‘Beyond anything I’ve ever felt’: The Maccabees’ Felix White on their emotional final show

Originally intended as a sporting equivalent of ‘High Fidelity’, Felix White’s brilliant memoir ‘It’s Always Sunny Somewhere’ evolved from a celebration of cricket and music into an exploration of love and purpose. Read about the writing process in his own words, along with an exclusive extract ahead of the book’s release

Sunday 01 August 2021 10:33
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<p>The Maccabees’ Orlando Weeks, Felix White and Hugo White at their farewell show at Alexandra Palace, London, in 2017</p>

The Maccabees’ Orlando Weeks, Felix White and Hugo White at their farewell show at Alexandra Palace, London, in 2017

It’s Always Sunny Somewhere presents itself – at first – as the story of a musician hopelessly in love with cricket. When I set about writing it, I genuinely believed that was what it would be about. The idea was to write a memoir that used cricketing moments as its milestones. I would stop at these, each at a different formative moment of my life, and recount how the game to which I have always been unfathomably tied has articulated something back to me about my own life. Then I would meet the cricketers involved in each moment. I envisaged it as a kind of interactive, sporting equivalent of High Fidelity.

It’s just, as I moved further into the writing process, each player’s recollection spun the story out far further than I had anticipated, into an exploration of why and how we put love and focus into the places we do. I reluctantly realised as it did that for the story to feel worthwhile and satisfying, it would really have to be my unfettered, unguarded, honest truth. I had been dreading that. I knew, if I was being really straight with myself, that all roads led back to the death of my mother when I was 17. Slowly conceding to (and then embracing) this only-the-deepest-truth-can-be-written philosophy, I could hardly chase down any feeling I had ever had without connecting it to her painful, incremental decline to multiple sclerosis, or the endless ways grief had manifested since.

Maybe this wasn’t a cricket book in any literal sense at all. Maybe it was about unwittingly repressed grief and unpacking my very secret, private hope that England would lose every game that I pretended to support them in, each loss provoking a general state of communal hurt in which I could quietly revel. Maybe it was about how young grief produces, in some, a hyperactivity and a need to always be doing, while the loss you are trying to escape eventually finds its way to you, however effectively you have wriggled free of it for years. The below chapter is on The Maccabees’ last ever show, at Alexandra Palace, and the breaking point of the 15-plus years of wriggling free.

‘There and Then’

The Maccabees decide, in time, that there will be some farewell shows. We will play a handful of warm-ups before two nights at Manchester Apollo and three nights at Alexandra Palace. The shows sell out instantly, far quicker than we have ever sold any tickets before and, now able to speak it out loud, it’s a kind of alien buzz, the same way that death, I have learnt, brings its own adrenaline that is somehow enjoyable. I busy myself for months collating every photo of The Maccabees that has ever been taken, phoning photographers, asking every person who has worked with us and anyone who has ever spent any time with the band to send everything they have.

It’s for the end-of-tour programme – hours and hours every day of scanning our own faces, watching us grow up and change, different cut-outs of us kissing each other on the cheeks, all the set lists and gig tickets and wristbands I’ve kept. There’s endless stuff. As I’m doing it, the abandoned house in Purley, past the waving woman, soundtracked by Van Morrison putting a name to aspirational pain, into the “no milk today” routine and out into the garden towards the green-painted stumps and the twirly whirly and the long-forgotten treehouse, is sold. We go, one last time, to trawl through Harry’s things. There are, too, oceans of our grandparents’ letters and papers. No one has any idea what any of it is; it’s all going to get thrown away. I look at it all, the remains of a life that nobody has any context for. Then it’s back to The Maccabees stuff. At least we can make sense of this death, I think. You know, get all the papers in order so people can understand the story.

It’s sort of worth it, the programme, if, I realise, a little excessive as I present it to the band when we turn up for rehearsals. The book is too big for anyone to fit in their pockets. I’ve been distracted and desperate to create some kind of perfect funeral for the band, to be present at the death, to own the situation and, like Alan Wells, to take off my helmet and let those rooms see me and say, “Look, I’m still here.” The truth, though, is I am cut in half and throughout the last shows I am completely bereft, not sleeping, hardly eating, sitting in hotel lobbies just staring into space. How can I have nothing, I think to myself, on loop. I’ve tried so hard to avoid exactly that.

The end of the band and outpouring of goodbyes, however, have inspired a confidence in us that, throughout this last tour, we are unquestionably the best we’ve ever been. We sound like all of our favourite groups and yet, somehow, completely like ourselves. We are just The Maccabees and The Maccabees are an indefinable thing when the five of us play. The final shows at Alexandra Palace are beyond anything I’ve ever felt. The poetic sadness at the whole thing being cut short when at its peak it has inspired an emotional response not only in us, but in what feels like everyone at the shows. Here’s a place, we decide, to say goodbye, and say goodbye properly, in celebration.

Cover art for Felix White’s memoir

Every person in the room, bringing their own loaded loss or goodbye they never quite got right or had the opportunity to say, brings it into the space and we exorcise it together. It’s an exorcism I can feel in the walls, almost a solidified object that leaves the room as we do. We present a completely unified front and during every show I have moments where I stop and can feel every single person in the room completely united and living together, inside the same moment. It’s an almost supernatural sensation, and at its strongest for small windows of the set’s peaks, which we symbiotically build and explode into, born out of years of constant communication that stretch back to our teenage selves. I feel myself and all my band lifted and wrapped by it, in exactly the same way I had been by the storm the night Lana died.

After we play the final notes of “Pelican”, we all stop, taking our instruments off carefully, laying them down and looking out over Alexandra Palace. People won’t leave. Every single one of them is staring back at us, their arms in the air, clapping and clapping and clapping. We don’t leave either. I don’t want to. I want to look out into that crowd forever. We stand there for minutes, encouraging wave after wave of noise from the crowd before standing still to look back and, just before it’s finally time to exit, time to crawl out of this skin and into one completely unknown, I raise both my arms, exactly like the cover of There and Then and I see myself from outside my body, in front of a sea of undivided attention, alive in the minds of everyone. A guitar did get me there.

‘It’s Always Sunny Somewhere’ by Felix White published by Cassell 5 August 2021, £20 hardback (octopusbooks.co.uk)

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