Have you Heard? – (90) “Crushing” by Julia Jacklin

“Crushing” is the second album by Julia Jacklin, an Australian indie/folk singer, whose first album “Don’t Let the Kids Win” was a real favourite of mine in 2016. I first caught a glimpse of her and her band at End of the Road in September 2016, and have seen her quite a few times since. “Don’t Let the Kids Win” was a beautiful, wistful album threaded through with a real pop sensibility, as well as melancholy. The underlying music was fairly simple and gave plenty of space for Julia’s expressive vocals – she has an impressive range.

So I was looking forward to this new album, and seeing her live again, after a break of a year or so. When I heard it was called “Crushing” I immediately thought it was going to be, if anything, even more melancholy than the first. The word can mean a lot of things. If it was the title of a metal album it would be all about stomping enemies into the dust, or something equally preposterous. It could be construed as having crushes; but you kind of knew that with Julia Jacklin, it would mean that she had felt crushed by something or someone, and wanted to sing all about it. And so it proves.

There’s a really interesting interview with Julia in the excellent Loud and Quiet magazine, Issue 131. And yes, “Crushing” is primarily about the breaking up of a long term relationship and the aftermath. It is incredibly sad in places, heart-wrenching; but there is also defiance, a claiming back of herself, the tentative steps towards a new life, and some hope. You listen to the lyrics, imbibe the melancholy sounds and take in Julia’s intense, fragile singing, and it’s hard not to feel the hurt along with her. But, but… it’s not miserable or whingeing. It’s not depressing. It’s too beautiful for that. It’s ultimately uplifting. You feel with her, and associate with the defiance and hope, as well as the hurt.

It’s an album that you have to listen to a few times, to get beyond the downbeat aspect to it. But there are things which jump out straight away, as well as the revelations from repeated listens. The first song I heard was a single, “Head Alone”, which is one of Julia’s Americana sounds, and has some defiant lyrics about how she doesn’t want to be touched all the time, how you can love somebody without using your hands. A song for our times, and one in which Julia demonstrates her vocal range, effortlessly. The next single was another upbeat one soundwise, “Pressure to Party”. This one really rocks along, and, like “Head Alone” is post-breakup, part of the recovery. Fighting the pressure to just get out and be “normal” again. I’ll open up the door and try to love again soon. But when I first heard the whole album, the song that jumped out and got me first time was “Don’t Know How to Keep Loving You.” It is just so heartbreakingly sad, but also has a couple of wonderful, fuzzy guitar breaks, which are straight out of the Neil Young songbook – or to draw a more recent analogy, Angel Olsen, on her mighty song, “Sister”. Angel’s song had a really long solo at the end; I really wanted the second break on “Don’t Know How to Keep Loving You” to be the same. It isn’t, and I’ve got over the disappointment – it’s still my favourite song on the album. In fact it’s my favourite song of the year so far. It gets me every time.

The breakup was hastened by an incident on a plane apparently, when Julia’s boyfriend was arrested for smoking in the toilets. The opening song of the album, “Body”, tells the tale in some detail. She sings in a deep, mournful tone. There’s something hypnotic about it. A song full of loss and regret, but also some of that defiance: heading into the city to get my body back. Fear too, that some photos of her body might one day find themselves on the internet. Another song for our times.

As with “Don’t Let the Kids Win”, there is a strong sense of family in Julia’s songs. There’s a wonderfully touching line in “Don’t Know How to Keep Loving You” which goes, I want your mother to stay friends with mine; and the song after that is called “When the Family Flies In”. You know it’s bad when the family flies in. This is real life. I’ll be interested to see how Julia handles it on stage. She says in her Loud and Quiet interview that it all happened some time ago, so she feels detached from it now. But can you really be? I’m missing her London show because of other commitments, but I’m glad to say she’s on the Latitude bill, so I’ll be able to see how some of the new songs are portrayed there.

