I’ve just returned from a long trip to Asia for work, which led to a lot of airport and flight time during which I listened to a pile of old audio recordings of interviews. It was a fascinating process: you have on the one side a lot of reminders of what Paddy loves in terms of influences and approaches and projects he is working on, and that warm spring of enthusiasm crashing into the increasing densely packed rocks of the abandoned projects forming obstacles to anything at all being completed. Nothing but spray and mist comes through now, but it wasn’t always like that.
So you can sit yourself in 1988 and listen to the idea that “Protest Songs” might be released, and only half believe it because of what you know now about the impossibility of ever hearing “Zero Attention Span”.
In particular I found myself more and more composing imaginary letters to Paddy to make suggestions for projects I felt he might enjoy bringing to completion. “You don’t know me, but…”. Most of these continued to explain that although I was a big fan, I wasn’t your typical fan obsessive, and usually as I mentally completed this paragraph which was a long and difficult one, and not altogether convincing even to myself, I’d drop off to sleep.
But occasionally I’d get past that. In fact my pet project is to try and persuade Bella Union to ask their roster to record songs from “Total Snow”, maybe with one song by Paddy. I can’t imagine anything more perfect. Bella Union is THE home for the eclectic talented iconoclast, run as it is as an old fashioned record label by the wonderfully enthusiastic Simon Raymonde. He lives near to me and I very occasionally bump into him at gigs, most recently at Arc Iris at the Great Escape in Brighton (I urge everyone to see Arc Iris too, an astoundingly melodic proposition and great live, you get no sense of how great from the album however excellent it is). So I could even suggest it.
In fact I’d love Bella Union to sign Paddy. I see this almost as a classic RomCom where two single characters never quite see how perfectly they are made for the other, until adversity drives them together.
Anyway you get to that stage in the thought process, and you wonder how you would suggest it and what would happen. And hence the imaginary letter continues into a “Why don’t you consider…” section. And as the idea becomes real, you do start considering the practicalities, and whether or not to commit to pen and ink and send it.
But the answer I came to was always a resounding “no!”. Because you know deep down that propagating the idea through the layers of management and minders to Paddy and getting a positive response would be impossible, however good the idea was. And there’s the chicken and egg: to get funding there has to be a solid proposition. To get to a solid proposition there has to be funding. The big negative around “Crimson/Red” was for me that Paddy produced the record under duress, and it would be an impossibility to impose a deadline now, he simply wouldn’t agree. That ship has sailed.
You can then of course follow up the imaginary letter with the imaginary rejection letter: “Paddy thanks you for your interest in what he does, but is currently working on several exciting projects that don’t leave him time to consider other things”. And perhaps an interview in a couple of years: “Yeah… someone contacted me to suggest a version of Total Snow… but I was doing other things and you know? I’ll be completely honest with you. The truth is… <pauses> I was much more interested in the project I was working on, it’s called “Didactic Ineffability”, it’s an unusual piece but a long way from traditional pop song structures, than I would be to go back and work over things from so long ago. You have to remember I wrote Total Snow 30 years ago. But I’d love to return to it, I haven’t given up on it, one day I’ll maybe do something with some of it, yeah. Sorry, what was your question?”.
The behavioural patterns, in summary, are so well set that they can be anticipated completely. It’s like a set of well meshing gears in an antique machine with a little brass handle that is satisfying to turn and has a small local effect, but is ultimately divorced from the modern world of actual outcomes.
But let’s not give up hope. Let’s lobby Bella Union. Let’s have a hashtag campaign and an online petition. Maybe one day we’ll get Fleet Foxes singing “Madman on the Roof”. I’ve heard the song incidentally, I can’t tell you how but it’s not from the band and I don’t have and will never have a copy, but it’s absolutely perfect. And maybe I will eventually write that letter