Posted in SHOFT on Tuesday 7th November 2006 at 11:59pm
It had been a strange couple of days - a mess of coincidences. Carnival night in Burnham yesterday and I spotted someone on the train with whom I had a clumsy but solemn teenage obsession. There were curious glances of the identity-confirming variety, but nothing more. It's long years since I thought of it, but now I appreciate how foolish and painful I felt back then. Then, this morning I spotted an old teacher of mine, someone I'd disagreed with - indeed held partly responsible for my early educational bath and it's attendant setbacks. After a brief and uncertain sighting in the street, he appeared again short feet away from me at the station. I couldn't bear to acknowledge him. I was struck by the odd synchronicity that I'd only been speaking about him on Sunday to my parents. It must have been years since I'd uttered his name until then.
More memories. I remember attending gigs in Bristol when I was much younger - standing, self-consciously waiting for the doors to open, cautiously eyeing some pale and beautiful indie-girl but knowing that she was waiting for her boyfriend to show up. Then, studiously watching the support act with the eyes of a music critic in the hope of discovering some hidden treasure - even sometimes going mainly for the support act and getting into a big fight over preferring Velvet Crush to Teenage Fanclub as I recall! So tonight I found myself doing almost the same thing. Standing almost exactly in the spot where I waited for the Sarah 100 Farewell Party over a decade ago, I waited rather nervously to watch Arab Strap's final performance in Bristol.
The Thekla Social hasn't changed much from its guise as just plain 'Thekla'. A boat, moored alongside The Grove in a part of Bristol which is now disturbingly hip where it was once just disturbing. Inside it's been tidied up, and seems smaller - but then again I'm bigger I suppose. The venue was slow to fill, and there were only a handful of us close to the stage for support act De Rosa. They were an interesting mixture of noisy pop and the studied alt-country rock which seems to have been perfected in Glasgow these days. Some interesting songs, some which were a little longer than necessary. They seemed to finish on a high, and got a fairly positive response from the never very forgiving Bristolian crowd.
Time to study the audience. Surprisingly young. Predominantly male. Lots of girlfriends dragged along for the night out. I wonder what they thought? A strange group, plainly regulars here, seemed to be holding court near the front of the stage. Took a fair bit of stick from 'the kids' about my 'silly looking parka' which was momentarily silenced by most of Arab Strap walking through the venue in similar garments, although one wag pointed out that 'they were fat old blokes too'. Refreshed my bottle of beer and found a spot near a rather unkempt young man who unfortunately (for all of us) seemed to smell like cat litter.
It's a long time since I'd seen Arab Strap, but I remember then thinking that even though they were sort of ramshackle on record, they were different live - Malcolm's guitar in particular coming to life. Tonight I was struck by the same feeling from the second the bagpipes heralded their arrival on stage. Aidan, the consummate showman entertained despite his heavy cold. I always found it remarkable that someone with a legendary appetite for alcohol had such a keen memory for lyrics, and tonight some very old songs surfaced, including a sublime New Birds, a sleazy take on Packs of Three and The First Big Weekend - requiring considerable feats of memory I'm sure to recall the dense and intricate storytelling. New material sat comfortably alongside the old with a spirited Speed-Date, a stirring Dream Sequence and an inspirational There Is No Ending from the final record. Stepped out into the cold and foggy evening, thinking about Bristol, music, absent friends and recent coincidences. The kind of reverie where Arab Strap just seem to make sense.
At a time when all kinds of bands from my past are reforming and crawling back into the limelight, a chapter closes.
I've had a home on the web for more years than I care to remember, and a few kind souls persuade me it's worth persisting with keeping it updated. This current incarnation of the site is centred around the blog posts which began back in 1999 as 'the daylog' and continued through my travels and tribulations during the following years.
I don't get out and about nearly as much these days, but I do try to record significant events and trips for posterity. You may also have arrived here by following the trail to my former music blog Songs Heard On Fast Trains. That content is preserved here too.