Now 39 is the greatest album ever made.

I can hear you starting to protest – but there is no point. I will not hear otherwise. It is START TO FINISH BANGERS.

For a while, Zofia (queen of the Tom Hardy listicle) and I had a plan to write a blog dedicated to Now 39 in all its glory. But we never quite got to it, and now here I am blogging an entirely different blog. But the dream is not dead! I still have a lot of feelings about the pop hits of 1997-1998, and it would be selfish and wrong of me to keep them to myself.

I can’t tackle the whole thing in one go – we’d be here for days. And I’ve tried and failed to start from the beginning – there is just too much to say about All Saints, and I need some time to get my thoughts in order. So let’s ease ourselves in to this new adventure with some thoughts on the BBC version of Perfect Day.

First, refamiliarise yourself:

Now, this is the first version of Perfect Day I ever knew. And so, it is deeply imprinted in my mind as the ultimate, definitive, most wonderful version. Lou Reed schmoo reed: I want BBC or nothing.

But what makes it so great? 

Well, everything. 

Everyone is committing extra hard to sounding exactly like themselves. Boyzone are the most harmonically Irish they have ever sounded. Joan Armatrading is rich and dark and deep. You can hear Gabrielle’s fringe. The whole thing is joyous.

The arrangement is so rousing, too. The soaring sax solo halfway through. The fullness of the orchestral strings. All of it building to that glorious choral crescendo – Reap! Reap! Reap! – while Heather Freaking Small makes all of us feel proud while she belts over the top.

Then that final, sublime, understated moment of quiet. 

Oh, what a perfect song.

So, a lot of good stuff going on in there. And, of course, all designed to make us fall deeply, irreversibly in love with the BBC. (Totally worked on me. Reader, I married him).

But there’s one featured artist I haven’t mentioned, who was so very very important to adolescent me. Go back and watch the video again. Just as it comes up to the two minute mark, Shane McGowan’s gravel-voice gives way to six sonorous, mournful notes.

Sheona White

You know how I knew there would be a Wikipedia page I could link to about her? Because I created it, half my lifetime ago, after discovering with dismay that she was a red link in the article about Perfect Day.

You see, we all need heroes we can identify with. And Being A Tenor Horn Player was a major part of my teen identity. So my teenage self could not help but adore Sheona White: the closest thing to a famous female tenor horn player this world has ever known.

Brass banding is not glamorous. It’s mostly spit and gurning and lugging things around. It’s not sexy (not even when Ewan McGregor portrays it in Brassed Off). Anything that is mainly associated with miners and the Salvation Army is not going to get close to the top of a glitz list. 
But everything’s relative, and within the band there are scales of sexiness. Your cornet players get the sparkling solos. Your trombonists are physical and showboaty. The euphonium players get the rich melodic set pieces, and even the percussion section has its moments in the spotlight.

The tenor horn, in the main, goes “pah”. 

The tuba goes “oom” and the horn goes “pah”. Sometimes, in more exciting moments, it goes “pah pah”. When it is not doing that, it is holding the same, mid-range note for bars and bars on end, to add some harmonic depth to the mix. There can be no egos in the horn section.

Then along comes Sheona White, with her album “The Voice of the Tenor Horn”, and for a little while at least, the tenor horn is the star. And it’s being played by a woman! And she’s a BBC Young Musician finalist! And a Cosmopolitan Woman of the Year! AND SHE’S ON NOW 39!!!

Living. The. Dream.

So Perfect Day was so much more to me than a BBC promo stunt. It was my sign that nerdy brass band girls could be stealth pop stars, even if only for six notes.

The All Saints were too cool and the Spice Girls too sassy. I hadn’t lived through Natalie Imbruglia’s angst or Billie Myers’ heartbreak. But there, on the greatest album ever made, was a woman I recognised. Perfect day, callooh callay. 


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