Friday, 7th July, 2017.
I’m lying recumbent on the grass at Jodrell Bank, but I’m not here for astronomy. Instead, I’ve prepared myself for a different kind of stargazing – the goggling at rock heroes that is part of the joy of the music festival. The festival in question is Bluedot, combining music and science over three days in glorious summer.
I’ve made a timetable of all the acts I want to see during the festival. At the last minute, I made only one change to it. I decided that rather than seeing a bloke talk about chimpanzees, I’d prefer to watch someone called Meilyr Jones. This was mostly because of his nice Welsh name and because I’d heard his music described as “witty chamber pop”, which made me think of the Divine Comedy.
Now, to properly understand my situation, you have to realise that at this time I’m really into the Divine Comedy. All of my spare moments are taken up by watching YouTube clips of Neil Hannon covering songs. I have a Divine Comedy tank top, which I wear proudly despite it being possible to fit another person in at the same time. I’m into them like Winnie-the-Pooh is into honey. Dad is less keen, because Neil Hannon’s flippancy annoys him.
So it is that, snobbishly convinced that none of the other bands are as good as the Divine Comedy but still willing to try new things, I’ve prepared to watch someone who I think might at least make a passable tribute act. He had better not be too bad. I’m missing a talk on chimps for this.
And then on shambles the most ridiculously gangling man I’ve ever seen in my life, draped in what looks like a robe fashioned from a 1970s curtain, beaming like a child. I’m sold.
The music starts. It’s not chamber pop – for the purposes of this festival, Meilyr has a traditional rock setup – but it is fantastic. Meilyr is so entrancing that when he sings about God being a bee and a tree, turning from Lord Byron into Joyce Kilmer, I don’t laugh. In between songs, he’s soft-spoken and slightly eccentric, a cross between Jarvis Cocker and a bashful schoolboy. “This one’s called ‘Experimental Music’, so it might sound a bit weird to the ears of people from Earth,” he warns us, before washes of psychedelia ring out and Meilyr yelps the title, doing mesmerisingly strange dancing.
It’s time to go now. I have to watch a talk on how to write science fiction, but Meilyr has one last thing to say to us. “In the interests of amateurism, I’ll be selling CDs down at the front.”
Oh. I’m not going yet, then. Instead, I stand in the queue as Meilyr is deep in conversation with a couple of fans, brushing off Mum’s warnings that we’ll miss the talk. Finally, I get to the front, clutching a tenner in my hand. Luckily, that’s just the amount his album costs. I thank him and he smiles at me.
Oh, and the talk on writing? It’s all right, but I’d rather have continued talking to Meilyr.
The rest of Bluedot is wonderful. I get obliterated by the noise of the Pixies; I do my special rave to Orbital; I stand around to alt-J. But, every night, when I go back to my tent, I make sure that the album is still there. It is called 2013, and I read the handwritten liner notes again and again. I put 2013 on as soon as we get home, hoping and hoping that it will be half as good as his live performance. Dad thinks the live performance was “nice” but not much else.
The first track starts. There’s Motown rhythms, there’s brass, there’s the euphoric sincerity of Meilyr’s voice. I’m instantly hit with the same feeling that I used to get from the Divine Comedy, but better. I’ve just had an epiphany, and I didn’t know music could still do that to me. I look at Dad, whose mouth isn’t actually hanging open in shock but might as well be.
I say “this is like the Divine Comedy.”
He says “this is better than the Divine Comedy.”
He gets it as well.
The album doesn’t flag for a second. I mentioned before that I was into the Divine Comedy like Winnie-the-Pooh was into honey. Well, imagine what it would be like if somebody introduced Winnie-the-Pooh to, for example, Pringles.
After I listen to 2013 and eventually recover from its beauty, I set out obsessively Googling as many interviews with mellifluous Meilyr I can find. I seek out his favourite albums – Rubber Soul and Forever Changes. I’m keener on the sighing harmonies and winsome flutterings of Rubber Soul, although that’s probably because I spend a good portion of Forever Changes waiting for the line about snot to come along.
I return to presenting shows on the local radio station with a renewed purpose, plugging 2013 as much as I possibly can. A shame, I think, that I can’t get it to a larger audience.
And then, one day, I do.
I can hardly believe my luck. I’m sitting on the couch, speaking on the phone to my broadcasting hero, Stuart Maconie. The conversation is live on BBC Radio 6 Music. They’ve chosen my request for Meilyr Jones as the next song on their feature “The Chain”.
Beneath all the joy, a part of me is thinking how good it is that music can still be as fantastic as this. People claim that music was better in the past, but there will always be musicians like Meilyr to bring delight into our lives and moments as life-changing as that time Morrissey and his gladioli turned up on Top of the Pops. They can even allow me to talk to Stuart Maconie. We may have to have a thousand middling singer-songwriters for just one as good as that, but it’s worth it. Of course it is.