The first time I heard John Grant, I burst into tears.
People who know me won’t find that remarkable, because I burst into tears a lot. Long before I became the hormonal mess I am today, music often made me blub. But this was unusual, because it was â€“ terrible pun alert â€“ blub at first sight.
I was at a gig to see Elbow, and Grant was the support. I knew nothing about him, had never heard him, and he was playing this; many of the same visuals appeared on the screens above him.
I was in bits. It’s a beautiful song (and better still live), and it’s particularly powerful if you’re LGBT.
Jon Savage describes it in this wonderful profile for Esquire:
This range of sweet and sour, deep and dark emotions set against appealing melodies is what characterises Grant as a major talent. On â€œGlacierâ€, from Pale Green Ghosts, you can hear the emotions frozen by fear and self-hatred crack into righteous anger. Grant passes through the shock of people saying things â€œthat sting and leave you wincingâ€ to the refrain: â€œDonâ€™t you pay them fuckers as they say no never mind/ They donâ€™t give two shits about you/ Itâ€™s the blind leading the blind
The whole thing’s well worth reading. Glacier made me an instant fan, and I’ve since been seen blubbing away at the Edinburgh Festival gigs Savage refers to in the piece.
Grant’s a fascinating musician, both from a fan’s perspective and a musician’s perspective. While his music is becoming increasingly electronic (and oh man, you have to hear the punch of Pale Green Ghosts through a massive PA system before you die) a lot of his songs are very close to 1970s soft rock of the Elton John variety, and I mean that as a huge compliment: the melodies and arrangements are masterful. I’m currently trying to learn to play Caramel, which is one of my very favourite things in the whole universe (and Iâ€™m delighted that my long-suffering piano tutor has fallen in love with it too: as I play it badly she can go to her happy place where JG plays it properly).
Here’s a live version from the BBC.
Great, isn’t it? I love pretty much everything about this song, but in particular the chord change to A flat as he sings “he hits me with tiger eyes”. It’s a staggeringly beautiful musical moment and it has me on the brink of tears every single time. If you don’t like it we can’t be friends.
I think John Grant has a lot in common with one of my other musical loves, Mark Everett from Eels, and not just because I’m learning to play Eels’ It’s A Motherfucker too.
Both men aren’t afraid of adult-oriented rock; both men write often hilarious lyrics; both men take often harrowing experiences and subjects and turn them into truly transcendent music.
I cry at Eels gigs too.