BEDFORD STREET IS always busy – it’s the main route down to the city centre from Belfast’s south side and the maze of streets around Lisburn Road and Botanic that are home to so many of the students attending Queen’s University. Maybe that’s why everyone I see on Bedford Street these days seems to be younger than me.
After the long winter, all of these dark northern cities get a twinkle in their eye when the sun comes out – I imagine the same happens in Newcastle and Glasgow. I emerged from Harlem Cafe (right) one bright afternoon, blinking into the sunshine, and found Belford Street was unexpectedly filled with people in love.
Couples were strolling down past the BBC and the Ulster Hall, arm in arm, hand in hand, like characters in some 80s romantic comedy set in Central Park. And as they gazed into each other’s eyes and laughed at each other’s jokes, the first line of this song came to me: ‘All the happy couples that you meet, walking up and down Bedford Street...’
The only piece of music I had to fit the lyric at the time was a slow, terribly quiet little progression based around major sevens with a couple of diminished chords, and for a while I ran over it on a Spanish guitar, whispering the melody.
It was still unfinished the following March, when I had to suddenly produce it, like a half-baked cake, during a writing session in Nashville. I had three co-writing sessions lined up for the trip, each of them with established songwriters in the city. The first and the third went really well – but I came unstuck in the middle. I had something else half ready that I thought would be ideal for my more experienced friend, but he seemed less than impressed.
I don’t know why it hadn’t occurred to me that he might not actually like it – but I was taken aback when he kind of sniffed and checked his phone for messages.
- Hmmm... What else ya got? He drawled at me as the chords rose and disappeared into the high corners of the room like a bad smell. And the only other thing I had was ‘All of the Above’. I was immediately convinced that he wouldn’t be into the whispered sweetness of what I had in mind, so I made a plucky attempt to beef it up, and took it up a few semitones. It came out of my mouth like a complete stranger, like something I had no connection with.
He didn’t buy that, either, and it remained unfinished. I footered with it for months and then, with the album deadline coming up, I went for broke, pumped it up as much as I could and even wrote an arrangement for horns. With electric piano and tambourine, it has taken on a kind of soul vibe that I hadn’t imagined way back in its ‘Spanish guitar’ phase... Songs can take on lives of their own when you’re not looking.
The song was inspired by a couple of people that I knew that seemed to have anti-love magnets round their necks. It sounded to me that they regarded love as a power struggle, a dance of domination and submission where the partners often switched roles without warning – hence the idea of being the hand instead of the glove.
The musicians on this one are:
Guitars, vocals, tambourine – Anthony Toner
Drums – Hammy Hamilton
Bass, vocals – Clive Culbertson
Electric piano and Hammond organ – John McCullough
Trumpet – Linley Hamilton
Saxophone – Dave Howell
ALL OF THE ABOVE lyrics
All the happy couples that you meet,
walking up and down Bedford Street,
they can fill you with a sense of defeat
if you don't beware.
It can be a kind of danger zone,
just walking around on your own -
they're blowing kisses into mobile phones,
so you better take care.
Why are you avoiding love?
What is it you’re so scared of?
Is it the fear that it won’t be enough?
To be the hand instead of the glove –
All of the above?
You used to think that it was easy to take,
being lonely was a piece of cake.
Now you listen to your heart break,
a little every day.
So you say you can’t take any more.
You put a lock upon your every door,
like nobody felt this before -
you’re leading the way.
You better take your heart out, baby,
and let it get kicked around.
Before it flies it has to hit the ground.