibe, and in total was something genuinely new. For all that Portishead were making use of analogue sounds and occasionally sampling old records, there was nothing retro or kitschy about what they did. The band was in earnest. DJ/creative mastermind Geoff Barrow and singer Beth Gibbons felt the way their songs sounded.

Portishead seemed to specialise in picking up and reusing neglected or forgotten sounds. Mysterons features a Theremin. Sour Times samples Lalo Schifrin’s The Danube Incident (a 2-minute instrumental from Mission: Impossible), which makes use of a prominent bell-like stringed instrument: there’s still debate online about whether its a cimbalom (a Hungarian hammered dulcimer) or a Marxophone. Numb had the aforementioned Hammond organ, played on its most Gothic-sounding voicing. Roads is built around a simple, spine-tingling progression played on the Fender Rhodes, a staple of jazz-inflected balladry in the 1970s but hopelessly old-fashioned in 1994. Adrian Utley played guitar, but he was schooled in jazz, and he played cool, tremolo-soaked spy movie riffs.

A budding guitarist in thrall to distortion-saturated American rock music, I nonetheless loved Dummy and all these strange new sounds. The album was like nothing else I’d heard; even when I learned that the band came from the same town as Massive Attack and Tricky (Bristol), and that Barrow had worked as a junior engineer on Blue Lines, it still sounded entirely new and without precedent.

Those who remember Dummy coming out will know what happened next. Bottomlessly sad but undeniably chic and current sonically, Dummy was an immediate hit. It became too big for its creators to handle. Not in the sense that it was number one for weeks on end, but in its cultural omnipresence. Its songs appeared in too many TV shows, its sonics, vibe and atmosphere were copied by other, inferior bands. Some tastemakers turned on Portishead themselves, wrote them off as middlebrow, coffee-table moaners. The criticism stung, and their next record was harsher, angrier – without the warmth of songs like It Could be Sweet and Strangers that provided such effective contrast to the darker songs on Dummy.

Portishead’s debut became, then, a glorious one-off, one that no one else ever equalled and that the band themselves had no interest in recreating. Give it a spin, and you’ll find it’s more than you remember: more sad, more sweet, more lonely, more singular, more inventive, more itself. Happy birthday to a classic.

 

Trouble Boys – Bob Mehr

I’d been aware of Bob Mehr’s Trouble Boys, the biography of the Replacements, but hadn’t read it up till now because, having read Michael Azerrad’s Our Band Could be Your Life and Gina Arnold’s On the Road to Nirvana, I felt like I knew the band’s story well enough already. But in a thread on I Love Music the other day (discussing which artists had seen their critic standing improve or decline in the last 10 years), someone brought up this book, and the praise from writers and critics whose opinions I respect was unanimous.

What Mehr’s book does that Azerrad’s doesn’t really (and Arnold’s not at all, because it’s so much her story) is locate the band members’ behaviour – their recklessness, drunkenness and almost pathological oppositional defiance – in their childhoods, particularly in the cases of guitarist Bob Stinson and singer-songwriter Paul Westerberg.

Bob Stinson’s is by far the saddest of the books interweaving narratives, and Mehr does a laudable job of telling it. Stinson was both endearing and infuriating for his band members, and helplessly vulnerable and scarily violent with his partners. Mehr doesn’t look away or gloss over the acts of violence he committed, but he does seek to understand Stinson’s addictions, shattered sense of self-worth and the very real mental illnesses he suffered from: institutionalised in his teens, Stinson suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder (he was sexually abused and beaten by his stepfather) and late-diagnosed bipolar disorder.

Westerberg’s and Tommy Stimson’s behaviour is often harder to understand and excuse. Tommy, six years younger than his elder brother and Westerberg, had an undeniable bratty streak that saw him tweak people just because he could; Peter Jesperson – who was the band’s first true believer and moved heaven and earth to create opportunities for them, even as he knew they’d waste them – found it hard to forgive the younger Stinson for smirking while firing him*. It wouldn’t be until after the band broke up and Stinson was forced to take a job in a call centre that he finally grew up. What Mehr doesn’t quite say, but what does seem to be the case, is that, in working a 9-5, Stinson was forced to understand that actions have consequences, and that most people don’t have personal managers and A&R men who will make them go away.

