YOU may not be entirely surprised to learn that I used to take up a fair few of the invitations for boozy dos and promotional piss-ups that came my way – all of which, incidentally, seem to have dried up now I no longer have any power or influence, those ungrateful bastards.
Since my girlfriend was living in that London at the time, more often than not I would be accompanied by whatever female acquaintance I could tempt with the promise of free drinks and famous people.
Obviously, I have no shame. And life’s too short to go out drinking with blokes all the time, right?
So I’d invited out the attractive and intriguing woman who designed the magazine. She’d just joined the company so I thought I’d give her a taste of the Manchester highlife. But we went to the Ritz instead.
At this point in time, the squat faux-classical off-white Ritz ballroom on Whitworth Street West had definitely seen better days but at least it still had a little bit of space around it rather than being hemmed in and crowded out by ever uglier new Legoland housing developments as it is now.
Famous as much for the poor quality of its booze as the high quality of its sprung dancefloor, the Ritz ballroom is the archetypal local club found in unfashionable parts of city centres all over the world.
Inside, the crumpled old fun-bunker is a bit faded and frayed around the edges, but from the battered moulding and broad, spacious staircases, you can tell the place would have been something to see in its heyday. Coincidentally, Wikipedia tell us that Jimmy Saville used to manage the place in the Sixties. I’m not so sure about that myself.
Come Saturday night, it’s the kind of no-nonsense, no pretensions club where nobody knows the name of the DJ but everyone knows the tunes he’s playing. Simply put, it’s the northern working class at play. There are hen and stag parties, there is binge-drinking, there are a million drunken kisses and, if you’re lucky, maybe even a knee-trembler by the side of the canal.
I wouldn’t want to hazard a guess as to exactly how many generations of Mancunians have been conceived around the back of the Ritz but it’s probably approaching double figures.
The thing is, not all of us can get on the guestlist at Pacha, darling. I like the Ritz. I wouldn’t ever really want to spend much time there you understand but I do like the place. Alright, they’re from the wrong side of the Pennines and they talk a bit funny, but these are my people, essentially. Salt of the Earth, should be kept in a cellar, all that shit.
No, seriously. There is something intrinsically more real and honest and sexy about the Ritz than any amount of basements full of N4Q hipsters in inexplicable trousers.
And as much as anything else, the Ritz is a great venue for gigs. In the past the venue’s stage has hosted everyone from the Beatles to the Stone Roses and I’ve seen some amazing performances by people such as Terry Callier, the Happy Mondays and Badly Drawn Boy there.
Similar to the Band on the Wall (apart from the 21st century facilities bit, obviously), I think people who appreciate venues with a little bit of history and depth will end up at the Ritz, sooner or later. The floor can be a little sticky. So what?
By the time Air’s Ritz gig was announced, their debut album had been out for a while and it quickly sold out. It might even have been their first tour of the UK.
I got a promo copy of Moon Safari way ahead of its release but I was still being Mr Deep House Tunnel Vision. Its kitschy soundscapes of Moogs and vocoders and well developed, if chronically under-appreciated sense of Gallic irony didn’t particularly impress. I thought the album was okay but I couldn’t really get too enthusiastic and passed it onto someone else to review.
In the event, she didn’t like it at all – she was a drum and bass head and I have absolutely no idea why I thought she’d be into it – and gave the album one of the very few poor reviews it had anywhere.
Yeah, we’re definitely on the wrong side of history with that one. Whoops.
However, only an idiot could deny the effect of the majestic, shimmering ballad All I Need. It’s an extraordinary and delightful piece of music that is soppy, slushy, lovely-dovey and all of that stuff, but it’s also warm, tender and delicate – and genuinely affecting.
Well, it struck a chord in me anyway. I managed to persuade the press guy from the label to sort me out with a vinyl copy of the single, as well as a couple of guesties for the gig. I was looking forward to seeing them do All I Need live most of all, in fact it was kind of the main reason I was going, really.
On the night, I was pretty much out of control. I drank quite a lot and ended up acting like a total dick, showing off, trying to impress this woman – I have a vague image of doing a series of forward rolls along the tatty old Ottomans that lined the Ritz’s balcony with a surprising degree of success before, inevitably, it all went horribly wrong. I had a whale of a time. I’m not sure if my plus one felt the same way.
Not surprisingly, I don’t recall too much about the gig itself – which featured Jean-Benoît Dunckel and Nicolas Godin plus a full band and various guest vocalists – but I do remember that they were bewilderingly good and quite a different group to the one on the album. And I also remember that they didn’t play All I Need.
At some point in the late Nineties, I took my copy of the single to a birthday party in Leeds – clearly, I was treating the crowd to one of my patented mammoth, genre-bending takes-ages-to-actually-get-going, ooh-is-that-the-time sets – and it got robbed from the car when we went round someone’s flat afterwards. Loads of other stuff too. Bah.
I quickly drew up a list of the stuff I’d lost, called up the various promo and press departments which had sent me them in the first place and shamelessly blagged them for replacements. I did pretty well and got a lot of stuff back. I had quite a good relationship with the guy from Virgin at that point – it eventually deteriorated somewhat, due to some unnecessary snideness on my part – but I don’t recall getting another copy of All I Need from him.
I eventually downloaded a low quality mp3 from somewhere a few years ago but it’s not really the same, is it?
Now again, I don’t actually recall doing it, but at some point in the last five years it seems I picked up All I Need again from Vinyl Exchange, who charged me a fiver for a Con: Ex/Ex copy – including original picture sleeve – of what the price sticker accurately describes as a “lovely” downbeat classic. Cheap at half the price.
If you’re going to pay a fiver for a record, it may as well be this one.
Sounding not dissimilar to the early work of arch coffee table-chill out merchants Zero 7, All I Need was co-written by Beth Hirsch, over an already existing instrumental from the band’s first ever release. Dunckel and Godin have talked about their liking for plain and simple lyrics stemming from a lack of confidence in their English, and Hirsch delivers an deliciously unaffected, unfussy, breathy and delicate vocal.
“All I need is a little sign, to get behind the sun and cast this weight of mine ..” sings Hirsch so sweetly that it doesn’t really matter that it doesn’t make much sense. “All I need is a place to find, and there I’ll celebrate …”
It’s just a beautiful love song – and love songs don’t need to make sense. This is mellow, soulful, electro-acoustica at its very best, my friends. A charming video by Mike Mills only adds to the sense of hazy romance and heartfelt longing.
All I Need is not just one of my favourite songs from the whole chill out ‘genre’, it’s actually one of my favourite songs, full stop.
I’ve gone off the deep end again.