Going For A Song: ‘For What Is Chatteris…’

Half Man Half Biscuit – For What Is Chatteris…

In the Quietus, Taylor Parkes calls ‘For What Is Chatteris…’ a ‘beautifully low-key tragedy, a modern “leaving town” ballad with a lyric of stunning economy and grace’. This is not hyperbole. It’s a love song of subtleness. It places the love song at the heart of a panegyric for one of the four market towns in the Fenland district of Cambridgeshire, England; and by doing so the panegyric is interrogated – are the attributes it lists really the be all and all? The tragedy then becomes – though still low-key – all the more felt for being submerged.

Going For A Song: ‘Clyde Water’

Nic Jones – Clyde Water

A few of the interviewees in this documentary about the musician Nic Jones recount when and how they first heard him and his most celebrated album Penguin Eggs. I think I must have heard his version of ‘Canadee-I-O’ on the Uncut Magazine CD, which is mentioned in the documentary. But Penguin Eggs wasn’t the first album I heard by him – that was Game Set Match.

In the early 2000s, if I was feeling broke, I’d go to my local library to borrow albums (it was pre-Spotify). On the occasion I went to look for records by Nic Jones the only music they had of his was Game Set Match (but still…they had Game Set Match), so that’s what I borrowed. I eventually heard Penguin Eggs, but it’s forever this version of ‘Clyde Water’ on Game Set Match I’ve preferred to the version (titled as ‘The Drowned Lovers’) on that more feted album.

In the documentary, Nic Jones says how he ‘tried to separate the singing from the guitar playing, so the guitar playing became automatic’. The musician Martin Simpson suggests this method gave the effect of ‘moving the vocal about on top of the accompaniment’. You can hear this on ‘Clyde Water’ I think. It gives the song a weaving mesmerising quality; while the lyrics are sung in such a way it’s as if Nic Jones himself is discovering the song’s story for the very first time. It’s an outstanding performance.

Reluctant Gatekeepers of the World

[Spotify] has struggled to make money due to the harsh economics of music streaming: Spotify and other music streaming companies pay the majority of their sales back to the big music labels to use their songs. It reported an operating loss of €378m in 2017, compared with €349m in 2016.

In a letter to investors, founder Daniel Ek alluded to ambitions beyond simply piping songs into smartphones, citing a vision to become a “cultural platform” where artists can “break free” of the constraints imposed by gatekeepers such as record labels and traditional radio.

Spotify files for unconventional IPO (FT sub only)

Two things:

  1. If Spotify struggle to make money, it must be really difficult for the musicians and bands;
  2. In his book To Save Everything, Click Here, Evgeny Morozov writes about Amazon’s ‘forays into publishing’:

If Amazon’s dream of a world without gatekeepers becomes reality, then the company itself will become a powerful gatekeeper [… it] might be a reluctant gatekeeper, but it’s a gatekeeper nevertheless (p. 171).

As Daniel Ek espouses the same line as Jeff Bezos, but with ‘record labels and traditional radio’ in place of ‘traditional publishing’, it’s not too outlandish to feel Morozov’s conclusion about Amazon can be applied to Spotify too.

Going For A Song: ‘To the Lightning’

Wussy – To the Lightning

Today I discovered Wussy had released their sixth album, Forever Sounds, in 2016. I’d like to say I was aware of the previous five albums and this was just an oversight, but to my forever shame that’s not the case. It is some consolation then that I’m not alone in coming late to Wussy, but only a bit.

I’ve said I’d be jealous of someone who’s never heard The Smiths before because they have all that great music to discover. So, when I say I had the problem earlier of not knowing where to start with Wussy’s back catalogue, it wasn’t really a problem more a decision akin to whether to choose an orange or strawberry Quality Street.

But I picked the album Attica! (2014) just because it has ‘Teenage Wasteland’, ‘North Sea Girls’ and ‘To the Lightning’ on it.

Going For A Song: ‘Jezebel’

Iron and Wine – Jezebel

I went to see Iron and Wine on Friday night. In the past when I’ve seen them I must admit I haven’t always been captivated. However, Friday I was. This was in no small part due to the band Sam Beam assembled for the tour.  It’s to their credit the gig lost something halfway through when they peeled off one by one to leave Sam Beam to do a couple of songs on his own. You just wanted them to stay on. One of the older songs the band reinterpreted – one of the highlights of the gig – was ‘Jezebel’ off the Woman King EP.