As the book goes on, Mehr portrays Westerberg’s persistent self-sabotage as more and more located in his drinking and depression. Which were and are real enough, no question, but to ascribe all his behaviour to those things is an insult to those who, similarly afflicted, manage to get through their lives without consciously causing harm to others. Which leaves only one conclusion: gifted as he was (and he really was), Westerberg is also something of a dick.

If you’re not a die-hard, Azerrad’s Our Band Could Be Your Life will do you; it’s comprehensive enough on its own, and it tells a wider, ultimately more important, story. Still, I’d recommend Trouble Boys to any deep fans who’ve not read it: Mehr’s writing is engaging and brisk, and given the seven years of research and interviews he put in to the book, it’s obviously a labour of love, one that leaves few questions unanswered**. Anyone willing to wade through the book, though, should be aware that they’re not likely to come away liking the band members as people. However, if your love of the group and Westerberg’s songs can withstand that, the book is pretty much the last word on the Replacements.

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*Already lapsing into alcoholism from the stress of working with the band he loved despite everything, Jesperson hit bottom after his firing, and he was lucky to survive an acute case of pancreatitis in 1991. After Bob Stinson’s, Jesperson’s story is the saddest in the book, the more so as he is far and away the nicest guy in the band’s circle, and the only one who was never to do anything cruel or spiteful.

**One thing Mehr doesn’t address that I’d have been very interested in: how did the band, particularly Westerberg react to the huge success of Soul Asylum in 1992, given their debt to the Replacements and status as a kid-brother band to the Mats and Hüsker Dü? Come to that, how did they react to the success of Bob Mould’s post-Hüsker Dü band Sugar, particularly in Europe?

10 more of the best Steely Dan lines

Presented once again without comment or context, 10 more magnificent lines from Steely Dan songs:

“Sure, he’s a jolly roger, until he answers for his crimes”
My Rival (Gaucho)

A tower room at Eden Roc, his golf at noon for free/Brooklyn owes the charmer under me
Brooklyn Owes the Charmer Under Me (Can’t Buy a Thrill)

Watch the sun go brown/Smoking cobalt cigarettes
King of the World (Countdown to Ecstasy)

I crawl like a viper through these suburban streets
Deacon Blues (Aja)

She takes the taxi to the good hotel/Bon marché as far as she can tell
Haitian Divorce (The Royal Scam)

Alan owns a chain of Steamer Heavens/And Barry is the software king
What a Shame About Me (Two Against Nature)

Well I hear the whistle but I can’t go/I’m gonna take her down to Mexico
She said “oh no, Guadalajara won’t do”
My Old School (Countdown to Ecstasy)

When Black Friday comes I’ll fly down to Muswellbrook/Gonna strike all the big red words from my little black book
Black Friday (Katy Lied)

You were a roller skater/You gonna show me later/Turn up the Eagles, the neighbors are listening
Everything You Did (The Royal Scam)

Maybe it’s the skeevy look in your eyes/Or that your mind has turned to applesauce
The dreary architecture of your soul
Cousin Dupree (Two Against Nature)

Thanks to Nick Elvin for some more killer suggestions.

Double Live Gonzos, part 2: Miles of Aisles – Joni Mitchell

Permit me to get my obligatory annual Joni post in early this year. My apologies that this is slightly late. I wrote most of it on Friday and Saturday and then got sick and have been too fuzzy to finish it until now.

Largely recorded over four nights at the Universal Amphitheatre in August 1974, Miles of Aisles capped a very good year for Joni Mitchell. It was the year Mitchell broke into the Hot 100 for the first time as a performer, going Top 10 with the single Help Me, and going all the way to number two on the Billboard 200 album chart with Court and Spark. In short, it was the year that Mitchell became, briefly, a pop singer.

She did it by presenting her music with fuller instrumentation than it had had previously. Judy Collins, Tom Rush and Buffy Sainte-Marie had tended to make lusher recordings of Mitchell’s songs than their author did; little surprise, then, that they had the hits while Joni had to settle for the bedsit adulation.* When she made the fateful decision to hire members of the LA Express and the Crusaders to play on Court and Spark, and give a contemporary pop-jazz sheen to Help Me, Free Man in Paris, Trouble Child and the rest, it didn’t just make her songs chart ready; it also allowed for the possibility of her playing (more or less) rock ‘n’ roll shows to (more or less) rock ‘n’ roll audiences.

