FEATURE: Urban Parks, Morning Stories and a Different Class of Hardcore: Britpop’s Best Ten Albums

FEATURE:

 

 

Urban Parks, Morning Stories and a Different Class of Hardcore

IN THIS PHOTO: Oasis (circa 1995)/PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images/Press 

Britpop’s Best Ten Albums

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I would not normally...

 IN THIS PHOTO: Supergrass (circa 1995)/PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images/Press

do a feature of the best Britpop albums but, because one of its leaders, Parklife, is twenty-five on Thursday, I felt it was only right to have a look at this time in British music (between 1993 and 1998). Some people dismiss Britpop and see it as a fad or a bit overrated. It was a time when celebratory and uplifting albums mixed alongside some a bit darker and bristling. Not only was there a lot of bombast and anthemic bliss but there were these great bands hitting their peak and exploring new ground. It is a shame we do not have the same kind of movement as Britpop now because, with the tension we live around, it would give us something to cheer about. To mark the twenty-fifth anniversary of Blur’s third album, I have been looking at the other albums released around this time (some a year or two earlier, a few a bit later) and deciding which were genius and which were merely promising. Say what you like about Britpop but, as these ten albums prove (and whether you class them as purely Britpop), there was a lot of brilliance sparking around during this epic time. Have a look at the albums listed and I know some will have their own views as to some big releases missing. Not only has compiling a top-ten allowed me to reinvestigate a wonderful time for British music but, digging deep into the albums themselves, I have discovered new light and brilliance I missed…

IN THIS PHOTO: Blur (circa 1997)/PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images/Press

THE first time around.

ALL ALBUM COVERS: Getty Images/Spotify

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BlurParklife

Release Date: 25th April, 1994

Labels: Food/SBK

Producers: Stephen Street/Stephen Hague/John Smith/Blur

Standout Tracks: Girls & Boys/End of a Century/Parklife/To the End

Key Cut: This Is a Low

Review:

The legions of jangly, melodic bands that followed in the wake of Parklife revealed how much more complex Blur's vision was. Not only was their music precisely detailed -- sound effects and brilliant guitar lines pop up all over the record -- but the melodies elegantly interweaved with the chords, as in the graceful, heartbreaking "Badhead." Surprisingly, Albarn, for all of his cold, dispassionate wit, demonstrates compassion that gives these songs three dimensions, as on the pathos-laden "End of a Century," the melancholy Walker Brothers tribute "To the End," and the swirling, epic closer, "This Is a Low." For all of its celebration of tradition, Parklife is a thoroughly modern record in that it bends genres and is self-referential (the mod anthem of the title track is voiced by none other than Phil Daniels, the star of Quadrophenia). And, by tying the past and the present together, Blur articulated the mid-'90s Zeitgeist and produced an epoch-defining record” – AllMusic

The VerveUrban Hymns

Release Date: 29th September, 1997

Label: Hut

Producers: The Verve/Chris Potter/Youth

Standout Tracks: Sonnet/The Drugs Don’t Work/Lucky Man/Velvet Morning

Key Cut: Bitter Sweet Symphony

Review:

For all the inter- and intra-band drama that fueled its creation, Urban Hymns ultimately centered around a very basic, universal theme: live for the moment and give it all you got, because we’ve only got one shot at this thing called life. It’s a sentiment that would seem terribly cornball and clichéd—if the Verve’s subsequent history didn’t so thoroughly reinforce its veracity. Less than a month after their Haigh Hall coronation, a disgruntled McCabe left the band once again, prior to a North American summer arena tour. What should’ve been a victory lap instead became a funeral procession, with Ashcroft and co. dutifully going through the motions alongside a session-player replacement before calling it a day once again. Of course, as the lyrics to “Bitter Sweet Symphony” attested, the Verve had at that point become well accustomed to life’s cruel twists and unforgiving ironies” – Pitchfork

