The Verve. 1997 is significant for one reason above all others - the arrival of son no.1. It's also the last year in which I took a close interest in what you might call contemporary popular music. I have no idea if the two events are linked; I suspect that there is a connection, but in truth I haven't really heard much since then which has managed to attract my attention, so perhaps it's indicative of a drop in quality, or I am simply getting a bit old for all this pop music lark. Either way, there seemed to be a glut of quality, grown up music that year - Radiohead, Oasis, Prodigy and so on, and I was still buying lots of it.
So why this lot, and not any of the others? 'Urban Hymns' is certainly not the best of the albums I bought that year, and I scarcely listen to it now, but it has a special place in my memory. Or, to be more accurate, one song does.
The weeks leading up to the birth of your first child are extraordinary; exciting and scary at the same time, they are also the last time for a long time that you will be able to simply be a couple. There are images from those weeks which are much stronger than other times before the boys were born, including the weekly visits to ante-natal class. Ante-natal is like a proper rite of passage. You trot along to the hospital where it will all happen and get shown all sorts of scary things, in the company of several complete strangers, whose only connection to you is their equally advanced state of pregnancy. There's some stuff with tennis balls, and lots of earnest discussion; a blatant plug for a particular brand of formula milk, and a tour of the delivery suite - among other things. We made a point of making sure we went every week; me getting home from work early, and driving down there in a series of practice runs. The first evening, we were parking the car when 'The Drugs Don't work' came on the radio. Not the kind of thing you need to hear right now, I commented. We laughed. The next week, the same thing happened: it came on at almost exactly the same point in the journey. Two weeks later, we heard it again, on the way down Deacon's Hill this time. It became, not through conscious choice, our ante-natal song. After Cameron was born, and I was making my way home, head spinning at the magnitude of the whole thing, I turned on the radio, and there it was again. I had to own it after that - and fortunately, it's a fine song. We also have the version of Lou Reed's 'Perfect Day' which the BBC did as a trailer for something as a much more appropriate birth memory, but I'll never forget the Verve.