Wednesday, 12 March 2008

TALULAH GOSH: Escalator Over The Hill

Giving a song a title like that is the very definition of the term "trying it" but you have to applaud Talulah Gosh for their courage. I have often wondered these past score years and two whether I was responsible for the existence of this song, since when I wasn't a student in the early-mid eighties I worked in the long-vanished Music Machine record shop in Oxford's Cornmarket Street, and I know that (a) several key members of freethinking Oxford-based proto-C86 collective Talulah Gosh used to frequent said shop with some noticeable regularity and (b) I used to make a habit of noisily recommending the original EOTH to my customers. Still, Chris Scott, the band's primary theoretician and sometime Monitor contributor, is a smart chap and I trust his ability to find things out for himself.

Their "Escalator" is another regretfully rolling ballad, nearly country in its approach - a bit like Mekons Junior - and Amelia Fletcher's vocal, though not always decodable, seems to carry several loads of sorrowful burdens. "If angels high should weary you," she ponders, "what would you find to remind you?" Later there are specks of missed buses, unrecordable dreams, rushing ahead as kids and accidentally stumbling into the barrier to this escalator. "I want to hear your voice" she plaintively proclaims halfway through - and after the second chorus huge Phantom Musics of guitars roar into ascension with some deep traces of organ behind the phalanx, exploding with startling alacrity, until the music calms down once more and is summarised by a final, beyond regretful, "You can't go back." The dreams of eternal childhood about to be overtaken and nullified by the needs which a pitiless society demands.

I miss the spirit which Talulah Gosh helped to convey; a very feminine (but far from soft) response to the idea of interdependent community, a sense of belonging which, as Simon Reynolds noted at the time, couldn't be gleaned from hot hip hop and House imports (although I loved those as well), a feeling of deserved restraint. Many of Talulah Gosh subsequently stepped up their game in the early nineties and became key movers in the inception of Riot Grrl (UK variant), particularly in the confines of Huggy Bear; it was the only possible response to those altered times. And of course Belle and Sebastian, and their innumerable satellites, have now helped extend (if not necessarily develop) the original C86 sense for over a decade - and the attitude and precepts engendered by C86 may finally have found its logical and natural homes in both Toronto and Wales. I think Emily Haines' dad would have approved.