Let’s Dance to Joy Division (and celebrate the irony)

Sometimes I like flicking through my music library just seeing what comes up, not settling on any one artist or album in particular.  Sometimes I just can’t decide what I want to listen to and try a few things before coming to rest on something that fits my mood.  Other times I get a bit obsessed with one artist and just listen to them over and over, exploring their full back catalogue, seeking out B-sides, rarities and covers they have done.  I wrote last week about my love affair with REM.  This week it has been Editors.

I’ve been a fan of Editors since their first album, The Back Room, and have listened to it and the second album, An End Has A Start a lot over the years.  I did buy their third album, In This Light and On This Evening shortly after it came out, but I kind of forgot about it until recently.  I’ll blame it on the fact that it came out when my daughter was 3 months old, so I was probably busy.  I had bought the physical CD for some reason (so long ago I can’t remember) but never got round to putting it onto my laptop or mp3 player, so it lay forgotten until a conversation with a friend reminded me about it, and about Editors in general.

So I’ve been listening to them over the past few days, starting with the first 2 albums and now the latest one.  I’ve been searching for interviews with them, both written and video, to find out a bit more.

I’ve said before that I like musicians with personalities and music with substance.  The members of Editors all come across as interesting, funny, smart individuals.  Tom and Chris are the 2 that most often pop up in interviews, but it’s not uncommon to find the other 2, Russell and Ed, contributing too.  I like it when all the members of a band get involved in things, rather than just the front man.  As for the music having substance, it seems like they have been criticised for having too much of the stuff.

Every interview mentions that they are renowned for being moody / gloomy / depressing / dark etc etc.  They pick up on Tom’s lyrics as being all about death, mortality and loss.  Every interviewer seems to refer to other people comparing Editors to Joy Division or other supposedly dark and gloom-laden bands.   I was pleased to see that the guys themselves counter this by saying that although there are aspects of that in their lyrics and music, that they are also trying to create something positive, uplifting and life-affirming.  I was mainly pleased because that was the feeling I got listening to them.  Of course there is no denying that the lyrics, read alone, do paint a pretty grim picture, but I think it’s more the case that Tom is trying to reflect reality than painting a deliberately bleak picture for the sake of it.

Yeah, I know, I should have references and quotes here.  I read / viewed all these interviews over the past few days, but didn’t save them. Trust me. Or do what I did – type “Editors interview” into your favoured search engine and just start at the top.  Oh I will recommend the Face Culture series of interviews, available in YouTube, Face Culture always do good stuff.

Anyway, so yes, I was pleased because that was exactly the feeling I got – first impressions of the music was that it was interesting – great guitar (Chris Urbanowicz has a really distinctive sound and way of accompanying songs that I just love) and bass lines, tight drumming, and the vocals – I don’t know the correct word to describe Tom’s vocals – beautiful seems too feminine….his voice has the ability to make you sit up, take notice, and possible melt your insides a little.  Then once I got to hear the lyrics, they really appealed to me because a) they were actually saying something (substance) and b) they struck a chord with me (‘scuse the pun) and correlated with my world-view.

Yes, there are themes that some might consider depressing, but they are issues that are real, relevant and, well, substantial.  Sorry if I’m over-applying that word.  I mean music can be escapist and idealistic and contain themes of dreams and aspirations, I don’t have a problem with that, variety being the spice of life and all, but I think there is a place for the darker side of life (and death) too.  If that is something you think about, it helps to know that other people are thinking about it too. Song lyrics can be comforting because they put into words what you can’t yourself, or they make you see something from a new perspective.  Certainly when I have dabbled in writing songs I have been at my most productive lyric-wise when I have been dwelling on something troubling.  It is cathartic.  And let’s face it it is more interesting than the “I woke up, had a cup of tea” school of song-writing.

On this note, I’ve been watching the “Secrets of the Pop Song” series on the BBC.  It was fascinating for many reasons – my favourite nugget of info was that in Queen’s early days their concerts were serious solemn affairs with the audience listening politely and quietly, until one gig some people started singing along, and the rest, as they say, is “We Will Rock You” among others.  But anyway, what I found most fascinating about the series was that in each case, the artists turned up to Guy Chambers’ studio (OMG how I would love to spend a day there, heaven!) without any real idea of what form their song would take.  They mostly played around with rhythms, chords, hooks etc until they formed the basis of the song, then the singer came up with lyrics to suit.  Now I know that it is not an uncommon method of song-writing, to create the musical elements first and add lyrics on top, but what struck me was that the lyrics were (it seemed, maybe the editing didn’t do it justice) given the least attention.  There was little emphasis put on the meaning of the words, or the message they conveyed.  Partly it was because Guy Chambers doesn’t do lyrics, he made the odd suggestion for tweaking, but that seemed to be mainly to do with rhythm or emphasis.  Fair enough, it was a series about Pop songs, so maybe I’m expecting too much, but there were some serious artists there, Rufus Wainwright, the Noisettes, Mark Ronson and a newcomer called Tawiah, who I actually liked a lot and she was shown spending time agonising over her lyrics.

