It's funny how "Spitfire" emded up being the song I'm obsessed with after yesterday. A year and a half obsessed with the Race for Space
album, could practically recite it to you, and here I am thinking all the time about this song from an album I only recnetly realized was on Spotify so I could easily start listening to it.
Partly it's stuck with me because it was the song Public Service Broadcasting played after three songs in a row from Every Valley
, an incredible portrayal of the heartbreaking effects that the end of the Welsh coal-mining industry had on the people who lived through it. By the end of the second one, Bethan was saying "play some space songs!" and by the end of the third, whichever of PSB does the talking onstage said "now, something different" in a way that reminded me a little of Jefferson in Hamilton
saying "Can we get back to politics?"
So we got back to songs that make my heart soar (rather than sore, oh dear I didn't even see I'd done that...), with "Spitfire." The music is beautiful, it gets the heart racing just to hear that simple, perfect guitar riff. It's the kind that when you first hear it already feels familiar, it's somehow so right and pleasing that you can't believe you didn't always know it. I've been humming it all day and I always feel better when I catch myself thinking about it much less listening to it. I feel like I can't dance to it enough to properly express even with my whole body how happy it makes me.
I've argued (especially when I'm trying to convince Andrew that he might appreciate them (not like them, because he won't like the style of the music, but I think he could see what's good about them even if he wouldn't enjoy listening to them) that Public Service Broadcasting are making radio ballads
, which that link describes as "a form of narrative documentary in which the story is told entirely in the words of the actual participants themselves as recorded in real life; in sound effects which are also recorded on the spot, and in songs which are based upon these recordings, and which utilise traditional or 'folk-song' modes of expression." I stumbled upon some of the original Ewan MacColl ones on Radio 2 one day, probably a decade or more ago,* and was utterly enchanted and endeared by them.
PSB's versions don't always have the voices of original participants interlaced in their songs as the proper Radio Ballads did, though they often do. The "Spitfire" samples are taken from a movie, Wikipedia tells me, The First of the Few
, which is about the designer of the plane.
Being a movie maybe helps make his thoughts into poetry: the song starts
The birds fly a lot better than we do
See how they wheel and bank and fly, perfect
And all in one
Wings body tail
All in one
Someday I'm going to build a plane just like a bird
It isn't exactly a bird I'm creating, is it?
At least a curious odd bird
A bird that breathes fire and spits out death and destruction
A spitfire bird
What has most resonated with me though is the second sample of this speaker, which starts with the line I've used for my subject here.
It is tiring always stretching out for something that's just out of reach
But I'll get it
After all what I want isn't as easy as all that
It's gotta do 400 miles an hour
Turn on a sixpence
Climb ten thousand feet in a few minutes
Dive at 500 without the wings coming off
Carry eight machine guns
Stuart loves planes and knows a lot about them, and Spitfires particularly, so for eight years now they've made me think of him, details like this espeically so. I have no idea what's high or fast or difficult for any kind of airplane of any age, but I do know how tiring it is when everything is out of reach.
I'm unreasonably delighted that he said "tiring" there, rather than disappointing or challenging or whatever else might fit the usual narrative we're given. It's wearying
. Exhausting. I quoted this line as a Facebook post this morning when I was listening to this song for the first of many times today, on the bus to work. I let it trail off there but Bethan commented with the all-important next line: But I'll get it
. And Mr. Spitfire Man certainly seemed to. So maybe I will as well, even if I don't have as defined an "it" as he did.
I meant this to be an introduction to me talking about the whole day yesterday, but it's turned out to be too long on its own. I promise I won't have this much to say about all the songs.* It might have even been when the BBC commissioned the newer radio ballads, which Wikipedia tells me was 2006; I remember hearing that one about the decline of the Sheffield steel industry anyway; I still can sing bits of the beautiful song sung by Kate Rusby although I don't think I've heard it since; it's so striking and powerful. Also it was one of the first times I heard her name and I've adored her voice ever since.