Friday, November 19, 2004

YEARS ABOUT MUSIC: 1974 (C for Charybdis)

It’s All Up To You (27 Jul – 27)

Listening the other evening to the remastered, expanded reissue of John Martyn’s One World took me back to happier times. Where Laura and I lived in Oxford, halfway down Binsey Lane, was in many ways a sort of utopia. Our complex of apartments had a communal, comfy garden area going around three sides, each looking onto a different stream (ours was the Bulstrake Stream). From our front room window we had a magnificent view of Botley Park, which bordered onto us directly, as well as a fine view of the city itself in the distance.

On summer evenings we would take some food and chairs out into the back, open the window wide and let the speakers hang out. Everybody in our block did this; sometimes Laura’s dad and sister would come over to visit, and usually many of our neighbours would drop by and join in. Sometimes in the evening you’d see, down by the front, next to the garages, the couple from upstairs doing a passionate tango to an Astor Piazzolla soundtrack. This was very much the normal way of things round our way.

And as the sun set over Botley Park the music would become mellower, gradually more abstract, eventually merging with the ripples of water from the tributaries and the distant sounds of birds, and of dogs, out for a late-evening spot of exercise (our favourite was a lovely Jack Russell terrier who was named Mingus). And One World would be played, somewhere in the course of those evenings. Such mellow despair leading to resolution or maybe leading to nothingness – that last track "Small Hours," recorded live in the middle of the Berkshire countryside, in the garden of a house which bisected a lake. The speakers set up half a mile away on another islet. As Martyn’s guitar and voice and Steve Winwood’s discreet Minimoog quietly unify, you can hear their music mingling with the cries of geese, and even the London-Bristol overnight train whose tracks passed very near to the house. "Small Hours" was recorded at 3 in the morning – all the participants as stoned as it is possible to get – and is as perfect as "ambient music" is likely ever to become (follow it on a mixtape with Eno’s "Dunwich Beach, Autumn 1960" to escort yourself into The Next World).

Something of that intangible quality is evident in "It’s All Up To You," the first solo single by Jim Capaldi, the singing drummer with the then recently disbanded Traffic – the second singing drummer in a row to occur in this list, and also, alas, the second single in a row in this list not to be found on a currently available CD. Everything about "It’s All Up To You" sounds pregnant, as though its participants are all waiting for life to happen. There’s John "Rabbit" Bundrick on keyboards, shimmering just as he did on Solid Air, Jess Roden nearly inaudible but absolutely indispensable on guitar, and Harry "Lord Rockingham/River Man" Robinson’s strings which slide discreetly into place behind what comes across as a not-very-hopeful song about unattainable love, precisely the ‘70s equivalent of Lionel Richie’s desolate "Hello": "Every day I watched you walkin’/Walkin’ by my window pane…/I wanna give you my loving/Could you ever love me too?/But you never seem to notice me/Or what I’m going through/It’s all up to you."

In other words, Capaldi isn’t going to lift a finger, will make no effort to nudge his idealisations that crucial step forward into reality. Your move, even as he disintegrates into smaller and smaller indivisible pieces. The emotional tenor of the music increases incrementally, and virtually imperceptibly, as Capaldi’s woes become deadlier: "I would give you the sunlight baby/To keep you warm when the days grow cold/And the love we have together darling/It will never grow old any more" because I will never let it because it will never happen because I may and will die before it happens and it all leads to a climactic anguished scream of "OHHHHH baby!" before he recedes back into self-inflicted apathy – "It’s all up to you" (never to be confused with John Cale’s "Leaving It All Up To You" from the following year). Dignify your passion and shadow your shame with specks of musical firelight, lest your tears be betrayed.

"And the love we have together darling,
It will never grow old any more."

Yes, I think we were happier in those days, with those smaller but greater hours.