When the End came

29/05/2013 at 17:51 (Personal, Writing) (, , )


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The mist came from a platinum sky, one fine spring day like no other. Those lunching in parks watched with loose interest, as the first silvery skeins drifted down to drape themselves about the fresh-budding trees. Within moments, those crisp little leaves twitched like bones among their branches. Finally, soaked and dark, they had fallen in drifting droves, too early for the newness of the year.

The mist sank lower, seemingly driven by a keen whistle-wind that scoured the cracking ground. It would settle in thick folds about cities and plains, over forests that twisted to still silence. Yet there were those who would swear that the haunted trees cried out in agony as their blackened bark froze and split; a prelude of what was to come.

It travelled across the oceans, dragging tongues of damp in its wake. In their shroud, the sun hung as a tattered white thing; it had flared briefly, fighting that which choked its warmth, broke its light. The world rolled on. It had seen this killing cold before, millennia gone, more fable than past in the recent years of abundance. They could outlast this. Such was the belief of innocents, and those with too much to lose by paying heed to old fears.

But the sun didn’t return.

Embargoes were met with quiet efficiency. All commerce was restricted to local regions, and people were discouraged from straying too far from home. Eventually, as is always the case when restrictions are made without explanation, the pressure-pots had blown; rioters met with police on streets glistening with damp. The chill, many said, explored the bones; it was felt in the marrow, working slivers of ice through the blood, to the heart.

Finally, those energetic ones lost all will to fight, and went home.

Fallen leaves, fallen house prices. Markets crashing beyond numbers, tearing apart the will of those who might still care. Before long, the creeping lethargy that had afflicted the trees would seep into human pores. Looting became a thing of the past, a worthless expenditure of energy. While the silver-lilac sky drifted ever closer to the dying ground, full of ice crystals, governments collapsed under the strain of staying alive.

People no longer watched the news for a daily intake of war and famine in parts of the world they would never visit; they watched, with tired, itchy eyes, to see which local reservoir had become encased in the thick black ice that eventually snared all possible supplies. The time came when the power was shut off, for their own good (it was said) since the sliding chill had made its way into power plants, burrowing ice to their chugging hearts; flooding the underside of cities, locking up sewer systems. Blackouts were no longer a wartime memory; they were a reality of shuddering darkness, heaped blankets and smoky breath.

Children died beside their parents, hands lost in the larger grip that couldn’t save them. Lovers died in copulation, desperately trying to keep warm with the only heat left in their bodies, sometimes cutting open their flesh to allow sluggish blood to flow – a last desperate act of love. Older men froze in place standing up before the john, while their wives broke the ice on the old backyard well a thousand times over, crumbling brick in hand, weary thrusts between aching shoulders. Pets were thrown out, or eaten alive, or slaughtered for their voluptuous fur. Many now cursed Darwin and his ridiculous theories, for what strength was born of a larger brain, when it couldn’t conjure the meaning of survival in an ice-locked world with only bare skin and bone for company?

In the end, the world retreated to itself. The screams died to sighs, to silence. The rape and the fighting tailed away to a sullen memory. None had the passion or impetus for such banalities. When a throat shook with the effort to drink of water that froze on its way down, it was difficult to imagine the ripeness of a clutched breast, the warmth between parted legs.

And the silence, it came – it crept out of those haunted trees, threaded through the mist that grew and expanded like a living thing, one none could catalogue or name. The higher powers died with the rest; perhaps their last words were only whispered prayers, to a God of mercy or money. It didn’t matter. All felt the ice-knife in their heart.

*

His footsteps crackled, black on silver, through the grass.

Locked in frozen damp, the chime of each falling blade was a bitter echo of birdsong. The birds were long gone. The gulls went back to sea, as though it could save them. He knew the water had frozen in its dance, along with all its dwindling tributaries – that continuous movement, snared at last. The moon was an absent-minded memory, called in place whenever night fell.

