Private Universe

Remember…

1994. The Together Alone tour. The first time TLC and I saw Crowded House. There were a line of strange, ridged constructs along the back of the stage, like monolithic artifacts of a forgotten age. Lit in rippling colours, there were times when they almost seemed to come alive, dancing gently to the music. A Maori choir and drum troupe came on for the title track and rattled Wembley Arena to the foundations. We had been fans before. Now we were hooked.

Remember…

2005. Neil and Tim as The Finn Brothers at the Royal Albert Hall. Nick Seymour turns up on bass, and for a moment we think there’s a full-on House reunion on the cards. But something’s off. Support act Bic Runga runs off stage in tears after struggling through an emotionally fraught set. At stage centre, a mike stand with a fedora on it. It all becomes clear. Founding member, drummer and class clown Paul Hester (the hat on the stand had been a trademark of his) had taken his own life the previous night. We realise we have, however inadvertently, been invited to a wake. It’s an extraordinary, sorrowful but uplifting show. They start—the rotten bastards start—with Don’t Dream It’s Over. All bets are off from that point. We mourn together.

And on and on. So many shows. Breakups, reformations, solo projects. The sound, the feeling remain. The warmth. The sense of family.

Remember…

The end of 2019. A world tour is announced. I am poised over the keys of the laptop as the seconds tick down to ticket-release. Tension. Mild panic. Forgetting the Ticketmaster password. Peering anxiously at the spinny wheel as the order is processed and…We’re in. Birmingham Arena. June 2020 can’t come soon enough.

Yes, right, well. About that.

The obligatory shaky, out of focus phone shot of a concert.

Two and a half years later, Neil Finn, Nick Seymour, Liam Finn, Mitchell Froom and Elroy Finn stroll on stage, strap on and fire away. A crowded house (come on, you know I had to) at what is now the Utilita Arena goes nuts. Opening salvo: Distant Sun. Well, of course it bloody is. The first line goes ‘Tell me what you think you would change…’

Pretty much everything from March 2020 to here and now, thanks.

From there it’s a spirited, joyous romp through the back catalogue. You know more Crowded House songs than you think. But this is no greatest hits package. There are enough golden nuggets included in the set from the most recent album Dreamers Are Waiting to remind us that this is still a vital, powerful group of musicians with fresh songs to sing, fresh stories to tell.

They look great, by the way. Neil’s in a white suit, hair glinting sliver in the spotlight, up in an Elvis-high quiff. Liam (who treated us to an impromptu solo set, unannounced, slightly annoying as most of us were still in the beer queue) is a spit for Ewen McGregor’s Obi-Wan Kenobi with a soupçon of Marcus Wareing thrown in. Nick, always the fashion plate, rockets around the stage in (there’s no easy way to put this, best to just rip off the bandages) a kilt. Elroy and Mitchell just sit on the back line and get on with the job. Let the rockstars rockstar.

Two hours vanish, a sacrifice to the time gods. There’s a little less between-song banter these days, but otherwise all the elements of a great Crowdie gig are in place. Plenty of singalongs of course, where the band drop out and The Crowd take over. I choke up during Fall At Your Feet. Gods, I’ve missed this. Once the band roll into Better Be Home Soon I feel like I’ve been worked over like a punching bag. It is every bit as emotional as I expected. Catharsis is too weak a word for what I’ve experienced.

Why this band? Why these songs? You may as well ask why these clouds, why this grass? For as long as I can remember, Crowded House and their blend of warm, domestic, gently sensual psychedelia have been a part of our lives. Simple and comforting as a fresh cup of tea or clean set of sheets on the bed. They understand how the small things can inform greater truths. Every gig reminds me how Neil and Nick and whoever else plays with them have an innate ability to take any venue and make it intimate and welcoming. Live music is a communal experience. Neil and crew understood that when they live-streamed a set of musical experiments at home in New Zealand through lockdown which turned into a whole album, worked out with a global audience in tow. Crowded House bring that feeling of togetherness to the forefront and enfold their audiences in a big, fat hug. Lean in. Let it go. It’s ok to cry if you want.

In a strange and frankly still unsettling world, this was the moment we needed, the place to be, the songs to sing. To quote from the song: It’s only natural that I should want to be there with you.

See you on Saturday, housemates.

The Cut Season 2 Episode 20

Happy birthday to us! We’re having cake and pop. You’re having… well, much the same as ever, in a slightly extended form to mark our fifty-second episode in style. If you’ve stuck with us this long—thank you. Your patience and tolerance for our nonsense is appreciated. Sadly, things are unlikely to get any better, although we may attempt a tuck, nip and polish to enliven your reading experience. Or we may just clatter along in our ad-hoc ramshackle fashion until something drops off. It’ll be a ride, either way.

In our slap-up feed this week, we’re serving up no-knead bread, OKi Dogs and the juicy tale of the greatest thriller that never was.

Now is the birthday. Here is the cake. This is The Cut.

