Sunday, November 13, 2005

Records That Mean The Most To Me (An Occasional Series)

Sash "La Primavera" (Multiply, 1998)
OK, so it's an odd choice, I know. But that's what it's all about, isn't it? Sometimes you choose, other times, you're chosen. This is definitely one of the latter.
So, it's 1998. My best friend Nick is getting married and I'm best man. The ceremony is booked, the suits have been bought, everything is in place. Including , of course, the Stag Weekend. Me, Nick and half a dozen other lucky people are off for a weekend of drunken carousing in the spiritual home of drunken debauchery here in the UK : Blackpool.
We meet at Nick's place in Manchester and set off in convoy for our destination-and here's where it all starts to fall into place. Everywhere else in the UK,the road system is literally arterial: roads snake and entwine, looping around each other, complex and sprawling, random yet planned, they throb and pulse the traffic around the countryside in a cacophonous, but strangely ordered mess. It somehow seems different with Blackpool. You take a junction off this arterial motorway system, onto a separate carriageway that has one direction only: Blackpool. It ends only when the town and the slate-grey sea hoves into view. At that point, speeding towards the coast, it emphasised the singularity of our purpose: we were going somewhere to have fun. Somewhere where everyone else converging with us would be intent on the same thing. We were a little Corsa-shaped rocket on course with a grimy, Northern pleasure orbit: nothing could stop us.
We fetched up at exactly the sort of seaside B&B you'd expect: odd-shaped rooms with wildly varied decor, windows that chattered as the fierce gales from the bay spat salty spume on smoke-smeared glass. A bar with Double Diamond and a jar for your whiskey's water, a chipped soda fountain and a clock on the wall within a miniature replica of a ship's wheel.
We strolled down the promenade: ate fish'n'chips, sat in squalid bars and noisy pubs. We went to the Tower Ballroom, beneath Blackpool's Eiffel, clinging tightly to our pints as the sinister choreography of the towns ballet of casual sex and violence unfolded in front of our disbelieving eyes. We ended up sweaty and euphoric on a nightclub floor with Italian pianos ringing in our ears, walked home with our shirts sticking to our backs, shivering and smiling. I think we were quite probably holding kebabs at the time.
And the next day? Well, we walked down to the pier. Past the donkey rides, the shops selling rock in the shape of a cock, the arcades and the cafes. The weather was bright and cold, we were blinking from the sun and wiping salt spray from our faces. At the end of the pier there was a choice of entertainment, some sort of insane bungee thing which looked like it might catapult you into the middle of the ocean, or some rather more traditional (yet undeniably high-tech) fairground rides. We chose the fairground rides.
The best of them was a shiny chrome creation on the north side of the pier. A huge cross, on an incline, with a trio of gently swaying cars on its four stations, which would spin insanely when the entire machine got up to speed. Me and Nick grabbed a car, pulled the restraining bar down around us and waited as the ride throbbed around us. We shouted at those of our party who'd bottled out, craned our necks and encouraged the others who'd hopped aboard with us. The ride swayed gently in the wind, the only noise the sound of people clattering up the aluminium steps to grab a place before it was too late. And then.. It was too late. We were off.
And at that point, the tune started. It's an unassuming little tune on first listen, a slice of euro-trance cheese, a shiny little bauble, a fizzing little firecracker, before you know it, it's over. But here we were, strapped in, unable to escape its clutches. As the ride sluggishly flung us around, it began to burble around us. The main thrust of it is this simple arpeggiated riff, glued atop a pneumatic house beat, liberally dusted with bursts of hi-hat and rolling snare breakdowns. The ride goes faster. Then it goes faster still. Then comes the moment that anyone who's ever rode on a waltzer, been pressed to the wall of death, chained into a spinning cage or wrapped up in a whirling wheel will know only too well: when the guy with the microphone interrupts the song to bellow :"OK, 'old tight 'ere we go...." And your heart is in your mouth and your ribs are squashed on the side of the cage ....And the wind is in your hair and your eyes water as the only thing you can see is a blur of neon signs and flashing bulbs, the only thing you can hear is the sound of your heart beating in your mouth and your friends' voices as you pass them by at supersonic speed and there's only one piece of music that's ever been made in the history of the entire world and it's the record you're listening to right now.......
..And it was Sash. At that point, at that speed, at that moment, with my best friend at my side, with friends egging us on, with seagulls wheeling overhead, with the sea boiling at the sides of the pier....With nothing else to do other than be completely and utterly happy. In the middle of it all, with the music in our ears and our minds so full of sensory input they could hardly process a thing....Nick just threw his head back and screamed " Oh.............YES!"
And that's it, I've spent all this time trying to tell you how it was, but there's not much point. Nick said it better than I ever could. There are moments when a tune should just be those two words : "Oh.......Yes"

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