'McMahon feels like a friend you'd pour your heart out to over a pint'Wikimedia Commons

Technology has both revolutionised and saturated the way we consume music. With endless songs at our fingertips, we search Spotify for the perfect sound to capture any moment. In a unique period of history such as this one, the songs we choose take on more meaning – particularly as they will always remind us of our experience of 2020.

Just 10 days ago, upon receiving a sixth ‘you should leave college if you in any way can’ email, I decided it was time to go. Struggling with the suddenness of the situation, unsure of where to go and how long it would be before I could return, I searched for upbeat and familiar music to pack to. To my surprise, I turned to The Beatles – a band I have very rarely listened to in recent years but still remember the lyrics to, thanks to a fan phase at fifteen where I adorned my bedroom walls with their old record sleeves I found in the $1 bin at my local music shop.

“I don’t cry often, but I wept when I sat listening to this song on that south-bound train, the day’s stresses finally beating me.”

A friend came by for a goodbye beer, and as we sipped and tried to contemplate what was happening, Lennon and McCartney’s lyrics “yesterday / all my troubles seem so far away / now it seems they’re here to stay” seemed fitting. Little did we know how much more things were to change over the course of the coming week. Armed with only a backpack of belongings, I took the train to a friend’s farm, planning to stay a few days and see how the situation panned out. I crossed London on half-empty tubes during what should have been Monday’s rush hour. I made it to Waterloo only to discover my train south had been cancelled. Another uneasy tube journey to Victoria, followed by a long wait on another train platform.

Earlier in the week, I’d discovered Emilio Mercuri’s song ‘House of the Holy Maids’, silky vocals over a gospel-inspired piano. It’s a track defined by its consistent crescendo, growing throughout with the addition of strings and synthesizers. This build-up is emotive; it’s the kind of song which can unravel you. I don’t cry often, but I wept when I sat listening to this song on that south-bound train, the day’s stresses finally beating me. The sole other passenger in the carriage, a blonde woman in a mask, watched me in silence, her gaze alternating between pity and discomfort.

“Four flights and 40 hours of travel and I don’t know how many times I listened to Angie McMahon’s debut album ‘Salt’.”

Three uncertain days later, it became increasingly apparent that the British ‘keep calm and carry on’ mantra was no match for a global pandemic. New Zealand’s Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern told all New Zealanders abroad that we should return to NZ, and closed the country’s borders to non-nationals. For the first time since coming to the UK, I booked a one-way ticket home, Cambridge’s term dates no longer providing a solid enough guideline to book a return.

Four flights and 40 hours of travel and I don’t know how many times I listened to Angie McMahon’s debut album ‘Salt’. Like Mercuri, McMahon is Australian. I had fallen more and more in love with her album over the course of last term. McMahon has a rich and roaring voice that has seen her frequently compared to Florence Welch – but aged 25, just three years older than me, McMahon feels like a friend who you’d pour your heart out to over a pint. It’s in this sense of normality that I find comfort in McMahon; she seems to exist firmly in the realm of the everyday. Sitting 35,000 feet in the sky McMahon’s expansive voice served as a perfect distraction from the fact I was flying home just eight weeks after I last waved goodbye to my family. I had thought it was going to be 12 months before I was back in New Zealand, not two.

“If my Spotify account over the last ten days shows anything, it’s the comfort which can be found in music in times of uncertainty and distress.”

Music has brought me comfort, but sadness too. Yesterday I put on one of the three ‘If This is House I Want My Money Back’ albums - I had revised intently to them last exam term, DJs like HNNY, Lake People and Axel Boman weaving through my headphones as I frantically flipped flashcards in the UL. Listening now to an Octo Octa song, I felt melancholic thinking about the time I watched her cheer on her partner Eris Drew while Eris DJ’d a set in Fez. Recalling how I’d raved about the pair of them on my Cam.FM radio show the next day. “What a duo!” I had gushed. Now Fez and the friends I’d frequented it with for the best part of three years were nearly 12,000 miles away, on the other side of an earth that is facing an unprecedented struggle. I turned Octo Octa off.


READ MORE

Mountain View

A Love Letter to…Pulp

If my Spotify account over the last ten days shows anything, it’s the comfort which can be found in music in times of uncertainty and distress. When jet lag woke me up at 4 am during my first night at home, it was Scott Hamilton’s saxophone that lulled me back to sleep. The day New Zealand announced it would join the growing number of countries already in lockdown I felt compelled to listen to various versions of ‘Just Like A Woman’ on repeat. I’ve always found it to be a meditative and moving song, and that day I found condolence in the repetition of the same lyrics by each of Bob Dylan, Jeff Buckley, and Nina Simone’s distinct voices. Friends have sent me their own ‘Just Like A Woman’ equivalents – whether solo or shared, songs bring us invaluable support and solace. If I could offer one piece of advice for the coming weeks, it would be to listen up.

Sponsored links

Partner links