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Saturday, 4 March 2017

Track of my years: Just Send My Heart...

19 -a time when you think all might be possible; you test stuff; you embrace friendships, are open to new experiences and people, and fall in love. And everything is confusing - but no way will you admit that. At least, that is what  in and around Banbridge was for me. I fell in love; I loved being with my friends; I loved drinking beer- Summer 1985 was about all of those things. But it was also about music- gorgeous, haunting, uplifting, kick-ass, defining pop music. And confusing feelings, relationships and politics.

One piece of shimmering pop stands out- and it'll be one few of you will have heard of. The Northern Irish Troubles were raging all around us – me and my friends and wee town - in the news, bomb scares, bombings, shootings, friendships, bigotry and in communities coming together, over beer; dancing; singing the same songs (sometimes) and kissing girls.

I met a girl, a girl in a white dress; but this isn't about her. Well, it's about longing for her. Missing her; but it is also about discovery - knowing the community I was part of went further than the box the media and some of those in my troubled province wanted to put me in.

The girl in the white dress was a class apart. Literally. She was from a family of millionaires- but to borrow a Mrs Merton phrase, that was not what attracted me to her. She was beautiful and a bit wild - her wealth, education and life experience placed her on a level with me - someone who wanted to break out of the drab mid-Ulster working class expectations placed upon me by all of the restrictions around me. A culture I couldn't belong to. A culture that didn't, to me in my teenaged snobbish way, feel that cultured. And the girl in the white dress brought that to me - her culture, which, ultimately couldn't be mine... in short bursts, as she went to public school in England.

Our love affair was through letters and on her school holidays and then later, when she went to Lucy Clayton finishing school; and then on financially crippling and financially educating journeys to London.

But this isn't about her and how we split up and got together – and split up and got together and - three years later, in my burgeoning realisation we were world's apart; a class apart, calling it a day- wrecking my young head in the drunken process. No- it's not about her. It's about longing and it's about the search for a culture beyond the drums and the Britishness I didn't understand. That I felt outside of.

This week a song kept going through my head. A song from an album that barely scratched the charts, but an album so beautiful, in my mind and memory and emotions, that I was afraid to buy the follow up three years later. And the fact that both albums bracket the girl in the White dress is interesting- but only interesting in that I couldn't buy that follow up.

The song from the album that suddenly entered my head this week is a beautiful track called "Always." But the song that brought this Belfast group to my attention back in the beautiful summer of 1985 – the summer of Live Aid and barbecues and being caught in showers walking through Belfast windsurfing and pernod and black currant, was the song, "Send my Heart."

Every Friday night I got myself ready- showering the stress of the boxed in workplace from my head, and changing clothes; changing skin; spraying smells onto my body, wearing my collar up and meeting the lads in the Coach Bar. And when the weather was good, the sun would stream through the front bar doors and that first pint as we all met would feel freeing; a gateway into a world away from the need to work.

And the girl with the White dress wouldn't be there; she'd be in her very English world and every song on the video juke box would either remind me of her; make me cry inside for her or be something new I'd want her to hear.

The song began with four strums of a silver guitar. That took my attention. And then this video, that made me sad; a song that made me choke with loneliness; chords that played out a story of someone from my country leaving for a life that took him away from the girl he once loved; a bitter end to love.

The video showed places I'd recently discovered with the girl in the White dress. Dublin. Dublin buses. And they were dressed in the mid eighties fashions of Dublin - a city that just seemed stylish- a city pumping out coolness and oozing confidence and a city that seemed like everyone in the world had discovered at the same time as me.

And then the chorus, "Just send my Heart..." The name of the song- and the name of the group. The Adventures. And they weren't from cool Dublin. They were from battered Belfast- and from part of Belfast that I was led to believe was not part of my culture. And I wanted to know more. I wanted to understand why my “culture” didn't produce songs that made your heart rise into your throat.

So I bought the album- Theodore and Friends. Her mum thought it was beautiful- I remember her saying that. And it is. The songs are beautiful. Part of the foundations of what became Celtic Rock. Songs that were produced in a way that made them almost timeless because they weren’t Erasure or Depeche Mode or Heaven 17 or the likes. Beautifully crafted pop songs, with lyrics that made me want to embrace the other part of the culture that was split- wrenched- exploded apart. Soaring choruses and melodies that lifted your eyes as the trust around us was being shot to pieces.

The beauty of my town and the protections it had, was that some of us – most of us young people – the future – a generation that could perhaps end the shite around us - were able to mix across the sectarian divide. We had interfaces such as the local technical college; before that, "Summer School," a "club" run by teachers - from, if I recall rightly, the local catholic High School and from the technical college, during the summer holidays. Catholics and prods came together and played and went on trips together. And we had nightclubs- The Coach being the biggest (the biggest in Europe at one time) and the one people came to from across the province. So I had my prod friends- but I also had Catholic friends. But interfaces or not, some harboured hate and killed in our names and hated for us.

Theodore and Friends was such a beautiful album of discovery for me and from a time I never wanted to end- but had to- and did- that I couldn't buy the next album. But it was a song from the next album, "The Sea of Love," that sums up what was happening all over the North at the time- including in the lives of the members of the band- Terry Sharpe’s friend, Thomas Reilly was shot by a young soldier in Belfast. Another statistic in the awful, illogical story of the world around me. Sharpe’s girlfriend, Sara Dallin of Bananarama, wrote a song about the dreadful murder – Rough Justice - and the music industry mourned, recalling the dreadful Miami Showband killings.

Our land, our community, was indeed a Broken Land.

I remember seeing the Adventures in concert in The Mandela Hall in Queens University, and Terry Sharpe, the lead singer, using the pay phone as I was led to an office to have my camera confiscated -yet again- until after the concert. A claim to fame that means nothing – as people have forgotten this beautiful group.

And I never listened to that second album until today. That album that bracketed the love I had for the girl in the White dress; but was the beginning of a new struggle for me- the struggle to piece together me; to find my part in all of this and to break out of the walled in, frozen piece of a culture I couldn't be satisfied in.

I've listened to "The Sea of Love" a few times today. A forgotten album from the eighties, along with Theodore and Friends- but as beautiful -if not moreso than The Adventures first. An album of beauty and heartache that sounds like the broken community it came from-a community wanting to reach out and discover each other, to embrace, to stop being apart – a community longing to hold hands and walk together. Songs of longing, love and of the girl in the White dress- across the sea; in a letter of love; but ultimately a love lost.

Other Tracks of my years here-

Joy Division - a track of my years...

Sinead O'Connor - My Danny Boy...

Jim Morrison... The City of Lights; Newry, Paris, Budapest, Stuttgart... 

1 comment:

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