What was it Kate Bush sang? “Some moments that I’ve had. Some moments of pleasure”

Drinking bourbon on stage was one of my highlights of the year. It’s not always books and films and songs – sometimes it’s just moments.

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Jeanette Winterson walked into the backstage dressing room and grinned at me. She was going to be interviewing me on stage about my book and we had half an hour to get to know each other. I had a streaming cold, was coughing and spluttering my way through the events, and some kind soul had left a bottle of bourbon for me, next to the mineral water and crisps.

Jeanette spotted it. “You need a little medicinal nip,” she said, cracking it open. After we’d downed a couple and it was time to go onstage, she grabbed the bottle and took it on with us, and by the end of the evening my enthusiasm for my book, for life in general, and for Jeanette Winterson in particular, was fully restored.

And that was one of my highlights of the year. It’s not always books and films and songs – sometimes it’s just moments.

Like the moment the other week when Ben burst into the kitchen looking excited.

“Have you seen Harry Styles on Saturday Night Live?”

This was unexpected.

“Um, no,” I replied.

“It’s AMAZING – you have to watch it RIGHT NOW.”

Thirty seconds later there was Harry on my laptop screen, in a black spangly jumpsuit, with rainbow painted nails and a bumfluff moustache, jerking his head like Bowie, strutting like a young Robert Palmer, and delivering one of the songs of the year, “Lights Up”.

Or there was the time on holiday in Italy when I set my alarm for 6am to see the dawn. Out on the lawn, the dew soaked my bare feet and a mist had settled low over the valley. The tops of the farmhouses and cypress trees peeped through, looking like castle turrets rising above the clouds, or the peaks of some drowned city breaking the waterline. I gasped and startled a deer, which bounded away down the hillside, and I know I’d only had four hours’ sleep and was actually still drunk, but it stunned me. What was it Kate Bush sang? “Some moments that I’ve had. Some moments of pleasure.”

Of course, there have been cultural highlights, too. My favourite book was Lolly Willowes, written by Sylvia Townsend Warner in 1926, the story of a woman of a certain age who tires of being everyone’s nice, invisible aunt and moves alone to a remote village. Once there, she revels in the freedom of being able to do exactly what she wants and discovers that she is, in fact, a witch. I’ve no idea why this book struck such a chord with me. Ahem.

I also loved Mary Costello’s The River Capture (and absolutely fuck the stupid Bad Sex award, for which it has been nominated – it is bold, audacious, and beautiful), and Andrea Lawlor’s Paul Takes the Form of a Mortal Girl, a story of love and sex in the 1990s, with a gender-shifting lead character reminiscent of Virginia Woolf’s Orlando. Selina Todd’s biography of Shelagh Delaney, Tastes of Honey, is great, as is Howard Cunnell’s Fathers and Sons, a memoir told in the plainest language, but with a complex structure, which captures his teenage years and the story of his trans son.

I enjoyed records by Lana Del Rey (who wins best cursing for an album called Norman Fucking Rockwell! where, on the track “Venice Bitch”, she is “Fresh out of fucks forever”. I’d like to have that on a badge), Lizzo, Sharon Van Etten, Shura, Tyler the Creator, Jai Paul, Little Simz and King Princess – but have ended the year head over heels in love with one band: Fontaines DC from Dublin.

They are everything I like: poetic, economical, with a charismatic singer. At their gig last week at the Forum, I felt a surge of electricity as they took to the stage. Grian Chatten picked up the mic stand and slammed it rhythmically into the floor, so that it boomed around the room. He paced and stared, like the best kind of frontman, and didn’t speak a word except – after 55 adrenaline-packed minutes – to say, “This is the last one, we don’t do encores, thanks very much” before they screamed into their anthem “Big”.

As the year ends, and we battle the cold and dark, it’s these moments of pleasure I’ll try to keep hold of.

“Hey love,” sings Grian, (to me, I imagine), “Hey love, are you hangin’ on?”

Well just about lads, I think. Just about. And thanks. 

Next issue: Kate Mossman

Tracey Thorn is a musician and writer, best known as one half of Everything but the Girl. She writes the fortnightly “Off the Record” column for the New Statesman. Her books include Naked at the Albert Hall, Bedsit Disco Queen and, most recently, Another Planet: A Teenager in Suburbia 

This article appears in the 13 December 2019 issue of the New Statesman, Christmas special