Hello you! This is a blog post that I’ve been meaning to write for a while. In fact there are a handful up my sleeve. Firstly, a very happy new year to you!
Yep, I know it’s February, but January was proper hectic, so my apologies. I started the year thinking I was okay, but the truth is, though I wanted to be, I wasn’t. A pair of healing hands and a good chat has helped a bit. I don’t think I would have been able to complete the master edit of Gunshot Glitter otherwise. I got through about 350 pages in just over a month! That was exciting. I shaved off 45 pages and was pretty exhilarated and happy by the end. It’s now with some good folk being proof-read as I type : ) I’m nervous, but genuinely excited. I really hope you love reading Gunshot Glitter when you’re holding it in your hands.
And also I worked. I did a bit of freelance copy-writing role with Upad in Kensal Rise, so that was really, really cool. A bit of fiscal breathing space. Plus, on the weekend just gone I met a part of my childhood. I met this man:
Do you know who he is? This is Nick Heyward formerly of Haircut 100. The dude is a honey. My muffs had him mesmerised. I didn’t have a pre-pubescent crush on him but I loved the songs. Love Plus One, Fantastic Day and my personal favourite Boy Meets Girl ( Favourite Shirt). My first popstar crush believe it or not was on Bob Geldof! I was all of six years old when that happened. It was those gangly limbs and eyes and mouth that did it for me.
Him and John Travolta. I once wrote a letter to Mr Travolta. I put ‘John Travolta, America’ on the front but was literate enough to write our address on the back, drew on a stamp and posted it. This postman bought it back to our house and handed it to my dad. My dad did not look happy…
Getting back to 2012. I was on the Central line tube heading back to the newly snowy Greenford with my friend Trevor when I sighed – “I’ve got ‘Whistle Down the Wind’ going around in my head.” I was sat next to this man reading a play by Richard Harris who’d I’d got chatting to and he sat up and said “The Nick Heyward song?!” and then we excitedly started talking about music. I told him about Nick’s lunchtime ‘Daylight Session‘ set at the Union Chapel in Islington, how great his solo stuff was. And he told me how Nick Heyward had gone all beefcake like Arnold Schwarzenegger for a bit, which I still can’t quite comprehend, for the boy was such a delicate, milky-skinned poppet! I quickly established this playwright-dude had a passion for the ’80s, but I wanted to know what he was interested in now and he admitted he was out of touch with the current music scene.
And then I did the thing I always find myself doing when I get talking about music to new friends and complete strangers. I asked this immortal question:
“Have you ever listened to Ed Harcourt?”
Ed Harcourt. Edward Harcourt-Smith, Ed Harcourt formerly of Snug, Ed or the Wolfpup as I sometimes affectionately refer to him as, when he’s all beardy, is my favourite male singer-songwriter. Period. Also, in a weird way too, without really lifting a finger he’s been a catalyst of change in my life. And that is why I’ve decided to blog about him today. Sometimes you get people like that, they’re part of some larger butterfly effect that plays a pivotal role in shaping the dynamics of your life-story. I know I’ve played that part in people’s lives too. And if you think about it, lovely reader, you will have too. Most definitely. I am a writer first and foremost but I am positively fanatical when it comes to good music. And I am really, really fussy too. Trust me I wouldn’t have spent the whole day writing this if I didn’t think he deserved it!
I’d first heard of Ed Harcourt back in 2001. My friend Andy Steele had seen him support Beth Orton at a gig and liked him so much he’d bought his album’ Here Be Monsters‘, there and then.
I think he might even have put it on but we ended up talking over it. Then months later I’d gone to the V Festival in Essex and this Ed fella who there was a bit of a buzz about was on the bill. We missed his set by five minutes. He was on the main-stage. I remember looking at his non-smiling photo in the festival guide all dressed up smart with his floppy dark hair and thinking, he looks a bit grumpy! And that was it.
Then two years later when I was staying in the Scorpio’s pad in Newbury while trying to get my next job back out in the Maldives ( I can’t remember if you know that about me, I worked in the Maldives as an English trainer, I should blog about that sometime) – I remember MTV2 playing this wee clip of a song called ‘Jetsetter’ by him over an advert for his album, ‘From Every Sphere’. I liked the little clip, but I’d still not heard anything properly by him..