There are three more songs I want to mention. They are part of the recovery sequence, but there is still a lot of anguish. “Good Guy” is a plea for affection: tell me I’m the love of your life just for tonight, even if you don’t feel it. Conversely, “Turn Me Down” doesn’t want to go that far. There’s a really affecting moment towards the end of the song as Julia’s voice goes as high and vulnerable as it can, as she implores the person in question not to tempt her. The interview says that she found this very hard to sing and kept on breaking down in the studio. You can sense the hurt as you listen. It’s a lovely song at the same time though. “You Were Right” takes a firmer stance – the resistance begins. It’s about saying, yeah you were right about how cool that place was, and I can go there on my own now. The closest thing on the record to a f*** off song. Appropriately it’s one of her more uptempo tunes.

You can listen to this album and just enjoy the melodies, the rhythms and the beautiful singing. You don’t have to wallow in the lyrics and feel the pain. But the pain is there, along with the defiance and determination to get things back on track. And to stay in control. Her body seems to be a metaphor for that control in a few of the songs, and she says in the interview that she thought about calling the album “Body”. Actually, I think “Crushing” works as well. In one sense she has been crushed; but she’s dealing with it, and she’s getting the crushes again. Exposing yourself on a record in this way seems pretty brave to me, although she’s far from the only one who does. So much of the great music has come from artists sharing their pain with us. Julia Jacklin’s “Crushing” stands in that fine tradition.

Here’s a lovely rendition of “Don’t Know How to Keep Loving You” which is on YouTube. So good!

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lovelondonscenes 160 – Views from the South Bank near Blackfriars

These days I spend quite a lot of time in this area, usually walking between Vauxhall or Waterloo and the Tate Modern. I took these shots on Thursday. The Thames at low tide in this area always reminds me of a book I read a few years ago called “The Chimes” by Anna Smaill, which centres on a group of people making a living scavenging for precious metals in the muddy, rocky beds of the Thames. In a dystopian future of course! I think the people in the first and last photos were cleaning up the place, ridding it of plastics, etc.



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Sharon van Etten at the Roundhouse, 26 March 2019

Sharon van Etten was back in London after a break of four years, during which time she has been acting and having her first child amongst other things. Big things, life-changing things then. I saw her at the Shepherd’s Bush Empire in 2015. That tour was promoting her album “Are We There”, but it was getting to know the previous album, “Tramp”, that had really turned me into a fan. The song “Give Out” especially won a special place in my affections.

This time around, Sharon was at the Roundhouse – possibly my favourite venue, though I like the Empire too. And there’s a new album, “Remind me Tomorrow”. Much has been made of it having a rockier, more electronic sound than its predecessors. That is true, and it came through even more in the live performance. But the essence of the songs, the melodies, have a thread back to earlier efforts. An evolution, not a revolution.

“Remind me Tomorrow” dominated the set. All ten songs from the album were played. There were six more – five of her own songs, plus a cover of a Sinead O’Connor song, “Black Boys on Mopeds”. When checking this last one out beforehand, I realised I did actually own it – on a vinyl album from 1990 called “I Do Not Want What I Haven’t Got” which also had Sinead’s mega-hit, “Nothing Compares to U” on it. That was a cover also, penned by Prince in the 80s for an offshoot band called The Family.

The show began with “Jupiter 14”, complete with the thudding rhythm that characterised a lot of the new songs. A different dynamic to what I’d seen before: very polished, hard-edged, with Sharon taking a more central role in the performance than previously. The second song ratcheted up the rock – the punching “Comeback Kid”. Strident and confident. “No-one’s Easy to Love” completed the new album introduction before Sharon picked up her electric/acoustic guitar and played a couple from the past: “One Day” from early album, “Epic”, and then a crowd favourite, “Tarifa”, from “Are we There.” They had a gentler tone, which was a nice contrast to the pounding beats of the new stuff.

Another four from the new album followed. “Memorial Day” had an eerie quality, with Sharon on chimes; “You Shadow” and “Malibu” both had a jaunty soft-rock poppiness that reminded me a bit of Jenny Lewis’s old band, Rilo Kiley; and “Hands” was a bit of a revelation. Sharon strapped on her electric guitar and rocked! Gave her axe a damn good thrashing in fact. A powerful highlight.

After that she sat at the keyboards for “Black Boys on Mopeds” – a plaintive protest against police violence, and just the ways of the world.  Counter-intuitively, a bit of respite before the new anthem, “Seventeen”. “Seventeen” has been heavily played on 6 Music, and deservedly so. There’s a strong hint of Bruce Springsteen throughout the song, especially the chorus, as Sharon converses with her younger self. And the bit where she started to shriek, hunched up at the front of the stage, eyeballing the crowd, really connected. A spontaneous cheer erupted from those near her. A great moment.

A pause for breath and fulsome thanks and we were into the last two songs of the main set. First, an established SVE anthem, “Every Time the Sun Comes Up” from “Are We There”, and then “Stay”, a beautiful lament from “Remind Me Tomorrow”. A lovely end to proceedings.

She was back for more of course. Starting with the anguished “I Told You Everything”, which completed the run through the new album; then a rousing version of “Serpents”, another SVE classic from “Tramp”; and finally, a second, wistful song from “Epic”, called “Love More”. Not an obvious ending, but Sharon van Etten is not inclined to the obvious.

I loved the show – it was one of those that just races by because it is all so good. I guess I would have traded two or three of the new songs for a bit more from “Are we There” or “Tramp”, but if you’ve got a new album, the first in five years, and you’re proud of it, then it’s understandable that you want to perform it.

And this was Sharon van Etten transformed. All the things she’s done in the past four years have clearly made her a much more confident, upfront performer. I remember at Shepherd’s Bush that she didn’t take centre stage, preferring to be behind her keyboards to one side. No chance this time – this was SVE in full effect. An artist coming to the peak of her powers. It was good to be there to see it.

A few more photos. Our seats allowed some good zooming!


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The “Put it to the People” march, central London, 23 March 2019

Like a million or so other people, I went to the Put it to the People march in central London today. Ostensibly a march for another referendum, the mood was much more about cancelling the whole Brexit thing right now. There are, of course, many different opinions about this, which is reflected in parliament, which, thus far has found it impossible to agree on anything resembling a way forward for Britain. It hasn’t been helped by a government and prime minister which has been incapable of reaching out to find a consensus to deal with the dire situation which our country faces.

Personally, I regard Brexit as an egregious act of national self-harm which has come about for many reasons, very few of which need an exit from the EU to be addressed. And many of which have arisen from disinformation and outright lies.  I would happily see Article 50 revoked next week, as the whole thing has been a disaster in the making, but that seems very unlikely – though you never quite know what’s going to happen next in Brexitland.  Notwithstanding my feelings about the whole thing, I’ve recently been coming close to thinking that maybe if we can just get a “soft” Brexit – a “Norway” or “Common Market 2.0” – that would do. It honours the referendum result and mitigates the worst economic damage, though the UK becomes a “rule-taker” and has far less influence in the world. It’s far worse than staying in the EU, but given that England (and I mean England) appears to be psychologically incapable as seeing itself as an integral part of Europe, it might be the best compromise. The trouble is, we seem to have stopped doing compromise. What has happened to this traditionally pragmatic and practical nation that we used to tell ourselves we were?

With all this buzzing through my mind, I wasn’t sure whether I should bother going on the march. But I decided to be positive, and my friend Jon was like-minded. So we met in Hammersmith and walked to Park Lane, where the march was starting from. We got there around 1pm and hung around for nearly an hour. There was almost no movement, as there were so many people. The atmosphere was good – thousands of decent people, who just don’t want to see their country f****d up. There was no visible sign of police. I guess they took the view that all these nice middle class people (the caricature) would behave themselves. Well they did!

