Sunday, February 12, 2017

SMALL TOWNS: BOY (Bronski Beat) & GIRL (Tracey Thorn)

Sorry, a title like that and you're thinking a Small Town Romance, aren't you? Ain't going to happen, given the demographic, which is a shame, as it removes the opportunity to link to a favourite song. (The hell it does, Richard Thompson's sentiments perfectly and expertly underlining any love in any small town.) But these 2 songs, coming from differing perspectives, ultimately each define the risks of a near horizon, encapsulating and encompassing the threat of seeming/feeling different.

Bronski Beat exploded from nowhere in the early 80s, 2 Glaswegians and a Southend-er, all explicitly gay, united by their shared espousal of the then gay music scene, such as it was, often all camp stereotypes and suggestiveness. Irrespective of their home towns being very large and large respectively, the song nonetheless tapped into the sense of isolation in being the only gay in the village. With the video showing the very evident risks of being 'out' in the sticks. (Or anywhere, especially then?) Jimmy Somerville's voice an almost pure falsetto, unmistakeable, soars above the keyboards, the song remaining both iconic and anthemic to this day. (And here's a delightful clip to confirm that truth!)

"You leave in the morning with everything you own in a little black case
Alone on a platform, the wind and the rain on a sad and lonely face."

Sadly it proved too much for the band, an album and 2 singles later finding Somerville leaving after barely a year, to start the equally pioneering and actively gay rights  band, the Communards, alongside the now Reverend Richard Cole, Church of England pastor and radio personality here in the U.K. Bronski Beat lurched on, one hit with replacement singer, Jon Jon Foster, ahead of various less successful ventures.

Tracey Thorn is better known, arguably, for her partnership, with Ben Watt, now her husband, as Everything But The Girl. Or possibly for her honeyed deadpan vocals with Massive Attack. But, ahead of EBTG, after an earlier incarnation as a Marine Girl(s), she put out a beautifully spare, sparse and simple record, A Distant Shore, just barely amplified electric guitar and vocal. From this comes the featured song. Again the loneliness of perceiving oneself different from your peers, themselves fewer in a small town. But the metaphor holds to the extent that, actually, do we not all have small town hearts in our teenage development? If you feel lonely or different even London is a small town.
But rather than a song about the leaving of the small town, Thorn's song betrays a wistfulness for the simplicity thereof, on having left. Green grass etc.

"This is all too much for such a small town girl
Though I see more than you think
This world, very little did I like
And when I did it was not mine."

I came from a small town. I learnt my trade in the big city and have worked all my career in another. I now look whimsically back at those early formative years. I couldn't wait to leave. I would love to go back. I probably won't.

Boy or girl? Which will you choose?

(R.I.P. Larry Steinbachek of Bronski Beat, d. December 2016.)

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