The Call Of The Roof Dog
It ain’t like the howlin’ of the wolf nor like the call of the wig-hat, no sir. It’s more what you might call high lonesome I think. It may be that a lot of it is up in those frequencies you can’t really hear but still affect you, whatever it is, me an Randy done heard that call. And it called us back to the bar.
Knowing what the call meant as I stepped down from the train, and the turmoil and commotion it would yet bring before it was done, I sought to set in a little emotional defence by taking a walk in the park and going to see myself some of that art business, but to tell the truth, it confused me. My favourite bit was an old photo of a monkey in a suit and hat smokin’ a cigareet like he was some cool jazz-type dude. Pretty sure the whole thing had something to do with identity and dressing up and so forth. I just liked the monkey. A fortifying cup of black coffee in the uplifting environs of the V&A and I head to down the south side of the city. When I find Randy he’s already involved in some social catastrophe of his own confection down on Coldharbour Lane. I drag him out of there to get a burrito. Lime in the neck of the bottle. He was right, they are afraid to put any chillies in it.
One of the reasons we hearing the call is the return to town of the fine gentlemen of Frontier Ruckus, and so it is up the hill we is a-headin’ home to The Windmill. Now, me and Randy ain’t never been nor never will be wealthy, but between us we’ve gathered up a surprising number of ‘second homes’ such as this outwardly unimpressive and inwardly dark and sticky establishment, the lair of the legendary roof dog, calling us on home. What it lacks in elegance it makes up in heart. Or y’know, something. They kick things off with ‘Mona and Emmy’, which is still just about my favourite song they’ve done so I’ma grinnin’ from the get go as they tumble through the massive patchwork of new record ‘Eternity Of Dimming’. When we first saw Frontier Ruckus here two or three years back they were great, extraordinarily alien and completely human all at once but almost impossibly they seem to have got even better. They’d already built a unique sound out of old familiar elements, pulling off that neat trick of sounding like you’d heard it before but at the same time like nothing else, and colouring it with Zac Nicholls’ amazing singing saw/brass/melodica. The new record sees them take it further, subtly extending their range of instruments and sounds without ever veering away from their own thing. Back then there was something of the magic trick to them, a vague feeling it could all come apart if you even looked at it too hard. Great as they sounded it was clear Matthew’s words were the key to it and Matthew looked a little fragile, like maybe he shouldn’t be fronting a band, like maybe he’d rather take his remarkable words and write books in his parents attic and not have to deal with the rest of us or something.
Fortunately for us, that was the illusion. He’s taken them startling words of his written a wide and beautiful 5,500 word album and onstage now he completely inhabits it. They end the night playing in the midst of the crowd and he looks right at home there. Eternity of Dimming is a huge record, there’s loads of it and about every second of it is jam packed full of lovely images and turns of phrase. It’s like you’re sitting at the food court of the vast shopping mall of Matthew’s mind sucking down a giant 64oz big gulp of frozen, blue, raspberry memory and despite the total weirdness of it all you still get that proustian rush back to your own youth and confusion. I’ve never even been to Michigan but the places and everyday stuff he uses are just a way to pin down a more universal emotional map. There’s a tune on it called ‘Junk -Drawer Sorrow’ which, if the title wasn’t perfect enough contains the lines “I’ve mythologised the world you’re from/the nervous taste of chewing gum” that might be as good as you’re gonna get for reducing it down. Earlier Randy asked him how he kept all them words in his head, he shrugged and said they pushed out more useful stuff. Maybe he still will write books one day, I think we’re good for at least another couple great records out of him yet though, it’s like he’s just hitting his stride. Imagine that.
The band done, it was time for me an Randy to bring da ruckus, if only things had turned out as sweet and gentle as in that lil’ film clip of theirs up there. Oh lord, it was gonna get messy yet. By the time we left it’s all a blur but we rolled on down the hill back where we started to shout and fall over while a friend played a bunch of dodgy pop music and then, perhaps using magic golden wings of beer, we flew across the city to find ourselves in our hosts second home. They seemed to have got themselves a replacement Randy made out of a nematode or some strange thing. I gotsta say they most likely got the best half out of the deal there.
I don’t remember a lot of what passed there but I’m sure we did leave, and go and sleep but almost the next I recall we was back in there again. Kicking the day off with a little hair of the roof dog what bit us at the suggestion of our seemingly sweet, smiling, flame headed host. I think it fair to say I was not my brightest and best at this stage of the day. Whenever that moment came I think I was alone and it was a fleeting lucid episode before I was tumbling down the other side. We were drinking two for one cocktails called things like ‘candy-ass’ and hoping not to vomit a rainbow. Out in Earlsfield a man stares handsomely out of a window. He may not know it, but he can hear the roof dog too. And that’s why he’s worried. Inevitably we wind up in the same bar as last night, once again I’m dancing like a drunk fool to old disco records and wonderin’ where the day had gone.
Sunday. roof dog is calling us back to The Windmill one more time. Randy had already caught Caitlin Rose on the Thursday and was even more full of her wonders than usual, you can read his over-excitable thoughts about that over here if you’ve not done so yet. Go on over and read it, I’ll wait. Ain’t gonna repeat it, but the support is her band billed as Steelism and featuring the amazing lap-steel playing of Spencer Collum. I think I liked them a good deal more than Randy, I love this types of stuff – they’re a whole bunch of fun, they play like demons and they do indeed get away with ending their set with a vocodered, cod-reggae cover of the Beatles ‘Something’, I’ve no idea how. Or more to the point why.
Next thing I know I turn around and Caitlin Rose is at my elbow. She really is little, about half the size of Spencer so it’s just as well he sits down to play. I feel like I should say something to her, but she’s about to go onstage – what does she need with an idiot blatherin’ some foolishness at her right now? I content myself with shielding her from my brother’s affections for the greater good. Regular readers here will have become aware of Randy’s feelings towards Miss Rose, tonight he’s tryna attract her attention with a crass new Texas T-shirt he got. He thinks this goes well. Introducing ‘Only A Clown’ she ponders in that sweet way of hers on how clowns went from a near omnipresent happy fun thing to a slightly wrong and scary thing. Randy blurts out “John Wayne Gacy!” which gets a laugh and an embarrassed “of course, now I feel dumb for asking” type response from Caitlin. Poor ol’ Randy somehow thinks he’s won her over with this until I point out what he’s really done is create an unwelcome mental connection between himself and a creepy killer. How his little face crumpled. If you turn your attentions back to his recent Staggercast you’ll see, if you ain’t yet noticed already, that ‘Only A Clown’ is preceded by the originals of a couple songs she does on ‘The Stand In’ and by a Roger Miller tune they seem to be doing as some kind of band in-joke on their England dates. In her voice, and in Spencer’s steel guitar, it’s country music but she wears it very lightly. There’s no cowboy hats, no affectations, no clichés lyrical or musical. Everything is so unassuming and seemingly effortless that you need to focus your attention to catch just how perfectly judged it all is. The band are great, accomplished but never workmanlike and her voice is just an incredible thing. Nothing now, bar the usual failure of good taste on behalf of the public, can stop her going on to greater things.
Here’s a recent radio session what she did, with some lovely acoustic versions of songs off of the new record there