PulpDifferent Class

Release Date: 30th October, 1995

Label: Island

Producer: Chris Thomas

Standout Tracks: Mis-Shapes/Disco 2000/Something Changed/Sorted for E’s & Whizz

Key Cut: Common People

Review:

Obviously, there are much more unpleasant depths to the songs on 'Different Class' than the mere audacity of mentioning drugs in a title. Indeed, the attitude to narcotics throughout is curiously moralistic: from the monumental come-downs of 'Sorted For E's and Wizz'; via the vacuous club-bunnies who populate 'Monday Morning' (Pulp do ska! And get away with it, more or less); through to the "broken people" clustering in 'Bar Italia' at dawn, when, "You can't go to bed because it hasn't worn off yet."

No. Cocker's sins against the tabloid-trusting masses are much more pernicious than calculated drug scares. The roles he takes for much of 'Different Class' exploit the fears of the generations-that-never-inhaled in a far more real and frightening way. He is the voyeur who dreams of being caught, the swinger who's "kissed your mother twice and now I'm working on your dad," and, worst of all, the adulterer” – NME

Oasis(What’s the Story) Morning Glory?

Release Date: 2nd October, 1995

Label: Creation

Producers: Owen Morris/Noel Gallagher

Standout Tracks: Roll with It/Wonderwall/Some Might Say/Morning Glory

Key Cut: Don’t Look Back in Anger

Review:

Likewise, as musicians, Oasis are hardly innovators, yet they have a majestic grandeur in their sound that makes ballads like "Wonderwall" or rockers like "Some Might Say" positively transcendent. Alan White does add authority to the rhythm section, but the most noticeable change is in Liam Gallagher. His voice sneered throughout Definitely Maybe, but on Morning Glory his singing has become more textured and skillful. He gives the lyric in the raging title track a hint of regret, is sympathetic on "Wonderwall," defiant on "Some Might Say," and humorous on "She's Electric," a bawdy rewrite of "Digsy's Diner." It might not have the immediate impact of Definitely Maybe, but Morning Glory is just as exciting and compulsively listenable” – AllMusic

ElasticaElastica

Release Date: 13th March, 1995

Labels: Deceptive (U.K.)/Geffen (U.S.)

Producers: Mark Waterman/Elastica

Standout Tracks: Line Up/Car Song/Waking Up/Stutter

Key Cut: Connection

Review:

The pithy songs on Elastica, with their searing lyrics about sex, groupies, and ennui, capture the whirlwind of the early-’90s Britpop explosion. Instead of worshiping the Beatlesthe Kinks, and Bowie, Elastica blended the jagged guitars of WireBuzzcocks, and other English punks with the pop hooks of American new wave acts like Blondie and Talking Heads. The band didn’t have a full-time keyboard player until Dave Bush joined the lineup in 1996, but Albarn (credited as Dan Abnormal) punched up some of the melodies on their debut with scratchy synth lines” – Pitchfork

RadioheadThe Bends

Release Date: 13th March, 1995

Labels: Parlophone/Capitol

Producer: John Leckie

Standout Tracks: The Bends/Fake Plastic Trees/Just/My Iron Lung

Key Cut: Street Spirit (Fade Out)

Review:

The album proved to be a success and even though no single became as popular as “Creep”, five of the singles did chart and more importantly, the album garnered the high critical acclaim missing from Pablo. This surprise reception is due in part to The Bends distinct sonic delivery, it drifts through its 12 tracks in extended deep space and while the songs are accessible and catchy they are elevated by their density, featuring a distinct Wall of Sound production. Songs like "Planet Telex," "High and Dry" and "Black Star" stand high above their precursors on Pablo, both for their scope and their high altitude themes.

