It is 1993.
I am twenty years old.
Pressed against the barrier in front of the stage at the now defunct Plaza Ballroom in Glasgow waiting for Suede to arrive.
First is the support act.
Nobody really cares about the support act.
Why would we?
Why should we?
How could we?
Then she is there.
Right in front of me.
A pair of purple, flared, corduroy trousers.
She looks amazing.
I have no idea who she is.
Then she starts to sing.
It is the single most beautiful sound I have ever heard.
It reminds me of things I haven’t heard yet.
Pierces my heart.
She is Monica Queen and they are Thrum.
A few days later I am sitting in a KFC in Glasgow, just across from Central Station and Tower Records. I am alone. I look up and there, in the line waiting to be served, are Thrum. If you didn’t already know they were in a band…you would know they were in a band. They were, to be obvious, cool. Cooler than me. Cooler than you too. Certainly cooler than U2.
As they walk past my table I blurt out something about having seen them supporting Suede and ask for an autograph from Monica. She signs my napkin.
Soon they have released the classic single “So Glad” and performed it on The Word. They are destined for greatness. How could they not be? Greatness doesn’t arrive. No, that’s not accurate…greatness has already arrived but success does not follow. The problem is the world won’t listen. Not to a band who are not singing in cor blimey accents and who value Emmylou Harris and Gram Parsons above Paul Weller and Madness. They are one of the best bands of the nineties and nobody knows about it.
It’s a tragedy.
In a world of tears I slowly drown.
There is an album, a great album, and then…they are gone.
A whisper heard by the keenest of ears.
I’m left only with the music.
Johnny Smillie, the best guitarist you haven’t heard of, builds a reputation as a producer…a studio figure, the stage his past and the mix desk his present and his future. Monica works with some other people, good people but not as good as she is, and then releases a couple of gorgeous records, filled with songs to heal your broken heart.
One could say that Johnny and Monica are cult figures.
Cherished by the few with near religious fervour.
Now they are back with a new album.
Under the moniker of Tenement and Temple they have recorded ten songs of aching, heart breaking, soul shaking…tender, fragrant, note perfect beauty and wonder. Listening to the opening track, “Loving Arms”, I am reduced to tears. The simplicity of Johnny’s playing, the piercing lilt of Monica’s voice. This is more beauty than we deserve in such an ugly world, filled with even uglier people…people like me.
This is the sound of pure country with gospel, soul and folk running through the veins of every track. “It’s Been a While Lord” is the sound of Emmylou singing Aretha Franklin’s gospel album “Amazing Grace”. “Where the Wild Roses Grow” is the best song Loretta Lynn never wrote or performed. Things draw to some sort of a close with a cover of “Blue Moon” that should stop your heart,
I know how this sounds. It sounds like I am over-egging a pudding, it sounds like hyperbole, it sounds like it’s too good to be true. That’s not what this is. This is something else. This is, whisper it, the truth. At least this is my truth, give me yours.
There are moments in your life when things seem just too much to bear. Moments when the black dog growls. Moments when the rain falls hard on your window and you can’t imagine ever seeing the sun again. Moments when the hurts and the pains seem more hurtful and painful than ever before. Moments when you don’t know who you are. There is now a cure for those moments and it is Tenement and Temple and their songs of healing and hope.