And the wheat fields explode into gold
A love letter to the lyrics of Kindling by Elbow
“Had a circular saw blade where I should have had a heart.
I was trusted, I adored her and I tore it all apart”
A little shambling, bumbling, gentle and apologetic love song that soars and explodes into a flaming fireball of a sunset before quietly shuffling off into a warm distance with a contented smile on its face.
It’s my kind of love song because it’s a song about the inexplicable connection between old love lost and new love found.
It’s a twenty-first century poem, where every line is a perfectly drawn Instagram snapshot. Every line is a finger swipe through a gallery of quiet, no filter regrets and yearning.
“Twin moons on a millpond, from a tumbledown barn
I can still taste the heat of the sun on her skin in my arms”
Guy Garvey is the poet laureate for my generation. His soft Mancunian burr speaks for my people. We are the thoughtful men that have been around and have messed up. The middle aged men who have lost precious things because we were too wrapped up in something to see the perfection of the love that loved us exactly as we were.
As the scribes of a Longing Look have pointed out before, Garvey’s lyrics are some of the very few that stand up as poetry — not just line by line — but as a whole, and Kindling is right up there with his finest.
There’s no verse chorus verse chorus verse chorus, it just introduces a flawed protagonist, sets a vivid scene and tumbles out a joyful resolution in little more than a dozen lines.
The song plays a beautiful trick, with a clear beginning and a very clear end, but who are the lines in the middle for? The love lost or the love found?
“ I could fold to the cold of these January streets
But your smile in the half-light was pure pillow print cheek”
It’s not clear and it doesn’t matter if these middle lines are for his old love or new, or if they’re just speaking to that muddled part of your heart where all love lives. Or is that just the perfect way to describe the indescribable feeling of ‘if I hadn’t lost her I’d never have found you’?
The song is like one long smudge that blurs a heart-broken past through fond memories and into a new, love-soaked, present. The song seamlessly transitions like one of those montages of photographs — from then to now — a slideshow of how we got to here.
Kindling has loud echoes of two of Elbow’s other masterpieces —The Take Off and Landing of Everything (which is the stuff of fitful dreams, full of disjointed glimpses of incoherent things that have no place together in a woken mind), and Scattered Black and Whites where Garvey throws around much clearer images of childhood as if he’s shuffling through old Kodak prints.
It’s his deep pleasure to retreat back into fond memories and admits that “I come back here from time to time. I shelter here some days.”
I love the idea of taking occasional shelter in the forgotten feelings of old photographs, and the smell and sounds they bring flooding back.
“Been climbing trees, I’ve skinned my knees, my hands are black, the sun is going down….and my sister buzzes through the room leaving perfume in the air…. and that’s what triggered this.”
Kindling swims into this warm theme too. We’ve all ridden this packed train he’s riding (“Fifty souls to a carriage, I’m trying hard to be ignored”) headphones on, lost in idle thoughts and quiet reverie as the countryside and cityscapes stream past. There’s no wifi and no 3G so we’re flicking through old pictures on our phones.
Then suddenly the train rushes through a pocket of coverage, no signal climbs to four full bars and….
“Then my telephone shakes into life and I see your name
And the wheat fields explode into gold either side of the train”
And that’s the whole point of the song in two perfect lines. The melody and his voice soar at the simple sight of her name, painting the perfect picture of that feeling of bursting out of tunnel into blinding sunlight. Waking from a dream and remembering instantly that you are loved and in love, and what better feeling is there than that?
What’s done is done and what’s lost is lost, but the past doesn’t matter now, because all that shit brought us here to this present, and the present is perfect.
Kindling is the last song on their latest album and it’s the perfect coda to a collection of songs of new beginnings after strife. Like most of my favourite songs (and certainly the ones I’ve written about for A Longing Look), it’s a redemption song. Garvey is, like me, a man in his forties trying to make sense of the paths of his life and Kindling speaks to me directly, where I am right now. I was trusted, I adored her, but I blew it all apart.
I know this so well, but even better, I know the soaring, smiling, joyful feeling when my telephone shakes into life and I see her name….
“And the wheat fields explode into gold either side of the train
And the wheat fields explode into gold”
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