Friday, 27 October 2017

Fate, Feist and the Northern Quarter

Back in 2003 I had an affair with a girl from Manchester which went quite predictably and quite disastrously wrong. I ended up going back to Shrewsbury with a broken heart and my tail placed pretty firmly between my legs. The scars from the relationship, as they tend to do, healed up with time. I found myself getting over the girl, but my love for the city of Manchester stayed unabashed and undimmed. Usually, during this time in my life I would get over a break up by getting myself as drunk as possible but I found this wasn’t quite the ticket.

This was my busy music period. I was attending as many gigs as humanly possible. If there wasn’t a show to go to, I would catch the train, as painful as it was, back to Manchester and spend a day record shopping. I used to enjoy a post shop drink in Dry bar, but one day descended the stairs to the toilet to witness two huge men passing over (and I've ransacked my memory of this but it always gives the same results) a yellow balloon full of what I can only imagine to be cocaine. After that (a most embarrassing encounter, they were clearly waiting for me to finish my business but the shock of seeing my first ever proper drug deal had left my penis unable to piss) the port of call for a post record shop drink was next door at the Night and Day café. I fell in love with the place a couple of years previous, during a hopelessly romantic and stupidly and pretentiously dim poetic stage. When I walked in the girl behind the bar wore a stripy top, peddle pushers and ballet shoes. She looked like something from a Kerouac novel, and I found myself quite smitten with the place.

I found myself going there more and more. It's great place to sit and think, the perfect point of communication (or lack of) for a heat broken berk from Shropshire. It was at this time that that things got a little weird between the café and I. I had found a 7” single in the bargain bin in Vinyl Exchange which I had, in truth, only bought because I liked the sleeve. It was a black and white shot of girl framed by a circle. She had a perfect fringe and white tights with arrows drawn on in thick marker pointing down. It was sexy; a bit sixties, a bit mod. The record was One Evening by Feist. The A side was really good, an organ led half pissed on wine ditty to new and unexpected love (which as you can imagine was quite the tonic) but the B-side was better, a piano led woozy ballad called Lovers Spit, a song about relationships being a curse, which as you can imagine suited me even better. It's about now that strangeness kicks in. I strutted into Night and Day with the 7” in a cute little plastic bag to find Feist playing over the PA. Strange, I thought as I ordered my cup of tea. But this would go on happening. Over the next few trips I found (and I swear I'm not making this up) which ever record I bought would be playing when I walked into Night and Day. This happened maybe four or five times until it got to the point where I was almost expecting it. This is where things turn really strange.

I had finished my record shop at Vinyl Revival and walked out to head to Night and Day fully expecting to here my purchases played when I got there. As exited the door, there was two teenagers, a girl and a boy, looking at the stock in the shop window. The girl had caught sight of something exciting, possibly the mugs and yelled at her friend with great animation 'Hey! Joe!' whilst pointing at whatever took her fancy. Of course my mental jukebox started playing Hey Joe by Jimi Hendrix. I took the minute walk to Night and Day and, mind blowingly, the said tune was belting out of the speakers. Spooky, no? I tried to rationalise all this. Told myself that the people behind the bar at N&D probably picked up the same bargains at nearby Vinyl Exchange, but then I thought about the amount of people shuffling the thousands upon thousands of cards in the CD racks and thought no. I read somewhere that it would be, statistically speaking, odder not to hear the tune you were humming come on the radio seconds later than to hear it. But five times on the spin? Was my insomnia making my brain make weird connections?

A few months later, after playing her debut LP to death, I found out Feist was doing a gig at the Night and Day. I took this as some sort of sign and booked myself a ticket. I'm not sure what I was expecting. The heavens to open and some sort of light to pour down on me through the Manchester sky. To meet the love of my life maybe? I don't know, but I was expecting something. As it turned out, the gig was uneventful. So uneventful that I can't find any record of it even taking place. There's nothing on the internet, but it happened. I was there. So were maybe thirty other people and place seemed sadly empty for such a great performance. She was brilliant (as was her band), a total star. Speaking in French between songs and belting out her songs like her life depended on it. She even wore the outfit she donned on the 7” sleeve. The support that night was a young lad called Sam Hammond and he was brilliant too. He was a good looking lad with a strong jaw of wispy beard and dressed (almost certainly by Pop Boutique) like an old blues man. He looked like he travelled with nothing but a small suitcase and a guitar and sang like someone who had lived a thousand lives. His songs were peppered with Dylan, but with an urban coffee shop twist. I thought his set was brilliant. I went home, though slightly disappointed that Dionysus didn't appear or anything, happy; trying to put such daft thoughts about coincidence and fate out of my head.

A couple of months after that, I went to a gig a lot closer (ten minutes from my house in fact) to home at the Buttermarket in Shrewsbury. It was by a Manchester band called Longview who had released a few singles on the 14th Floor label that had bothered the indie charts a bit. I usually, or at least did, get to gigs nice and early but being so close to my house I had left pretty late and when I climbed the steps to the hall the lights were already out signifying the support had started, I made my way through the dark the the bar when I heard a familiar voice singing. “I'm just a pawwwwn in her gaaayme'. It was Sam Hammond. He played another blinder, though weirdly to few more people than the Feist gig and had gone down well. I saw him at the bar after his set and bought him a pint. Told him I thought his said was great and how weird it was that I saw him randomly a few weeks back and even weirder here. He gave it the old 'Oh thanks man' with that slow head nod pop stars do when they are being flattered. 'So what music to you like?' he asked. I told him I was stuck on a song called Dark of my Moon. 'They Gene Clark song!' he shouted suddenly animated, spilling his Guinness over his suit 'I bloody love that song!'. He wrote down the chords for me, we shook hands. He most likely went his way, and I went mine.

I hadn't thought about any of this, the N&D coincidence, the Feist gig or any of it for well over a decade. There was a post recently, a pretty funny meme, on twitter about Bob Dylan that had gone 'viral'. The poster was someone called Sam Hammond. Was it the same guy? It was, of course, and the memories came flooding back. I tried to find Sam's CD, unplayed for a good twelve years, but searching the house high and low couldn’t find it. I tried searching Ebay to buy another copy but found that I couldn't remember the title. I half remembered it being named after the date it was recorded. And there it was. Sam Hammond. 171203. It was cut exactly four years before the death of my father. Spooky, no? 

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