Anyone who’s been around me this year knows I’ve not been a barrel of laughs; a barrel, sure, but there’s been fuck all to laugh about. The shit’s gone fan-wards pretty relentlessly, a string of events ranging from slight disappointment to abject despair, punctuated by a few moments of short-lived elation. Last weekend seemingly, and hopefully, saw me crawl out of the other side of it, like Andy Dufresne, after having tunnelled Shawshank sewage system, through ‘five hundred yards of shit-smelling foulness;’ a river of shit, and come out clean on the other side.

Like Andy, I had been locked up in prison for crimes I didn’t commit. The prison of my mind.

The iconic image of Andy on his knees, arms outstretched to the heavens, howling into the lashing down cloudburst, his pain being flushed away with all its attendant, literal shit resonates deeply with me. Fortunately, the shit banished from me was allegorical. All due to a weekend in which I spent a lot of time with my precious daughter, who must remain blissfully unaware of my predicament, quality time with my elderly parents, watching a monumental Hull FC victory, and ending the weekend with good friends. And sandwiched somewhere in the middle of all that, was one of the most life-affirming two hours I’ve ever spent at a music concert. Richard Ashcroft delivered a fucking towering performance at Leeds Arena.

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I’m not inferring that music comes above family or friends, (or even rugby league,) but the gig was instrumental in jolting me back into life after a period of feeling like one of the undead. It was the freight train to the solar plexus that I desperately needed. The real-life stuff was beautiful, but the emotions I experienced in that sterile, purpose-built concert venue ran the full gamut from euphoria, regret, nostalgia, sorrow to exhilaration in a spectacular fashion that left me physically and emotionally drained. In a good way. The shit had been flushed out. Like Andy when he secured his freedom.

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Ashcroft, like Jason Pierce of Spiritualized, whose girlfriend he nicked, is big on the redemptive power of music. Both are proponents of life-affirming, but often heart-wrenchingly sad music; both have released albums that are considered tour de forces of their oeuvre. The Verve’s A Northern Soul, and Spiritualized’s Ladies and Gentlemen, We Are Floating in Space are masterful in their soul-baring, achingly sorrowful exploration of loneliness, loss, the futility of life and grief. Both albums play as acts of ultimate catharsis; the often uplifting music that accompanies the words lends it a celebratory atmosphere, hinting at a glimmer of hope. The Verve went on to release Urban Hymns, in 1997, to massive critical and commercial success, which expanded on the template and is rightfully regarded as one of the all-time classics in rock ‘n’ roll’s pantheon. The fact that most of all three albums were all presumably written about the same woman, Kate Radley, leads us to deduce she must be some woman, to inspire such heartbreakingly beautiful music.

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The Verve started out as simply Verve, in about 1990, and were touted by the music press, sometime around ‘91/’92 as being natural heirs to The Stone Roses, albeit a more blissed-out, space rock entity. Guitarist Nick McCabe’s freeform, shimmering fretwork soared, giving their early releases and the landscape he created with his Fender Strat or Gibson Les Paul, a psychedelic quality, which he described as ‘trying to make a guitar sound like a synthesiser.’ Ashcroft’s vocals appeared low in the mix on the first few releases, letting the music glide. John Leckie, The Roses’ producer, was at the helm in the studio, which presumably led to the comparison. It was probably a lazy presumption, imagining the absent John Squire’s direction after their disappearance into the wilderness. There was plenty of media buzz around the band, due in no small part to Ashcroft’s wayward interviews, leading him to be dubbed ‘Mad Richard,’ after wild, wide-eyed proclamations of his ability to fly. It was quite apparent that copious amounts of drugs were in the mix.

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Watch ‘She’s a Superstar’ here

They were equal parts overblown and genius around this time, focussing more for their second album, the aforementioned A Northern Soul; still routinely dominated by McCabe’s frenzied guitar workouts, but Ashcroft’s vocals were pushed more to the fore. It contained two or three more melodic, song-based numbers, as opposed to the guitarist’s endless drone style. The song History, hints at the clear division within the band. It’s pure Ashcroft, and this more tuneful style would, on their next album, dominate their best-loved songs. It’s also one of the saddest songs ever written. A chronicle of the dying embers of a relationship, its use of strings giving it a driving, eerie atmosphere of sadness. It has been known to make grown men and women to burst into tears upon hearing it. A friend of mine recently told me, the first time she heard it, she had an involuntary gush of tears. It’s that powerful. And handclaps are provided by a certain Mr Liam Gallagher.