The only way to tell the difference was in the shifting of the light – from gunmetal to ebony, locked beneath a deeper darkness, like a winter pond. No stars to pinch the sky. No silver candle to light the way. Only a cold none could bear, and a silence made louder by its absence of chirrups and rustles, the bark of a fox, long dead beneath the iron earth.

Roman moved slowly, placing each foot like a thought. His arms crisscrossed his chest, tight as the belt beneath them, which lassoed the bag in place. It had frozen to his back long ago; he dared not remove it. Only last week, skin had peeled away when he took off a glove to dip a hand in a pool of water – miraculously untouched by ice, though steaming with a thunderous smell that reminded him of volcanic rock. He’d once worked in a science department; he’d tried to recall the name of that ominous smell, brought from the beginning of Time, the planet’s birth. Now here, somehow, shrivelling the rotten grass around it, at the end.

It hurt too much to think on it long. The past was a dead weight to his brain.

Oh, he’d heard the whimpers and cries; his face had steered towards them with that human gratification of company, of other survivors like him. He’d even half-stepped, turning from his path to theirs, to offer what help he could. But the tug in his chest led him on, always. The compass that couldn’t be reset. He knew, because he’d set it himself, after logging off the computer that last time.

She’d finished her final message with seven kisses – For Luck, she’d said, a brave smile in her words. The power had cut out before he could reply. At least he’d managed a print out; her loving face, caught forever in a small square of paper. All shining golden hair, like that old mocking sun, that useless rag in the sky. Her light was warmth; her eyes were the blue the sky had once seen, turning in on itself to preen. Her lips were the redness of his blood, as it’d once flowed from a split thumb. Now, when he bled, sometimes from the corners of his eyes, it crawled out like a purple tongue.

We’ll find each other, he’d told her. His hand had clutched the mouse, willing it to live just long enough to Send. On that beach we talked about. Remember? It’s not so far away. I’ll make it there in a few weeks. You can make it too, if you leave now. Like we always talked about. Those long hours in the night.

Her laugh was a sad spontaneous thing; she rarely laughed, had had little to laugh for in life, with a husband running out and children grown to forgetfulness of their mother. I’ll do my best, love, and she’d self-consciously stroked back the golden hair, thinning to shiny baldness in places on her beautiful scalp. One eyelid buckled as she looked straight at him, through the SpeakEasy camera. I’m afraid I’ll look a little different from that silly old photo I sent you.

And he’d laughed in turn; God, it’d throbbed in his chest, but made his throat warm all the same. I doubt I’ll mistake you for anyone else. And I’m no bundle of roses now, either. He’d run a hand through his own hair, the thatched grey coming out in bundles, where sleek black waves once lived. How he’d waxed and preened it, in the office days! How detergent his smile had been, with his white lab coat! He’d tried to remember if he’d let all the animals out, but the concentration made his eyes water, freezing up at the ducts.

I’ll pack a bag now. We’ll set off at the same time. It’ll be an adventure. No mention, of course, that this had been for the past eight years of SpeakEasy online chat. No reference to the insidious mist, which had come from nowhere and devastated everything.

I can’t wait. Xxxxxxx (For Luck)
And that had been that. The blank screen was a silent laugh in his face. Taking off his glasses – long ago cracked with the pressure of staying intact – he’d fumbled about his apartment for what might be
needed, in a dying world.

*

Forests and low hills. Sad little bonfires, unlit and staggered with miles of travel, between people too cold to stay still. Like frantic animals they’d scurried between each city and town, until the energy required was too high a price to pay. Then they stayed where they were, raw-eyed and wild, chewing their own fingers for comfort and food.

Little sandy shores, lakes encasing their fish and frog victims in ice of many colours – midnight blue and emerald green, the dusky purple of a winter sunset. He once encountered a pool crusted over with thick yellow, a noxious carpet; it gave off a horrific stench, and he’d stump-stumbled away with his heart clattering in his ears. Caught in the middle was a horse, scrawny legs locked in mid-canter. Those rolling white eyes haunted his nights.

How he continued – how he was permitted to continue, despite the mist that travelled with him, a companion that offered no comfort yet hid him from dangers other than its own – he didn’t dare ask. The mission was simple. As a man whose career had been born of laboratory work, he was used to dialling down all concentration to single-slide notes, to the tiniest lens. He knew that, under extreme pressure of concentration beneath the fierce little bulb beamed beneath, a slide might crack. He couldn’t afford to crack. He had made a promise. And when each sandy little beach encrusted with ice wasn’t his, wasn’t the one he’d promised her, with her faded little shadow waiting – he simply moved on.

Never mind the rattle-throb of dying generators. No heed to the whisper of hair, swishing to and fro in a wind that some days tried to carve off his ears. The fact the hair wasn’t his, could perhaps belong to a young maid caught out alone beneath the tree of her eventual hanging, didn’t deter him. He wouldn’t investigate. He had no time. Time was a reckless beast, run away to play where the sun still shone. It didn’t shine here, and nothing moved, except himself, and the occasional splintering of ice.

He even spoke to the mist some days, fancied it was a lost and lonely friend, adrift in this death-silence world as he was. It only told him lies in return though, guiding him the wrong way, until he lost patience and grew weary enough of its company to sit; until his clothes, bulky as they were, cemented themselves to the ground, and he was forced to drag half of it along with him in ringing snaps.

The fear that she might not make it to the beach, never left him.

*

Roman blinked slowly, letting the rime sift off his heavy lids. Moving his lips beneath their cowl, now stiff as wood, he tasted something new. Taste had recently begun to fray, along with smell and sight. He was shutting down. But he’d know this place anywhere, had spent too many sun-lazy holidays on that stretch of sand, to forget. There was the raw tang of salt, as always, forming a new crust on his skin. The grains went flying into the wind, freezing in mid-air to sheets of nubbled black, before breaking their bonds and collapsing in whipped sighs, to the lilac-ice shore.

And there she was, of course. Her black form packaged on the beach in a stillness of thought, as though this were any old day, beneath a summer sun and a sky of hard blue. She stared out to those waves, locked forever in place like ancient curtains. As he stumped towards her, each step dragging more than the last, he felt a pain in his chest to rival the burn-black of his fingers, before they’d dropped off. His wheezing breath snared the air. She heard him, long before she turned to watch his approach. Her smile, behind the ice-riddled veil, was a single bird-note in spring air.

Lara. Standing before her at last, as he’d meant to for eight years while lab timetables and office dinners spooled out to fill his worthless life, he felt his tear ducts give out at last. Only hard rain fell down his cheeks; he ignored the pain.

“Tears, now?” Her black teeth gleamed like the hoar frost under their feet. Raising one hand stiffly, she stroked his cheek. “We’ve far more to say to each other than that, surely.”

And, wrapping both arms about him, she had turned Roman to face that amethyst sea. “We beat the oceans. We beat the sky, the sun. When all are gone, we made it here still.” A wheezing cackle. “I told you I’d see you in frozen hell before we met face to face. You know I can’t stand these awkward first dates.”

Raising her mittened hand in his fingerless one, Roman kissed it, shaking as the ice scarred his lips, took off flesh. Still, he knew his manners. “I can’t believe it took me this long to know the feel of your skin.”

“Hardly that,” she told him with a laugh. Such a laugh! He saw planes of dust and volcanic ash, the sun a gold ribbon over the streaming sky, as all days flew to this one, in her laugh. Such heat that lived within her spirit. How had he ever doubted she would make it?

With one hand, she peeled off the protective mitt from her other, laying bare the skin below. He’d never seen such mottled beauty. Such fragile lines. The raw blue of her eyes made him brave, and he felt the shredding of his own skin only as a series of tugging jolts, as he removed his own glove.

“Hands only meet with purpose,” Lara told him. Angling herself around his withered body, she’d led them both down to the black sand. The fact they would never rise again, seemed as absent a thing as the once-was sun.

The mist whispered its own trickling song, just for them, as the sky broke.

