Abbotsford, Melbourne, November 1984
It was a very small house. Just a few metres wide. A narrow lane down one side. On the other side, more workers’ cottages, as they were once called. An abandoned factory across the one-way street. Eight lanes of Hoddle St just around the corner.
Home for two singles souls. Housemates who had become friends. Housemates who knew each other’s ways. Mostly.
We had shared a much bigger house, on a much wider road, for three years. More room. More people – co-tenants coming and going, staying and leaving. When the lease rolled around again we decided it was time to move on. Just the two of us. You could call it down-sizing.
The very small house had two bedrooms off a skinny corridor. Then a little lounge-room with a TV, a couch and my records. A sunny kitchen, a basic bathroom, and a yard hardly wide enough to swing a cat, yet deep enough to bury a dog – as I discovered while preparing to plant tomatoes.
Amongst the records was Joan Armatrading’s 1976 self-titled debut album, bought second-hand. I took a shine to Side 1: the slide guitar on the opening track Down To Zero, the orchestration on Help Yourself, the drumming on Water With The Wine, the sweetness of Love And Affection, the vulnerability of Save Me. Not a weak track. Some sides of albums are like that.
Love And Affection begins
I am not in love
But I’m open to persuasion
East or West
Where’s the best
With a friend
I can smile
But with a lover
I could hold my head back
I could really laugh
In that dark small house for two single souls I found that I was in love. It had taken three years of house-sharing for the obvious to dawn on me. In the darkness and the smallness of that little dwelling I could sense my world changing, expanding. Possibly, hopefully, for ever.
I would have to – to borrow another Armatrading song title – show some emotion. But would Julie be open to persuasion? To change? Open to reciprocation? If not, I’d be down to zero, moving out, into a sad-sack one-bedroom flat.
I like to think we played Side 1 of the Armatrading album during those first months of love. While cooking, while dining, while doing the dishes. While emptying grocery bags. Bringing in the washing.
Track 4, Love And Affection, was not necessarily ‘our’ song – I don’t think Julie and I have ever had such a song – but it’s my favourite of the album. As well as its sweetness, there’s the saxophone, the orchestration, the call-and-response chorus…
Little darling I believe you could
Help me a lot
Just take my hand
And lead me where you will
No wave goodnight
Just make love
Sing me another love song
But this time
With a little dedication
Sing it, sing it (Sing it, sing it!)
You know that’s what I like
Once more with feeling
Give me love
Give me love
Give me love
About 10 years ago we were driving down The Great Ocean Road with our three teenage children. I’d had enough of The Waifs and Powderfinger and The Cat Empire – all fine bands – and popped the Armatrading album into the Tarago’s CD player.
Those first five songs took us from Anglesea to Aireys Inlet, the land on the driver’s side, the glorious sea on the passenger’s.
The sixth song caught us unawares. Julie and I looked at each other, confused.
“What’s that song?”
“Not very good is it?”
“Seems a bit clunky.”
I looked at the track listing on the CD cover. Join The Boys? People? Somebody Loves You? Like Fire? Tall In The Saddle? All unfamiliar.
In that small house in Abbotsford we had never got around to turning the record over and playing Side 2. We must have had better things to do.