Sunday, June 14, 2020


Tautology, surely? Isn't air always open? Or, put another way, what is closed air? Apart from this being little more than contrived opener to my post, it conjures up a number of possibilities. I think I can accept that the atmosphere is a continuum, at least as far as the capabilities of my limited imagination. Is there air in space, even if there is no atmosphere? And what is the space in atmosphere composed of? And what of air waves? I suppose closed air waves equate to censorship, this blog an example, thus, of open airwaves. But enough metaphysical paradiddling, I seek merely an absolution to introduce the song as being at least in some way connected to the theme. (So, don't, please, get me started on open fire.......)

Open Air (Ian McNabb) 2001

Ian McNabb has had a long career. Starting as a 20 year old with The Icicle Works, this band hit no small amount of acclaim and some success with the blend of polished melodic rock and his soaring vocals, somewhat out of step with the his dourer new-wave and post-punk peers. Hitting the charts running, on both sides of the atlantic, arguably their greatest success was their earliest. In the UK, Love is a Wonderful Colour made it to the top five of the singles chart, with, a year or so later, Whisper to a Scream (Birds Fly) entering the US charts, and the canadian top twenty. As it became apparent McNabb needed to be in control, the band shed original members, picking up others along the way, largely to augment his vision, projected and played out over five long-players between 1984 and 1990. In expanded versions, spread out, often, over several discs, McNabb was also able to identify his influences, notably Neil Young, of whose songs the band played a slew of covers. Someone unkind (and probably not a fan of Shakey) might say if Young could sing better and had steadier fingers on the guitar, well, he might come out sounding a bit like McNabb. To enable continuity of the theme of this piece, here's an open/close reference. (Ish.)

Blind (Blind) 1988

I first came across McNabb and his band around the time, strapped for disposable cash, I was hoovering up all the content of the local library: you could borrow records, and later CDs, for a fortnight at a time, for a nominal fee. Armed with a pack of C-90s I filled my boots, amongst which was an Icicle Works retrospective. And then I noticed a familiar name on the sleeve of another disc, this being Truth and Beauty, McNabb's first solo album, which places the time about early mid 90s. I loved that record and still do. I was convinced he would become massive. I remember telling everyone so, and he was definitely a huge draw to my first trip to the Glastonbury Festival, in time for his second solo album, Head Like a Rock. And, as I commented upon here, this record was made with the assistance of Crazy Horse. The Crazy Horse, Neil Young's Crazy Horse. Who accompanied him for that live set in the summer of '94, some of the tour tracks emerging as a second disc on the following year's Merseybeast. I can happily say that, at that time of my life, McNabb was my pinnacle, someone who could set no step wrong.

Presence of the One (Truth and Beauty) 1993

Fire Inside My Soul (Head Like a Rock) 1994

Heyday (Merseybeast) 1996

(OK, so it seems I can't keep up any Open/Close dynamic in my song choices. So sue me.)

Sadly, the big break never quite broke. Sure, he went on producing good music, albeit as a self-contained cottage industry. I stopped keeping up quite so assiduously, beyond, it's true, the eponymous album that begat the main track featured for this piece. He cropped up on other folk's radars from time to time: I recall a Mike Scott solo tour towards the end of the century, with McNabb on bass. Music trickled out but often only available at gigs or via his website. The days of recorded music making anyone a living were dying, requiring road play to break even. I am pleased to say it is the road where he retains a strong presence. Still able to sell out a show at the sort of venues that populate, or used to, most towns and cities, 500 bodies or so crammed into lofts and or basements with a music licence and flowing booze. One such is the Hare and Hounds, in Birmingham, in England's Midlands, he appearing there regularly, sometimes with a band, sometimes solo, sometimes half way between, always to a partisan audience, geared up to all the words of all his songs. I have certainly spent a couple of evenings singing myself hoarse. Whether billed as himself or, increasingly frequently, again as the Icicle Works, it's a good night out.

Evangeline at the Hare and Hounds 2019

To bring full circle, he is also the sort of act, hovering on the edge of heritage, who crops up at the sort of music festivals I frequent and hope so, in time, to do again. Open Air in the open air would indeed be wonderful.

Open your ears.

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