Neil Codling is a member of the band Suede. He kept a diary of his music listening on Thursday 4th July 2014 ahead of Harkive 2014. He spent most of the day in question travelling from Eindhoven in The Netherlands, where he had played with Penguin Cafe Orchestra the previous evening, to Barcelona in Spain, where he was due to meet up with the rest of Suede ahead of their performance at the Cruilla Festival. Neil’s contribution is a fascinating insight into the daily life of a musician on the road. Here is Neil’s listening day.
It’s the 4th of July. Today, I’m travelling alone from Eindhoven in the Netherlands, where Penguin Cafe have just played, to Barcelona, for Suede’s appearance at Cruilla Festival.
I don’t get much time to read normally, so today’s listening will mostly be a soundtrack to a day of trains, planes and automobiles, and Marcel Theroux‘s great new book, ‘Strange Bodies’.
So it’s breakfast at the hotel bar(!), where they’re playing a mix tape that features Odyssey‘s ‘Use It Up and Wear It Out’, rappers’ favourite Phil Collins with ‘Can’t Stop Loving You’, The Black-Eyed Peas‘ ‘Shut Up’ and, er, Life-Work ft. Karen Orchin with ‘My Heart’. I had to Shazzam that last one.
Back in my room, I try to wrest back control by listening to the track ‘Evening Star’ by Eno and Fripp on my iPod. Much more relaxing. Then, given the date, I play ‘Fourth of July’ by Galaxie 500, the kind of band who always sound like they’re walking a musical tightrope, and any moment the whole thing could come crashing to the ground. It’s a charming trait, seen most obviously in The Shaggs.
Then, I check mix number 4 of a forthcoming Suede b-side, ‘Darkest Days’. It still needs minor tweaks, so I’ll listen to the next mix tonight in Spain. I check out of the hotel.
On the train from Eindhoven to Breda, I listen to Schubert‘s ‘Trout Quintet’ to block out the chatter while I read. I can’t listen to anything with a voice when I’m reading: I find it too distracting. To all those who can work or revise listening to bands, I’ve never been able to, and I envy you with every fibre of my being.
This piece of early Schubert gives the morning a timeless quality. We roll through the countryside of Brabant, and it could almost be anytime in the last two hundred years. Pop, rock and dance are almost designed to be soundtracks to life, so can sit in the background and still do their job. Classical stuff only really makes sense if you give it all your attention, so I keep looking up from my book and listening. I can see why Radio 3 and Classic FM play shorter excerpts from pieces during the day: after a while, orchestral stuff just becomes a relentless wash of twiddle if you’re concentrating on the ironing and can’t focus on it for a good stretch. The quintet finishes just as I draw into Breda, where I change trains.
As I wait for a connection to the airport, I listen to ‘Holy Are You’, a David Axelrod tune released under the Electric Prunes‘ name, without any of the original members of that great garage band remaining. Its soaring strings and acid-drenched guitar always hit the spot. Then, it’s Rachels, with a couple of tracks from their album ‘Selenography’ as I get on the next train, ‘Kentucky Nocturne’ and ‘Honeysuckle Suite’.
Then it’s back to reading, with some Stars of The Lid, from their double album ‘…And Their Refinement Of The Decline.’ It’s ambient music with real instruments, giving even Eno a run for his money. A girl nearby is listening to some Psytrance. It bleeds into my ears during SOTL’s quieter passages, and sounds like someone dropping a cutlery drawer down some stairs, over and over again. But ‘…ATROTD’ is a transcendent joy, an amazing record that reveals itself over months rather than minutes. It sounds like a new-age masseur’s background music when you first hear it, but give it time, and at decent volume on some decent speakers, it becomes a work of art.
Next I hear some stupid progressive house at an airport cafe. This listening diary is a revelation. I never realised how much dreck you have to wade through to get to your own oases of listening pleasure. Most people in this eatery are middle-aged, so whom are the booming basslines for? Presumably it’s to keep the staff awake and to make sure the customers get through their sausage rolls more quickly. Such contempt. Nice orange juice, though.
Once through security, some Sam Prekop as I get back to the book, A Silver Mount Zion, then some Neu! and a little Kings Of Convenience. I ask myself, am I changing what I’d normally listen to, knowing that it’s all going in a listening diary? In physics, it’s called the observer effect. I’m not sure.
Symanovsky‘s 3rd Symphony turns a long wait at the airport into a movie thriller: someone drops their sunglasses at an orchestral climax and it’s the most dramatic thing that’s happened all day. That’s travelling sometimes: you have to make your own fun.
The For Carnation next, then some Arvo Part. Please don’t make a playlist of this stuff. It’s just to drown out the airport din.
Travelling alone has given my day’s listening a solipsistic bent that it doesn’t normally have. Then Augustus Pablo‘s ‘East Of The River Nile’. His track ‘Unfinished Melody’ has the most out of tune instrument (a toy piano?) I’ve ever heard. It makes The Velvet Underground‘s ‘I’m Sticking With You’ sound bang on the money. I finally get on the plane and Wilco‘s ‘You and I’ is piped over the speakers. By now, my iPod’s run out of juice.
At the hotel in Barcelona, I download the latest mix of the new Suede track. I note that I’ve not really listened to anything new today. I resolve to remedy that once the internet and Spotify is possible again. It’s a good job I wasn’t keeping a record yesterday, then you’d have got my review of ‘Yeezus’.
Listening to music’s changed since I was born. Rock and roll was still a teenager then. Now it’s nearly 60. We’ve come a long way since Top Of The Pops in the 70’s, with its novelty hits and pub singers doing Stevie Wonder covers. Long live MP3 players, streaming and actually being able to listen to stuff before you part with your hard-earned cash.
Sorry if my list of listening doesn’t sound that exciting, but it did make a slow day go quicker, and I enjoyed making this little diary. Maybe you will too.