Or what could be alternatively titled: Jessica, Mike Taylor, George, Sydney Opera House, Wembley Arena and a bonus live cd…
When I was fourteen years old, in the aftermath of my parents then recent divorce, a Swedish au pair named Jessica quite literally walked into my life. She walked into my life when she got lost en route to our little house in Isleworth and my mum dispatched me and my sister Maria to go and find her. Which we did almost immediately- asking a complete stranger on the street if her name was “Jessica”- we just knew. She was 21 and, at that point in my young existence, she was one of the most beautiful women I had ever come across- blonde and leggy. Twenty years later it’s difficult not to feel she left a lasting impression on me.
Anyway, Jessica was well into Crowded House at the time, I think they would have just released, or were about to release, Woodface- you know the one; Four Seasons In One Day, Weather With You, It’s Only Natural, yeah, that one. And I, with my love for Madonna, Roachford, Adam and the Ants, Guns N’ Roses (two years out of a bizarre fixation with Bros) and very little else, had the temerity to take the piss out of her. Dismissing the Aussie band- which as far asI was concerned, they were- as weirdos. The cheek of it! How Jessica didn’t slap my head off my shoulders… well I know how, she was incredibly good natured. I don’t think she even minded the time I persuaded her to buy me a copy of Total Recall from the video shop, thereby coming into grief with my, very angry, mother.
Why, mum, why were you so angry?
By the time I was old enough to watch Total Recall without getting anyone into trouble, I’d been dispatched to Leeds and Trinity and All Saints College. For the pedants reading, that’s actually eight miles out of Leeds in a quiet little town called Horsforth. Legend has it that the Yorkshire Ripper dumped a victim on the open college grounds during his reign of terror, but I’ve never seen anything to establish that as fact.
Anyway, it was on those college grounds that I met a man called Mike Taylor. Mike was fond of carrying an acoustic guitar around with him- which led, quite early on in our university days, to him standing under the window of the first girl to dump me, singing a song about what a bitch she was. It seemed funny at the time. As well as making up spontaneous abuse songs, Mike came up with a song about the “red room” that lay a couple of doors down from his room in halls. A room that we once locked a friend in, only for him to escape by jumping out its second floor window. Seriously. Obsessed by the songs of Neil Finn, Mike made me realise that Finn and his band weren’t weirdos. And now I think back to them times when Mike would sit with his guitar in the corridors of Rievaulx- with the rest of the “Revo Goodfellas” as we called ourselves- and we we would all sing Weather With You, or Four Seasons In One Day as some of the happiest times in my life.
All that said, however, it wasn’t until I- for some reason- went with mum and my soon to be stepdad to dinner at Monica and George’s that I realised the full power of Crowded House. Monica and George used to live on our street and their daughter Martha was around the same age as my sister Helen- so some kind of relationship was struck up. I still don’t know why I went, but I sat in their red dining room (is that spooky or what?) entranced by the sounds coming out of their hi-fi. What was it? Well, it was the bonus live cd that came with Crowded House’s best of album, Recurring Dream. It seems to me now, fifteen years later, that it must have been three of the opening five tracks, Love You Till The Day I Die, Hole in the River and the magnificent Private Universe that blew me away. not because they particularly stand out from anything else that Crowded House have done, but they just sounded so huge and so unlike anything I would have expected. I knew I had to have this album.
And so I bought it, and then every album they released, realising in the process that the tv advertisement for their best of was correct and I did indeed know more Crowded House songs than I thought I did. I was disappointed that I had to stop at the four studio albums. I was further disappointed to hear that, just as I had really discovered them, that Neil Finn had decided to do a “Fleetwood Mac”- you know, go your own way.. and so what I had was all there would be. And then came Crowded House’s “Farewell to the World” on the steps of the Sydney Opera House. Obviously, a cash strapped student from London new to the charms of the House had no business, or means of, being there. But there was a video of the occasion. And so I spent much of early 97 with my girlfriend at the time- she was a first year student living in halls, which was handy for early starts- watching one of the most mesmerising, emotional concert performances I have ever seen a band give. And cursing my luck that I had missed this band that seemed so magical.
Eight years after, I read with much shock and sadness the news of drummer Paul Hester’s suicide.
A year after that, the Sydney “Farewell” was released on both dvd and cd, it seemed a fitting tribute to the man. Listening to the remaining band members commentary track, it seemed clear that there was still a closeness between them all, a fondness in memories. That said, if someone had told me that not a year and half after buying the dvd, I would be watching the band playing at Wembley, well, I would have laughed. I don’t think I’m giving much away when I say that the two albums that have been released since the reformation- Time on Earth and Intriguer don’t quite meet the standard of 1994’s Together Alone. But as Jo and I got to see the boys perform a brilliant two and a half hour set, on bassist Nick Seymour’s birthday, I don’t really give a shit. We laughed, we cried (I was in tears by the time Private Universe, the set opener, came to its close) and some people even danced. It was a night I never quite wanted to end.
I daresay that I’m not the first person that Crowded House have made feel that way.
Hole in the River (Sydney Opera House, 1996)
Private Universe (2007)