The Twilight Sad: ‘I Won’t Clip Your Wings’

The Twilight Sad: ‘I Won’t Clip Your Wings’

I remember the day I got a phone call from the producer at BBC 6 Music, I was standing outside my work and nearly ignored the call. “Hi Halina, it’s BBC 6 Music, we have chosen your 2 hour takeover and want you to come down for the Listener’s 6 Mix with Queens Of Noize.” My heart nearly stopped, I stood outside and screamed. People started asking me if I was ok, I can only assume they thought I had received bad news. The producer went on to say that they had received my playlist, “it was The Twilight Sad that swung it, they have become a firm favourite down here.” That was back in 2008 and I had chosen ‘Cold Days From The Birdhouse’ as one of my selections.

The Twilight Sad were already a beating heart in my music collection by then. It was more than that, they were now part of the glue between my brother Azhar and our friends – Claire, Sean and the rest of the collective. When Fourteen Autumns and Fifteen Winters was released it was a gamechanger. This music was righteous, it was anthemic and in ways almost patriotic for us. James Graham’s ardent vocal felt unbridled at times and his Scottish accent never faltered, it carried his words with fervour and pride.

I recently penned a tribute to the inimitable Scott Hutchison and mentioned the connection between Frightened Rabbit and the thanks I have to them, Adam Stafford, Y’all Is Fantasy Island and We Were Promised Jetpacks for our discoveries. It was a time when Scottish music had turned a new tide. British Indie had subsided a bit and brought in a wave of gems that made Scotland one of the most important places for new music discovery. Our love for them deepened and our connection to one another was another diary entry in our own personal histories.

The Oran Mòr was our first live experience. My brother has always been a live music fan, but it was as if he was almost nervous about them coming on stage which is a common feeling for any music fan that has invested so much into an artist. You spend hours listening to every song on a record, the nuances, the dynamics. At times there will be a chord change, a line of a song or a riff that will jolt your emotions in such a pivotal way that they become the underpinning to key moments in your life. Those nerves are there because you want those live moments to replicate the intensity of the emotion you felt in those personal moments. My brother’s feelings for that band were augmented and so were ours.

Time went on and in 2008 we went to the now sorely missed Connect Festival and it was thanks to TTS that we attended. My mum drove a car full of us round from Dunoon (our hometown) and we had their album blaring. It’s funny how you can pin point times in your life so vividly. ‘That Summer, At Home I Became the Invisible Boy’ came on, the skies were Egyptian blue and the clouds as white as fresh cotton. The hills and mountains were passing the car like a movie reel and the sheer enormity of that song soundtracking the Scottish outdoors was devastating. My mum ignored the fact we were yelling the lyrics including “cunt” at the top of our lungs, I think she was genuinely happy we were so elated. Moments like those are as electrifying as the gigs themselves. To have that connection with other people in those moments over music is what makes bands like The Twilight Sad invaluable.

My brother subsequently moved to London and so our experiences of seeing the band together became separated. I remember getting a phone call from him saying he had seen them in London and likewise, I would tell him about the times I had seen them in Scotland, it was always difficult though to have that separation because it had become such a rewarding bond to witness them together.

In 2010, ‘The Room’ was released and a song that is another entry in the “songs that saved my life”. Life threw all its daggers at me and there was a loneliness that I can’t put into words. I couldn’t even tell those close to me what was happening in my head. I didn’t want to be alive anymore and made plans to end things. Then something emerged in that song:

You’re all on your own
‘Cause you said you failed to care

And there’s a message in the card in your favour”

I can’t quite explain those lyrics. The first two lines embodied how low I was feeling, the way they were sung, it was almost as if they knew my loneliness. The perfect simplicity of the music was a banging drum to my isolation. But, it was the third line that saved me. It was a voice to unchain me. “And there’s a message in the card in your favour”, was the helping hand I needed. It was a light in such incredible darkness and whilst this is often a clichéd description in these conversations, it was my lifeline. There was a fight in his vocal and one that told me not to give up. That was another moment music has become one of the most important aspects of my life. To be dictated by 10 words, to have those 10 words stop you from saying goodbye to yourself and those around you is so climactic that I suppose it was my own private butterfly effect.

Another couple of years moved on and I met my partner. After a period together he told me his band, United Fruit had been invited to support The Twilight Sad on several dates. It was another beautiful connection and when I told my brother he was floored. It’s important to remember all these conversations that my family, friends and those closest to me have had about this one band. That domino effect is incredible.

Fast forward to 2018. We find out that The Cure are playing London’s Hyde Park. Editors, Interpol, Slowdive, Kathryn Joseph, The Twilight Sad are all supporting. You just need to look at my Last FM listening scrobble to see how important all these people have been in my sonic lifeline.

There’s been a revulsion over the last two months in Scotland and the Scottish music community I know. The squabbles, divides and pretentiousness has dissipated somewhat and people have pulled together more. There will always be elements of separation because we are human, but the harshness has faded more now than I have ever known.

The day of Scott’s death will always be remembered, especially for those closest to him. His family and friends. The Twilight Sad came hand in hand with Frightened Rabbit. They were like the FatCat Records bonus bundle. You listened to one, discovered to other and felt blessed. May 11th, my brother messaged me and we proceeded to have a two hour conversation about our lives, music and more. We then decided that our geographical separation was a minor.

Saturday 7th July arrived and I meet my brother in nearly a year. We attended The Cure BST Hyde Park and I can see the same nervousness in his face as I did in 2007. As we stood waiting for The Twilight Sad to take the stage he keeps putting his hand on my back to check I am ok, but also tensing his hands as if he is about to play a World Cup game for his national team. What happens next is a blur. At times, the emotion swell is almost too much to take in. The Celtic body of people in the crowd is incredible, all we can hear is Scottish and Irish accents next to us. People with smiles so wide their faces ache in the sunshine, tears rolling down merging with the glistening sweat of the ferocious London sunshine. They move through their set seamlessly and James’ ticks, punches, hand claspings and eye rolls are the augmentation to another experience that will be engrained in our memories forever.

‘Keep Yourself Warm’ begins. The Frabbit cross designed and made by Eala Jewellery is symbolic. It cannot be contained by James’ t-shirt and is assurance of Scott’s memory. His emotion shows, there is no attempt to contain it, it comes with no shame. He embraces it and his band of brothers serve as an important backing to his sentiment.

I feel my brother’s arms round me and then we merge in sobbing body convulsions, screaming, singing, tears and love. It is just us. No one else is there. Just us and the band. All anxiety has disappeared and we are alone in front of the stage.

It’s been over 10 years. I thank The Twilight Sad and everything that they have influenced. They helped create an extraordinary bond between my brother and I. They have been a saviour and I know my life would not be the same without them.

“I won’t clip your wings”

They helped mine flourish.

[Halina Rifai]


  1. The first time I heard The Twilight Sad was actually live, and I felt the entire direction of my life changing in that moment. Such a phenomenal band, and a phenomenal live band at that – but it’s the connection with your brother that you express here that is the reason there are tears welling up in my eyes right now.

    Sounds like the perfect, cathartic weekend.


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