Continue reading The Cut Season 2 Episode 20

How It Started/How It’s Going

This week marks the first anniversary of The Cut. That might not seem like much when put against, for example, The Guardian who celebrate 200 years this month. It’s a big milestone for me, though, as it’s the longest sustained and consistent run of publishment on this blog since—well, ever.

Continue reading How It Started/How It’s Going

The Cut — Issue 1

I’m in the process of figuring out a few things about this site and what I do with it. There are a lot of clever people out there who see the humble blog making something of a comeback. I guess that’s something of a kickback against social media platforms and their restrictions. On a blog you can say what you want, how you want.

I’ve been going back through the archives of the site (and there are a lot of them—I’ve been on WordPress since 2005, and Blogger for a few years before that). It’s interesting to see how X&HT started as a ‘web log’ in the truest sense of the word. That is, a way of sharing what you’d been up to on the web. To a point, early X&HT looked a lot like my Twitter stream—links, snarks and short-form thoughts.

I think there’s some benefit to that format. Once a week, therefore, I’m going to try and post out some of the things I’ve found of interest in my travels through the aetherscape. I hope you find it of benefit. Call it a kind of cuttings collection.

In fact, let’s just call it The Cut.

Continue reading The Cut — Issue 1

Start-Up Sequence

05:00

I’m not really awake, but drifting in and out of consciousness. I’ve been in this state since probably half-four, perhaps a little earlier if old-man bladder hasn’t already forced me into a stumble to the loo. The alarm is set for 05:30, and as ever, I promise that I’ll stay in bed until it goes off.

05:26

Inevitably, I break that promise. I’m too awake to stay put now, so I zombie-walk into the shower. Thirty seconds after leaving the sweet embrace of the duvet, I’m upright and wet.

05:30

The alarm goes off. It’s a cheap Chinese activity tracker with a vibrate built in. It’s showerproof, but the touch-sensitive surface doesn’t react well to the pummelling of the shower head, and I can’t switch it off. Doesn’t matter, I’m awake now. I let the device burr at me and get soapy.

05:40

Dryish, dressed-ish. I’m often accused of looking like I dressed in the dark and well, that ain’t so far off the truth. I work in a place where contact with clients is minimal. Frankly as long as I turn up with a pair of jeans and a top on, no-one could care less.

Downstairs, harried all the way by Millie the cat, who has been dogging my heels since I hit the shower. In the dark it’s sometimes hard to see her and she has a habit of flinging herself full-length at the bathroom door, or twining around my ankles while I’m trying to negotiate the stairs. I swear, one of us will end up dead because of her antics.

Kettle on. Now for tea. I’m a coffee fiend at work, but the world doesn’t look right if I don’t start things off with a cuppa. Nothing fancy. PG in a mug, splash of cow-juice. While the brew stews I dole some wet food into Millie’s bowl. She goes in headfirst, slurping at the moggy-chow like she’s half-starved. Which, I can assure you, she is not.

05:45

A bit of quiet time. If I’m feeling virtuous, I’ll get a bit of writing done. This is a good time to work–with brain half-engaged some interesting things usually hit the page. In the depths of winter, though, inspiration can be tough to dredge up. It’s more likely that the newsfeeds and Twitter get a once-over while the tea gradually gets my cogs spinning.

06:03

The kettle goes back on. Tea for TLC. If I time it right, delivery of said hot beverage coincides with her phone alarm going off. I swipe it to snooze for her, and plant a kiss. She mumbles a sweetness back at me. She’ll be in the shower by the time I leave, so this is the only contact we have until the evening. We never skip this bit of the morning ritual. It would be honestly unthinkable.

06:10

A little more reading, perhaps give Millie a fuss if she’s in the mood. My eyes keep drifting back to the clock. My brain is beginning to turn over now, filling with the cruft of the work day ahead. Tasks to do, excuses and apologies to make. Crisis avoidance strategies. You know, the usual.

06:25

Boots on. The inevitable patting of pockets. Wallet, work-pass, phone, keys. Check checky check-check. Over time, my everyday carry has been stripped back to these essentials. Potentially, everything I need for a working day could go in a single pocket of my jeans. Less to think about means less to worry about.

06:27

I crack the airlock and step outside. It’s cold, dark and quiet. I wake the car with a click of the fob and slide into the driver’s seat. I slot the key and turn the car to power. My OnePlus gets plugged into a flying charge lead, and music starts. Either a Spotify playlist streamed from the phone (modern psychedelia, classic funk, maybe some Americana or rockabilly. No podcasts, no radio, no voices that aren’t singing) or a random pick from the USB stick hooked into the stereo. I sit, just for a second, and let the tunes wash over me. I breathe in, deeply, hold it for a count of five, let it out again. Then I turn the key one last click.

06:30.

Ignition.

Main engine start.

Once again into the wild blue yonder.

WROB – Xmas Special

In which we get all festive on your asses. Some of Rob’s favourites, some leftfield choices and even a couple of pics from the WROB Party Line! It doesn’t get any more Christmassy than this.

From Springsteen to Sinatra, Spinal Tap to Sigur Ros, we’ve got something for everyone this Yuletide. Grab yourself an eggnog and settle in.