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Nancy and Lee Week No 5: Some Velvet Morning

So you get the format by now. One of them, either Nancy or Lee, sings the verse, and the other sings the chorus and they both play a character in a dramatic, modern gothic mini opera. Simple.

But then there's "Some Velvet Morning" where the rules change, they both sing a chorus and there is no verse, there is no story, or if there is we're never told it, Lee threatens to tell it, and there's no opera, just an aftermath like a ghost, a little sinister, with the feeling that the early morning dew and mists are just about to make way for the hot summer sun. Just about, but not quite yet.......

"Some Velvet Morning" suddenly became very fashionable and alternative when it was featured in the breakthrough film Morvern Callar in 2002, the second feature by Scottish director Lynne Ramsay (later to direct We Need to talk About Kevin).

And you can understand why: obscure, lush, sexy, drenched in gothic atmospherics:

It starts with a sixties film soundtrack feel to the intro, suggesting languid romance and happiness but this is immediately undercut by an increase in pace and Lee's deep, determined and almost threatening vocal, singing enigmatically

"Some velvet morning when I'm straight

I'm gonna open up your gate

and maybe tell you 'bout Phaedra

and how she gave me life

and how she made it end"

who's he talking to?

Who's he talking about?

What does he mean when he says he will "open up your gate"?

Is he a criminal, a drug addict, an alcoholic who's trying to get "straight".

And the way he lengthens the words "I'm" and "your" to emphasise the words "straight" and "gate" suggests a struggle, before his voice softens, just as Nancy enters as Phaedra.

For Phaedra, the music pace and orchestration changes to create a dreamlike, floating aura, and never has Nancy sounded so other worldly, almost ghostlike, talking it seems of people from another world, (faery land? the Underworld?):

"Flowers growing on a hill

dragonflies and daffodils

learn from us very much

look at us but do not touch"

Phaedra- a Greek mythological figure whose name means "bright", vengeful wife of Theseus.

Then Lee repeats the first verse, more determined , as if struggling to iterate, lengthening and stressing the words "I'm" and "Yours" as well as "straight" and "gate"

and Phaedra responds like a fairy or nymph who is always tantalising just out of reach, always on the point of vanishing with the dislimning mists:

"flowers are the things we know

secrets are the things we grow

learn from us very much

look at us but do not touch"

The enigmatic "Some Velvet Moring" is the Nancy and Lee thing par excellence: mysterious, enigmatic, set in a landscape of dreams and myths, a fable of love and loss, and paradise once glimpsed but never to be regained.

Then the voices fade, alternating the lines, like a story fading into the past to become legend.

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