Thursday, 31 December 2009

50. I'll Read You A Story, Colleen (2005)

Everything begins here.

April 2005, my first time in New York. Three months earlier, they were here, trying to make stitch and mend. Now I am here, after their knots of their marriage unravelled, trying not to think what we are patching together back home, trying to find my own place in the city. On Broadway, Alex and Welsh Dan are arguing in a clothes shop, and I know I have to get out. I need some time alone. I leave, turn off the busy, bustly sidewalk, wriggle through yellow cabs, pretzel vendors and soapy launderette vents, and weave past NYU. And then, quite by chance, I find the record shop I've been looking for for the past four days. The orange Other Music sign smiles at me from West 4th Street, and its dusty door welcomes me in like an old friend.

And the sounds that I heard as I do...I still struggle to put into words the effect they had on me. I knew I had never felt like this before. It was like I was walking into a dream, or a dense, lovely fog; a warm welcoming bath. Even though I could pinpoint why the music was doing this to me – it had the minimal beauty of Brian Eno's Ambient records about it for starters, especially 1/1 from Music For Airports; it also used the sound of a music box in such a heartbreaking way that it took me back instantly to my grandmother's bedroom in Swansea, and the chipped little girl in her jewellery box doing an endless pirouette among old pearls and bright gemstones – I knew there was something deeper going on here. It was like heaven speaking to me in-between the dusty jewel cases and recommendation labels, the light getting in through the crack in everything. Wide-eyed and slow-limbed, I remember asking someone behind the counter who this was, and he said "a French woman called Colleen", but the album was only on promo, and "wasn't out for two months". I remember the sadness rising in my chest when he said this, the next twenty minutes or so floating around the shop like a ghost, taking in every note of the rest of the record, feeling my mind and body dissipate. I'm still surprised I left on two feet of my own volition, rather than on the shoulders of the staff, or the back of one of my friends.

One week later, back in London, I was still carrying this song with me. I kept wondering what would have happened if I hadn't left Alex and Dan at that moment, walked in that particular direction, not looked up and saw the sign, walked into the shop right at that time. I was still thinking about it at work, opening our reviews post, chatting to Keith and Andrew – tear red tape, open jiffy bag, read press release, shelve sleeve – and didn't notice a cream and black case falling out of the envelope, the feel of jewel case in my hand, then the jolt, the eyes to my hands, the smack of realisation that it was there, there it was.

Colleen's The Golden Morning Breaks, sitting here in my hand, its cover a little girl with wings, being consoled by an unicorn. I have it here with me now, on the desk next to me as write, and the image on the front shouldn't work, but it does. There is something eerie about its composition that cuts through the sweetness, the same sinister sheen in its black, inky lines that ripples through the smallest details in Colleen's music.

I remember taking the album to Dan's the night that I got it, him falling in love with it too, and soon it becoming the soundtrack to that strange summer. The summer where Andrew and I became close in our little flat overlooking Lower Clapton Road; the summer where our Sunday club, The Light Programme, started to focus our lives; and the summer when we laid in one morning, him freelance, me part-time, Tim calling Dan's mobile three times before 10 o'clock, asking him what was wrong with the trains into town, could we turn the radio on, then the young man phoning in, his voice rising with panic, a bus roof exploding in Tavistock Square, us turning it off, thinking he was lying, then the pictures of the road outside my old flat in Edgware Road, quickly becoming a makeshift hospital and morgue, the panicked phonecalls and emails about where everyone was, Barry writing that his boss couldn't find her son, his DNA being found some months later between Kings Cross and Russell Square. Us all meeting, as friends, for drinks again and again over those peculiar days, trying to stay together, just because we could. Dan and I getting back together, keeping each other warm in his tiny flat in Stamford Hill, listening to Colleen to warm our cold bones.