And then they split up. Or rather McCabe went AWOL, which amounted to the same thing.

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Watch ‘History’ here

Ashcroft and McCabe’s division was apparently not one simply rooted in differing songwriting styles. Their fractious relationship made it impossible to carry on.

He would return two years later of course, and Urban Hymns would propel them to international success, both critically and commercially. The quadruple whammy of Bittersweet Symphony, Sonnet, The Drugs Don’t Work and Lucky Man, cemented them as all-time greats, worthy of being in the room with The Beatles, The Clash, Joy Division, The Roses, and best mates, Oasis, among countless others whose legacy is assured. It’s no coincidence that all four massive songs were largely Ashcroft-composed, and they would break up again in two years. Get back together nine years later. And break up again. Presumably for good. You know Urban Hymns and its ubiquity, so I don’t need to delve too deeply into that period, musically at least.

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The period that The Verve inhabited spanned the whole of the 90s, more or less exactly. Formed in 1990, disbanded in 1999. It’s widely said that four albums signalled the death-knell for Britpop. OK Computer, Vanishing Point, Ladies and Gentlemen… and Urban Hymns. British guitar music had become more sophisticated, moving forward, instead of the backward-gazing Britpop. Whilst there’s some truth in this claim, I don’t really hold sway with this line of thought; the same year also threw up Travis and Stereophonics, hardly bastions of cutting edge studio wizardry, and both would go on to enjoy Verve-level success, at least on these shores, eventually giving way to Coldplay. More interesting things were happening across the Atlantic, with the likes of Pavement, Neutral Milk Hotel, Mercury Rev, Lambchop, The Flaming Lips, Wilco, Ryan Adams’ Whiskeytown and Elliott Smith stealing my attention after the landmark year in which Urban Hymns was released. Then along came The Strokes, in turn reinvigorating British guitar music, giving us The Libertines and Arctic Monkeys, along with a whole other lot under the banner of ‘post-punk revival.’ You know the rest: A more angular Britpop.

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We know all about Oasis. Oasis supported The Verve in their early days, and they formed a close alliance. Cast No Shadow is dedicated to Ashcroft, A Northern Soul, a ‘back at ya’ from The Verve. The bands’ histories were closely linked; they played gigs together, played on each other’s records and snorted gargantuan amounts of cocaine together. The 90s’ drug of choice would have different effects on both bands’ music. The early 90s’ ecstasy-driven music scene had given way to a more coke-fuelled environment and it affected different artists in different ways. For me, coke killed the club scene. I don’t consider it a communal, social drug; if anything it’s antisocial, rendering its users full of their own misguided self-importance, people not listening, just waiting to talk. Loudly. About themselves. Either that, or insular and spectacularly paranoid and negatively self-obsessed. Either way, it was all about ME! Ecstasy was about the group. Coke was about the individual. Like Jarvis Cocker hilariously says on Live Forever, the inevitable Britpop documentary, ‘no one ever says “aw he’s such a nice lad since he started taking coke, it’s really brought him out of his shell.”’ It never made anyone a better person. On the contrary. Incisive as ever.

The effect on Oasis’ music was one of self-belief; rabble-rousing anthems with often meaningless lyrics, designed to fill stadiums. Often aggressive in its nature, their music would veer from chest-beating bangers with layer-upon-layer of trebly guitars, to more plaintive, but still anthemic, declarations. Be Here Now’s all top-end white noise (white) with hardly any bottom end. It’s unclear whether bassist, Guigs, even played on the record. Coke gave them confidence. As Noel astutely states, it’s ‘The sound of a bunch of guys, on coke, in the studio, not giving a fuck. All the songs are really long and all the lyrics are shit and for every millisecond Liam is not saying a word, there’s a fucking guitar riff in there in a “Wayne’s World” stylie.’

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It seemingly had the opposite effect on The Verve’s music. Despite Ashcroft’s stage presence, the music was more insular. They were massive coke heads way before Urban Hymns, but even that album is cloaked in self-doubt. It’s a big-sounding record in places, but Ashcroft is still preoccupied with the human condition. Being onstage and being alone in a hotel, alone, in Delaware at 5am, off your knackers on charlie are two entirely different matters. If anything it highlights the negative side of coke, one of insularity, internal self-character analysis and paranoia. Their sole No.1 single, Thee Drugs Don’t Work, is about Ashcroft’s father dying. It’s Getting Better (Man!!) it ain’t. As a lifelong sufferer of clinical depression, it’s not going to be all rainbows and unicorns. Music helps him deal with it.