Fast forward to 2004 and the summer I made friends with the beautiful, but now sadly deceased Jeremy Smith, and we were doing that thing me and Jez loved to do, which was discuss music. And he told me he was really enjoying an album called ‘Strangers’ by Ed Harcourt. ‘ I’ve never really heard anything by him’ I told Jez, ‘but I have heard of him.’ Jez was really enthused about this Harcourt boy. I thought okay, I’ll bear this in mind.
He’d turned me onto some great stuff like Adem and Cat Power so I was happy to take his recommendations on faith. Months later I found myself in Virgin Megastore at the top of Regent St clutching a few CDs perusing the 5 for £30 deal section and there, sitting in front of me, where….two Ed Harcourt CDs. I didn’t know any of the songs on either of them. I looked at the covers, I thought the cover of ‘From Every Sphere’ was softer, more romantic. I liked the font more. That was my sole rationale for choosing it!
I remember it was autumn by then, and I’d had a long day and I was really, really looking forward to a hot, bubble bath. I vividly recall putting on candles and the steam rising off the water, putting on this CD and sinking into the water with a satisfied sigh. And lying back and letting this CD wash over me. It started with a song called ‘Bittersweetheart’, which had this lovely, warm piano part and his voice. His voice was gorgeous.
I remember thinking of hot apple and custard. It was like being seated in front of a roaring fire with a cashmere throw around my body and eating a nourishing, hearty pudding. I hadn’t been expecting that. The cosy darkness and warmth. The whole album was just stunning from start to end. Just sheer class. The lyrics were brilliant, romantic, funny, morbid, dark, hopeful and the amount of variety in all the songs meant you got to explore a different part to this English boy’s soul. ‘Metaphorically Yours’ – ‘ Oh baby just admit, if both my wrists were slit, you’d bandage them with style and grace.’ Just cracked me up! It’s one of the greatest, sweetest love songs ever, despite that lyric I’ve just quoted you. I’ve requested it often at gigs. I might even have it played at my wedding if I ever get married.
I’ve said all that and you could be forgiven for thinking, God that sounds a bit depressing Yasmin, but I assure you, categorically, it’s not. Read the whole blog and then come back and listen to this or enjoy it now so you can see what I mean:
(I couldn’t find the whole song but hope you enjoy the clip!)
‘From Every Sphere‘, the title-track, just slayed me.
It was soft, whispery, sad, emotional and had layers and layers of melancholy instrumentation that gave it an almost ghostly, shimmery feel. It’s magical, mournful. I don’t think I’ve ever been so blown away by the first play of an album. It was the sheer warmth of it that undid me. It was just pouring out of the speakers and I was in love with it. I didn’t understand why this record wasn’t the biggest-selling record in the world. Later on I discovered it hadn’t done that well compared to his Mercury Music Award nominated début ‘Here Be Monsters’. I was incredulous, much the same way I was when Prefab Sprout‘s stunning ‘Goodbye Lucille,’ wasn’t a giant hit in 1986.
I wanted to know and hear everything by him. When I get into anything I am extremely enthusiastic. I want to know everything yesterday. Patience doesn’t exist in my vocabulary when I get like that. I love those moments. I swear I go off like a rocket. I wanted to see him live and remembered coming across a gig preview for a show he was playing at St James’s Church in Piccadilly in the Evening Standard and being beyond excitable. ‘I must go. That music in a church, wow!!’ Then my ensuing abject misery and dejection when I realised the paper was an old issue and the gig had come and gone.
Back then, I’d never used forums or frequented fan sites much. But I had a mooch on his. It was 2005 by then and I honestly didn’t expect anyone to be that genuine or friendly, but his fan base were a bit of a revelation. They were pretty lovely. Even the acid-tongued members had a sense of humour. There was no posturing or bitchiness. And the thing that struck me about them wasn’t just their love and protectiveness of the wolfpup and joy in his talent, but also their sheer love of other music. There was a lot of keen sharing or recommendations and intelligent wit and humour.