The only apparent drawback is a few of the tracks do suffer some residual grunge influence, in very minor details throughout the album. Although this can somewhat date tracks like "The Bends" and "Black Star," they help to bind the album to its predecessor and to a movement that may not be contemporary but certainly isn’t bad. The Bends is a triumphant release, an album that began one of the best track records in Rock music” – SoundKite

SuedeSuede

Release Date: 29th March, 1993

Label: Nude

Producer: Ed Buller

Standout Tracks: So Young/The Drowners/Sleeping Pills/Metal Mickey

Key Cut: Animal Nitrate

Review:

Suede hit hard and fast with a trio of tremendous singles (The Drowners, Metal MickeyAnimal Nitrate), then dealt the coup de grace with their debut album, a record ripe with the promise of forbidden fruit and filled with songs of transgressive acts and confused teenage sexuality, including So YoungSleeping Pills and The Next Life. It won the Mercury Music Prize in 1993, and Suede were credited with kickstarting Britpop” – The Irish Times

Pulp This Is Hardcore

Release Date: 30th March, 1998

Label: Island

Producer: Chris Thomas

Standout Tracks: Party Hard/This Is Hardcore/A Little Soul/I’m a Man

Key Cut: Help the Aged

Review:

“Different Class” was a debauched update of vintage new wave styles. “This Is Hardcore” is more expansive and more stylish than its predecessor, integrating sweeping string sections and over-the-top, big-rock production touches. “Help the Aged,” Cocker’s ode to lessons gleaned from the elderly, deftly leaps from an after-hours fragility to arena roar. In “Dishes,” Cocker attempts to comfort his mate after a hard days’ work. “I’d like to make this water wine, but it’s impossible/I’ve got to get these dishes dry,” he sings, voice on the verge of cracking, as the music surges into sublime cabaret-pop beauty” – Entertainment Weekly

Supergrass I Should Coco

Release Date: 15th May, 1995

Labels: Parlophone (U.K.)/Capitol (U.S.)

Producer: Sam Williams

Standout Tracks: Caught by the Fuzz/Mansize Rooster/Lose It/Lenny

Key Cut: Alright

Review:

The way the grinning choruses of 'Lose It' and 'She's So Loose' scramble out of the punky rush, the way 'Mansize Rooster' plays tag with Madness and Bowie, the way 'We're Not Supposed To' comes strumming at us at - literally - 78rpm in a weird helium homage to Syd Barrett are all the hallmarks of a band totally in love with music. And the way in which their influences aren't just cobbled together but assimilated and made their own, suggests that listening to 'Revolver' or 'Hunky Dory' or 'Piper At The Gates Of Dawn' played as much a part in building their formative characters as that first shag or that first fag.

In that sense, 'I Should Coco' is a beautifully honest album of, and about, its time. This is their generation - wide (sometimes wild)-eyed, determined not to let anybody else's bastard moral standards grind them down. They look at the adult world - the one that their talent is about to take to the cleaners - and they giggle” – NME

Blur Blur

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Release Date: 10th February, 1997

Label: Food

Producers: Stephen Street/Blur

Standout Tracks: Song 2/On Your Own/Death of a Party/Look Inside America

Key Cut: Beetlebum

Review:

What makes it exceptional is how hard the band tries to reinvent itself within its own framework, and the level of which it succeeds."Beetlebum" runs through the White Album in the space of five minutes; "M.O.R." reinterprets Berlin-era Bowie; "You're So Great," despite the corny title, is affecting lo-fi from Graham Coxon; "Country Sad Ballad Man" is bizarrely affecting, strangled lo-fi psychedelia; "Death of a Party" is an affecting resignation; "On Your Own" is an incredible slice of singalong pop spiked with winding, fluid guitar and synth eruptions; while "Look Inside America" cleverly subverts the traditional Blur song, complete with strings.