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However, almost unavoidably, Oasis and The Verve shared the same audience. Due to their union, it was always going to happen. I loved both bands too. But the general opinion of Oasis fans is not a wholly positive one. Of course, not all Oasis fans are beer-swilling, coke-snorting, Stone Island-wearing football hooligan thickos; far from it, but that’s the non-fan’s perception. That The Verve inherited the Oasis fanbase upon release of Urban Hymns, is quite staggering really. The lyrical material are polar opposites of one another. It still seems strange that the more thuggish branch of the Oasis brigade stood in fields singing The Drugs Don’t Work or History, as though they were pub-jukebox-singalongs-with-yer-mates. The snob in some might question their understanding of the music. But it didn’t matter, there are people more educated than me about music that believe that lyrics are superfluous, of secondary or no importance. For some, The Verve were the Oasis it was ok to like. Yes, those people exist. People still can’t bring themselves to like Oasis, but are fine with The Verve. The reasons for this are presumably twofold: people hold The Verve up as more intellectual, more classy. Or they secretly wanted like Oasis but couldn’t say that at a dinner-party, so plucked for their mates from Wigan, Lord Ashcroft and co. Perhaps it’s as simple as they don’t like Oasis but like The Verve. I’m aware, I’m somewhat contradicting myself, but it’s late, and I’ve got to shoe-horn my Oasis-haters dig in somewhere. I’m sure plenty of people like neither band.

Watch ‘Lucky Man’ here

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So, Richard’s solo career then. A polarising matter if ever there was one. Personally, I’m fine with it. I loved the McCabe wig-outs, but, like Ashcroft, I was getting older, and was starting to enjoy The Verve’s more melodic moments, the clear Ashcroft compositions. So his solo career, for me, is and extension of that. More History than Brainstorm Interlude. There are also people who believe he’s incomplete without McCabe, and that’s fine, though how many people have listened to Forth recently? You should do, it’s better than you remember. But it’s a valid criticism, not up for dispute. I like both. Some prefer one or the other. When I went to see The Verve on their comeback in 2008, a friend told me he preferred Ashcroft’s solo material to The Verve. I was all Verved-up again and was aghast. But that was nine years ago, and am beginning to lean his way.

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     There are some of his solo songs I believe to be equal standard to your Bittersweet Symphonies, Lucky Mans and the others. Lord I’ve Been Trying is an absolute underrated classic, Break The Night With Colour, On a Beach, Check The Meaning, You on My Mind in My Sleep, These People, This is How it Feels and They Don’t Own Me similarly. I heard complaints that his latest album’s safe, beige or lacking fire. What the fuck do you expect? He’s a happily-married, middle-aged millionaire rock star, making music for presumably other middle-aged people. Leave the fire and anger to the young uns. Wherever they may be. That’s not to say older musicians shouldn’t be making angry music at all. It’s entirely up to them. In fact, given the lack of anger in new music from the nation’s youth, it might be up to the elder statesmen to voice their anger. But that’s a different story. He chooses to continue his path this way, it’s his prerogative. I like him as he is. He can’t be 20-year-old ‘Mad Richard’ forever, neither would you wish it on him. Although he does have his moments; wandering into a youth club in 2006, naively thinking he was being helpful, wanting to work with teenagers led to his arrest after he refused to leave.

Watch ‘Lord I’ve Been Trying’ here

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Back to me then. I bought two tickets after a mate had put up a video on Facebook of him doing The Drugs Don’t Work in L.A. Straight to SeeTickets. Bosh! Two tickets. 90 quid. The ‘what the fuck have I just done?’ moment swiftly followed. For one, I sometimes forget I’m newly single, and just get two out of habit. Then, 90 FUCKING QUID! Followed by, ‘I’m not that arsed about seeing him anyway.’ I was just passing time, having a fag outside my daughter’s dance school, while she was upstairs with her mum, waiting for her exam. That fag and that friend just cost me 90 bastard quid that I couldn’t realistically afford. The wave of self-loathing was hidden as I wandered back up to support my kid. I could flog ‘em surely. Checked last train from Leeds. 22.21. Fucking great! A quick shout round my good mates yielded nish. Nada. No can do. Skint. No car. Car won’t make it to Leeds. I’ll get back to you. Yeah course you fucking will. I wasn’t arsed at all now. As far as I was concerned, they were consigned to the bin.

