Late Night, Maudlin Street

As regular readers of my main blog will know (A Goldfish Called Regret, viewable on most web browsers, other better music blogs are available) I have moved house a few times in my forty five years. Admittedly the early moves were beyond my control and all my parents’ doing, but I have moved twice in the last twenty one years, into Newport in 1994 and across to a larger family home in 1998. I have a tradition that the last album played in the old house is the first album played in the new house, which is the debut Spoonfed Hybrid album. None of this will come as a surprise to most Goldfish readers.

As I mentioned in my last post over there, I am in the process of moving house again at the moment. Hopefully this post will go live by the time I move on the 27th March.   We are moving to a new build so we have some say in what carpets are going in and what colour doors go on the kitchen cabinets. Trivial perhaps but important. So we’ve been going over to the house quite often to check progress and see what has changed. And finally I have returned home to the old house and wished I was in the new house. The carpets are down, almost all the house is ready, just a few little niggles to get sorted and we’ll be there. And as I write it’s less than two weeks until we move in, so I’m frantically packing and sorting, sifting out the useless detritus that has accumulated over the last fifteen years of residing here.

Those lucky people who follow me on Twitter will have become quickly bored by “Going in the attic today”. It has been partly a voyage of rediscovery (ooh look my Casio VL-tone! Hurrah, it’s all my diaries) and partly a chance to determine what each item actually mean to me. My wife has also looked at the endless boxes of records emerging from the attic with amazement. “I didn’t know you had so many” she said. “That’s because they’ve been banished to the attic for ten years” I replied. Also showing my son some records has been interesting. His current favourite music is “Trans Europe Express”, he has heard it from my ipod, seen the video on YouTube, but he had never seen the actual album. I showed him the pictures on the sleeve, he studied the inner sleeve notes and credits and was fascinated by the twelve inch vinyl. Also as my “Trans Europe Express” was a French copy (you have read “Computer Love”, haven’t you?) so he heard “Showroom Dummies” as “Les Mannequin” for the first time.

So I’m wading in an sea of melancholy, looking back at the relics of my life, paging through diaries and unused song lyrics, remembering good and bad times. I’m also looking forward, happy to be moving into a better house, a new start (not that there’s anything to run away from), a new beginning.

And the only song that is repeating in my mind is “Late Night, Maudlin Street” by Morrissey.

I shall be dealing with the whole “Viva Hate” album at some point in the future over at Goldfish, but as the centre piece of the album, the longest song there, the best song there, I thought I could extrapolate my feelings about moving through somebody else’s song about moving.

Quick background paragraph. Moz splits the Smiths, starts writing songs with Stephen Street who brings in Vini Reilly (Durutti Column) as guitarist on the project, which becomes Moz’ debut solo album “Viva Hate”.  Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. But on “Late night Maudlin Street” it works beautifully.

The song starts with a lumpen drum machine loop, not unlike those used by Tears For Fears – I’m sure this is because both recorded at the Wool Hall studio in Box. Reilly starts with some simple jangling guitar chords, while Morrissey mutters “Winter for sure”, “Snow”… Setting the scene. Then the song truly starts. It’s Morrissey’s last night at Maudlin Street (the address a reference to the school in “Carry On Teacher”) and he’s saying goodbye to everything. He’s spent his life there – born, raised and battered. Then the first verse. “Love at first sight may sound trite but it’s true” Morrissey sings, adding such an off hand “You know” that I’m not sure I believe him. But my God he remembers everything, the words, the clothes, every second of existence with this beloved is burned into his memory banks. So it must be important. I know that feeling… His Other is there saying goodbye to the house too. Then bass guitar drops in as Morrissey bitterly complains about ugliness, but his love remains devout. Reilly adds little piano figures as Morrissey talks of pictures and imagining it’s the real person there. Not that I would have done that, oh no, it’s quite clear I never had any photos ever. I’ve looked… No, nothing. Photos of me perhaps, looking thin and geeky then, rather than plump and geeky now… Yes I told you it was silly. And Morrissey took ‘strange pills’… Shall we not go there?… But he never meant to hurt anyone. Really? There’s violence too – stitches, missed buses and more complaints… All the while, between lines Morrissey is sighing and breathing heavily, like he’s trying desperately to get these thoughts out of his system.

At four minutes Reilly is finally allowed to add his characteristic guitar echoes and Morrissey delves further into his past at Maudlin Street, the power cuts – “1972, you know” he adds as an aside, and a quick look reveals that he would’ve been 13 in 1972 which makes sense. It’s a very 13 year old song… He makes light of his body, and wishes himself gone. Reilly’s guitar soars beautifully here, playing against the echoes like his best work, what did Wilson say? “The harmonic sex between guitar and delay units”? The tiny bridge as he repeats “But I will be soon” is a very Durutti chord change and quite gorgeous. At this point, real drums are added, not a conventional drum pattern either, rolls of tom toms and snares and cymbals – Andrew Paresi clearly channelling Bruce Mitchell, adding another layer of Durutti-ness to the song.

Bad times? Oh yes, and as Morrissey sings “They took you away in a police car” Reilly adds a beautiful whammy bar dropped note. Pleas to the police bring nothing, and family pass away, and Morrissey never says anything special to them anyway. He doesn’t mention his family much at all in the song. But at the end he steals the keys from Maudlin Street – “Well it’s only bricks and mortar”. Again he implores “Truly I love you “, adding “Wherever you are”… So his Other isn’t there? Taken away by the police? Or dead? Was there an Other at all? “Wherever you are, I hope you’re singing now”. And he shuts up and Reilly breaks free, staccato shots of guitar and chords as the song fades.

(It’s worth pointing out that the 2011 remaster of “Viva Hate” loses about a minute from the end of the song, fading as Morrissey sings the first “Wherever you are”, therefore denying modern listeners the full song, and Reilly’s final flourish. Cantankerous old sod that he is)

So… Moving house, disposing of memories along with the waste of a life, digging through worthless junk and looking back, but really I should be looking forward. The past is fine, but you can’t live in it.

Here’s to the future.

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