Miles of Aisles isn’t quite that. A double album, its first and last sides showcase Joni and the LA Express, while the second and third sides feature Mitchell with guitar, piano and dulcimer, and only minimal input from Tom Scott on flute and soprano sax.

The record follows the structure of the shows from that tour: the LA Express opened, playing an instrumental support set, then Joni joined them, then she played solo, then the band rejoined her for another half-dozen songs. So, while stiched together from various shows, the album captures the flow of the sets well.

The first side with the LA Express is up and down. It begins with a nice version of near-hit You Turn Me On, I’m a Radio. I like how Robben Ford’s guitar gestures at country without playing country cliches, and Max Bennett and John Guerin are solid and supple on bass and drums. If the ending is a little protracted, it’s still a fine opener. More troubling is the take on Big Yellow Taxi, which acquires an unnecessary extra verse and a rhythm track that sounds like a bad attempt to choogle like Creedence. The less said about Tom Scott’s solo, the better. The band make the song song sound like a Coke commercial. Fortunately, there’s nothing else this bad on the album.

Things improve immediately with Rainy Night House, initiating a pattern: throughout their two sides, the LA Express sound much better at slower tempos. Ford and pianist and pianist Larry Nash are particularly effective here, and Scott, playing flute rather than sax, adds a pretty, spooky note to one of Mitchell’s spookiest early songs. Unfortunately some of the effect is undone by the version of Woodstock that follows. The intro certainly shows that Ford and Guerin can play fast and smooth at the same time, but it’s a rather strange arrangement that’s neither fish nor fowl; it’s not the spare, chilling reading of Joni’s recording, the blustering, stomping rocker that CSNY turned it into, or the acid-smashed folk-country-rock of Ian Matthews’ UK number-one recording, where Matthews sounds genuinely scared throughout.

At the end of the song, Mitchell announces an intermission. When she returns, it’s with her acoustic guitar, and the next two sides are pretty much just her alone, playing and singer unaccompanied. For fans of Joni’s earlier records, sides two and three are the reason to own Miles of Aisles. She’s on sparkling form, in absolute control of her vocal performances, and very impressive instrumentally too.

Cactus Tree (a song from Song to a Seagull, Mitchell’s debut), is taken from a show at the LA Music Centre in March 1974, and has a noticeably different acoustic to the other tracks. It’s a great performance, though, and demolishes the studio original. It’s followed by a likewise excellent Cold Blue Steel and Sweet Fire, from For the Roses. Mitchell is joined by Tom Scott on soprano sax, and the song plays to his strengths far more than the uptempo tracks on side one, where he sounds cheesy. Here, he’s spine tingling – his phrasing acute and his melodies surprising. The one blot for me, though a minor thing, is the those repeated “downs” that Joni sings. The three-repeat phrasing of the original (“you know it’s down, down, down the dark ladder”), with each “down” on a chord change, had a lighter touch. Nonetheless, it’s a chilling performance of one of its author’s darkest and most troubling songs.

The version of Woman of Heart and Mind is preceded by an enthusiastic member of the audience shouting, “Joni, you have more class than Richard Nixon, Mick Jagger and Gomer Pyle combined”. Mitchell cracks up, but a more apt response to this puzzling comment might have been a shrug. I mean, obvs. The song itself comes from a different show, but it is really good, and the audible edit required to make it happen is justified, given how good the performance is.

A Case of You and the title track from Blue follow, and make you wonder at what it must have taken to play such vulnerable, personal material in front of audiences of thousands**. As with the rest of the songs on side two, the performances are excellent, though A Case of You is the one time on the record where I feel like there’s a measurable gap between the magic of the studio recording and the live version. A Case of You is lightning-in-a-bottle stuff. There’s no disgrace in not being able to get to such a place as a singer twice. The wonder is that she got there at all.

