glenatron: (Iris)
The lights went down and a mix of sounds came from the speakers- radio voices from the early twentieth century and then beautiful female harmonies singing an entirely familiar melody, albeit one that I expect to hear from male voices. I suppose one might call it Women Together Today.

"The universe is a record Of everything you say and do."

It's a little over ten years since my favourite album ever came out - which is, by no coincidence whatsoever, the greatest album ever recorded - and to mark this occasion, British Sea Power announced a few shows that celebrated the anniversary re-release of The Decline Of British Sea Power. Now I am not great at thinking about gigs I want to go to- in fact, I have somewhat lost my passion for seeking out live music in the last few years - but fortunately my brother is and for my birthday back in February he bought us tickets for their London show. My response to it was not what I expected.

"A swallow is depicted there, along your fuselage."

When I bought The Decline Of... I was in a brief intermission of staying at my parents' house, having recently moved out of a flat nearby and being in the process of buying a first home. It was an exciting time, but also a happy one- I was in a relationship that seemed to be quite comfortable, quite grown-up, and we were temporarily living in the house I had grown up in. It was an odd house, built up from an old WW2 Nissen hut and entirely wood clad, comfortable in that cool November, with it's textured wall paper and the big green log stove in the living room that heated it. It connected up my childhood, my teenage years and the happy homecomings during university holidays with the changes ahead, my impending marriage and the house I was about to purchase. I had also joined a new band and I was exciting about the music we were going to make together. I missed my university friends but I was still young and there was a lot to look forward to.

"Oh little England, tonight I'll swim, from my favourite island shores..."

I didn't really appreciate The Decline Of British Sea Power for a year or so after I got it. I listened to it the next autumn and suddenly it blazed into my mind and my imagination and I realised in a flash what an astounding collection of songs it is.

"I believe that bravery exists."

The band didn't work out, I mean we recorded a pretty great album and I enjoyed a lot of things about it, but there were others that made me unhappy. Well, if I'm honest a lot of them were to do with the relentless political machinations of our singer. There were things I liked about him, the person I talked to when we had direct conversations, and I was ambitious for our music to achieve something too, but he spent so much time working at being a jerk that eventually that was what he became. He had a very troubled relationship with women as well, forever teetering between worship and contempt. There are things about him that I didn't realise until years after I left the band, but certainly I don't regret leaving, but maybe in some ways I regret joining. We did a lot of gigs, we played in some interesting places, once I got a free t-shirt - although given the investment I put into the album it doesn't feel like a great deal in retrospect - and it gave me a glimpse of the edges of the music industry. Those edges were full of boring middle-aged men, no different from most other industries. It didn't look so exciting from where I stood and the relationship between work and the chances of getting any pay whatsoever as a musician playing original music seemed unbelievably tenuous. All around me I saw amazing bands who could have sold huge numbers of records playing to empty back rooms and slowly washing away. With them went my faith in the music industry. I will always love music, but I wouldn't want to work there.

"I feel the lapping of an ebbing tide..."

I was standing in the Roundhouse with [ profile] herecirm beside me and British Sea Power were playing Remember Me and at some point I realised that there were tears rolling down my face and I didn't know that I was crying until that moment. It was the strongest and most immediate emotional impact music has ever had on me. They weren't the last tears I shed that night.

"For then you will have lost it all, the last of this island..."

A couple of years after the time that we stayed there, my parents went ahead with their plans to demolish the old house and rebuild it. It was a massive undertaking, costly, time consuming and immensely stressful. They came through it stressed out, exhausted and having spent their life savings, but they also have a truly beautiful house. It's in a different position on the plot, with a tall prow, bright windows and gorgeous wood floors. Now it has been lived in for a few years it is a charming place and a well deserved reward for their retirement. The pine clad walls are gone, though and the old green stove and I will never be able to show them to Sari.

"They say the past is a foreign country, how can we go there? How can we go where we once went?

One of the first nights I listened to The Decline Of British Sea Power, on a deep November evening, I made a pecan pie in that familiar kitchen. It took ages because I'm bad at pastry but it was a really good pecan pie, what we had of it. We left it on the side in the kitchen over night and the next morning the pecans had all gone and the surface of the pie was covered with tiny mouse footprints.

"All through the years, all through the dead scenes, all through the memories, melodies..."

