My last post of 2021 is one of the first releases of 2022, a new single from Fontän, electronic- psychedelicists from Gothenburg, Sweden. Iriz is out on 7" vinyl in two weeks time but you can download it now. It's a slowly building six minute glide, spaced out psychedelia and is gorgeousness itself. Twinkling melodies, soft padded drums, a sliding guitar part, a warm bath of sounds, before a rattling drumkit joins in and pushes the song through its second half. It has an elegiac feel to it which strikes some chords with me.
Yesterday was one month since Isaac died. I don't know what to make of that- it seems like yesterday that we were in hospital with him and the days immediately following his death seem very recent. But already Christmas and his funeral seem further away. The pain is still very real and the smallest things can set me off. In some ways, I'm quite glad that it still feels so raw- the tears that come suddenly when in the frozen food aisle in the supermarket or when driving in the car- they seem to make 'it' and him seem closer, certainly closer than something which is already a month ago.
The press release for Iriz talks about the recording being 'dedicated to nomads, space travellers, free spirits that visit earth for a brief time to make a mark here on their way to other worlds' which is a strangely timed coincidence and a nice way to think of things.
Iriz (and previous 7" single Svett) can be bought from the always reliable Hoga Nord records. If you're doing anything tonight I hope you have a good time. Raise a glass to us all, as you see the new year in. Happy new year.
We got up yesterday and decided we needed to see the sea, walk on a beach, feel the wind coming onto the coast. A quick check of the weather website and North Wales looked the best bet. There's nothing quite like a British seaside resort out of season and Llandudno has everything you want- the faded glamour of hotels built for tourists before the foreign package holiday took off, a long promenade, palm trees, a pier, The Great Orme, tearooms and all only an hour and a half away. It was windy which blew some of the cobwebs away and the sun even came out for a while. It's difficult because these are exactly the kind of days out we did with Isaac and the three of us all felt him missing at different times but it did us good to get out here and away for a few hours. Although I always think of myself as a city person the coast and the sea have a really strong pull and just being near them does a lot of good.
This song came out at the end of November. I missed it (understandably) and it missed being in my end of year list but it's a beautiful way to spend eight minutes, a pulsing, electronic cosmic trip with a blissed out vocal, soaring synths and eventually sitars and backwards guitars. Dealer is at some kind of intersection of disco, Balearica and psychedelia with Giorgio Moroder's influence writ large. Lovely false ending too and reprise too.
In 2013 while installed as artist in residence for Faber and Faber Andrew Weatherall put out a limited edition multi- media release with Michael Smith. The package brought together Michael Smith's novel Unreal City as a 10" square book with Andrew's notes in the margins, a CD mini- album of ambient music made by Andrew, Nina Walsh and Franck Alba with Michael reading extracts from the book on top and a one sided 10" single. It's a lovely artefact, now only available second hand at three figure prices. If you haven't heard it, the six tracks plus the remix are at Mixcloud. The gentle ambient wash and mournful tone of the music matched by Michael's East Yorkshire voice and his tale of a flaneur returning to the city after some time living hand to mouth on the coast in Kent and his dismay at what has happened to London in his absence.
Andrew was interviewed on Janice Long's Radio 2 show in December 2013, an interview now archived here. Andrew and Janice chat for almost an hour, play some records and he read some short stories finishing with a play of a so far unreleased track from the Unreal City sessions called Sound And Light. Janice died a few days ago, another face and voice of our youth lost. Her championing of music, radio shows, presenter appearances on Top Of The Pops alongside John Peel and enthusiasm for so many bands loved round here, not least the great Liverpool groups of the 1980s, will be sadly missed. For some time my Twitter timeline was almost entirely people from all walks of life paying tribute to Janice, someone who no one had a bad word to say about. RIP Janice.
Nina Walsh has just put up a new recording at her Bandcamp page, a fifty minute spoken word/ musical piece called Headland. Michael Smith returns as narrator and returns to the coast, this time around Hartlepool, and tales from his youth and summer escapades by the beach. Nina and Franck plus friends provide the music, a longform piece that starts out with washes and ambient soundscapes which then gradually moves in a more folky direction with tin whistles and acoustic stringed instruments, some chanted backing vocals and an accordion. Later on the players pick up in a 60s style folk rock direction, transforming to match Michael's story as he grows his hair long and falls in love with a hippy girl. Later again, it becomes more electronic and cosmische, oscillations, saws and bleeps. Headland is perfectly pitched for this time of year where it's difficult to tell one day of the week from the next and it seems to be permanently dusk. You can listen and buy here.
I've done an end of year list at the end of every year since starting the blog in 2010. I started to pull a list of albums and songs together back in November and thought I should at least try to finish it off. Everything I've listened to since the end of November has been coloured by Isaac's death so I'm not sure if this is how the lists would have turned out if things had been different but we are where we are, as people say.
