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Sheffield Does 69 Love Songs

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Ellen Jewett

It was a friend called David Davidson, so good they named him twice, who introduced me to 69 Love Songs by The Magnetic Fields.

It was the long summer after our A-levels. The bike that I'd inherited from my aunt had just been stolen and I had nothing to do but plod about town for hours looking for excuses. Walkman in hand and empty-hearted, this album made all that plodding worthwhile.

69 songs to devour. Not love songs exactly, just songs about love. But with titles like 'How Fucking Romantic' and opening lines like "A pretty girl is like a violent crime", you knew straight away there was something more going on than your standard pop fare.

If you're a lyric fan, you're in heaven

The album was released in 1999, conceived in a Manhattan gay piano bar by songwriter Stephin Merritt as a writing challenge and a way of "introducing himself to the world". It started out as a tribute to composers Stephen Sondheim and Charles Ives, but soon became an encyclopaedic homage to love songs through the years. It embraces a rich panoply of musical styles, from country and jazz to synth-pop and baroque, featuring surreal, artful songs like 'Experimental Music Love' and sweeping ballroom ballads like 'Busby Berkeley Dreams'.

If you're a music fan you're spoilt, but if you're a lyric fan you're in heaven. These are some of the most sardonic yet sweet, funny yet moving lyrics you're ever likely to hear. These songs look at love from all angles and, for once, all people. Heterosexual, homosexual and bisexual points of view are covered, which remains a sad rarity even in these apparently enlightened times.

Over broken hearts, rejections and 'Chicken With Its Head Cut Off' obsessions, this album has consistently been by my side. Full blast on my car stereo as I raced up and down the M1 was 'The Luckiest Guy On The Lower East Side'. The focus of the songs changed but my love remained.

Like in a favourite novel, there's always something new to discover: a particular turn of phrase, a melody, an unusual electronic sound. It's an album that grows with you, a journal through your romantic endeavours. The sometimes cynical tone makes you reflect not just on the love song genre and its appalling clichés, but equally your own relationships and the hopeful ones you dream about. Once discovered, it stays with you like bicycles never will. It's an album that's very close to mine and many other hearts.

That's why I recently decided I want to cover all 69 songs in one day, showcasing the sheer audacity, inventiveness and splendour of an album that is, without hyperbole, one of the greatest ever made. Fortunately, musicians from as far as Spain and Wakefield are rocking into Sheffield to make this possible.

The event is also raising awareness and much-needed funds for local charity the Snowdrop Project, which supports survivors of human trafficking. It's a real honour to bring attention to the brilliant work they do.

So on 16 February, come and show your support as we embark on this ambitious and somewhat mad project. The album deserves and demands no less. Come and share the love.

Stan Skinny

Sheffield Does 69 Love Songs takes place at DINA on 16 February, 2-9pm, with proceeds to the Snowdrop Project.

snowdropproject.co.uk

Soundwaves

Music News - February 2019

Hope Works have announced a new roster of residents for 2019, lead by rRoxymore. Rian Treanor and Timedance's Batu also join long-standing dons Lo Shea and Chris Duckenfield, alongside Ifeoluwa and CPU star 96 Back.

The space formerly known as The Audacious Art Experiment is to reopen on 2 February as Hatch. The Harwood Street venue for DIY and experimental music will host an eclectic mix of club nights and gigs in its debut month, including a launch party featuring Gum Takes Tooth and Acid Mass.

Former member of Cabaret Voltaire Chris Watson has received an honorary doctorate in music from the University of Sheffield. Since the band split he has worked as a wildlife sound recordist for the BBC and has released acclaimed soundscape albums for Touch Music.

Now Then was saddened to hear of the recent death of Rob O'Shea of Manifesto Events. Rob was a stalwart of the live music scene, putting on hundred of shows. A sad loss for the city and for live music in Sheffield.

Next article in issue 131

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