Thursday 23rd March 1995
I’m in the main hall of Cardiff University waiting to see one of my favourite bands being supporting by a band of local heroes, and the whole shebang is being broadcast live by Radio One on their Evening Session On Campus slot. Obviously someone is taping this for me cos I want to listen back to it. Steve Lamacq and Jo Whiley are presenting the show and keep popping up on stage to say hello to us all and cheer us on. In the meantime we see a succession of videos projected onto the back screen – the only two I remember are “Park life” and “Ping Pong”.
The local heroes are on first. 60ft Dolls are from Newport, where I have been living for the past year or so. I’ve seen them before, they played a support slot to a secret gig that Elastica played in the Kings Hotel in Newport in 94 and I was well impressed by their energy and songs, I especially love their encore – a frantic version of “Everybodys got something to hide except for me and my monkey”, taken at breakneck speed. So the Dolls appear in Cardiff and get a great reception from the local crowd. Tightly coiled and passionate, they are on the verge of a breakthrough that never quite happens. They announce they are playing their last number and that it is dedicated to Michael Jackson and his monkey. Twigging what will happen next I let out an exuberant scream, loud enough to be picked up by the radio mics on the show. They tear into “Everybody’s got something to hide” and blast the place apart, leaving the stage to a wall of feedback and noise.
The Boo Radleys follow half an hour later. They are triumphant, their new single “Wake Up Boo” is the soundtrack of Spring, utterly unavoidable from the breakfast show to the evening session and all over TV too. I am pleased for them, I’ve followed them since I heard Peel play songs from “Icabhod and I” five years back, loved their progression as their songcraft improved and their ambitions get higher. I remember hearing “Buffalo Bill” on the “Does this hurt?” EP and thinking it was a breakthrough, only for “Lazarus” to appear a few months later as the real breakthrough. “Giant steps” was marvellous and strange and now they were riding the crest of a wave. “Wake up” the album was due for release the following week so this live set included songs from it plus highlights of (heir career. It was an absolute stormer of a night.
The next day I returned to work and wrote up a rave review for the ONS’ Bulletin Board, a primitive conferncing system where Paul K and I had already gained a reputation as music buffs. After my review one of the SysOps commented that she kind of knew the drummer from the Dolls and liked “Wake up Boo”. We sort of communicated a bit about music but we seemed to have quite different tastes. We kept on talking online and sending emails to each other and a few weeks later, once “Wake Up” had been issued, I finally bumped into her on the stairs. She knew me from working in another area, and we hit it off so started going to walks at lunchtime. I made her a mix tape of “Wake up” plus other Boos songs and Dolls songs on the other side, and managed to find time for “Mineral” by Pacific on the end of side two, a song she’d never heard but she told me it reminded her of being on holiday in Ibiza.
Slowly over the next few weeks going into April, we would walk and talk about life and music. She was a Christian and knew the Dolls as their drummer’s father ran the church she attended. We would frequently fall out – usually over email – and Paul K would end up refereeing between us and knocking our heads together. (I recently read through some of these emails, they’re hilarious). I went to church with her and reacted so badly I wrote “Mad and ill” about it immediately, the title taken from one of her emails – “You make me mad and ill”.
And in all this time, “Wake Up” was playing. There were poppy elements like “It’s Lulu” and “Find the answer within” but there were experimental parts too which showed they still could be strange. My favourite songs were “Stuck on amber”, “Wilder” and especially “Reaching out from here”. That song struck me as very close to how I felt – the references in the second verse to not feeling comfortable there, all his friends lived elsewhere, that was how I felt about Newport, having moved there from the other side of Cardiff the year before. And yet there was comfort too – “To have you whisper in my ear that it’s gonna be alright, and you’re gonna be alright so I can be alright too”. It was the most straightforward song, no sideways swerves, no waves of distortion, just a clarity of purpose.
And we fell in love. She’d told me not to, but we did anyway. By May we were going out, ever so tentatively. And all my friends from Penarth came over with champagne cos I’d not had a girlfriend before and had wanted one for so long. And there were troubles along the way and difficulties we overcame but we have been married for fifteen years now and on May 1st 2015 it will be our 20th anniversairy of being a couple. And I still love “Reaching out from here”, because that comfort in love is still there.
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