Thought briefly of calling this week’s column 33.3, but fuck that shit. Vinyl fetishisation has to stop.
(Friday 29 July through Thursday 14 August, 2022)
Went into Brighton at the end of last week. Cycled to the marina, from the Big Beach Cafe (or whatever they’re calling it these days, the one Heather McCartney sold to Norman Cook a few years back). First time this summer! My bike is barely road worthy and on the verge of being a money-pit, it’s mostly in the shed for emergencies now rather than a toy like back when it was new five or six years ago. But the weather being as mental as it was, I couldn’t resist. I had a pretext! There’s a small luxury I wanted to pick up from Asda because they had a better version almost ten quid cheaper than anywhere local. So I headed out, worried. And then things got weird.
In a spooky, rather than surreal way. Utterly predictable, in retrospect, but my head was elsewhere so I didn’t see it coming. I was dumb enough to think a ride to the marina would be escapist.
Fat chance. It’s everywhere now. The same malaise that’s been most obvious in the last couple of years in the supermarkets, all the desperate people. Until now the town centres hadn’t seemed so bad to me. Maybe this was an isolated day. Maybe I was reading too much into things because I was bummed out about my shonky brakes. Or maybe it’s just because every other time I’ve been through Brighton this year I haven’t lingered like I did on this Friday.
At first cautious and preoccupied with the practicalities of cycling, I think I first started to notice something off on the run up to Maroccos Cafe. Usually in this type of scorching weather there’d be a queue for ice cream at least twenty or thirty deep out the door and running down the road at this time in the afternoon. Today there were maybe three or four, a small enough line that I was tempted to stop and indulge.
From there on I started to notice the subdued atmosphere more, the relative lack of people around. Things didn’t really start to get busy until I hit the tourist zone by the old West Pier, and even then I managed to do the whole journey without stopping once. I can’t remember that happening before in this kind of weather, usually the cycle paths are jam packed with dozy tourists high on sun and sugar and freedom, head in the clouds. Either I stop or I hit them.
The tourists hadn’t disappeared, they were still there. There just wasn’t quite so many of them this year. They were easier to avoid. Even more so past the Palace Pier where I was struck by a memory of cycling that exact stretch last year at a similar time, cycling past a crowd of tipsy people milling around and about the open-air cinema. It felt like Brighton was coming back to life after the pandemic. This year, for the first time in recent memory, there is no open-air cinema on that spot.
The seafront wasn’t dead, more withered and forlorn. Less the buzzing town I moved to twenty years back, more the dump that Worthing appeared to be back then. Abandoned, fading, just about hanging on.
I know my impressions are far from reliable. I’m way too much of a hermit to indulge in generalisations, I’m extrapolating from one bloody bike ride. I didn’t notice this the other times I’ve been through town so far this year. Having said that, those times I was either in a rush or very, very drunk.
But still it wasn’t just my imagination, it was palpable enough that what happened next didn’t really come as a shock. A surprise, sure, but of the type I’ve come to expect in the UK over the last decade or so.
I got to the marina and the undercliff walk was closed off by police. I didn’t twig why they were there until crossing the car park I clocked a couple gawping at a guy sat on the edge of the cliff, ready to jump. I’m not sure if I said “oh, shit” or “oh, fuck” or even “fucking hell, no”, but I definitely swore out loud to myself before I could think better of it. Everyone else kept their fucking mouths closed. I locked up my bike as quickly as I could and had one last instinctive glance up as I hurried into the shop, hoping he’d be okay obviously but above all hoping the situation would be resolved before I left. I was spooked.
The worst didn’t happen! I don’t think. I wandered round Asda in a daze, came out to the same bleak atmosphere, a few people standing around the foyer making subdued chatter, about everyday shit from what I could tell. They didn’t seem shellshocked, like I assume they would be if they’d just seen someone jump, or even if they’d just found out about a jumper. Like I would be if I’d just seen a jump.
On impulse I went in to Timpsons, struck by an urge to ask the shop assistant if they’d managed to talk that guy back from the edge. I had a pretext, my watch needed a new strap, I hadn’t planned on getting it fixed so I didn’t have the connecting pin to fit the strap with me, but it was enough of an excuse for me for me to go in and ask. Once in there I didn’t have the nerve. It was a crap idea in the first place. I tried to infer from the assistant’s mood, he seemed shook, but in the circumstances that really isn’t saying much. Either the suicidal guy jumped or they didn’t, we all knew that neither way out looked likely to offer up much of a happy ending.
