Sunday, March 04, 2007

flowers of london - the orchids in kilburn.

the last time i had felt tears welling up at a gig was in 2004 when, the day after john peel's death, dean jones of e.n.t. dedicated peel session classic "carry on screaming" to him. (incidentally, more on them here soon).

but, towards the very end of the orchids' first set in 13 years, for which they had decamped the not inconsiderable distance from glasgow to a very rainy friday night in london nw6, i surprised myself by shedding just a couple of tears, in quiet joy and wonderment. the orchs were - still - somehow both wistful and powerful, and tunes like "thaumaturgy" ("our last single") and an anthemic "something for the longing" have survived in the meantime, even evolved: they aren't just artefacts (even though the sarah 7"s that we cherished and traded in classrooms and colleges have now been commoditised and fetishised by the likes of e-bay) but instantly-recognisable songs that have easily withstood a generation of repeated listening. illuminating the luminaire, ha.

and all of us there, older. it's not hard to pass for over-18 now: the only trouble we had getting served tonight was the wretched pace of the over-extended bar staff. clare and matt, without whom none of us would have found our way to kilburn high road that night, were there: respect, always, due to them. and, of course, the group, no longer quite the younger model we once watched strutting around the stage doing "sigh" while wearing their own band t-shirts, but still imbibing every song with energy, dynamism and poise - newie "saturday night" recalling the tricks of "...the longing" by alternating driving guitars and softer wiles, and building up to a full head of steam before concluding with simple strumming and hackett's plaintive "i'm so tired"... or "welcome to my curious heart", dripping now with the same irresistible, irreversible melancholy as when they played it moons ago. actually, thinking back, hackett's voice was ever-plaintive - that has always been much of the attraction.

by the heady encore of two great lost songs from two ends of their range and discography, "peaches" and "caveman" (the opening bars of which frankly tipped me over) we were more pleased than ever that we'd remembered to get tickets in advance this time. even so, we weren't quite expecting how rewarding this particular reunion would prove.

postscript: when i got home i dug out "something for the longing". i had to. a wraparound sheet of plain orange paper, the factoryesque minimum of detail:

"recorded in scotland / sarah 29 33 rpm / distributed by revolver-cartel / made in england".

on the disc, just the song titles, a "made in france" (perplexingly), a green tinted branch line. and an insert, recording one of sarah's many growing up moments - how the garden flat address had become a po box number. it was after midnight by now, but we remembered how the orchids very much grew up with the label - even if not always seeing eye-to-eye - and how they were soon responsible for another sarah step-change, that first 12"... and how much better, rather than worse, sarah's catalogue really was for the inclusion of "thaumaturgy" and especially its blissful last minute or so. and how all the things that we sometimes panicked about, as impressionable adolescents - backing vocals, samples, proper sleeves, hanging out with one dove - well, none of them ever stopped the orchids songs being great songs, did they ? even if they were all recreated tonight without a sequencer in sight. and... but yes, it was late, and lager had been drunk... it was time to go to bed.

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