Brick and Wood
I'm usually pretty good about getting my monthly thought piece out in good time. I seem to have an internal clock which produces one vaguely interesting idea a month, usually around the second or third day! I commit this to the laptop, then sink back into mindless, dreamless inconsequence for another few weeks.
August has been very eventful for me emotionally, practically, spiritually. More bad than good, some of the bad quite bad, none of the good really great. yet nothing has roused me to sit down and provoke, share or, heaven forbid, advise.
But last night I took up Ben Watt's invitation to go catch him debut the first batch of new songs for over 30 years at a small venue in Clerkenwell. Ben is one half of Everything But The Girl, whom I produced in the early days and for whom I have a profound fondness. I dislike the phrase soft spot.
It was hard to believe that Ben had not played an acoustic guitar in public for decades. The evening was just him, occasional licks from Bernard Butler and an enthusiastic audience of devotees. Ben sang better than I've ever heard him. He's had some genuine hard times and that connection always gives a voice depth and character. The songs were of an unusually uniform standard – very high. Ben is articulate, honest, does not pretend to be an oik, does not hide his intelligence, his learning, his wisdom, his background or his advanced musical knowledge ... god all that makes a bloody change!
None of this is what made me sit down and write today. It was one song. Probably not called Brick and Wood. Ben, Tracey, Sade, all of them will tell you that even after two months working on a bunch of songs it's unlikely Robin will be able to refer to them by name – rather that ‘no need to ask' song or ‘you know that one with the cool brass riff at the beginning – if you ever find the time'.
Anyway, let's pretend it's called Brick and Wood because then I can abbreviate it to B/W which works because the word Ektacrome appears early in the lyric [a song has a lyric not lyrics, by the way]. Ektacrom was a type of film made by Kodak for home cameras. Most of my family snaps from early childhood would have been taken on Ektacrome film, before the magic of Kodacolor!
The song, as I understand it, is the tale of an evening out in the car on which Ben and his brother decide to visit the family home they grew up in. ‘first you turn left, then you turn right' ... already the goose bumps of childhood are pricking. It turns out the whole area is being redeveloped. The roof has gone, the front door has gone, the beech tree in the front garden Ben looked at through his front bedroom window have gone.
My own house was ‘down the hill, turn right then right again'. the tree in the front garden was a laburnum. The front door had the little bubbly glass panes. This could have been millions of us.
Once again, as I understand it, the song was / is about moving on, about the past being the past. And yet the song is written with such poignancy and power that it's truth says that however we move on, a little precious part of us dies each day. not just our brain cells but our spiritual ancestral memory. We let go but really we lose. We look forward but we miss terribly.
The strength of the song was greatly reinforced by the song that followed it. Another haunting but oh so familiar story of a man with his father's ashes in a certain field which they both knew to be a place of connection. The strength of connection from Ben to his dad matches my own with my long dead father. The poignancy of the fact that I was at last night's gig with my son. The memory that my daughter, in her push chair, featured with Tracey on their 1984 12inch single ‘Mine'. The fact that we grow to cherish things simply because of their longevity in our lives are things you only experience when you are old enough to have lost quite a few things and people you held very very dear.
Tracey was there last night. I think she was genuinely pleased to see me. it occurred to me how nearly she lost Ben all those years ago to the virus ... now come on, if I can't remember the name of the diamond life song, I'm not going to remember the name of a virus discovered by two Austrians!