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Over the years, I've written a fair amount about the bands that we play at How Does It Feel To Be Loved? and I thought it might be interesting to put some of those reviews and interviews together here. They were mostly written for Melody Maker, between the years of 1989 and 2000. All of my youth, in other words.

Here's where it went, then...


THE GO-BETWEENS - The Forum, London

There are those that would argue that the Go-Betweens invented beauty, that they were
the first to realise that a tenderly jangled guitar and lyrics steeped in poetry can capture
the idealistic joy of true love. And most of them are here to re-live the past glories of
Australia's finest cultural achievement. But for all those dreamers who merely had their
souls enriched by the Go-Betweens legacy - Belle And Sebastian, Field Mice, The
Auteurs - this has nothing to do with the dry self-congratulation of nostalgia and
absolutely everything to do with reaffirming your faith in both grace and sensitivity. It is
as current as your latest infatuation.
Two quiet icons lie at the core of the band. The obvious focus is Robert Forster, a
knowing charmer who's made a career out of wearing bad shirts and coming over both as
playboy and poet. His ungeeky good looks form the crux of the GBs: the knowledge that
while many of the cutie romantics are singing about imagined love with a perfect girl,
Forster is licking the wounds of actual experience. His is a heart that's been tied up and held
for ransom again and again and still he hasn't learnt to be overly bitter. Instead, you can
hear him chasing devotion and making the same glorious mistake in nearly every song.
One life-changing songwriter should be enough, but to Robert's left is Grant McLennan, a
man who takes Forster's faith in idealism and then runs riot with it. The fact that he
resembles a builder who's just wandered in to bash out a few songs while he waits for
the concrete to set, is equally cruical to the GB's appeal. For those who feel that suave
Forster moaning about dating goddesses has the potential to be rather irritating, there's
the down-to-earth, as-ugly-as-the-rest-of-us McLennan to take those everyday
moments and - voila ! - turn them into something to treasure. To embody the redeeming
dreams of every plain person present.
It's hard to pick out highlights when the entire gig is enough to have everyone sobbing
and grinning with epiphany, but here goes. "Head Full Of Steam" is awash with the sheer
leap-before-you-look irrationality of romance, as is the joyus "Spring Rain", a flag-waving
anthem for the happily hopeless. "Right Here" is the simplest gooey emotion - the pain of
missing the one you love - made to fill a vast room of affectionate strangers, while the
final (fourth!) encore, "Apology Accepted", is the most precious expression of insecurity
ever. It's also confirmation of just how vital the GBs are now, as a living, breathing,
creative entity. This isn't emotional archaeology, but young music for people who just
happened to grow up. And grow up beautifully.

Melody Maker, 28th June 1997

BELLE & SEBASTIAN, Queen Margaret Union, Glasgow / Assembly Rooms, Edinburgh

People have a curious, gooey feeling about Belle And Sebastian. They've fallen head over heels for the poetic ambition and tander romance of the septet's second album, "If You're Feeling Sinister", and now they want to see what the boy with the ever-wide eyes and slight-yet-affecting voice is actually like. The  appearance of a good-looking, confident-seeming 28-year-old with a cool Stephen Pastel haircut is, therefore, a shock for those expecting a hopeIess cutie type. And even when he says, "I'm not too    comfortable with having to stand for a long time," you feel it isn't out of wimpiness but a sense of fierce individuality. You're soon proved right.
The boy's name is Stuart Murdoch and, in the crudest terms possible, he's the next Morrissey meets Jarvis meets Edwyn meets your favourite lovelorn hero. Those same curious people - in their hundreds in Scotland, soon to be joined by a nationof soppy dreamers -treat Stuart and his songs with an affection and warmth that's nothing to do with fashion and everything to do with compassion. As he strums the first chords to any of his knowing masterpieces, it's Sebadoh silent here,the stillness of respect and anticipation. And when a number ends, it's tender uproar, the sound of tearful "Thankyou"s and excited "We love you"s.
It's easy to see why these beautiful songs so readily capture the heart. They're fashioned from a jumble sale of elegance - ragged cello and violin trade Tindersticks stories with the ghosts of The Go-Betweens and Felt on guitar and Hammond - and played with the serene-yet-heartfelt passion of a sensitive collective. There's also a dark, perverse streak present which insists on blending idealism with the grubby realities of troubled existence. Thus, the characters in these songs don't just fall in and out of love: they indulge in murder fantasies, homoerotic lovemaking sessions and moments of pure, untutored hedonism.
There are many, many examples of B&Ss life-changing brilliance, but we'll start with "The State I Am In".  Building from a whisper to outright epiphany, it follows a dream in which Stuart's brother comes out ("It took the heat off me for a while," he sings, but don't assume autobiography), a crippled friend is cured on the Sabbath, and the local minister "Took all of my sins / And wrote a pocket novel called 'The State That I'm In'." It's the kind of song that's awash with character but emotionally direct at the same time, tapping straight into the part of your soul that yearns to see the world in four dimensions of colour.

