April Book of the Month is Jude Rogers’ ‘The Sound of Being Human’ — an exploration of why music plays such a deep-rooted role in our lives, from before we are born to our last days. Read an edited extract below.
In late 2016, my family of three had moved out of London into the countryside of the Welsh borders. I’d fallen in love with this part of the country a decade before, going to the early Green Man festivals, watching the Black Mountains suddenly appearing on the horizon from the car, seductive in their sublimity. It was a peaceful but dramatic part of the country, its quietness only pierced by occasional planes from nearby army camps and annual gatherings of 20,000 people clamouring to hear music. Even in the biblical Powys rain of August 2010, I remember watching Joanna Newsom onstage and thinking, I need to be here, inhaling the bigger skies, filtering myself into the elements.
The romance remained, and was shared by my husband, and with a two-year-old in tow, we ran away from our busy, urban lives.
The next spring was the most beautiful I have ever encountered. Every colour of the landscape had its dial turned up to eleven, the skies a raspberry Panda Pop blue, the grass a Spectrum 48K acid green, the rapeseed fields startling neon-yellow, like Hacienda stripes on the hillsides. At the same time, I’d finally started emptying the dusty boxes of CDs that I’d moved from house to house for six years, and not opened since having an iPod. I found The Colour of Spring. It became my accompaniment to my new life, and all the new pleasures it would bring.
These were the tracks that came with me in the car, as my new life started to open up. I loved the first three – ‘Happiness Is Easy’, ‘I Don’t Believe in You’, an old favourite, ‘Life’s What You Make It’ –conventional songs with tiny elements of weirdness scratching away in the arrangements. An isolated but twisted drum break here; a flourish of harp before frightened strings there; some shuddering, spiky harmonicas.
And then there was track four, with its whispering introductory hiss and soft flutters. ‘Here she comes,’ Mark Hollis sang, purposefully. ‘Silent in her sound.’
‘April 5th’ begins with quiet, synthesised percussion, twitching, fluttering, from right speaker to left and back again, a breath of soprano saxophone, a piano playing with an inverted minor-key figure, rising and falling like a sigh. Then comes the arrival of the season – ‘gentle spring’, all ‘fresh upon the ground’ – and the visual splendour of it all as the album’s title arrives in the lyrics.
Spring is female in ‘April 5th’. It is giving, inviting. There is ‘laughter in her kiss’ and ‘shame upon her lips’. Hollis wills her to come. The song moves delicately but with deftness, dexterity, trying to glory in every precise moment. ‘Let me breathe,’ Mark repeats at its end. I find out later that April 5th was the birthday of his wife of over thirty years, the mother of his two sons.
‘April 5th’ was less a song to me that spring than an atmosphere. It conferred a peace on this new time of my life in which I wanted to lose myself. Its quietness, however, made me think it was always threatening to disappear; there was a riskiness about it even being there, and being mine. I had to take time to stand back and observe this sound-world in every detail to savour it, or be brave and enter it fully.
It was about stillness and space, which reflected the new place I lived in. It felt like the right soundtrack for a stranger, yet calmer new time in my life.
The spring of 2018 felt different but still special when I had ‘April 5th’ playing along with me. It came after a long, snowy winter: every branch, every leaf, every flower coming alive a little later, in tiny, anxious movements. The next spring felt different. I couldn’t think of these songs without the person who had made them – whose death was announced suddenly – who hadn’t made any music for years.
‘The Sound of Being Human: How Music Shapes Our Lives’ is published on 28 April by White Rabbit. Pre-order a copy here.
Jude will read from and discuss the book as part of our lineup for this year’s Camp Good Life.