July 5, 2011
I enjoy washing up late at night. A time to wind down after another hectic day of work, kids, cooking. A time to listen to Gideon Coe on BBC 6 music. Enjoy the classics, maybe pick up on some new stuff. I was doing just that last week when a truly beautiful and haunting song had me mesmerised. I quickly grabbed a pen to write down the track name, thinking it was some great new talent. I scribbled “New Grass” on a damp piece of kitchen towel, by Talk Talk. Talk Talk! Surely I must have misheard. I flipped open the laptop, googled the track name, and wiki confirmed that it was from the 1991 album Laughing Stock.
Now 1991 was my musical prime. I ate, slept and breathed music. Listened day and night to XFM, still devoured the NME, hung out with fellow music freaks. Yet this album had completely passed me by. Checking the NME End of Year List for 1991 I wasn’t the only one. Granted 1991 was a good year for the album, vintage some would say. It was the year of Nevermind, Screamadelica, Achtung Baby, Loveless and Blue Lines. But scrolling down the top 50 can anyone honestly say that God Fodder by Ned’s Atomic Dustbin and Schubert Dip by EMF are remembered by anyone other than the band members themselves? But no Talk Talk. John Peel’s Festive 50 is the same – dominated by the usual suspects – Nirvana, Teenage Fanclub, The Fall and the Wedding Present.
So what of Talk Talk. According to Wiki, Laughing Stock was well received by critics, some comparing it to Miles’ In a Silent Way. I concur – to these ears it exists on the same spiritual plane.
Maybe, like me, everyone had written Talk Talk off in the early 80s as floppy haired Duran Duran wannabees; or had hated the anodyne synth pop of It’s My Life.
Not everyone was asleep though. Guy Garvey has said that he wants ‘New Grass’ playing at his funeral, and you can definitely see the influence on songs like ‘Scattered Black and Whites’
Listening to Laughing Stock now I’m glad I’ve only just discovered it. I wouldn’t have been ready in 1991, still high on pills and thrills. Now I can put it in the context of Miles Davis,John Coltrane, Robert Wyatt, Brian Eno and Nick Drake. Of English pastoral and American free jazz traditions.
Today I’m an evangelist – forcing it onto friends and strangers in a way I did with Unknown Pleasures thirty odd years ago. If you too missed/dismissed it the first time round listen now and share my wonder.