I'm calling on my friend, Martin. We're going for a curry. Last time I was in England, he said, we'll have to go for a curry next time you're here. I probably should have written those first lines as Grant Morrison would have written them:
I'm calling on my famous friend, Martin Bowes of Attrition. We're going for a curry.
I know it seems fucking stupid, but that's how it feels.
I stay in Coventry when visiting England because that's where my parents live. I myself lived in Coventry for nine months or so at the end of the nineties, then another eighteen ending in 2011. Both periods of residence were - roughly speaking - just me living somewhere while I sorted myself out in preparation to live somewhere else; so I've never really thought of myself as having lived in Coventry, not properly, much less being from Coventry. I was born and grew up in Warwickshire, but that's another story.
I first knew of Martin back in 1980. His fanzine, Alternative Sounds, had turned up at our local record shop, Discovery in Straftford-upon-Avon. I bought a copy because the Abstracts were featured therein, the Abstracts being a local band for which my friend Graham's brother played bass. Alternative Sounds was quite an eye-opener for me - the first fanzine I ever bought - and a great read even beyond the vague thrill of someone I knew having been mentioned; and sadly, seeing as I'd only just discovered the thing, this was to be its final issue because Martin, the editor, wanted to dedicate more time to his band, Attrition.
Attrition came to wider attention a few years later as part of a wave of experimental musicians championed by Dave Henderson of Sounds music paper, others including Nocturnal Emissions, Konstruktivists, and Test Department. The first tracks I heard by Attrition were Monkey in a Bin and Hang Me, which appeared on a compilation tape called A Sudden Surge of Power. These two were among the best tracks on the tape, so Attrition made a big impression. I bought their records when they started to issue music on vinyl, and Smiling, At the Hypogonder Club, their second album, was pretty much glued to my turntable for the duration of 1985.
So it feels pretty odd when, nearly a quarter century later, I spot Martin Bowes heading up Albany Road in Coventry. I've never met the guy. I never even wrote him a letter asking for a tape, but by this point we seem to have about a million mutual friends, having moved in related circles over the years.
'Oi, Martin!' I shout, aware that it leaves a lot to be desired as an introduction, but I can't think of anything else which would seem natural, and all the while I'm aware that this isn't just some bloke, it's Martin from Attrition and I'm terrified of appearing like some drooling fan.
He's probably used to it, because he doesn't seem particularly puzzled, and even gives the impression of having heard of me somehow. Attrition were on the same bill as Konstruktivists at some event not too long ago, and I used to be in Konstruktivists, plus we both sort of know Alan from Stress and Adventures in Reality; so it all kind of joins up; and Martin is a very personable sort of bloke - reminding me a little of characters written by Alan Bennet - and somehow this isn't like an awkward conversation with a complete stranger.
That was 2011, just before I moved to Texas.
We kept in touch.
At one point I needed someone to rescue material I'd recorded on minidisc, a format for which my computer had apparently lost all respect. Martin was running his own studio by then, and kindly effected the rescue during one of my more recent visits. Just as I left his house, Dill from God's Toys had turned up for a recording session and was eating fish and chips in the front room. God's Toys were another local band who had briefly been on telly when I was a kid, so once again I found myself momentarily starstruck by terms that probably wouldn't make sense to anyone else in the entire universe. Dill seemed like a nice bloke too.
So here I am, back in England, back at the house of Martin from Attrition, knocking on his door to see whether he fancies a curry, which of course he does.
We wander up towards the Foleshill Road, talking about England and America, his work as Attrition and mastering the music of other artists at his studio, notably Coil; we talk about mutual friends and acquaintances, of whom there always seem to be more than I realised - this time adding Carl Howard and David Elliott to the list; and then we arrive at Taste of India and eat the best curry I've had in a number of years.
We talk about goths, Whitby, not particularly liking the Cure, Hawaii, New Zealand, getting old, and fatherhood, or stepfatherhood in my case. Martin's son is a grime artist, one of those details which strikes me as both completely peculiar and yet makes perfect sense.
We finish and make our way back and agree we should go for another one next time I'm over.
These yearly return visits to England can be awkward, even uncomfortable, and sometimes feel as though I'm engaged in a forensic investigation of my own existence, establishing a motive whilst trying to verify all of those memories of living here as actually having happened. At worst, it can feel like a particularly morbid type of time travel, going back to times prior to the death of persons who are yet to die. So much of what I experience in England is now prefixed with this may be the last time…
Curry with Martin feels an even stranger experience on some level, like a sidestep into a reality where I actually lived in Coventry, and I have to remind myself that I did live in Coventry for a while. It's like a reconstruction, something imagined by whoever looks back at my life and decides, yeah, he probably would have known that bloke from Attrition. They would have gone for a curry, and let's face it - that would have been somewhere up the Foleshill Road. I had assumed Coventry would be done with the surprises by this stage.
This is how my brain works, and how it will doubtless continue to work, so there's probably not much point in my apologising for any of it; but the thing that I take from it is that, here in this land which is, for me, mostly memories and things which used to be, new stuff can still happen, for which I am truly thankful.