It is a journey that, once upon a time, would have been announced by the sound of a needle touching wax; the anticipatory crackle as we set out on a strange and unknown highway, following the bumps and starts of the path formed by the record’s concentric grooves to its centre, to the silent void that lies beyond the land’s end. Yet the crackle lives on, even if only in its echoes: the record player may have gone, but hints of its static still run throughout, rising and falling, haunting the scenes; a reminder, a suggestion, the rustle of shadows, of darkness, of the movements of disenfranchised figures, which, through exclusion or having chosen to opt out, appear to us only in the penumbra of the bright lights of our brave new world.
It is their voices we hear amongst the echoes of rain-drenched streets, the echoes of figures silhouetted against the sodium sheen cast by streetlamps on jet-black asphalt, amongst bleak and unforgiving spaces of cold concrete and red-brick walls, of iron-barred windows and rusting downpipes, amongst the furniture and debris of a world trapped half-way between resignation and despair. The words rise up suddenly, distorted and twisted, emerging in lines of flight from the depths of baritone baselines; fragments of discourse, of lives, of microworlds born for an instant then gone, revealing a fleeting glimpse of the stories that lie behind them, of the struggles of inner city housing estates, of urban decay and the outcasts of renewal, of single parenthood and envied success, of the inability to break free and escape intact, transcending one’s past, of a dim acknowledgement that ours is a world in which it is still as much where you’re from as where you’re at that counts, of dramas and dilemmas played out in the confines of marginal spaces, cloying and claustrophobic, before sinking once more into the night, the figures slipping away into the darkness, leaving the streets once again deserted and silent; the actors have left the stage.
Thus are we returned to the warp and weave of the music: to the sweetness of melodies tinged with melancholy, to the grit of the percussion that connects us to the fabric of the city: the high-rise buildings, the rank, moss-green stone, the broad expanse of a river that bisects its mass of concrete, its night-black waters snaking like an oil slick through its districts, leading us away from the percussion’s schizophrenic repetitions, the echoes of a loaded handgun repeatedly cocked as dawn stares point-blank down the barrel, leading us on through sleeping suburbs, broadening its course as it moves stealthily through the still-dark countryside and on out to the open sea, on to where dawn meets the land’s end and the music comes to a gentle stop; tide out, the flotsam and jetsam of the night washed up in the bay, stranded on the sands and lingering on the threshold of our conscious mind; memories and impressions, of a night, which, as the sun slowly begins to rise, is left forever behind us.