Singled Out: We Aeronauts' Fleet River
Often songs come from the obvious things; girls, death, or historical/literary sources. But every once in a while one will come along that captures something special. A specific memory, like an aural photograph- you can always rely on it to trip those wires in your brain that remind you of a profound and happy time. We're lucky enough to have two of those songs. One is our EP title track 'Chalon Valley House Band' but if you listen to that the story kind of tells itself. The other is 'Fleet River', and I'm going to tell you that story now.
Back in mid-2008 we were a fairly new band, having taken a holiday at the tail end of 2007 to write songs. We've always been pretty far apart from each other- over the past 4 years various members have taken up long term residence in Canada, India, Spain, Mongolia, Nigeria and Serbia. In March of 2008, Greg, our singer and guitarist, had announced an imminent trip to Canada at the end of the year to live, long term, with his girlfriend. He'd also written a song, 'Haste Ye Back' about his move, which really affected all of us- it was a pretty confessional, honest song and I think partly because of the subject matter, we've never been able to come up with a full band arrangement. That song is Greg's explanation to us, and as such, it was our responsibility to respond, not join in. I see Fleet River as that response.
On a weekend in April that year, my other band (Keyboard Choir) was playing 2 shows in London and Brighton with a band from Brighton called Power Up! ahead of the release of our debut album. We arrived in London on the Friday night and it took us ages to find the venue, the George Tavern in Stepney. It was the first time I'd been there and I've returned many times since. It's a beautiful old building, not really built for live music, but it works- a proper grimy old London pub, the sort that is perennially on the edge of existence. It stands on its own, on the corner of an interchange. All of the other buildings around it look like they've been demolished- hence the opening line- 'this place looks like it's been through world war three'.
The Saturday show was in Brighton- one of my favourite places. It's a stunning city- a kind of sanitized, mini-London, or a super sized, more cultured Oxford. Either way, it's a happy medium for me. We were playing with Power Up! again in a small, underground venue with an over-zealous sound limiter, meaning our set was constantly interrupted as the mains supply was cut – but we had bought our own monitors with us so managed to bypass the system. As a resident of Brighton, Greg had turned up and a few of my friends- Sal and Monica, had made the trip too. Afterwards we were all going to go home, and while the rest of Keyboard Choir jumped in the van to Oxford, I decided to stay with Greg in Brighton and spend some time with my friends.
Chris and Kathy from Power Up! took us firstly to the Freebutt, a lovely old pub. This was in the transition period where the pub was not a venue- but it was still a club. It reverted back to a venue a few months later, and we played a couple of shows there. After that we walked over to Kemptown, where Chris and Kathy knew someone who was having a party. We stayed pretty late- and this is where the out of tune accordion line comes in- the music stopped at the party and this man stood at the edge of the 4th Floor balcony, which had been cut from the roof, and sang songs. Behind him there was mist snaking up the adjacent street which led down to the sea and the moon had an eerie, green quality as it filtered through fog, illuminating the chimney stacks that peppered the rooftops at eye level in every direction.
We made our way home, and stayed at Greg's house. The next morning Greg played me 'Haste Ye Back' and it really hammered home that soon it could be the end for our band. That morning was beautiful- my Sal, Monica, Greg and I met up with Kathy and spent the morning rooting around the junk shops in the lanes before heading down to the beach. It was a clear day- still mid-April, but hot enough to be summer, and the sun beat down on the waves as they crested all the way to the horizon. Greg is the person in the lyrics for whom the town is not the one that they once knew. The final lyrics- the call and response part, is kind of intended as a rallying call for the band to stick together.
It's called 'Fleet River' because the journey began in London, and the river Fleet is a subterranean river there. The story is quite hidden and there can be multiple interpretations of it. I love hidden things in cities, like old abandoned tube stations and subterranean rivers. The opening 2 and a half minutes sound like moving water to me- so that's enough of a relationship with the song for the title to be right.
Since that weekend I've only seen Sal, Monica, Chris and Kathy a handful of times by chance but the song always reminds me of those three days. I'm not sure if they know about the song, or if they've even heard it. I read a review of the song the other day that mentioned the lyrics being about looking around the valleys and foothills of France- where Chalon Valley House Band was written, and I can totally see how it fits that mould too- but for me, it will always have that rustic, Polaroid quality to it that reminds me of that balmy April weekend when I was 22.
I wrote the chord progression and lyrics on the Sunday, played it to Greg, and weeks later we were at ATP vs. Explosions in the Sky, when he played me his final guitar part for the song. We played it live within two months and it's one of the only songs from that era that is still a shoe-in in our sets to this day. I think the whole band has their moment in the sun on the recording too- Anna's distant wailing, Tom's bass harmonic, Ads' Trumpet solo, Jeremy's pounding drums and the Shoegaze guitars at the end- the song would be incomplete if you took any of them away.
Oh, Greg did leave for Canada later that year, but he came back 6 months later – and he's still here.
Hearing is believing. Now that you know the story behind the song, listen for yourself and learn more about the album right here!