Sat in a ramshackle rental van, not even half-way up the UK’s y-axis, I locked onto a fixed point on the horizon of the A1 motorway and, in vain, tried to enter a period of hibernation. We were carting that flimsy metal chamber on a 1200 mile round-trip up and down the country, myself as a passenger/mule, to haul a load of furniture and boxes of junk into its carcass and relocate them to point A. Point B was Elgin, Scotland, a place that in my short stay presented itself as charmingly miserable. In that respect it was a home away from home, and that much meant that the closest thing to a reward came in the form of a bacon sandwich made for us by a lonely neighbour.
There wasn’t much that could have justified that agonising journey, the monotony of the grey asphalt and the grey skies and the grey hills numbing my senses til I began to consider that the rest of my life might be in black and white, but I think it was that gloom, that impenetrable and classically British washout, which helped me gain a real appreciation for a band called The Longcut.
I discovered The Longcut within the walls of an Editors fan forum, a place where I’d routinely seek out bands being posted by like-minded listeners. I was introduced to a lot of stuff this way, which is why I hold the now-deceased site in great reverence whilst my affection for Editors has all but dwindled. Were it not for that tiny forum, I might not have become acquainted with the Mancunian experimenters and their nosedive noisemaking. Curiously, at that time, I found it difficult describing why I liked what I did. I wasn’t entirely sure what it was about them that won me over, not until I started to play Open Hearts as we stone-faced men ambled up-country with only our own bad conversation as company.
Call it a happy accident born of circumstance, but there was a rich and satisfying dichotomy of the colourless mundanity of the repeating British landscape and the angst-laden backlash it fed. The engorged guitars, violent cymbal smashing and yelped vocals nearly void of melody seemed as distant from the surroundings as was imaginable, yet all those acrid tones were linking arms in direct defiance against it.
It was a significant combatant of all the sights I’d quickly grown to loathe, and it helped to while away the slowed passage of time, helped me to tune out and detach myself from the journey. To me, it was just an extended onslaught of noise. It challenged me and my formulaic listening habits, but it followed the rules enough for me to not be completely alienated. And I appreciated it a lot, in that bubble, but it never occurred to me to revisit the band afterwards. In my mind, they’d retired themselves as part of my library with that journey. There was no need to listen anymore.
I’ve since come to understand more about why we gelled. It isn’t just noise – well, it is, it’s demonstrably a catalogue of unrelenting and pulsing-with-adrenaline noise, but it’s the faults of man and the weight of regret compacted into muddy absolution. It’s the sighed resigned given a platform to be bold, each grizzled tremolo and each booming drum taking with them a morsel of burden as they plunge into the depths. And hidden underneath this unnavigable seaweed jungle and the wreckage of a ramshackle rental van, beyond the rampant anxiety and repetition that The Longcut build their music on, there are glimpses of modesty and humanity. On ‘A Tried And Tested Method‘ from 2006’s A Call and Response, the vocal melody is ostensibly one note, but the lines “My late confessions come through fear and alcohol” and “You said hard work would heal this rift I created” have remarkable staying power, and they’re certainly easy to miss, but you start to form this idea of how they operate, and why. You get the impression that the towers of sound are really just two-way mirrors for the members to stand behind.
So it was the pumping pistons and the magnetism of sheer clatter that grabbed my inquisitive attention, but the modest and covered messages that won my signature. They marry the two so well, and now that I’m able to take a step back and appreciate the fact, I don’t require the dismal British landscape as fodder (although I dare say it would still be superlatively fitting). These days, I’ll recall them through other means – every time I emit a sighed growl, muscle memory dictates that I lead into the bassline that sees in ‘Out At The Roots‘. I’ve even found myself associating the colour combination of black and red with the covert art for Open Hearts. And at this point, I think I’d even consider making that miserable trip once more, to experience again that sensation of release from Great British malaise.