April 23rd 2020. It’s been four weeks since lockdown. I’ve stopped going into College to teach. I’ve stopped going to the pub. I’ve stopped going to football. There’s no cricket scheduled. I’ve cancelled three holidays. The only person I’m seeing face to face is Roo. Everything that I had planned for the Summer has been cancelled. Today, my line manager asked if I’d like a four month job in the Autumn and I’ve said “No thanks”. Every single thing I normally look forward to has stopped. Life is grim.
Or is it? With a forced change of circumstances, new routines have emerged. I’m writing this blog which gives me great fulfillment. I’m in regular contact with good friends that I normally only ever see or speak to occasionally because they live so far away. I’m listening to many more podcasts. The weather has been gorgeous and I’m learning to sit in the garden with a good book. I’ve nearly lost a stone in weight. Life is good.
Excitingly and best of all, Peter and I are holding an online chat twice a week to discuss a record. The rules are that it must be a record that neither of us knows very much about but is either a classic or has recently received a good review. So far we have discussed “Yankee Hotel Foxtrot” by Wilco (which I didn’t like), “Helplessness Blues” by Fleet Foxes (which I loved), the eponymous Purple Mountains record (which was very sad), “Are You Experienced” by The Jimi Hendrix Experience (we are discussing it tomorrow so no spoilers) and “Kid A” by Radiohead.
I knew nothing at all about Radiohead until I listened to this record. I had all sort of assumptions about them, most of which were not evidence based. After listening to this record, I feel I know a lot more. It’s a really good, exciting, innovative and experimental suite of songs. It’s also very easy to listen to. I don’t mean that it’s “Easy Listening”, I just mean it’s not like listening to all four sides of “Tales From Topographic Oceans” by Yes. It’s very pleasant to listen to.
Radiohead released “OK Computer” in 1997 and it became a UK Chart Topper. “Kid A” was released four years later and was a completely different style of music. This album featured more synthesisers and drum machines and was heavily influenced by electronic, ambient music and krautrock. There were also traces of jazz, especially in “The National Anthem”. Although the band were plagued with doubts about their new direction, this record got to the top of the album charts in the UK and the USA. Rolling Stone, Pitchfork and The Times both made it the best record released in the Noughties.
“The National Anthem” is exceptional. It has been described as “a thrilling blast of kosmic highway music”. I’m not sure that’s how you spell cosmic but otherwise I’d agree. It has also been described as a cross between Hawkwind and Can with some experimental free jazz thrown in for good measure. The performance on “Later” is exceptional, exciting, eccentric and entertaining.
“Idioteque” is a apparently a very popular song with Radiohead fans. It began with a rhythm created by Jonny Greenwood but feeling it “needed chaos”, he experimented with sampling. He could not remember where the four-chord synthesiser phrase had come from, and assumed he had played it himself; he later realised he had sampled it from a piece of music by the American composer Paul Lansky. Lansky allowed Radiohead to use the sample after Greenwood wrote to him with a copy of “Idioteque”. Lansky wrote: “I really like what they did with the sample; it is quite imaginative and inventive.” Greenwood recorded 50 minutes of improvisation and gave it to singer Thom Yorke, who took a short sequence and used it to write the song. Yorke said: “Some of it was just ‘what?’, but then there was this section of about 40 seconds long in the middle of it that was absolute genius, and I just cut that up.” He created some of the lyrics, like others on “Kid A”, by cutting up phrases and drawing them from a hat.
So there’s no knowing how long lockdown is going to last. My knowledge of the production techniques of George Martin has been greatly increased by listening to the “Producing The Beatles” podcast. My knowledge of the recorded output of ELP and Yes has increased by reading “A New Day Yesterday – UK Progressive Rock and the 1970s” by Mike Barnes. My knowledge of hitherto easily dismissed records has been increased by Peter and I forming “Album Club”. New routines. New life. Look forward, not back.