Archive for December, 2007

Open your eyes, look to the skies …

20 December 2007

Open your eyes,
Look to the skies, when you’re lonely,
There will be stars shining for you,
Sleepers awake!
It’s getting late, snow is falling …


What I listened to most in 2007

18 December 2007

Only two weeks until the end of the year and the chances of this list changing between now and then are minimal (although I think Bella Hardy will be getting a thorough bashing post Christmas Day). Not an exhaustive list but covering most of the most exciting bits of my musical year.  I have restricted this to long players and  missed out loads of individual tracks I liked  so as to avoid this being a 10,000 word essay.

From 2007

Rachel Unthank & the Winterset – The Bairns; A Mountain Of One – Collected Works; Stephen Duffy & The Lilac Time – Runout Groove; Alela Diane – The Pirates Gospel; Studio – West Coast; Tracey Thorn – Out of the Woods; Bill Callahan – Woke On A Whaleheart; Rufus Wainwright – Release the Stars; Joni Mitchell – Shine; Beirut – The Flying Club Cup; Wooden Shjips – Wooden Shjips (2cd version – the bonus cd of singles is better than the main one); Pilooski Dirty Edits compilation; Best Of Ethiopiques; Siobhan Donaghy – Ghosts; June Tabor – Apples; Seal – System; Pleasure 2; Ulrich Schnauss – Goodbye; Jay Jay Johanson – The long term physical effects are unknown; Iron & Wine – The Shepherd’s Dog; P J Harvey – White Chalk; The Field – From here we go sublime;

From 2006 (but still listened to a lot in 2007)

Joanna Newsom – Ys; Robbie Williams – Rudebox; Bellowhead – Burlesque; Espers II; TV on the Radio – Return to Cookie Mountain; Lindstrom – It’s a Feedelity Affair; Midlake – The Trials Of Van Occupanther; Fujiya & Miyagi – Transparent Things; Kris Drever – Blackwater; Trentemoller – The Last Resort

From before then (but either re-released, purchased or listened to a lot in 2007)

Anne Briggs – The Time Has Come; Catherine Howe – It’s A Beautiful Place; David Bowie – The Buddha Of Suburbia; Bhundu Boys – The Shed Sessions; Labi Siffre – Crying, Laughing, Loving, Lying; Labi Siffre – Labi Siffre; Vangelis – Bladerunner (25th anniverary edition); Lots of late 1970s / early 1980s New York Disco music (mainly listened to in the summer); Lots of Yacht Rock© and White Island Italo Disco© (both contemporary and from the past)

What did you love ? 

Quote (albeit a long one)

14 December 2007

On the subject of Northern Lights / The Golden Compass (It is not a fecking compass, it is a truth teller, you fecking dimwits), having read this article, I think Philip Pullman is my kind of fellow.

Shuffleathon 2007. Part 2

14 December 2007

Patti Smith – Gone Again

I don’t go out of my way to buy everything she releases but Patti Smith  is an icon. When at college in the early nineties, I went out and bought Horses and Marquee Moon from Piccadilly Records, just because so many musicians had raved about them and their influence. I think I had also just finished reading England’s Dreaming. Marquee Moon was okay – nice bouncy angular rock and Tom Verlaine sounded great – it filled in part of the gap in my musical knowledge between the late sixties and punk and was certainly great music – but Horses was fantastic. So much anger and power and beauty from one gawky looking twenty nine year old woman from New Jersey. And it must have seemed like something from another universe when it was originally released. I don’t think there is a single wasted moment on that record, it’s incredibly powerful.

I bought Gone Again in 1996 and I bought Trampin’ a few years back which is also a fine record. It took a while to get into Gone Again, as it was a bit more subdued and less immediate than much of her early work, but the magic was still there. This is the title track from that album and reminds me of a particular flat I lived in in the mid nineteen nineties and the life I was leading then.

I think her strength lies in the fact that she is another genuine individual who certainly lives what she speaks. She has had a tough life. She ignored music from the mid eighties to the mid nineties in order to bring up her kids and good for her – why not ? She never lost touch with reality – like Kate Bush I suspect she does her own washing and ironing. She has been successful in the fields of poetry, music and photography, and as a poet and thinker she has the sort of gravitas which few others command in these shallow and fickle times. But she has no touch of the diva about her – she was briefly shown in the great BBC4 documentary “Once upon a time in New York” earlier this year talking about when she first saw Television play live (at CBGB’s) and she still sounded like an excited young girl at her first gig.  For me, she is up there with many of the greats of the 20th Century. Oh, and she is still not afraid to speak out against injustice and up for what she believes in. Arguably she is the last link with the beat generation we have.  I recommend this Victor Bockris biography for more about her.

