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john davies
notes from a small vicar
from a parish
in Liverpool, UK

    Saturday, March 24, 2007
    Once a melancholic, always a melancholic
    "now is not the time to be turning to me...
    ghosts and dead dreams are all that I see"
    - Martyn Bates, Once Blessed

    Many significant birthdays this year, 50ths and 40ths, mine mid-decade inbetween those of various friends and family members. Another one today, Andrew's 40th, which he marked with a retro / kids disco DJ'd by our old Wavertree mate Rock Steady Eddie. My instinct for melancholy has been growing on each such occasion, that sinking feeling that our best years are behind us and what have we got to show for it... But more recently a good friend and respected sage introduced to me another way of approaching the encroaching demise of middle age. What we have to show for it is actually quite a lot, he insists. And the trick is to turn back to it all, not to feed a feeble nostalgia, but to use all that stuff as a deep resource for the future.

    Wise words. Because once you begin to look back - at the words and songs and visions and experiences which have most helped, moved, inspired you over the years - then a great canon of excellence begins to form. Put these things together, in a book, as journal entries and scrapbook cuttings, or even on a website with audio-video links, and you start to compile your own 'personal bible'. And as you compile this collection, you make wonderful rediscoveries. That old stuff is reborn as maturer eyes and ears engage with it afresh. I shall be investing in a Moleskine this week and getting cracking on that.

    Helpful then, at just this moment, to be reminded of something rich and meaningful and well-forgotten. The Wire is running a fascinating interview with Martyn Bates, who with Peter Becker formed Eyeless In Gaza. In 1983 they were one of those Cherry Red groups I most listened to. Over and over, that cassette of Rust Red September with its eerie autumnal elegies with titles like 'Only Whispers' and 'Leaves are Dancing'. That cassette I eventually found at the back of a cabinet yesterday, dusted off, and allowed to fill me all over again, possibly eighteen years since I last heard it.

    And of course, listening again, with older but alert, fresh ears, makes it all new. Eyeless In Gaza are still quality, still haunting, and (I now discover) sound timeless and deeply English. Songs for my canon. And salutory reminders that it's not a recent thing, after all - no, melancholy is a state I've always been in.