Every moment of the first half of the set was wreathed in magic and memory and that strange intensity that comes from listening to music that you have loved so intensely it feels as though every word of the lyrics is carved into your bones in a room full of people who are caught up in the same moment as you. Not your moment, though, because the last twelve years of your history are opening up like a flag around you and you are free to inspect them, and to enjoy them, and to let them go if you want. To let them rise like paper embers and give them up to the wind and the joyous noise of the sky. Not to let them weigh you down, but instead to allow them to lift you up.

I have lived out some of my potential and allowed a whole lot more to drift away to nothing, but I am once again engaged to be married and this time it is to the absolute love of my life. I am becoming a horseman, playing music I love with a band I enjoy belonging to and working on other creative projects in the moments in between. And just the other night I heard the greatest album ever recorded, played live in its entirety by one of the few truly great bands of our era. This is a good place to be.

"When wooden horses were in use, I would have built one and left it for you."
glenatron: (Emo Zorro)
From time to time I go on about what a great band Our Lost Infantry are. This is their new video and it's representative of what they do. Excellent stuff:

Also I am weird about mugs. I just noticed this earlier as I went to make a cup of tea and had to ferret through the mug shelf in the cupboard to find a suitable mug.

Unsuitable mugs include: Mugs that can only be used at the weekend, mugs that belong to [ profile] sleepsy_mouse in my mind or in reality, mugs that just never get used, the Holy Grail.

Why do I categorise mugs so hard? And why is it so hard for me to change the category of a mug? The practical outcome is that I actually will not use about half of the mugs in the shelf.

I'm not completely sure this is normal.
glenatron: (Default)
I'm always happy to pick up an arthurian retelling and among a box of books from my mum ( a mixture of returns to the library at our house and loans from the library at theirs ) I found Here Lies Arthur by Phillip Reeve. It's a very clever low Arthurian story, set in post-roman britain and centred around a young girl who is rescued by Myrddin and then goes on to be part of the world around which the myths grew. It is full of very terse storytelling - each word is carefully chosen to fit the story and carry it onwards and the cast is edited down to the bare essentials, so the number of named characters is kept very low. The whole thing is a textbook example of how to write for it's target audience ( which is probably early teens ) in an economical and effective way.

What I found interesting about it, more than anything else, was what it said about the present and our wider culture. In this story, Arthur is a brutal bully ( which is probably quite accurate for a 6th Century war leader ) and Myrddin is his brilliant myth-making spin doctor. What it teaches us is that anyone who wants to lead is unfit to do so, and that to be a leader is to be self-serving, cynical and willing to do anything to achieve your own goals.

This is what our leaders have taught us, over the last ten years or so - with Bush, Blair, Brown and surely many others that you will be able to think of, we have seen that our political leaders say one thing for the cameras and do something else when they think nobody is looking. We have seen the greed, the cynicism, the vested interests, naked ambition and the cruelty they are willing to inflict to get their way and we have learned from it. This, they have said to us, is what a leader is.

The more I have learned about horses the more I have seen how wrong that is. Because a horse needs to be lead, when they feel they are in charge they get anxious and potentially unpredictable. As far as they are concerned, they are responsible for the good of the herd- maybe they see their human as part of that herd, probably they don't, but they believe that if a lion leaps out of that hedgerow or a pack of wolves come rushing through the trees, they will have to look out for themselves. What they need us to do when we work with them is to show that we can be a reliable leader, that by listening to what we ask we can keep them safe. And this is a totally different way of thinking about leadership, it's leadership through accepting responsibility rather than leadership through taking charge. Sometimes you need firmness, certainly you need consistency and boundaries to establish and maintain that leadership, but you're showing those things not as a way of disempowering the horse, but as a way of reassuring them that the rules you have established still apply. Everything is still alright. It is a relationship where the leader gives back more than they take.

This is part of one of the core themes of the Arthurian cycle in some retellings, the notion of the connection between the king and the land- when the king is sick, the land sickens with him. The king is a part of everything and ( quite literally if you read Frazer ) sacrifices himself for his kingdom absolutely. The king who tries to impose the rule of law rather than might is right, the king who spends his life campaigning against vortigern's well established invaders and their destructive march westward, the leader who gives more than they take.

I wonder whether we have reached a turning point here, whether the arrival of a more aspirational president in the US will start to give people the idea that a leader can have something to offer them, rather than giving orders and making demands. These tides only turn slowly and storytelling often seems to lag behind the prevailing cultural trend, but I find myself hoping that a book like this written ten years from now might have a different view of what it means to be a leader. This isn't a bad book, by any measure, but the ideas reflected in it make me a little sad. It is certainly worth a read, but my recommended historical Arthur remains the one described in Sword At Sunset which is in a league of it's own.

July 2017

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