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Three Songs No Flash

Goodbye Girls, Hello Heaven? To Nicola Roberts By Aidan Moffat
Aidan Moffat , March 16th, 2013 07:36

Aidan Moffat went along to Girls Aloud's last-ever Glasgow gig and was so moved by the experience that he penned a letter to Nicola Roberts. The Quietus is his postman, and you can read his perfumed billet-doux below

Hi Nicola,

I just want to say thank you for the show with the girls in Glasgow on Monday, it was pretty flawless – although I heard Sarah forgot the words to one of the songs when I was in the toilet, ha! But that's fine, audiences love that kind of thing; it reminds us that you're human like the rest of us. Mind you, we knew that already because we saw you form the band on the telly a decade ago and we've watched – and listened to – you grow. Even the most ardent talent-show addict would admit the format started to wear thin years ago, but you were there when it still seemed like fun. And you can't fault the show's logic: if we watch some “ordinary” kids form a band and fight it out on the telly and vote for them, then we'll definitely buy their records because we'll feel we know them and we've shared their journey – vicarious stardom for a whole nation! And I kind of wanted to hate you back then; I wrestled with my enjoyment of Popstars: The Rivals. The methodical process that created the bands seemed to suck the romance right out of pop, and the whole rivalry thing – boy band against girl band – seemed a little unsavoury too. In short, a bit of mystery's cool, and life shouldn't be a competition. That said, I voted for Girls Aloud every week, and I cheered when you won.

To be honest, I didn't think you'd last long. I certainly didn't expect to be at your tenth anniversary farewell concert four weeks before my 40th birthday! How many talent-show winners and runners-up have sunk back into obscurity in those ten years? I expect you've exceeded even your own expectations. This week I found myself seated in the SECC watching your biggest ever touring show. Starting with ‘Sound Of The Underground', your first post-victory single from 2002, was a belter, and when you all appeared on that massive, twinkling GIRLS ALOUD sign that slowly descended into clouds of dry ice, I felt tingles in my cheeks and toes. It looked a bit scary though, I must say; it was swinging about quite shakily for most of that first number. Then there was ‘Wake Me Up' – curiously absent from your new hits compilation, Ten, I notice – and ‘Love Machine', ‘Biology' and ‘Sexy! No No No...’, which all sounded great with a live band. You can never underestimate what a real drummer can do for a pop gig's energy. And then pretty soon you're all back onboard that big sign and it's slowly floating over the standing audience to land on the mini-stage right in front of me! We were only about 30ft apart tonight, Nicola! It's a shame you all had to mime for that wee section, but of course it was a necessity – five live microphones in front of a PA that size would have probably levelled the whole venue. But it was great to see you all up close because I was getting a bit bored of watching you on the big screens at either side of the stage, which can really take you out of the moment. I tried to take a few pictures too, even a video, but they always look too far away and I soon realised I was wasting an opportunity to absorb your performance in an unusually intimate arrangement by trying to capture it on a fucking phone.

When you were over there, did you see the children near us? There was this great wee boy, I think he was about ten or so, and he was busting some incredible moves while trying to impress some girls a few seats away. I thought he was amazing, and I must admit he was sometimes more entertaining than the show itself. He was old enough to flirt, but young enough not to care how he looked doing it: full of self-confidence, with not a hint of self-consciousness. I think I envied him. The night before the gig, I'd been up all night drinking and listening to old pop records that used to make me feel the same way – Belinda Carlisle, Cyndi Lauper, INXS, that sort of thing – and it was great to see someone at just about the same point in his romantic life losing his shit to Girls Aloud. People can get snobby about pop music, and that offends me and bores me because it's a hard thing to do, to distil complex emotions into simple songs and at the same time sing it with a melody that instinctively appeals to everyone. Any whiny solipsist can fill a diary with verbose doggerel and sell it on Bandcamp – myself included – and tell themselves that what they do is “real” while sneering at the mass market, but that's all bollocks. Pop music is as valid and as human an art form as any, and it’s much more difficult than these wankers like to pretend; anyone who claims to be “into music” while dismissing it is an idiot. Would they say the same of Shakespeare, Dickens, Hitchcock or Spielberg? Anyway, sorry, got a bit carried away there. Back to the gig.

The encore! Well, it wasn't an encore as such because I knew there was no way you'd leave me without playing ‘The Promise’, your finest moment. Still, a lot of parents were ushering their children out of the arena before you came back on in those shiny red dresses and sang that Pretenders song. I've never really cared for ‘I'll Stand By You’, but I must confess there was something really sweet about watching the five of you do it at the end of your last ever gig in Glasgow. And then, finally, ‘The Promise’ – your jazzy, wall-of-sound disco peak – after which you introduced and thanked the band and dancers, said goodbye, and were sucked down into the stage, stolen from us forever.

Do I have any criticisms? Of the performance, no, but I do wish I'd inspected the £10 mug I bought on the way out a bit more closely, it looks cheaper than the one my son had made for me at Boots last Father's Day – and I only bought it because the big foam hands were sold out! But that's not your fault – I don't expect you've even seen it.

I do have an observation, though, and it's simply a personal preference: I find it harder to focus emotionally when there's five of you singing. I think maybe all great songs need one good singer, or two for a duet, of course; it's easier to connect with a single voice, a stronger, solitary heart – or at least a clear leader. I loved the gig and I love most of the songs, but what I'm trying to say is: I much prefer you on your own. Cheryl's sung a couple of great tunes, certainly, but I can't be bothered with that will.i.am guy, he does my fucking nut; I think Kimberley's on the telly now or something, in some dancing show I'll never watch, and singing standards; Nadine's solo album might have been brilliant but I wouldn't know because I don't buy CDs in Tesco’s; and I've no idea what Sarah gets up to but I expect she'll surprise us all. What I do know is that your album, Cinderella's Eyes, was one of the most surprising I've heard in recent years, full of invention, passion and the sort of deeply personal lyrics you rarely hear in any genre, and hardly at all from a bona fide pop star. It's been on my phone since it came out and I still listen to it at least once a fortnight, and I hope you'll make another soon. I heard you're on the telly now too, but apparently it's some kind of fashion-show thing, so there's even less chance of me watching that than Kimberley dancing. So I implore you: get back in the studio!

Anyway, this was just supposed to be a thank you for the gig, so I won't go on. Suffice to say: I'll miss Girls Aloud, but I look forward to a future with you.

Soon,

Aidan x