Gotta Hear This, #2
It's the early weeks of 1984 and I have a compilation tape on endless rotation on the car stereo. My friend Stephen McKenna has put loads of magnificent music together for me, including Quando Quango, Shriekback, Talking Heads and some other arcane gems. As an added bonus, there's a snippet of some amazing tune at the end of side one. It's a left-over from some previous compilation that was on the cassette and I'm transfixed by the sound.
I hear a cello, a wistful, European voice, some piano and a ringing bell. It sounds a bit like Nico and the Velvet Underground, but Stephen eventually tells me that it's a Belgian act called Bernthøler and the song is 'My Suitor'. I listen some more as the vocalist murmers, "he's a fighter, with no dagger" . What does she mean, exactly?
I get a tip-off that the record is in the remnants section of the cheapo record shop on Gresham Street, Belfast. So I buy 'My Suitor' on 12 inch and marvel at the extended mix that dissolves into 'Pardon Up Here'. The latter has been scored by a fella called Wim Mertins, who is apparently big in Brussels, while the singer is an Albanian, Drita Kotaji.
I play it compulsively and gaze at the sleeve illustrations and the photo of the beatnik girl with the entrancing lament. The record label is Blanco y Negro, run by indie heavyweights Geoff Travis, Mike Alway and Michel Duval and a few years later, when I make the acquaintance of Mike, I commend him on this glorious release. He agrees, but the inference is that there were some grave difficulties and so the act was passed over.
Around 1996, I do a computer search on the band and it takes me to Simon Rigot from Bernthøler, who sends me a CD compilation of the band's fine career. I also learn that the record has a proper cult following, while a radio show on Studio-Brussel even ran a programme of 'My Suitor' cover versions. And just recently, the converging fun of MySpace and YouTube have taken me to a specialist Bernthøler site, where I can see Drita in performance and sample a strange Japanese tribute.
Ain't music the greatest thing?
Stu Bailie presents The Late show on Radio Ulster, every Friday from 10pm until midnight. See his playlist here.