Given that it looked like we’d never move far, Jon and I decided to walk through Hyde Park, over Hyde Park Corner and into Green Park. We then walked along in parallel to Piccadilly. That worked well, so we went further and took a route through an alleyway which took us onto St James’s Street, where the main march came off Piccadilly. We joined it there and spent a while slowly moving through St James’s and then Pall Mall, to Trafalgar Square. The vibe was really good – a sense of unity, amongst people of all ages. No division between the young and old, as the referendum vote had exposed – one of many divisions. There was a great band of drummers adding to the atmosphere as well. At Trafalgar Square we looked down Whitehall and reckoned the crowd had become static. The rally at Parliament Square was probably beyond our reach, although, knowing London pretty well, we probably could have found some backstreet route that got us there. But, truth be told, the lure of the pub was too strong by then, and we made our way initially to the Coal Hole on the Strand. We weren’t the only ones.

The actual rallies, in any case, are generally simplistic sloganizing, so I doubt we missed very much. We moved onto a pub called the Old Bank near the Royal Courts of Justice. A couple of pints of London Pride and some good conversation. I think we both felt inspired, encouraged by the experience of the march. Just seeing so many people together, concerned for the well-being of their country. No doubt the government will completely ignore the march and plough on in its dysfunctional way. But when the inquiry happens in the future, they will have a lot to answer for.

Here are a few photos I took along the way.

Park Lane

The White Rose of Yorkshire.

Hyde Park Corner


St James’s Street

Pall Mall


Trafalgar Square

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The Orielles at the Scala, 20 March 2019

The Orielles played the Scala tonight, as part of the 20th anniversary of the venue. Funny that, I thought it had been going at least the 70s. I had it in my head that the punks used to play there. Drinks were late 90s prices – £3 for a pint of lager. We need more venues celebrating anniversaries in this way!

This is the fourth time I’ve seen the Orielles in less than a year. They were at both Latitude and End of the Road in 2018, and I saw them at Heaven too, in November. Their album, “Silver Dollar Moment”, was one of the best of last year, and live they never disappoint. Those elastic, funky beats, allied with the shimmering melodies, Esme Dee Hand-Halford’s wafting voice and Henry Carlyle Wade’s dazzling guitar riffs, are always a joy.

They opened with “Old Stuff, New Glass”, one of my favourite tracks – a perfect example of all those attributes just described. It was a largely familiar set, but there was one new song, the name of which I didn’t catch. (Nor did the contributor to Setlist FM, who calls it “New Song”.) Sounded like a work in progress still.  Highlights included the slow one, “Liminal Spaces” and its jazzy aftermath; “Blue Suitcase (Disco Wrist), which got some unlikely moshing going in mid-set; and quite a rocky version of “Let Your Dogtooth Grow”.  And they finished on a high, with three of their best: The fast-slow-fast “Sunflower Seeds”, greeted as a old favourite; the choppy funk of newish single “Bobbi’s Second World”; and then, finally, the epic “Sugar Tastes Like Salt”. This is the one when Henry really lets rip on guitar, underpinned by an absolutely solid rhythm from the rest of the band – Esme Dee and her sister, Sidonie B on bass and drums respectively.  It sounds different every time – Henry’s freeform moment. It’s an exhilarating end to the show.

The Orielles could really be anything in the future. “Bobbi’s Second World” ups the funk levels a notch further, which could be a pointer. Can’t wait for the second album!

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Sportsthoughts (164) – Billy Bonds’ Claret and Blue Army!

Yesterday evening, at the London Stadium, the chants of Billy Bonds’s claret and blue army! rang out again, as they once did at Upton Park. The occasion was the naming of the stadium’s East Stand after the great West Ham man. He was there for the occasion, as was a gathering of some of West Ham’s finest players from Billy’s time at the club. He joined West Ham from Charlton Athletic as a 21 year old in 1967 and retired from playing in 1988 at the age of 42. Twenty-one magnificent years.

