Love Songs / #2 / Song To The Siren

“Did I dream you dreamed about me?”

Martin`s mum always seemed pleased to see me & Dave. I understand now why the introduction to a child`s new friends brings happiness. The comfort that they are liked. That they are not alone.

I put the tape into the player in Martin`s bedroom. Neither a ghetto nor a blaster. Martin lived on a short residential road of `80s new builds, as quiet and community-like as a cul-de-sac. His parents had bought him a car for Christmas. His mum had tied a huge bow about its doors and roof which he`d had to ceremoniously cut. I didn`t own a car until I was over forty. I`ll shrug and say that in London I never really needed one. Where I`d walked from it was easy to “borrow” one. Hot-wired like a punk heart. I was thirteen the first time I sat in a stolen car. I can`t comment on the size of their house because I would only make it as far as Martin`s room. Where we`d take the piss out of each other. Fine hone our wits and routines. Martin was cute. Too cute. With a confidence that had yet to be knocked.

Dave and Martin struck poses with a Yankees bat and mitt. Souvenirs from a summer`s holiday abroad. I didn`t get on a plane until I was eighteen. I rewound the cassette to find the song I wanted the other two to hear. That week`s great discovery. This Mortal Coil`s chimes rang out and silence replaced the weekend`s plans. The laughter and Young Ones impressions. The sun setting on a 6 PM dusk. The three of us didn`t speak again until the music finished. We didn`t even look at each other. Stepping out of time for a moment. Escorted by a promise of love and loss. A glimpse of the future. Of all those lips we`d never kiss. Cruelty cloaked in beauty. When I listen now I am at window looking both backwards and forwards. As if its call defined the manner in which I would travel. Desire and the search. Dave fell for the voice. I lost my soul to the lyric. The idea that love would always be in folly, would always be out of reach. With hindsight I should have beeswaxed my ears, avoided its curse.

“Once he hears to his heart’s content, sails on, a wiser man.”

We never mentioned the song. I never played it in their company again. I never played it in anyone`s company again. Some may poo poo the version. Self-congratulatory know-all snigger at Liz Frasier`s misreading of the lines. Prefer the raw nature of the Tim Buckley original or John Frusciante`s take. But I am still haunted. When I was young it set me on a path and now I am old I am left wondering what it was I expected to find. I wanted to be consumed and I was consumed. But it never seemed to be enough. The only fire that didn`t appear to diminish was the want. Yet even. That I might have wasted my minutes seduced by a sad fairy tale.

“Waiting to hold you”

But to hold who? It conjures no image, no one face, or procession of faces, only space, a distance.

That love exists inside, all surfaces but reflection. For the fortunate that some might shine more brightly.

This Mortal Coil were a “super group” put together by Ivo Watts-Russell. Taking their name from Shakespeare`s Hamlet soliloquy.

“To sleep, perchance to dream; aye, there`s the rub,

For in that sleep of death, what dreams may come,

When we have shuffled off this mortal coil.”

Via Monty Python`s Dead Parrot Sketch. Rotating a roster of artists and band members from his 4AD record label.





Clan of Xymox, Cindytalk, Dead Can Dance, Dif Juz, Modern English,  and Wolfgang Press. All recording their individual parts with producer John Fryer, in sessions held at South London`s Blackwing Studios. In isolation, without meeting the others. Cultish, the project let Watts-Russell show off his own fandom. His arcane musical knowledge. As he selected the music for the collective to cover. Music by The Apartments, Chris Bell, Gene Clark, and Emmylou Harris. Van Morrison, Roy Harper, Judy Collins, and Tim Buckley. Artists, who in a pre-internet age had long rested in obscurity. There was only vinyl then, and theirs was long deleted. Scarce and expensive. Known to only initiates. Who carried their copies like membership cards to an indie elite, of which I certainly was not one.

When I bought Song To The Siren I didn`t know who This Mortal Coil were. I was ignorant of The Cocteau Twins, of Colourbox. 4AD`s “pin-ups”. Though this would change. I picked up the record because I had money to spend, and had exhausted what else there was in the “Alternative” rack in H. R. Cloakes. Cloakes was the only record shop in Croydon that had an Alternative rack. The only shop that was not dominated by Soul and Import charts. It was conveniently sat next door to Croydon`s only Alternative venue, The Underground. I`d visit Cloakes at least once a week, spending the bus fare I`d save by walking to college. I selected music “blind”, or better, deaf. Based on which rack it was in, and its cover.

Before, I`d been into Hip Hop and Electro. Then I`d listen to Tim Westwood`s show on pirate radio. LWR. Late on Thursday nights when he`d run through that week`s new imports. I`d make a list and travel up to Soho on a Sunday. Groove Records on Greek Street. I had work Saturdays. On Sunday most of the hot stuff would be gone, but there was less chance of getting “taxed” on the journey to and from the shop. So, the world of Independent Labels and Independent Rock was new to me. I hadn`t heard of John Peel, and had never read the NME. Black Echoes was where I got my music news. By the time I left Croydon, I must have bought a copy of every Alternative record Cloakes had.

This Mortal Coil`s It`ll End In Tears is all frosty glacial chimes. Notes plucked with Winter`s fingers. Blue-toned drones. The sound of gravity tearing the tides. Monastic chant and treated accordion loops creating an icy, Gothic cathedral. You can see your breath against its air. Feelings frozen between instrumental interludes of Industrial ambience. Songs reduced to vapour and atmosphere. They cover Memphis band Big Star twice. Kangaroo and Holocaust both lifted from from the hallowed, and then, rare, 3rd / Sisters Lovers. Music, fragile, drugged-out, shambolic, free-form, wasted. The latter a Syd Barrett-like rumination on death. TMC`s Gordon Sharp shouts

“And I want you, like a kangaroo.”

backed by only strings and bass. Yet it`s straight compared to the original. TMC, with Howard Devoto, turn Holocaust into a piano-led torch song. The Magazine frontman managing to sound as broken as  Big Star`s Alex Chilton in places. Roy Harper`s Another Day is re-made as Elizabethan Madrigal by the Cocteau Twins.

The follow-up, Filigree & Shadow, turns all its covers into power ballads. Sung in the echo and reverb of an empty ballroom. A haunted dancehall. With genders reversed. Samples from the film of Kurt Vonnegut`s Slaughterhouse 5 run just out of earshot throughout. The record`s musical reference points seem to be former 4AD-ers, Bauhaus, and the stripped back drum-machine Funk of Prince. A Sign Of The Times. The Purple One`s own debt to Sly Stone. Gene Clark`s epic cosmic Rock. Gary Ogan`s pedal-steel Country. Talking Head`s David Byrne too wired to move. Colin Newman`s scratchy ode to isolation, neglect and abuse. All get the TMC treatment. Judy Collins` My Father remains a poignant hymn to promises and unfulfilled visions of greener grass. To imagined paradises, better lives. A reminder of how important it is to keep planning, and dreaming. Out loud. At least for the sake of our children. But the collective strip Van Morrison`s Come Here My Love of its considerable warmth. The genius mystic`s poem to the comfort that only another body can bring now a cold, desperate plea. A lure. Desire a dark ache. An addiction.

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