Fifth Angel – Time Will Tell
1989, Epic Records
Pondicherry – a small union territory on the South Eastern Coast of India – perhaps the place I think of as ‘home’ the most. Indeed, some of my first memories of being human were here, under the tropical sun, walking wide, paved streets flanked by beautiful colonial mansions, bright bougainvillea spilling over their high walls, the fragrance of frangipani heavy in the air. I can hardly recognise the town I now find myself in – shops and restaurants have mushroomed and multiplied to cater to the increasing tourist demand – once familiar buildings have been knocked down, or host vast department stores, and the temple tower has faded from the vivid blue I recall.
The most palpable difference is the absence of my grandfather, whose booming voice still echoes throughout our house, tunelessly singing along to old Hindi film songs, and I still expect to walk into his old room and find him at his table, writing stories as he so loved to do. I can see that my grandmother is changed, although she still prepares my favourite fruits – papaya, pomegranate and mud-apples – as she did when I was a child, she is quiet, often tired, and I can see the effort she is making to be in good cheer for me, staying up late to regale us with tales of when she was a girl.
Since I can remember, my summer holidays were spent with my grandparents. Following his retirement, after a career that spanned over fifty years, my grandfather’s expertise remained so sought after, that he continued to work through much of my childhood, exploring the spiritual aspect of health. A rigidly principled man, my grandfather was a great believer in prayer and physical exercise, and practised pranayama every morning. Despite his incredible contributions to allopathic medicine – his thesis on white oleander poisoning is still cited in modern toxicology textbooks – in his twilight years he shifted his focus to holistic medicine, with a special interest in death and dying.
Although my Nani hailed from a conservative family in a sleepy Himalayan village,
which to this day has no regular running water, she completed not only a BA in history, but also a degree in teaching. Although she dedicated most of her life to her family, she remained a prolific reader, and delighted in the fact that my nose was always buried in a book. During the summers, our mornings were for lessons – Hindi and Indian history, and writing lines to improve my awful cursive writing. In the afternoons, I would read, sometimes up to a book a day. She always said that she would spare no expense if it was for books, and, when she first received news that I had been accepted to medical school, her immediate reaction was of disappointment, for she had hoped that I would become a writer.
With this hastily planned trip back home, I feel like I have been given a gift – a little piece of almost everything that was wonderful about my childhood. Time with my Nani, my aunty – who was amongst the first people to hold me when I was born, my little cousin – who is teaching me all about the best Instagram poses (I’m told the key is to look down) and how to take the ideal selfie, and of course – my badass mother, who is celebrating three years of being cancer free!
Last night, as I walked the along the beach, with the foamy waters of the Bay of Bengal lapping at my feet, I felt the urge to listen to this record. Perhaps not as good as their first album, not especially outstanding in its musicianship, nor particularly profound lyrically, but to me, an absolute feel-good standard to keep in one’s arsenal. Even in this slice of heaven, I couldn’t resist a cheeky listen, and in the quiet hours of the night, I popped my headphones in, the strains of ‘Cathedral’ drowning out the gentle hum of cicadas.
I suppose, it might have been more appropriate to talk about their first album, musically superior, and a more out-and-out power metal record, but somehow, I find myself reaching more often for this second one, with its commercial sound, and catchy, mid-tempo numbers – all-round 80s good vibes – and the perfect accompaniment to a chilled glass of Kingfisher beer. I can think of countless evenings, in good company, rocking out to ‘Midnight Love’ and ‘Feel the Heat’, and of course, my favourite off the album – ‘Seven Hours’. For 1989, this album was simply a pearl cast before swine, lost in a tide of hair metal, and the burgeoning extreme metal scene.
It still amazes me how good music can take great moments and make them perfect, evoke memories as strong as the fragrance of jasmine mingled with coconut, provoke the extreme emotions of my childhood – euphoria, rage, and even deep sadness. And I’m filled with excitement when I think that in just a few weeks, I’ll be front and centre at Keep it True – watching Fifth Angel live, as part of the most incredible festival line-up I have ever seen – something that, when I first listened to them almost fifteen years ago, I would have never have imagined possible.
For now, though – I must turn my attention back to Nani, as she tells me stories of her grandfather braving the Himalayan forest to hunt jungle-fowl, and my mother, who is planning what treatments we should have in the Ayurvedic spa (how taxing!). There is a deep peace in the sultry evening heat, playing cards, gossiping about family politics, whilst my cousin discreetly (or so she thinks) pouts for selfies in the corner. Sometimes life can be really beautiful.
Brb – off to the beach!