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Putting a message up on Facebook, about a week later, was a decision fraught with my customary wariness. What if the only person who responds is the one person in my friends list I hardly even know, or worse, have never even met? They friended me up. There were 37 mutual friends, so I accepted, none the wiser who the fuck it was despite stalking the photos. What if someone who was ok said yes, but flaked out at the last minute? A minor concern seeing as I’d already given up, and actually stopped wanting to go anyway. Luckily, and given that I was still Andy Dufresne, crawling through the river of shit, unexpectedly, a normal responded. And she’d drive. Still had to message her about 10 times to check if she wasn’t going to bail. Things weren’t going well. Why would this go right? But it did. And little did I know I was on the road to an epiphany.

That Saturday, I was in a reasonably good mood, but had had a busy day, going out to Hornsea with my kid, to a farm. Obviously, she wanted me to play ‘tig’ with her on massive bales of hay for a few hours, then carry her on my shoulders so she could see a cow’s massive udders being emptied of milk into a big glass container. Whilst it shat itself in a quite spectacular manner, feeling the need to expel everything. Couple that with her inexplicable need to play I’m Still Standing by Elton John for the duration of the journey there and back, about two hours in total, and I’d have been quite happy drifting off on the sofa.

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     Obviously, we got lost getting into (and out of) Leeds, and I was dying for a piss by the time we got there, so I was my usual ebullient self on entering the arena. We watched Black Grape. They were fun as usual. Shaun and Kermit doing a formidable hybrid of singing and stand-up comedy. If the coming Mondays gigs don’t sell out, they’ve got a bright future on the after-dinner circuit. They were self-deprecating, fun and funny. My mood was lifting.

Until the queue for the bar.

     Halfway down a 50 deep line, we could hear Richard Ashcroft playing his opening song. Being a setlist-cribber, I knew Sonnet was next. I told my friend, and she was off. Great. I’d never find her in there. I got into a mini-argument with the bar staff, as they weren’t exactly rushing to ensure we got our 50 quid’s worth of gig, but got into the standing area just as he was finishing Sonnet. Typical.

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‘Sonnet’ Leeds 22/4/2017

     Hold your horses, son, you’re about to have your mind blown.

I find my mate straight away. How was that so smooth? What’s in store for me now?

Next up is This is How it Feels, the lead single off the new album. You know, the beige album. It sounds incredible. It’s greeted ecstatically by a suitably well-oiled and powdered group of, let’s be honest, round, balding, middle-aged, youth-chasing mums and dads on their quarterly night out. Space in Time next, an Ashcroft non-single from Urban Hymns. If it’d been Thriller, it’d have been released next. I find a wave of absolute joy wash over me, as I listen to him singing about another relationship that was being earmarked by the grim reaper. Joy and sadness. Sadness and joy. I’m briefly transported back to 1997. Then jolted back into the near past.

My recently deceased relationship.

There ain’t no space and time

     To keep our love alive

     We have existence and that’s all we share

     Oh, it’s going to be one of those nights, is it?

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‘Space and Time’ Leeds 22/4/2017

     Song for the Lovers next. Saccharine melancholy. Great song. Performed amazingly. But I don’t have a lover anymore. Let’s get to the darker stuff.

     He looks in fine fettle. Stage presence and moves unchanged since I last saw The Verve in ’08. Still got it, the lad. Resplendent in red Harrington and permanent-shades, cheekbones as chiselled as ever. The energy of a man half his age.

Am I in the fucking TARDIS?

     The set seems to gain momentum the longer it goes on. It’s perfectly sequenced. A couple of newies next, but they sound massive, like old friends, familiar and comforting .Music is Power. He loves this one, it’s expanded to about ten minutes and allows his band to flex their muscles, whilst he straps on a ‘leccy guitar and jams with them. It’s fucking incredible. Velvet Morning, Break the Night With Colour and a tear-inducing Lucky Man bring the set to a close, a triptych of absolute genius, building, driving the set to an emotional climax. The soulless-looking enormodome we entered has transformed into a Roman coliseum of sheer raw, unadulterated emotion. People are in tears around me. I’m in tears. We’re all blown away.

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‘Lucky Man’ Leeds 22/4/2017

They go through the customary façade of making the audience beg for more. Like they don’t know they’re not getting it. He hasn’t brought out the big guns yet. What follows in the next thirty minutes is incendiary.

Fucking hell, do we get it now?! It’s akin to emotional assault.

He returns to the stage on his own, straps on the acoustic guitar he’s been half-playing all night, and runs through C’mon People (We’re Making it Now), which sounds beautiful played acoustically.

But, it’s the next one that’s the high point for me.

