Through the Windowpane

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Sometimes it’s good to wind back the tape and listen to an old favourite. Guillemots‘ first album, Through the Windowpane, has been mentioned, briefly, in these pages already in both Track of the Week and Band of the Year posts, but until now it hasn’t featured as an Album of the Month. So let’s press the rewind button and replay two snippets from earlier bloggings before shining the spot light on what is probably Crotchety Man’s all-time favourite album.

First, from my Band of the Year post on Crotchety Man, 24th May 2015:

Guillemots have released four albums to date: Through the Windowpane (2006), Red (2008), Walk the River (2011) and Hello Land! (2012).

For my money the first is still the best. It’s the most varied, the most adventurous and, ultimately, the most successful. Three UK top 40 singles came from Through the Windowpane: Made Up Love Song #43 (a Crotchety Man track of the week in February), Trains to Brazil and the superb Annie Let’s Not Wait (best single of 2007 in my opinion). And there are at least two more tracks on the album that are just as strong (the title track and Sao Paulo). All in all, Windowpane is a truly brilliant album full of exuberant songs and epic productions.

And here’s an extract from my Stoney Fish Tales blog post of 31st October 2016 which quotes remarks from an online CD catalogue dating back to 2010:

A sea bird flies past the porthole as I pull “Through the Window Pane” by Guillemots from the rack. For those who don’t know Fyfe Dangerfield’s compositions they’re hard to describe because they don’t fit into any well-defined category. Many of the tracks would make excellent film soundtrack material, but that’s not what they are. On my web site¹ I say: “This has everything: memorable melodies, irresistible rhythms, sweet harmonies, epic arrangements; sometimes all in the same song”. Every one of the 12 tracks seems to be a window into Fyfe’s varied emotions. There’s wistfulness, sadness, anger, despair, joy, love, playfulness and even a touch of humour. Very few artists have that wide a repertoire and very few bands can provide a vehicle for expressing it as well as Guillemots.

Overall this collection of songs falls into the ‘alternative’ and ‘indie rock’ categories but two of the 12 tracks protrude way beyond those boundaries and a third sits awkwardly in the nest. The first of those outliers is the opening track, Little Bear.

This little bear doesn’t rock. He sits bereft among a deluge of orchestral strings, about to lose his playmate and long-time soulmate. The little boy who clutched him so tightly a few years ago is too old for teddies now. He has other toys to play with, other places to play, other friends to play with him. To quote Paul McCartney, Little Bear is “a very brave way to open an album”. It sounds like a short song but the hands of the clock tick out 4 minutes 49 seconds of sumptuous strings, untuned electric piano and baleful vocals. If the rest of the album was anything like it the effect would be sickly and cloying but this makes for a savoury appetiser for the meat of the album.

Let’s skip the light-hearted Made Up Love Song #43 this time – we sampled it for Valentines day in 2015 and, besides, it’s time for our Trains to Brazil. That title references the fatal shooting of Jean Charles de Menezes, a Brazilian man mistaken for a terrorist by the Metropolitan police two weeks after the London bombings on 7th July 2005. The lyrics, though, hark back to the much greater tragedy of the 9/11 atrocities in the U.S. in which nearly 3000 people died.

In the first verse the singer sleepily remembers a childhood sweetheart and then, just a few hours later, he is abruptly woken when “one hundred telephones shake and ring”. They are bringing news of the World Trade Centre attacks and one of those calls is “from someone who knew you”. Suddenly, an international headline story becomes searingly personal – the past tense signals that our dear friend has just died in that act of inexplicable hatred; a beautiful life has been wasted and we are caught up in the tsunami of sorrow spreading from ground zero. But, although there is sadness and anger in the words, there is no despair in the music. It’s a horn-driven, defiant, uplifting, almost jaunty song.

Redwings releases the tension with a brass band, the sound taking us on a nostalgic journey to the steep hills of the Yorkshire Dales, wholesome Hovis bread and Britain’s favourite TV advertisement². The Guillemots take is a full 6 minutes long and it’s an ad that outshines all the regular programmes, putting them in the shade like the morning sun snuffing out the feeble light of the night-sky stars. Tuck in, lad; it’s as good for you now as it’s always been.

That nourishing Yorkshire fare has given us itchy feet. Come Away With Me urges us to join Fyfe Dangerfield and his friends in a slow samba in the snowy rain that falls now on the clouded hills of the Pennines. Crotchety Man dithers; he is very much in the mood for dancing but the weather is off-putting. Then, just as he is about to decline the invitation, the song picks up the tempo and segues into the album’s title track.

Now there’s no stopping this reluctant dancer. You see, I felt love come in through my windowpane as soon as the first piano chords tripped lightly through the air. Listen. Never has there been a more exuberant song, a song more full of joy and the pure, fresh zest for life. Come, dance with me and the Guillemots.

I’m ready for a breather after that. And the band has caught my mood. If the World Ends is a slow, dreamy song, a love poem to a divine spirit whose mere presence would abolish all pain, even if this world, this fragile cradle of life, should be destroyed by some unimaginable catastrophe.

But let’s not dwell on such sombre thoughts. The party is still in full swing and we’re all here to enjoy ourselves. A spotlight blazes onto the stage. “We’re Here!”, sings Fyfe at the top of his voice, “the world is our carpet, now; the world is our dance floor …” And his words are accompanied by a wide-screen orchestral production that fills every corner of the hall with sound. It’s a spectacular entrance that has even the most withered of wallflowers springing to life and joining the conga.

Then suddenly the lights go out, the music stops and the mood changes completely. Has there been a power cut? No, it’s just a Fyfe solo slot. And he’s got the blues again. What is it with this guy? He’s playing adagio arpeggios with his keyboard set to a peculiar wood block sound and he’s singing like a drunk in a midnight karaoke choir. “Blue Would Still Be Blue“, he croons, “if I had you”. It’s a song that could tug at the heartstrings with the right performance but, unfortunately, this isn’t it.

That lapse of judgement is soon forgotten, though, when the whole band comes in again for Annie, Let’s Not Wait. On the Crotchety pop charts Annie has been at number one since it was released as a single in 2007. From the funky wood pigeon introduction to the irresistibly infectious rhythm to the nonsense lyrics and the singalong backing vocals there’s nothing in pop-land to touch it.

And If All… that has left you breathless just wait quietly for a minute (and 19 seconds) until you hear the grand finale. It’s a story set in São Paulo “about some memories that I dreamt”. Of all Guillemots scores this is the grandest; it’s a piano concerto for their Titanic moment, their Butch Cassidy final scene. The rock band instruments are backed by an orchestra in full flow building up to a climax of incredible power. You will leave this cinema dazed and confused, the final notes still ringing in your ears.

Notes

  1. That website is long defunct. I was using raw HTML on some free disk space offered by my old ISP. The result was nowhere near as slick or as pretty as my two current sites hosted by WordPress. That description of Through the Windowpane, though, is spot on.
  2. That ad was actually filmed in Dorset in 1973 and directed by (Sir) Ridley Scott. The music is Dvorak’s New World Symphony. The comedy duo, the Two Ronnies, did their own version.

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