Thursday, 23 November 2017
Bridge Of Sighs - Robin Trower
Naturally I booted up the PC, opened Napster (the repository of all music back then, kids) and found a file called something like 'xXx2_Rolling_Stoned_0105xXx'. I knew that, unless it had been mislabelled or was just a bunch of white noise, if I left the download going overnight in a mere eight or nine hours I'd be listening to my first Robin Trower track.
To breakfast next morning, and I was in luck! Not only did the song match the title, but I had the whole thing bar the last twenty seconds. I could rule this a success. What a tune, too. Funky, soulful and spacey all at once; I spent no time delaying my trip to the local HMV.
Review: This is another collection I don't need to listen to in order to write about it, but will do so for the sheer pleasure of it.
Over the years, I've come to regard Bridge Of Sighs as a top ten all time album. There's simply nothing bad or even mediocre about it, at all. I've heard a lot of idiots talk shit about Trower being too derivative or a poor Hendrix imitation, and whilst the latter's influence is undoubtedly the most obvious in his playing, Trower is a sublime craftsman in his own right. You can call his style bluesy but he never seems to fall back on the hackey cliches of the more prosaic blooz-rockers. You could say he was stoner rock before the genre had been properly pinned down, but Bridge Of Sighs is neither lumpen nor plodding. The moods conjured up sometimes hint at space rock, but where Hawkwind clatter into deep space on the whoosh of their thrusters, Trower glides along on the Sea of Serenity.
If I could play guitar like one individual on this planet, it would be Robin Trower.
The difficulty I have with Robin Trower, and Bridge Of Sighs specifically, is that after I listen to it much else seems so prosaic, shackled to the earth, never able nor destined to take flight. The sheer ability to impose his will so fully upon his chosen instrument and coax all those weeping, howling, swirling sounds out of it is mystifying. Little tops the excitement I still feel when the first staccato notes of 'Day Of The Eagle' explode out of the speaker; to have that followed up by the stately, mournful title track is so indulgent as to be the aural equivalent of a lemon cheesecake, topped by a Black Forest gateau, topped with ice cream.
One aspect of his sound is that, although the guitars can seem thick or even sludgy, in fact what they play is almost always fragmentary, or at most arpeggiated. It's as if each song is a mosaic that Trower assembles from shards of electric guitar. Couple this approach to his signature style, namely masterful sustain and fluid legato picking, feed it all through some trippy effects and you have a the fundaments of a very singular sound that, when wrapped around the songs, can be a thing of wonder. I should also add that Trower's vocalist (and bassist) at the time, the late James Dewar, was one of rock's most underrated white soul voices. His performance on 'About To Begin' prickles the hairs on your skin.
I'm not going to talk about individual tracks too much here. Bridge Of Sighs is sensational and should be listened to front to back, but as that's less fashionable these days, here's one of the many, many highlights:
I count myself lucky to have seen Trower a few times live. The first of these was in Exeter with my then-girlfriend at the time, Sarah - or rather, then ex-girlfriend, as we had broken up not long beforehand due to my terrible behaviour. Nevertheless, I had tickets and for reasons that still remain a mystery, Sarah consented to go with me. Not only was Trower magical but Sarah also took me back that evening (which I absolutely didn't deserve), and we would spend the rest of university and some time beyond together.
We've since gone separate ways but I still remember Sarah with great fondness. She's a brilliant person, with a cool yoga business, and not only gives classes in the Bath area but also organises retreats in some fabulous locations. As someone who has never tried yoga I can't comment on Sarah as an instructor, but the tolerance and forbearance required to put up with me for such a long time bespeaks someone with the patience of a saint. In any case, it's something Sarah has an enduring passion for, so I am adamantine in my certainty that she's ace.
We all graft our own stories and meanings to the things in life that affect us in a profound way - be it music, literature, places or people - and so it goes with this. The wistful, foreboding, luminous, beautiful Bridge Of Sighs has for me become inextricably bound to my time with Sarah. I wouldn't wish it any other way.