What you have to understand is that I feel responsible for this gig.
I asked Joe (who is half of the Pines and also of the Foxgloves) to come down to play because I’ve secretly been truly in love with his songs since I first heard them. He asked Tim to come down to play with him for reasons that weren’t clear to me until this afternoon, when Tim got off the train full of stories about supporting Talulah Gosh in this very venue and rushing to catch the last bus too many times to count. It was only then that I realised that the Visitors were actually from Sidmouth, the town a few miles east of Budleigh Salterton. They lived here: they wrote their songs and performed them and went to gigs and got drunk and were hangover on Sunday mornings, all right here in Devon. The very idea seems difficult to grasp, somehow. What do you mean the Razorcuts played in the Arts Centre too? I know they probably only played to a dozen or so people, but that doesn’t make it sound any less impressive. Quite the opposite. It gives me hope that the First Division will one day be legendary too.
For the moment things aren’t looking all that promising. Alistair’s C is right when she says that the whole thing has a refectory feel about it. Joe and Tim play to a row of mostly empty tables while all around people walk, talk and drink, casting only the occasional glance our way. The occasional puzzled glance, I have to add. Why are these nervous-looking people playing a gig at the corner of the bar? And why is this small bunch of happy-looking not-quite-kids-anymore looking at them so intensely? What’s the big deal? And so I feel a little bad.
To me, of course, every little bit is perfect, has been from the start: Joe saying that ‘this is a song about roads, the roads between us and the people we’ve left behind, the people we’re yet to meet, the people we love’ at the beginning of ‘Second hand’, for example, or Tim’s smile when he bravely launches into the first song (the Visitors’ ‘Bliss’). But I’m starting to wonder if I’ve only put this on for myself, to hear these songs that I love to bits played live and get yet another chance to sing along to them, and whether I should have put everyone else through the trouble just for this. Surely not. How selfish of me.
And then, wouldn’t you know it, they launch on another Visitors’ song, and as Tim sings ‘all the old songs that I’ve known and loved for years / playing quietly from someone else’s radio’ something stirs inside me, and as he goes on pictures of Devon in the summer unfold effortlessly in my head, and everything starts to fall into place. The song builds up beautifully and the performance is faultless too, even if it is only me thinking that and I’ve never really paid attention to it before, so what would I know? But it does, to me anyway, and as it draws to a close (‘leaning from my window shouting into the dark I don’t love you, I don’t love you, I don’t love you!’) I find I’m leaning forward from my chair, nearly falling over. And suddenly it’s alright. Even if no one else cares, it’s alright.
But of course they do. People seem drawn into the strong imagery of ‘Oil Fires’ that follows and they laugh at the bittersweet wryness of ‘Do you have to stop writing to start living?’ — because, how could they not? It’s wonderful! And I smile. My heart is lifted by the sight of others appreciating the wonder that are these songs, songs that have been major hits in my front room, songs that I keep so close to my heart, the songs that have brought us all here tonight.
And when Tim announces ‘Goldmining’ (‘this song was last performed twenty years ago, in this very venue’) somebody who was actually there twenty years ago cheers and I know for a fact that I’m not the only one who cares. They finish off with ‘We’ll never be cool’ –a song with major indiepop-hit potential– and I sing along like I did those nights in Dorking, back where it all started, convinced of the same old thing. We’re really the coolest of them all.