Walking through Morrab Gardens there’s an old people’s visitor centre that sits off the pathway almost immediately on the right-hand side as you enter. If you continue down through the gardens, the path winds its way through the exotic plants and trees towards the exit gates that lead you to the sea. If you are patient and observant you can see all kinds of wonderful wildlife, mainly different bird species as well as grey squirrels, antelopes and elephants, oh sorry that’s just my imagination running riot but there are gnats. The roof of the centre is low enough to see the seagulls that nest there and occupy the roof throughout the day. But today it was different, there was a stillness and a silence. On the roof, one great black-backed gull, a European herring gull and a large fluffy chick, plus another gull in a later growth stage, no longer fluffy but with different plumage to the bigger gulls (in my generation saying the word plumage without thinking about Monty Python is nigh on impossible). But there was an eerie silence across the roof, both the adult gulls were still, the younger ones also motionless. It was then that you realised that at the front near the gutter was a motionless ball of feathers that was a young dead chick and the other birds knew.
At the sea, the construction on the promenade continues to make what should be a beautiful walk a tour of a building site, made worse by all the delays caused by the pandemic. When it’s finally finished the bright blue skies will be gone and the new prom will be a river of rain. Next year we probably won’t be back to enjoy it as Brexit will limit our time here but hopefully, we will be able to travel and find adventure and the sun on another promenade. We sat on a bench looking out at the sea on the pathway that leads to Newlyn. Andy AAE called me and we laughed at the world and then cried about it. When Olivia and I left to make our way back to the studio, we went past the skateboard park where I’ve never seen a mask. You’d think the kids would love wearing masks, the fantasy of it, but perhaps growing up in the sixties and seventies has made me imagine the heroes and villains of Westerns, cowboys with their faces covered, as mysterious. I suppose Westerns are out, my Dad loved them, tough guys, I don’t miss them.
When we leave the sea to head up into the town, we try to take any one of many different routes. Through alleyways, up through Penlee Park, taking different roads that head up from the coast road. Today we wound our way up but returned via Morrab Gardens. We don’t do that all the time. Olivia was distracted by a cat next to a small pond but it just sat and looked at her and wouldn’t come to be petted. We found ourselves outside the old people’s centre again and were drawn to a noise on the roof. Next to the limp and lifeless body of the seagull chick was a magpie. It was inches away from the body and it was shrieking uncontrollably. It was as if it was crying for the death of a comrade, the other birds from the same species were quiet, possibly at a different stage of their mourning.
I now have a mask in preparation of the new rule. It’s in my pocket always and will be around my nose and mouth in shops from the 24th of July but not in pubs because in pubs the virus doesn’t spread. In pubs, the virus likes to sit down in a quiet corner and not be disturbed or interrupted by annoying humans who recognise the virus sitting there and have questions. Even the virus needs leisure time. The virus needs time to plot, work out strategies to confuse the politicians and the public. Although people say they have heard the virus murmuring to itself and heard it say things like, “I really don’t need to work too hard. The humans do that for me”. Two strains of the virus were heard discussing the humans over a drink in a bar in Florida. One said to the other, “Why do the humans associate stopping a pandemic with a threat to their freedom? Surely a bigger threat to their freedom is their imminent demise of them and their loved ones”. One of the viruses then coughed into the bartender’s face who lived with his 86-year-old mother. “It’s too easy, I’m getting bored,” said the virus, “I might just go back to the bats”.
Music today has been inspired by birds and Antony and the Johnsons’ I Am A Bird Now (2005). It’s 35 minutes of exquisite beauty from that mystifying singer Antony Hegarty now ANOHNI. Soaring, multi-tracked vocal accompany and piano back a plaintive voice on Hope There’s Someone. A poetic and complex character with songs that are easy on the ear and lyrics that cut to a personal truth. Drums and bass come and go, strings fill the sound but the piano is always there (My Lady Story). More anxious songs For Today I Am The Boy follow and then Man Is The Baby with seventies strings, as beautiful as Nick Drake. Perhaps the autobiographical songs of Hegarty aren’t everyone’s lyrical cup of tea but I’ve come to the conclusion that real emotions in any form are always more inspiring than run of the mill cliches. Still, if you mean it..! You And Your Sister is a duet with Boy George and the following track What Can I Do features Rufus Wainwright on lead vocals and then three in a row, Fistful Of Love features Lou Reed and here we hear guitar and horns adding another flavour. Mellow and inspired by their friends, George, Rufus and the late Lou this is an inspiring album. Devendra Banhart plays guitar on You And Your Sister and sings on Spiralling. There’s certainly an interesting selection of exotic voices on this album (Joan Wasser, Joan As Police Woman, also appears on viola). The second last song Free At Last with Julia Yasuda on sing-speak and the album finishes with Bird Gerhl. The album won the Mercury Music Prize in 2005.
