1. The Winter of Mixed Drinks. Sadly this isn’t a title of my own making, because I love winter and I love mixed drinks – no, it’s the name of the third album from Frightened Rabbit. Some say these wild and woolly blokes out of Scotland are about to grab Arcade Fire’s crown, although more likely they’re going to have a crack at The National’s. Good luck with that. Previously known for being miserablists, The Winter of Mixed Drinks is almost an upbeat selection of songs, except this version of upbeat is frantic, in parts panicked, and the close-to-joyful melodies mask lyrics that plumb some pretty bloody tricky depths. For instance, from The Wrestle: ‘The crumpled ocean is no boat trip/Dark water stole my clothing/A shape stirs beneath me’. Or this from Skip the Youth, an almost hymnal song, if hymnal songs were allowed to break free and go stratospheric: ‘I’ve been digging a hole tonight/On my knees beneath the moon/All I want is a place to lie/Guess a grave will have to do’; I should add that the glorious, increasingly noise-soaked coda to this angsty gem finds the band shouting over and over ‘Skip the youth/It’s ageing me too much’. Oh amen to that. This is simple music, only a few chords per song, and the often fast-paced beat drives and drives and drives, sometimes until the song reaches a crashing crescendo or burns out under its own weight. But this is also electric music, electric as in the electricity of modern life (which is a bit rubbish, it must be said). The Winter of Mixed Drinks is best played up loud so the windows rattle, which means it probably should be served on vinyl, and at a time when you have something to celebrate but you also know that yet another disappointment is lurking around the corner. If you’re sailing seven sheets to the wind, well, that wouldn’t hurt either.
2. The Brown-Clad Happy-Clappers. Twice in the last month, perhaps because Easter has been stampeding towards us like a herd of chocolate-filled elephants (they do exist – go have a look), I’ve spotted those brown-clad happy-clapper-types in the central part of my city, standing comfortably together in a circle, a three-metre-high hand-crafted cross upright in the middle, one young chap with a cheap banged-up acoustic guitar, a few of them with bongos, one or two with their hands in the air. Whilst the intransigence and, at times, outright danger of their religiosity worries me, I can’t help admiring their courage. They don’t give two hoots about what they look like or what we think of them. And they do appear so ecstatically happy, especially when they look to the sky and smile and one of them joyfully tosses a plastic bottle of water into the air or another starts clapping in time with something other than the song they’re all singing. Obviously, when the Brown-Clad Happy-Clappers take a break from singing to – with black-bound Bibles in hand – work their evangelical tricks amongst the general public I run a mile into the nearest music or book shop and scamper for the darkest gear I can find. But I can’t help being glad that someone has been singing in public, that they believe in something so much, so God damn hard, that they want to take it to the streets while the rest of us lose ourselves in shopping malls and reality television. And blogging.
3. My Italian Neighbour. Almost a year and a half ago I came home to hear loud drumming in my head. No, it wasn’t a headache thing, or a hangover thing, or even a mental-health thing – it was the middle-aged father next-door who’d bought himself a drum-kit for Christmas. And he practices often: weekly, daily. In his garage. With all the doors and windows… open. But he’s getting no better. Okay, he’s getting a little better, particularly with the complexities of his fills, and by ‘complexity’ I mean how much he puts into each fill, he fills his fills, he piles them on top of each like what a brickie does when making a wall, though My Italian Neighbour is actually a green-grocer (all clichés are based in reality). Does he harbour unrealised dreams about being the next Tommy Lee? Did he recently hit forty but the wife didn’t allow him to get a Harley Davidson motorbike so instead he maxed-out the credit card on the kit? I’d poke my head over the fence and ask him but there are always too many kids, and these days kids scare me as much as rats. Despite the fact that I have to close up the house when My Italian Neighbour’s practicing, and there are times when the pillows go over my head and I swear like Courtney Love if she’d been bitten by a Rottweiler, I do admire him for having a crack at learning an instrument regardless of his advancing years, for trying to be good at something musical, and, a bit like the Brown-Clad Happy-Clappers, not giving a shit what anyone thinks. If he feels like hitting the skins then that’s exactly what he’s going to do – bugger this (normally) quiet, gentile inner-city neighbourhood of ours. And you know what? I reckon he builds up a racehorse-sized sweat, and he closes his eyes, and when he’s done he’s puffing, and he smiles as if it’s the first real smile he’s ever managed.
4. The Best Gig – Ever. So, it comes to this. How good it would be if we lived in a world where Frightened Rabbit could come to my neck of the global woods with a fistful of songs and play in the central part of my city – we have a stage, it’s out in the open and not big, but it’d do. Frightened Rabbit would spot the Brown-Clad Happy-Clappers further along the pavement; they’d wave and invite them onto the stage. The Brown-Clad Happy-Clappers wouldn’t shake their heads. They’d go, ‘Sure, why not!’ So the Brown-Clad Happy-Clappers step up onto the stage and Frightened Rabbit share with the Clappers some lyrics, and the Clappers pick them up quickly because singing songs in public is in their collective blood. And then My Italian Neighbour, who’s in town to take the wife and their brood of kids out to Mama’s Trattoria for lunch, walks by but is immediately snared by the music and starts nodding his head. And then he can’t help himself: he kisses his wife on the cheek, pats his nearest kid on their head, and then walks over and up to Frightened Rabbit’s drummer. And Frightened Rabbit’s drummer, without any reluctance whatsoever, smiles knowingly and steps away from his kit, handing it over to My Italian Neighbour. And My Italian Neighbour finds the beat, yes, the beat, and he drives Frightened Rabbit and the Brown-Clad Happy-Clappers forever onwards. And the crowd grows and grows until the central part of my city is packed and the sun’s going down and everyone’s singing yet another rousing Frightened Rabbit coda, this one from The Loneliness and the Scream: ‘We fall down/Find God just to lose it again/Glue the community together/We were hammering it/I fell down/Found love/Can’t lose it again/But now our communal heart beats miles from here’. Yes, how good that would be! I’d write a post about that, I would.