Take an harp, go about the city, thou harlot that hast been forgotten; make sweet melody, sing many songs, that thou mayest be remembered
(Isaiah 23:16, King James Version)
The sky is bright and clear.
The air is cold.
It is spring on the West coast of Scotland.
I should be in a lecture hall, listening to something about Durkheim or maybe Jung, but I’m not. I am lying on my bed. Alone, of course. Always alone. The house where I am renting a room is empty. Everyone else has gone to work or to take care of some business or other. I’m enjoying the silence while being simultaneously terrified by it.
Fear and loathing ripple through me.
I could say more but you get the general idea.
At some point I get dressed and leave the house.
The town where I am studying is a five minute train journey away and, if you judge it right, you can dodge the inspector and not have to pay for the pleasure. I scan the carriages as the train enters the station and try to spot him and guess from his posture which direction he is travelling.
I guess wrong and end up having to pay.
By this point in time my little brother has become a more prominent feature in my life as he has now enrolled at the same University. A few nights before, on a sojourn into Glasgow, he had managed to avoid paying the fare by scrawling “I am dead” onto a scrap of paper which he then stuck to his forehead with his own saliva. Train inspectors on the West coast of Scotland know, from bitter experience, that such a sight could be the gateway to something much worse and so he had simply moved on to the next customer.
When my train heaves its way to a halt at Paisley Gilmour Street I get off and walk out onto the street and sum up my choices. I could attend a tutorial, get on the next train back to my “home” or go to Stereo One, the record store at the rear of the station.
It’s not really a choice.
A few minutes later and I am inside Stereo One…browsing.
As I look through the racks something hits me.
A slightly wonky guitar…the clic-clac of drumsticks counting down, drums gently pounding…and then something so achingly beautiful, so gloriously joyous, so magnificently uplifting and so sweetly soulful fills every corner of the store and of my being.
Strings swoop and soar…when Smokey sings, as we all know, you hear violins but when this played it was the whole orchestra. A genuine wall of sound of the sort that Phil Spector could only ever have imagined in his most fevered dreams. There is no other sound now, only this. Everything has stopped…conversations, movement, the traffic outside and the tumult of emotions inside.
All of this inside the first thirty seconds and before the voice arrives.
Choirs of angels contained within one Heavenly being.
“So you wanna know me now…”
He had me at “So”.
Rich, strong, delicate, rising and falling, sad and joyous, gospel wails, downtown yells.
There was nothing, no-one, else like this.
Forget Liam’s Lennon and Lydon rock ‘n’ roll animal.
Forget Damon’s Davies and Suggs tribute act.
Forget Brett’s Bowie and Ferry affectations.
This was the sound of a real singer.
Oh, I don’t mean to sound unpleasant…I love Liam and Damon and Brett, each of them has brought me more happiness than I could ever explain to you…but McAlmont sounded like one of the greats; Marvin, Smokey, Stevie, Diana, Aretha and, at the same time, he sounded like nobody but David McAlmont.
This was “Yes”, the first fruits of the union of Bernard Butler and David McAlmont since each had split, in less than amicable ways, with their previous musical partners; Suede and Thieves. Who would have thought that between them they would release one of the greatest singles by a British act ever.
I can hear you.
“Here he goes again with the hyperbole.”
You are right.
I do get a bit carried away sometimes and I will concede that maybe, just maybe, Thurman are not quite as good as Bowie or T-Rex but just because I go a bit over the top sometimes doesn’t mean I’m wrong all the time.
I’m not wrong about this.
I think you know that.
If you were only ever going to be able to hear one piece of music for the rest of your life and I told you it was going to be this then I don’t know who would shed any tears…other than tears of joy. Oh sure there are other songs by other bands that you love and that might mean something to you but none of them sound like this, none of them lift you up in quite the same way and none of them could ever replicate the dizzy highs that this provides.
“What about…” I hear you say.
Well, I would if I was listening…but I’m not.
I’m listening to “Yes” instead.
That’s what you should be doing too instead of wasting your time thinking of songs that you think are better…they’re not. Accept it. Move on. Be happy.