So I haven chosen this track not because it offers a fanfare to finish the decade with a flourish, nor because it is a little-known curio, popped into this place for the sake of obscurity. It is, very simply, the track that I have loved the most from the album that has made me smile, soothed me, lifted me, comforted me, more than any other record in the last ten years. It gets to the heart of me, somehow. It's as though I can see my 21-year-old self in it, the girl with a sad soul starting the decade, and the way she has changed into this 31-year-old woman – the relationships she has had, the things she has done, the way she has grown. This is because of the melancholy in it, I know – moving and surging in huge, cresting waves – and the unbearable tensions before it breaks at 1.53 and 2.46. But there is also plenty of me in the hope it holds, too, the sunlight sparkling at its lovely edges, the magic that pours out of its every tiny movement.

And this song says much more about me, looking back, than if I just looked at my life in chronological form. I could have written a musical history of myself following the places in which I have lived (Edgware Road, 2000; Muswell Hill, 2000-2002; Dalston 2002-2003; Archway, 2003-2004; Hackney Wick, 2004, Clapton Square, 2004-2005; Green Lanes 2005-2006; Clapton Square, 2006-), or the boys I have gone out with (Richard, 2000; Barry, 2001-2004; Dan, 2004, 2005-2008, 2009-), or the various stages of my whirling dervish career (Masters degree, 2000, theology publishing 2000-2001; advertising sales, 2001; NHS secretary 2001-2002; charity worker, 2002-2003; reviews assistant/reviews editor at Word, 2003-2007; website editor, 2008, freelance jill-of-all-trades, 2008-). By themselves, the lists suggest stories too, great narratives hidden behind the peculiar transitions, but without the little details to accompany them they are only rough sketches – odd, disjointed chapters. With songs to give them shape, they become very different things.

And now, it is time to leave all of them behind, in words at least. It has just gone 6 o'clock on the last evening of the decade; I'll Read You A Story is playing again through my Mac speakers; Emily has just come in from the shops, and tonight we will drink cheap wine and eat scotch eggs with old friends as we see in the new year. Dan is coming round in an hour, and I'll put my party frock on in a bit. Still, it's funny to think for a moment about the girl I was ten years ago, sitting in the front room, crying on the phone to Steve, wondering how my life would change. I don't think she'd have believed that my grandfather would die two years later – the lovely, precious man; that her brother would get married and teach at their old school; that she would be lucky enough to end up writing about things that she liked for a living; that she would go through such crushingly low moments and such gloriously high ones; and that her love life would take on so many ridiculous tics, twists and turns.

But when I listen to Colleen, and hear its heavenliness taking me over, I can understand how I got through everything in one piece. After all, there have always been things around – like wonderful, life-changing songs – to help us all on our way. And as I listen to I'll Read You A Story putting its arms around me, rubbing its nose against mine, I can also understand how anything this lovely as my relationship with Dan could get through so much. It tells me that some things can get to you out of the blue and transport you completely; that something that began in the dust and the dirt of the past can survive ruptures and devastations; how the deepest scars can heal over; and how we can face our future together, as husband and wife, our eyes bright and alive.

Music has always been there to give me strength, give me support, give me solace. And in two weeks, after the new decade has made its mark, I will be moving out of here, and in with my boy, where I'll take the vinyl version of the Colleen album with me – something we're getting as a joint engagement present for our new record player. I look forward to setting the stylus on those warm, lovely grooves, letting this track take us into the times that lie ahead. As I do, I will also remember the times that have gone by, treasure their lessons, and keep my old songs singing.

Wednesday, 30 December 2009

49. Come With Me, Kathryn Williams and Neill Maccoll (2008)

Nearly there. Forty-nine down, one to go.

Back on November 11, sitting in a hotel room in New York, getting ready to interview the xx for the NME, looking out of the window onto a rainy Wednesday afternoon in Manhattan, I realised things had to change. I desperately wanted to write something about what the last decade meant to me genuinely, rather than putting songs into a list of statistics, and the idea for this blog started to crystallise quickly. But as it did, the next fifty days stretched ahead of me slyly, arching their eyebrows, telling me I wouldn't have enough stories to tell. Perhaps they were right too. The stories I've told are little slips of things after all, small glimpses into a life that I don't expect anyone to care about. But as they mean something to me, and we all have things that do, then perhaps that's why people have enjoyed dipping into them. Because when everything else disappears, all of us have songs that speak to us directly for some reason, however potent or pedestrian that reason might be.

Nevertheless, something strange has happened to me over Christmas. As this list has approached its final station, ringing its bell and preparing everyone to alight, more and more songs seem to be rearing their heads at me. Newly bold, lithe and lively, saying "Me, miss, me, miss", the memories they bring with them cresting a little too late, surging back like strong waves, knocking me clean over. I suppose I should have expected it. I hadn't plan this list of songs after all – and perhaps I should have, in retrospect. But I've liked like the way I've just let them come to me – at work, on the bus, on the way to see Grandma in hospital, behind a ranting old woman in the post office queue – asking me to add them to the electronic list on my sellotaped-together mobile phone, where I've looked at them regularly, wondering which one of them would blink at me at that particular moment, which one would seem right on that grey wintry day.

There are so many of them left, too. I wanted to write about the time I met Robert Plant in Nashville and what happened after that about the choir and my brother, but no single song from Raising Sand stuck in my head like a totem. I've also left out tons of fantastic pop songs that would easily make my top 50 of the decade (Kylie Minogue's Slow, Madonna's Hung Up, Destiny's Child's Survivor, Beyonce's Crazy In Love, Outkast's Hey Ya!, Kernkraft 400's Zombie Nation) and my list makes me sound much more sombre and weedy than I really am. I'm also surprised that some events in my life don't bring up many musical memories – the death of my much-loved grandfather, Con Jones, in January 2002, for example, in front of the TV, in his sleep, wearing fishing socks, or the weekend in 2003 when Grandma was gravely ill, Jon and I on our own in a coronary care ward in Swansea waiting for Mam and Dad's plane to bring them back from their holiday in Cyprus. But I've forgotten some songs that bring back huge memories too. Until today, for example, I'd forgotten about Midlake's Roscoe, and the heartbreaking loveliness of Low's California, a song that played in my head constantly when they tried to get back together, when he was thinking about heading back to "California, where it's warm".

But songs do this all the time. They creep up, they stretch an arm out, and wrap it lovingly around your shoulders when you're least expecting it. And although I've always known what my last song will be, I haven't been sure what to choose for the one that comes before it, as so many of them could sit here. So I'll go with my instincts. I wanted a song in this place to remind me of the whole decade gone by, and as her voice has carried me through the last ten years, Kathryn Williams stood out.

And this song takes me back to family. Jonathan – or Jon, as he prefers to known, just like me, the big sister who never enjoyed her "ith" – is the older of my two younger brothers, and the person introduced me to Kathryn's music. He was born nine pounds seven, red-faced, with a nose that stretched out all over his cheeks, on Guy Fawkes Day in 1982, the night that the fireworks shone their colours all over Ffordd Talfan, and Grandma put a hot dog in my coat pocket to keep it warm. Now he is 27, short and broad-bodied, his hair raven-black, his eyes doey and sleepy just like our late father's. We got on well enough, with the odd argument and fist-fight when we were growing up, but back in my early twenties and his late teens, I'd thought we were very different, especially when it came to our music tastes. I considered his much more Welsh than mine, all about choirs and great oratorios and his music degree, while me, an English-studying black sheep who had defected to the other country, skidaddled in bright pop and silly indie. I realised I was wrong when I went to his student digs in 2002 and saw three albums by Love – the '60s band I'd fallen in love with the previous summer – and realised I was being a snobby big sister. I asked him to lend me some stuff I might like, he lent me Old Low Light by Kathryn Williams, and that was that.

Kathryn's voice sang to me softly all through 2002, her delicate vocals showing how sharp someone could be when they were playing with subtlety. In 2004, her version of I Started A Joke swam through Dan's house in Bishop's Stortford when we were falling in love; in 2006, Leave To Remain sang through The Word office when times were tough, slowing my pulse and mopping my brow. In 2008, I went to Ullapool, the most north-western city in Scotland, to interview Kathryn as she toured the Highlands and islands with Neill Maccoll – Ewan's son and Kirsty's half-brother – about the wonderful album, Two, that they had made together. And as I watched Kathryn sing Come With Me in a tiny bar in the town, and I knew this was what all music was for – those special, cherished moments watching a musician win over a crowd, capture every heart, and raise all of them to their mouths.

That night, Kathryn and I stayed up 'til 3am, draining the honesty bar of gin and rum as mosquitos buzzed outside, putting the world to rights, setting a friendship alight. Later that year as I travelled through the north, trying to work out what to do about my fading relationship, she suggested I pop in if I passed through Newcastle, and so I did. We spent an afternoon in town, wandering through the Sage and drinking bitter in front of drunk cricket-lovers; making plasticine toys with her son, Louis, around the kitchen table; watching Arrested Development until Kath fell asleep, her husband Neil and I laughing as she snored along to the credits. It was one of those perfect days, when everything seemed right, and she begged me to take one of her paintings for Jon as I left. At his house just before Christmas, a few weeks after I saw Kathryn pregnant at Dingwalls, it was still there as well, next to the glossy wedding photos of Jon and his wife Kerry, as the tree lights blinked happily, and as the snow continued to fall. It sits there, blue and bright, there as a reminder of what music can do, and how it can make things come to life.

The music Kathryn makes, like the music of so many people, has taken me through the decade like a family friend. And whatever happens, I know it will stay there. As this decade ends, and as my last song starts to play, she will join the chorus in my head, helping to take me wherever I must go next.

Tuesday, 29 December 2009

48. Surf Song, James Yorkston (2004)

A rainy day in Anstruther, a quiet fishing village on the southern lip of Fife, a bag of vinegary chips on a car bonnet. It doesn't look like mid-summer, and the haar – the Scottish sea-mist – is rolling in forcefully, into our hair, onto our buttoned coats, onto our cold, white faces. James Yorkston is laughing between bites of warm potato, taking me on a little tour of the lovely seaside town where he comes from, to where he has just moved back, telling me not to tell his wife what he had for his dinner. Later, we'll nip to the pub and meet her, heavily pregnant and smiling like a Cheshire cat, at the end of an art fair in nearby Pittenweem, and I think this isn't the way that interviews are supposed to be, but I'm glad that it is – and also how lovely it is to find out that a person who wrote one of your favourite songs of the last ten years is a gentleman, a scholar and a sweetheart.

The first time I heard James Yorkston, I was with Scottish Jude. She had come down from Dunfermline with her red hair and her blue eyes, all shyness and silliness, breaking hearts without knowing it. At first, we were like two sharp-clawed kittens, and then we became friends, and then she moved into the Green Lanes flat I shared with Welsh Dan, on the corner of Clissold Park, full of glitterballs hanging off kitchen cupboards, empty bottles in the fruit box, and drying racks baubled with different coloured underwear.

I remember Jude's CDs tinkling through the kitchen, and James Yorkston's being my favourite, especially a track called Surf Song which shone out at me like a lamp from a lighthouse, bathing me in its beam. It was like all my favourite songs – simple and everyday, but full of tiny details that held a curious loveliness within them – beginning in the quiet corner of a quiet harbour bar, and a conversation between a boy and a girl getting to know each other.

"You told me of your life, and what had brought you here/And we watched the evening tide", he sings, the air alive and electric. Then the atmosphere grows gradually, builds to a fever. "You asked me of my past/And I told you all the truths/I kept hidden inside/What did I have to lose?" – those last six tiny words saying such huge things.

And then come the words that get me every time. "You said you would not hear/Of my life spent with some lady/Who cut deep in my heart/When you'd barely even scratched me" – then that pause – "but I smile and say it's early days."

We two Judes went to see James play soonafter, and at the end of the show I ran up to the stage, bolstered by a misty heart, wet eyes and many plastic pints of cider. I told him how great he'd been, adding for some reason or other that my friend was from Dunfermline which was, you know, quite near to where he was from. James thanked me politely but shyly, desperately trying to hide from a mad, drunken fan, I'd wager – especially because I'd also told him how I loved the lyric about the woman taking off all her clothes and diving into the sea, the photos he'd took of her, and how he joined her in the surf. Three years later, I didn't remind James of the time I'd embarrassed myself, but I did tell him how much I loved Surf Song, and he was happy to hear it. Away from the stage, and on comfortable home soil, he knew the message was meant.

And in the Guinness-fugged evening that followed I remember a friend of his telling me how good James' wife had been for him, how he had suffered sadness in his past, and how she had pushed him on. It made me think of Surf Song again, the way it described those moments in our lives when we know that everything is on the brink of sudden, massive change; how we are, out of nowhere, on the edge of a precipice; and how that realisation feels. When I left the next morning, James texted a lovely, sweet thank you for the interview, and I wished him and his wife luck for the birth of their baby, hoping that Surf Song was about the two of them.

A month later, my phone bleeped with a text telling me their baby had been born. The next April, I was back in Scotland to review the Homegame Festival, and there they were, his two girls, his little daughter gaga-ing happily as her dad played us a song on his banjo in Anstruther Town Hall, standing proudly before the cream buns and teacups, smiling broadly at her. It was a simple, perfect moment, and after the gig finished, I went back to the seafront, now bright and blue, and thought about what music can capture, and what it can do. I felt the haar rolling out as I did so, and the sun pouring in.

Monday, 28 December 2009

47. The Ocean, Richard Hawley (2005)

Oliver and I in the Scala, a warm night in September, a man with the lungs of a crooner but the tongue of a sailor, romancing us, cossetting us, shaking our bellies. The humour and sweetness of his songs and his banter showing how much they could move us, in such very different ways.

I first met Oliver in 2001 when he convinced the gullible, drunken me, at Barry's 25th birthday party, that he used to be in 911, but was sacked for being too tall and too fat. He was from Sheffield, and a year later he started going out with my friend Kathryn, one of the Liver Birds from E8, and we'd spend hours together as couples talking nonsense, watching talking heads nostalgia shows, dancing to Britpop on the carpet after too many drinks, and talking about music until our throats were rubbed raw. We made countless mix-CDs for each other, and Oliver and Kathryn also introduced me to Richard Hawley, especially Baby You're My Light, which memory tells me was their song together.

By 2004, things had changed. Kathryn and Oliver broke up a week after Barry and I did, and the great house swap experiment of that late winter began quickly after it. I left the flat I loved so dearly in Archway to head to Hackney Wick, sharing a double bed with Kathryn for a few months; Oliver heading west in a cab for four sofa cushions on my old living room floor, just as I headed east. We all survived those strange weeks, and it still makes me happy that our friendships have too, as time has spun on, and our relationships have changed – my on-off-on-off-on love-life with Dan finally reaching peace; Kathryn meeting Rupert, doing national tours of charity shop record collections in his driving instructor's car, and getting engaged to him this summer on a journey through Eastern Europe; Oliver getting together with Hyun-Sook a little later, marrying her in 2008, and their four-week-old daughter, Juno, having just had her first Christmas.

When I think of these friends, I still think of Richard Hawley, and The Ocean is my favourite song of his by far – so shamelessly romantic, so eye-wateringly lovely, that I can never resist it. It reminds me of that night in the Scala when Oliver and I stood in raptures, then getting into the aftershow party where Oliver asked Hawley for matches for his cigarette, and whether he loved Wednesday or United ("Wednesday, for fuck's sake", being Hawley's correct reply"); of my lovely holiday alone in Barcelona in late 2005, rambling us The Ramblas to the sounds of a very different city; and of the romance in his music in general that keeps glowing on, however our circumstances as friends of people have changed. More than anything, it reminds me that all this time was for us, and we loved each other just because.

Sunday, 27 December 2009

46. Bad Romance, Lady Gaga (2009)

Bad Romance took me back to the first time I heard Lady Gaga, and the way my skin itched, my nose twitched, my brow furrowed. After Katy Perry – all false eyelashes, '50s heels and towering disappointment – all I bloody needed was another brilliant-looking pop star letting me down, banging on about Warhol and disco sticks, falling out of nightclubs wearing sunglasses and knickers. Her songs jagging and blaring out of dodgy car radios reminding me that this wasn't my pop, that this wasn't for me.

And then Bad Romance beginning with that funny Mozart harpsichord flourish, announcing its queen. The imperial chant of rah-rah, roma-ma-mah, Gaga, ooh la lah. The hunger for ugly things, dirty things, for money, for love; the brash, theatrical confidence of a woman wanting to be strong, then desperately trying to hide how sad she could be. And then that incredible chorus, the yearning, all-together-now oh-oh-ohs, full-chested, huge-hearted, the vast melancholy and euphoria that the best pop brings together. Realising how wrong I could be. Watching her bowl over the X Factor dressed like a bat in a bath – feeling that this is what it must have been felt like watching Morrissey on Top Of The Pops, his NHS specs and his hearing aid, his charity shop shirt and gladioli, a weird individual being themselves – then feeling so proud when its so-called spoonfed viewers took her to number one, claimed this odd woman for their own. Knowing this was a song for the end of a decade when pop claimed me back, when the strangest things worked magically, and when anything seemed possible.

Saturday, 26 December 2009

45. The Singer, Teitur (2009)

Two-and-a-half hours north of London, white wings carrying us to the top of the world. Belt on, nose pressed to the window like a curious toddler, watching us slowly descend through the clouds. Sharp-edged islands appearing one by one, arching their spiny backs towards us, looking like no land I had ever seen before. Flying over the cliff, the light bright and long - nose up, nose down - the runway shining underneath us, the wheels touching the ground, the Faroe Islands pulling us in.

When I was young, I didn't care for geography much. When I studied it in school, I only enjoyed the lessons about frothing volcanoes and natural disasters rather than river erosion and glacial moraine – I was all for great physical dramas to match my flighty adolescent ones. But as I got older, I started to get itchy feet and look beyond my blinkers, find lovely things even in the most unlovely places. I also wanted to see new things rather than scoot from A to B, so I did. There were the holidays, obviously – the two weeks from Vancouver to Portland, exploring back streets and murky corners, old cinemas and traffic bridges, the waterfall at Snoqualmie and the ice around Mount Rainier; ten days in Western Andalucia with manzanilla sherry and deep-fried sea anemones, falling into Gibraltar for Steve and Liz's wedding, falling out of the pool at 5am with the boys in our underwear; our big trip to Japan and Korea for Oliver and Hyun-Sook's wedding, the typhoon we ran through and the earthquake we slept through, the temple gates and the bullet trains, the barbecues and the paejeons, the onsens and the ryokans, the national parks and the endless tall towers. Then there were the work trips abroad after my first revelation in Vancouver, my two days in Stockholm, and the weekend in New York with Fountains Of Wayne: an incredible weekend in the perfect tiny town of Denton, Texas with Midlake; Autumn in LA with Band Of Horses; Paris with M Ward and The Feeling. And then my two very different experiences in Germany – hopping around Munich with a posh little chap called James Blunt, playing to a crowd of 11 people in a dodgy industrial park. to watching Portishead blow everyone away in a radio theatre in Berlin, hearing We Carry On take us away on a tidal wave.

And then came the Faroes, and a press trip to see Teitur. I had loved him since early January, when the album cover for The Singer stood out in the pile of CDs on my sideboard. It looked old-fashioned, like the front of a strange curiosity shop, and so it was. I adored Teitur's voice, sweet and pure but slightly skewed, singing romantic, mournful songs alongside sad brass and rich cellos, especially on its title track, a heartbreakingly simple statement of intent. "I always had the voice, and now I am a singer", he began, just as I had always had these hands, and now I am a writer; just as I always had these feet, and now I am a traveller. The simplicity of that conversion, the magic that shone from it.

We spent four days in those magical islands, driving through villages full of houses with green, grassy rooves and brightly-painted wooden walls, the lakes bright blue and silent, the air so clean it made you gulp, gulp, gulp. Teitur playing host to us, cooking us horse mussels from deep under the sea, getting us drunk on Black Sheep beer and whisky, taking us to his studio where he kept strange organ stops, harmoniums and a key under the doormat, and then us joining him the G! Festival, watching him play as the sun set, the sea and the mountains glowing behind him.

Me standing there feeling so lucky to be taking in these sights and the sounds, and then hearing The Singer, a cappella, as he finished the set. Teitur's voice vulnerable, lovely and alone, just like the islands he was singing to.

Friday, 25 December 2009

44. In These Shoes, Kirsty MacColl (2000)

Christmas Day, watching the TV at Mam and Dad's, three weeks after Kentucky, so very far away. Away from my new grown-up life in London as well, no longer 22 and worldly but 12 in pink pyjamas, drinking tea on the settee, listening to Mam's kitchen chorus as I stared at the screen (switched on as always, just like the kettle peeking over the mugs and the teabags). The words on the television – Kirsty MacColl, 1959-2000 – still not looking, sounding or feeling right, a nasty mistake among the baubles and the tinsel and the soft focus smiles.

Fairytale Of New York had made me – and many other people – cry long before Kirsty died. It reminded me of Andrew, a fourth year chemistry student I'd met at university when I was an English fresher, a boy who had fallen off some stairs one night after a drunken college festival, threw up in my toilet, let me give him a new toothbrush, and then sat up and talked to me until the morning came. It wasn't an auspicious start to any whirlwind romance, but what followed was lovely. We went out for eighteen months that we thought would be forever, before I dumped him on a whim, and sat at Digbeth Coach Station in Birmingham on a cold, icy Sunday, listening to David Essex singing A Winter's Tale through the speakers, his voice no longer melancholy, but slyly accusatory.

That Christmas, I listened to Fairytale Of New York on repeat – one of Andrew's favourite songs – and its middle-eight took on new meaning as I tried to justify my actions. To my overly dramatic 20-year-old mind, Andrew had took my dreams with him when I first met him. He thought he'd taken them with him, put them with his own, and built his dreams around me.

Two years after Andrew and I had broken up, after a few ill-advised reconcilations in Midlands bedrooms and London pubs, I'd got to know Kirsty's voice better. I'd bought Electric Landlady on CD with some birthday money, and fallen in love with her warmth and her humour. I'd also heard a few songs from her new record, Tropical Brainstorm, and adored In These Shoes, the strummed harp as it started like a door swinging open. And I listened to its versus and choruses – so exquisite and elegant, so ballsy and wry – I imagined the spirit of Celia Cruz coming through the no-nonsense patter of a Croydon redhead. I loved it beyond measure.

After Kirsty died, I read about how much she had fell in love with the music of Cuba and Mexico, how it had fired her up, made her someone new. And earlier this month, I finally got round to reading the book her mother had written, Sun On The Water, which talked about her daughter's brilliant life, and urged us to remember it. The campaign for justice for Kirsty ended a few weeks later, but many of us will never ever forget her – and this is why, every Christmas, I look past Fairytale Of New York, past its huge, emotional swing and the memories it conjures, especially the memory of those strange days in 2000. Instead, I remember the woman with the sense of adventure, whose songs still make so many people feel strangely alive.