Wednesday, 27 May 2009

Cold Turkey

What had I done to deserve being at woken at 3.45am this Wednesday morning? Normally there's a reason as this happens fairly frequently when I stay at my girlfriend's place. Had I woken up because her thigh was draped across me? No. Had she commandeered my half of the bed, causing me to wake up before I fall to the floor and fracture a limb? No. I could hear the dog barking downstairs but this was also not what had woken me. It was nicotine withdrawal. I had woken up because my body was missing nicotine.

I had smoked my last cigarette at 10.30am on Sunday. It had been difficult. I'd also had some news on that Sunday evening that meant that I'd chosen a bad time to quit. I would have killed for a fag on Sunday night. But I was strong. This was something else though. I was wide awake at a very unsociable hour, apparently prompted by nothing other than a deficit of something in my bloodstream that I didn't even want there.

First things first. One of the dogs was still barking and had been doing so for a few minutes. None of the kids would sort him out. Funny how they seem to be able to sleep like the dead when it suits them yet are always quick to confront me about the noises they hear emanating from their mother's room when I stay there. I go downstairs to the kitchen. The dog is still barking but I can't hear it properly, it's muffled or distant. I'm still half asleep and it takes me a few seconds to realise that the dog is outside. It's 3.45am and the dog is outside, barking its' little head off. How long had it been there? And had it been barking all this time? The neighbours will surely let us know.

Back upstairs to get back to sleep. I'm in bed. I'm comfy. I'm not too hot or cold. I'm tired. I anticipate drifting off to sleep in no time but this doesn't happen. I seem to be as alert as a particularly nervy meercat nursing a double espresso. I've also woken my girlfriend so now I have guilt to go along with my insomnia. I'm calling it insomnia because that's precisely what it is now. I'm tired but I know already that I'm without any chance of proper sleep again before I have to get up for work.

Why is this? I had some idea that nicotine withdrawal might do this to me. But I had no idea it would also give me super sensitive hearing as well. All of the sounds of the house are ringing in my ears. That slightly sinister tapping I hear in the ceiling. The floorboards that creak on the landing even when no-one is walking on them. The boiler, sending water around the house. I swear I can even hear the breathing of the girls sleeping in the room next to me. I am Batfink and I have super hearing.

Even my own body is loud. My stomach burbles and gurgles. I can actually hear my own pulse. And the more I try to ignore these things the louder they become. I toss and turn, to what end I neither know nor care. I look out of the window. My girlfriend doesn't ever close the curtains so I can see outside. The first light of dawn approaches and with it comes birdsong. My God it's loud. Are they actually singing out there or is this all in my head? Am I going insane? No I'm not, but if it was really as loud as it seems to me then no-one would be sleeping. At least the crows haven't started up yet. They have a call that's as loud and ugly as you imagine a crow's call might be. It makes me want to shoot them. Today, this morning, right now, I wouldn't just pick on the crows. I would exterminate the nation's entire bird population if it meant I could get some FUCKING SLEEP! Let me sleep.
Let me sleep
Let me sleep
Let me sleep
Let me sleep
Let me sleep
Let me sleep. Please. Here it comes. Thanks.

Sunday, 17 May 2009

Saint Etienne at Bloomsbury Ballroom

Saint Etienne to celebrate the eighteenth birthday of their debut album, Foxbase Alpha, by playing it live in its entirety? Yes please! Since my copy of that album was on a long-ago lost cassette it's fair to say that I haven't listened to it for over a decade. I've listened to plenty of Saint Etienne's other output but couldn't actually remember a lot of that first album. My loss, I'm an idiot.

The Bloomsbury Ballroom proved an excellent venue, good size and acoustics and with a cool bar in a corridor. Saint Etienne have always cultivated a loyal fanbase and the band were very warmly received as they entered the stage to the sounds of the radio show at the start of the album. Then Only Love Can Break your Heart started and I was in pop heaven. During the next forty minutes the diversity of Foxbase Alpha was made apparent to me in a way I'd never really appreciated. It's pop perfection but it takes many forms: dub, deep house, 60's pop pastiche, ambient blah blah blah. It's all here.

Girl VII and London Belongs To Me are utterly charming. Stoned To Say The Least is cool and dark and funky, like a very chilled Underworld. Nothing Can Stop Us Now is so cute and cuddly you could put in a big pink box, tie it with a red ribbon and give it to a five year old girl as a birthday present. Like A Swallow is epic and beautiful and sounds like the best thing I've ever heard. Then the band walk off for five minutes (they actually said they'd be five minutes! How sweet?) before returning to play some more recent favourites.

Method Of Modern love is their latest single and shows the band have lost absolutely nothing over the years. The quality of their output has never faltered and every song played during the second half was a winner. When I'm old(er) and grey(er) and someone says to me "Old man, I've read that there was something called pop music years ago. What was it like?" I'll just play them Who Do You Think You Are? and all will be clear. And then I might spoil them and play Sylvie as well. Sylvie is genius, like the story from a John Hughes film with an added Hitchcock-ian twist told via the medium of epic euro-pop. It always makes me cry.

The encore includes He's On The Phone, an absolute high point in modern popular music. Pop really has few finer moments to offer than Sarah Cracknell's spoken (not sung or whispered, but spoken. Or maybe cooed) Yes at the start of the chorus. It's a glorious end to a fantastic evening. I leave convinced that there has been no finer purveyor of pop music in modern times than Saint Etienne.