I discovered so much good stuff never gets on the radio. I’ve got my friend Fran to thank for getting me into Sol Seppy for example. A singer who used to be in Mark Linkous’ (rip) band Sparklehorse and had released a stunning album in 2006 called ‘The Bells of 12‘ on Bella Union. Listen to ‘Slo Fuzz’ if you are savvy enough to check it out : )
Jo turned me onto Metric and Patrick Wolf. Ella made me a CD of great alternative folk. In the three odd years that followed, I spent hours on that forum in the evenings and it was always a pleasure. (Except for deleting tons of horrific spam when the Heavenly site admin made me a moderator. I still have no idea who Danity Kane is, but there was always a bloody link of hers to delete of her dancing naked.)
At that point in my life, in 2005, I hadn’t ever gone to a small gig either. My smallest gig venue had probably been the Town and Country Club in Kentish Town seeing Julian Cope play live. So when I heard that Ed was playing at the Marie Lloyd Bar in Hackney to launch his friend Hadrian Garrard‘s music night ‘ Signed Unsigned‘ I was actually very nervous. You can’t hide in a small place. It took a lot of balls for me to go on my own. I remember taking a book in case no one talked to me, so I’d have something to do. The idea of being on my tod, feeling lonely with no distraction frightened the crap out of me. When I went home I counted I’d met eleven different people that night. Including Ed, himself.
I still remember him walking in, clad in a big black overcoat and how a little voice in my head went ‘Arrgghh!’, just like it does whenever you see anyone you admire in the flesh for the first time. You want to be cool but 75% of you is like jelly. He took a seat in front of me, turned around to make sure he wasn’t obscuring my view and then got on with watching the bands. I stared at his shoulder for ages, and then thought screw it! I tapped him gently on it and said something like ‘ Why didn’t From Every Sphere take over the world, it’s such an amazing record.’ or something like that. I remember it was a question about the album. And he smiled and we got talking. He was really sweet. I still felt shy but I was pleased I hadn’t cowarded out. The set was short and sweet, and he told me he was playing a gig the next night at The Buffalo Bar in Islington with his thrash heavy metal outfit Wild Boar. It was a band he’d put together for fun.
I decided to go along and he remembered me. It was freezing that eve. I put tights on under my jeans when I went out. This time I introduced myself to him properly, and later on we took this photo. I was heading out the venue when we collided with each other and this sweet Japanese boy obliged us:
The gig itself that night was mental. Wild Boar were hilarious but melodic. Song titles included ‘ My Baby’s Got a Monster Truck’ and ‘Henry Rollin’s Neck is Bigger Than His Head.‘ I also saw The Noisettes play, who were very up and coming back in 2005. I watched Shingai Shoniwa doing pilates prior to their set. Hard-Fi were headlining. I’d never been to two gigs in two nights. There is no guarantee a musician you dig will be likeable either. They could be a right tosser! But I liked him. Why? Because Ed’s very approachable. He’s a heart on sleeve kind of guy, if he’s happy you’ll know it, if he’s feeling stroppy or vulnerable you’ll know that too. I once asked Ed about his horoscope and he said a woman in Glastonbury had told him he was a Leo with a Leo ascendant. A true lion. And a gentleman.
The other thing that was cool about him was that he organised these music all-dayers at the Nektar bar in Kensal Rise called ‘ Meet the Greek’, because the place was owned by this spectacularly temperamental guy called Dimitri, who when he was cross would close his bar, forcing everyone up the road for their booze, which was a bit surreal if you think about it, because it lost him cash. And his electricity once went out when The Magic Numbers were playing as his meter had run out!
But the place was near some music studios so handy for Ed and his friends to store gear at. Those Saturdays were really great; Ed and Nick de Cosemo (Mixmag magazine editor and DJ/musician) would basically gather musical friends together and they’d all play a short set each, one after the other – interspersed with some fine djaying from Andre Shapps ( Ex-Big Audio Dynamite now in the Rotten Hill Gang). And the sweetest thing of all was it was free.
