It happens quite often.
A song will take me back to a time or a place in a flash and in amazingly vivid detail.
It happens quite often but I wouldn’t always jump to write the memory down. In fact, I think I’ve only done it once, here. It’s almost too easy to do. The evoked memory rings crystal clear such that it’s the simplest task to write it down and slap it up on the blog here.
The reason I don't is simple enough. I don’t reckon that things which are easy to write are always easy or enjoyable to read. Witness the person who dashes off a page or two of something that has just occurred to them and then shows it around everyone to read. It might be ambrosia to the writer but it probably ain’t going to set the rest of the world alight. It’s self-indulgent, you see, and that’s what posts like these are; the ultimate self-indulgence. They are probably more suited to some private diary, locked up in a drawer somewhere and only pulled out to act as an aide memoire when normal memory has failed or, indeed, after all memory is gone.
As a further aside, I wish the songs that evoked things for me were a bit ‘cooler’ or something. That would make for a more vibrant piece too. But it doesn’t work that way, does it? You don’t pick ‘em, they pick you.
Where to start this time? The song or the memory? The memory or the song?
In 1976, I was thirteen and still being hauled along for every family excursion that was planned. I was still too young to be left home alone, it seemed. This wasn’t a problem. As I recall, I enjoyed the excursions.
Over that Summer holiday we would all regularly go and visit some friends of Mum and Dad’s who lived in a house out by the seaside. We would set off after our tea (which, in case you don’t know, happened at six o’clock in the evening). These friends had kids of their own who were a year or two off my age, enough that we would spend our time kicking around aimlessly while our parents drank tea and chatted across the television noise.
The first part of this evoked memory is the impatience I felt, in that Summer of ’76. The need for this visit, pleasant and all as it was, to be over and for us to be on our way home again.
Back to the River.
Because, yes, I had the River in my blood that Summer.
Did you ever see where I grew up? It was a council terrace house, nothing big or fancy, but it was in a great place. Right across the road from the river. You only had to go down the garden path, across the road and you were, literally, in the river. Perhaps, then, it was only natural that the river would, for a short time at least, capture my imagination and my energy. It had captivated my Dad for every day of his life so why not me, if only in a fleeting way?
Across the road, the river was split by a weir which cut along its length for a hundred yards or so. The old photo shows it (it also shows my two older brothers, out on the rocks). This stone weir split the river into what was known as the ‘Back River’ and the ‘Front River’. The Front River was there for all to see, wide and slow-slowing, little boats dotted all along its way. But the ‘Back River’ was different. Not everyone could see it, not clearly anyway. You had to get your waders and tuck your jeans into the bottom of your socks and you had to wade across the front river, climb over the weir and down into those faster-rushing currents which lay beyond.
I wanted to get home that evening before the dusk grew too deep. I wanted to be in the Back River for ‘The Rise’.
Late in the evening, on the Back River, the small trout who lived there would ‘Rise’ to take the flies that were landing on the water. It was a united effort for the trout and you could pretty-much set your watch by it. The trout were pretty tiny and they would throw themselves bodily out of the water in their quest for the fly. In quieter pools, they would sit beneath the surface and suck the flies down, causing only the slightest circle to appear on top.
For a time, that Summer, all I wanted to do was to wade over there and be in among the rise, all by myself. Well, almost by myself.
I had my radio along too.
I had a tiny transistor radio with a circular dial on the front and a black leatherette case to hold it in. In my memory, I brought my radio with me down the Back River. (I say, ‘in my memory’ ‘cos I can’t be sure of such things anymore). I kept it in my pocket, the volume down low, and tuned to Radio Luxembourg.
That’s where I heard the song that inevitably whips me back to those moments, in the dusk, in the river, down among the rise.
The song is ‘Let Your Love Flow’ by The Bellamy Brothers.
Maybe it came on the radio while I was down there, alone, in the river. That surely must be it. Whatever the reason, this transient, largely-unremarkable song whips me back to my thirteenth year with astonishing potency. I can feel the flies catching in my hair, the suck of the rubber waders on my calves as the cool river tugs on them, the clean brown water replete with the hint of tiny fish moving within.
It just takes me back there, that’s all.
And, I guess, it might say something about me too. Who I was, back then. After all, it was the long, dry Summer of 1976. The Olympics were about to start, The Sex Pistols were fuelling media rage, and there was I, on my own, in the back river, watching the rise, not caring if I never caught anything.
Perhaps these memories come to give us a little context for our lives. To remind us who we were and where we came from.
Perhaps it was just a song. In a river. Long, long ago.