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Review: The National, “Trouble will Find Me”

21/05/2013 at 19:31 (Reviews, Writing) (, , , )


The National are a band who, like the wine that vocalist Matt Berninger will quaff in a pre-gig ritual to ease enduring stage-fright, only get better with time.

To me, their discography has always seemed like the progression of a relationship, via the most personal of love letters. 2001 and the eponymous album saw lusty awkwardness thread itself through tracks such as Perfect Song (“Wanted me to take you home/You said you’d rather be alone…Car is warm and we had wine/But I couldn’t find the perfect song.”) The debut took us through the teething problems and agonized misunderstandings, those tender-fierce I need you/I don’t need you’s of any fledgling relationship. By contrast, 2003’s Sad Songs for Dirty Lovers was livid with wildfire mood swings, and as much about the experimentation of a relationship as a channeling of that attitude (Available: “Do you still feel clean/When the only dirt is the dirt I left/How can you blame yourself/When I did everything I wanted to?”)

Through the subsequent three albums, the relationship has matured into something ready to override the indignity of losing whole pieces of the Self – voluntarily given, or laid down to preserve what feels worth taking beyond blind longing and lust. For me, the National have always broadcast an awareness of the non-linearity of love, the faults and forgiveness. Some things are worth all the lies and absences, are worth taking further. Isn’t that what makes us adult, and heartsore with it in the end?

This, their sixth album, finds the relationship on that melancholic stretch across the face of the world. Lives that have become so intertwined now seem impossible to pull apart; with the bittersweet tone comes the realization that Yes, every day will be the same, but to try and live otherwise, is unbearable (“If you lose me, I’m gonna die .. Things are tougher than we are.”)

Exploring the exquisite range of his voice, chocolate and honey by degrees, Matt Berninger tells us of life on the road. It’s that much-vaunted rockstar life which so many would kill for, and in turn has the knack of killing that which we need most. Absence can just as easily kill a heart’s light as make it fonder (“I am good and I am grounded, Davy says that I look taller/But I can’t get my head around it, I keep feeling smaller and smaller.”)

With the band, we’re flung into the loneliness of crowds, the shift-shuffle world of tours and studio. There’s a need for balance between adventure and home (“Everything I love is on the table, everything I love is out to sea.”) As ever with their lyrics, names are dropped with the tenderness of a well-thumbed paperback, each page someone else’s personality. We find these people in our living rooms, our bedrooms and lives (“Jenny, I am in trouble/I can’t get these thoughts out of me.”)

Now-familiar beats chronicle the National’s sound – Graceless could well be the darker twin of Bloodbuzz Ohio, that heart-race anthem of fifth album High Violet. The triumph of Ohio is replaced with something altogether more poignant, a frustration of care that seems inherent of adulthood; the knowledge that love and willpower alone still might not change a situation (“I’m trying, but I’m graceless/Don’t have the sunny side to face this.”)

Not all the old fire has dimmed though. The trials and tribulations of a wider, harder world are a shock to the system, until balance is found with a grim smile (“I was teething on roses/I was in guns and noses … she wore Blue Velvet/Says she can’t help it.”) It’s standing before the two-way mirror, seeing yourself in another’s actions, and being unable to break the glass.

Never afraid to deride himself (“You didn’t see me, I was falling apart…I was a television version of a person with a broken heart,”) Matt is on top autobiographical form. From the staccato drums and baroque waves of Sea of Love to the trickle-honey chords of I need my Girl, this is an album worth tapping into for its sepia tones and acknowledgment of love’s hard road.

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Tracklist:

I Should Live In Salt
Demons
Don’t Swallow The Cap
Fireproof
Sea Of Love
Heavenfaced
This Is The Last Time
Graceless
Slipped
I Need My Girl
Humiliation
Pink Rabbits
Hard To Find

Other songs:
Exile Vilify
Rylan

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Mind ripples

19/05/2013 at 19:46 (Poetry, Writing) (, )


A little while back, I was asked to post some poetry on my blog for a follower to read. And of course, sieve that my memory can be, this information drained right through as soon as something else (novel, work, a bee) got my attention.

