When I was 14, I was skiving out of doing my homework one night by watching Brookside with my mum. It was a pretty average episode until Mike Dixon, leather jacketed heart throb and rebel with a chin, came on the screen wearing a black T-shirt with the legend Rain printed on it in white writing. At this point I was steadily building my encyclopedic knowledge of indie music, and remember feeling somewhat miffed that a band could slip stealthily under my radar on to prime time television.
As well as building an internal database of indie artists, I was steadily puting together the foundations of my record collection. It was no small thrill when I found in the local advertisement paper coupon entitling the holder to purchase cheap records, namely 12” for £1 and 7”for 50p. I didn't know it at the time, but the shop dropping the discounts, Rainbow Records, was closing down. I had bought my cassettes from there, and found myself daydreaming about the small rack of 45s. No sleeves, just the paper die cut sleeve with the artist and title written in biro. This I found unbearably exciting. No pictures, no labels, no clues.
I was even more giddy when I rocked up one Sunday morning brandishing my voucher,and was told to go upstairs. When I reached the top I found a room containing the shops whole vinyl stock laid out on the floor, either randomly put together in plastic boxes or propped unsteadily on the floor. I've never found a better place to burn my paper round money.
I bought as much as my money would stretch to and my arms could carry (I could have bought the lot for a few of hundred quid) but the pick was a 10” called Lemonstone Desired and 7” on clear vinyl in a gatefold sleeve called Taste of Rain. Both records where by an artist called Rain.
The music was good. Guitar lead, with hints of blues and psychedelia. The music was driven, seemingly honed by years of hard touring, tight but with dirt under the fingernails. I flipped the 45 over to play the B-side. I've never stopped playing it.
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In his lecture, Has the iPod changed our relationship with music?, Bill Drummond describes the downside of having a whole library of music inside a tiny box. The problem, as he sees it, is one finds themselves skipping tracks, whole albums worth, in a bid to find something satisfying. I had the same problem, but came up with my own solution. I split songs into two category's-Ipod friendly and not. The former contain songs with a bit of oomph about them,unfussy and uncomplicated. Good walking music. The latter contains more delicate songs designed for listening to in ones bedroom. When I say that, I don't mean songs to play in the car or do the washing up to. I mean songs to listen to. It's dying art, just listening to a record. Just watching the vinyl of round and inhaling nothing but oxygen and the sounds coming out the speakers. Laughing Man, the B-side of Taste of Rain, is the perfect song for this. It's beautiful, one of my top five. An acoustic balled peppered with slightly Spanish flecks of chiming guitar. Seemingly about someone trying to look after someone else (I see you/You see me/Take my hand/and we'll be free/Just as darkness turns to light/I will help you through the night) but tentatively holding on themselves (The laughing man/Came beating down my door/I'm laughing man/But I can't take no more). It's real 4am,whisky in hand stuff.
I was obsessed by the song, playing it in the dark through headphones, trying to make sense of it. The words, the emotion of the track. Clues were thin on the ground. The band were signed to Sony, something I figured was due to the track Lemonstone Desired,a slightly 60's sounding record which echo's the Byrds.(you can hear the influence of Rain to a certain degree in The Coral but quite majorly in the Stands).
I could picture some A&R man trying to coin in the Stone Roses buck, down to it's Sally Cinnamon vibes . The sleeves bore witness to this, painted nude women, a mouth exhaling smoke. Who was the Laughing Man? For a while I though it may be based on the JD Salinger story of the same name, then after reading a dedication on the sleeve (“To all women everywhere, we would!”) and changed my mind. I sent an SAE to a mysterious 'Diane' via a Liverpool PO Box written in small print on the sleeve begging for information (and cheekily, some hand written lyrics to the song which gives you some understanding of my obsession) but received nothing back. The band had just vanished in to thin air. The song is possibly the only one I've played regularly since my teens. I love that song.
So I contacted the band, and one of the songwriter for contribution to this piece, and both , in a reaction eerily similar to Diane's, have been ignored. I was initially a bit pissed off, but once I got over taking it personally, I was actually pretty chuffed. Maybe it's better that it's not possible to find out a song meaning with a quick click on Google, maybe I will paint my own picture of what the writer is trying to tell us. Mystique is wonderful thing. If you read this far, you are probably itching to hear the record. Well, tough. There are no MP3's on Google, no tracks on Youtube. If you want to hear it, then just like me you will have to hunt down the record. With ipod , we are trying to find a track to rescue us, but the best songs are the ones trying to find us. As we get older, I think, we find less and less music that defines us, but it never stops being able to console and heal. A 7” record can change your whole body chemistry in seconds. Long may it run.