Albums of 2021
I've heard loads of good albums this year. My initial list ran to over twenty albums (and that was before the Pye Corner Audio album turned up) and there are several I've not heard yet that would surely be contenders had I got round to listening to them (I'm thinking of Carnage by Nick Cave and Warren Ellis and this year's releases from LoneLady, WH Lung and Low). Floating around somewhere outside my top ten are these albums (in no particular order): Andres Y Xavi's Sounds From The Secret Bar; Stinky Jim's It's Not What It Sounds Like; The Vendetta Suite's Kempe Stone Portal; Steve Cobby's Shanty Bivouac (which has a close to perfect side 2); Richard Fearless's unsettling ambient techno masterpiece Future Rave Memory; Roisin Murphy's remixed Crooked Machine; Bicep's Isles; Reinhard Vanbergen and Charlotte Caluwaerts' Souvenir Des Bon Gout; Sons Of Slough's Bring Me Sunshine; Sonic Boom's remix album Almost Nothing Is Nearly Enough; Cheval Sombre's pair of albums Days Go By and Time Waits For No One; Dry Cleaning's New Long Leg; Cerulean by Nashville Ambient Ensemble; The Liminanas and Laurent Garnier's De Pelicula; The Grid and Robert Fripp's Leviathan; Rose City Band's Earth Trip. The Bagging Area top ten looks like this-
10. Pye Corner Audio 'Entangled Routes'
9. Mogwai 'As The Love Continues'
8. Richard Norris 'Hypnotic Response'
7. Dean Wareham 'I Have Nothing To Say To The Mayor Of L.A.'
6. Sedibus 'The Heavens'
5. Daniel Avery 'Together In Static'
4. GLOK 'Pattern Recognition'
3. Coyote 'The Mystery Light'
2. Circe Sky 'Dream Colour'
1. Saint Etienne 'I've Been Trying To Tell You'
I wasn't expecting Saint Etienne to make an album as good as this, at this stage of things- made in isolation but sounding like the work of three people in a room together, I've Been Trying To Tell You is a woozy, reflective album digging away at late 90s nostalgia (but not sounding itself nostalgic), built around samples from that period and with a strong undertow of bass and a warm wash of effects. On top of this Sarah Cracknell's voice is used almost like a sample library, cut up phrases and snatches of dialogue.
EP of 2021
5. Rich Lane 'Camo'
4. Three EPs of outstanding new music from A Certain Ratio, 'EPA', 'EPC' and 'EPR'. I couldn't separate them so have bunched them together.
3. SUSS 'Night Suite'
2. Hugo Nicolson 'Lost And Found'
1. Andy Bell and Pye Corner Audio 'The Indica Gallery EP'
No question here, the single piece of vinyl/ mp3s I've probably played as much as any other this year since it came out in April, six wondrous remixes of Andy Bell's 2020 album The View From Halfway Down. Pye Corner Audio's sunshine dreamscape remixes were the sound of this year for me in lots of ways, especially the analogue cosmische of Skywalker, Indica and Cherry Cola.
So many good songs/ tracks/ remixes, I could easily list a top fifty. Someone wrote recently a top ten should be enough and I kind of agree- but all of these have been essential listening in 2021 (again, in no particular order); AMOR 'Unravel' from Lemur; Daniel Avery's Lone Swordsman as remixed by Chris Carter; Craig Bratley and Amy Douglas' No In Between; 10:40's Sleepwalker; a pair of remixes of Fontaines DC, one of A Hero's Death by Soulwax, the other Televised Mind by Dave Clarke; A Mountain Of One's Stars Planets Dust Me; Perry Granville's Dexter In Dub; Mat Ducasse's Bunny's Lullaby; Dan Wainwright and Rude Audio's Early Morning; Future Beat Alliance's Primordial Sky; Daniel Avery's remix of Winter In The Woods by Leaving Laurel; Coyote's remix of Original Cell by Projections and Coyote's two track 12" Will We Ever Dance Again; Cheval Sombre's Althea; various Pye Corner Audio one offs (Fictional Drilling and Eyes Open stand out); and last but not least Woodleigh Research Facility's All Is Not Lost and Vernal Invocation releases.
As well as all of those Sean Johnston has been responsible for a steady stream of remixes in his Hardway Bros guise, any one of which could/ should be in the list below but they can have their own sublist here-
Hardway Bros Sublist
10. Martyn Walsh and Simon Lyon 'Afterglow' Hardway Bros Dub
9. Shadowlark 'Come Around Here' Hardway Bros Remix
8. Cold Beat 'Double Sided Mirror' Hardway Bros Meet Monkton Noch Einmal Remix
This song, a tour de force from Mr Holmes with vocals by Raven Violet, provided a glimmer of light in a year that has been bleak as fuck for all kinds of reasons, personal and political, macro and micro. The song is political, a call to arms, a lyric about not putting up with it any more,a demand to say enough is enough, but it works on a variety of levels for me. Hopefully 2022 will see it get a vinyl release.
Christmas has come and gone and in some ways that's all I can say about it- I'm glad we spent time both on our own and with family but I can't pretend it wasn't really hard at times. A friend who has a lot of experience in the grief caused by losing a child sent us a card that said 'the first everything fucks' and that definitely seems to be true.
