Late Night Stargazing

It’s funny how you have no idea how some records came into your possession, but with others – usually a particular album that you love – you have no problem with recalling exactly how it was that you first came across it.

Tonight’s choice is from an album that is a really easy recall for me. Let me take you back…

It’s 1994, and I had read glowing reviews of this record, and, having heard two singles from it, was desperate to hear it in its entirety. But alas, my student budget at the time didn’t extend to purchasing albums. It was Christmas, and what little spare cash I had rattling around my pockets had been spent on presents for my girlfriend at the time, and her family, who I was spending part of the festive season with – on this occasion, her father (divorced from her mother) and his partner.

I have no recollection of what I bought them – likely my girlfriend had sorted that and I’d chipped in – but I remember what they bought me: a mini-amp, which I could clip onto my belt, plug my guitar and a pair of headphones into and strum away to my heart’s content, and a waistcoat, meant, I think, as a nod to my at the time latent Quo obsession. Thirty years later, both are still in my possession, somewhere. I very much doubt I can still get into the waistcoat and button it up. But you never know, one day…

Anyway, my girlfriend’s dad lived in an end-of-terrace house on the outskirts of Rawtenstall, near Manchester, and his neighbours had gone on holiday when we were visiting, and had asked them to keep an eye on the place, water the plants, that kind of thing. He had agreed to doing the neighbourly thing, partly out of a sense of communal duty (besides, you never know when you might need a favour back), but mostly because he knew they were thinking about selling up, and he was thinking of buying their house and knocking the two properties into one.

And so it was that one day, we all trooped next door, my girlfriend’s dad armed with a tape measure and I, of course, making myself as useful in his quest as possible by heading straight for their CD collection, to see if there was anything worth temporarily borrowing and copying.

And there it was, nestling amongst their collection: the album I had read so much about and so desperately wanted. I liberated it, went back to his house, and recorded it onto a C90 cassette, before returning it the next day. I can’t pretend the idea of just keeping it didn’t cross my mind several hundred times in between.

You’ll all be familiar with this record I would imagine, and if you’re not, just go and buy, stream or download a copy of Dummy by Portishead; I’ve been listening to it again as I write this, for the first time in God-knows-how-many-years, and it’s as beautiful and bizarre and amazing as it was back then.

Here’s the opening track, which sets the other-worldly tone of this classic film noir trip-hop album right from the off:

Portishead – Mysterons

It’s no mean feat that thirty years later this record still makes me sit back, dazed and just think: Wow.

More soon.

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