The Coldplay Problem
It was barely 6.29 in the morning when I was woken by a loud knocking on my back door. Angry at being woken at such an hour, I quickly dressed and rushed downstairs, ready to castigate Alun for his inappropriate alarm call.
“You’d better have a good reason for waking me,” I said. “It’s International Lie-In Day today, the only day all year I get a decent night’s sleep.”
“It’s Coldplay, Jed,” he said, “They’ve stolen the corpse of David Bowie and have brought him here to Happy Island.”
Damn. That was a good reason, albeit a slightly implausible one. “Just run that by me again,” I said.
“Coldplay spent the last six years of David Bowie’s life constantly pestering him to record a single with them. He’d always say ‘No’, ‘That song’s not strong enough’, or ‘I’m not really into that type of track’, or ‘I’d rather record a song with a sack of gravel’, but they wouldn’t take no for an answer. Eventually he got so fed up them pestering him he said ‘I’ll do an album with you when I’m dead, and not before.’”
“So they took him at his word,” I said.
“Yes, they viewed it as a contractual commitment. They’ve stolen his corpse and have taken it to the Happy Island Recording Studios.”
The Empty House, on the fashionable eastern shore of Happy Island, is one of those invaluable resources to a small island community such as ours, and has served as a church, a public house, a radio station, a toast museum, a film studio, a European Seaweed Centre of Excellence, a duck training academy, clown school and an international space centre. It is also a much-sought recording studio, situated as it is in an idyllic, off-the-beaten-track location, with a view of the sea, unique local wildlife and friendly local community, everything you need to ensure an enjoyable recording experience. It also has high-quality sound proofing, installed by my great-grandfather, also called Jed, who couldn’t stand the noise made by the sea, local wildlife and local community.
With Coldplay living on the island, Alun refused to leave his house, in case he encountered Coldplay.
“They’re not infectious,” I said. “They don’t carry the plague.”
“No, but they might sing, which is 1,000 times worse than any plague that’s ever visited these shores.”
In its history, Happy Island has been visited by a wide range of plagues, viruses and infections. Indeed, it was quite the European centre for plagues and mysterious vapours during the dark ages, and featured in many contemporary pamphlets under the title ‘Beware this place’, but in Alun’s eyes none of these visitations of death and misery could compare to the sheer horror that is Coldplay playing live.
I was therefore forced to set my alarm at an insanely early hour, in order to be up to meet the early morning boat.
That first morning I was surprised to see another man waiting at the dockside. “Are you with the band?” I asked, in much the same way my medieval ancestors might have asked a dark mark on their skin whether it’s a lenticulae.
“Oh good God no,” he replied. “I hate Coldplay, I hate everything about them, I despise them with every cell in my body.”
“So what are you doing on the island?” I asked.
“I’m sound engineer and producer on the new Coldplay album. Jeff.”
He stuck out his hand for me to shake.
“I’m Jed,” I said, assuming that he was telling me his name, not the name of the new Coldplay album. “I hope you don’t think I’m being rude, but if you hate Coldplay with every cell in your body, why are you producing their album?”
“For the chance to work with Bowie. It’s such a privilege.”
“But he’s dead.”
“Even dead he has so much energy, passion, such originality. He’s a fucking damn sight better than Coldplay that’s for sure.”
I saw a lot of Jeff over the next few days. Coldplay seemed to be using him as a general goffer, which he didn’t mind at all, as it meant he got to get as far away as possible from Coldplay. One afternoon he approached me as I was sitting on one of the refrigerators on Refrigerator Bay, playing my banjulele to a passing school of whales.
“That’s a nice sound,” he said, “We could use a sound like that on the album.”
“Really? You want to record the banjulele?”
“It sounds better than Coldplay do, believe me. Why don’t you come to the studio now?”
“Now?” I said. “But won’t Coldplay be there?” Though I’m not a Coldplay-hater to the extent that Jeff and Alun are, I wasn’t keen to go anywhere near them. After all, if I was really unlucky they might be playing music.
“No, you’re fine for another couple of hours at least, they’re at the bottom of the well.”
“The bottom of the well? Is that a musical term?”
“Oh no, I mean they’re at the bottom of a deep, dark well.”
I stared blankly, as if I had no idea what he was talking about. In truth, I had no idea what he was talking about.
“They’re meditating. They spend several hours every day at the bottom of a well in a deep, meditative trance.”
“But there isn’t a well on the island,” I said.
“They brought one with them.”
“They brought a well with them. A deep, dark well?”
“They are Coldplay. It’s the sort of pointless thing they do with their vast fortune now that drugs are out of fashion.”
I followed Jeff into the Empty House Recording Studio. “If you could play the tune you were strumming on the beach, it’ll be a good contrast to the mediocre nothingness they’ve been churning out all week. What’s it called?”
“The Ballad of Jed.”
“It’s a song? Do you want to try singing it as well?”
“I’ll have a go.” We spent a couple of hours doing a number of takes, but eventually Jeff was happy.
“See you same time tomorrow?” he said. “That is if you have another song.”
“Well, we could try the Ballad of Alun,” I said. “And Coldplay will be …”
“100 feet under the earth in a mindless trance.”
It seemed ironic, they’d stolen Bowie’s body and prevented his burial, but here they were burying themselves for two hours every day.
I turned up at the Empty House the next day as planned and we recorded the Ballad of Alun. The following day we recorded The Ballad of Jed and Alun. My visits continue. Coldplay seemed to be spending more and more time at the bottom of their well and over the next week or so Jeff and I managed to record pretty much every song from Happy Island’s folk history.
Then, one day, I was woken early by a knocking on my back door. I quickly dressed and rushed downstairs to find Jeff, who was carrying two suitcases.
“We’re off,” he said, extending his hand, “I thought I’d say goodbye before I left.”
“That’s it, you’ve finished the album?”
“As best as I could manage. I think the end result is pretty good actually.”
“And my tracks, am I going to feature at all?”
“Wait and see. I’ll send you a copy of the finished CD.”
A few months later a Coldplay CD arrived in the post, along with a cheque, made out to me, for an unfeasible sum of money.
Tentatively I put the album on, not wanting to listen to Coldplay but, at the same time, wanting to hear my contribution to the Coldplay album. There it was, first track, The Ballad of Jed, just me playing the banjulele and singing. I kept the album on, the second track was She Ballad of Alun, still neither sight nor sound of Coldplay.
I googled the album, to find hundreds of reviews of the new album. I choose this one simply because it’s typical.
Although described as the new Coldplay album, it features no Coldplay songs, none of Coldplay’s musicians and a lead singer with absolutely no connection to Coldplay whatsoever, instead the album consists entirely of obscure folk tunes played on the banjulele. Even the artwork comprises photos of the recently deceased David Bowie and some passing geep. In short it is the perfect Coldplay album. Five stars.
The reaction was the same across the music press, universally ecstatic. Though Coldplay enjoy massive record sales, they are universally hated, even those that buy their albums can never understand what causes them to do so. By releasing Coldplay-free material under the Colplay name Jeff had hit on sure-fire way to make money. It meant that Coldplay could delegate all music-making duties, releasing two or three albums every year without having to pick up a guitar.
With the money from the Coldplay CD I was able to purchase a new banjulele. Of course, Alun complains about the noise, so I simply climb to the bottom of Coldplay’s well and play to myself.