He’s not played it much on the tour so far, only, once, so it catches me unawares.

I wandered lonely streets…

The cheeky borrow from London by William Blake

Fuck!

History!

That line is enough to set me off. It’s a big moment. 1995, the height of Britpop, arguably my golden days, collides with 2017, as I’m hit with the double whammy of nostalgia and present loss. It’s almost too much. I try to hide the tears rolling down my cheeks from my mate. She respectfully lets me have my moment. I’m Andy fucking Dufresne. This is the catharsis I’ve been looking for for four months. Short of getting on my knees and the fire sprinklers going off, I’m pretty much Tim Robbins right now. I’m going to say this only once: I used to dance like Richard Ashcroft to this song in my bedroom in my parents’ house when I got home after a night out. For about an hour. On repeat. In front of the mirror. On poppers. Hearing it here brought all that back, and every memory of when I was having the best times of my life in the 90s. And the lyrics resonated with my current life. A generation apart. It’s powerful. I really can’t put into words what I was feeling, but it seem to wash away the shit. The pain. Whilst evoking my own history.

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‘History’ Leeds 22/4/2017

A short speech follows about absent friends.

Are you speaking directly to me?

Then, we get The Drugs Don’t Work. And then some. For four minutes, it’s just him and his guitar, which is, in itself, enough to cause the ocular cloudburst. No, halfway through, you see figures in the darkness, return to the stage, and the solo acoustic song turns into a full band wig out, with the added electrics, the lights dazzle from the stage and fireworks go off. It’s nothing short of an epiphany. It’s washing away the pain. I’m Andy. But well away from Shawshank, nearing the coast. Nearly home. The tears washing the months of agony away.

‘The Drugs Don’t Work’ Leeds 22/4/2017. 4mins 30secs: trust me!

The upbeat Hold On is greeted like an old classic, everybody bouncing around like maniacs, the emotions being battered from those last two, to this, almost house music in its tempo and lyrics.

All well and good. Brilliant. Better than I imagined.

The English language has more words than most other, if not all, languages. Yet I’m at a loss at how to put into words what goes off next. And words are my thing.

Obviously it’s Bittersweet Symphony.

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     I’ve taught students 50 synonyms for ‘good’ ranging from ‘satisfactory’ to ‘sublime’,  ‘peerless’ and beyond.  I Can’t think of one to describe the next ten minutes.

He’s changed into a shiny Harrington, as if to present himself as a mirror. It’s definitely mirror-like. What’s he doing now? He’s telling us life is shit, reflecting it back to us as we sing the words, and he’s soaking it all up. Our own lives. I’m reading too deeply, but I’ll interpret it in any way I fucking choose. Is he some kind of shamanic medium, conducting our pain, taking it away? Personally, I don’t spend too much time thinking about the occult, but something seismic has happened within me tonight. I’ll just go with it.

He’s going mental, set free from guitars, he’s pacing the stage, like one of those TV  evangelists in America, holding the mic out to us, placing it on his chest, so we can hear his heart beat. But he’s not passing round a money collection box. He needs this as much as we do. He’s feeding off us and vice versa. I’ve heard this song played live many times. None affected me like this.

‘Bittersweet Symphony’ Leeds 22/4/2017. If this doesn’t get you in the feels, you’re not human.

Was it just that window where my rare positivity was lassoed in, due to my day out with my kid, and harnessed by Richard Ashcroft, who seemed to be personally putting his arm around me and saying, ‘life is fucking hard, mate, but we’ll get through it.’?

     I have no idea if it affected anyone else in the same way. Probably. But it was perfect synchronicity. Sometimes I bemoan the diminishing feelings of childlike wonder as we get older, but when they hit, they hit hard. It hasn’t happened in a while.

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I left feeling like I’d been through a hurricane. Or a two-hour spin through the washing machine. I had.

We got lost on the way out of Leeds. I didn’t care. I was yapping on like a deranged Jack Russell all the way back home and beyond.

I was smiling all the next day. Hull FC turned in a colossal performance, reminiscent of the old days, beating league leaders, Castleford with a man down for most of the game. The crowd were going wild; I was going wild. Like the night before. But singing club anthem Old Faithful, instead of Bittersweet Symphony. I was with my dad. And all seemed right with the world.

Can this even happen? It’s probably down to timing, for once being kind to me. Coincidence? The redemptive power of music? Proximity to the ones I love above all others, and who unconditionally love me back? Something out there, up there deciding ‘he’s suffered enough, let’s give the kid a break’?  It probably started the previous week when I offloaded to my best friend in the world. I hadn’t seen her in ages, and was reenergised to some degree after her visit.

