Tuesday, 27 October 2015

Songs of runaway dreams miles away

Directionless wandering reveals another street of once-red brick terraced houses. Its not raining, exactly; but it has been. This could be Middlesbrough or Rugby or Dumbarton or Edmonton, could be Derby or Barrow or Kilmarnock, Pontypool or Bridgewater. The vociferous industry and municipal certainty that paved the fields and marshes over has drifted away. People round here are dispersed. These streets seem tired now, stranded.


Seven long years since I passed these gates/
Fighting for our king, don't know why, couldn't say/
And you don't want to cross me, I'm here to stay/
I'm going back to Hocken's Hey

Sometimes I think about the world/
Sometimes I think about the world outside

The world outside.

By Los Angeles standards West Adams is old, an antique neighbourhood. Mostly shabby now, hemmed in by freeways; but Little Richard was a resident, so too Ray Charles and Joe Louis. Back in the day. Arthur Taylor Lee and Johnny Echols met at high school here, formed a band. 1965 and The Grass Roots become Love. 1967 and hardly anyone buys Forever Changes; its a masterpiece.

This is the time and life that I am living/
And I'll face each day with a smile/
For the time that I've been given's such a little while/
And the things that I must do consist of more than style/
There are places that I am going

Places that I am going.

Sometimes I think about the world outside.

Michael Head is thinking about the world outside. He's on a different West Coast, but he gets Arthur Lee and he gets Love. His town has those murky red brick streets but it can also be technicolour: ask John Lennon, ask Julian Cope, ask Lee Mavers, ask Michael Head.

1997 and Michael makes a record with his brother John. The result is an alchemistic soundscape, juxtaposing inner-city drug dependency with pastoral folk that conjures visions of Middle Age sail-makers, travelling knights and harvest workers; mining the spirit of Arthur Lee and Love. Its awash with hope and melancholy. Hardly anyone buys The Magical World of the Strands; its a masterpiece.

Our village has seen your village from a distance/ 
Travelling through the waves/ 
Through fields of uncertainty/ 
Runaway dreams miles away

Runaway dreams miles away.

There are places that I am going.

Stranded? This record has always taken me away, in times when I was walking those red brick streets, metaphorically or in reality. It takes me to the greenwood and the old world, takes me to Mojave and Sierra Nevada in the new world; to wherever I want to be. Its as English as oak, as Californian as Laurel Canyon; its as urban as the decaying brick walls of terraced streets, as bucolic as dusk on a summers day.

These have been some hasty reflections on a record that is particularly important to me; a welcome distraction from the structured reading, writing and thinking of my PhD literature review.

The Magical World of the Strands has recently been re-released and you can find out more about it on the Shacknet web site. An album of outakes and demos, The Olde World is due for release soon.

My advice is to seek out both and anything else by Michael Head's other bands, The Pale Fountains, Shack and The Red Elastic Band. And, of course, the records of Arthur Lee and Love.