They did it because it was fun and it gave them a chance to hang out, relax and perform. Anyone could go along if you knew it was happening. I saw The Magic Numbers, Robyn Hitchcock, Headland, The Smoke Fairies, Johnny Flynn, performance poet Niall Spooner-Harvey, Jeremy Warmsley, Pearl Lowe, Sandy Dillon, Paloma Faith, Bikini Atoll, Ten Bears, The Veils, Graham Coxon, Tom McCrae and dozens of other bands play on various Saturdays. One of my favourite days featured Hush The Many, an incredibly *special* band who Ed championed and bought to his fans’ attention. I met Nima their lead singer at Meet The Greek and can still remember watching quite mesmerised as he played his guitar with a violin bow. I’d never seen anyone do that before.
If Ed thinks someone is good, he wants everyone to know about it. In that respect, musically, he’s really generous and he enjoys originality. There are a lot of bands who owe him thanks on that score. When he took Swedish band The Tiny and Hush The Many on tour with him in 2006 he’d end his set with ‘Revolution Of The Heart’ from his album ‘The Beautiful Lie’ and have both bands join him on stage for it. How many headline acts can you say would do that?
I went to a lot of gigs during that era of my life and met a massive amount of musical or artistic souls. People I probably wouldn’t possibly have met otherwise. And at that point in my life I craved that. Hadrian Garrard, Ed’s trumpet player, encouraged me to take to the stage at the Marie Lloyd Bar in Hackney on my 32nd birthday and perform some of my poems live. I’d never done anything like that in my life. I was really nervous but it was also a lot of fun. At first he wanted me to sing but there was no way that was happening. I read out a poem about my love for Rik Mayall and how getting older was actually cool. Ed also played a set that night, ( fresh from a US tour with Martha Wainwright I think?) so it was extra, extra special.
I went on after him as a poetess. My friend Simon Toon who runs a fantastic website called Slam Idol for performing poets featured it on his show.
I made some great friends from his fan base too. Lovely people. Inevitably you’re going to meet not- so-lovely-people too, some musicians have egos too large to fit in a room and are pretty ungracious. But it was all exciting and it was all good. It was reality, not the stuff I’d grown up reading about in Smash Hits as a kid. I used to feel guilty at times in truth, because I’d been raised to stay a million miles away from that side of western culture. You’re reading a blog written by a girl who saw her first film at the cinema when she was eighteen. I’m a cosmopolitan soul with a massive innocent streak running through it, which some people probably don’t believe is quite for real when they encounter it, but it is. (You’ll be even more surprised by that statement when you read Gunshot Glitter. Especially the chapter titled ‘Sixteen Minutes.’ : ) ) But I enjoyed those musical Saturdays and the chance to chill out, enjoy a freshly-made minty Mojito and chat.
Ed would open the day with a solo set, which Gita his equally musical wife would sometimes accompany him on, he’d take requests from everyone and then all the bands would play a set at the front of the bar. I took loads of pix and I’d blog about it all. And then he’d end the night with a riotous set with his thrash heavy metal alter-ego band ‘Wild Boar,’ sometimes dressed up in animal costumes or face masks. I still remember the gorgeous music producer Dimitri Tikovoi on drums dressed as a giant pink bunny.
I think the thing that a lot of people don’t know about Ed is how funny he is. He can be really, really funny. He once posted a MySpace birthday greeting photo of himself wearing a Native American head-dress on my wall.
Maybe not what you’d expect from a ‘singer-songwriter piano-playing troubadour’ as the music press like to earnestly bill him? Musically though, he deserves 100% to be taken seriously.
And this brings us onto MySpace. I mentioned blogs there : ) At this point in time I’d started to write again.
In 2004 I’d written a short story called ‘The Birthday Present‘ and shown it to Jez and my friends. Back then there was no social media, not really. Not on the scale there is now. And no one bar my friends had read any of my writing and I’d never tried to get published either.
Ed set up a page on a new website called MySpace for Wild Boar. I remember all of us on the Forum discussing it and then many of us over time created our own MySpace pages. For many of the fans it was also the first time they discovered what each other looked like. It was that whole English shyness thing up until that point. I remember going along to his gig at Cecil Sharp House and introducing various personalities to each other for the first time. That was a lovely night. MySpace was an amazing thing and I will always be grateful to it because it showed me I was a good writer and not just because my friends said so!
