Idle Eye 104 : The Big Music

1986 – Still a stripling and finding my path. And despite making it onto the impossibly hip Psalter Lane Communication Arts course at Sheffield City Poly and waving a hand-held 16mm film camera about for months on end (making certain the subject matter was obscure and out of focus), I struggled. Struggled with the introspective claptrap we were expected to churn out in order to get the grades, struggled with being a rudderless imposter from Surrey in a melting pot of strident student politics, and struggled with the notion that my most cherished art form was considered ephemeral and insignificant unless it was waving a banner. In short, I was a bit lost.

Two years earlier, the Waterboys had released their second album, ’A Pagan Place’. By the time I had cottoned on to it they had already recorded and were touring their third, but this one struck me like a bolt from the blue. The title track, which closed the record, soared its way through the cloud layer with a cacophony of trumpets, guitars and a rasping, bruised vocal from Mike Scott, all of which layered themselves into a crescendo that almost made me feel like I was levitating, tears being the only physical release I could muster to bring myself back down to earth. And it happened every time, like turning on a tap. Where was art that could come anywhere near this, I wondered? Here there was no artifice, no pretence, nothing to prove. Just a direct line to the heart that made me want to burst, probably for the first time in my life. This was the Big Music.

Having access to cameras (and a seemingly carte blanche as to where I pointed them) allowed me to head out into the Yorkshire Moors and make a nascent home-grown promo for said song. It featured my then girlfriend Shirley in an earth-coloured dress, blowing into a recorder on top of a rock that looked a bit Celtic, rough-cut in amongst other stuff I thought rural, romantic and quasi-religious. A bit pants, in fact, but the sentiment was there. But then, in one of those rare moments when fate intervenes, I contacted Ensign Records in London and asked if I could film them at Leeds Polytechnic. And, for reasons which I am still unclear, I was granted unlimited access to make a live video. I shuddered with the profundity of it but made out I was a young professional finding my way, just grateful for the opportunity.

Surely, somewhere in the process there would be a bonding moment with the musicians that had shaped my present so completely? That perhaps they could see past the quivering kid sent to document their evening and recognise something beyond the fan? But this is where reality bites. They never did. Crippling shyness put paid to that, my fault not theirs. But I still have the mastered result and it’s great. Huge, in fact.

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