Stuart has at least 30 other songs to match this and, while they wander into different romantic corners, they share a desire to bring a vibrant sense of poetry to the dusty machinations of the heart. That's also why the band have an interval when there's no real need, why Stuart playing a grand piano at the ornate Assembly Rooms seems like the most natural and just thing on the planet, why the new single, "Dog On Wheels", resembles a dark Spanish fiesta and why B&S's deliciously slow version of "Reel Around The Fountain" feels like a long lost part of the artistic universe coming alive and slotting perfectly into place.

Thank you, Belle, Sebastian and God. The pleasure and the privilege was mine.

Melody Maker, 22nd March1997



No one suffers for pop quite like Bob Wratten. As the singer and songwriter in the sumptuously romantic Field Mice, he bared his soul about falling in and out of all-consuming love with an honesty that cut through the cobwebs of rock lyricism and headed straight for the tear ducts. His songs were not self-pitying but self-aware, resigned to the fact that he just wasn't good enough to snare that perfect girl... until, suddenly, it happened. He met a soul mate in Annemari, formed Northern Picture Library, and lived happily ever after.
There have been two big changes in his life since then. The first is musical. He's started to collaborate with Ian Catt, the man who engineered The Field Mice classic "Missing The Moon" (heart-stopping: New Order staring into the endless night sky), and went on to arrange for St Etienne (their rough ideas, his intuitive know-how). Ian's brought a polished orchestral beauty to Bob's songs, weaving the lovelorn melodies around an elegant pop vision, and the result is truly amazing... it's as if a whole new blissed landscape has opened up.
The second change is, sadly, personal. Judging by these tracks, Annemari has left Bob for another (the first  words you hear are "She's gone and no longer", the last simply "I'm sorry, so sorry for everything" and the singer is, of course, shattered. He had perfection in his grasp and then, through his own obsessive behaviour  (reading between the lines: wanting to spend every waking second with her, being jealous when she talks to  someone else), he drove her away. It's all his fault and the knowledge is breaking him up.
Blend these elements together and you have an LP of breath-taking brilliance. If you need a modern reference point, think of the sun-kissed dreaminess of Electonic's "Get The Message" for the calm shock of "A   Single Kiss" ("Tonight it's as though she was a dream") and the rose tinted perfection of "Abba On The Jukebox" (where he tortures himself with memories: "Her swinging on a tyre/ Me taking her picture"). A few songs even display the soothingglory of Spiritualized, such is Bob and Ian's total understanding of sound and emotion.
In the end, there are too many red-eyed highlights to mention. We could talk about how he tries to find solace elsewhere ("I wish I'd never known her" - "I don't want to live without love / But I don't want to love  anyone but you"), the six-months-after moment in "Do People Ever?" where his brave face crumbles away,  the loss of faith in "To Keep Your Heart Whole" ("It's no secret I still love you"). But then, if you've made it this far, you'll know the story only too well. All that's left now is to hear it cast in amber.
This is heaven in a teardrop.