And "Essex Dogs" is a six-minute slab of free verse and rattling guitar noise. Blur might be self-consciously eclectic, but Blur are at their best when they are trying to live up to their own pretensions, because of Damon Albarn's exceptional sense of songcraft and the band's knack for detailed arrangements that flesh out the songs to their fullest. There might be dark overtones to the record, but the band sounds positively joyous, not only in making noise but wreaking havoc with the expectations of its audience and critics” – AllMusic

FEATURE: Reaching Out: How Long Before Kate Bush Is Made a Dame?

FEATURE:

 

 

Reaching Out

ALL PHOTOS: John Carder Bush 

How Long Before Kate Bush Is Made a Dame?

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BECAUSE this is a bit of a quiet spell...

regarding Kate Bush, it allows me a chance to reflect and think. I say ‘quiet spell’ but, by that, I mean there is no news regarding re-releases and anything coming from her. Now and then, Bush will be mentioned in the news and you get the odd bit here and there. She has been in the music industry for over four decades and achieved so much. Look at what Kate Bush has accomplished since she broke through with Wuthering Heights in 1978 and one wonders whether there is one thing missing. I know damehoods are not given out lightly but, look around there are people out there who have accomplished less than Kate Bush and have one. I am not necessarily pointing the finger at sports personalities or actors but, yeah, you stack up what they have done and compare that to someone like Kate Bush. Back in 2013, Bush got close to being made a dame when she received a CBE. Pitchfork reported the news:

Most fans would agree that Kate Bush is a national treasure, but now it's on the books. Earlier today, the 54-year-old songwriter received a CBE-- Commander of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire-- from none other than the Queen of England herself. The CBE is a high honor: In the Order of the British Empire, it's only one rung down from knighthood-- which feels like a near miss, since "Dame Kate Bush" has a certain ring to it.

Bush doesn't make a lot of public appearances these days, but she made an exception to accept the medal at today's Windsor Castle ceremony. (NME has some amazing photos of her getting the medal from the Queen.)

"I feel incredibly thrilled to receive this honour which I share with my family, friends and fellow musicians and everybody who has been such an important part of it all," Bush said in a statement. "Now I've got something special to put on top of the Christmas tree".

There is, as they say, a pretty nice ring to having Dame Kate Bush in our midst. To be fair, Ringo Starr has only recently been made a sir and that took since the 1960s to make that happen! Even though Bush has been in music since the 1970s, one can argue there are other musicians that deserve knighthood and damehoods. Think about the fact David Bowie never got a knighthood and the fact that, posthumously, he thoroughly deserves one. When it comes to musical dames, there are not that many around! There is an argument for other artists being honoured but, when you think of Kate Bush, she has already achieved so much. She scored the first self-written number-one by a British female artist when Wuthering Heights arrived; Never for Ever, her third album in 1980, was the first time an album by a British female went to the top spot.

Think about the continued popularity of her work and how it has influenced others. Not only did her Tour of Life stage-show inspire countless artists but her music, through the decades, has dramatically changed music. There is, still, nobody like her in music and that will remain the case forever. I am not sure what her current plans are but, over the past year or so, she has re-released her back catalogue and brought out a book of lyrics. Back in 2014, she performed her Before the Dawn residency in Hammersmith and marked a welcome return to the stage after thirty-five years. Not only is Bush’s music staggering but the visual side is intoxicating and compelling. Her videos, from the very start, have blown minds and stuck in the memory. I recall watching the video for Them Heavy People (from The Kick Inside) and being moved by this strange, seductive and unusual video that was so different to anything around. Bush brought movement and dance into her music and, with it, this unique and special world. In terms of vocals and movement, there are plenty of female artists today that owe a debt to bush – Florence + The Machine springs to mind. Consider the themes tackled right from the start and how it opened worlds for other songwriters. Few before Kate Bush were writing about incest, menstruation and love in the same manner.

