Paul Jackson Music

Paul Jackson Music

Monday, 6 January 2014

#16: New Year Catch Up - Al and Morrissey

So, where was I?....Oh yes, I was saying that instead of making it a weekly blog I would make it fortnightly. That was back in August. I went from being on a roll to being well and truly off it. So we'll try again....
Since the last blog post there have been a couple of significant musical moments on my calendar. In fact they occured in the same week in October 2013.

Al Stewart gig

In October I went to see Al Stewart perform the Year Of The Cat album in full with a band at the Royal Albert Hall. An event I banged on about in my Al Stewart blog.

Well the gig was even better than I anticipated. I had got the impression that the first half would be Al and Dave Nachmanoff doing an acoustic selection of songs and then the band would assemble for the second half. However within three songs, the line up went from a duo to a trio as Peter White joined them on stage playing keyboards. Then as the set progressed other musicians were introduced including Tim Renwick on electric guitar, making the first half of the show coming pretty close to a band performance. The first set included House Of Clocks, In Brooklyn, Gina In The King's Road, Time Passages, Soho (Needless To Say), Night Train To Munich before closing with two tracks from my favourite Al album, Modern Times, The Dark And The Rolling Sea and Carol.

The second half featured a full band for an amazing performance of the full Year Of The Cat album. This included a slightly different arrangement of One Stage Before which had a slightly heavier sound than the album version with plenty of cross-rhythm action going on.

One Stage Before (Royal Albert Hall, October 2013)

After closing the set with the title track, Year Of The Cat, the band encored with another of my favourites Roads To Moscow. I left the Hall on quite a high after such a knockout show. After many years of seeing Al perform only acoustically and usually solo (which have always been fantastic gigs), it was rather special to hear his songs performed with a full line-up. Something I hope may inspire future band get-togethers for other shows.

Morrissey book

Another significant musical moment was the release of Morrissey's autobiography. This had been anticipated for quite a while with mentions of his memoirs popping up over the last few years.

I had been looking forward to reading it yet news of its release remained vague. After reports of Morrissey being taken ill at the start of 2013, I accepted the book release wouldn't be any time soon. The next news I heard was in September when it was suddenly announced that it would be released very soon.  By the end of October I had acquired and read it. Quite an unexpected whirlwind moment. 
And it is such a great read too. It's a hefty 457 pages with no introduction, foreword or preface and no sign of any chapters with very minimal use of paragraph breaks. You get a constant narrative stream that is very poetic in many places. As well as describing his own upbringing in Manchester, it depicts various scenes and landscapes with masterful use of language. The ghostly description of Scammonden Moor is particularly chilling, while the character assassination of a particular renowned journalist is a work of poetry. There is a very lengthy commentary on the infamous Smiths court case, and various engaging accounts of Morrissey's loves, hates and views on music, meat and Manchester. An entertaining read that I look forward to having again. 

However, it took me a long long time to become a fan and admirer of his work. For some reason I just never clicked with what I had heard and knew of him and The Smiths back in the day. I don't really know why to be honest. I first encountered The Smiths back in 1984 when Top Of The Pops showed the video of 'What Difference Does It Make', and it just didn't gel with the ten year old 'me'. So the band was off my radar all through my musical upbringing and I can't remember when I next heard a Smiths record.
Several years on after the band had split and Morrissey forged a successful solo career, I still wasn't fully on board and my ears were elsewhere. Though I met many people who were big fans I was obviously missing out on something and it would take me a little while to find out what.
I knew Johnny Marr more from when he formed Electronic with Bernard Sumner but never delved into his back catalogue. 
I began attempts at listening to Morrissey albums that friends lent me, and I was quite taken with 'Panic'.... and then 'How Soon Is Now?' and then very, very slowly I started to find songs I quite liked with a perspective that had maybe matured a little over ten years since I first heard the band.
In 1995 I had queued for around four hours outside Manchester's HMV where Morrissey was doing a meet 'n' greet record signing, purely just to keep a couple of friends company who were there to meet him. The queue didn't move as far as going inside HMV but we had a good natter and the rain stayed away. 
Then in 1996 I finally sat down to a Morrissey video collection belonging to my flatmate and watched through the promo videos for various singles. Around nine years after Morrissey had released his debut solo album Viva Hate, I finally heard Everyday Is Like Sunday. I had no recollection of hearing it before, but this time it fully grabbed me. Perfect timing as Morrissey then went on a hiatus.
In 2003 there was a fascinating TV documentary called The Importance Of Being Morrissey which made a fitting prelude to his return in 2004. On BBC 1's Friday Night With Jonathan Ross he performed his comeback single Irish Blood English Heart accompanied by a great interview and by that time I was 'a fan'. It only took me twenty years.

Morrissey on Friday Night With Jonathan Ross, 2004 (part 1)

Morrissey on Friday Night With Jonathan Ross, 2004 (part 2)

And now ten years after that, I've caught up with the back catalogue, continued to enjoy his music output, read his contributions to the online fanzine 'True To You', and have now seen him perform live at Glastonbury 2011. Better late than never, as they say.
So as I acknowledge his stature as a brilliant performer and songwriter, as well as an extremely witty and fascinating interviewee and essayist, I can sense all those friends and acquaintances over the years who have always been Smiths/Morrissey fans giving me a slow head nod to say 'yeeeessss'.

Ongoing work

And as well as all that, I've been progressing slightly with the 'bunch of tracks' I casually mentioned in passing sometime last year. The plan is to get them finished and uploaded and out of my hair before I hit 40. The feasibility of that tends to fluctuate between 'maybe' and 'who am I kidding?'. But it's a labour of love and it's nice to have an aim. 
I've created a Facebook page for it so feel free to subscribe/link/like/follow.