This is not a best of list. This is a series of fragments; songs released this year that have thickened with meaning. Songs I’ll hear and almost be able to taste the air of certain moments. An attempt to mark that particular, peculiar thing that music does – shifting and growing with meaning as time goes on. A mixtape of The Year I Moved To London – 2013.
1. Cat Fantastic
This song is two moments in 2013. The first moment is a gig on the 20th of January. In early January I wrote a review of 18.104.22.168.0 by TTNG – I loved it, and had travelled to the OBL in Shoreditch for the release show (this is pre-London, though at this gig I start saying out loud ‘I might move to London you know’). I may have spelled the title wrong in the review BUT WHATEVS. It’s a smart album. And I especially loved the burgeoning political awareness Henry was bringing to the band. I’m not good at music, I am good at words; my reviews tend to be lyrically-focussed and I think this was a bit of a relief for Henry, who probably gets a bit bored of people asking about tunings and time signatures. He sent me a really lovely thank you message, and dedicated this song to me at the show. That’s roughly the first time I’d properly smiled for a weeks or two, because my year had started with a break up – on the 6th of January.
My second moment is swimming in Ironmonger Row Baths, March or April, just after I moved. My pervading memory of that time is of being tired. People don’t tell you about how much travel eats your time in London. I was getting up at 6am, getting on a train (I hadn’t got the confidence to cycle yet) at 6:40, nearly passing out in the crowd, walking from London Bridge to Old Street to avoid the Northern Line, swimming for 80 minutes, and then into work for 10am. Then a gig in the evening usually. Get in about midnight if I was lucky. London added about 4 hours of travel into my day. I like cooking but had to keep eating on the go. I missed time to do proper exercise. And the break up, 3-4 months later, turned out to be one of those slow burn ones that don’t give up. I remember listening to this as I swum up and down at Ironmonger Row (waterproof mp3 players, they’re an imperfect science, but functional) and forcing myself to swim harder with stupid bargains. “If you pull as hard as you can in this sprint, maybe he’ll change his mind”. I can’t really listen to this album anymore.
2. Adventure Gun
Another album I reviewed – I don’t have the time to connect with records like this (in reviewing, I mean) at the moment, and I miss that. Another smart as hell record – Adventure Gun is a collection of beautiful noises crushed together with mundane inarticulacy. And, man, they really smash it live. This moment is another release show. This time in Farringdon, not far from work, for a change. This is a funny memory from the perspective of now. I have dinner with the (mostly) ex, catch up, and walk to the gig, someone pulls up next to us on their road bike, and then another guy arrives on a nice blue single speed – they’re mates of ex. I’m cycling by now, and am walking my bike up to lock it. I think I buy those two a drink. I don’t really remember what I thought of them, but in about half a year I’ll start hanging out with them all the time. Olympians play Home is Where Your Heart Breaks, and I stand next to the ex, who half looks at me because this, somehow, has become the song of our (at that moment) 6 month-long break up. He walks me home. Inadvisably.
3. Making friends
I love that we get to carry on making friends as adults. It’s a weird/trite observation but it always feels like a bit of a gift when you find a new one. I particularly like how making friends with people who make music I already like shifts how I listen to it. Jamie from yntl is one of my fave new friends from 2013, and it was a sad privilege to see his band play their unassumingly ill-announced last gig in Manchester this Autumn. I like all 3 of the yntl boys loads. They’re 3 of my favourite people, and deserve to be much happier than their music makes them sound. I started a label with Jamie this year. I need to get better at it, there’s a lot of learning to do. We’re hoping to put out new things in the new year though.
4. Delta Sleep
In May my friend John died. If you follow me or the things I write you’ll likely have seen something about that this year. I ran a trail marathon in his memory on the 7th of July. That was a tough run. It was the hottest day of the year, and it was basically across a mountain or two. Exposed, rocky terrain. I did it though. Around about the last 10k I sort of began to imagine John, running just ahead of me, beckoning me on. I had to push those thoughts back though because I needed to breathe, not cry. I got to the finish line and gathered the energy for a sprint. I finished. As soon as I stopped my knee seized up entirely. So I limped the 10m from the finish line into Coniston lake. The water was cold and alive and brilliant and I had to force back the desire to dive in as I didn’t know if I could get out again with my knee. I stood, and I looked out, and it came back. It laid on me and I cried. I scooped water onto my face and cried. The Delta Sleep album was the one I listened to on repeat the week I heard about John’s accident. In the moments after. If muffled the sound of grief for a bit.
5. Not watching a gig at the Windmill
This is the week, 7 months after moving to London, I suddenly begin to feel like I have a bit of a home in it. I willingly miss a band I’d like to see because I’m having a good time chatting out back with people who are becoming less familiar faces, and more like friends. Later that week I go away, and am pleased to be back. A couple of days before that gig I go on a long bike ride and have a really good evening playing mariokart. After this gig, on the bus home, the now 9-month-long break up finishes. We begin to negotiate ‘friends’. It will be difficult, but by Christmas, we’ll have managed it.
The friendships and community around ace music I’m beginning to find a place in make me a little sad for the beginning of that which I was feeling in Nottingham. Nowhere in London is as good as J. T. Soar. Because nowhere needs to be – you can always go somewhere else. J. T. Soar is a DIY venue run by a load of musicians, they put on ace shows for not much money, they feed their musicians ace vegan food and look after them really carefully, you can record there, you can go to film nights and record fairs there. Everyone is ace. I’m a bit sad I don’t have an opportunity to be a part of that like I might have. This song is a song Nick (in two Notts bands, and a big part of J. T. Soar) posted. I love Nick’s music tastes. Also he’s the BEST GUY. That’s the thing basically everyone tells you when you mention him, “that guy is the BEST GUY”, they say.
This piece of music is mine. My own finding. Not connected to a memory of anyone else, just a sense of peace. I found a good swimming pool. I listen to this on the bus on the way back from a good, exhausting 5k. I wish it wasn’t so far away, but it’s nice to have the space afterwards to fill with this. Beginning to really like the South East of London.
8. Learning spoken word
In November I start making music. This is a ridiculous idea, and should not be allowed, but apparently it happens. I get funding for, and start to make a new show called Songs For Breaking Britain. Which is a collaboration between me and two punk musicians. We collect stories from people in the street, and then make punk songs out of what people tell us makes them happy, angry, sad, what they think, where they’re from, how they feel about those things. My part in it is not really musical, but I write lyrics, and perform the first version of 3 songs for a few work in progress performances (3 more weeks of work to come in the New Year). I have to learn to listen well enough to do things in time. I even begin to sort of half sing half scream a chorus. I’m proud of the lyrics I write. I do a fuck ton of learning. It feels brilliant. I love performing like this. This song is one of the ones on repeat to listen to how people bring spoken word and music together.
9. New horizons
New music almost-friends begin to add me into new groups on Facebook, the one I value most is UK DIY and Experimental Pop which is hella interesting, and really good for me. I have very specific knowledge about music, and this group (or more truthfully, these almost-friends) begin to widen it. I love Son Lux, I would probably have never discovered it.
10. Nick and Tom playing Christmas songs on guitar and trumpet heard from the next room as I make mince pies. Mistakes and laughter and a form of human ingenuity which is a total and complete mystery to me. Cautiously happy.
Happy 2013. Here’s to the New Year. And to music.