Music Monday: Harris Tweed

My song for today is “better than this” by the South African band Harris Tweed (aka Dear Reader). The lyrics are not exceptional but their sound – the fresh, nuanced, raw, lyrical and polished musical effect of Cherilyn MacNeil and Darryl Torr – is what makes them my band-of-the moment.

Cherilyn is a Joburg girl who found the name Harris Tweed in a children’s encyclopedia. Her friends turned down the rather odd-sounding name “Ottoman And” so she and Darryl settled on the Scottish cloth instead. The Harris Tweed Authority (HTA) will tell you that Harris Tweed “is cloth that has been handwoven by the islanders of Lewis, Harris, Uist and Barra in their homes, using pure virgin wool that has been dyed and spun in the Outer Hebrides.” Right.

The Joburg-based band on the other hand are a folk-pop duo who blasted onto the SA music scene in 2006 with their debut CD “Harris Tweed: The Younger” and quickly built up a cult following. Cherilyn MacNeil is the musical force behind the band but Darryl Torr provides an excellent foil, allowing her to show off her considerable musical skills.

The HTA were originally fine about the band using the name but then decided to protect their brand. MacNeil and Torr considered anagrams of Harris Tweed such as Weird Haters, Dear Withers and Shade Writer before settling on Dear Reader. Which is rather bland but apparently uncontentious. As MacNeil rightly points out, it’s what you fill the name up with that counts.

Miles Keylock writes that their fan-base includes anyone who appreciates “well-drafted tales of love lost, dreams postponed, and hearts broken and made whole”. In case this sounds too Katie Melua-ish there are also “haunting minor key pop contusions and deceptively airy alternative folk architectures [which] actually sidestep both the strong ‘n sensitive and manic depressive female singer songwriter stereotypes.” Neither of those two are labels that you apparently want to get stuck with!

The music is powerful, honest and it connects with your feelings. Certainly works for me. But I suppose, after listening to the CD for about three days running to and from work, I guess I’m hoping their next album is a little edgier.

Pretty much all the tracks on The Younger are very good but if I had to choose three I’d go with better than this, Le Musketeer est Brave and Stuck on this Course (although Superfly, Ode to Confusion and Don’t Forget are pretty excellent too). What I got out of better than this is a sense of disappointment in growing up. All the anger and hope and confusion of being a child, and the sense of how things could have been better. Maybe a little too real and deep for a Monday morning but I love it anyway.

better than this (harris tweed)
anger builds
and this hardness holds
and it comes out in profanities unbecoming of a girl
what used to heal
and used to feel
like a remedy has eluded me
so i face it all alone

i wanted to be so much older
but i turned out colder than an iceberg in the sea
i used to burn like a fire
and it got me nowhere
but anything is better than this

turn this off
can you shut this thing off
oh i left my mind running
and i got myself lost

turning back
no there’s no turning back
all the old ways are a see-through
as a big pane of glass

i wanted to be so much older
but i’ve turned out colder than an iceberg in the arctic sea
i used to burn like a fire
and it got me nowhere
nowhere nowhere nowhere
i’m holding out for a new day
and i’m waiting for my local warming
there’s not much hope left
but there’s something deep inside me
that wants to believe like i did when i was four

i was four once

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3 Responses to Music Monday: Harris Tweed

  1. Courtney says:

    Wow, I find these lyrics really powerful, and your review of the band and the music really intriguing. Thanks for sharing…while the lyrics may be a bit deep for a Monday for some, for me they completely match my mood!

  2. Pete says:

    Courtney – Thanks. I guess that SA bands have quite a niche following. Glad that this song matched your mood today.

  3. Wenchy says:

    I think they are fabulous

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