There are some (foolish) people who do not ‘get’ her music but, even if that is the case, one cannot deny the power and magic of her work. As her albums moved on, she kept moving in different directions and stepped into fresh territory. Her ten studio albums are all vastly different and wonderful. The Kick Inside and Lionheart, with more high-pitched vocals, had this sensuality and rare beauty. Never for Ever was a step forward in terms of adding rawness to her vocals whereas The Dreaming is this experimental and wild work that took a lot out of Bush. She then followed that with Hounds of Love in 1985 and this, to many, is her best album. It remains one of the finest records of the 1980s and a hugely accomplished work. The Sensual World continued a fine run whereas The Red Shoes, although not as successful as her previous work, is an amazing album. Her more recent works are more mature but no less ambitious and amazing as her earlier stuff. It is not just the material and the words that compel but it is the way Bush has conducted her career. She promoted her work heavily in the early days and, at every opportunity, was the model of professionalism and sweetness. Her last album, 50 Words for Snow, was met with a blizzard of interviews and she was engaged and fascinating in every one. You get a lot of big stars who are not that interesting in interviews or not as nice as they could be.

With Kate Bush, she is very real and honest. She values her private life so you will not see her out at parties or courting the limelight. She also takes her time to produce albums to ensure they are as fine as they can be. You listen to her songs and are sucked into her world. Her pen has always been sharper and more engrossing than any around and one tries to think of another artist with the same reach and imagination. There are artists – like Tori Amos and Björk – who have been guided by Bush and you can trace back to her. Modern music is not exactly wild and daring so we still listen to Kate Bush’s work to get that spark and passion. Since 1978, this wonderful artist has provided the world with so much incredible music and influenced scores of others. I feel that, whilst some of her peers have been made dames, Bush has been denied. It is great she is a CBE but surely an upgrade must be coming. The sheer coolness of seeing Dame Kate Bush put out music is amazing and she definitely deserves the honour! I am not sure how much say The Queen has regarding honours and who makes the call but one feels like Bush’s incredible background and legacy warrants her being made a dame. Perhaps it is just me but I know there are others who would like to see it happen.

I am not certain what the next couple of years hold for Kate Bush but there is going to be that desire for more material. She was busy last year in a retrospective sense and ensured her words and music were out there in the world. There are few artists around who have produced such an impressive and original body of work so you have to feel that, one day, Kate Bush will be made a dame. Every time I get to write about Kate Bush – whether that is because of an album or something else – I look back at her work and marvel. No two albums are the same and I feel like a generation of songwriters are experiencing Kate Bush for the first time and taking note. I understand CBEs and big honours do not change things or define who someone is but I have seen so many lesser personalities and those who have done less good being knighted or given a dameship. I have just been musing and thinking about the biggest artists around and those who have provided the world with so much. Bush is among the most inspiring and it is great she already has a CBE to her name. It would be great to think that, when the New Year Honours List is announced for next year, Kate Bush will be on it again. For now, we look ahead and hold our breath that there will be some material coming down the line. You can guarantee that, whenever her eleventh album arrives, it will be another…

SENSATIONAL work.

FEATURE: Pressing the Mute Button: Is Music T.V. Truly Dead?

FEATURE:

 

 

Pressing the Mute Button

PHOTO CREDIT: @jcosens/Unsplash 

Is Music T.V. Truly Dead?

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LIKE many other topics that appear on this blog...

 PHOTO CREDIT: @jakobowens1/Unsplash

it is not the first time I have investigated them. I shall not rustle through my notes and history but, more than once, I have talked about music T.V. and the need to keep it burning. The title of this piece might be misdirection: I am actually looking to pitch an idea and get something started but, invariably, one has to look at the state of music T.V. to see why the possibility of such a reality is slender. When MTV launched back in 1981, many people were sceptical whether it would last and whether it would find an audience. Not only did it start to grow but it reached a real peak through the 1980s and 1990s. It was only really when the Internet and sites like YouTube started to become more influential that music T.V. sort of died out. MTV is still a thing but it is known more for its original programming and non-music video-related. I look at terrestrial channels and there is not really any option for those who want to keep the music T.V. idea going. We have the long-standing and popular Later… with Jools Holland but I think that is coming back soon – it has not been on the screens for a fair few weeks now! That show has been going for ages and, through the years, the format has not really changed much; it has not needed to change and has satisfied its audience from the start.