So, without further ado – some mind ripples. They usually occur at emotional peaks, when no other outlet will do. Being half-cut usually helps in the process; though were I to try a live reading, I’d need said bottle and a table to stand on, and subsequently fall off.

Written for my paternal grandfather, a real Jupiter of a character; now sadly diminished in age, but no less loving (or articulate)

Grandfather Clock

I wait among shadows, the smell of old leather
Where bees wax and boot polish mingle and blend
To settle my nervy excitement, to keep
My twitching young fingers from straying too near.

A small golden crescent of lamplight dethrones
The darkness from seating itself in his place
Of workman repose, of silent production
With small ticking arms, and shining clock face.

His dexterous fingers dance with a spidery
Grace and intelligence so seldom seen
Among men of his age and endurance in living
But Grandfather breathes with the breath of a trade.

A collector of watches and clocks in his time
As jeweler and husband, as father and man
Of travels cross-country and through many homes
Where his head lay on pillows of feather and straw.

But settled is he in a workshop of webs
Of dust and old tools, where the mice come and go
And here shall I stand in my corner, to wait
For the memories that fragment, to follow me home.

Scrawled out in my notepad, while bored as sin in what was purported to be a Creative Writing seminar, at Portsmouth Uni. I lasted about 9 weeks there.

Autumn Thoughts

A tapestry of autumn
Banked against a sky of pearl
A room within, hard walls of lemon
With heads bent low
Sharp-narrowed thoughts
Trained on the job in hand.

A restless leaf, my mind
Is stirred in the fearless breeze
Along the ledge, the baubles of rain
Cluster as starlings
Breathless suspension
Awaiting their shining flight.

And a few haikus, posted to Twitter when out walking and inspired, or lost in the daze before sleep:

The dance of the rook / Blackest wing to shroud my day / Night lives in its throat

With the faintest light / Love’s lasting kiss, the promise / A secret and star

It’s a milk-honey sky out there, a gorgeous evening. Make sure you fling the windows wide, friend; let the leaf-shadows and blossom in, and the tortured breath of humans, out.

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When this tunnel ends…

16/05/2013 at 18:43 (Personal) (, )


… do let me know, so I can throw myself out of the door.

Barrel-roll, into something more than the submissive roll-over-for-a-tummy-scratch that I seem to be enacting these days. Two years shy of thirty, and still being made to lie down.

With my previous run in passive-aggression, I could make it as PM of the UK. Cameron’s got zip on me.

Now, I get angry. I get verbal, and am told to keep quiet, to let things settle until we’ve moved. To let the landlord send in estate agents with their flimsy little boards, shark-smiling at anyone who dares trespass into this hovel of swords, guitars and mould. The last, I can assure you, wasn’t an intentional purchase.

I cannot begin to tell you how alienated I feel, in the confines of my own flat. Someone else has been here. Their feet have trod the carpet I’ve eaten Christmas dinner on, been fucked on and sometimes cry on, too, when things get unbearable inside. We have until the end of June. Days tally down, no rooms or flats available within our price range, in this area that we call home. Separation looks increasingly likely – accommodation is but a part of it. Hearts and homes often break under strain.

I am slowly dying, this year. Raging against it, too raging to cheer, happy in ego with the writing progression, drunk on a savage tide of new confidence – and bellowing silently, because no one wishes to listen, to a girl who is almost thirty, and loose with all this change.

I cling to those who have no need of me. Ever reliant on the kindness of strangers, though they have more perplexing faces and desires than even I can credit. Why I feel the need to dump my problems on these people, is something only my loved ones could tell you, since I don’t.

It is far easier to offload to those who don’t care, or care just enough to offer fragments of what they can understand. They can’t hurt me as much as those I had need of, before.

Last night saw me cry in the arms of my partner, minutes after telling him I wanted us to have separate house-shares / flats, freedom and space, in order for us both to grow. The pain in my chest was like a bullet hole. Empty, and burning all at once.

I can’t fathom where this year has come from; where it’ll end. Where I will end up; who with, why and how. Questions are sent to demean us, in the end.

