Sheffield Does 69 Love Songs: Musicians to play The Magnetic Fields’ classic album live and in full

"I suppose I just wanted to do something pretty epic and a bit different," says the poet and comedian Stan Skinny who, along with fellow songwriter Teah Lewis, has taken on an enormous task - staging a concert in Sheffield that involves playing, live and acoustically, every single track from The Magnetic Fields' classic album 69 Love Songs, all in one go.

Tuesday, 5th February 2019, 11:27 am
Updated Thursday, 7th February 2019, 16:39 pm
Stan Skinny and Teah Lewis, who are organising 'Sheffield Does 69 Love Songs' at DINA on Cambridge Street later this month. Picture: Scott Merrylees

"The album is very special and I wanted more people to hear it," he says. "Because it's 69 songs, it's a mammoth album, so to try and put that all out live does it justice. I just wanted to see it through."

US band The Magnetic Fields, ostensibly a vehicle for the droll, sardonic songwriting of the lugubrious-voiced Stephin Merritt, released the triple album almost 20 years ago, in September 1999. It remains their best-known work and has been highly critically acclaimed; in 2012 it made Rolling Stone's list of the 500 Greatest Albums of All Time. As its title suggests, each song is about love in some form, ranging from upbeat, silly numbers like Let's Pretend We're Bunny Rabbits and Underwear, to reflective moments such as The Book of Love, later covered by Peter Gabriel.

69 Love Songs, by The Magnetic Fields

Stan and Teah have managed to recruit around 40 people - from musicians to sound engineers and lighting technicians - to stage Sheffield Does 69 Love Songs at arts cafe DINA, on Cambridge Street, on February 16.

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"We tried to do it last year," explains Stan. "It was an administrative headache so we thought 'Maybe we need a bit more time to prep this'. It involves quite a lot of musicians. The way it's working is people are doing two songs each - even that's 34 people."

The response, he says, has been very positive. "Once people saw we were actually doing it, it's started picking up. There are a lot of people who are very passionate about the album, so they're quite excited by us doing this thing."

Stan first heard the collection when he was an A-level student; a friend played it repeatedly, he remembers, over a long hot summer.

The Magnetic Fields.

"It had a lot of mystique about it, for me. It's not vastly popular or well known, you just discover it. And it's quite an odd one, on three CDs - you're struck by the ambition of it, 69 songs all about love."

The songs' different musical settings, from synthpop to country and free jazz, also make the album a genuine feat, he thinks. "To music fans it's a real treat. What's not to like? For me it's also the lyrics, he's written some of the best lyrics about love and relationships. They're very funny, a lot of them."

The event's timing so close to the 20th anniversary is mere coincidence - the group hasn't been approached about the concert, either. "Maybe we'll tweet them about it. It's a very communal thing, that's what's quite nice about the event. You can't do it all on your own, to cover 69 songs would be a very arduous task."

Songs have been allocated to performers at random. "I did want, initially, for people to suggest things they wanted to cover, but then we were a bit worried that half would ask for one particular song and it would go back and forth."

Electronic musicians, folk artists and punk-pop acts have joined the bill, he says, but there is 'no heavy metal band, sadly'. "I would have liked a heavy metal version of 'A Chicken With Its Head Cut Off', but no. It's loosely in keeping with the album."

It is also, he says, a 'great showcase' for Yorkshire's music scene, while one participant is travelling from much further afield. "There's a chap coming from Madrid to take part, because he says the album helped him to learn English when he was over here."

Stan and Teah run the Sheffield Songwriters' Club, giving the pair an appreciation of just what an achievement 69 Love Songs is.

"I think this is why I have such admiration for the album as well. That album is the epitome of good songwriting, for one, but also of how you can adopt a challenge for yourself and use that to influence the writing process. I've never tried to write 69 songs about one subject."

Nevertheless, he adds, there is a Sheffield act signed up called Soup Review who once wrote 50 songs about pizza. Merritt himself returned to the method in 2017 on The Magnetic Fields' last LP, 50 Song Memoir - a track for each year of his life.

The concert starts at 2pm and will 'finish at around nine or 10 o'clock'. "It's hard to predict, because some changeovers will be longer than others. We've got to try and take some breaks. Three or four hours of music in order is a bit much."

Admission is on a 'pay as you feel' basis. Proceeds will go to the Snowdrop Project, a Sheffield organisation that supports survivors of human trafficking. "They're doing some very important work," says Stan.

Now the goal is to 'get as many people there as possible', as well as making a programme and rehearsing - after all, Stan has songs to practice himself, namely Underwear and The Death of Ferdinand de Saussure. "I'm happy to fill the gaps," he says.

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