There For The Duration

Seventeen years ago I lived in a town on the west coast of Scotland. Seventeen years ago I had a girlfriend. Her name was Liz. This was odd, because as a rule I never had girlfriends. It just didn't happen. But then 1985 was a very strange year. Liz had a habit of pushing her hand through her fringe when she was nervous, and she was the kind of girl that, to paraphrase David Hook in Newton Thornburg's great To Die In California, would be 'fat at thirty'. Which means, I guess, kind of curvy as a teenager. The relationship didn't last long of course, maybe six or seven months at most, and it had an acrimonious ending, although that was to be expected, 1985 being a year of acrimony, or so it seemed to me.

Sixteen years ago Liz was pregnant and then gave birth to a boy. Naturally, it wasn't mine. I remember looking out what was my bedroom window of that time, and seeing her occasionally, walking along the street with her mother, pushing a pram. Sometimes her brother, a couple of years younger than her, would walk with them. They all seemed to have the same distinctive walk. It was almost like penguins.

Yesterday, I was back in that town on the west coast of Scotland, and stood looking out the same old window. And I saw them again. Or at least I saw Liz's mother, carrying a shopping bag. And beside her, with the same half waddle, half swagger, walked Liz's brother. Except obviously it wasn't. Obviously he was much too young to be Liz's brother. Obviously it was Liz's son.

In that moment, time just coalesced into a single strange instant of recognition that was both past and future wrapped into one spark on now. My own sense of identity warped, became a void. I didn't know who I was anymore, because I didn't belong in that place at that instant at all. The only person who belonged there really was the person who looked out of the same window sixteen years ago. And of course that person is long gone. From that window, from that house, from that town, from this world.

Australia's Lucksmiths remind me of that moment, possibly because they were playing on the stereo at the time it happened. Or possibly because they were the soundtrack to my three hour walks around the old town those past few days, leaving memory scraps behind me as I went. Or possibly even because they just sound like the kind of Pop group I would have adored sixteen years ago; sound like the kind of band whose name I would write in the sands and rave uncontrollably about in scrappy fanzines typed up on my Mom's old Swiss typewriter sat in afternoon depths of isolation dreaming of escape without punctuation or really much meaning either.

Lucksmith's remind me of times slipping away listening to, oh, The Visitors, The Church Grims, Close Lobsters, Felt, The Go-Betweens and later, Trashcan Sinatras. Not that Lucksmiths really sound much like any one of those bands, except maybe the Trashcan Sinatras, to whom to me they seem most closely related. Instead, they conjure fragments of all of them, kind of a collage of jangling guitars that have a fine tension and a great space between their good vibrations, a Felt-like organ floating behind the finest of simple melodies, a bass that carries its own tune, not unlike Robert Vickers', two great songwriters who have their own signature style... It's all evidenced gloriously on their Why That Doesn't Surprise Me album of 2001, a record that has steadily grown on me to the point that I currently can barely switch it off. It's also captured on a new collection on Matinee / Candle.

Where Were We? Is an 'assortment of recordings from 1999-2001' and includes single tracks alongside various compilation appearances. It's a truly delicious collection too, with a myriad of heady heights. There's the exquisite opener 'Cassingle Revival', which is as perfect a hymn for a lost summer love as any you're going to find anywhere, anytime, and for a line like 'I spent this afternoon nostalgic for this morning' it's something to treasure for all time.

'I Prefer The Twentieth Century' is an equally fine moment. There's great swirls of organ and assorted unidentified noises going on in this one, lurking behind a tugging bass, whilst the knowingly self-deprecating ending of 'I know the picture that I paint is not too pretty: self portrait up to elbows in self pity' is so hilariously biting and empathetic you don't know whether to die laughing or crying.

'T-Shirt Weather' meanwhile is, oh, one of those songs you stick on when the sun shines for the first time in what feels like an age and you feel almost invincible in the new warmth. This is one of those songs that hark back to when some people used to write about endless summers and filled their songs with 'ba-ba-bas', and whilst there are actually very few of those on this song, hell, they're there in spirit in spades.

Then there's 'Tmrw vs Y'day' which I heard for the first time on my headphones whilst kneeling on the beach to photograph a piece of paper that said 'all, or nothing at all.' The lines 'the lessons learned and the bridges burned - these things hurt, these things happen anyway' ring in my head and I swear bring me close to tears, not for any good reason other than they capture the understanding that feelings, moments, raw nerves, they transcend geography... transcend time. And nothing captures that better than great, pure Pop like this.

Best of all though is the yearning demo for 'The Great Dividing Range'. With added strings it's undoubtedly the highlight of Why That Doesn't Surprise Me, and here, with just guitar and bass accompanying Tali White's beautifully laconic vocal, it's just as special. I swear you won't ever find a better song about those natural Pop staples Love, longing and distance, either lyrically or sonically. 'The Great Dividing Range' is one of those songs that will nestle down deep in your heart and set up camp. It's there for the duration.

Just like The Lucksmiths.

© Alistair Fitchett 2002