Melody Maker, 1st June 1996

THE FIELD MICE - The Dome, London

So this is it. Love brought them together and almost inevitably love has torn them apart, resulting in fists in Glasgow and awkward pauses and over-moist eyes tonight.

The feeling of needless loss, waste and minor tragedy hits home almost immediately, as the lush late night sound of "This Is Not Here" shimmers regretfully in the air. The instrumentation is astounding, the slow weave of the many strings encapsulating empty romance with a glorious lack of effort, the words poignantly adding to the spell. The playing is from the heart, and this is precisely what made this band so special: the feeling of contrived emotion, that while the taste may be familiar it's never been this refined. The Field Mice were craftsman of the soul, hopeful romantics who reached for the stars and touched them.

Just what brought love and lust's gentle dream crashing so ignominiously down becomes apparent after the sublime "Coach Station Reunion". On one side we have the two vocalists, the serious artists of the band, while on the other, there's the boyish rhythm section, the pogoing lads who play the songs from the hip. They mean it as much as their figureheads, but their bizarre behaviour excludes them somewhat and the gulf of resentment keeps he performance from being as overwhelming as we expected. The sentiment is still bright and strong, but there's a feeling of detachment as if they're using this show to get it all out of their systems as painlessly as possible.

The final encore of "End Of The Affair" seems particularly apt, wrapping things up with mumbled plea and a  long drawn out sigh, and, shuffling sadly offstage, The Field Mice crumble into dust. Something special died tonight and most of you couldn't give a shit. I hope you choke on your ignorance.

Melody Maker, 7th December 1991

The Orchids - The Venue, London
The Orchids will never be a top pop group. They're too plain ­ they demand persistence, a willingness to look beyond the surface, and in an era of easy to consume images and well signposted emotions, are vague and undefined. Worse still, they're romantics without pretty faces, grown up indie saddoes, which means every utterance will be written off as a frustrated cry for attention. If they were pretty and extrovert, they'd be popularand sterile.

For those willing to make the effort, the now five year old Orchids are a sensitive yet definitely male proposition. They're also extremely adult, and so while they do retain a dash of excited innocence, the relationships they picture include sex and its attendant feelings. "Dirty Clothing" is thus the equivalent of a male Virago novel, a happy look at a dishevelled morning after, while current single "Thaumaturgy" has the singer enjoying a brief moment of carnal nostalgia. They're not asexual, just sensitive worlds apart.

This leaves us with a group of romantics who refuse to adhere to traditional romantic conventions. Instead of leaping on another star's (Bowie, say) shirt tails, they define their own dewy-eyed parameters, and by doing so create a whole new brand of emotional confidence. "Peaches" proves this by being both a declaration of independence and a rich hormonal bubblebath. Likewise, "Bemused, Confused And Bedraggled" sees the boys showing off a fine cat-got-the-cream playful swagger. In true romantic stylee, everyone else can get fucked.

So The Orchids will never be massive, so what? By refusing to pander to a moronic nation's preconceptions of cool, they carve their own niche as a band with insight and courage. By "Frank De Salvo", they are so enamoured with their own concept of femininity that they appear almost drunk on simple stupid love. "Beautiful Liar" tops things off with a feeling of indulgence, and ultimately these five Scots lads add beauty and colour to an all too often black and white world.

Ambition kills sincerity. Be a loser with The Orchids.

Melody Maker, 19/9/92

Even As We Speak - The Monarch, London
In a back to basics watering hole comfortably packed with fans of romantic dreamers, Even As We Speak are received like long lost acquaintances. Kids at the font feel a pang of nostalgia as they notice the bassist's C86 cap and the bowlheads swaying behind them wonder whether their knees are trembling at the breezy, carefree tunes or the sight of the twinkle-eyed munchin-in-a-hat girl singer. Perhaps the greatest cause of celebration is pop music that proves itself by its very dreamy untogetherness.