I do wonder whether, at a time when music is expanding wildly, we are relying too much on the Internet and streaming services. It is great that we have YouTube to see music videos on and there are great radio stations that promote music but why do we seem to have ignored music T.V. and traditional shows? Yesterday, when remembering Prince three years after his death, I was watching his great videos and smiling. He was a complete legend and I love the visual aspect of his work. I also spent some time on YouTube checking out classic album shows and videos and discovering some really great stuff. I am listening to a lot of great new artists and there are albums out at the moment which are definitely worth exploring. Consider all of these different things and I have to ask whether it is worth exploring T.V. and putting this all in one place. One can argue we have everything we need out there and the average consumer can do their own research. Do we really need a T.V. show that talks about older albums and new artists? With so much kit and choice at our fingertips, is T.V., in that sense, redundant? I think that there are countless artists coming through right now that warrant exposure and that T.V. platform. Even the biggest artists need to promote their work and, traditionally, T.V. was always the way to do that.

 PHOTO CREDIT: @cfitz/Unsplash

Look at the T.V. options we have now and shows like Sunday Brunch, sadly, are taking the place of traditional music shows. I yearn for a show that has the feel of an Old Grey Whistle Test show – with a basic set and decent music – but incorporates so much more. There would be live performances but it would not solely be from the mainstream. Sure, about half of the show’s performances would be from bigger artists but you’d also have the upcoming and unsigned that would nestle alongside. It would be a bit of a first because you’d have these artists that have not appeared on T.V. with those who have been around for a long time. As venues close and artists have to look elsewhere for places to perform at, T.V. is as important now as it ever was. There is that argument that you will not please everyone and one camp says that music T.V. is pointless whereas another will want something like Top of the Pops. Others might fancy something a bit different but, with some research and compromise, you can actually come up with something that pleases the majority. I do not abide the fact that music T.V. is irrelevant and a thing of the past: we still consume videos online and there is more music now than there ever was. I think the T.V. platform would be invaluable for newer acts and I still love seeing sets from the established.

The fact Jools Holland’s show is so popular is people want to see these artists play and we all love live music. I do feel like a music T.V. show that ended up on the BBC would need to be more than just performances. I do love what Jools Holland has done but having another show that is just performances and interviews would seem a little pointless – even if newer acts were included. The show I envisage – I am not sure of a title yet; it is quite an important consideration! – would be a few hours long and there would be one every couple of weeks. Rather than having something weekly where we just saw a few acts perform, it would be a split between upcoming acts from around the world and the best of the established breed. There would be regular segments such as music news and a classic album each show – where we would see music videos and documentary-style clips regarding that record. Also, I like the idea of having a regular sort of playlist theme where videos would be played but there would be this theme; whether it was one-take videos, classic Hip-Hop or something else. In the studio, we would have a sort of roundtable discussion where guests would chat about a variety of things. Maybe it might mark the death of an iconic artist or sexism in music. It would be this interesting chat where we would get education and chat alongside the music.

 PHOTO CREDIT: @freestocks/Unsplash

There is scope for other features too and I like the idea of transplanting a busy and quality radio show to the screen. The music variety would be there but it would be closer in tone to Jools Holland’s show and what is played on BBC Radio 6 Music. That is not a personal bias but I am keen to step away from the commercial and mass-produced when it comes to guests. Interviews would be important and, each show, a huge guest would be under the spotlight. They would chat but also get to select some of their favourite music too. It would be a packed and wide-ranging show but we would not forget about the live performances and how important that is. There are articles out there, such as this that ask whether T.V. is dead and whether its reach is what it once was. With streaming services and big players like Netflix in the market, there is definitely a home and a chance for a music T.V. show. The reason I became so fascinated by music from a young age was the likes of MTV and being able to see these great videos and artists all the time. I do feel there is something rather sterile, impersonal and detached about the Internet and, whilst we all have endless choice, it is hard to cover all ground. So many approaching artists love the idea of a music T.V. show and it is invaluable experience from them.

