Michelle Shocked – Surprise Nostalgia

Michelle Shocked

I recently picked up a copy of an album that takes me very precisely back in time to a specific year, a specific place and a specific girl.

I was raised, for the most part, in Vienna and only came to the UK at age 17 to go to university. Because my Mum is from Manchester that is where I went to do my Foundation Course in Art & Design, despite having been offered a place at Wimbledon School of Art which, with crystal clear 20/20 hindsight, would have been a far better choice. After Vienna where I was, compared to the people of all sorts of nations with whom I went to school, extremely English, it was a massive shock to find out quite how English I actually wasn’t, in reality. I also didn’t have the saving grace of being obviously foreign, which gets you quite a lot of slack cut for odd behaviour.

Consequently, it was a pretty horrendous year of rather merciless culture shock. Once I was offered my place at the Glasgow School of Art, in early January, I packed in the course, which I hated, and took a job in one of the local 5 Star hotels (at least my BBC accent, otherwise a liability in Manchester, was good for something). There I met a very intelligent and very prickly and rather pretty Irish girl who I spent the next two and a half years of my life with. She was easily the most musically interested of any of my other girlfriends and we got into all sorts of really good bands together.

She also, as my only ex to actually own any music, took a fair bit with her when we split up. Generally I replaced this stuff pretty immediately, but this one I never got round to buying again until last week. This enforced break meant that when I heard the music again, for the first time in oh, about ten years, all these incredibly vivid memories came flooding back, as it will with music.

So I thought I’d share some songs from Michelle Shocked’s 1988 album, Short Sharp Shocked. It’s a singer songwriter affair with heavily Southern country, gospel and folk influences. One of my favourite songs on the album is Anchorage, if just because of Michelle’s relationship with her friend’s husband: ‘Leroy says send a picture/ Leroy says hello/ Leroy says keep on rocking girl.’ There’s something so generous and real about the picture of friendship she paints, it really has me choking a little and having to hastily remember the aloof, macho image of cool indifference I have so carefully constructed for myself. Ahem.

Have a listen though. It’s interesting: in the light of Jenny Lewis and Neko Case’s recent success with a very similar sort of music it is interesting to hear some of their precursors. And have a little covert sniffle at the loveliness of the songs as we do so!

Michelle Shocked – Anchorage
Michelle Shocked – The L&N Don’t Stop Here Anymore
Michelle Shocked – Black Widow