Side three begins with The Circle Game, before which Joni encourages everyone to sing along with the chorus, in emulation of the studio recording from Ladies of the Canyon. There’s something about this Circle Game that hits me in the gut in a way that the Canyon version doesn’t. Perhaps it’s the added depth and richness that Mitchell’s voice gained in the years between the two recordings, the changes she made to the phrasing and melody in the chorus, or maybe it’s the communality of thousands of voices rather than a handful, but whatever it is, for me this is the definitive reading of the song, and probably the best single moment on the whole album.

The jump from the philosophical universalism of The Circle Game to the intensely personal People’s Parties is a little jarring. Not that feeling awkward and out of place is not a universal emotion, but feeling awkward and out of place at Hollywood parties is a more shall we say exclusive experience. It’s not my favourite Mitchell song, but it’s a solid performance.

If any performance on Miles of Aisles could be called workmanlike, it’s probably All I Want. It’s a good version, dispatched with the minimum of fuss. For Free (here retitled Real Good For Free) improves a lot on the Ladies of the Canyon original, which I’m not that fond of. Partly, this is down to her flattening her delivery of the opening verse so she rhymes “jewels” with “schools”, rather than “joo-els” with “schoo-els”. More pressingly, I think the Joni Mitchell of 1974 was better placed to comment on the differences between her existence and that of the street musician than the Joni Mitchell of 1970.

The band comes back for the last song on side three, Both Sides Now, which features another clearly audible edit.*** It’s one of the best, most emotional, performances on the album. Their arrangement, while still perhaps a little cheesy in the coda, gives plenty of space to Mitchell’s vocal, and Nash and Ford in particular play beautifully; Ford working with his volume pedal to create gorgeous floating textures, while Nash sprinkles delicately metallic high notes from his Fender Rhodes.

The final side begins with Carey and The Last Time I Saw Richard. Carey is given a light, pseudo-calypso treatment, which works better than you’d think, although again, the dairy content is high. Mitchell’s vocal suggests she’s enjoying it, anyway. The Last Time I Saw Richard is, I gather from reading old reviews of the album, divisive. Some find the imposition of a full-band arrangement gives the song more shape and momentum, while others feel it removes the intimacy (and that Mitchell’s barmaid impression spoils the mood). My take is somewhat in the middle. I think the band play it well, and give as much room as they feasibly can to Mitchell’s long, unruly verse lines. I don’t mind her clucking-barmaid voice either. The Blue recording of Richard is one I don’t ever listen to out of context of the album, and don’t always feel works in context; its looseness sometimes feels like shapelessness, though when it does tend to hit me hard when I’m in the right mood for it.

The album ends with two then-new songs: Jericho and Love or Money. Joni would later record a cooler, sparer version of Jericho for Don Juan’s Reckless Daughter. I prefer the Miles of Aisles recording for the way it’s anchored by Max Bennett’s bass; Jaco Pastorius (who played on DJRD) is a little abstract and in his own world for my taste. Love or Money is anchored by a cool groove from John Guerin and Max Bennett. Like a song from The Hissing of Summer Lawns, it has a melody that repeats over the course of a half-verse, rather than on a line-by-line basis. This makes it a little hard to get a handle on for the first half-dozen listens. I do think it’s a good song, but a curious one to end on.

The big question for any of us who weren’t there is, how closely does this resemble the sets that Mitchell actually played in 1974? As I said earlier, the basic shape of the set is accurate. LA Express first, then the band with Joni, then Joni solo, then with the band again. But the album release looks longer than those sets that are listed on Setlist FM for this tour. The closing pair of songs are apparently what was played to finish the show on 14 August at the Universal Amphitheatre, and I don’t hear any edits in the applause between the moment the song ends and when Mitchell says thank you and goodnight. So that seems an accurate piece of sequencing. The decision to include those but not the singles off Court and Spark is a bit of a shame, though; I guess that the label thought including new versions of older songs would likely lead to stronger sales and wouldn’t eat into sales of Court and Spark. I’d have loved to hear a live version of Help Me from 1974, though.

If you’re in the market for a Joni Mitchell live album, definitely go with Miles of Aisles. Its cross-section of material performed solo and with the band gives it wider set of moods and styles than the more narrowly focused Shadows and Light, and the songs are performed with a warmth and exuberance I find missing from the latter, even if its vocal and instrumental performances are more virtuosic. Other than a couple of questionable moments on side the LA Express, it’s solid front to back, and there are performances of early songs that outdo the studio recordings.

