As the sparkle settles, and coffee creams sit lonely in cavernous tins, I like to spend the peaceful time between Christmas and the start of the New Year thinking about the one that has been. I began to write about 2013, but no sooner had I begun did I realise there was so much to say about music, that it merited a piece to itself.
Without wishing to sound trite, music is my life. I don’t often write about it though, as it’s somehow too sacred for words, but its role in 2013 was such that I feel I would like to at least attempt to articulate my experience.
2013 began excitedly for music fans with new releases from the likes of David Bowie. After what had felt like a period in the wilderness, for me at least, with regard to the discovery of worthy new offerings, something exciting whispered on the spring breeze and there was a distinct feeling that 2013 would be a good year.
The first highlight for me came, not by way of a new release, but from a visit in February to the Clissold Arms, Muswell Hill, London. Right opposite the childhood home of Ray and Dave Davies of The Kinks, the pub is where they played their first and apparently last ever gig together. We enjoyed a drink in the Kinks room which is decked out in posters, newspaper articles and photographs of the band, and a joy for any fan that has made the pilgrimage. Being present in the place where such artists began to find their way in the world held a magical feel on that cold, starry night in London, as the ghosts of their inspiration hung silent in the night air.
The next highlight came in March when, after 10 years, Suede released the much anticipated Bloodsports. With teaser track and subsequent first single Barriers being very well received, things boded well for the album. A period of mourning followed their final Irish gig in The Ambassador, Dublin, in 2003 after which I met Brett Anderson and got to say farewell in person before they broke up. You can imagine my excitement when I travelled to London in 2010 to see them reunited for a triumphant gig at the Royal Albert Hall, and again in 2011 when they played Suede, Dog Man Star and Coming Up in full one night after the other in Dublin’s Olympia Theatre. The time had come for a new album, and with nervous anticipation, I pressed play. As I lay in my room in the dark listening to Sometimes I Feel I’ll Float Away, I was overwhelmed and overjoyed that something so beautiful could be new to the world, and that their album was everything I had hoped for.
On 4 May 1997, Suede played Dublin Castle and, unable to contain my excitement, my 16 year old self queued outside HMV Grafton Street, Dublin to meet the band, and have them sign my copy of Coming Up. They were the most glamorous thing I’d ever seen in the flesh and I was overawed. In April 2013, HMV would close its doors, and this and other memories of the music shop came leaping to the fore.
Prior to the above, my first special and vivid memory associated with HMV took place in 1995. My 15th birthday coincided with the release of Pulp’s Different Class, and seen as my love of music has stemmed from my parents, it seemed completely appropriate that my Mam would be with me for what would prove to be a life changing purchase. Pulp’s Different Class turned my musical world upside down and had a massive impact on me.
Going home with my limited edition album, with its changeable cardboard covers, I marvelled at it, scanning the silver embossed track listing, imagining what each one might sound like or be about. I will stop short of describing the effect the heady world I found within had upon me, and how I felt about it, but suffice to say it was life changing.
HMV was a haven for me as a teenager, and I would spend hours browsing, taking chances on albums, rushing in to get hotly anticipated new releases, checking on the off chance my favourites would have released anything I wasn’t aware of, poring over their sleeves, lyrics, track listings, acknowledgements and artwork on the bus home. When I got there, the music within would burst forth from the speakers, coming to life on the air that swirled about my family home. It was magical.
A dream turned to reality when, days before my 19th birthday, I started working there as a Sales Assistant. Not only did I come to meet some of the most important people to me in life, but I began performing my own songs in the pubs around Dublin. Live performances would become part of my life from then on, and the confidence this gave me saw me play all kinds of gigs over the years, including performing at the famous Bluebird Café, Nashville, and being lead singer with Rock ‘n’ Roll and Rockabilly band Johnny & The Abductors. My job at HMV was everything I hoped it would be and more. My memories of that first year are of joy, laughter, fun, hard work, purpose, acceptance and belonging.
I can’t pretend it continued to be like that as the years went on, but that first year will forever stand out in my mind as one of the best of my life, and while HMV was the place where all this occurred, it was the people and the music that enrich my life to this day, and changed it forever.
This theme of nostalgia melding with the experiences of today continued as Blur played Kilmainham in August. What turned out to be a perfect day was undoubtedly one of the highlights of the year. The combination of excellent company, laughter, happiness and a fantastic setlist made it unforgettable. Blur hold a special place in my heart, and memories flooded back as For Tomorrow, The Universal and The End, to name but a few songs, soared skyward into the Dublin night as I shared it with those who mean the most.
The following month, Manic Street Preachers would release Rewind the Film and considering all that had gone before in 2013, Richard Hawley’s heart rendingly beautiful vocals on the intensely apt title track would reduce me to tears of happiness, sadness, and reminiscence for treasured times that can never return, but that I’m grateful to have had. The Manics always release a record at a time in my life which is longing for a pertinent soundtrack. This was no different, as it was a year for considering the present in the context of the past, reconciling who you are and where you are with where you have come from. Rewind the Film is a masterpiece, and again, I was so grateful that something so beautiful and poignant could be new to a world awash with musical offerings that, to paraphrase Morrissey, say nothing to me about my life. That same month, September, I saw them in Dublin’s Olympia Theatre and all I can say is that it was a similarly transcendental experience to the Blur gig.
In October, Suede came to The Olympia, which remains my favourite venue, and another brilliant night was had as I got to hear Bloodsports live. As the metallic melodies of Trash rang out, I pondered the 16 year old in awe at HMV, the 23 year old that met Brett Anderson at The Ambassador, and the 32 year old who stood before him now.
My trajectory from the child of Rewind the Film to the adult I now am, and everything in between, flashed before me as the depth of my life and its myriad of events swarmed about and swept me up on high to the privileged position of outsider looking in, and I was so grateful for what I saw.
Such is the power of music.
There are of course many more musical highlights from 2013, not least a memorable visit to the Salford Lads Club during what was a brilliant trip to the Kings Arms Festival, Manchester, or the release of Morrissey’s exquisite autobiography, but I can only mention so many here. My personal musical journey this year has proven to be enriching, euphoric, thought provoking, poignant and magical, and I can only hope that my experiences in 2014 will prove similarly rewarding.
By Emma Hynes