And I am really looking forward to this

Current listening: Kate Bush “Lyra”

10 December 2007

I am a self confessed Kate Bush devotee. Not just because of her music which is delicious (more of which later), but because she is her own woman and doesn’t subscribe to the music industry bullshit that near enough everybody else follows, no matter how free spirited and independent they appear to be or would like to be. Yes, she wants to reach as wide an audience as possible, but on her own terms and without subscribing to the merry go round of marketing bollocks that is today the norm. She is an artist and not a creator of “product”. There seems to me to be a widespread cynicism these days when the word “artist” is used as if this was something to be ridiculed and vilified. A kind of “Who are they trying to kid, they just want to sell units” attitude which I hate when it is so clearly unjustified (Although such instances these days are sadly few and far between).  There was hardly any promotion in relation to her last album Aerial – one interview with a monthly music magazine and a couple of radio interviews. I loved the moment being questioned by Mark Radcliffe about promoting her records when she responded “Marketing ?!” in the best “What in god’s name are you talking about man, my job is not about marketing, it’s about creating something worthwhile” tone. She must drive EMI mad – and good for her.

Anyhow, her music.  She is a true individual and with each record manages to create something which I believe no-one else could have come up with. And I don’t think there are many artists you can say that about. She has a disregard for sticking with standard subject matter and for any rules whatsoever really but still, rather than testing the limitations of ones eardrums or tolerance, manages to come up with beautiful haunting or stimulating pieces of music. I suspect that her last record Aerial from 2005 will still be my favourite of the noughties come the end of the decade. I return to it again and again. Who else writes love songs to mathematicians and songs about Joan of Arc next to songs about the beauty to be found in the humble domestic chores of cleaning and washing, and in  birdsong and sunsets.  A huge improvement on her early nineties effort The Red Shoes which in my book has been her only real failure as a whole record. Some of the tracks on there were wonderful but collectively there was too much going on and the songs  were really not all up to scratch. On Aerial she seems relaxed, at peace with herself, and it is a much more organic understated and traditional sounding record. She manages to mix the domestic with the universal wonderfully which is as it should be and she comes across as a wonderful humanist. Its a really positive record but without being cloying or sickly or dull – it delights in the variety of life and us and the world and sounds like opening the windows on a bright spring morning with infinite possibilities for the rest of the day.  

482 words and I still haven’t mentioned this song. It’s from the new film “The Golden Compass” (True title: Northern Lights. Thank you North America) and was written and recorded recently and apparently very quickly to be played over the closing title credits of the film. The gap between the Red Shoes and Aerial was considerable and therefore finding out that Kate Bush had recorded a new song so soon after Aerial caused great excitement in my small world. And it doesn’t disappoint. Understated, managing to be epic but without being bombastic, and intimate at the same time (How I don’t know) it’s a very simple song, with orchestral and choral backing. I have been listening to it for a few days now and, as is the case with Aerial two years on, I am still not bored.

Shuffleathon 2007. Part 1.

5 December 2007

 I thought I would write a bit about my choices for the Swiss Toni’s Shuffleathon cd I prepared for Joe in Vegas.

 Track 1 Bellowhead – Jordan

I love Bellowhead. They are possibly one of the best live acts I have ever seen. When I saw them as the headlining act on a festival Sunday night in the late summer this year they created an atmosphere which came the closest to approaching the incredible communal  high of a Blackburn warehouse rave circa 1990 in 15 years. I tell you I was buzzing. It was permanent hairs on the back of the neck time and the whole experience just resonated. And it wasn’t down to inebriation as I had only had three or four pints of fine English ale thank you very much.  Bellowhead did this by creating a loud layer of bastardised traditional English folk music using large chunks of music hall, disco, world music and an expansive horn section as well as the usual traditional instruments. Obviously one of the reasons why it was so good was the enthusiasm of the crowd who were completely up for it. I don’t go to many gigs these days but the front of the crowd at your most feverish loud indie rock gig had nothing on this lot. They were loving it. Mad for it. Pogoing like there was no tomorrow. It looked well sweaty. And Benji Kirkpatrick is the bounciest bouzouki player I have ever seen. He makes Tigger look like a total amateur. He plays his instruments like a thing possessed as well. And (it sort of goes without saying) the whole band are clearly excellent musicians.  In short, go and see them in a large venue when they are headlining, where there will be a large contingent of Bellowhead followers and you will have a good night out.

Their first ep from 2005 was great but doesn’t approach the wonderful 2006 album Burlesque which was a mix of different styles, turning traditional tunes into high octane horn clad morris tunes, orchestral ballads, music hall melodrama, shouty singalongs and Middle Eastern influenced song stories. Its a great great album. It may upset some folk purists (and the people I attended the above gig with were far from impressed – “Too much going on” was their verdict ) but I think it works wonderfully and it does take traditional folk in new and interesting directions. They seem to function on two levels – their recorded output is definitely good for listening to – clearly demostrates the musicianship and allows full appreciation of the arrangements, but live is the real deal – ultimately they are a dance band and they DO make you want to dance. Madly.

Jordan is one of the aforementioned shouty singalongs and originates from the American minstrel movement. One reviewer describes it as a “thunderous, apocalyptic marvel” which is fairly spot on. Try seeing them play it live and not singing along.  Here they are on Jools Holland doing it.