This week, Brad (aka Mercury Teardrop) takes over 𝗖𝗼𝗻𝗻𝗼𝗹𝗹𝘆’𝘀 𝗖𝗼𝗿𝗻𝗲𝗿 to pay homage to Charles, the man, the myth, the legend… and to dive into “This is How the Story Begins”, his latest single featuring Wilko Wilkes.
Brad does his bit…
My early memories of music are some of the most vivid memories I have from my childhood. I was one of those kids who grew up surrounded by music. I remember sitting for hours in my parents’ living room, records all over the shag carpet and giant headphones hanging on my tiny ears, listening to album after album. There was the typical “pop” of the day in the house, but for the most part, I would listen to anything I could get my hands on. From ABBA to ZZ Top, I couldn’t get enough. At about eight years old, I started to buy my own records. For you kids out there - “kids” being operationally defined as anyone born after 1985 - this was not as easy as it sounds. It was an entire coordinated effort to save the money required, curate a list of albums you wanted, decide on the pinnacle of that list to spend your life savings on, and then, find someone who would take you to the record store. I would often wait for months before I could buy a single record. One of the first records I bought was “Out of the Blue” by The Electric Light Orchestra. I remember the day like it was yesterday.
Oddly I had no sonic rationale or intuition for my selection, it wasn’t even on my list! Being a kid, I was captivated by the cover art and the band name. The airbrushed, luminous spaceship on the cover seemed to reference another dimension or something like that. I’m likely overintellectualizing my recollection here, so let’s just say the cover was cool and I bought it on impulse. I can remember the excitement of getting home and unwrapping it. The smell of the semi-toxic off-gassing from the impeccably designed sleeve and the vinyl discs encased within, is still etched in my mind. Opening the double album cover was transcendent. In unabashed excitement I put on the album and listened to it front to back, all four sides. It was captivating from the moment the needle hit the vinyl. As I listened, I tried to read the liner notes, which were extensive. I remember continually seeing the name Jeff Lynne - Written by… Produced by… Performed by… who was this guy? At the time, I didn’t understand what all of these credits meant, but by listening to, and absorbing every track, my eyes opened up to a whole new musical vocabulary. The sound of the record was literally magic and like nothing I had heard before. The strings, the doubled vocals, the impeccable harmonies, the “hooky” and melodic twists and turns, the robot telling me to “please turn me over” at the end of Mr. Blue Sky, all landed on me at once and fired my neurons like fireworks forcing the experience into my DNA, or at least into my epigenome (for those fact checkers out there). Although I’m describing the experience with words, I remember it all as an explosion of the senses. I felt harmony in my world and present in the moment; processing every sound wave that made its way into my ears. I will never forget that feeling.
There are a few albums and songs since then that have made me feel this way and I tend to come back to those records over and over again. Led Zeppelin Physical Graffiti (or any Zep for that matter), Abbey Road, Phaedra by Tangerine Dream, The Head on the Door by the Cure, Kid A by Radiohead, Hejira by Joni Mitchell, the self-titled debut by Jellyfish, Fear of a Blank Planet by Porcupine Tree… the list goes on, and likely into places you may not expect for someone of my vintage.
Ok, if I’ve managed to keep your attention to this point, you are probably wondering what’s the point of this rambling, nostalgic memoir anyway? The point is, that when I listen to Charles Connolly’s music, I get that feeling. My brain lights up and I go off to that place where the senses take over and the musical journey begins. Or in this case, the “Story Begins”.
For those that have followed Charles for a while, you will know that this multi-talented Londoner is a cracking drummer, producer, songwriter, and multi-instrumentalist of enormous talent. He is gracious and humble to the core and someone that I have gained a lot of respect for since hearing his early work. I would contend that one of his earlier tracks, “To See My Lover Again”, is on par with any George Michael classic; it’s a brilliant tune and worth a listen if you don’t know the track. As one ventures through Charles’ catalogue, you quickly realise there is one massively catchy hook after another. The songs take you on a melodic ride through many musical landscapes with lyrics tackling many of the existential aspects of humanity. If you are like me, you probably find yourself singing “I want to go to Europe in the Summertime” as you lay there awake at 2:00am trying to get to sleep. That is the true test of great melody and chorus hook, you literally can’t get it out of your head. As a songwriter, Charles is a master at this.
“This Is How The Story Begins” is a track true to form, continuing to expand the CC musical universe, serving up another scoop of delicious “POP Ice Cream” for the masses. For this track, he teamed up with fellow Brit, and outrageous talent, Wilko Wilkes. Wilko is quickly becoming one of the smoothest, quick rhyming rappers in the U.K. and drops some seriously killer rhymes here. Listening to Wilko is always so invitingly intense. You know there is a deep message in the words, but you better do your best to keep up. He raps like Busta Rhymes or Eminem, but tells stories like Billy Bragg (who I adore by the way). He is unique and progressive in his approach, and a talent to look out for.
The collision of CC and WW is perfect. Charles brings his melodic songwriting, musical performance chops, and production sensibilities to the track, while Wilko Wilkes ignites a level of vocal ferocity that hits the listener right off the mark. As one takes in the depth of the lyrics, it becomes clear this is a song about resilience and the incredible will to survive that lives within each of us. We all have stories. We all have chapters in those stories of our lives that make up defining, and pivotal moments. There are times in those defining moments where we fail and times where we persevere and start a new chapter. This song meaningfully captures the human experience that lives within us all and reminds us that we are all connected and interdependent. These stories of resilience are often laden with self-determination and will, but also with the importance of the deep interconnectedness of our relationships that can save us when we individually are in the most dire need of help. As I listen to the track over and over, it leaves me feeling optimistic and inspired. There is triumph in this story, and the triumph is knowing we have within each of us, the ability to write a new story at any time.
Now, back to Jeff Lynne… I’m not entirely sure of the musical inspirations Mr. Connolly taps into from his past or present, but he has a lot in common with Mr. Lynne, both as a songwriter and producer. Lynne is known for his uncompromising vision for his music and his incredible attention to detail in every aspect of the production process. All you have to do is listen to one of Charles’ tracks to notice the obsessively detailed, and seemingly painstaking approach he takes to achieve his vision for the track. In an age of production shortcuts through miracle plug-ins and other “turn-key” applications, some artists may forget, or not even consider the value of a scrutinising and uncompromising engineer and/or producer. Attention to detail is everything when creating something worthwhile and memorable and Charles does this in spades. While Charles may not personally consider Jeff Lynne any sort of influence, there is one thing they most certainly do have in common, they have both moved me by putting incredible music into the world. What could be better than that?
It has been a sincere pleasure to spend some time in Connolly’s Corner, and I feel honoured to have had a chance to share some of my thoughts on such a powerful track. If this is how the story begins for both these artists, I certainly can’t wait to read the book.
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