It just seemed weird to me that they could produce something and not already have an idea about what it was all about.  Maybe it’s just because that’s not the way I’d do it, maybe it’s because it was more about creating a song that would serve a purpose rather than be about expressing a particular sentiment. Or maybe it’s because I’ve spent too much time listening to bands like Editors where lyrics are so important.

In any case I found it informative, inspiring and thought-provoking, which is a good thing, but particularly so in my recent REM / Editors phase of obsession.

I’ve only listened to Editors latest album a couple of times, I’ll reserve full judgement until I’ve heard it more.  My first thoughts were, “where the hell is Chris and his awesome guitars?”, it sounded a bit like Tom had recorded it alone in his bedroom, all prominent vocals with synth and drum-machine backing.  But I realise that this is them taking a new direction, you can’t re-hash the same old guitar riffs again and again and still maintain interest.  I learned my lesson from Mystery Jets, when I really didn’t take to their latest album because it was so different from the first two, but once I heard it for what it was in its own right, I began to fully appreciate it.  I’ll keep the same open mind about In This Light… and see what I think after it’s been on repeat a few more times.

And I’ve STILL never seen Editors live! They’ve been to Glasgow several times over the past few years, but various things have been conspiring to keep me away from their gigs.  If/when I finally do get to see them, I’ll be one of those annoying people that bug the hell out of me at gigs, and I’ll go mental for the old songs from the first 2 albums.  I’ve seen Editors performances on TV etc and they always look like they do really good shows, they play with a passion and intensity that you don’t often see.  As soon as they announce a new album and a tour I’ll be queueing up for tickets and anything else that comes up can forget it, I’m seeing Editors come hell or high water.  If I can see Franz Ferdinand while 6 months pregnant, nothing short of actually giving birth will stop me from seeing Editors.

BTW I don’t really know much about Joy Division, I’ve never really purposefully listened to them, I just know the songs that get played on radio etc. Or feature in movies like Series 7: The Conteders. That’s what I think about every time I hear Joy Division.  That and the Wombats song that the title of this blog refers to.


Ok yet another one of those times where I was thinking about stuff on the bus, have some half-formed ideas and even though it’s late and I need to sleep I want to get them down before I forget or get taken over by something else.  But hey, what’s new?

So I’ve been listening to REM a bit lately.  I haven’t really listened to them in ages, but various things have made me move towards them again.  That band mean so much to me that it inevitably got me thinking.

REM were about the first band that I properly got in to, that I discovered on my own. I was trying to remember when exactly it was.  It was before Automatic for the People, cos I remember that coming out.  I think Losing My Religion was the first song that got me hooked, although I had been hearing The One I Love on the radio for a while without realising it was them. So around 1991, I was 11 or 12, leaving Primary School and entering Secondary School.  Most of my friends were obsessed with New Kids on the Block.  I couldn’t understand their appeal, and tried to get my friends to listen to REM but they were equally uninterested.  Of course for them it was about the image and the boys and the Smash Hits culture.  For me music was about music, and my music was actually good, but then again as I’ve discussed on here before I was used to being the uncool one and being baffled by my peers’ behaviour.

Anyway, I listened to Out of Time, then Automatic over and over.  I went and bought Green and Document and other older albums – they were all on cassette tape, I didn’t have a CD player.  I couldn’t get enough of them.  Needless to say no-one else that I knew shared my obsession so I quitely tried to find as much information as I could about them myself.

These days if I discover a new band a quick search on the internet will lead me to their website, merch store, links to sample or download their tracks, bios, interviews, videos etc. Back in the early 90s I had no such luxury.  I trawled music magazines for snippets, surreptitiously sneaking a peek then buying any that featured the band.  I read and re-read all the info in the inserts in the tapes.  Occasionally they would be featured on Top of the Pops or some other music show and I would get to see their videos.