Today's musical distraction is a thirty year rewind all the way back to Christmas Eve 1991 and Andrew Weatherall hosting a radio show at Kiss FM. Things start off in a manner you'd expect with the dance sounds of 1991- a three track mix of Future Sound Of London including the mighty Papua New Guinea, Inner City, The Orb, S- Express, 23 Skidoo, Bernie Worrell and Depth Charge. Then Bobby Gillespie turns up with a bag of records and The Faces, Pharaoh Sanders, The Impressions, Haysi Fantayzee, Dub Syndicate and Lee Perry all show up, things becoming more eclectic and wide- ranging. It finishes in most un- Kiss FM style with a visit to Patti Smith's Piss Factory. Stream at Mixcloud or download below.
We live close to the River Mersey. Isaac's wake, a week ago today (and how quickly that week has passed) was at Ashton- on- Mersey cricket club, down by the river. It was somewhere we walked with him quite often and when we were looking for a venue for his wake we needed somewhere which had a good outdoor space so anyone who wanted to be outside could be. I still don't feel fully comfortable being inside a pub and sit outside out of habit now. We walked down by the river yesterday, a good round trip past the cricket club, over the river, skirting the edge of Urmston and back under the M60. It was peculiar seeing the cricket club a week on. We don't get many sunsets in south Manchester but the picture above caught one of them, the sun dipping below the treeline behind the river. We're going to go back to see him today at the cemetery. We went twice in the days after the funeral, once to leave him a mini- Christmas tree. We said to each other last Friday we were going try to have a Christmas of some kind and that's what we're going to do.
I realised yesterday as well that I haven't done the annual self- indulgence that is the Bagging Area end of year list. I did start putting a list of favourite albums and songs together back in November so that'll give me something to do in a few days time.
Some festive songs to take us into Christmas. First up Cocteau Twins 1993 cover of Frosty The Snowman, originally released on the Volume CD. There's something about the Cocteau's sound, all that reverb and those chiming guitars which is very wintry. I'm not a big fan of Christmas songs but this one will do.
Back in 2011 when Johnny Marr and The Healers put out a freebie download, an instrumental with plenty of guitars, acoustic and electric. In a world where ex- Smiths have veered in divergent directions morally and politically, choose Marr.
I was listening to Life's Too Good by The Sugarcubes recently, an album I think I'll come back to on these pages soon. In 1988 Iceland's finest released Birthday on 12" with three remixes by The Jesus And Mary Chain (Christmas Eve, Christmas Day and Christmas Present). This one is the one for today.
And finally, something bang up to date and released yesterday by Pye Corner Audio for Christmas (if you fancy your Christmas a tad dystopic). Get Thee Behind Me Santa is all backwards sounds, drones and distorted synths. Find it at Bandcamp (free/ pay what you want). And well worth whatever you feel you should pay.
Music is a really useful distraction at the moment, a good displacement activity. Some of it genuinely helpful, a balm of some kind (or respite from tinnitus), and some of it just allows my mind to go elsewhere for a while. Later on of course it all suddenly crashes back in unexpectedly and you're crying while eating your tea.
Two long mixes to take you/ me elsewhere on 23rd December. First, last month's edition of God's waiting Room, David Holmes' monthly visit to NTS radio. David is a star. This month's two hour show takes in everything from the cinematic sounds of Pierre Barouh, psychedelic folk and off kilter 60s pop to Don Cherry, African Head Charge, Daniel Avery and Chris Carter, a wealth of sounds from around the globe and at the end Sault and Group Zero. You can listen here and the tracklist is here.
Meanwhile over at The Rotating Institute on Soho Radio Justin Robertson takes the controls for two hours of fun starting with Tangerine Dream and scooping up a chugging, shuffly, psychedelic and cosmische selection with tracks from the likes of Jezebel, Mugwump, Komodo, Pye Corner Audio, Jas Shaw, Tokyo Offshore Project and Curved Light before finishing with the latest release on Golden Lion Sounds, the label running out of The Golden Lion in Todmorden- the B-side of the forthcoming 7" is from The Summerisle Trio, a three-piece comprised of Sean Johnston, Duncan Grey and Sarah Rebecca and their cover of Willow's Song from The Wicker Man. 21st century psychedelic folk- it'll make perfect sense when you hear it. Listen to Justin's mix here.
Willow's Song in the film The Wicker Man was written by Paul Giovanni and played by Magnet (there's some dispute about who sang it). Willow (Britt Ekland) sings it to Sergeant Howie (Edward Woodward, the actor not the useless chief executive at Manchester United). Haunting, lilting, slightly trippy and somewhat entrancing.
Most years since I started this blog I've marked the anniversary of Joe Strummer's death and this year more than ever I think I'll do that. A few weeks ago I began thinking about a post about Sandinista! and how rather than being the outlier in The Clash's back catalogue it is actually the record that contains the absolute essence of The Clash and how it is an album that makes more and more sense as each year passes. That post never got written and I don't have the space to do it right now but we'll do Joe anyway.
