Not that I’m the sort of person to rank such things but while it’s always been up there, Slowdive’s 1993 masterpiece Souvlaki can make a pretty strong claim to being my favourite record of all-time. And if anyone were to ask “why”, I’d just point them to the opening track even though being the poppiest moment of the record, it’s not that indicative of what follows.
I’ve always had it in my head that the song was about Alison Shaw from Cranes but I can’t actually find anything to back that up, and in the segment on the song on their Pitchfork Classic making-of video (skip to 42 minutes), Neil Halstead doesn’t name names (except, well, ‘Alison’), so maybe I’m making that up. Anyways, always been a catalogue favourite and was the first/only proper single from the record.
Here’s them playing the song at their final live show, pre-reunion, just down the street from me at Lee’s Palace in Toronto in May 1994. I wonder where I was that night. Definitely not there.
When Slowdive split and Neil, Rachel, and Ian reformed as Mojave 3, they were pretty steadfast about not letting Slowdive seep into their live sets no matter how much their fans pleaded. I think the standard reply was, “that’s a different band”. But with time, their resistance softened. Despite their last studio album Puzzle Like You coming in 2006, Halstead reformed the band – sans Goswell, who had health issues – and played some shows and “Alison” made it into the setlist. Here they are in Barcelona in 2011, though “he” might be the better pronoun since Halstead does it solo acoustic.
When Halstead was touring his third solo record Palindrome Hunches, he played The Dakota Tavern in October 2012 and allowed both “Alison” and “40 Days” into the encore. This wasn’t a complete surprise as he’d included it in a digital EP for the tour – plus he had his trusty Boss RE-20 Space Echo pedal on his pedalboard and barely used it through the main set, and by god something needed to echo – but it was still an all-time moment for me. Finally, some Slowdive live! Here’s a live clip of Halstead with a full band in June 2013 – city/venue unclear, though he was in South America then – doing a mini Slowdive set. “Alison” comes first.
And then that October, the Rachel Goswell joined Halstead onstage for a couple of shows in London for the first time in over a decade, basically making an official Slowdive reunion a forgone conclusion (it was all official in January 2014). One of the songs they played was, of course, “Alison”.
And now into the interpretations: this is my favourite, from the 2005 shoegaze tribute album Never Lose That Feeling (there’ll be more on that series later) by the short-lived but still beloved by me Swedish dreampop outfit Douglas Heart.
In a similar vein, from a similar part of the world and from another tribute album with a similar visual and sonic palette, Danish trio Future 3 with the leadoff track from the 2002 Blue Skied An’ Clear compilation, wherein the German electronic label’s roster recorded a whole record’s worth of Slowdive covers and helped affirm that the band was, in fact, really really influential – especially their proto-ambient then-final record Pygmalion. But I digress.
Before going solo and mostly acoustic as Lotte Kestner, Anna-Lynne Williams and her sad, lovely vocals fronted the much-loved hereabouts Trespassers William. Knowing her way around a shoegaze cover, she included “Alison” in her 2017 album of covers called Covers. Something to be said for truth in advertising.
And finally, a reading by current dreampop purveyors Beach Fossils, who bolstered their own genre bonafides by having Rachel Goswell guest on their 2017 album Somersault. This track appeared on a 2012 Neil Halstead tribute split-7″.