For a birthday or Christmas one year I got an REM video.  I can’t remember exactly what was on it, but I think some of their music videos and interviews etc.  That small slice of insight into who they were and what they were like as people was fascinating to me.  Even how they spoke – they had weird accents!

I would have given anything for YouTube or MySpace back then.  The difference that the internet has made to a music fan is immense.  I mean I always see depictions of music-lovers in the pre-internet days congregating in their local music store, finding that elusive vinyl LP, sharing records with fellow enthusiasts.  But I was 12.  I was a wee girl.  I lived in Dundee, which undoubtedly had independent music shops, but none that I knew of.

I saved up my money and bought an REM t-shirt from the Virgin Megastore, and wore it whenever I could.  I saw other people wearing them, but they were always much older, and invariably they were male, so I never worked up the courage to speak to them.  One time on a school trip, one of the boys a few years ahead of me noticed my t-shirt and was visibly impressed, but then said to me, “yeah they’re a great band, it’s a shame Michael Stipe is going to die, isn’t it?”.  I was devastated.  I didn’t know anything about the rumours about him having AIDS or anything, and thought he really was going to die.  The big boy said it so it must be true.  Again, these days the internet would have meant that I would have known this, or if I didn’t I could quickly google it and find out.  I was tormented by that thought for ages until I discovered what the hell he’d been talking about.

I found out that there was an REM fan club.  I pestered my mum to let me join.  She refused, cos it meant having to send a letter to Athens, Georgia.  The very thought of sending a letter all the way to America just for some silly band was just too much for her.  I was so upset, I tried to figure out how to do it without her knowing, but she knew the people in the post office and the local shop, they would surely make some comment to her if I went in asking for stamps to America.  Then there was the fact that I’d receive post back from America, she’d see that and the game would be up.  I had to accept I would miss out on the newsletter and poster and exclusive offers.  Today I follow my favourite bands on Facebook and Twitter, get all the news and latest info straight to my inbox or phone.  Kids these days don’t need their parents’ permission for that, it’s all within their control and immediately accessible.  The man in the post office need never know.

I bought a poster,

it was among my most treasured possessions, it hung on the back of my bedroom door, followed me to University and eventually had to be thrown out after too many moves had ripped all its corners and the blue-tac and sellotape damage was too extensive.  I was so sad to see it go, even though I was probably about 22 by that time.  Today I have dozens of images of my favourite bands on my laptop and my phone.  I don’t cherish any quite as much as I cherished that poster though.

By the time I was 18, I left home, and my obsession lessened a little.  I continued to buy their albums when they came out, but didn’t feel the same about their new material as I did about their older stuff.  Eventually I moved on entirely and barely listened to them at all.

Then when I was in London, in 2003, they released a best-of album, and I found out afterwards that Michael Stipe had been in London promoting it, and had been standing on a street corner near Marble Arch handing out copies.  I live near Marble Arch! I was so gutted that I hadn’t known about it and that he was so close I could have met him. In the world of Twitter that news would have been out so fast, I’d have got it on my phone and sprinted down there.  But then again so would hundreds or thousands of other people.  So then he probably wouldn’t do that kind of thing today.  Technology has changed how bands interact with fans as well.

Throughout all this time I had never seen them live.  Partly because they rarely toured in Scotland and when they did the expense would have put it out of my reach.  As the years went on I was apprehensive about the idea of seeing them live – what if they didn’t live up to my expectations? Then in 2005 a series of events led them to put on a concert in a 10,000 capacity tent on Glasgow Green and I managed to score tickets.  By that time I was at the stage where I was disappointed with their most recent album(s) and felt maybe they were past their peak, so didn’t have high expectations of the gig.  Despite it being June it was pissing with rain, the whole tent got flooded and there must have been a hazard with all the electrical equipment, but they were absolutely brilliant.  They played all the hits, quite a few oldies, and even the newer songs that I hadn’t thought much of on the albums came into their own when performed live.  Michael Stipe was showing no sign of being past his best (and was very much alive).  I was so glad I finally got to experience them live.

So yeah, this was supposed to be a discussion around how technology and the intenet has changed the experience of being a music fan, but it has segued into an ode to REM. Oh well.

Now after a number of years I’m going back and listening to all their albums again. In many ways they are so familiar and comforting, it’s like going home.  But I’m also able to listen with fresh ears and consider the music in new ways which is nice and refreshing.  There are so many good songs that I had forgotten about, although in that strange way when they come on I still know all the words.  Well, as much as you can do with REM.  I swear some songs I’ve been listening to for 20 years and I still can’t make out what the hell Stipe is on about….