Two teenage boys in a bedroom listening to a grown woman sing about love, loss and heroin. That’s normal right?
The idea behind this series if for me to take key albums from throughout my life and talk about them. Perhaps not in a music review sense but more about how they impacted on me personally as well as my music tastes. What is interesting is that what I perceive to be memories, once I started researching this piece, weren’t necessarily correct.
I was absolutely convinced that my introduction to Surfacing was some time pre-1996/GCSEs. But I was clearly wrong as this album came out a year later. My reason for thinking this was that the person who introduced me to this album was one of my closest friends in high school who, by 1997, had moved onto pastures new. Funny old thing, the brain.
My mate John was a formative influence on my life. He was the introduction and conduit to a whole hosts of things from music to friends to social experiences (parties, basically). We met standing in line for the can (drinks) machine at school. I’ve no idea what year. Somewhere between 92/93 I think. From this (chance) meeting we became firm friends.
John’s dad was the vicar of St John’s Church in the centre of Cardiff, which meant that John (and his family) lived in the vicarage. A rather large and lovely house in the city centre. Helpfully this house was right on the Taff Trail so I was able to cycle to and from his house, which I did regularly.
In my mind I spent days at that house. Often I would go over on a Saturday and we would hang out and then I would stay the night in John’s room which was the attic room (something I had never encountered before and thought was tremendously cool). On a Sunday morning we would usually have to don robes and serve as alter boys in the Sunday service, carrying the candles, sitting in the choir stalls eating sweets, yawning. You know, the usual church-type behaviour. To this day I’m convinced my dislike for spiders is down to watching the film Arachnophobia at John’s house. Mind you, it was in the middle of the day when we had bunked off from school so we didn’t have to sit through the Eisteddfod.
Anywho…. on one of those Saturday nights, we were getting ready to go to sleep and John said that he had an album that he had discovered that was really cool and that he wanted to play it for me. That album was Surfacing.
I was transfixed. Up until that point (1997-ish) I was a full-on metal guy. Metallica was the air I breathed. I had the typically narrow-minded attitude of a teenage male metal fan that anything outside my own clearly defined parameters of “cool” was in fact “shit”. This would have fallen in the later category…. only… this didn’t. It spoke to me. The vocal melodies, the songs but most importantly the lyrics, all combined to send this album straight to my heart. In particular the song ‘I Love You’ etched itself into my psyche. The sparsity of the instrumentation, the delicately fragile vocal delivery the haunting guitar solo and the heart wrenching desire and unrequited love of the lyrics….. I’m not sure if there is a better song in Sarah McLachlan’s entire catalogue to be honest. It remains one of my favourite songs by any artist, ever.
I believe that I borrowed the CD from John that very night. If my age-addled brain serves me correctly, it was a CD that belonged to a friend of his. With promises of safe return I took it home, taped it (!!!) and so began my love for Ms McLachlan’s music that survives to this day.
I have much to thank John for. I know that this post is as long as War and Peace but…… without meeting and knowing John I would never had discovered some of the key people in my life. Through him I met Mark and Huw with whom I would form my first ever band, Prawl. John introduced me to Matt who went on to join, (albeit for about a day), Prawl which led to us rehearsing at Llandaff Rowing Club which was the first time I met Graham who (along with Huw) played a pretty huge part in my musical journey over the next decade or so. It was from John that I first heard the name and music of a band called Pantera, had access to the works of Christopher Pike and who mercilessly bellowed “DENIED” at me for a period of a couple months after a party we went to….. In school we assumed the roles of Richie and Eddie from Bottom, we went to see Metallica together in London in 1996, we performed in Gosforth’s Fete together for GCSE Drama, went out drinking in the Green Parrot and then the Angel Tavern.
And then, as with most things in life that you don’t realise are precious until they drift away, we lost contact. John left school and I stayed on to 6th form. He went out to work as an apprentice at a garage and I stayed in the warm, numbing embrace of education. Life carried on and we lost touch. Periodically we would brush against each other on our respective paths but regular contact remained elusive.
I’ve not seen John for about 5 years I think. But I will be soon. In fact, by the time he (and you) have read this we’ll hopefully have arrange to meet up for a pint or 2 and a chinwag about the past, the present and the future. I can’t wait. So thanks, John, for all the things I’ve written here. And for the other things I’ve forgotten. You were my first best friend. And you gave me music, friendship, strength, confidence, humour and companionship.