In 1983 The Clash released Combat Rock and one of the songs was Sean Flynn, a seven minute lament (before it got cut down for the final record) for Sean Flynn, the photographer son of the actor Errol who went to Vietnam and was never seen again, murdered in 1971 either by Vietcong or Khmer Rouge. Topper plays south- east Asian drums and percussion, Gary Barnacle adds sax and Mick Jones creates texture and mood with guitar and echo box. Meanwhile Joe sings of the missing photographer, the son of a Hollywood legend, lost in the jungles of a war that consumed the USA for over a decade and that achieved nothing.
A few years later in 1990, his band split and gone and Joe struggling to find his place in the world he recorded a song for the film I Hired A Contract Killer. Burning Lights is in the film and came out on 7", backed on the B-side by The Pogues. On the A- side it's just Joe and that chugging guitar sound and some hard won wisdom/ poetry.
Joe came back in the late 90s after a decade in the wilderness, rebuilding his life and his music. Moving to Somerset seemed to fix him. He became a regular at Glastonbury, his campfire a home for like minded souls. His famous quote, 'without people you're nothing', came from a radio interview which you can find here.
While everything has been going on for us for the last three weeks the real world has been continuing to spin on its axis. The death of Michael Nesmith was a sad loss. If you grew up in the 1970s you couldn't escape The Monkees TV show (and why would you want to?). Mike was a talented songwriter and before he even appeared in The Monkees had written his classic song Different Drum, although he wouldn't record it as a solo artist until 1972. Linda Ronstadt and The Stone Poneys had a big hit with it in 1967 but I think the first version I heard was a cover by The Lemonheads in 1990. Evan Dando drawling 'You and I/ Travel to the beat of a different drum' over some crunchy early 90s indie- rock makes a good claim to be the definitive version of the song.
The Monkees 1968 film and soundtrack Head are legendary, a trippy, satirical attempt to throw off their pop image. As We Go Along is one of the soundtrack's highlights and although it's sung by Micky Dolenz rather than Mike Nesmith I thought it was worth posting here today regardless. There's a bit of an all star cast playing on this one- Neil Young, Carole King and Ry Cooder.
Also rgone is Robbie Shakespeare, a man whose basslines run through my record collection like the writing through a stick of rock. As half of the Sly and Robbie rhythm section he's appeared on more great records than most. Take Grace Jones in 1980 as as good an example as any.
The days are very strange at the moment. Wake up early, everything crashes back in a millisecond later. The anxious knot reappears in the stomach, the tightness in the chest. The realisation that emotional pain can be so physical, so bodily present. Lie in bed for ages because it seems better than facing the day. Then the morning disappears, you shake yourself into doing something and then suddenly it's going dark. Evening stretches out and it's bedtime. Repeat.
The funeral was attended by huge numbers of people, the wake too, and we gave him the send off he deserved. It was all consuming but now it's done- the planning, organisation and the detail and the tenseness of waiting for it- we're left the dealing with the absence of him. And Christmas less than a week away. I've only just really twigged that it's December. Time seemed to pause on the last day of November and now someone's unclicked the pause button and it's the 20th December.
My unplanned Elizabeth Fraser vocal trip took me down to the inevitable end of that road yesterday when I played Song To The Siren, a three minute and thirty second wave of sadness and loss.
This re- edited version by In The Valley is depending on your point of view either a crime or a beautifully Balearic, slightly dubby re- imagining of This Mortal Coil's cover of Tim Buckley's song. I'm going with the latter.
I'm a bit raw at the moment so I'm just going to stick to some music until I get my thoughts together. Thank you to everyone who sent messages ahead of the funeral on Friday, to those of you who wrote posts and to JC (The Vinyl Villain) who came from Glasgow to South Manchester, in his words, to represent the blogging community.
This Norman Cook remix of Trouble Understanding is a very nicely understated thing indeed, from a man who isn't necessarily always known for restraint or understatement. There's a Massive Attack Teardrop sample in there too. A gorgeous five minutes of sun coming up Balearic/ indie- gospel.
I found some refuge in Ian McCulloch's album Candleland yesterday. I'm not sure why. It just suggested itself to me. When Ian recorded and released it in 1989 he was coming at it from going through the twin losses of his father and Bunnymen drummer Pete de Freitas. I've been listening to Treasure by The Cocteau Twins the day before so maybe the Elizabeth Fraser connection prompted me to dig it out (she sings on the title track). Ian McCulloch solo albums may not carry a huge amount of significance or currency at the tail end of 2021 but this song carried me through for a few minutes yesterday.
This version from a session for John Peel is a less smoothed out, rawer take on the song with Ian singing on his own and lots of natural echo on the guitars and voice. The session went out at the end of September 1989 and was recorded with Ian's new live band, The Prodigal Sons (who included Edgar Summertyme on bass and the legendary Mike Mooney on guitar).
Brother Joseph's Sonic Treasures went out two weekends ago, a six hour radio show on Radio Magnetic and dedicated to Isaac. I wrote yesterday about the tribute to Isaac in the first half hour recorded by Brother Joseph. That opening section of the show includes two of my favourite songs, Otis by The Durutti Column and the Beatless Mix of Smokebelch by The Sabres Of Paradise, and hearing them in the show and in the immediate aftermath of everything we are going through was deeply moving.
