100 Promises of Fire started life in 2013, as a collection of songs for a charity album. The charity album didn’t do particularly well, but still – I liked these songs, which had a socialist magic realist DNA, written for a friend who has I think probably has both.
The then-education secretary had launched a broadside against academia, specifically those education researchers who had questioned the wisdom of the secretary’s latest ill-informed reforms; in what is, by now, a familiar right-wing trope, he accused his opponents of being Marxists, and branded them “Enemies of Promise” – something I thought was pretty fucking rich for a conservative MP. The real Enemy of Promise is the one who frames the photograph of you on your knees – not just savouring your degradation, but casting in amber that image of you forever. 100 Years of Solitude has its antecedents in Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s book, and deals with the rootlessness that I think everyone feels when they live in London for the first time, and the feeling of not knowing where home is – the home you chose to leave behind, or the place where you are that never quite feels like yours. I can’t be bothered to explain (why I wish you were all robots, and I was a robot too) is an amalgam of every disappointing date my friends went on in 2013; I’ve been in a long term relationship for 18 years, so the very concept of dating is exotic and terrifying and I’d be really bad at it. Books Before Bros starts on the same tack, and the middle 8 incorporates a note a friend found on the street in Catford, written seemingly by a child:
“Dear next door neighbour, I am sorry that I crashed your car with rocks
I’ll never ever do anything so horrible
That will get me arrested
You’ll know that I’ll give you one thousand pound to repair it”
I can’t remember the child’s name – let’s call her Katie. On the other side of the note a teacher or parent has remarked “This is a mess, isn’t it, Katie?”. I’ve no idea of the story here – is this real? Did Katie crash someone’s car with rocks? Is it some sort of creative writing exercise, or generalised anger management? Or did Katie just need a hypothetical scenario to practice her handwriting? It wasn’t great. In her defence, she was clearly a child. She’s probably old enough to drive now, or at least enjoy the unsupervised use of a shotgun, which is worrying.
I’ll never know, but I do find it deeply compelling.
Fire in My Eyes is the most straightforward love song – albeit set in a London that’s been completely covered in lava, except for a few expensive buildings. I probably wouldn’t have written some of these lyrics after Grenfell, to be honest, or the Australian wildfires, or the Californian wildfires, but back in 2013, London being paved over with volcanic basalt seemed more metaphorical than likely. In 2020, I’d be less surprised to discover a supervolcano under London – it would make a thematically appropriate base of operations for the current government.