New Opened Eyes

I remember 1983 as a fantastic summer. There was much illicit drinking, a great deal of long hot rides of eighty miles over distant hills, and a multitude of what seemed to be endless parties. There was also a lot of music. Many of the specifics of the music I have long forgotten; I presume they were generally Hits of the day, the pop music that my friend's 14 year old sister and her gaggle of girlfriends played on old tape recorders. A few things only remain in my mind after the passing of time and erosion of memory: I recall that the early Style Council played a lot on warm evenings and that Weekend's 'La Variete' was similarly a beloved accompaniment to lazy sun-soaked afternoons in back gardens as we rested between water fights. The Marine Girls also played, at least in my bedroom, and the Sound of Young Scotland was always prominent on the record player at the endless parties, or at least it was when we were able to displace the aforementioned gaggle of girls' Duran Duran and Wham! records. Not that we totally disliked those pop moments. I have memories of dancing to and enjoying the teenage thrill of the best 'Fantastic' slots of Pop, but it might just have been because of the girls. I forget so much.

One record, however, towered above the entire summer like a reluctant and unlikely colossus. Tracey Thorn's 'A Distant Shore' was hardly the most forceful of records, yet it forced its way into the lives of me and my friends with a supple ease. It was an understated, simple, flawed beauty of a record that was short enough to always result in a yearning for more, no matter how many times it was played. And it was played a lot.

The sound was one of simplistic guitar strumming, occasionally just out of tune, with Tracey's voice drifting on top like a strange jewel, always seeming a heap more soulful than the Soul records I would hear on the radio. It was a sound that made perfect sense in sunsets and shaded foot of gardens by the gazebo, and it was a sound that fitted to perfection late nights sprawled indoors surrounded by empty bottles and lonely friends. It was a sound that was heard in many places: Gardens, beaches, tents, living rooms, bedrooms, the roof of a garage... The sound reminds me of all those places, but strangely the one place it reminds me most of is the one place we never played it, although we talked about it often. It was on the hillside overlooking the bay in which our home town sat, a place where we always planned to spend an afternoon in the sun with Cider and 'A Distant Shore', but never did. It's a place and a 'memory' made all the more poignant by the very fact that it did not happen and so cannot fade. All the faces of that summer are on that hillside, in that record. All the faces which are now grown older, married, mortgaged, lost or dead, for better or for worse. They are all crystal clear because they never existed like that in the first place.

I am 'happier' now than then, and although the past is passed and I would never go back, I still envy very much those who have yet to be that age and of that persuasion. Those who might feel the same intense feelings for the first time to the tune of any particular sound. And although I hope today that they listen to and love Tracey with her Springheel Jack breakbeat backing, I also hope they investigate further, delve back in time to 'A Distant Shore' and discover the crystalline summertime blue jewels it holds within.

© 2000 Alistair Fitchett, 1996