I wasn’t there for her.
I didn’t know who she was.
Nobody else was there for her either.
Why would they have been?
We were all there for Suede.
We all knew who they were.
It was April 1st, 1993, and within seconds of her arrival on the stage at the Plaza, we all felt like such terrible fools.
She was wearing a t-shirt and a pair of purple cords.
When she opened her mouth everything stopped.
We all fell head over heels in love.
How could we not?
A few weeks later I was eating in the KFC near Central Station, I looked up to see her, and the rest of the band, walking in. I’ve only asked for an autograph twice in my life, this was the first time. They all scrawled their names on a napkin for me, I kept that napkin for nearly twenty years, then it finally disintegrated.
What has never disintegrated is my love for the music that Monica Queen has made.
Thrum, Belle and Sebastian, solo, Tenement & Temple…if Monica has been involved, I’ve been involved emotionally. The arrival of lads and dads made life much more difficult for musicians and artists like Monica and her partner in crime, Johnny Smillie with Thrum, and so they just disappeared…like a musical Keyser Soze, they became a name whispered in the darkest corners, a myth, a legend. Her contribution to “Lazy Line Painter Jane” made that song, quite comfortably, the highest point in their catalogue, her solo albums are filled with more romance, heart and heartbreak than the collected works of Shelley. I could go on…and on…and on…
Now she returns for the first time since 2019’s Tenement and Temple album, again with Johnny Smillie, surely the most underrated musician in the history of Scottish popular music, and together they have crafted their most perfect collection of songs, a glorious blend of original material and carefully selected cover versions, which they make sound like their own.
Often a review will take you through each track, opining about the tiny moments, the musical flourishes, the credits and the craft…you can find somewhere else to read about all of that, music is about feeling, impact, spirit, soul and beauty, or it is when it is done well. Listening to Monica Queen’s voice on “I Want You To Stop, You’re Killing Me”, with the gentle roll of the music swirling under and around her, I felt tears roll gently down my cheeks, a smile as wide as the Clyde stretching over my miserable face. “In my lonely nights, your words I hear, I want you to stop, you’re killing me…your candles burned, I killed your flame”. Oh God, what have I done to deserve this? Truthfully, I don’t deserve something this beautiful. It doesn’t matter if she is singing her words, or words written by someone else, it’s the voice. Effortless, graceful, a whisper, a yell, floating, soaring, diving into your heart, leaving you breathless on the floor.
29 years have passed since the first time I ever heard Monica sing and Johnny play.
I’m a battered and broken, middle-aged man now. The boy with everything ahead of him has gone. He’s not coming back. But when I drop the needle on “Stop That Girl”, the years fade away, I’m at the front of the crowd again, pressed against the barrier, staring in wonder, feeling the same things I felt nearly three decades ago. What a gift she is.