The ceremony took place before the evening game against Newcastle. We won that 2-0, incidentally. MC for the occasion was another West Ham great: Alvin Martin, a very fine centre back, who took over from Billy as captain in 1984. Before Billy arrived in the tunnel, Alvin read out the roll call of past players who formed the guard of honour. That brought back a few memories. It was interesting to hear who got the biggest cheers. The top two, I would say, before the final man out, were Ray Stewart, a brilliant Scottish right back in the 80s who took the penalties and never missed; and Ludo Miklosko, the highly popular Czech goalkeeper, who was at West Ham for most of the 90s. The final man (before Billy, that is) was, of course, Sir Trevor Brooking, midfield maestro from the late 1960s to 1984. He was interviewed by Alvin before Billy came out. He said of Billy recently, “I would trust him with my life.” (I think he might have said the same yesterday, but can’t remember!). In the 70s, when Billy was a marauding midfielder, he was Trevor’s minder on the pitch. Any player who tried to rough Trevor up, to stop him exercising his magic, would quickly be on the receiving end of a robust challenge from Bonzo. That was football back then!

Billy, hard man though he was, and no doubt still is, was visibly moved by the occasion. There were tears in his eyes as he spoke to Alvin. When he held his hand to heart, as he walked around our part of the ground, you knew that it was genuine in the extreme – done with a deep love for the club that he played for 799 times, a club record. The fans responded with that Billy Bonds song and, of course, I’m forever blowing bubbles. It was a joyous and moving occasion. I felt a tear in my eye, I have to say.

He looked great too. 72, but looking fit and slim in a dapper blue suit, cut in a modern style. He has kept his hair pretty long, too. Much as it was in the 70s. Respect to the man – an example, just as Geoff Hurst was, when I saw him and Trevor speak at a charity dinner in 2016.

Billy joined West Ham from Charlton Athletic, where he’d started his career, in the 1967-8 season. He was one of those great English players who never played for England. He got close. He was capped twice at Under 23 level, and was a non-playing substitute in a World Cup qualifier against Italy in 1977. Then, in May 1981, he was lined up for a cap against Brazil, in a friendly. In the last league game of the season, he collided with the West Ham goalkeeper, Phil Parkes and broke two ribs! Even Bonzo couldn’t play through that and he missed his chance. When you think of some of the midfielders and centre backs who have won caps for England over the years, it is outrageous he never got a chance to show what he could do. Same applies to another true Hammer, still playing superbly in our midfield: Mark Noble. As he comes towards the end of his career – maybe one more season at the top level after this? –  his chance is probably over. But I’m certain that if he had had the opportunity, he’d have seized it and been pretty hard to leave out after that.

Billy was captain of the team between 1974, when he took over from Bobby Moore, until 1984, when the baton passed to Alvin Martin. He’d planned to retire then, but in fact played on until 1988.  Manager John Lyall made him a youth coach straight away. When Lyall resigned after West Ham were relegated in 1989, Billy applied for the job, but Scotsman Lou Macari, a skilful ex-Man Utd midfielder but rather defensive manager, got it. It was a match made in hell, and he left after seven months. Billy took over in February 1990 and was manager until August 1994. In his first full season the club was promoted back to the top division and reached an FA Cup semi-final against Nottingham Forest. Forest won and went on to lose the 1991 final to Spurs. These were topsy turvy times for West Ham. They were relegated in 1992, but then got back up the following season, both with Billy still at the helm.

So, Billy Bonds might not be remembered for his feats as a manager; but as a player, he is one of the true West Ham legends – up there with the World Cup winning trio of Bobby Moore, Geoff Hurst and Martin Peters, and Trevor Brooking. It was a privilege to be there yesterday to salute him.

PS. A few more shots below. If you’d like to see the full “mosaic” greeting, which was created by everyone in the East Stand (me included) holding up different coloured plastic bags, take a look at latest news on the West Ham website. 

Cutting the ribbon.

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lovelondonscenes 159 – A Red Mist at the London Stadium

A week ago West Ham played Fulham at the London Stadium in the evening. We won 3-1 after a shaky start. It had been a lovely day, but the mist descended as the air cooled in the darkness. The effect after the game around the Orbit Tower was striking.

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