tremble clef

Monday, June 04, 2007

Beaumont, "Cross Country" (2000)

When Keith Girdler passed away about two weeks ago, the internet reaction was relatively muted. There were obituaries on Pitchfork and Idolator, and various blog mentions, sure. But in this age of what Richard Schickel, among others, called "false intimacy" -- when we imagine that we personally know celebrities though we've never met them, and are thus "deeply affected" by their deaths -- that counts as a deafening silence. (Compare: when Grant McLennan died in May 2006, it suddenly appeared that The Go-Betweens had all along been the secret favorite group of every mp3 blogger; Keith's death on the other hand didn't have a "Streets Of Your Town" to soundtrack it, I guess.) Of course, the few reactions that were registered still displayed what seemed like classic "false intimacy" symptoms: one blogger apparently "wept as [she] read the eulogy," which I suppose testifies either to how much Keith's music touched her; her fragile constitution; the prowess of the obituary writer; our culture of illusionary intimacy; or a combination of all of the above.

I'm not saying that I'm surprised by the silence, since Keith was a minor, or largely niche figure in music. Together with Paul Stewart, Keith was the nucleus of Blueboy, the English tweepop group on the cult (i.e., uncommercial) Sarah Records. Preceding Blueboy was Feverfew; succeeding it, Arabesque. I never knew those groups. But in 2000, I almost randomly bought an album, put out by the next incarnation of Paul Stewart and Keith Girdler, that I still love to this day: This Is...Beaumont.

The purchase wasn't entirely random: in the late 90s and early 00s, I went through a tweepop phase. There's a longer entry to be written about this, but for now, it would only be slightly reductionistic to say that the phase was largely sparked by Saint Etienne's Good Humor (1998) and The Cardigans' Life (1995) albums. I didn't know much about this Beaumont record (or group); I can't remember how I intuit that it contained the kind of swinging 60s music I was deeply digging. I imagine the album cover and packaging -- it might as well have come with a martini glass -- helped, or perhaps I persuaded Newbury Comics to test drive it for me. In any case, when I now think back on the 90s/00s, This Is...Beaumont is a record that I hold very dear in part for its general ability to encapsulate those five swinging years...

...but also more specifically, for: "Bacharach," with its faintly flamenco, or at least Spanish air. The gorgeous plucked-string opening of "Hey Barbara." The da-da-das of "Girlie." The funny line, "All my teachers told me/That girl and maths don't mix," from "Girl And Maths." The jaunty fairground rhythms of "Love Is...1968." The boy-girl vocal interplay -- Keith's dandyish voice, here as elsewhere, is a bit out of tune, but strangely endearing for that reason -- on "Aftershave," which on the chorus becomes mediated by a lovely guitar line. The way the opening chords of "His London" begins to move the last few tracks into darker, moodier territory. A mood that the closer, "Cross Country" -- all chiming guitars and melodramatic bombast that gets capped off by some tremendous backing female vocals, especially at its conclusion -- triumphantly carries to its logical conclusion. (You can get mp3s of "Hey Barbara" and "Girl And Maths" here, and you really should.)

Three years later, Beaumont released their second record, Tiara. I bought it with some excitement, but was disappointed by the short, eight-track album. It crossed the line into tinkly cocktail music, and was mostly instrumental; what singing there was was mostly by Cath Close, who had been a backing vocalist on the first album. 2005 brought No Time Like The Past, which suffered from very similar problems, although it did boast at least one lovely, intimate, almost-country number called "I've Tried." Again, Keith's voice was noticeably absent, and there wasn't much information on the interwebs about what was going on. I now know that Keith has been fighting cancer for the past few years, which no doubt accounts for why his contribution to the last two Beaumont albums has been limited to lyrics.

I can't therefore, in the end, speak of how Keith Girdler's entire oeuvre moved me. I caught only a glimpse of his music, let alone his life. But it was enough for me, and I hope for him, wherever he is. Thank you for This Is...Beaumont.


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