In the end and despite the other talented singers that appear here, it’s all about one singer’s voice and the mood that is created with that special vibrato, the thoughtful lyrics and that cover art, titled ‘Candy Darling On Her Deathbed’ taken by Peter Hujar in 1973. She was one of Warhol’s transgender superstars who died of cancer at the age of 29 and was the inspiration for Lou Reed’s song Walk On The Wild Side. ANOHNI born Antony Hegarty is actually from Chichester in England and moved to America at age 10, one wonders at the different life that may have been if the family had stayed in England.
This album led me to Seasons Of My Soul (2010) by Rumer, the lovely sixties English/Pakistani singer who has something of Karen Carpenter about her. It’s soft and melodic and Bacharach light. I saw her live once in Stockholm and after the show, she was a little dismissive with the fans as she autographed CDs. To each their own I suppose and I try not to hold it against her as I mellow out to her mellow music. Although this is her first album of sixties sunshine, light-hearted middle of the road melancholy, it’s so disarming and relaxing that you can’t help but allow yourself to drift into her universe. With two albums since this one, Boys Don’t Cry (2012) and Into Colour (2014), followed by This Girl’s In Love: A Bacharach and David Songbook (2016), her fifth album Nashville Tears – The Songs Of Hugh Prestwood will be released in August here in the UK by Cooking Vinyl.
Phoebe Bridgers seems to be getting some attention with her new album Punisher but don’t start there, start with her first album Stranger In The Alps (2017) and then go to boygenius (2018) her collaboration EP with Lucy Dacus and Julien Baker and then go to Better Oblivion Community Center (2019), her collaboration with Conor Oberst – and then go to Punisher (2020). I don’t know if you can take this all in, but you might fall in love with her just from the lovely first track Smoke Signals. I’ve been playing a lot of older records (sixties, seventies) on vinyl in recent months but the archive is packed with newer records, not just brand-new vinyl and CDs from the likes of Bridgers but all those CDs that came out since the eighties right through to now. Tonight the more recent CDs are out (2005-2020).
Bridgers reminds me of Paul Simon in his heyday as a writer. There’s something in the melodies and the lyrics, both these things. Funeral has that feeling and lovely production with intimate vocals that softly penetrate. But it’s how she records herself how she hears her sound and how she captures it working closely with producer Tony Berg to wonderful effect. Beautiful, mesmerising, irresistible.
Lucinda Williams has a new album out, Good Souls Better Angels (2020). I’m a fan. I have all her albums, I’ve seen her live a few times. She lives in some twilight world between Country and R’n’R and when she sings she sounds like she’s just drunk a gang of hustlers under the table. No one can slur like her, no one can sing like her, no one writes words like her, she is totally unique in a world where only the authentic shine through and she is certainly that. You can pretty much pick any of her dozen albums and hit gold. Only she could write Bad News Blues, the second song on the album and make it work so well, direct truth-telling, contemporary, observational, poetic, down to earth, natural, original, perfect commentary of America, the zeitgeist. She sings, “All the news you can read, all the news that’s fit to print” – If you were reading my short Phil Ochs piece the other day, well here it is again, wonderfully resurrected. Her voice – her voice even without the soul-wrenching lyrics, is amazing. It carries every word across the room and into your heart, your brain, sits in your soul and you just take it as the truth because it is. Passionate, trembling, prescient, invigorating, inspiring. Always great guitars (Stuart Mathis I presume on this album). Man Without A Soul is dedicated to the sad orange jester with the world in his clumsy hand.
Records like this is why I simply can’t live in the world of one genre, whether it be Progressive or Indie, Psychedelic or Singer-Songwriter, Reggae or Metal, Soul or Classical. This is the kind of record that destroys taste and takes you into a room and teaches you about the validity of variation and the depth of amazing things, all for you to discover, you just have to be able.
Song Of The Day is Motion Sickness by Phoebe Bridgers from her album Stranger In The Alps (2017):
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