Looking For A Place Called Home
The Orchids - Maggie May's, Glasgow, May 26th 2007

Glasgow is the city that I love and hate more than any other on earth. There is so much here that matters too much, and so much more that cuts my soul into pieces. I walked the streets this morning making new memories from old. Ghosts flickered past like the heavy clouds and I told stories to the sidewalks and sandstone.

I strolled through the Kelvingrove Art Gallery for the first time in twenty years. The last time I was there was part of a sit-down protest about government cuts in Arts funding organised by some art school students. Later we occupied the registrar’s office and camped out around the staircase in the Mac building. Things like that seemed to happen a lot back then, and it makes me sad to remember it now. Someone special said recently how she missed Politics and I know what she meant.

My mind though was not on politics. This time I actually looked at the paintings, and that was good too. But really I kept being diverted by the sound of The Pastels’ ‘Tea-time Song’, which was locked on repeat on my iPod. Those lines where Stephen talks about looking at the beautiful paintings but thinking that they are no more beautiful than the girl he is with tugged on my coat sleeves. I reached for a hand to hold and a smile to comfort me. The void just winked back, knowingly.

Now though all I can think about is how I doubt that I will ever be able to listen to that song again. I think about how we recycle our moments of love and I wonder how mine will be deconstructed and reassembled. I wonder who the recipients will be. I wonder how many times it has happened in the past, and I lose just a little of my insides. In the big scheme of things it doesn’t matter of course. They are only songs and none of us own anything at all except the fragments of the truths we pretend are real.

I keep talking about moments and memories. It’s my only idea, my Obsession Number 1. But that’s fine, for what is Pop about if not obsessions and repetition? Of course I have many memories of The Orchids and they span time like all my others. See, here’s me, and here are my Orchids memories, spanning time, just like Vincent Gallo.

So Pop is about obsession and repetition. You know this to be true. You know too that great Pop is as much about what is missing as it is about what is present. The spaces are as crucial as the sounds, the aches of distance as invaluable as the pleasures of company. The Orchids know this, naturally. They have always left the gaps for us to fill with our skipping heartbeats and in which to plant our mementoes.

It’s no different tonight, as they take a Glasgow stage for the first time in too many years. They play the same set as at their London comeback show in March and although the group may not reach the heady heights of that performance, they nevertheless sparkle and shine so much brighter than any of the young pretenders this city might like to throw at us. Guitars glitter like sparklers, drums clatter like rifle retorts and a bass meanders like a supple bedrock, throwing winks and nods, all worldly wise and pure. Words edge out of the sounds as James Hackett’s voice performs that magical mystery act, all tremulous ache and hushed strength. “I want to be the last thing on your mind, last thing at night, last thing in bed...” he sings, and I cave in to the simple purity of the statement. Because I do. More than anything else in the world, I do. Then on the Grant McLennan-esque closer to their recent Good To Be A Stranger album comes the refrain of “you could do something to me”. And you do. Believe me, you do. And then some. You always have.

No surprise then that for me it is ‘Something For The Longing’ which is again a centrepiece of magnificent strength; perhaps more than ever now The Orchids’ lasting legacy of Pop elegance. It is a song that sweeps all before it with effortless ease, with that most fabulous of lazy perfections, if you like. They strove. They found. They came back to look for more. And thank goodness for that. “Won’t you hold on to me baby? Won’t you hold on to me girl?” James sings, and I reach again into the darkness. Again the void winks back, but this time it is filled with a transfigured passion; an abandoned love that blows kisses into the dark.

And then, on a heartrendingly perfect ‘A Place Called Home’ there is “remember, she said, don’t leave me here” and I DO remember. And I remember how some promises can never be kept. Circumstance is a rum thing, to be sure.

They close, as ever, with a rambunctious rendition of ‘Caveman’ that sounds delicious. “I sometimes give up” sings James as the song opens and I swear to god, I quake inside. But ‘Caveman’ is no sad refrain for idiots like me who feel more sorry for themselves than they have any right to do, so when James bursts out with “but then you remind me you’re laughing” I’m left there shaking, laughing and everything.

By rights I should stay longer than I do. I should share the moments with friends, but there are words in my head that need to come out, and so I make my excuses and walk back to my hotel room alone through streets of waved flags and drunken chants. The city feels like a diseased monster and I want to wash its lousy breath from my skin. But although I feel this way, feel so low about so many things, I know deep down there is some truth and beauty in the world. I know that those songs I have just heard, those moments that refine the essences of life and love down to the most spectacular pleasures imaginable might make no difference to how things will go on, yet they also make all the difference in the world.

I dream of a kiss that can never happen and a smile that never did. I dream about tomorrow and think that in a few days I will be home. It’s enough. It’s more than enough.

© 2007 Alistair Fitchett