Joseph uploaded the show (in seven sections) to Soundcloud yesterday. You can listen to it here.
After the tribute to Isaac there is some mighty dub from Stephen Haldane, some ambience, psychedelia and cosmic splendour from Joseph, lots of those dreamy pedal steel guitars and analogue synth sounds, more from Stephen and then Chris Mackin's guest mix which starts with his special reworked version of 86'd for Isaac and then Chris' song selection, a beautiful mix of ambient and western taking in Gene Clark, Dennis Wilson, Link Wray and Chris Bell among others. Here's Chris' handwritten tracklist.
Chris signed off with a quote from Nick Cave, no stranger to grief and loss. Nick's son Arthur died in 2015. Nick wrote a lengthy piece on his blog about grief (I glanced at it a few days ago but haven't read it in full yet, it seems too soon. I will though). He finished with this and Chris put it in his message for his mix- 'In time there is a way, not out of grief, but deep within it'.
Sitting here now, typing this, that seems hopeful. While writing this post last night I found an interview with Nick Cave from 2017 and in it there was something that resonated very strongly with me-
''A lot is said about grief, especially the conventional wisdom that you do it alone. I personally have found that not to be the case. The goodwill we received after Arthur’s death from people who I did not know, especially through social media, people who liked my music and kind of reached out, was extraordinary...'' I've definitely found this to be true.
It's Isaac's funeral on Friday. Planning and organising your child's funeral isn't something you really ever think you'll have to do but with Isaac I guess it was always somewhere at the back of our minds. The reality is much more than you can ever imagine.
Some things happened yesterday which show the impact Isaac has had on people and the never failing to amaze me kindness of people. I hope some day we can pay it all back some way. At the weekend Nina Walsh contacted me to say she wanted to do something to raise money for the MPS Society, the charity that support children and adults with the group of rare genetic diseases that included the one, Hurler's Disease, that Isaac was born with. Nina wanted to auction off her and Andrew Weatherall's 39p museum, a treasure trove of sweets, crisps and pop that used to line the shelves at the Facility where so much of the Woodleigh Research Facility recordings were made. As an additional treat she said she'd throw in the original reference master CD of Andrew's Convenanza album and all these items would be bundled together in a brand new Facility 5 tote bag. To say this left me floored is an understatement. The auction is taking place at The Flightpath Estate Facebook page. There's a JustGiving page here for anyone who'd like to donate to the MPS Society. Here's a pair of pictures of part of the 39p museum and Mr Weatherall himself posing with a 39p can of bubblegum flavoured fizzy pop.
Nina wrote this-
IN MEMORY OF ISAAC TURNER
My thoughts have been very much with Adam and Isaac Turner this last week.
Baggingarea has always been the one stop shop that Andrew and I would visit when we needed to remember something about ourselves!
Sadly Adam's son, Isaac, who brought so much joy to so many via his pictorial everyday doings posted on social media, passed away last week and many a heart has been broken.
Isaac lived with a condition called Mucopolysaccharide disease (MPS), a condition I knew nothing about until getting to know Isaac, albeit through pixels alone. He was a brave young man with a terrific smile and we will all miss him dearly. My deepest condolences to Adam and the Turner family.
As a way to raise some funds for the MPS Society I have decided to auction Andrew's beloved 39p Museum that was curated over the duration of our partnership from Facilities 1 to 4. I will also include the original reference CD master of Convenanza, mastered by Noel Summerville at 3345 Mastering, bundled together in a brand spanking new Facility 5 tote bag (awaiting delivery!). 100% of proceeds will go to the MPS Society, payable via the JustGiving fundraiser page set up by the marvelous Martin Brannagan of the legendary Flightpath Estate Facebook page. There is also the option to just donate if you are feeling generous
The auction will end at midnight Christmas Eve.
Bids in the comments below this post.
Do I hear £10?
Yes, there are a couple of parts of that which have me blushing through my tears. And to have Isaac, the Woodleigh Research Facility and Andrew brought together in such a way just leaves me speechless.
As if that wasn't enough, there's this too. Last weekend Brother Joseph's Sonic Treasures radio show went out on Radio Magnetic, a Glasgow based internet radio station that I've supported in the past with guests like Sonic Boom, Andy Bell, Justin Robertson and David Holmes. I'll be able to share the full show soon, a six hour musical treat dedicated to Isaac and with an opening half hour that was a mix done especially for Isaac by Brother Joseph. The show's guest was Brother Chris Mackin, otherwise known as Chris Rotter. Chris was the guitarist in the live garage band incarnation of Two Lone Swordsmen and releases music on his own as Bad Meat Club. Back when Andrew Weatherall did a radio show for 6 Music he played a then unreleased Bad Meat Club tune called 86'd, a glistening skyscraper of a song, all soaring guitars and motorik rhythms. Chris messaged me to ask if it was OK to go ahead with the radio show. I replied to say it was and asked him to play 86'd for Isaac. Chris then took my breath away with a twenty three minute reworked version of 86'd, one minute for each of Isaac's years. Chris has now shared 86'd (For Isaac) at Bandcamp, asking only for a donation to the MPS Society as payment.
