The old believe everything, the middle-aged suspect everything, the young know everything.
Musicians tend to fall into two camps, youthful hedonists who live by the often misappropriated quote “Live fast, die Young and leave a good looking corpse” said not actually by James Dean, but by John Derek in the 1949 film Knock On Any Door. The second camp are the wistful elder statesmen, the Bob Dylan’s and Leonard Cohen’s of the world staring back at what was and ruminate on the troubles of ageing and confronting your own mortality.
The often forgotten third group are those who are settling into middle-aged living, they’re the musicians who are moving to the country, getting married, having kids and starting, reluctantly or otherwise, to realise that hedonism now leads to hangovers, touring the world means not seeing your family for months on end, and Rock’n’Roll is the playground of the young and the day job of the middle aged.
Perhaps the best example of growing old in public in recent years has come from The National, you can almost track the ageing process through their albums. On Alligator they were asking Karen to, “take me to the nearest city middle” and spilling “Jack and coke in my collar” but by the time Boxer came around, they were already questioning the future, finding themselves “falling out of touch” as, “all my friends are somewhere getting wasted” and even when they do go out they found themselves “standing at the punch table, swallowing punch” as all they wanted was to “hurry home to you.” When High Violet rolled around they were “stuck in New York and the rain’s coming down, I don’t feel like we’ll go anywhere” and walking the streets “with my kids on my shoulders” as they become “afraid of everyone.” On their most recent album Trouble Will Find Me, they were even beginning to question their new found middle-aged lifestyles noting that “when I walk into a room, I do not light it up” and from his country vista singer Matt Berninger noting of the city in the distance that “I can see the glowing light, I can see them every night, really not that far away, I could be there in a day.” It’s a narrative that so many people go through, noted down with a poetic beauty few could muster.
Not that The National are only ones of course, Jay-Z declared thirty the new twenty and spoke of the benefits of “black cards, good credit and such” and on Loosing My Edge, LCS Soundsystem frontman James Murphy noted that he was, “loosing my edge to better-looking people, with better ideas and more talent and they’re actually really really nice” whilst clinging desperately to the fact that he was there when great stuff was happening. Elsewhere, The Magnetic Fields looked on the bright side of ageing noting that “when you’re old and lonely you’ll wish you married me!” we guess that’s a cheery thought of sorts.
Still if you’re worried about getting old, don’t worry too much just remind yourself it happens to us all or as Jarvis Cocker told us back when he was too young to know better, “help the aged, one time they were just like you, drinking, smoking cigs and sniffing glue”
The Catenary Wires is the latest project from Indie-Pop royalty Amelia Fletcher and Rob Pursey, who between them have over thirty years experience in bands including Talulah Gosh, Heavenly, Marine Research and Tender Trap.
The Catenary Wires are probably the most laid back either Rob or Amelia have ever sounded; gentle indie-folk tracks with a delightfully pop tinged approach to melodies. They rely largely on acoustic guitars with a smattering of a melodica here and a glockenspiel there, alongside their impressively harmonic twin vocals, Amelia’s voice recalling the tones of former bandmate Elizabeth Moss of Allo Darlin’ with the range of Nat Johnson, whilst Rob’s booming baritone brings to mind Stephin Merritt of The Magnetic Fields or a slightly less gruff Richard Hawley.
They’re based in Tenterden in Kent, a pleasant but rather quiet village not that far from Ashford. We know all about Tenterden as oddly we were there last week for no particular reason. There’s an awful lot of coffee shops and a couple of alright pubs, we can highly recommend the sausage ciabatta from White Lion. Famous people from Tenterden include: Sir David Frost and the actor Sir Donald Sinden and well that’s about it!
Whilst the pair have been making music for about 30 years, they only formed The Catenary Wires back in 2014, after they decided to move out of London. They played their first shows in the middle of last year, and now signed to Elefant Records they will release their debut album Red Red Skies on the 1st of June.
Their debut album, Red Red Skies is a stunning dissection of the failings of a relationship, delivered not from the histrionics of youth but the almost cold and calculative view point of a life well led. A life where love isn’t enough, “I don’t know a thing about love, I never did, and all the songs I’ve sung didn’t tell the half of it, too late, I love you” Amelia notes on the excellent Too Late, I Love You, whilst on You Save Me From Myself, she curses her own emotions, “I hate that flames like these still burn” while asking her lover to “help me put it out before the point hits of no return.”
When Rob takes the lead as on The Magnetic Fields influenced Throw Another Love Song On The Fire he’s equally downbeat noting “I lost my inspiration because by enamouration was a lie” his rich baritone, almost as emotionless as his lyrics.
They’re at their best when they allow their voices naturally compatible nature to shine through, A Different Scene is a wistful and nostalgic highlight recalling Monkey Swallows The Universe, with whom the band share a penchant for the poppier side of Indie-Folk. The excellent When You Walk Away is another fine example, Amelia leading with lines as delightfully maudlin as “all the things that felt so good contained the seeds of what would feel so wrong” before as she leads the song out singing, “I’m waiting for the day when you walk away” before Rob coos in questioning the situation and asking “who’s walking? Who’s walking away?” before they unite on the songs closing line “you never said you wouldn’t leave me” as if they agree on the outcome of not how it came to be.
Closing track, Things I Love is a particular highlight, with its references to kids from school and “songs we listened to as one” that “are ruined now” recalls the equisite lyricism of Belle & Sebastian, it explores the age old question “why do things I love remind me of someone one I don’t?” From “the gothic films of Tim Burton” to the “indie clubs of Islington” that “now seem so forlorn” it ends with the heartbreaking line “it’s been a long time now, it’s hard to know why I’m not mending, I sometimes seem to find it hard to see this as an ending, I hate the sight and sound of all you do but at the same time I’m not really getting over you, oh no.” After an album of seeing them grow and move on with their lives it’s heart wrenching!
It’s perhaps a flaw in their concept rather than their execution, but putting the lyrical themes, so crucial to the albums appeal, so clearly in the foreground at times seems to relegate some of the music to the background, and it perhaps lacks some much needed variety. That said, it’s an album that achieves everything it set out to achieve and as a piece of introspective lyrical folk-pop it’s an excellent example of the genre.
Red Red Skies is out June 1st on Elefant Records. The Catenary Wires tour the UK in June, and play Indietracks festival in July.