800px-1974_joni_mitchellMitchell, live in 1974, picture from inlay of Miles of Aisles

*Big Yellow Taxi only made it to #7 on the Hot 100.

**Later in 1974, she supported CSNY during their European tour, including a show at Wembley Stadium in front of 100,000 people.

***I guess that Mitchell and her enginner Henry Lewy felt that the hiss and noise of vinyl (and the likelihood that few were listening on headphones) meant that they could get away with such edits.

 

The lay of the land, 6 December 2018

Six years ago today, I had a pacemaker fitted at Papworth Hospital in Cambridgeshire. The year before that I was in an advancing state of heart failure. At that point of my diagnosis, I was Class IV on the NYHA classification chart; the subsequent class is “end stage”, which is what it sounds like. My diagnosis was idiopathic hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, a disease where the myocardium is enlarged, weakening the left ventricle and impeding the heart’s ability to pump blood effectively.

*

It’s nearly a year since Mel and I moved into our house together. Whenever one of us remarks on this fact, it’s in amazement. It doesn’t seem like a year. It doesn’t seem like five minutes, frankly. It’s been a wonderful year, in which we’ve done what we can to make the house into a home. Just a few more jobs to go now, then we’ll be done for a while, until it’s time to spruce everything up again. I can’t deny that the night I heard a dripping noise in our landing and realised that we had a leak, that it was coming from the roof, and that it was my responsibility to deal with it was a night I didn’t sleep much. But with great houses come great responsibility. Or something like that, anyway.

It’s been another good year health-wise. In the spring, my annual trip to St Thomas’s Hospital revealed that my heart is in very good shape for a man of my age with no medical history of heart problems, let alone someone who’s been where I’ve been. In fact, thanks to a renewed running regime, I’m fitter than I’ve been in at least ten years, and maybe since I left school. The next big goal is a half marathon in the grounds of Hampton Court Palace in March. Last time I entered a half my training schedule was disrupted by a chest infection that took weeks to properly clear up. This time, all being well, I’ll make it to the start line. I’m confident I could run it tomorrow, if I didn’t care about the time. I care enough that i’ll keep running the 14 kilometres home from work once a week and get out at the weekend for a 5k to work on speed.

This year I finally did release an EP on CD (download or order here), played a bunch of gigs with Mel as a duo (some very good ones, too) and did more work on James’s new one (an EP came out in the spring – the full album should follow in about six months I would guess). Other than James’s album and my full album (defo in the spring), the next project is a duo EP with Mel – we’ve got a few songs that were arranged from the ground up to be performed by us as a duo, so we’re going to record them the way we play them live, just two guitars and vocals.

That’s the lay of my land. The world beyond our front door is more worrisome. With Brexit an all-consuming oncoming storm, I despair at the lack of real leadership from the left. Not merely in terms of the division in the Labour party between centrists and the left wing, either. My dread fear is that, with politics (and the culture more widely) as polarised as it is now, any social progress made by a future government of the left would be immediately undone by incoming Conservatives, in much the same way that, if there were to be a second referendum on EU membership and Remain were to win, the Leavers would howl and scream for however long it took them to get what they want.

In such a situation, the only victory that could stick would be a revolutionary one – one where it was impossible to put society back together again, and building something entirely new became the only option available. Which is a pretty scary thought, as in that situation the forces that retained the most economic muscle would do the shaping. In the meantime, there are forces at work to keep left and right as far apart as possible. The deliberately divisive language of the right-wing media (which is most of the UK media), of “crush the Brexit saboteurs” and so on, is repulsive, but it’s deliberate. Its purpose is to fix people into position: to radicalise the right, to alienate the left, and to tell both sides that there is, there can be, no common ground. That’s how the right sees us, the left concludes. We can’t hope to reach them, and why would we want to?

Yet to make positive changes within the system as it exists today, we have to. More than ever, we need someone to make a moral, persuasive case for progressive policies in a unifying, consensus-building way.

On that troubling note, I leave you. Back next week.