I am writing this on the day the new Everything But the Girl album is released, our first in 24 years. We finished recording it last autumn, but it takes at least six months nowadays to get vinyl pressed, so it’s been a long anticipatory build-up. We’ve been on the promo circuit, Zooming with journalists, recording a session for the BBC, appearing on radio shows.
Recent interviews have all featured that same question, so beloved of vox-pop TV news reporting: “HOW DO YOU FEEL?” I don’t know whether you’ve noticed, but when people are asked this question they often find it hard to answer. Sometimes journalists fill the pause: “You must be feeling excited/nervous/proud/anxious/triumphant,” they suggest.
My answer today is basically: “Yes! All of those things, plus some others I can’t even identify or name.” They are complicated things, feelings. Mixed, a lot of the time. Fleeting and elusive, hard to pin down. And now that album-release day is here, I just feel a bit like I could cry at any moment, while at the same time I would like to do that Formula One racing-driver thing of spraying champagne in all your faces.
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We’ve both tried to stay sane throughout the process by maintaining a sense of balance, and keeping up with other activities outside of record promotion. Ben has been on regular birding trips, and is carrying on with his campaign to protect our local SSSI (Site of Special Scientific Interest) wetlands, Welsh Harp Reservoir in north-west London. On Sunday he heads over there to take part in a water-testing activity, with a group of volunteers taking samples to check for pollution. He has instructions which tell him to take a bucket and a rope. This fills me with some alarm as I picture him leaning too far out over the water, swinging his bucket and overbalancing. Although I am possibly catastrophising here, and confusing real life with a 1970s public information film. “It would be sad,” I say to him, “if you drowned before we had our midweek chart position.”
A philosopher’s guide to pop
While Ben’s out I carry on reading Ian Penman’s new book about the film-maker Rainer Werner Fassbinder, which is very much My Kind Of Thing. Get this for an opening paragraph: “A naked man stalks his grungy, low-lit apartment. You get the impression everything is the colour of nicotine. A claustrophobic place of thick carpets and bleary mirrors, empty rum and Coke bottles piled high in the kitchen. Rainer Werner Fassbinder is having one of his stand-offs with the world.”
I mean, come on, how could you not want to read this book? I love Ian Penman’s writing. He was at the NME in the late 1970s, when I first started reading it, and he introduced me to the concept of thinking about pop music in terms usually reserved for “high culture” or philosophy or politics. A few years ago he wrote a long essay on Frank Sinatra, titled “Swoonatra”, which is one of the best music pieces I have ever read.
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Tweeting in the real world
After Ben gets back from the reservoir, we have another album-based event: Tim’s Twitter Listening Party. Started by Tim Burgess of the Charlatans during lockdown, this has become a roaring success. The set-up is simple: an album is chosen, and at a given time everyone hits play and listens in real time, while the artists who made the record post tweets giving behind-the-scenes info and anecdotes. We have our comments pre-prepared, as advised by Tim, but even so, it’s an exercise in speed-Tweeting. Copy Paste Send, Copy Paste Send. The reason it works, though, is that it plays to the great enduring strength of Twitter: its ability to create a moment of communal experience, happening in real time. We gather, and listen to music, and talk about it. To hell with all the blue-tick drama.
A huge amount of record promotion now takes place on social media. We need a selfie to post on release day, so we set ourselves up in flattering light and decent clothes, iPhone in hand. “I suppose we’d better smile,” I say to Ben. “People will want us to look celebratory.” Ten minutes later we review the results and they are awful: the pair of us with forced grins looking like we are in a hostage situation. Disheartened, we give up, and I go and change back into my sweatpants and T-shirt, but when I wander back into the kitchen Ben suggests we have another go.
And of course it’s much better. This time, our expectations are lower, we’re not really posing or making an effort, and so we look relaxed, and ironically, happier than when we were smiling. We’ll get the hang of this business soon.
“Fuse”, the new album by Everything But the Girl, is out now on Buzzin’ Fly
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This article appears in the 26 Apr 2023 issue of the New Statesman, The New Tragic Age