Shimura Curves

Monday, July 29, 2013

Poison Tree

Lead Vocals: Kate St.Claire
Harmony Vocals: Lisa Payne
Analogue Synth: Frances May Morgan
Bellzouki: Ed Lynch-Bell
Electric Guitar and Everything Else: Kate St.Claire

Download on SoundCloud. The track is free, but if you like it please consider donating something here.

Another song rescued from the box of stuff from the early 90s. This one might be even earlier, now that I think about it. The guitar riff at the centre of the song was taken from a much earlier track I wrote for a band called Clair - named after the My Bloody Valentine song - who accidentally gave me the surname I'd use for the next 20 years. (I was introduced to someone as "Kate from Clair," they misheard it as "Kate Sinclair" and it just stuck. Though it didn't hurt that St. Claire was the patron saint of television, due to her habit of appearing in people's visions at a great distance.)

I suppose I should have seen it coming, that I decided to revive this song of all songs. Honestly, I just liked the monster riff, and the nursery rhyme logic of the lyrics, a revenge fantasy spun out from two lines of the eponymous William Blake poem, full of glass coffins and poison apples and murderous mirrors and cursed spinning wheels. It's not actually based on any one specific frenemy, just a bunch of emotions hitched together. I had spent my late teens completely overshadowed by a series of older, cooler, and most crucially prettier best friends, I always felt like the fat, ugly kid sister perpetually in someone else's shadow. But the one thing that I always had, was that I was cleverer. I was good with words, with a particular talent for cutting remarks. I always wanted this song to sound like Hole, but I couldn't muster the sneer, I manage only childish petulance for the killing "everybody loves you when you're dead" taunt. I mean, that was the whole point, that jealous Kenneth Halliwell complaint, "you even die better than me."

It's funny; when you're a songwriter, sometimes you don't have a clue what songs are about as you're writing them. That's the impossible thing to explain to someone who is not a songwriter - you almost never write songs as a conscious act of will. The songs are out there, you just write them down, and they don't always make their meaning known to you as you're writing them. Often it's only in retrospect that the meaning pops suddenly into focus, in a way that makes them seem almost prophetic, like your subconscious mind realised that something was coming well before you did. Several times, I've written what I didn't realise was actually a break-up song, weeks before the breakup that I didn't see coming, and I thought had completely blindsided me.

So in a way, I think that reviving this song was one of those messages from my subconscious. I chose this song for Anna to sing, because we'd talked about fairytale symbolism in the work of A.S. Byatt, the Djinn In The Nightingale's Eye and the like. And a few weeks later, an explosive knot of sexual politics detonated between us, ultimately fatally fracturing the band. The details are unimportant at this point, but the emotions were that familiar ugly tangle that I thought I'd exorcised with this song. It doesn't matter how clever you are, how talented you are, how much fucking hard work you put in. No one will ever decide that they want you. Men will always choose the younger, smaller, cuter, prettier one. You will never not be the ugly sister. There is no fairy godmother, there is no glass slipper for you to even things out. You will never win the prince. Even your friends will eventually take her side when your bitterness and envy makes you too un-fun to be around. Most people will be happier without you in their lives. And you will be left alone with your revenge fantasies, and nothing else except an elegant put-down and a killer guitar riff.

I wish there were a happy ending to this song. (Kinda like I wish there'd been a happy ending for this album, but this is all I get.) I do still love the music, though, the whirls as Frances' manic Korg riff bobs up and down like a possessed spinning wheel. And Ed, long-time house-mate, fan and eventually roadie, had joined the band on rhythm guitar by this point to take some of the pressure off me (though I swear he grew a beard soon after, to prevent him being mistaken for another girl, with his waist-length blond hair.) This last incarnation of the band - me, Ed, Frances and the eminently organised and refreshingly professional Lisa - though short-lived and not particularly popular with promoters or punters (woe betide the twee club that booked us, expecting pretty dresses and fingersnaps, and got blown away by Hawkwind covers and band members in Aphex Twin t-shirts) was actually the most enjoyable for me, as everyone actually took on a more equitable share of work.