Seal my Fate30 Jul, 2020

It’s funny when you think of events that have altered the course of your life.  These moments live as indelible, ever-present entities in your mind — recalling them at any minute, it’s as though you were still there; even after the venue you were standing in or the person you were dancing with are long gone. I don’t know if it’s the reality of being stuck indoors for months at a time, or missing the experience of a live show, but I began to think about shows that have deeply touched and changed me over the years.

As a young teenager, I went to see one of my favourites bands, Belly, live at the (now extinct) Astoria on Tottenham Court Road.  I can’t say I remember much in the run-up to the show, except that it was a scorching hot July and I didn’t know anyone from school who would go with me in the summer holidays. 

Earlier that year, I’d come across Belly’s second album ‘King’ at Tower Records on the corner of Piccadilly Circus.  The striking album cover, designed by 4AD’s Chris Bigg, had caught my eye in the shop.  This, coupled with the fact that I was a fan of a lot of 4AD’s output at the time (thanks to a friend’s older, cooler sister) piqued my curiosity and made me pick up a copy.  (Hard to imagine now, but in pre-streaming days, it felt like a fluke picking up something this great on the basis of an album cover alone… Lucky me — it it was love at first listen!)

After that, the deal was sealed.  I’d found something very special, still semi-secret and unbeknown to my young school friends, which, of course, made me doubly delight in my new musical discovery. I spent hours on end listening to ‘Red’ and ‘The Bees’, trying to figure out the chords on guitar, while my father shook his head in dismay at my horrendous imitations of Tanya Donelly’s voice.  

To this day, I probably couldn’t tell you what many of Belly’s songs were about, only the strong feelings and stories they evoked in meListening to ‘King’, the songs unfolded like surreal vignettes: the “lady who walks everywhere on her hands” “send a rocket to Red, he’d go cuckoo!”  The songs were melodic and catchy, but deep with imagery and unnerving undertones at times, which I loved, of course.

A week before their show at the Astoria, Belly were in session with Mark Radcliffe on the radio.  I shut myself away in my bedroom with headphones on to tape the session.  Tanya’s spoken voice sounded gorgeous on the radio and the band was actually funny in their banter. I remember they played a brilliant acoustic cover of ‘Thief’ (which I also had never heard before) featuring wonderful harmonies between Tanya & Gail.

So, off I went to the Astoria; I was very much underage, but thankfully tall, and had had to come up with some excuse to my parents to make it.  Eager fans were already lining the side of the venue, many sitting on the pavement, smoking in the blistering heat.  I must have stood there for at least three hours before Belly took the stage and could barely contain my excitement.  The (then) newly-signed Irish-band Scheer opened with a great set, and then it was time…

All I remember was the smoke parting (literally, people still smoked indoors) and Tanya Donelly appearing before me like some beautiful goddess about a meter away.  It was everything I hoped it would be and more.  Gail Greenwood was fierce and looked like she was flying across the stage with her bass, while the Gorman bros provided awesome affected guitars and pounding drums respectively.  I felt my heart could explode from the energy in the room.  (And, while such categorisations can be tiresome at times for a musician who happens to be female, it did mean a lot to me to see two women in a band, playing music I loved this much, kicking so much ass together!)

By the last song, I started to feel really queasy and light-headed.  Is this what a person feels like before passing out?  I’d never fainted before but I knew I was on the verge if I didn’t make my way out of the mosh pit fast.  I gestured to a bouncer towering by the front of the stage and he pulled me out of the pit.  I struggled to make my way to the bar and grabbed a discarded cup of water and chugged it down (not ideal, but I was desperate!)

For their final track, Belly played ‘Feed the Tree’ from Star.  From afar, I watched the crowd of people reeling in rapturous cheers, bopping up and down in a gleeful, unified mass.  I made a note-to-self to dig out this new (in fact, older) song.   After that I made my way home alone — that show was the highlight of my entire year. 

I wrote a letter to my friend post-gig recounting the experience (this being pre-internet, though, I have no copy of the letter, only a vague remembrance of the time and excruciating care that went into composing it…)

That was the first show I ever saw that totally blew my mind.  The room was on fire and the band was pure, transcendent rock n’roll.  Seeing Belly inspire as much emotion, togetherness and magic made me feel such gatherings were one of the precious things life had to offer.  Anything felt possible after watching Belly play. I left the Astoria transformed.  The show changed my life. 

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Going In18 Jan, 2020

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Some Favourites15 Dec, 2019

Hejira – Thread of Gold
Rustin Man – Drift Code
Little Simz – GREY Area
Kate Tempest – Book of Lessons & Traps
Michael Kiwanuka – Kiwanuka
Damien Jurado – In the Shape of A Storm
Sault – 7
Lankum – The Livelong Day
Vanishing Twin – The Age of Immunology
Michael Nau – Less Ready to Go

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Lhasa in Reykjavik19 Sep, 2019

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Telemachus29 Aug, 2019

Like any good son, I pull my father out
of the water, drag him by his hair

through white sand, his knuckles carving a trail
the waves rush in to erase. Because the city

beyond the shore is no longer
where we left it. Because the bombed

cathedral is now a cathedral
of trees. I kneel beside him to show how far

I might sink. Do you know who I am,
Ba? But the answer never comes. The answer

is the bullet hole in his back, brimming
with seawater. He is so still I think

he could be anyone’s father, found
the way a green bottle might appear

at a boy’s feet containing a year
he has never touched. I touch

his ears. No use. I turn him
over. To face it. The cathedral

in his sea-black eyes. The face
not mine – but one I will wear

to kiss all my lovers good-night:
the way I seal my father’s lips

with my own & begin
the faithful work of drowning.

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Data12 Aug, 2019

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