My memory, as I advance in years, is slowly becoming more and more unreliable and scattily sieve like but I can tell you exactly what I was doing on April the 20th 2009. I was on the train to Manchester to purchase My Maudlin Career, the forth LP from Camera Obscura, from Piccadilly Records. I was almost certainly wearing corduroy trousers.
I had in fact effected a similar ritual for the bands predecessing record, Lets Get Out of This Country. I was idly pissing about on the internet one day in 2006, scrolling through the Teenage Fanclub message board, when I saw a thread someone had put up basically saying he was bored of music and could anyone recommend something? The very first reply was the sleeve for LGOOTC. No further recommendation or explanation, just a jpeg of a young lady looking slightly forlorn in front of some very impressive wall paper. In an incredibly and unusually impulsive action, I went to the train station that very afternoon to set off to buy it. It was pretty obvious that nowhere in Shrewsbury would stock it, so off I went. I'm not really one for kismet or fate or any of that but I knew this was one of the records that would change, or at the very least save, my life.
And so we find ourselves some three years later in 2009 and on the train once again, though now things a are little different. About a year and a half previous my Dad had quite unexpectedly and very tragically died a week before the Christmas of 2007. To say I found this devastating would be something of an understatement. I had started, rather understandably in my opinion, to drink quite heavily and quite often. It wasn't until I found myself drinking my thirteenth pint of Guinness on night whilst (and this but will always sum up this period for me) trying to read a paperback book under the garish lights of an awful nightclub that I realised how far I was slipping. This was the wake up call I had so desperately required, and after a sharp reduction of alcohol and a course of grief counselling I started to slowly and Bambi like get myself back on my feet.
I was living on a house share at the time of My Maudlin Careers' release, with my mate Titch, in a Victorian terraced house in leafy-ish area of Shrewsbury called Belle Vue. It was, and is, a lovely area with an odd mix of house shares, young families and retired couples. It was small (our street was so narrow the fire brigade used to drive their engines down it as a training exercise) and quiet, the perfect place to get a head back together. There was a little pub, the Prince of Wales, just around the corner which did the best pint of Tribute I have ever tasted and, if you got there early enough, a lock in with old men who seemed genuinely glad of your company and always had a packet of crisps to take back to the wife.
It was all very idyllic except for our next door neighbour who was, in old parlance, built like a brick shithouse but paradoxically spoke a but like Joe Pasquale. He was a gym addict who we secretly suspected of partaking in steroids, which would explain his temper. He was mostly always fairly nice to our face (“Not bad? You?”) but would react to anything he deemed too loud, walking up the stairs say, but smacking the daylights out of the wall. If you really pissed him off, he would play his dance music (always always the episode of the 'Dangerous' Dave Pearce Radio One show which he must have taped directly off the radio) at a volume so loud you would swear it was coming form your room. I was spared the real horror though. Every Sunday at exactly one in the afternoon, poor Titch had endure the sound of steroid man having sex with his girlfriend. The noise he made, according to Titch, was similar to man attempting to destroy a car with his bare hands. It would sometimes last up to twenty minutes where post grunt it would become suddenly and eerily silent. Then in celebration the Dave Pearce tape would start.
In the January of that year I had gingerly started to write a blog about music. It was Marilyn, my grief counsellor's, idea to write. (So you want to be a writer?/fantastic idea). Not as an outpouring of emotion or anything but as a way of decluttering and easing a full and frantic mind. This was a little after the time I had started to watch Camera Obscura play live up and down the country as a sort of coping mechanism against the grief. It was nice being around people bit not having to interact with them unless I wanted too. Ever since I was a teenager I found gigs a great place to defragment a mind and I found myself gently being absorbed back into real life.
In search of CO live dates I had stumbled across yet another message board called Anorak, where I discovered something called 'indiepop'. It was a place where I was not only discovering new and amazing music by the armful, I also found people who needed and appreciated music just as much as I did and clutched records to their bosoms as of their lives depended on it, which in some cases it did. Indiepop and Anorak seemed like a cosy scene, but with a razor sharp political edge. We could make cupcakes but we could also print our own t-shirts and fanzines, put on our own shows and tours and release our own records entirely by our own endeavour and industry and entirely on our own terms. I found myself writing about the bands that kept popping up and stealing my heart not only because I knew the music press wouldn't cover them, but because I totally and absolutely needed people to see how incredible and precious these bands were. I genuinely adored them. People baulked at the word 'twee', but we were precious and we were cute and we were nice. The best comment I've read about indiepop and indiepop people (and I wish I could remember who said it) was someone baffled to how they got cast as dull bookish virgins because in this persons experience indiepoppers gave the filthiest and most depraved phone sex. There is definitely something in that.
I was quite enjoying my little life, surviving on a diet of pasta, Josie Long DVD's, 'Allo Darlin' records,Pall Mall reds, long, long walks, strong Yorkshire Tea and writing about whatever band or label had popped into my life to make it infinitely better. I was playing the living shit out of the first Pains of Being Pure at Heart LP (released a month before My Maudlin Career and signifying that indiepop was an internationalist movement) when the news of a brand new Camera Obscura record broke out. I erroneously reported in my blog that the record was called My Modelling Career, which got me a polite but firm bollocking from Carey and advice how I should wait for the band official announcements in the future. It was a fair cop. What I didn't tell Carey was, by some incredibly good fortune, I had a friend whose flatmate worked for the NME, and subsequently received in the post a CDR of the new album with a note wishing me well and begging me to not to share the content and his mate could get sacked. This was the bands first album for 4AD, a major leap from uber indie Elefant. With a deep breath I put in the disc and pressed play.
Where Let's Get Out of This Country was about escape and new things (though paradoxically with the best homesick song ever released in the form of Country Mile) My Maudlin Career was about self reflection and soothing calm and putting ones self back together. It's perfect pop. Listen to the tinkles opening the title track. It could be Abba. 'My maudlin career has come to an end/I don't want to be sad again' for gods sake. It could have been written for me. How easy it was to get lost in it's shimmering cinematic sweep of strings, it's confiding and heart melting lyrics, it's brass and sass. How easy to drift away into it's world of dusty libraries and heartbreakers. You can almost hear the whir of the cinema projector. My Maudlin Career is a balm for those who loved and got their heart burnt, a road map for the sad and lost and people simultaneously lonely and in love. A swooning cuddle of a record with a knowing nod.
And now years and tears later, I find myself a father myself, still an admirer and lover of pop music but less dependent on it's ability to rescue. I spend my days rooted firmly in real life with the occasional excursion to the world of pop, instead of vica-versa like I used to. But sometimes when all is dark and quiet I put on headphones and put the needle on the record and I remember. I remember.