But! Thinking about such things too much is dangerous, depressing. Despair can be contagious. I left feeling grateful that I’ve never been obliged to take a job in Brighton Marina, then went on to WH Smiths in Churchill Square for some good ol’ retail therapy. Always good to see The Wire on display, otherwise they seem to’ve cut back again on their selection of music magazines. I might have been tempted by XXL, but they didn’t have it, and all the semi-interesting titles (DJ, Jazzwise, Songlines) were about twice the price I’d be happy paying for them. But their A5 pads stay (reasonably) cheap. From Smiths I went out into the mall. Discount store Tiger aside it was all a bit oppressive. No air conditioning in the walkways, I guess because the mall was built back when it would only have been needed a couple of days a year.
By now I was desperate for a pee but the main toilets were closed. The stinky backup toilet was half a mile away through the food court, past miserable looking teenagers serving mostly hot food. I wondered if they had air conditioning behind their counters? It didn’t look like it. Poor bastards. I got out as quickly as I could, past boarded up stores I don’t remember being boarded up the last time I was here, and then on my bike back to Portslade.
I still don’t quite know what to make of it all. A lot of what’s happening is obvious, but I still can’t figure out what it’s all going to add up to. Anything?
Albums, mixtapes, EPs, whatever… Not all new releases! … every fresh(-ish) project I’ve listened through since the last column, whether with deep intent or in the background while I’m trying to get my head round something else.
Not so much this time. That’s incidental, I haven’t had the space to listen, and deliberate also, I just haven’t had the appetite to indulge in the usual audio gluttony. Spent most of June and the start of July working through back catalogues hitherto unheard alongside a dutiful dose of new music I didn’t have much time to go back to, or really even soak up on first listen. The last couple of weeks I’ve calmed down, haven’t checked for so many different new things, indulged in a little more repeat listening than I’m used to. Not old shit! Albums from the last month or two I’d been planning to go back to. And not always to the point of figuring out what I think. Sometimes it’s obvious, the Beyonce album was a favourite from first listen. Sometimes it’s harder, I’m seven listens deep on that Shitty Boyz album and I’m still torn, beyond obvious stuff like the odd sample flip that doesn’t work for me I’m still getting my head round why I keep getting drawn back to it.
&…you know I’ve been rating these sounds, more methodical than ever. I might even share the reasoning behind my ratings at some point. Maybe next week.
- Beyonce: Renaissance (Columbia/Parkwood) | 6.56 | …yeah, maybe the rating system could use a little work still. Maybe the album is better than that score makes it look, maybe I’ve been too wary of over-rating in the first flush of enthusiasm, especially with an album as cohesive as this one. I love “Alien Superstar” and there’s more than a handful of others almost in the same league: “Cuff It”, “Break My Soul”, “Plastic Off The Sofa”, “Pure Honey”, “Cozy”, “America Has A Problem”. But the second half feels comparatively generic, and a few tracks wear on my nerves. “Church Girl” is one that gets lost in the translation from American to English. And “Summer Renaissance” at the end loses serious points in making the Donna Summer tribute a little bit too explicit. Any time anyone interpolates “I Feel Love” it’s always a mistake, an awkward reminder of a much better record. “I Feel Love” is the only untouchable recording in western music. For sure “Summer Renaissance” has its charms, but it’s no “I Feel Love”. Besides: this isn’t 1977. It’s nice that Beyoncé feels good about herself, but even on the tracks where her confidence is fully justified it’s not like she’s captured the zeitgeist here.
- Black Midi: Hellfire (Rough Trade) | 6.6 | …rated on one listen! And it’s mostly great, if not something I’m drawn to examine too closely. I’m digging the arpeggios, not fully focused on the lyrics. But I was curious. First time I’ve listened to a Black Midi album, much as expected… love or at least like all of the tracks led by Geordie Greep. The other guy’s vocals don’t work for me, yet… maybe never…
- Danger Mouse & Black Thought: Cheat Codes (BMG) [A]
- Doechii: she/her/blackbitch (TDE) [B]
- Joey Bada$$: 2000 (Columbia) [C]
- ShittyBoyz: Trifecta 2 (EMPIRE/The Hip Hop Lab Records/ShittyBoyz) [B+]
- Political Peak, “Take A Cross“
- Does Priti Patel have a secret plan to decriminalise drugs? (Simon Doherty, The Face)
- Rapper Pa Salieu ‘dropped’ from Commonwealth Games closing ceremony (Jessica Murray, The Guardian)