Even As We Speak relish life with a clutch of songs that evoke images of bright summer mornings in leafy suburbia. There' a feeling of contentment that rose tints most of their lyrics, leaving the unwary listener floating between rich lilting instrumentation and slices of a supremely trouble-free life. Their only variation from this is when the rakish guitarist takes over on lisping, slurring vocals and suddenly know-it-all music critics can pat themselves on the back: Yes, this Australian band sound like the Go-Betweens.

However, much more occurs during this oddball performance besides dreamy indie pop. Sure, wistful melody is the main order of the day, but the players spice things up for themselves with bizarre little side dishes. The Banana Splits theme tune in one song followed by Egyptian rhythms and "Killing An Arab" in another is out first indication of broader ideas though the rhyme or reasons is left suitably unclear. Then "Open Your Eyes" interrupts itself with what sounds like a Bavarian drinking song, replete with accordion and deep male vocal parts ­ again, explanations are thin on the ground. Maybe it's all to do with enjoying every aspect of music and thus life.

Even As We Speak, someone is falling in love. The band in a nutshell.

Melody Maker, 6/2/93

NO matter what you know about Low, you'll never be prepared for the quiet majesty of their live show. You could hear a heart break tonight, a tear glide from cheek to dressing table. At the start, a roadie goes to adjust their amps and the loudest sound in the venue is a bunch of keys rattling against his leg as he walks. A while later smudge Piers gets into position and the new focus is the click of his shutter each time he takes a shot. Somewhere between all this drifts a huge foreboding silence, the sound of life ebbing calmly away.

You'll be familiar with the reference points by now - the leisurely hum of Codeine, the serene glow of Spain, the pristine sparkle of Spiritualized. What makes Low more than the sum of their glorious parts is a sense of communal empathy, an understanding of love, loss and simple beauty that lends their songs warmth and experience. When singer Al Sparhawk and his wife Mimi harmonise, it's like hearing the male and female side of one personality, such is their natural intimacy - and when they sigh, you sigh silently with them.

Nothing much happens for the first, oooh, fifty minutes. Al coaxes three resonating chords from his guitar, changing the entire mood by moving just his little finger. Mimi stands before a snare and high hat and brushes out a light heartbeat of rhythm, her gentle movements making you feel like you're in an ancient church or back in the womb. Bassist Zak, meanwhile, faces the wall and slides deep notes after treasured memories. All three are emotion-less, as if they could never compete with the beauty of the music. How true.

The songs themselves are resigned laments haunted by the knowledge that you need heartache to truly appreciate the depth and vibrancy of life. Most start from a point of defeat, the moment when you've no breath left to shout and no passion left to cry, and embrace the feeling of heightened sensitivity that's left. "Turn" is little more than the saddened realisation that an affair has crumbled into dust, the sublime harmonies dissipating into the empty ether, while "Bright" wishes on nothing, the romance blending with realism.

Inevitably, people talk, the mindless chatter putting a poignant edge on Low's vision of humanity. This should upset Al and co, but they seem happy with their ability to tune into the part of the soul reserved for soothing ideas and contented catharsis - and the measured emotional intensity is so enriching, you feel you want everyone you care about to share this beauty and bask in the fullness of Low's quiet existence. If you've ever invested in another, then you'll understand. Wish yourself in their arms.


THEY make their romantic poets in different shapes in other countries. While the weatherbeaten Brits entrust angst and heartbreak to trembling, sallow types who've spent their lives daydreaming under cold iron bridges, our overseas chums have weightier priorities. They need someone who's tanned, healthy and handsome, and still feels depressed about living in what some poor souls would call a sunkissed paradise. Mark Kozelek does the job brilliantly, the bastard. But the supreme king of the form is undoubtedly Robert Forster.

