Thursday in Wombourne was a picture of how I imagine an English country village looks in the summertime. The sun obligingly came out, and the first floor windows of the practice where I was training overlook the village green – an immaculate cricket ground in the centre, flanked by tennis courts and leafy trees. There was no cricket on Thursday, but there was some village tennis going on from time to time.
The day’s work done, I pit-stopped at McDonald’s, and then hit the road for London.
Prior to leaving Edinburgh, conscious of the amount of time I would be spending in the car, I lined up a few playlists for the journeys. I’ve been doing this since the days when making an actual mixtape was required. It is a somewhat faster process in the mp3 era.
For this trip, I decided to playlist some classic albums, all of which I worked my way through as I headed down the road from Edinburgh on Monday.
For the Wolverhampton-London leg on Thursday I kicked off with August & Everything After.
Something I love about music is the way that a single specific phrase in a piece can arrest your attention, and no matter what you are doing at the time, compel your attention to drop everything else, tune in, and savour that one moment again, every time you hear it. It doesn’t matter how many times you’ve heard it, and the song itself might not even be a favourite – the moment itself transcends the song.
There’s a syncopated horn part right at the end of U2’s Stuck In A Moment You Can’t Get Out Of. It’s subtly low in the mix, you have to listen to pick it out. And it only appears once, in the penultimate repeat of the chorus. But I can feel its approach as the song nears its conclusion, and it brings a smile every time. Many times I’ve wondered why they didn’t make more of it, even give it a second airing. But they didn’t, and it remains an almost-hidden gem, and maybe that’s better.
Grieg’s Piano Concerto, second movement. Starts with two full minutes of lush but muted orchestral parts, setting the scene. Then…the piano comes in. A single note, high in the register, not clamouring for your attention, but completely unmistakable. I think it’s the most quietly dramatic entry in music.
And, as ever, it’s all about context. You can’t smash all these little moments of genius together in a highlights reel…they have to be listened to in the surrounding environment of their song to appreciate them.
Arguably, in the same way, songs benefit from being listened to embedded within their albums. It’s where they make the most sense.
Raining in Baltimore is a largely morose, perhaps unexceptional track. But there’s a moment, just before the two minute mark, when the accordion comes in with a slowly descending motif, and it just…lifts.
I enjoy this moment somewhere on the M6, working my way south-eastwards. It might be raining in Baltimore, but the Midlands are dry and warm, the clouds gradually dissipating as the evening wears on, the sun sinking lower, catching my wing mirror first, then appearing in the rear view.
I don’t think I’ve ever driven into London before, certainly not from this direction. I negotiate my way through bustling Wood Green, and feel transported back in time as I reach Stamford Hill, with ultra-orthodox Hasidic Jews materialising in every direction, on foot and on bicycles, sporting black hats, coats and long sidecurls. It’s genuinely surreal.
With the sun now below the London horizon, and just as fat Charlie the Archangel slopes into the room, I turn into my sister’s street in Hackney. A fox darts across the road.
On arrival I learn that Maggie has, this very day, acquired a bass guitar and a practice amp.
I am earplug-ready.