HS: “Eleanor Payne, and Ross Leonard, run our new favourite indiepop/postpunk night and fanzine: Candyskin. The night is in Walthamstow and you should go next time it is on! We asked her to write about Camera Obscura after a conversation we had a few weeks ago and what a fantastic band they were.”
There are lots of things that Scotland does well. We have Scotland to thank for porridge, television, over 1,200 beautiful castles, Gregory’s Girl and even Elvis Presley, whose ancestors hailed from Aberdeenshire. Scotland also has an uncanny talent for producing perfect (indie) pop and post-punk bands, such as The Yummy Fur, The Pastels and Orange Juice. It is Scotland’s biggest city, Glasgow that has become the epicentre of this scene.
From an indie-pop perspective, it’s the Glasgow bands that always seem to write the best love songs. Perhaps all the young lovers who eloped to Gretna Green decided they never wanted to cross the border again, settled down on the fairer side and gave birth to more hopeless romantics who are now the punks writing love songs in Glasgow tenements.
Camera Obscura are a perfect example of one of these bands. Their songs set moments of swooning heartbreak against a rich backdrop of tumbling keyboards, violins and trumpets. However, comparisons with Glasgow peers Belle and Sebastian are hard to avoid, and in fact Stuart Murdoch produced Biggest Bluest Hi-Fi, the band’s first album. I’d like to say the similarities between the bands mattered, but I don’t think they do. For me it’s the differences that are much more interesting to consider, and why Camera Obscura will always mean more to me.
There are countless indie bands who write songs about being misfits. It has become such a common trope that a recent BBC documentary on independent music was named Music for Misfits: The Story of Indie. To many people, Belle and Sebastian are the band that fulfil the indie stereotype of a band that caters to outcasts and the ‘uncool’ in society. White Collar Boy is a geeky boy’s wet dream with lyrics that describe a weak-willed office worker “chained” to a “screaming suffragette”. The girl in question is a typical Belle and Sebastian manic pixie dream girl, who exists purely to facilitate the more complex male character.
Portrayals of females like this are rife in Belle and Sebastian’s back catalogue, and it’s frustrating to see a band pander to preconceptions of pushover indie boys under the spell of clueless and overbearing girls so readily. In contrast, while Belle and Sebastian have effectively made a career out of proclaiming to play songs for misfits, Camera Obscura are a much quieter threat; a band whose dusty sweetness hides genuinely affirming and empowering lyrics alongside sweet soaraway pop tunes. The opening line to Dory Previn (“fed up of girls in pretty dresses/with boys who want to teach them a lesson”) could almost be a direct comment on the relationship tropes present in many indie songs.
As a teenager, realising I’d found a band who wrote songs about falling in love (something I was also perfect at as a teenager) and other well trodden topics without the self-absorption of most musicians was bliss. Camera Obscura aren’t about to take over the world (and probably never were), but for me then, it felt like it.
I’ve always found self-depreciating lyrics and bitter love songs hard to swallow when they come from bands who constantly misfire their aggression, or come off as creepy and overly resentful. I’m Waking Up To Us, although one of my favourite Belle and Sebastian songs, is the ultimate lesson in why you will always come off looking a fool when you write a scathing break up song about a current band member and let her sing backing vocals. Perhaps if Teenager by Camera Obscura had come out a little earlier, Murdoch would have listened to the chorus lyric “you’re not a teenager/so don’t act like one” and been a little less unfair.
However, that’s not to say Camera Obscura don’t write perfect bitter pop songs, and for a girl with a well-intentioned mean streak, that’s fine with me. At sixteen, the first line of the chorus to I Need All The Friends I Can Get was practically a mantra for me, and hearing Tracyanne sing of being bored with herself, drowning her sorrows and sleeping around was all I needed to fall in love.
Sometimes something tragic has to happen for you to fully realise how much a band means to you, and that is exactly what happened on the 22nd of October this year. Camera Obscura announced that keyboardist Carey Lander had passed away after a battle with Osteosarcoma. Like anyone who heard the news, I was saddened and shocked, but it wasn’t until I was out dancing at popular indiepop club-night How Does It Feel To Be Loved while Hey Lloyd, I’m Ready To Be Heartbroken was being played that I found myself crying in a room full of people and suddenly realising how much I loved the band. Before Lander passed away, she set up a fundraising page for Sarcoma UK, and since then has raised thousands of pounds for the charity. An admirable feat by an incredibly talented, and by all accounts wonderful person. You can still donate to Carey’s campaign at: