Song of the Month: Memphis in June by Nina Simone, 1961
My most enjoyable live music experiences have tended to be at gigs where I can jump about ludicrously by the front of the stage alongside a load of fellow ‘dancers’. For some reason I’ve often found getting exhaustedly drenched with sweat and overpriced plastic-beakered lager, having my shoes written off from stamping feet and having my face periodically elbowed from others’ animated limbs to be a thoroughly enjoyable experience. However, as I approach 40 I’ve been receiving signs making me wonder if I’m not getting too old for it all, most recently after seeing garage-psych-punk-rock titans Thee Oh Sees in London with my old friend Jonny Voss.
Jonny has always been partial to the delights of a good mosh-pit and has been a long-standing connoisseur of the Thrash, Death and Speed Metal music genres. He’s also by far the most athletic, energetic person I’ve ever known: as a teenager he used to think nothing of swimming a few hundred lengths before a couple of hours cycling in the morning to warm himself up for an afternoon of further strenuous physical activities. Even now as a parent of two young children, he seems to have brain cells that actually still work after the continuous sleep deprivation. What better companion for such a high-energy concert?
Alas, while I was getting knocked about among the barrage of animated bodies near the front of the stage he spent the whole time stood still against a wall saying afterwards he was “too old for all of that.”
When The Bionic Man tells you something like this, the writing seems unavoidably on the wall for mere mortals like me.
Thankfully, one doesn’t always have to be jumping around to receive transcendent live music experiences. Seeing Nina Simone at the Royal Festival Hall a few years ago was a much less energetic affair, and was one of the best things I’ve ever seen. After each song she got up from the piano and stared at us all from the front of the stage, stock still and with a completely blank expression. It was both magnificent and bizarre.
‘Memphis in June’ is from by far the best album I’ve heard of hers although curiously none of the songs on it seem to ever make the greatest hits compilations. Whether the song’s description of sitting in rocking chairs on Oleander-smelling verandas in Memphis is a similar experience to eyeing up the traffic from a doorstep in Ditchling Road, I wouldn’t like to say. If you’ve got Nina going on in the background though, I’d say that’s probably good enough.
(P.S. Jonny’s suggestion for Song of the Month is Back at the Funny Farm by Motorhead which is a “lovely little ditty” apparently),