So, I started blogging and these blogs picked up an audience of hundreds which was a revelation to me. Complete strangers leaving positive comments. It was aces. I loved it. I wrote about bands, life, films, art, my heart and people dug it. I posted poems. I posted photographs. I’m sure I would have come across MySpace in good time as it was magnificent, but back then, I heard about it because Ed set up a page on it.
This is what I mean about the ‘butterfly effect‘. People affect each other. Musically, I love him and the dude deserves hugeness he really does. He doesn’t sit easily in any musical genre, he’s a versatile maverick in that respect but I’ve never taken anyone to any of his shows and have them come away going: ‘What a heap of crap!’
And his lyrics, I’ve not said enough about his lyrics. The stories he weaves into his songs and the weird and wonderful instruments he finds to play them on. Optigan anyone? There’s a song called ‘I’ve Become Misguided,’ which is a live favourite because of the amount of sounds he into the song about half-way through:
Ed can write a love song to make you melt like ‘This One’s For You’ and then ‘Scatterbraine‘ about a village idiot taking out some local maidens and going on the run from the law. ‘Scatterbraine, they smoked you out of the foxhole/Scatterbraine, you act like a priest in a brothel/Naive charm, the idiot boy from the farm/Father tried to save you with prayers and psalms/Grace and Lydia and Dorothy/The village idiot sent them to sleep – and make it sound like a riot.
He’s the only singer whose ever written a song which forced me to look the title up in the dictionary. That’s pretty cool. The title? ‘Lachrymosity.’ It’s an absolute fave of mine. You can hear it on ‘Lustre.‘
I think I’ve watched Ed play live over thirty times since 2005? That figure is a bit mad but I’m including the Meet The Greeks in that. He’s a great raconteur on stage, a lot of fun to watch, but hearing those songs live is a beautiful thing. Though between 2009-2011, which was “The Era Of Hermitude” for me focusing on Gunshot Glitter – and the dialing back of live shows for him, as he became a father, there was a lull. I somehow didn’t manage to see him live at all.
I kept tabs on him via Facebook, but our paths didn’t cross and he was no longer doing the Saturday all-dayers. I’d gone from twigging I’d seen more of him than my poor mum to not seeing him at all! Also the musical landscape that meant we bumped into each other at people’s gigs had altered too. Hush The Many split up in 2008 and we’d both them loved them very much. But then a lovely thing happened last year in 2011.
He booked a gig at Bush Hall in west London. This is one of my favourite venues. I was so excited about seeing him live after all this time and seeing a few familiar faces. I saw Fran for the first time in ages, met Charmian who’d posted on his forum, and bought two friends with me who’d never seen him before, but God they’d heard enough about him from me! My friend Richard was also there. I was stood near the front of the crowd next to Ed’s mum and his mother-in-law for most of it. When Ed turned to me for a prompt for a lyric he’d forgotten and I whispered it to him, his mum told me off for distracting him which was really funny! The set was awesome and the boy was swamped by fans when he came off stage. There was a lot of love in the room for him that night. The bouncers were pressing on everyone to exit. But I got this lovely snap of us.
The thing I probably love most about his songs is that they’re kind of comforting, and for me personally, have a kind of restorative quality to them. I spent much of December feeling pretty fragile and going to this gig sent me home with a smile and a feeling that everything would be okay. I saw the New Year in with him too, clad in a pair of ruby red glittery shoes in Camden. Ed played a New Year’s Eve show at The Bull and Gate which my friend Trevor kindly treated me too. We were there until 2am dancing, so 2012 started beautifully with music and hope. And I sincerely hope 2012 is filled with beautiful things for you too. Thanks for reading.. x x x
If you are new to Ed Harcourt, do go back to all those links I lovingly posted and check him out! And if you are a fan, I hope you enjoyed a little trip down memory lane : )
**Plus, keep an eye out for an exclusive interview with him I have coming very soon. You are going to love it!**
I’ll leave you with this beautiful video to ‘Until Tomorrow Then.’
Find out more here: http://www.edharcourt.com/