I can't fully put into words how this leaves me feeling. Thank you Nina and Chris.
This is very lovely, a new one from Mat Ducasse and available at a name your own price deal at Bandcamp. Synths and twinkly melodies, some xylophone and a bit of Vangelis in there in inspiration I think. Two versions, Love Theme and Love Theme (Remix). Back in March Mat released a gorgeous cosmic lullaby with guitars from Kenji Suzuki and the ever wonderful Chris Mackin (who went above and beyond last weekend for me). Bunny's Lullaby was written for Chris' friends Charles and Lisa when they lost their baby, and, well, that's pretty close to me at the moment. All proceeds from Bunny's Lullaby are going to Great Ormond Street Hospital. When I posted Bunny's Lullaby earlier this year The Swede described it as 'moving and profound' and I can't do any better than that.
I clicked play on the new Saint Etienne single the other day and it hit me in the chest. There's a general anxious knot in my stomach much of the time at the moment and I'm just accepting it as a part of grief, trying not to fixate on it or worry too much about when it will go.
Her Winter Coat is following hot on the heels of Saint Etienne's autumnal album I've Been Trying To Tell You, and is tinged with the sadness that permeated the album. Pete, Bob and Sarah are saying Her Winter Coat is a Christmas single but it just sounds like a song to me, no novelty or Christmas artifice about it at all.
A few months ago I noticed that some mornings I'd have a bit of tinnitus going on when I woke up, a ringing in my right ear especially. As soon as I was up and out of bed it would go and generally I live in environments where there is noise so it wasn't too much of an issue. I'm putting it down to a Bob Mould gig in 2019 that definitely had some long term impact on my right ear- he was loud that night, really loud.
This week it's been worse. There have been periods where the house has been very quiet without Isaac in it and I've shied away from playing music because I couldn't work out what to play and what effect it might have. Last Saturday afternoon (the longest Saturday afternoon I think I've ever experienced) I was distracting myself by scrolling through endless crap on my phone and I made the conscious decision to play some records to distract from the tinnitus. I started with a pair of Durutti Column albums (Short Stories For Pauline and then Another Setting). Both hit the spot, Vini's delicate, warm guitar, his echo and delay FX and pedals buoying me somewhat. Then I moved onto some of the ambient Americana albums I was playing earlier this year- Promise by SUSS, Cerulean by Nashville Ambient Ensemble and Altar Of Harmony by Luke Schneider. This took me well into the evening. There was definitely something about the sound of those records- the pedal steel guitar, the ebbing and flowing of warm drones and synths, cosmic ambient Americana - that really helped, not just with the tinnitus but with the feelings of grief too. Mournful but with the promise of hope too.
In October SUSS released an EP called Night Suite, inspired by being on the road. The tracks are all named after places on Route 66 between Albuquerque and Los Angeles and 'the endless horizon'. Tragically the day after they completed the recordings Gary Leib, the group's synth player and film maker, passed away and a new sense of loss of was sunk into the tracks. The EP is at Bandcamp and the eighteen minutes of all five sequenced together with road footage is here.
Sifter's Records on Fog Lane in Burnage is a second hand record shop immortalised in the Oasis single Shakermaker ('Mr Sifter sold me songs/ When I was just sixteen/ Now he stops at traffic lights/ But only when they're green'). It is about half a mile from where I grew up in Withington and a regular haunt for me until recent years. Sometime back when Isaac and Eliza were both pretty young, around 2008, I hit upon the brilliant plan that if I took them into Sifter's and gave them a fiver each, they could choose a record each while I browsed the racks. The plan only had two flaws: 1) it was high risk. I could easily end up walking out with a copy of Tango In The Night and a 12" of Whitney's I Wanna Dance With Somebody and 2) my attempt to get them crate digging didn't occupy them for very long at all, they both committed to records quickly and then got bored and wanted to leave.
On the other hand, they both randomly came up with the goods. Eliza, round about five years old, chose a copy of Into The Groove on 12", Madonna's 1985 Desperately Seeking Susan smash hit. Nothing wrong with a bit of Madge, classic 80s dance pop (and covered by Ciccone Youth but that's for another day). I suspect the mid- 80s Madonna and Rosanna Arquette on the sleeve, all hair and bangles, may have influenced her choice.
The Vinyl Villain recently wrote about this 12" as part of his weekly ramble through The Fall's singles and you can find his post and the singles B- sides here. What drew Isaac to it I don't know- the sleeve isn't exactly child friendly but it's another piece of 80s dance music, The Fall approaching accessibility with Brix in the group and a cover of one of my wife Lou's favourite Northern Soul hits (R. Dean Taylor's original came out on Motown in 1967). As for the song's title taking on new meaning now, well, I don't know about ghosts but Isaac's presence is all over our house from his coat and bobble hat still hanging up in the hall as you come in through the front door to the hundreds of cards we've received since he died last Tuesday. Thanks again to all of you who have left comments here or elsewhere. It means a lot.
