… to Another Short Song About Love and Loss

It was on a coach from Glasgow to Bath that I started a 16-year unrequited love affair with The Secret Goldfish.

It was late 2000, and I’d been back up in Scotland visiting pals.  I was in Edinburgh, heading back to Waverley for the train through to Scotland and the stuffy, cramped onward journey via National Express to Bath.

On the way to the station I nipped into Fopp, back in the days when Fopp was a decent record store rather than a grim reworking of HMV with more cheap books, to burn off a last Scottish ten pound note I’d acquired that I knew would never be accepted in the gentile shops around Future Publishing’s HQ.

Then, as now, Fopp was a great place for picking up bargain basement CD deals, although the diversity of bands being stocked was far more notable 17 years ago.  Flicking through the 2 for £10 racks, something bright and pink and weird looking caught my eye.

It was this.

And from then on, I was hooked.

The Secret Goldfish were part of that 90s generation of great Scots indie bands where everyone with a guitar and a notepad ended up producing decent music.  A band with thematic and membership ties to the likes of BMX Bandits and Belle and Sebastian, produced by former Altered Images member Stephen Lironi, producing indie pop music like a tartan Saint Etienne

They popped up on John Peel’s 1997 Festive Fifty alongside fellow criminally overlooked Scots indie pop wonders bis, and two years later had a Peel Session bestowed upon them.

Of course, all this had happened long before I stumbled upon Aqua-Pet… You Make Me in Fopp. They’d stopped producing music by the time I picked up that CD, which was sightly frustrating since they were pretty much on constant rotation on my battered Discman.

You know that awful advert for Radio 1 a few years ago, with the various DJ’s standing on the set of Tron, introducing themselves like they were being selected by players of a particularly fey beat em up?

This one, in fact.

Awful wank though it is, there’s a bit in there with Steve Lamacq, usually the voice of sanity in these matters, talking about that urge to play a song you’ve just heard and love over and over again.  That was me and Aqua-Pet.

Being the nascent days of Amazon, searching online and etailing (as we were obliged to call it in when writing on the internet), I managed to track down the rest of the band’s back catalogue, such as it was.  A handful of singles, two further albums… and that was about it.

The odd thing surfaced over the years.  A track on a Big Sur tribute here, a Creeping Bent compilation there, but that fourth album – supposedly being worked on when I first heard the opening of Come Undone for the first time on the bus to Bath – never happened.  Even before I found out about them, The Secret Goldfish had become even more of a secret.

And then, completely out the blue, a new song appeared online a couple of years ago.  By the time jaws had been picked up off of floors, it was followed by a second one.

And then, even more out the blue, a footnote in a listing for a gig at Oran Mor in Glasgow for last year’s Celtic Connections that among the acts performing was The Secret Goldfish.

Circumstances meant I had to miss it — not least was only finding out it was happening the day before.  But I was there for the equally unexpected next appearance. A performance, at Glasgow’s Centre for Contemporary Arts last summer, as part of a gig their label was putting on.

Seeing them for the first time, in a sweatbox room at the back of the CCA on a sweltering night in Glasgow with just a few dozen people in attendance, didn’t disappoint.

Hearing Katy McCullars’ vocals live against the wash of warm guitars, even if she needed the odd lyrical aide memoire out of a pretty looking ring binder, turned out to be everything my head had imagined over the previous years.

And so, here we are.  18 years on from Mink Riots.  More than 16 years on from picking up that CD in Fopp to fill a two for a tenner bundle, and the first new album from The Secret Goldfish has arrived.

It sounds like they’ve never been away.  Petal Split is ten pretty much perfect tracks of the finest indie pop.

It’s not a long album — just under half an hour’s listening, starting with the sparky O. Pioneers and ending with a beautiful, elegiac cover of Edwin Collins’ Ain’t That Always The Way, and taking in the absolutely gorgeous El Capitan Y Mi along the way.

It’s the sort of album you stick on in the car when it’s sunny and you’re just driving somewhere — a soundtrack for a journey without a destination.

I’m not going to do a track by track review — there’s an excellent one by a more learned reviewer than me here — so all I’ll say is that listening to Petal Split gave me the same thrill that first listen of Aqua-Pet did.

So what was the point of all this? Confessional, I guess.  And a celebration of a band I never thought I’d see live, not only returning but being brilliant and doing what they do.  And it’s not even a part of Record Store Day.  But mainly, just confessional.

Petal Split might have taken 18 years to get finished, but it’s been worth the wait. Hopefully I’m not waiting until 2035 for the follow-up, though.

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