The Birds Were Singing Of You to Black-Eyed Susie

BIT of a delay in this post as the last week or so has disappeared into a black hole – both in terms of a long run of tracks on the iPod and the way time appears to have disappeared into the abyss.

To a soundtrack that started and finished with the vintage Americana of Uncle Earl, the last couple of weeks have crammed in a stag weekend in Edinburgh, far too much time sat in the office, not enough time sat watching the Tour de France, a leaving do, the tail end of the World Cup and, perhaps inevitably after the last post, problems with my car.

Gypsy's Curse
Gypsy’s Curse

It was almost the blogging alternative of the commentator’s curse – a phrase which conjures images of being forced to listen endlessly to Andy Townsend by an angry gypsy.

No sooner had my car’s remarkable staying power been praised in writing than it decided to stop working. One minute it was fine, the next it refused to budge, like a recalcitrant horse who had just been informed it was off to the knacker’s yard (as appears the likeliest outcome for my car ahead of me heading off to Africa).

Turning the key produced nothing but a fading whirr and evidence the electrics had given in, resetting the clock to January 1, 1900 (not that the clock’s car has been right for years).

By the time the RAC man pulled up just before 10.30pm two days later – that black hole had sucked away the time until a belated call – there wasn’t even a whirr.

It took approximately 30 seconds for him to diagnose the problem – a bad cell in the battery – and relay the news that the car had been driving around with a battery which was too small for at least the 12 years it has been ferrying me about.

It had also been held in place by the same screws for all that time, several of which had got quite attached to their spots under my bonnet, ensuring the twitching curtains of the nursing home next to where the car was parked had a few minutes’ longer to watch what these two blokes were doing that late at night (well, what one was doing and what was just nodding along to while realising he had just bought a new battery for a car that was likely to reach the end of its road in a couple of months).

One side effect of the car problem – and one of the reasons ringing the RAC was delayed to avoid being called out halfway through – was the walk home from watching the World Cup final at my sister’s.

Or rather, the walk home at half-time in extra-time to provide more time to watch the highlights of that day’s Tour de France stage. The walk home that, having watched 105 minutes of goalless football, ended with my front door opening accompanied by a tweet congratulating me on causing Mario Goetze’s winning goal.

At least Andy Townsend wasn’t commentating.

Tour De France `89Le Tour has been my summer obsession since Channel 4 first started showing daily highlights in the mid-1980s – in fact, even before that when World of Sport showed a weekly lunchtime round-up.

While the crack of leather on willow may be the traditional soundtrack of summers gone by – increasingly supplanted by the great God of football – mine has long been the sounds of excitable Frenchmen, drug allegations, Gary Imlach, Phil Liggett and Paul Sherwen (the last two of which, sadly, have seen better days).

Never has a cheese and ham toastie (ordered a croque monsieur, but let’s be honest about what it really is) tasted so good as the one eaten at the top of the Col du Tourmalet, high point of one of the great climbs of the Tour, which also happens to be the spot where a chair lift drops you off above the Pyrenean ski resort of Bareges.

Have managed to see the Tour live once, on the Champs Elysees of all places, as our arrival in Paris at the start of a few days just happened to coincide with the arrival of the Tour.

With no idea of the day’s programme or where to stand, two of us waited for hours among the crowds for repeated fleeting glimpses of the peloton as it roared past to the last of Miguel Indurain’s five victories. It was not until we got home a few days later that we discovered who had won the stage a couple of hundred yards down the road from where we stood – the Tashkent Terror himself, Djamolidine Abdoujaparov.

That French trip – which centred around Annecy, where we cycled around the lake that would later form the centrepiece of a Tour time trial and narrowly avoided a collision with a ferry on a pedalo – was soundtracked (via Walkman) largely by Sonic Youth and The Lemonheads

The Lemonheads popped up again in the latest batch of tracks with Bit Part, slipping in just after Birthday by The Sugarcubes, a song which again operated strictly to a law of diminishing returns.

Fresh and intoxicating on first hearing, it became almost ubiquitous and annoying after a while (the band certainly did a lot better) and sitting through four versions on the train to Bristol had a similar effect – sounding good on the first hearing for a long time, it had lost all of its charm by the final outing.

Biting The Soles of My Feet by Electric Soft Parade never really got the chance to become old hat, residing as it did on a CD that got stuck in the multi-changer in the boot of my car which foiled the best efforts of more than one garage to release before my then local Peugeot dealer took the whole casing out and sent it off to HQ across the channel.

Quite what the French mechanics made of  …And They Will Know Us By The Trail of Dead, heaven only knows.

John Grant
John Grant

Elsewhere, the continuing journey through Bs took in The Verve (Bitter Sweet Symphony), The Jam (Bitterest Pill…), Graham Coxon (Bittersweet Bundle of Misery) and New Order (Bizarre Love Triangle) before depositing us into the long list of Black… songs.

And there has not been that much escaping from the black hole as a ray of musical light.

Pick of the bunch has been Black Belt, the first entry from the truly wonderful John Grant (probably my favourite performance from the BBC’s Glastonbury coverage, albeit largely tucked away on the red button), and Black Star by Radiohead.

Honourable mentions go to Squeeze (Black Coffee In Bed), Bob Mould (Black Sheets of Rain) and Hammock’s version of Black Metallic (strangely, don’t have the Catherine Wheel original on the iPod), while Mercury Rev took us through 900 with Black Forest (Lorelei).

Bucking scientific thinking, the escape from the black hole is thankfully imminent…

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