Thursday, 15 February 2018

Pub Culture Songs: The Copper Top

Music is hugely important to me and so I thought this new series of blog posts could reflect that passion from a pub culture point of view. The thing is, most legendary songs are written in pubs. On the back of beermats, on torn up cigarette packets, noted in a phone, or just half-thought of and remembered in a haze of hangover the next day, these songs are the lifeblood of modern culture, and as real to us as our own lives. And they're not just written in pubs, they exist in pubs and they emulate them, taking personal experience and transplanting it into a shared one, so we can all enjoy its deeper meaning. We've all sat around a table, peeling the label off, spinning the ashtray, changing the world with our deep conversations, or avoiding life completely. Pubs are part of our lives. Understandably, there are a lot of songs about this.

The first track I've chosen isn't an easy one, but it's wrenched from a place that's easily and instantly understood but still unique in its own way. It's a song about new grief. There's no euphemism I could write to make it sound more chart-friendly, I'm afraid. It's about gently beginning to surface into reality in the hours after a funeral, and coping in the only way you can. Death and pubs, our two certainties.

The Copper Top by Arab Strap's Aidan Moffat and jazz musician and composer Bill Wells is a song that arrests the world around you. Since I was little I've always loved story songs; songs that have a start and a middle and an end, that take you on a journey, no matter how mundane. Songs were the first place where I heard about what went on in pubs. I was the only kid who read the lyric booklets. The only 7 year old in Morecambe with a well-worn tape of Different Class. Like Jarvis, Aidan Moffat's storytelling is always breathtakingly on the nose, and I couldn't write about his work without mentioning the first time I heard his 1996 track "The First Big Weekend". It was a full transportation into his world. Deadpan delivery and hyper-realism the likes of Lou Reed and Leonard Cohen would be proud of. No room for psychedelia. The real world's fucked up and unbelievable and boring and wonderful and depressing enough.

The Coppertop, Falkirk

The Copper Top is a bar in Falkirk, now offering European food and good beers, in 1996, it might have been a very different place. Immersing myself in Moffat's world, it seems that way.
The bar's busier than it should be on a weekday afternoon as the door swings shut behind me, but I'm the only one wearing a suit. No-one seems to notice my entrance though, I suppose they must be used to mourners in the nearest pub to the crematorium.
In two sentences, he sums up the strange out-of-routine sensation and the general heaviness of time that comes hand in hand with an unusual day off work. After the funeral, he's headed to the nearest pub for a quiet pint. His own private wake.
 I buy a pint and sit down.
The thing about escaping to the pub is that as well as being a place of enjoyment and togetherness, it can be a refuge. Moffat's sought out solitude in a busy bar, knowing he can enjoy the peace of a pint in comforting surroundings, where there are people but none of them will bother him while he drifts off into his own disparate thoughts. As he notes - they're used to seeing mourners in their local that they'll never see again. Like jetsam passing over their reef.

If you listen to the song you'll see that despite the gruff spoken-word monotone of Moffat's voice, the musicality of it is really magical. There are slight moments of reflection caught by brass and piano I really couldn't explain to you in words. All I can say is that they'll sound familiar, because you too have been sat deep in thought, mulling life over with a pint glass in your hand. After a brief interlude, Moffat interrupts himself.
Halfway through my pint and a text message from John says he's waiting outside, sooner than I'd expected. I down what's left and step out into the bright afternoon and get in the car. I look up and see the pub's once brilliant copper roof has oxidised over the years and it's now a dull, pastel green. Everything's getting older.
 A boring description of an everyday action. He steps into the street, slightly surprised by how light it still is, and gets into the car, his last moment of insular reflection resting on the now green roof of the pub. In his open and emotional frame of mind, it's a sign that although old and corroded, it's always been there for those customers inside, and it was there for him. A local that's always busy. A hideaway for crematorium escapees. One of our many immortal pubs.

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