Flashback Friday: Saying goodbye as “Silent Alarm” turns ten

It’s so cold in this house.

It is ten years since Silent Alarm was released, and you don’t live here anymore.

Open mouth swallowing us.

A small bag for someone leaving for good. You took with you no books, few clothes and all of my significant musical memories. You wanted music to listen to on the plane. I was blank.

The children staying home from school.

I was able to see you off at the airport, to be present even if I was barely able to say goodbye. Your parents thought it was funny as I managed to say all the wrong things and choke on my words in the food court. You looked across the table at me with a smile on your face, fingers drumming, foot tapping on dirty tiles.

I could not stop crying.

Ten years ago, four young English guys were in the right place at the right time. Britain was in the throes of a New York throwback, guitar rock love affair – Franz Ferdinand were huge, I Bet You Look Good On The Dancefloor was the Arctic Monkeys’ first number one and Glastonbury has exploded screaming its heart out to Mr Brightside. In East London, Kele Okereke, Gordy Moakes and Russell Lissack had found the missing ingredient of the ambitious sound they only heard in their imaginations in new drummer, Matt Tong. With a sharp, rhythmic post-punk point of difference, Bloc Party’s debut album Silent Alarm was released to a world ready to listen.  This was landmark music.

Ten years ago, I had just started at a new high school and was obsessed with reinventing myself. I had left a school where I wouldn’t be missed and was racked with fear that I was diving into a new nightmare, another school where teenagers were arseholes and weakness had its own inimitable, old-schoolbag scent. I had a hundred lies to tell about myself at the drop of a hat, a persona of someone more confident than I ever felt. On my first day at my new school, Ollie stood with my brother overlooking the playground, watching me plunge into my peers like a breadcrumb into a school of fish. I was so determined, frantically so, that here at last I could be cool.

I would take myself home, feet slapping the footpath in gangly school shoes, imagining a new world where I had friends, where I was part of that sealed world of the liked. I had filled my iPod shuffle with new music and buried somewhere, deep in the one hundred and eighteen songs it could carry, was the seed of my entrée to cool music. It was on these walks home that my feet first fell into the crescendo of a rising beat, a deep hum gathering up into potent, clockwork guitar chords lashed on the off beats as that drum beat just kept driving and driving. To this day, Banquet is my get-up-and-go song. Tong is a fiercely precise drummer, whip-fast and crisp, adding sharp urgency to already blistering guitar. When he is behind a kit there is no standing still – a shoulder or toe will betray you involuntarily. With Silent Alarm on my ipod, I walked home to a new pulse, as if there was some knowledge coursing through me that the world outside my headphones knew nothing of. For the first time, as I gained a couple of new friends, as I pumped down the street with my school bag now absurdly low and my new school skirt rolled up, at fifteen I finally felt cool.

Music became key to my feeling connected, if not always cool. For then on I was mainlining new releases, always looking for a new sound that had that same kick as the first listen of Banquet. Every song I loved, every album I became hooked on was always in pursuit of that first euphoric rush walking home from school. When my stacked up social anxieties about being liked clouded every relationship with fear, music was my safety net. I consumed it all, with Bloc Party as a benchmark. For me, Silent Alarm had everything. It was awake and passionate, full of the pointless nihilistic anger of youth as well as the pure, meditative moments of clarity. The sound is huge and momentous but the lyrics are Plathian poetry, a dichotomy of grandeur and vulnerability that was everything I yearned for as I untangled myself from the suffocating tension wires and pressure of my teenage years.

The only person I knew who shared this deep-seated appreciation of the album of my youth was Ollie. When in my twenties those tension wires returned, and I felt the edges of the disconnect creeping back again, Ollie gave me a new way out – live music. For four good years we were at shows every other week, shows neither of us ever would have gone to alone. We were at festivals, at warehouse parties, at pub gigs and sold out shows. We were at Oxford Art Factory on weeknights and the Abercrombie on Fridays, and everywhere we went we listened for that rush-punch of Bloc Party. Every great time I’ve ever had was with Ollie and a ticket stub, usually one I’d forgotten to print and that I now regret not keeping for my old age. It was, I see now, the time of my life.

Cloaked in the invincibility of coolness and connection, Bloc Party opened a world I’d never felt part of. For Ollie and I, Silent Alarm means the rapture of the mosh at Splendour, it means Oxford Street, it means finding shapes in night-clouds, it means stillness, silent tears and clasping hugs as This Modern Love breaks us. The day Ollie left, I could feel the pull beginning before I got in the car. I remember feeling panic rising as I sat in the front seat, ready to go to the airport, tension cords wrapping around me again. I was shaking and thinking of all the things I was letting go, weeping before I’d even started the engine. On that plane went my gig partner, my tastemaker, my reliable adventurer and best friend. At the airport he sat across from me in the food court, fingers drumming, foot tapping. What could I do to make him stay? What was I thinking as I watched my safety net fly away from me?

You’ll find it hiding in shadows
You’ll find it hiding in cupboards
It will walk you home safe every night
It will help you remember:
If that’s way it is,
Then that’s the way it is.