Just look at him. In a room full of floppy fringes and wistful smiles, he is the ultimate devil may care playboy, a just so Don Juan who apologises for the state of his (perfect. . .damn him) hair. It's no coincidence that he's a dead ringer for a thirtysomething Howard Marks, his head seemingly full of exotic ideas and bejewelled stanzas, and his body language practically screaming that he knows how to come over all sensitive to seduce the perfect girl. The man is charm incarnate and blessed with a dry sense of humour. For this, he must die.
One problem remains. Exactly how he should be sacrificed to the bespectacled, nerdy cause. A bare assed fist fight is certainly out of the question as he appears to be the type who's willing to fight for his dreams rather than wallow in self pity and that kind of attitude is just a bit too scary. We could simply shun him until he dies of tear-stained loneliness, of course, but his songs seem to suggest a wide circle of friends and we're not too sure how these things work. No one ever throws lurid shirts and shrieks "I love you" at us, that's for bleeding sure.

In the end, we've decided to let him be hung by his own petard. For we've noticed that for every gorgeous jangle classic, he has a clip cloppity country song where the drummer whistles. Oh dear. Moral victory to us, we think.

STUART Staples isn't the easiest singer to understand. His voice sounds like a deep, dusty echo from a long-forgotten era of elegance and passion, the sighing tone seemingly weighed down by generations of doubt and despair. He mutters something at one point and a fan asks him to "say it again in English". Everyone laughs, of course, like they're privy to the richest in joke around, the chosen few who need no translation but call for it anyway. How strange, then, that the one line to come through loud and clear is "Mistakes I've made and you know I live with them all my life". Somehow that was the one thing we realised already.

For many, myself included, Stuart's distinctive voice has been a mixed blessing - easy to admire, but difficult to adore. There've been times when he's seemed trapped at one emotional intensity, a man cursed by the ability to embody and express the depths of melancholia. Luckily, this mournful reliability, as it were, is what gives the Tindersticks live experience its humane core, since it rapidly becomes clear that the songs work chiefly on an emphatic level. Try and understand this music and you'll just get details. Tune into the voice as it anchors the surging melodies and your subconscious will suddenly sprout goosebumps.

What you take away with you, therefore, is how Tindersticks feel rather than sound. The opening "Waltzer", for example, may be awash with elegant violin and soulful piano, but what counts is a sharpness of tragedy and the sense of blood red passion turning to murderous intent. As with many of the newer songs aired tonight, the dramatic mood elicits images from the turbulence of history. Here, your mind's eye sees a circus sweeping through Eastern Europe, while later on, the urg ency and fire makes you think of a chase on horseback and then ornate palaces ablaze during the dying days of the Russian Revolution.

Faced with all this humid melodrama (thundering rivers, pelting rainstorms, torrents of sweat pouring down the performers' backs), it's actually a relief that Stuart doesn't have a broad, dynamic range. Too much feeling would make the songs pompous and overbearing and rob both the melodies and our reactions of any dignity. Having Stuart sighing at the eye of the gale rather than howling brings the entire concoction back down to the earth on which it was conceived; the earth, lest we forget, that nations have fought and cheated for. Think of the beauty and pain of Prague. That's the reality the Tindersticks are dealing with .

A great deal of this is mere perspective, of course. The guy at the front of the with the serious look on his face will probably bring another frame of reference to this emotional phenomenon, replacing my baroque flights of fancy with the machinations of small town Britain. He'll see tears in bedsits rather than bull fights and betrayals. No matter. The empathy of the Tindersticks is such that your imagination provides the foreground to their complex, textural background - and if Stuart's words happen to contradict what you feel in your dilated heart and soul, then you can happily ignore the content and relish the brooding style.

Poetry and sensuality in motion. All hail.

Right time, wrong place. I stayed in the bar while the support band were on. Wonder whatever became of them? (And, no, I have no idea where all that Eastern European stuff came from. It must have been a hot night)

The track by track I did of "Storytelling" is here







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