This Week's Editorial: 30/4/21



Nile Rodgers has a system that he calls "DHM". This, disappointingly, only means "deep hidden meaning" but I like what it means in practice. Producers, he says, as well as performers and listeners, have to attend to what a song really is. What is it about? Are the band doing it justice? Does the melody do it justice? Would it sound better – brighter; funkier – if it was played higher up the neck? If you want to listen to something, in other words, you have to really listen to it. I keep thinking of Flaubert. (I'm sorry. This is the way my mind works.) He said,


"People believe a little too easily that the function of the sun is to help the cabbages along."


This is what I feel about music. It isn't there to help along your dinner party. It doesn't exist just so that you can drizzle it, like olive oil, over your life. Many of my most memorable nights have been because of music. I've been to some amazing gigs, but I don't mean that: I mean nights spent in people's houses. I used to have a tiny deck from Woolworths – it looked like a Dansette – and my flatmate and I would take turns playing songs for each other. Often, we'd talk (shout, rather) over the bits that we most wanted the other to hear but that was part of it, too. In the end, the talking became a kind of ritual. The evening wouldn't have felt complete without it.


Which brings me to Music Club. It's very male of my friends and I, I suppose, to have formalised what is essentially just a night spent listening to music on each other's phones; to have structured not only individual evenings but also the year itself, so that, just after Christmas, we all go to the pub and decide which of the songs our "archivist" has recorded should go on a CD. (Fascinating to see a word go from a joke to a job description.) It's difficult to convey just how satisfying all of this is. The meal before we start; the talk of "setting a precedent" if one of us, say, plays two tracks by the same artist; the Ivor Cutler track at the end; even words like "archivist" and "club" – it all lends things an air of importance that, actually, I think is right and proper. Because, you see, we love this stuff. The music, I mean. Everybody listens and the only rule is that you have to really like what you play or, if not, be pretty sure that someone else might like it. As to what we do play... Well:


These are rough thumbnail sketches. (Cartoons, almost. No-one is ever completely true to type.) I, for example, would probably like to be defined by my weirdest choices. I like to think that I'm right out there at the cutting edge; that I'm a sort of lightning rod, or antenna. Also that I'm a classicist: someone who appreciates the qualities of a song in the same way that someone else might appreciate a painting or a chair leg. I suspect, though, that this isn't the case. Peter, our archivist, played me a track about which I became extremely enthusiastic. "Why do I like it so much?", I asked. There was, I swear, a mass rolling of eyes. "Because it's Beatley", they all said.


Chas is something in insurance. I use this phrase deliberately because I don't know what he does. I like to think that he's very important: that, if you make a huge, definitive mistake, you have to go to Chas; that he's sitting in an office with a trap-door. Chas is very fond of Americana; of anything, pretty much, with dirty guitars. But he likes Tricky, too, and Joe Jackson and the jazzier, more experimental end of rap. Rich, meanwhile, has a background in advertising. He plays songs in the same way that you might play a winning hand at cards. He says: "Right"; sometimes he even rubs his hands together. He displays, late in the evening, a laudable desire to weird us out. It's difficult to summarise what he does and doesn't like but he does do a lovely line in jazz. Funk, too.


Which leaves Peter. Peter is an editor and travel writer. It shows, I think: he'll play anything from Zambian rock to Swedish funk. He also has a weakness for a certain type of female voice. Something tough but vulnerable; something, he says, that "reminds me of the women in Thomas Hardy". He also has a knack for what I think of as popular experimentalism. When I play something strange, the other three have been known to react like I've broken wind. Peter can play pretty much anything and we'll end up nodding our heads and laughing. (I should say that there's a lot of laughter; it's not a church.)


And this – all of the wildly opinionated feeling that this implies – is true of my attitude to literature. I have very strong likes and dislikes, and this partly explains my ruthlessness as an editor: if something grates and if I have to prepare a poem for publication, then, by about the third rereading, it's like that torture where a tap drips, endlessly, onto your forehead. If I don't like something then you will have to put up an extremely good argument in order for me to keep it in. There are people, I know, who think that this isn't an editor's job. I can only shrug somewhat helplessly and say that I can't seem to help it. And look – just look – at what I do like. This week we have tremendous poems by David Harsent, John Burnside, Fran Lock (and Roddy Lumsden), Steve Shepherd, Annie Fisher, Jamie O'Halloran, Gale Acuff, Steve Kronen, D.E. Thompson, Gaynor Kane, Christian Ward, Jill Penny, Kate Hewett, Jay Klokker, Chrissy Banks and Yash Seyedbagheri. We also have a great track from the new LP by The Evan Parker Quartet, our usual Track of the Week, Agnes Marton writing about what has inspired her in "Since Feeling is First", Han Sungpil's photos of the Artic Circle, Brandon Robshaw and Noah Rasheta's regular features and more short prose pieces by Andrew Vidgen. The DHM? I leave it up to you to work it out. I would say, though, that everything here is worth your time and serious attention.