Image by Matthew Pepler

When my mother died I clung to music, at times to expel my grief and at times to go deeper into it. How else could I explore such an unfamiliar country? In the months after she died, a deep inner winter fell on me; a beautiful landscape of frosted branches, iced lakes and white snow lying in great drifts. I needed to spend time in this strange place, and the only way I could reach it was through music. Nick Cave and Warren Ellis’s sublime and subtle soundtrack to the film of Cormac McCarthy’s dark post-apocalyptic novel, The Road, could…

Photography by the author

It’s a warm summer evening in Madrid. I am high in the stands of the Bernabeu Stadium. There are 75,000 people below me. I get up out of my seat. The air guitarist from Austria standing next to me is already assuming the pose, invisible plectrum in hand. An extended family of wealthy looking Spaniards with neat Beneton jumpers around their shoulders crane their necks.

Bruce Springsteen ambles onto the stage, “Hola Madriiiiid!” he shouts. “Hola Madriiid! One, two…” and Badlands crashes into life. As one, the mass of people standing below me leap into the air.

“Lights out tonight,

Photo by the author

Popular music is usually built on the raging hormones of adolescence; the overwrought coming-of-age yearnings that underpin countless songs from the Supremes to the Undertones — teenage kicks that are found or lost “in the darkness of the dances in the school canteen” as Billy Bragg put it. Songs of childhood itself are much rarer.

When childhood appears in song it is often as a kind of therapy — an excavation of memory — as adult songwriters try to make sense of their past, as in Cattle and Cane (1983) by the Go-Betweens:

“I recall a school boy coming home,

“But my silence is unique
Without colour”
Iraqi poet, Ghareeb Iskander, Poems of Silence

“In crust we trust!” declares a banner hung from the ceiling of Today Bread — a bakery and café alive with tapping keyboards and earnest chatter; the air is heavy with coffee and sourdough. Walthamstow has changed.

Today Bread is one several new shops in Central Parade — a listed building designed in 1954 as a perfect representation of Festival of Britain architecture, with its sumptuously curved awning, a modernist clock tower and clean lines. …

Tourist buses pull into the ghost town of Pripyat these days, thirty three years after it was abandoned to nature and decay in the wake of the Chernobyl nuclear disaster. Small groups of adventure seekers point their cameras at crumbling buildings, overgrown school playgrounds and the eerie rides of a long deserted fairground. Their guides refer to radiation readings on small handheld devices. It’s safe to spend the day wandering around the exclusion zone, laughing and taking photographs; shielded from such a catastrophic event by the passage of time.

On the ninth anniversary of the disaster, in 1995, I visited…

Matthew Pepler

Music, history, memory and the things we can see in the rear view mirror.

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