Her Wilderness and Waves
And most of the landscapes I crave aren’t blemished by outcrops of power and pylons. I want cracked, salt-scored wooden panels, pebbles, a cwtch with a girl with very black hair wearing a coat as long as my own. There is a siren on the speakers: H.M.S. Ginafore, sketching the Scottish coasts for me.
Nothing but grey-skies from here. Holed up in the living room watching the world of parents and push-chairs prepare for the winter. Bare bones of trees poke from behind the roofs of houses opposite, but that’s as wild as it gets. I paint a sickly picture but it’s really all quite comforting, quite controlled.
I’m put in mind of an untyped story, and rifle through old notebooks and photographs to piece it together. I look over images of Hastings to find a line of best fit, trying to divorce aesthetics from memory, failing, but in the end I have enough things to work with and work through. I have this review to write, for starters, due too soon.
Crash-zoom on curtain netting, the television bores me. I start looping Ginafore’s voice about the back of my head, comforted by the whisper, by her curling tongue and the thought of her wilderness and waves. I wish I didn’t have to leave it there.
I move, washing my face, trying to stay awake. I can’t sleep the day away. The sadness is about trying to push through the mattress, being absorbed by it and swallowed whole, left to the skewering of bed springs, the duvet covering every trace of me as an alibi. This ugly cycle of grim lows and elation – never manic but distressing all the same – keeps me in mind of the crashing of the sea.
Bah! I hate being stuck in my own company! I haul my greatcoat on and step out for breakfast. The cold tries to creep up and under, but body heat prevails. Keep calm and carry on. Motion is now reassuring. The face in the toy shop never changes, the vintage shop is never open, the church is still a chain pub, but right now I’m not sure I want that stability.
The revelry and turmoil of the shore-line is appealing.
I watch my breath steam and feel little droplets of vapour condensing on the bristles of my beard. Mittens have appeared on the hands of children now, a sign that all the excitement of winter has crept upon us. The first, maybe only snow of the season came and went very quickly. A sugar frost remained for a few days on rooftops and car bonnets that evaded sunshine.
On a steamy bus it stirred memories. At home the melting water seeped through the sky-light seal and forced action. The bucket is still there, the erratic dripping on rainy days a terrible frustration. I also managed to lose my gloves. Perhaps, now, a colourful pair of mittens? Would they suit me?
My feet have take me to a café and a wicker chair. In mind of the chill I order a bacon buttie and a strong black coffee.
This is about five years ago: The early hours of the first day of a new year we wrapped up and went downhill, maybe seven of us, a little sickly by this stage as we’d been drinking since five. This is to set the scene. We were heading to the waters at Netley.
I can sketch most of the area from collated memory. We would have walked through a crumbling gate of dark wood onto thorny shards of shell and shingle, yawing ropes swallowing ankles whole to twist momentum. Overlooked by empty pubs, some back gardens, some flats, a corner shop and probably a sweet shop, now dark. Groynes sporadically interrupted the beach, obstructing passage. There was probably a dog.
I know who I was with, am still in regular contact with one of them, but cannot place them there. I can see only the splash of light that illuminated me and the lapping tongue of water a few feet away. I can see a near-black expanse of empty space, and in the distance the fires of Fawley burned like the city of tomorrow.
Blinking, far off, regular and binary. None of the fading or flaring of a twinkle.
It burns. The refinery towers are distorted by the darkness between us, and what is doubtless tall is made a metropolis in imagination. It could be a city that houses a million souls, and in the quiet night of another year I decide that it is.
Strange to think of then now. The southern coast is far from untamed and the illusion cast by The Racket They Made involves crags and thickets of gorse, not oil processing on the Solent.
Coffee makes my breath hot, and the tongue-sour taste does little to shake my reflective mood. Tonight may not be a night to go out. One more night at home. One more night to run around my memory. I don’t leave a tip, the sandwich was terrible.
It is cloud-dark when I get back to the flat. The flatmate leans with his back to the door in the front room, smoking out of the window despite the leaves and crisp packets scrabbling to spill in over the ledge. The lights are off. It’s a great shot.
We’d be normal, chatty people if we didn’t write. I have in mind a night when we settled in his old room in Angel, lit only by candles and on a heavy drink. A battered chopping board sat on the floor between us cluttered with fragments of lemon and juice.
We swapped stories and shots and avoided talking about the important shit because that’s what words and pictures are for.
The album cover stares at me guiltily. Deadline. Where to begin in writing about this? There have been too many words over too few days, where are the words to convey the thoughts and sensations stirred by chords and hushes?
The flatmate doesn’t speak at all tonight. He just fixes on the faces in windows over the road. I don’t know why.
I have the facts. It is 27 minutes long, thirteen tracks in length, self recorded, the sleeves hand made. It is on Fence Records. Is any of this important? I’m not sure any more. Would these words help someone purchase this? Is that my job? No – subjectivity is key. I must listen again, filter again.
Subjectivity is key. Why bind in 200 words what could be said in 2000? Why tell stories with more? Why tell stories? These songs are the first I’ve played on fresh ears since
In writing about these sounds I should admit what is stirred in me, in me. I react to music in my own way, buoyed by memories I have made, memories with other people, with myself, in pursuit of others. Memories that I want to dive back into, sometimes, with such a passionate strength, not to relive them or play them back in black and white but to actually experience those moments again. And I have to hope that you do too. So when I write that The Racket They Made invokes in me some coastal purity you know that I mean, despite its alien presence in my life at this time, I want what it conjures. It helps me avoid myself.
And somehow I have to distil that.