All I know is that now, I feel like Andy Dufresne, on that beach in Mexico, when he sees his old pal, Red.

It’s perfect. I’m free. I’m back. Writing this is my catharsis.

     I’m still not going to smile in public though.

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Most of the gig is here

Tickets immediately booked for Lord Ashcroft in MCR with Kirbo and Barbs.

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Postscript

I’d like to add a postscript about the song I mentioned earlier, Lord I’ve Been Trying, as it means a lot to me personally. As my friends know, I lived in China for ten years from 2002 until 2012. The day before I set off on this journey, an experience which would end up totally transforming my life, I went to a funeral.

The funeral was for a lad I’d known for only two or three years, but he made a big impression on me. His name was Paul Monday. He was one of the most big-hearted lads I’ve ever known. We met at 6th form college, and despite being wary of each other at first, as we were trying to out-baggy each other, we became firm mates. I think the first thing he said to me was, ‘how wide are your flares?’ We hit it off from that moment of mutual appreciation. This was 1990. He was a good-looking,  charming fucker, equal parts cheeky and funny as fuck. The girls loved him. The lads wanted to be around him, he had such an infectious personality. We both made our first steps into the club scene at roughly the same time, except we’d usually meet up before going out, go our separate ways, me to Welly, him to Juliet’s. Then reconvene at the end of the night again for some mad laughs. I’m ashamed to say cow-tipping on Beverley Westwood provided us with many post-club fits of laughter.

I was welcomed into his circle of friends, a great tight-knit set of old school friends. I remember envying their almost brotherly affection for each other, as I had drifted away from my school friends and college was a new start for me.

One thing that sticks in my mind is that he used to work in a fruit shop on a Saturday, and I used to pop and see him. He always gave me a generous bag of fruit, ‘for yer mam.’ I always tried to decline, but he insisted. Of course, it wasn’t his fruit to give me, but it was for my mum, which I thought was a beautiful, if slightly criminal gesture. He was a good lad. No one had a bad word to say about him.

We drifted apart after college. Bumped into each other; when we did, we always chatted about music. In ’94, it was all Oasis and the new Roses album. We always had a great chat, but we’d both moved on.

I left the country in 2000 for what would become 12 years. Poland for two years, London for the summer of 2002. I was only back in Hull for a few days before I’d leave for China. But when I got back up to Hull, my mum said some lad called Alex had been ringing my home number as it was the only number he had for me; we probably hadn’t spoken for five years. Anyway he caught me, and I’m glad he did, but the news wasn’t good. My old college friend had died from a heroin overdose and would I go to the funeral. I hadn’t seen Paul for many years, but it knocked the wind out of me.

     The funeral was sad, obviously, but celebratory. In the crematorium, they played ‘Rockin’ Chair’ by Oasis and ‘I’m Losing More Than I’ll Ever Have’ by Primal Scream. Tears everywhere. But the wake was where I saw old friends, and we shared memories of the cheeky kid with the big heart, who was loved by everyone. Funny stories. There was a lot of laughter. I was sad to leave, but I had a plane to catch early next morning.

     To the point: From an old friend’s funeral to the sensory assault that is your first week, or year, in China is quite a head-fuck. From the familiar to the unknown, the contrast was huge.

So I hid in my headphones to block out the noise; From the relative silence of Hull to the 24-hour clamourous cacophony of China’s capital was like torture. Paul was in my thoughts constantly as I tried to cling on to a bit of home, and that was my last taste of normality, my last memory of home.

     Lord I’ve Been Trying was the penultimate track on the new Richard Ashcroft album. I remember just listening to it over and over again. My longing for home and Paul’s memory looming large in my mind were overwhelming. The lyrics, to me, were Paul singing to me as he entered the valley of the shadow of death. He was comforting me. I can’t explain the sensation, but the words were so poignant and seemed to be Paul’s words from the other side. I cried many times to that song as I tried to make some sense of my new surroundings. It’s tough navigating such an unforgiving culture when your last memory of home is your old friend’s untimely passing.

So it evokes a truckload of emotions for me. As I’ve done a lot of soul-searching over the past four months, the lyrics have been my words, in my voice. It will always remind me of Paul, but I felt that now, I could be singing it. It’s comforting, but still deeply upsetting, and the past again is linked with the present.

     On that note, I’d like to dedicate this whole outpouring to Paul Monday.

RIP, old mate. X

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