Songs about Brisbane – 5: The Go-Betweens
[The following was written almost a year ago to the day for my regular column for the Spanish magazine Go Mag. I was trying to capture the feeling of listening to the rain outside my house in The Gap, and futilely searching around in my iTunes for songs featuring the word ‘rain’, before stumbling across what was – in retrospect – the blindingly obvious. It seems appropriate to run it here – ET]
The rain is starting. I need to stop listening to Laurel Aitken. I can’t stop listening to Laurel Aitken. He was one of the founders of ska: that deftness of touch, man alive I wish that folk other than Amy Winehouse would discover it again (not that I have anything against Ms Winehouse, far from it). I need my ska. I need my early demos of The Coventry Automatics, the sarcastic, deadpan, late 70s Midlands band who turned into The Specials. I need my sunshine. The rain is starting. It is storm season here in Brisbane. Last time the rain started, houses and roofs were washed away. You don’t take the rain lightly here.
I search for rain songs in my iTunes folder. There’s no rain in ska songs. It’s like polar opposites clashing. I need my ska, my Clarendonians, my Theo Beckford, my Trinidad and Bahamian home-boys telling stories of prodigious athletes and visiting English royalty and watermelon rotting on the vine and unrest on the streets of Brixton, I need that lightness of touch. I need some rain songs. I settle on The Paragons for a moment – their sweet, soulful version of ‘The Tide Is High’ was later stylised for a generation by Blondie. I stumble across an upbeat version of ‘It’s Raining’ by Spanish revivalist group The Pepper Pots and smile reminiscently (I’m thinking of Brighton’s Pipettes or all those dapper Dap-Kings sorts from NYC)… and it could be a Carla Thomas cover, but I think not. I think not.
I have 945 songs categorised under ska in my iTunes: and that’s not even drawing on my library. Surely someone can match the weather?
It seems like the girls might have a monopoly on the sadness – rain being an obvious metaphor for the blues, except that here in Brisbane everyone hugs one another when the rain starts – because here’s The Jumpstarts, from Girls Go Ska, with a trombone-heavy ‘Rain From The Sky’.
Oh, wait. Here’s Dandy Livingstone with ‘Raining In My Heart’, but I know little about him except that he’s very, very smooth.
So I go for the obvious. Fred Neil – squint in the light of 2009, and you might mistake him for Bill Callahan – and his drop-dead fuckable ‘A Little Bit Of Rain’ (drawn here from an excellent Nick Cave tribute album Original Seeds Volume 2), a song that makes me physically crave for Kris Kristofferson’s chest hair. But it sure ain’t right, not for this tropical heat.
Better by far is the next song that shows up – Buzzcocks’ delirious melding of punk into Krautrock, ‘Late For The Train’ (from the Manchester band’s ‘difficult’ second album Love Bites) – but I fail to see what that has to do with the season. Man alive, it’s hot. Man alive, I wish I didn’t have to type bare-chested. Man alive, that rain is falling heavy.
And much as I enjoy Richard Hawley’s decaying glamour and dulcet tones, ‘Just Like The Rain’ (from Coles Corner) doesn’t do it, either. My secret cutie heartthrobs Ray Rumours and their ‘Puddles And Rain’? Nah, they’re talking European weather – “boring rain”, as my four-year-old son Isaac puts it. 60s chanteuse Peanut has the right idea, ‘Thank Goodness For The Rain’, even if she is a fraction shrill, and lisps.
Leave it to Brisbane’s own much-loved The Go-Betweens – they’ve just named a bridge after them here in the city – to properly sum it up.
Driving my first car
My elbows in the breeze
With all these people that I never, never need
These people are excited by their cars
I want surprises just like spring rain
Falling just like sheets
(falling just like sheets)
Coming down so hard
(coming down so hard)
Falling at my feet
(falling just like)
(‘Spring Rain’, from Liberty Belle And The Black Diamond Express, 1986)
Ah yes, of course. It’s spring rain.