Caught by the River

Trish Keenan – remembered by Bob Stanley

17th January 2011

A further tribute to Trish Keenan, who died from pneumonia complications on 14th January.

In the fifties Jo Stafford was famous for her incredible pitching and the purity of her voice. Purity and pitch aren’t words that get used too often when describing modern singers, but Trish Keenan had the purest voice of her generation. The first time I heard it, so warm and hypnotic, I was hooked. Broadcast, hands down, were my favourite group of the last fifteen years.

Like a lot of people, I’ve been thinking about Trish for most of the weekend. I’ve been thinking about her beautiful voice, and how incredibly generous she was with her time and her knowledge.

Anybody who heard Broadcast and thought of Trish as an ice maiden, or aloof, wasn’t really paying attention. On stage she was often lost in concentration under her mane of hair, but I remember her giving a right mouthful to some leery lads giving her shit when they played at the Garage. Another time at Koko, she quietly mumbled “umm, it’s my birthday today” between songs – everyone spontaneously sang “Happy birthday, dear Trish” and she grinned her face off.

I met Trish when me and Pete Wiggs were trying to sign Broadcast to a shortlived EMI label in 1995, and we went to see them play in Birmingham for the first time. They let us stay over, we went to the their favourite balti house, and the next day we went second hand record shopping. It seemed like there was a whole spooked electronica scene (Broadcast, Pram, Plone, Novak) based around a video shop in Moseley; at least one member of each group seemed to work there. We drank a lot of tea and listened to lots of records.

Trish and James put me onto so much over the years, sending me mini discs (possibly the only other people in Britain still using them) of Carl Orff, Basil Kirchin’s Abstractions Of The Industrial North, stuff I knew nothing about which blew my mind. Talking to Trish about Delia Derbyshire, she’d point out that Daphne Oram was the *really* important woman at the Radiophonic Workshop and stick on an early 60s EP of Oram’s music for primary school children to prove it. After sharing a love of the Czech folk fairy tale film Valerie And Her Week Of Wonders, out of the blue Trish sent me a video of Milos Forman’s Loves Of A Blonde. I don’t remember swapping being an issue, it was all one way; she was just very kind.

As attuned to pop and melody as she was to experimentalism, Trish wrote some beautiful lyrics: Come On Let’s Go is a declaration of romantic independence (“what’s the point in wasting time on people that we’ll never know?”); Tears In The Typing Pool is a small town, small romance break up song of terrible sadness (“The letters are sighing, the ink is still drying/I told you the truth and now I sigh too”); Before We Begin an inspiring manifesto of winking hope (“So here we are again, back to the beginning/So the salt will spill again, throw it over your shoulder”).

Trish and James were an amazing couple; working and living together, Broadcast was their lives and, shamefully, they seemed permanently hard-up. America understood them better and they played shows there that, relatively, were three or four times as big as ones they played in Britain. Marc Jacobs certainly loved Broadcast and provided Trish with a wardrobe of fineries – she might have had beans on toast for tea, but she was the best dressed girl in Birmingham.

It goes without saying that Trish’s passing is a terrible loss for music. She was also a truly beautiful person, one of the most open and friendly people I’ve ever met. It is heartbreaking. My thoughts are with James, Broadcast’s manager Martin, and Trish’s family.

Bob Stanley is a writer and a founder member of Saint Etienne.