I am tired. And angry, a sullen bitch with it, unable to express myself in a way that will make a difference, because I haven’t the weight of money or class to throw behind it. Just another writer, in a world of those fractured lines nobody wants to read, let alone print; just another flippant child, in a world of studious adults, feigning maturity in heels too high.

But … not defeated yet. I never could walk in heels, bastard things. It’s hiking boots and Converse, or nothing.

If you can forgive me, dear reader, for this tawdry rant – then you’re more of a friend than I gave you credit for, and a kindness.

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There is a light

13/05/2013 at 19:40 (Reviews) (, , , , )


I have always viewed tribute acts as precarious things. Too often, the enthusiasm that drives them – an adoration born of determination, like any fan, to recapture a semblance of what was – cancels out what talent there is. How many times have you turned up at a local venue, in anticipation of reliving that original gig or mind-blowing concert, to feel saturated in talent and shared fandom again – only to find a threadbare lookalike bellowing into a crackly mic, his own band attempting to drown him out? I’m haunted by memories of such events.

So it was with a heavy heart that I saw the posters last year, splashed over the exterior of the Horn pub in St Albans, detailing one of their many weekend tribute acts. Normally, I will smile and walk on by, able to parcel the thought away that ah well, it doesn’t detract from the original. In the same sense, I don’t take photos when on holiday. How can a glossy piece of paper hope to recapture the freedom I once felt, outside of normal life? Best to indulge in memories alone.

To my own reasoning, how could a tribute act like The Smyths, hope to recreate an insurmountable legacy?

I was born in the year Meat is Murder was released. Fortunate enough to have a father in the RAF – who just happened to DJ on his time off, in the NAAFI – I was exposed early-on to the sort of music that might rewrite a child’s life. Leonard Cohen, Simon and Garfunkel, Joni Mitchell, Pink Floyd – and of course, the Smiths. The kind of artists who told stories, sometimes without using words. The type of music my peers would often scorn later in college, when speaking of their parents’ taste. Already feeling misplaced in time (one of my Dad’s friends called me an “old soul”), I left them all to Shanks & Bigfoot.

I’ll never forget the look on Dad’s face when, aged four, I heard my first Smiths song, “How Soon is Now?” and – correlating it with a sound I heard everyday – asked him how they’d got a wokka-wokka (my baby term for the Chinook helicopter) on it?
I’m listening to that oscillating guitar now. It still makes me smile to remember those twin-rotor blades in the sky.

The Smiths were there for me through school and college; when I refused to wear the tights ‘n tiny skirt combi my female peers favoured; when the inevitable teasing came, for my cropped hair (an easier route, because of eczema), I could listen to a man who – so my Dad told me – regularly wore cast-off cardigans and quiffed his hair in a way no one outside the Billy Fury years would understand. A man who prowled with a feline elegance and disdain I found appealing, who eschewed meat – as I most surely did, despite my parents’ protests. A man I couldn’t hope to find in my home town full of shaven eyebrows and sports labels. I could, while listening to Dad’s crackling vinyl, at least dream of that better world.

So with these precious memories in mind, to say I was being generous when buying a ticket to see the Smyths, is putting it mildly. With the rise of the internet and Youtube, I’d already begun to fit that jangling guitar, that cat-strut figure with its sloping vocals, the heartbeat bass and prickling drums, to what I had experienced on abstract vinyl for years. Why bother to tarnish the originals?

Curiousity has always bitten this cat.

We arrived early, as the guys at the Cross Keys pub had put me in a foul mood for having the temerity to run out of Morgans’ Spiced rum. The Horn has a neat little bar area that bean-shapes itself around to meet the low-ceiling venue room; good for parceled-acoustics, not so great for a dance. Still, we mingled among the eclectic jumble of middle-aged and young-twenties who had gathered, each with their own stories to tell of Smiths-adoration. The older folk, in their original-print T-shirts and sporting gladioli out of back pockets, had clearly seen the original band live. I soaked up their anecdotes gleefully. The younger ones, closer to my age, wore fantastic home-brand merchandise; the lad in the T-shirt emblazoned with floral print I dreamt about you last night, and I fell out of bed twice won hands down.