I relate to the ocean at Hastings through journeys. I would make a beeline for the Old Town on arrival, alarmed as ever by the sense of threat that wallows around its red brick. Last time I went a group of kids in a piazza smashed Hello Kitty umbrellas as if they were Les Paul Guitars. It made me unbearably anxious. My refuge was The Stag.
‘Heroes’, Bowie’s call to arms, was on the jukebox box again, as it was every time I drank there. I smiled and ordered a pint before settling in with my notebook. The Stag is a pub that actively resents the smoking ban, joists creaking for want of nicotine. A sickly patina coats the surfaces and the scored tables seem to pre-date carpentry. The beer garden is stepped, offering a crooked view of the hill-bordered Old Town, crenelations and exposure-blasted fortifications peppering the folds of the coastal landscape.
The barman, young, stuttered to the pretty punk I could never be like that. I was brought up by my big sister and I could only hit a woman if she hit me first, and could hit me back. I couldn’t bully like him. The sentiment is a twisted version of the familiar, content strange. Her response: Oh I can hit him, I just can’t push him across the road
‘My Girl’ started playing, but despite their giggles it was clear to me that he had no possession of her, or even of himself at this stage.
I thought: I wonder if in towns like this nobody grows up. Maybe if we follow a certain route the responsibilities of life never change and then we never have to slip out of playground thinking.
Maybe everybody just thinks they’re growing up, gleefully judging the rest of the world, but maybe that’s just me.
The barman was so genuine I could have wept. To try and keep her close longer he offered temptations. I’ve got animé, I’ve got foreign DVDs, I’ve got British, I’ve got
I snorted some of my pint into my glass, this new category of film established, and left grinning.
Back in bed now under cover hot mouth uncomfortable twitches coffee slinking slowly through nerves and depression and I need to calm down. Back under cover eyes shut open shut sick with tension heavy lunged seeing sentences bleached blonde sneaker stares and I need to calm down. Breathe. Back in bed staring at the blinds and an afternoon’s dark grey ache up my side after long abandoned stretches empty bed empty headed empty I need to calm down. I need to write this fucking review, it is just a fucking review. A review. A fucking review. I return to Ginafore, let her sing to me for a while.
Her journey, like mine, is only mapped by the spread and rupture of cables and haulage. I usually find ghostly beauty in that, but today I’m driven to think beyond the flourish of grey it represents. What is this? Play.
Her voice loops to a faded seaside synth and swirl. Close clips of soft lips trapped by the mic. She is endearingly near to the receiver. Coughs trickle through with the creak and strain of an old guitar neck. Double tracked vocal haunting. ‘Comfort in Rum’ has the narrative and melody of rocks on the edge of the ocean. The twinkle and static of a satellite rolls behind your eyes, blinking in the dark. Phone clicks and coughing, again, ghostly, spare voices, creep and crawl into the world of each song. An album of reprisals, the title track resurfacing as a motif and a sentence. The chorus on ‘Nobody Knows…’ friendly chorus, a gang, a multitude of the genuine and affectionate. The segue is astounding “Save me!”. When ‘And The Racket They Made When The Lights Went Down’ comes back with a crackle and pop of drum skins and night. Danger in the sea, Jenny Casino/H.M.S. Ginafore its siren.
Notes = Remembrance.
Leaving The Stag I pitched for the beach. The Old Town fisheries hum with the odour despite the coastal breeze. A cloying, salty smell, almost soupy in texture, contrasting with the husky dry wood each shop is cased in.
Tall monoliths for hanging catch point out to the horizon. Black. Impressive. They always tickled me. Twin funicular railways pincer what little of the town is worth exploring. I marched over broken tracks and onto the stones, taut tow-lines running from the ramshackle sheds to the array of rickety buckets beached there. Ships look strange out of the sea, there seems too much of them, as if what penetrates the waterline ought not to exist. I cherished that alien sensation. There was a romance to the disintegration I was surrounded by.
“Amusements”. Tourist Traps for spunking change away, bright lights and 8-bit jingles that turned my stomach. The fountains in the crazy golf course ran green. I’m not entirely sure it was deliberate. The sound of the tide is a constant there.
There were greater gaps between sights after that.
The pier, broken by the elements. Beaten and scored and dented on all sides, fenced off and bolted and barricaded, collapse blissfully imminent. How long will it last? Rust alone cannot bear a load indefinitely.
Nothing lasts forever, I should know that by now, should have then.
Nothing lasts forever.
Nothing but grey skies on that walk. It was beautiful, then.
I walked beside the sea for half an hour until I got to where I was going. I will leave that memory alone.
There is dripping again in the bucket in the hall outside of my bedroom, regular as seconds, a gentle reminder of the passage of time. No, not gentle, if water flows inside my home as well as out. I don’t have much time left, I need to finish this.
The Racket They Made
I find myself cast unashamedly to the the shoreline by H.M.S. Ginafore’s re-released mini-album The Racket They Made. A few years old now, these recordings have the scratchy and hushed quality of much of Fence’s output, but Ginafore’s broken lullaby voice is still one of the label’s highlights.
Each track creaks and spits with the home recording pitfalls of faulty equipment and too-close mics, but here it seems to work in the album’s favour. It enhances the intimacy of each song, whispered in your ears by an understated vocal performance. Satellites pop behind the lament ‘Comfort in Rum’, while ‘St Abbs’ conjures a warmth and frivolity that will make you long to visit the house she sings of.
Much of the record revolves around repeated musical and lyrical motifs taken from the title track, phrases and lines bubbling through and scratching at your memory. To hear the rollicking ballad later swallowed in drum loops and samples, and for it not to jar with the rest of the album, is a beautiful thing, and demonstrates the dexterity of Ginafore’s low-fi.
© Matthew Sheret, 2009