I realized the other day that this tune is quite possibly my all time favourite piece of music. More so than The Jam, Dexys, my soul and reggae, my Mod obscurities. The album it's from, 'Insides' is a definite all time favourite.
The year it came out, 1996, was a good year. It started off oddly. I split up with my girlfriend of the time early on. That was a recurring theme back then and would continue to be so for nearly another six years. Those splits weren't just five minute things either. That year we were apart for about 10 months.
I was putting together a band at this point. We were listening to Pulp, old punk tunes and lots and lots of dance music. There was a lot of drinking to be done. I got a tattoo. All of this was good stuff. I met a girl, Scottish Mel, who was working in London for the summer. We hit it off in a big way. But nothing really happened because of the shadow of the autumn hanging over it. Both of us knew that come September she would be back in Scotland to carry on her degree. If she hadn't been going back to the Highlands then who knows what would have happened. The rest of my life up to now would have been very different I imagine.
It was a strange time, a hopeful time. I felt on the verge of big changes, big happenings. And, right at the start of that time I heard Orbital's 'Insides' album. Actually what I heard was a Radio 1 session of 'The Girl With The Sun In Her Head', written for a friend of theirs who had died.
If you've never heard it, it's a beautiful piece, all weird chords and bleepy melodies. All strung out over a skitter-scatter drum loop and a heartbeat bass. The recording of the album version famously utilised Greenpeace's solar powered generator. I'm not sure it was meant to be happy music. And I'm not sure I was actually happy at the time. Sometimes there's a beautiful melancholy that you can carry with you and enjoy. In spite of all the excitement of the times, or perhaps because of it, I was lonely. And this wonderful piece of music made me feel better inside.
The summer was a rush of rehearsals for a series of gigs we'd booked even though we had only three songs; hanging out with Scottish Mel and friends, including one mad weekend at the Reading Festival (Garbage at sunset, Black Grape loud and proud on Saturday night); and plenty of late nights and walking home with the sunrise. Normally I had the 'Insides' album on repeat play. Sitting on a nightbus as it got light, with oceans of possibility stretched out in front of me, it made a perfect soundtrack.
Autumn came. Mel headed back to Scotland. We saw each other for a little while the following summer. Long enough to be aware that our particular ships, if they'd done more than pass, could have been something special. But as I said, if things had been different I wouldn't have been where I am now. And I wouldn't change that for anything.
Orbital - The Girl With The Sun In Her Head
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