|Day 15: Justin Currie (If I Ever Loved You)
May 11, 2020
Today's feature song focuses on a live version, something I plan to do very infrequently through this series. Justin Currie's "If I Ever Loved You" is already devastatingly lovely on his CD "What Is Love For," one of several songs that show the Del Amitri front man at his song-writing best. Normally, I wouldn't even come back to watch this video of him doing it live (it sounds fine on the guitar in the live version, but, man, the recorded version on piano is something special), except for the fact that I love seeing this song's effect on an audience member. It also helps when that audience member, Chris Difford, is a member of the 1980's songwriting team most compared to Lennon & McCartney, a moniker that probably was the kiss of death for Difford and Glenn Tilbrook of Squeeze.
As usual, at the bottom of this blog you can find a link to take you to the live version of this song from 2010.
Let me set the stage. And what an amazing stage it is, a fantastic ballroom used by the BBC for their series "Songwriters' Circle." Live music thrives in intimate settings, and the room presents a perfect venue for three songwriters to share their music with a small group of fans. As one views the stage, from left to right, Chris Difford from Squeeze, Boo Hewerdine, Scottish musician and leader of The Bible, and Justin Currie, Scottish musician and leader of Del Amitri, sit on stools shoulder to shoulder with nothing but their guitars.
In the clip, Currie introduces shyly "If I Ever Loved You" and embarks on a crushing lyric about a romantic break-up. Typical of Currie's catalog, the lyrics feature a blustery bravado, bordering on machismo, about the now-ended relationship:
I look back and nothing much/
Ever comes to mind/
Sometimes I can picture half a smile/
We were thick as thieves/
Hung on each others' sleeves/
Kissing all the time.
At this point in the video, you gotta give the show's director credit for switching the camera to an overhead shot swooping onto the stage. It frames Currie's perfectly crafted, and superbly sung, chorus, machismo as it is in terms of denial of feeling:
But if I ever loved you, shouldn't I be crying/
Shouldn't I be cracking up and drinking all the time/
Yeah, if I ever loved you, how come I feel alright/
How come the nights are so easy and the mornings look so bright.
The director's decisions continue to seem perfect. Right after Currie asks if he should be drinking all the time, we get our first view of Hewerdine looking dazed by the performance to his left. Then, when chorus moves to second verse, the camera shot comes from behind and left of Currie, showing all three performers in backlighting. And that's where you see the person most obviously moved by the song: Difford, head in hand, not even able to watch his fellow musician two seats over. It brings chills to my spine that will only amplify through the song.
As the second verse drains all of the emotion from the building, even Hewerdine seems to recognize the space Currie's song needs on that stage, clasping himself within his arms, holding his head down to his chest, afraid to let the audience see the emotion on his face. During the second chorus, the camera lingers on Difford's and Hewerdine's struggle to maintain emotional control. Let's just say that Hewerdine is doing that a little bit more effectively.
Currie has always recognized the value of a good bridge, and here its underlying anger, certainly feeding his machismo non-reaction, is captured by a beautifully crafted stanza. And for the first two lines, all of us are going to watch Difford, especially, continue to struggle with his motions:
"Love, it can make your world/bring you alive/But I wasn't dead before/so baby you ain't so hard to survive."
Men, we think we can be so emotionless, kid ourselves that a lost woman "ain't so hard to survive." If that was the case, we wouldn't write freaking pop songs about it that poke at our emotional scars.
As we head into the chorus a last time, the camera sneaks dangerously close into Difford's space. See him fighting back the tears as Currie comes back to the thin veneer of the "it was really nothing" theme of his chorus. The director, sensing gold, is not going to let Difford off the hook, even though it is Currie's lovely song. Thank goodness the YouTube clips keeps the brief expression of gratitude Difford gives Currie once the song ends. His voice cracks, leaving Currie feeling a little self-conscious ("Sorry mate!" he exclaims with a wave).
I can only imagine what it must have felt to be in that space for those 4 minutes. I am moved beyond words (even if this blog disputes that) just to see it on video.
"If I Ever Loved You." Justin Currie. What Is Love For. Ryko. 2007. Link to live version here.
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Day 16: The Psychedelic Furs "All Of This And Nothing." ->
See full unfinished list here.