If you press play on your car’s CD player as you set off from Chelmsford on a March morning heading north on the A12, Miracle Mile’s Limbo lasts until just north of Darsham. On March 10 every year, I drive to Pakefield, a village Lowestoft swallowed some years ago, to bear witness to an anniversary.
It’s the day my nephew died. He was five days old, born prematurely with complications beyond the wit of doctors to solve. He fought hard for those five days and then he couldn’t fight anymore and every year since I’ve got in the car and driven up the A12 and put flowers on his grave and talked to him about family and work and the world and how his nieces would have loved him and a thousand other totally inconsequential things that he can’t hear and will never know. It’s what I do to keep memories alive and, sometimes, myself together.
Today’s weather was appropriate for the occasion, skies so grey and full of rain I had little need to cry; the heavens did it for me. This is for the best. Suffolk roads can be treacherous; you meet a lot of wide loads, tractors and mud north of Ipswich. When the sky is a coin toss above your head and rain sluices off the fields onto tarmac made slick with sudden water, pretending you can see through the windscreen as tears mist your glasses is a grim journey made lethal. Some years, the sun has shone and I’ve been able to sit, back against the gravestone, and talk for hours, but heading towards the easterly-most point in England, a town crippled by a dead fishing industry where only three points of the compass are available for land travel, blue skies and a breezy disposition are all kinds of wrong.
I close my eyes, I close my eyes / I see your face in every star / In satellites and silver nights: there you are.
Every track on Limbo is brilliant – in DJ parlance, ‘all killer, no filler’ – and, as often happens with works close to attaining perfection (see the majority of Stephen Duffy’s recorded output for other examples), is almost wholly unknown by the listening public. This does both the artist and the listening public a great disservice, but there it is. It can’t be fixed. There is no cure for the sour ear or lack of patience people offer when deciding what to like and what not to like.
Miracle Mile was a band, then it was two musicians, Trevor Jones and Marcus Cliffe, and their significant friends. As Miracle Mile, they released eight studio albums – In Cassidy’s Care being the last – between 1997 and 2013, plus a compilation in 2008. Since then Cliffe has produced and played on five solo albums by Jones, each more personal and beautiful than the last. Jones is the constant through the music’s evolution. He’s a master songwriter, the type that worries beauty into shapes and sounds that unfurl with repeated listening. Consistently underrated, overlooked, unappreciated, yet with critical notices most musicians would give their vocal range for. Ain’t it the way?
My nephew died in 2006. He isn’t mentioned often. Speaking his name out loud is unnecessary, although it’s become easier as the years have passed. I can’t (won’t) speak for my brother and sister-in-law, for whom the burden of this tragedy is all-consuming, but for me March 10 has assumed an importance beyond an original need to remember. The day is invested with routines and rituals, the completion of which satisfy the respect and love and witness due to that small, powerless boy who would now be thirteen years old. A member of our family. Nothing more or less than he deserves.
Since 2008, that includes playing Limbo in the car on the way there and on the way back. Jones gentle tenor acts as anchor and sail, weighing me down in the reality of life’s complications, filling with hope when least expected and applying all manner of balm in-between.
The sun came out on the way home.
And keep taking that road to nowhere / Keep taking it step by step / They say the road goes on forever / Hell, the road ain’t started yet.
Lyrics used without permission.