This piece should probably begin by saying something along the lines of “The debut album by Turin Brakes and the one that started my love affair with their music”. It should start like that, but it doesn’t. As much as I am a massive fan of the band, I cannot actually say for certain how my story with them begins. I do know it wasn’t with The Optimist LP though. I think that came later.
Back in 2001 when the album was released I was heavily involved with The Bluetones amongst others, although I would have always been looking for the next thing to spark my interest. I must’ve heard some Brakes songs that year though as I remember going to see David Gray at Earls Court in late 2002 and they were the support act. I recognised the songs and totally loved it so they had definitely made it into my conscious at some point.
I can also remember making a complication tape for an old mate who wanted to impress the people she worked with. She asked me to make something for her as she didn’t have many albums of her own. I put Underdog on it and the report back from her was “You included Turin Brakes which makes you pretty damn cool”. So basically I was cool because of them.
I have always been a fan of acoustic music so I suppose the whole ‘new acoustic movement’ or whatever it was called should have appealed to me at the time. I think it did as it mentions bands like Keane and Starsailor who I was also listening to back then. I don’t necessarily think what these bands were doing was something new though, it was probably just that no-one was that aware of it.
The music itself is something that speaks to me on a whole other level. The emotive lyrics, the brilliance of Gale’s guitar and Olly’s voice is one of the most amazing things I’ve ever heard. So beautiful, yet powerful when required, it’s something I don’t think I could live without now.
So, back to me being cool then. Seeing the Brakes support David Gray spurred my interest in them and when they released Ether Song in 2003 I was in total awe. It is my favourite album of theirs and the one that I always have to hand. But what about The Optimist LP? Well here’s the thing. I am not entirely sure when I bought it or where from as I simply cannot remember. It’s interesting that I liked a few of the songs on the album, but didn’t own it though. I know I didn’t get it when it was first released so it had to have been bought when I was getting their back catalogue. I’m sure you all do exactly the same thing. You find a band you like and then go off and invest in the albums they have produced before. It’s a natural step and I’m pretty sure this is what I would have done.
Ether Song has remained a constant in my music listening life since its release and one day soon I will write a full review of that album, but not quite yet. It has been my loyal travelling companion and when Blue Hour starts it always brings me back to the regular train journeys from London to Liverpool I made when I was in my twenties. The build-up in the opening to that song always reminds me of the train on the tracks leaving Euston and the recognition that I had a couple of hours before I got to my final destination.
My love for the band and their music was very much cemented after Ether Song and I looked forward to their next venture when Jackinabox came out in 2005. Another beautiful album, with a slightly different sound, but then that’s one of the draws for me to this band. The fearlessness in being prepared to try something new and thus grow as artists. Some bands stick to the tried and tested formula, especially if they have had a massive hit with their previous album. It takes guts and also confidence in your own abilities to mix it up and be prepared to learn as you go and these boys certainly have that.
I didn’t spend enough time with Jackinabox back then for many reasons, but I have since gone back to it and discovered the hidden beauty it holds. The same can be said for the next few releases Dark On Fire, Outbursts and We Were Here. As much as I never went away from supporting and following the band, I think sometimes life takes over and you end up letting things slide. They have always been there as constant companions in my life, but at times I have not given them my full attention. And for this I am disappointed in myself.
Over the last few years though, I have upped my game and my dedication is evident and back to the way I was when Ether Song was released. My friends get bored of me always talking about them, wearing the t-shirt to work and defending them to the highest degree when I repeatedly have to listen to my mate Adam say “They were ok, but they only had one song”. Education, education, education.
So, why tell my Optimist story now? Well, studio album number 7 is due to be released on 29 January and I wanted to write something to mark the occasion. I haven’t had the pleasure of hearing Lost Property in its entirety yet so I chose to tell my story of how the Brakes first came to my attention instead. Reports are looking very pleasing for the new album so far with it gaining many positive reviews both in magazines and on the radio. I have seen the old ‘return to form’ comment a couple of times though which leaves me a tad quizzical, but hey, I’m sure the best intentions are behind it. Overall I am left with a very good feeling that this could be the beginning of great things again for the Balham boys.
And what about me? I’m off to see them twice in 2 days on the tour which starts in February and I am more than excited about it. I also hope to be able to meet up with some other fans at the gigs including Stefan who runs the marvellous Ether Site. One of my copies of The Optimist LP sits in the pile of CD’s that I play on a regular basis and it’s also on my iPod which never leaves my sight. I may not have been there at the very beginning, but I’m more than with them now. After all these years I think I think I can safely say they will definitely keep me around for a long time yet to come.