As well as a 7" of North Country Boy by The Charlatans my friend Neil bought Isaac a copy of Train In Vain by The Clash (Dutch import release if you're interested). Mick's 1979 love song, famously attached to the end of London Calling after the sleeve's had gone to print, has become a Clash classic even if at the time some people thought it was a bit corny. These songs outlive their birth though and the subject of song, Viv Albertine, has since said it's one of her favourite Clash songs. When their relationship was on the rocks Mick would get the train over from his flat to Viv's and she'd refuse to let him in. Hence, he was getting the train in vain.
Isaac loved trains and trams. He was quite happy to get the Metrolink or the train for the sole purpose of getting on and enjoying the ride, so the song is appropriate for that reason. The song rides in on Topper's chugging drums and when Lou was pregnant and people asked us if we'd thought of any names, I'd often say (only half jokingly) that he or she was going to be called Topper. I used to have a t-shirt with the cover of the first album on it, the photo Joe, Mick and Paul standing on the steps by Camden Roundhouse, and after a while I taught him to point to the members of the band and say 'Mick, Joe, Paul'.
The first time Isaac ever responded to a song I was playing was in the car on holiday in the north east of England, somewhere in Northumberland in the early/ mid 2000s. Iggy Pop's The Passenger was playing on my compilation tape and after one of the 'na na na na na na na naa' sections Isaac copied Iggy, na na-ing along.
He never sung it again mind, a one off joining in.
We're having to deal with the admin and practicalities of Isaac's death. A man called yesterday to collect Isaac's wheelchair. Isaac was in no way wheelchair bound but he had started to use it more in recent years especially for longer distances. One of the defining features of lockdown and our lives since March 2020 has been taking him for walks in the local area. We were shielding him so were avoiding indoor events and places but have walked all over the locality during the last two years- the streets round here, down by the Mersey and the canal, in Altrincham, Monton, Salford Quays, Stretford and the outskirts of Manchester city centre. All sounds a bit It's Grim Up North that doesn't it? Isaac loved these walks, sometimes with him walking and sometimes him being pushed in his wheelchair, stopping off at places with decent outdoor seating and heaters for a cup of tea and a cake or a pint. Sending his wheelchair back was another little wrench of the heart, another piece of him gone.
Following yesterday's post, the other song that I always associate with the days and weeks around Isaac's return home from hospital after being born is this Belle And Sebastian song, released on 12" on 7th December 1998.
Seven minutes long and starting out with incredibly quiet acoustic guitar it builds very slowly, hushed and sparse, while Stuart Murdoch sings of Emma and Laura, Dostoevsky and Mark Twain, the band itself ('We're four boys in corduroys/ We're not terrific but we're competent) before gliding to a halt after the lines, 'This is just a modern rock song/ This is just a tender affair/ I count ''three, four'' and then we start to slow/ Because a song has got to stop somewhere'. I have very clear memories of playing the song with the volume down low while Isaac slept in his basket in the front room.
What we didn't know at the time and would only find out a few weeks later was that he wouldn't have heard the song anyway. He was born with some significant hearing loss and got hearing aids at three months old- the song has always had a sense of all that tied in with it too for me.
I think I want to try to keep the blog going although how that might work in reality I don't know. It's useful to have a distraction and something to focus on and writing some of this stuff down helps me.
There's all sorts of things to organise now. Part of last week was taken up with the bureaucracy that takes place following a death which you don't consider until it happens- the registrar, death certificate, funeral director, informing various government agencies (Isaac was on Universal Credit and received Disability Living Allowance. Lou received Carers Allowance. These need to be stopped. Who wants to be overpaid and then involved in having to deal with government departments about that kind of thing?). So maybe coming on here and writing about other things, but likely still to be about Isaac, will help.
Isaac's deafness meant he wasn't much bothered about music but there are songs indelibly linked to him for me. Two weeks ago I posted on his birthday and wrote about North Country Boy by The Charlatans, a song I haven't dared listen to yet. Last week Martin posted Do You Realise?? by The Flaming Lips, a song I love and even just hearing it in my head makes me well up.
There are two songs closely linked to the first few days he had at home when he was born in November 1998. He spent the first two weeks of his life in hospital, rushed to Special Care immediately after birth and touch and go for a week. We finally got home at some point in December. Grandaddy's A.M. 180 had been one of the songs on a free CD that came with a music magazine I'd bought while he was in hospital. I hadn't played the CD and this was one of two songs that soundtracked those first few days at home with him
Funny though how music and songs can shift- back in 1998 it was the keyboard refrain, the guitars and the nursery rhyme quality this song had that made it resonate with Isaac. Now that's he gone, the lyrics seem to take on a new significance.
