Panic Prevention

Flashback Friday: Jamie T, ‘Panic Prevention’

I like anniversaries. Milestones. Even numbers. 10 is a particularly good one.

That’s why it pains me a little to be writing about Jamie’s T’s Panic Prevention a mere two years before it celebrates its 10th anniversary. Or should that be birthday? Either way, I’m ignoring that fact in order to write this week’s Flashback Friday.

It’s in my nature to overthink and over-prepare certain things – music has always been one of them. The truth is that I’ve actually written another four articles on other albums I hold dear in the lead up to today. I couldn’t decide between them, probably because I knew that this was what I actually wanted to share, but wasn’t sure I should. However, after reading and relating to Mitchell’s very open, honest and intimate personal essay An Ode To My Music earlier this week, I felt infinitely more comfortable with picking this album to share.

From the first time I heard the harrowing shrieks of ‘London!’ on Sheila, I was a gonner – it was unlike anything I had ever heard before. I had no idea who the song was by or what it was called (though I had my suspicions that it was either London or Sheila). It would be two years before I found myself typing the lyrics I could remember into Google, wondering why I hadn’t thought to do so sooner.

Oh, how I could have done with listening to Panic Prevention at the time of its debut. In 2007 I was 16 years old and dealing with what I know now to have been my first, and most painful, panic attacks. They were mentally polarizing, physically exhausting and utterly confusing. I had no idea what they were and for a while I thought I was having a string of heart attacks. I genuinely believe that had I listened to this album then, it would have helped me realise sooner I wasn’t being dramatic or selfish or lazy, as had often been made to feel I was.

Lazy is the one that still stings the most – because it to implies a lack of effort or desire to try or do. As the title Panic Prevention might suggest, panic disorder and the attacks that can come with it are things that Jamie T (the T standing for Treays) has also struggled with. He spoke about that perception of laziness that people with panic disorders are so often confronted by in an interview last year with The Guardian’s Tom Lamont. The discussion was prompted by fans wondering where he’d disappeared to. One had posed the possibility that his long absence from music could be down to him being too lazy to write: “Certainly not lazy…I write more songs than anyone I know. I’ve never stopped writing…” And with the ability to write such keen observations of misspent youth and inter-cut them with equal amounts of wit and wonder, why would you ever stop writing?

Loud, abrasive and feverish, Panic Prevention is a sample-laden amalgamation of hip-hop, ska, punk, folk and indie rock influences. Partly sung, partly spoken, Treays’ debut offering can be confusing, but its also calming in its chaos. Released to generally positive response, many critics hailed Panic Prevention as one of the best releases of 2007 – a brilliant debut indeed. Still, some had difficulty with the namedrop titles (Ike & Tina, Alicia Quays), what they considered an overuse vocal samples on and between tracks (gtfo, they’re great), the addition of a backing band (the Pacemakers) to fill out the sound, the production quality (some argue too neat, others not enough so), Treays’ refusal to do away with his cockney accent and the sense of pavement nostalgia the album is filtered through. I would argue that these are in fact the things that make Panic Prevention so great.

Panic Prevention opens with Brand New Bass Guitar is a (suitably) thumbed acoustic-bass led ode to Terays’ “cracked out piece of shit called the bass guitar” – the same one which leads Back in The Game. At the close of Brand New Bass Guitar, Terays states that he thinks it’s the scrappiest version he’s ever played in his life: naturally it’s the one that ended up on the album. The bass that drives Salvador is heavy, predatory even, as it prowls along, mirroring the “reckless son” Treays paints himself as in the lyrics.

If You Got The Money and Alicia Quays are tracks that delve into themes of binge drinking, recreational drug use, bar trawling and hook-up culture. Still, they’re less glamourized and far more honest than the characters and story-lines proliferated throughout a lot of media that was gaining traction at the time – and still is. The TV show Skins (which premiered a mere four days before Panic Prevention was released) springs to mind immediately as filtering similar scenes through rose-tinted glasses.

Perhaps the brightest feather in Terays’ song writing cap is Sheila. Stark, raw and introduced through a slow bass, symbol crashes and Terays voice, it weaves together stories of people “dealt some shit hands” without being disingenuous.

now it all dear started with daddys alcoholic / lightweights chinking down, numbing his brain / and the doctor said he couldn’t get the heart dear started / now beat up, drugged up / she feelin’ the strain … so georgy its time to chain react / but you the truth is you know / she probably fought back

Jamie T has a knack for conjuring up character and scenes so detailed you can just about see them. Maybe that’s got something to do with the fact that really, they’re not people and places he’s simply invented, they’re not overly romanticised, they’re just there with their stories; and they’re real.

It is true, not every song on Panic Prevention has that same sense of poignancy. Still, in their layers I find imagery, characters and storytelling so fluid and full that even now, after years of listening, I find things I didn’t pick up on before. Only this week did I catch the sounds of (presumably) Terays snorting cocaine as the chorus of Calm Down Dearest rolls around.

Calm Down Dearest presents both the careless and the apprehensive; the two Jamie T’s on Panic Prevention are one in the same. Whether from an it’s from an outside character or something more introspective, Calm Down Dearest’s account of easy, drunken nights out is undercut with fret. It’s refrain is a perfectly calming mantra to repeat, if only in your head, in the midst of fast-rising panic.

At first, So Lonely Was The Ballad seems a casual, jolty stroll around town. Observations of selfish sons with their packs of cigarettes and girls with their pearls on flex, “living life in the fast lane”. It’s the observations of characters and actions that Jamie T does so well and then suddenly, a panic attack takes hold. Which is so often how they happen. “Some of them said you never made the cut. Young son breakaway want to be older. Sober as a judge as the door slams shut. Three bags full and a yes for the no sir.”

I used to find this song crude. Now I call it my favourite on the entire album. Not only for the vocal sample that makes up the bridge or the line “so remember when you choke there’s a reason being,” but also for the keyboard riff that makes me want to bounce around the room. It’s remarkable to me that a song that so keenly describes part of the experience of panic disorder can also be so energizing.

And how it was they noticed how the panic times subsided after listening to this tape, so we would appreciate your feedback. People who have panic attacks often feel that they should be able to deal with them and indeed the resources you need are already within you it’s just that sometimes the appropriate responses to a particular situation are not immediately accessible. 

For a moment, I worried that perhaps I was guilty of projecting a great deal of importance onto this album in attributing it to helping me find my own sense calm. Maybe I built it into something more than an ode to the grit and gutters of city living after learning of (and identifying with) Terays’ experiences of panic disorder. But then I found an interview where he talks about his songs and the stories they tell: “I know what the fucking songs are about, but I don’t care to talk about it, because they’re quite personal to me. I’ve written the song. I’ve done my piece… Whatever you think it’s about, it’s about.”

Earlier in this piece, I said that I thought had I listened to Panic Prevention when I first started experiencing anxiety-related symptoms, I would have been better equipped to deal with them. That was not something I said lightly. It may be cliché for some, but I genuinely do feel that the words and rhythms within Panic Prevention have provided me, to an extent, with just that. I would never purchase a self-help CD, so thanks for this Jamie T. And yes, I know that fucking wonderful sample on So Lonely Was The Ballad is from a self-help CD. 😉