For most people their ultimate ‘tracks of my years’ songs are ones they heard somewhere between the ages of 13 and 20. Almost all musician can report a eureka moment when they heard the music which would change their lives. For the first wave of rock it was the likes of Elvis and Jerry Lee. For the next wave it was the Beatles and so on with diminishing returns. There are people in their 40’s who had this kind of experience with the Stone Roses or Oasis; I pity them.
There’s something really significant about a new sound imprinting itself on the brain. One of the first people to explore this concept was Konrad Lorenz who found baby geese would follow the first moving thing they saw after hatching, creating an instant bond no matter what that object was. Usually it was Lorenz himself and the goslings would follow him around thinking he was their parent.
I feel the same way about many of my 70’s songs, I can’t be rational about them, they were just there at the right time.
When ‘Meet me on the Corner’ was a moderate hit I was probably 12 years old. I had taped a whole program of the chart show on a reel to reel tape recorder which my dad had passed onto me in the hope of avoiding any requests for money to buy records. It worked, I loved my first top twenty so much I never taped over it. By sheer coincidence Lindisfarne’s first hit single was one of those tracks.
Like a lot of records, I just loved the sound of it. The record’s producer was Bob Johnson, Dylan’s Nashville producer of the 60’s, there’s a touch of Nashville Skyline about the sound. Apparently, Johnson was drawn to the sound of Ray Jackson’s harmonica, so was I, I had never heard anything like it, the down-home sound of Lindisfarne was radical and new to my 12 year old years as Ornette Coleman or Stockhausen.
Like most listeners, probably, I didn’t really analyse the lyrics. ‘Meet me on the Corner’ appears to be about scoring drugs, a kind of Geordie ‘Waiting for my Man’. Its possible that if the Daily Mail had rumbled this fact that there would have been a minor outrage but really at this point the media didn’t really recognise popular music as being of any relevance. Today, of course when it has far less cultural value they are all over it but if Lou Reed could get away with ‘giving head’ on ‘Walk on the Wild Side’ Lindisfarne could sneak a bit of dope dealing under the cultural radar.
Unusually the song wasn’t written by the band’s ‘new Dylan’ resident songwriter Alan Hull,it was the work of bass player /multi instrumentalist Rod Clements and sung by harmonica/mandolin player Ray Jackson. It created a strange schism which was later to happen to XTC with ‘Making Plans for Nigel’ where the big hit was not written by the person who effectively fronted the band and wrote 90% of the material. For a lot of us ‘Jacka’ with his impressive moustache and mandolin was the face of Lindisfarne.
Still this was early days and everyone in the band was happy. Lindisfarne were a fantastic good time combo, so good in fact that it came to overshadow their creative side. They created a real impression on me of the power of a bunch of people having a great time onstage. Their harmonies were rough but rather like with the Band you had the impression that everyone was singing along because they were having a great time together, they were good musicians but not so good they had to prove it and the song writing was just lyrically challenging enough. Lindisfarne were a flawed band, they couldn’t really make an impression beyond their first three records. They split and reformed and after that their 80’s records sounded like they were recorded in the 80’s and their 90’s records sounded like they were recorded in the 90’s, they had lost their way.
Inevitably they are now a legacy band. The only original member is Clements who took over from Jacka and inheritedhis mandolin. I broke the rule of a lifetime and went to see them a couple of years back (well it was at a festival I didn’t go specifically). One of the things about the legacy culture is there’s often a pool of musician to choose from as a fair few have passed through the band over 50 years and many of the current musicians have been in post for decades. It can take it’s toll, guitarist Colin Gibson was actually attached to an oxygen cylinder. Roxy Music’s Paul Thompson is now the drummer and the late Allan Hull has his son in law standing in for him. It’s a strange regrouping but it worked.
Lindisfarne were the first band I wrote about here
Apart from their live album, at the time considered pretty crap but now a rather charming ‘warts n all’ document, I never owned a record by them beyond a CD of greatest hits. So, via the wonder of Spotify, I’ve just listened to ‘Nicely Out of Tune’ their debut LP. It sounds great but the track that sound best are the ones I’ve heard before. Am I like Lorenz’s goslings just latching onto an early experience or are they a great band?