The original One Hand Clapping (1983)
Songwriting. I used to do it all the time. You learn the basic chords: G, C and D, then A and E and then, after a little while, your fingers begin to mould an F. (This is on the guitar.) You have to push down, hard, and it hurts at first. It's only an overmastering desire that keeps you there. The difficulty's in determining what that desire is. It's tempting to say that, when writing songs, you feel more yourself but, actually, it was more often the opposite. Part of the attraction was that you were expressed not by a voice, still adenoidal, or your awkward body but by a thing whose structure was invariable. It protected you. It was you – your voice and hands – but it also wasn't. It enclosed you for as long as it took to sing. You would send your voice, uncertainly, up at the ceiling but the song's chords were already as determined as a building or a road. Secure (happy, insofar as you understood at that age what that was supposed to mean) you were able to throw yourself into it. I used to do this literally. I felt different. Absorbed. Absolved.
So then you try to form a band. It's 1983 and I am talking to Daniel on the phone.
"I want a piano solo in the middle," I say. "I want it to be, you know, baroque. Like 'In My Life'."
"I haven't heard 'In My Life'."
This is typical of Daniel. He is our bass player but in real life, as it were, he is a cellist; he has a place at the Royal Academy of Music. Later that summer, he will tell me that he feels as though he should take up his place and I will ask him why. This is typical of me at the time.
Anyway, he writes a baroque piano solo (he hasn't heard my song yet) and it is perfect. Mark, our drummer, is also talented. Once, in rehearsal, I ask him to drum as though the song is "Be My Baby". He hasn't heard of it (what is it with these people?) but, once I have mimed it, he gets it right, first time.
Daniel and Mark are gifted. Their playing is vivid; both fluid and imaginative. Richard, however, is stiff. He is classically trained and he plays the piano like he is dipping his fingers into a fingerbowl. In the photo that was taken for our local newspaper, he wears sandals and socks. Still, he responds well to my bullying and, by the time we play our first gig, we are fighting fit. We play to a home crowd, who are all suitably enthusiastic. And then... nothing. In London, playing with different musicians, it's the same. We are, we like to think, a band who are slightly out of step. We want to be the new Elvis Costello and The Attractions but, at this point, nobody seems to want the old one. The truth, I suspect, was that we were very much Costello Lite. As far as I can remember, we played one gig. We were good, but not that good. Soon afterwards, I left to work behind a bar. The bass player and drummer joined a band that very nearly made it, a group that sounded like a cross (this was the '80s remember) between Prefab Sprout, the Smiths and XTC. Later, after they split, we got back together for a couple of last Hurrahs at the Dublin Castle. People danced; they cheered; somebody offered to manage us. But I had lost heart by then.
But part of you never really does. Sometimes, I'll be at a gig and the audience will respond in a way that we couldn't have hoped for in a million years. I'll find myself yearning towards the stage. Shaking my head, I'll say,
"God, listen to that crowd."
Which isn't entirely what I mean. What I mean (of course) is that, even now, I wish that I was up there; that everybody in that place was only there for me.
Which isn't the case with One Hand Clapping. You're here, I hope, because you want to read, and listen to, a number of different people. The above is a long-winded way of explaining why we've themed this issue. Everything here has something, however tangentially, to do with music. It's still, after all these years, an obsession and I don't think for a moment that what we've done here will get it out of my system. Still, we did it anyway. All of the following people more than deserve your imaginary applause: Gillian Clarke; Peter Balakian; Charles Shaar Murray; Zoe Green; Jo Balmer; Louise Peterkin; Paul Dunn; Annette Peacock; Nick Hynan; Steve Shepherd; Steve Beresford; Richard Skinner; Mark Russell; Owen Gallagher; Agnes Marton; Ciaran McDermott; Ben Schroeder; The Beths; Paul Hostovsky; Lawrence Wilson; Angela Arnold; Peter Moore and Noah Rasheta. If we were in, or on, a different medium I'd ask them all to take a bow.