We supped our drinks as the pub filled up with yet more fans. I was forced to reassess not only my count of Smiths fans in St Albans, but the impact of the tribute to come, particularly when I spotted a few T-shirts emblazoned with their spelling. No Smiths fan would dare make the mistake.

The Cure, Joy Division, Depeche Mode – the music sifted into our background on a continuous reel, as we made our way into the venue room. A welcome nod of contemporaries; and needless to say, as the booze flowed, the mood buzzed with a keener note.

We’d worked ourselves into a decent state of excitement by the time the lights dimmed, to rousing cheers and the standard Smiths’ intro of Prokofiev’s March of the Knights. As the band strode gracefully on stage, plucking up old-friend instruments, I felt a strange shock down my spine, as the tall figure followed them through the backstage door.

Only Morrissey could get away with that on-stage sashay to something so dramatic as Prokofiev, with tongue jammed squarely in his cheek. And believe me, Graham – the Smyths vocalist – let it slip in true Moz style, more than a few times that night.

Though in his early 40’s, Graham has the feral dignity of the original, which I had believed inimitable. As Paul Morley put it in his interview with the tribute act, he pulls off a decent Morrissey circa-1985, in the looks department – but only decent. The true magic happens when he opens his mouth.

I couldn’t stop giggling, all delight, as the lean figure stalked back and forth across the stage in his red cardigan and jeans that Simon Cowell would beg for. Offering us his folded arms, leer and occasional banter, he had the personality down pat, all right. We were helpless in the face of it, really. Graham is an intoxicating presence, not merely a tribute, but a conduit.

There were perhaps seven of us younger ones, rammed right up against the row of speakers out front, due to the press of people behind and in anticipation of a much-loved phenomenon, witnessed on Youtube of past fans. And when it came, one lass in particular led the way, stretching up with a devotee’s arm to grab at Graham’s jeans. After that ice-breaker, only into the third song, there was no going back. We were all after a bit of him, this medium of our disenchantment with the world. Things aren’t so very different from 1983, though the Iron Pants have been exchanged for itchy wooliness.

We have known the taunts, the pointing fingers; the braces and awkwardness, the ineptitude and the loneliness; and when crying just wouldn’t do it justice, there was the Smiths. For those of us out in the front row, it was as much a cauterizing event as an affirmation – that the words we had listened to for years on charity-shop vinyl, hadn’t been a money-grabbing hoax by a Northern band. Morrissey continues to outdo all lyricists in in his ability to turn the darkest hours of our life, to light; to wholly agree with us that Yes, the world’s a bitch but that it’s still worth giving a playful slap on the arse to. Believe me, there was plenty of that, with an asexual lust that the original blue-eyed bastard of erotica and ego as tall as his hair, might’ve been proud of.

The albums were sifted through with an orderless finger, and I experienced the joy of hearing “Jeane” live for the first time – to be honest, I was rather glad for this virgin exposure. Though my only grievance lay in the omission of the frantic drumroll and staccato lyrics of The Queen is Dead (my favourite method of breaking in new earphones), its domineering presence was filled neatly with the likes of B-sides Rubber Ring, Please, Please, Please and Oscillate Wildly, live performances of which are like rocking-horse droppings to find. And speaking of oscillation – yes, my eyes did mist up, as the guitarists effortlessly spun out the chords of How Soon is Now? Layered on thick, they reverberated around that packed room until I was there, back in 80’s Gutersloh, head up and watching the sky outside the RAF base where I grew up.

For that is another precious gift of tribute bands, learned that night by your most humbled narrator – that whatever is brought to the act, can only help to season the flavour.

“You’ll never see The Smiths again, but The Smyths are the next best thing,” says Music-News.com.

With a tribute like the Smyths – who promote themselves on their site as “The Smiths band of Smiths fans for Smiths fans” – the light won’t be going out anytime soon.

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