Come friendly bombs and fall on Slough
It isn’t fit for humans now
There isn’t grass to graze a cow
Swarm over Death
(“Slough”, Sir John Betjeman, 1937)
I spent much of my childhood and adolescence in a coastal town.
The sort of coastal town that Morrissey warned about in “Everday is Like Sunday”.
It wasn’t fit for humans then.
It probably still isn’t.
At least that’s how it seemed then.
That’s probably how “home” seems to every teenager who isn’t living it up in the city. This town had a theatre.
Touring productions of this thing and that thing.
I even graced the stage in two professional musicals.
Just picture it.
This middle-aged curmudgeon, treading the boards in “Oliver!” and “The King and I”. Dancing, singing, laughing, one might almost say living.
Then secondary school, puberty, and the first rumblings of the black dog put paid to all of that. Same as it ever was.
Occasionally the theatre would show films.
I can only remember one.
It was called “Blue Velvet”.
I didn’t know anything about “Blue Velvet”.
I just knew it was a film.
I liked films.
I had seen “Ghostbusters” thirteen times in the ABC on the High Street.
“Blue Velvet” wasn’t “Ghostbusters”.
“Blue Velvet” changed my life.
It came at just about the same time as I discovered The Smiths – and its impact was just as big. It was familiar and alien.
It was confusing and discomforting.
It was erotic and repulsive.
It was sensual and horrifying.
It was the gateway drug into cinema – a very different thing to the “movies” I had been consuming up to that point.
This was art and artifice.
I loved it.
I haven’t ever met, or even spoken to, Gemma Cullingford.
But I know that she has seen “Blue Velvet”.
She has watched those opening moments when everything is drenched in technicolour, when the fire truck floats past, when the white picket fence fills your mind with visions of “I Love Lucy” and the riches of post-War America, when the flowers look so vibrant that you feel you could reach out and grab one right off the screen.
And I know that her stomach has flipped and churned as the camera dives deep underground to reveal a dark world of writhing insects, where the stench of death and decay oozes from the image, and where the darkest fears of your own mind are seemingly lurking up there too.
You ask her if you don’t believe me.
All of which brings us to “Early Hours”.
Back in 2010 she was working with Liam Capper-Starr on some songs – but the songs have remained safely tucked away in some far-flung corner of her mind, or on a dusty hard-drive in a drawer, ever since.
Now almost 15 years later she has returned to those pieces and given us “Early Hours”. A love song.
But a love song with a Lynchian soul – which is to say that underneath the light of the melody, and the haunting, delicate, vocal, lurks another song about lust and wanting. What is most interesting here is that it marks a departure from the music of both “Let Me Speak” and “Tongue Tied”, this isn’t a dancefloor filler, it is something more ethereal.
“Liam and I briefly formed a band in the early 2010’s and wrote songs which reflected how I was feeling. Melancholic music poured out, and Liam penned some lyrics based on his observations of my life at that time. He put into words what my music was trying to say and I think he captured it beautifully” says Cullingford of the process behind the song.
Here again is that Lynchian tone – a commentary on the lives, and emotions, of others from an outside observer. Presenting Cullingford with a vision of herself as others experienced her. And now, so many years later, the song gives her a window into the person she was. But, as ever with her work, what can seem deeply personal is able to work on a universal level. The desire for love, the power of lust, the need to be wanted, are recognisable to us all...
“Early Hours” is available from February 5th and is the first track from the forthcoming soundtrack E.P for her debut short film, “Home”.