'We'll sit for days And talk about things Important to us like whatever We'll defuse bombs Walk marathons And take on whatever together'
When I started writing this in 2010 it was as a music blog. It still is. But music means nothing if it doesn't connect with you and your life. Music provokes a response, it is an emotional artform. It soundtracks your life, your events, the people you are with. It's a solitary experience and a communal one. When I started writing the blog the music I loved and parts of my life came together and while most of the posts are just about the music, my life has bled into it from time to time. I have written about my son Isaac many times. I did so on his 23rd birthday just last week. As most of you know Isaac died on Tuesday. I'm sorry if some of this comes out a bit raw but I need to get it out. I'm just going to start typing and see what happens. Please don't feel obliged to read this.
The day after his birthday Isaac was a bit unwell and Lou, his mum and my wife, managed to do a Covid test on him (not an easy task, he could be uncooperative with that sort of thing). The test came up positive straight away. I was at work and came home early and we sorted a few medical things out, emails, phone calls to his medical team, that sort of thing. Isaac was born with a very rare genetic disease, MPS1 (Hurler's Disease). During 2000 he had two bone marrow transplants to treat the range of physical and learning disabilities that MPS1 presents. We knew then that bone marrow transplantation was not a cure, it was a treatment- it would not reverse or fix damage already done. BMT recipients need to have extensive rounds of chemotherapy to wipe out the body's immune system so that their body can accept the donor marrow. The first transplant, umbilical cord blood from Belgium, failed. The second, with me as a donor, worked but a side effect was that Isaac's immune system never regrew as it should. He had little immune system for the rest of his life and so had little protection from viruses and if he contracted an illness, he would find it more difficult to fight it. Covid was a major risk and we knew if he caught it, it would be serious and potentially fatal. We have shielded him since March 2020 but in the end it got him.
For the back end of last week he was suffering from a cough, a temperature, loss of appetite, a bit out of sorts and grumpy with it. We put him straight onto emergency antibiotics which we'd been prescribed in case this happened. During Saturday he was worse and on Saturday evening we decided he needed to go to hospital. We phoned 111 and having listened to his medical history they sent an ambulance. I followed in the car to Wythenshawe hospital. We spent the night in A&E and at 5.30am were admitted onto a Covid ward, on a side room. His symptoms continued to get worse but he was now receiving further medicines and he was on a fluid drip. Sunday night was bad- he was often awake, getting agitated and not happy with the oxygen mask. He tried to get out of bed several times. Various medics came in to look at him and went out again. He was becoming more and more ill. We got his sister Eliza back from university in Liverpool.
On Monday we met some consultants from ICU. They asked to speak to us elsewhere, away from Isaac, which is never a good sign. We went into one of those small windowless room that they have set aside for these kind of conversations, the really shit conversations where families are given the news they never want to hear. They told us that it was very serious and that it would not turn out well. The virus was in his lungs. The medicines they have developed for treating Covid patients wouldn't be effective on Isaac due to his weak immune response. It's a really cruel and nasty virus. He would continue to get worse and he would die within days.
Once the Covid got into his lungs, and with his weak immune system that was inevitable, it destroyed him and the speed at which it took him was horrifying.. Monday night was worse than Sunday night. Between midnight and about 3am he was unable to sleep and really struggling with breathing. At one point he told me he wanted his shoes and he wanted to go home. These were the last things he said. He was agitated and distressed and a consultant prescribed morphine to settle him. His breathing was fast and shallow. Eventually, and it took a while, he settled and stopped fighting the sedatives, stopped trying to pull the oxygen mask off and became calmer. Another consultant came to talk to us on Tuesday morning. I asked how it would pan out and what time scale we were now looking at. He said he'd seen a lot of people die from Covid and he told us what would happen. During Tuesday Isaac's breathing remained fast but he was asleep and calm. We sat with him, talking to him and holding his hands. Eventually his breathing began to slow down and then at about 1.45pm- I'm really struggling to type this now but I need to do it- he stopped breathing and he slipped away. The three of us were with him and he died with us holding him.
I cannot fault the care we received from umpteen people at Wythenshawe hospital, from auxiliary staff making us endless cups of tea and changing his sheets to the nurses and the doctors looking after him. These people have been working on a Covid ward since March 2020. I can't imagine how draining it is doing that every day. A nurse came in and then a doctor came to formally confirm he'd died. We went back into the horrible family room while they cleaned him up. Lou and I went back in to see him a little later and to say goodbye. We then waited while some porters could be called to the ward to take him to the mortuary. They asked if we wanted to walk with him to take him down. I said I did. I walked down through the hospital with the trolley as far as I was allowed to go. I said goodbye and walked back to the car park. Then we came home.
We are heartbroken. I don't know where we go from here. The sheer number of people who have contacted us since Tuesday is overwhelming and testament to who he was. There are lots of you who I know through this blog who have been in touch. Some of you have paid your own tributes at your blogs. Some of you have emailed and messaged and left comments on a previous post. Every single one of those messages and posts has helped. Thank you.
Isaac faced more challenges and difficulties than most people do. He loved life and it showed in everything he did. He loved people and places, he loved everyday events, he loved talking to people about them and their lives. He packed more into his twenty three years than many of us will do in three times that and although by normal standards he has died very young he has lived a full and meaningful life. He inspired other people. He has made us better people by knowing him. He was our boy. He was the centre of our lives and at the moment I cannot imagine the world without him.