As much as I like to, I shouldn’t really go so far as to call myself a music writer. For one thing, I’ve never received genuine currency for doing it – the real pride has been when my blog gains a click from a new country, or when somebody has actually independently liked or, better still, shared my writing. Small joys, and scant consolation when money seems so hard to come by at times, but joys and consolations they remain. Payment, and even getting an article printed on actual paper before the whole industry goes belly up, will wait for another day.
But sometimes music gives you such a rush at inopportune times and inconvenient places. I’ve not long returned from a late night voyage to the supermarket for my snacks of choice: sparkling water, grapefruit and lemons (I’m not kidding), where, whilst comparing the relative ripeness of different batches of cirtus fruit, my Spotify on shuffle, I was jolted by a familiar weeping bluesy improvisation from the inimitable Brian May. “It’s Late.” Quite feasibly my favourite Queen song of them all, and in itself a compelling argument in favour of May’s enormous talent.
A little known fact is that “It’s Late” is actually a sequel of another, more famous Queen song. “Now I’m Here,” from 1974’s Sheer Heart Attack had been penned by May whilst in hospital with the bout of hepatitis that had curtailed the bands’ first North American tour. Clearly, the jaunt across the Atlantic had a significant effect on May, and it’s all there to hear. Triumphant, energetic, and more than a little enthusiastic, you’re taken on a personal tour of Queen’s liberation and sudden awareness of their own growing celebrity. It peaked just short of the top ten in the UK, took pride of place on their first Greatest Hits collection (the highest-selling album in British history, no less) and remains the greatest example of Queen’s glam rock beginnings. But although “Now I’m Here”’s references to (Mott The) Hoople and the Dungeon, a once-legendary New Orleans nightclub, are fairly self-explanatory, there has been scant little interest in the identity of Peaches, the young lady with whom the narrator appears to be enjoying the French Quarter’s very best.
Peaches is, in fact, Deborah Vidacovich, a woman May apparently met and fell in love with during a night at the Dungeon. She became the object of Brian’s desires, for lack of a better term, but their relationship had screeched to a halt after Brian’s illness and subsequent return to Britain. Three years later, a more mature, world-weary May once again comes face-to-face with Vidacovich during another of Queen’s tours across the USA. This time, however, rather than representing his new-found liberation, she becomes the key to everything wrong in May’s life, and spurs feelings of great confusion and, ultimately, regret. Like “Now I’m Here,” “It’s Late” is a blues-influenced, hard rock piece very informed by the southern American sounds, but now it’s more vulnerable, loose, and, ultimately, tortured in comparison to the unfettered joy of the former. The narrator, and by extension Brian May, has matured from a young man full of an enthusiastic idealism, into an introspective, senible adult. Wiser, more pragmatic, more understanding.
It happens to all of us, but we don’t always have the muse – or the ability – to communicate it.
In more personal news: my collection continues to grow. I’ve received two signed LP’s; one of Mick Harvey’s Delirium Tremens (part three of his Serge Gainsbourg collection, part four – Intoxicated Women– comes later this year), and the infamous signed Untitled Unmastered by Kendrick Lamar.
I’ve also scored copies of Bob Dylan’s Nashville Skyline, Milk & Honey by John Lennon and Yoko Ono, Uprising by Bob Marley & The Wailers and, thanks to my friends at Stevenage’s new independent record shop – Revolution Records – a gratis 12″ single of Freddie Mercury’s “The Great Pretender.” While in London last week, I also made sure to do the rounds in the Soho area and found myself popping into Phonica Records, Sounds Of The Universe, Reckless Records and Sister Ray. Unfortunately, however, I came away empty handed this time.
My current obsessions though, are the beautifully melancholic John Prine (how did it take me so long to find him!?), the divine Anohni (formerly known as Antony Hegarty), who’s stunning voice hits me like no other, and the master himself: Leonard Cohen. Even better when two of my obsessions collide: