A Traveller’s Guide to Lost and Later Songs #3
For those who may appreciate some background detail, I offer below my workings.
All audio references refer to recordings from the secret playlist, “Lost and Later, Early Days” –https://on.soundcloud.com/96wG4
#3 Drunk is a holiday (1996-2021)#
“Ought we to be drunk every night?” Sebastian asked one morning.
“Yes, I think so.”
“I think so too.”
― Evelyn Waugh, Brideshead Revisited
The chorus melody for “Drunk is a Holiday” came to me, perhaps fittingly enough, in the middle of a hangover. I would date that hangover at around 1996, back when I was living in a bedsit in the Southside of Glasgow. The TV series of “Brideshead Revisited” was being repeated on Saturday evenings around then and I remember staying in to watch it over the course of several weeks. It helped to keep me off the booze. My favourite scene was the one with Sebastian and Charles, lounging by a fountain and sipping champagne in a decidedly louche manner. After their minimal, yet solemn exchange, as quoted above, which felt like a pact or vow, Sebastian falls into the fountain with his bottle of champagne. I remember applauding the telly at that bit. I, too, wanted to fall into fountains with bottles of champagne. Unfortunately, I was unemployed at the time and my limited means meant opportunities for such indulgence were few and far between.
But picking up the guitar, the songs and all that – that was free.
I often have musical ideas far beyond my capabilities of actually realising them. Sometimes it takes me years to catch up. Although the chorus melody came easily enough, I had no idea what to do with it. I tried marrying it off to all manner of unlikely suitors but nothing lasted. Then, other, easier songs came along and the melody was set aside until some later time, to be confirmed.
The next recorded sighting was 2006 on a home demo. By this time, my circumstances had improved so that I had managed to upgrade my humble abode to a hovel in Partick. I was, more or less, gainfully employed to the point where I could even, should I choose, buy my own bottle of champagne, if not quite my own fountain. One evening, whilst buttering a slice of toast in the kitchen, a stray verse suggested itself to me which carried echoes of that chorus from what you might ironically call my Brideshead Days. I dusted down the old chorus, tentatively placing it next to this new verse and felt a little shiver as they clicked snugly together like missing jigsaw pieces, lost to one another all these years. It was good news from a former life, music as time travel. A more advanced demo in 2008- including bass, drums, guitars and early lyrics- shows that we had begun working on the song as a band and it was by then travelling under the name “Drunk is a Holiday”, perhaps in reference to its origins. But after this, the trail goes cold once more. I presume the song must have been deemed too cheerful for the last Starlets album in 2009. Soon afterwards came ANI’s Year Zero and in the post-revolutionary era which followed, songs about champagne and fountains would have been dimly viewed as irredeemably bourgeois. And so, the song was lost again.
Or not lost, perhaps never really lost at all, rather searching. Or waiting. Waiting for its time to come, for the world to change once more and a reappraisal of all that was previously taken for granted; when we, not spoiled for resources, would once again find a virtue and a new aesthetic in making the best out of what we have. Mend and make new.
Nowadays, I navigate my way through our strange new world by bicycle. I finally finished writing “Drunk is a Holiday” when the last of the lyrics came to me in the Summer of 2020 whilst cycling through the Dovecote country, somewhere between Yoker and Whiteinch and approximately 24 years after watching Brideshead Revisited –
“The calm, beguiling
Until you’re smiling
Our little slice of forever* to be whiling”
All of the above is not necessarily to say that the song itself is worth the wait. That is not, of course, for me to say. 24 years in the making is, after all, a fair bit to live up to and perhaps its origins will prove more interesting than its arrival. But it was worth my wait and I’ll go as far as to say that, yes, I am fond of it. If forced to describe the song for publicity purposes, I’d maybe offer something along the lines of “Music Hall as Synth Pop”. Whatever “Drunk is a Holiday” may or may not be, lyrically it is very much in the tradition of “write about what you know”, so if it all sounds a little woozy here and there, well, I’m afraid that’s because so do I.
As a final point, if there are any time-travellers reading this, may I ask a small favour? Should you happen to be passing through 1996 any time soon, could you please pass on a message to my former self, if he’ll listen? Please tell him that future Biff asks that he be of good cheer. Tell him he finally finishes that song that he started. Tell him that he hasn’t given up, that he’s still trying to keep his promise.
*This line is a nod and tip of the hat to Jenny Lindsay’s spoken word show “This Script” from which the line is “borrowed”. Other significant nods, tips and borrowings (although I prefer the term “references”) include to and from Warren Zevon’s “Carmelita”, a favourite at family sing-songs when I was growing up.
Originally posted in December 2020