I have pitched the idea of a music T.V. show before and, on one occasion, someone said BBC Four were planning something. I have not seen anything come to fruition and I do wonder whether there would be anything as broad and exciting as my idea. I think the Internet and the way we consume music now is removing some of the joy and sense of community and, if we had a great music show on the box, there would be plenty of people interested. I understand those who say they used to watch music shows but there is no need now. Many do prefer to listen online and feel that we cannot reclaim the past. I feel there has not really been a viable and interesting option put forward through the years. The fact that Later… with Jools Holland is the only real music show on mainstream T.V. suggests people still want this kind of thing but we could go so much further. It is all very well saying that YouTube covers our needs but how many younger people are discovering classic albums and getting a full education? Of course, there are countless artists out there we all miss out on and it is naïve to say that there is no role for T.V. I would like to see a music T.V. show that had some depth and range but also recounts the glory days of MTV and Top of the Pops. So many people, whether it is nostalgia or something else, love those days and how we all used to watch these shows.

 IMAGE CREDIT: MTV Networks

You felt excited and giddy watching and, whilst we cannot recapture all of that spirit, that is not to say music T.V. is dead. I do think commissioners and broadcasters need to be a bit more open-minded regarding the formats and potential. I understand there is risk and great expense putting a series together but that could be said of any drama or comedy series. Assuming something would fail because there is nothing like it around is not a good argument. A great format can spark the imagination and prove very popular. Others might say that having so many artists play would cost too much and it would be a nightmare but the show would be bi-monthly (twice a month) and not weekly; it would not be a massive budget and, like all great shows, the investment needs to be made. I do not like the fact that the Internet dictates the way we consume music and research and I feel we are all missing out on a world of music. A music T.V. can introduce people to albums they forgot about and new artists that they would not have otherwise of considered. I do like streaming sites and the likes of YouTube but there is a place for T.V. and a show that can bring live music to the masses. So many are unable to get tot gigs or suffer anxiety so this might be the only way to see artists play live.

I am sad MTV has declined and, as TheStreet say in this article, the station has moved away from music:

But nowadays, MTV is just one of many cable-TV and online channels competing for the eyes and ears of young people. Viacom's flagship network is no longer a cutting-edge source for music or entertainment. Viewership, especially among the 20-and-30-year-old Millennials that marketers covet, has been on a steep and steady decline.

"MTV seems to have lost its allure," said Jaleesa Jones, 21, a communication studies major at the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill, N.C. "TV is less popular now because we have so many other outlets to choose from, like Netflix (NFLX, Hulu and HBO Go."

MTV's audience has been shrinking just as mobile viewing by Millennials has accelerated the move by marketers to spread more of their money on an assortment of Internet-based video channels. In 2013, an average of 542,000 persons ages 18-49 tuned in to MTV during prime-time hours, according to Nielsen. In 2014, that number dropped to 497,000 persons, and so far in 2015, it sits at 361,000 -- a 34% decline rom just two years ago, Nielsen data shows”.

I think we can break against the desire for reality shows and actually bring music back into the fore. It would not be the same as the height of MTV and Top of the Pops but, with some time and patience there can be this revival and new interest. I can understand why networks would be sceptical but talk to people out there and, with the right format, there is definite interest and potential. I would love to see a great music T.V. show that covered the bases and balanced the older with the new. If we can get that to the screen and kicking, it would, I believe, prove to be…

 PHOTO CREDIT: @bahiapictures/Unsplash

MASSIVELY popular.

FEATURE: “Confidence Is a Preference for the Habitual Voyeur of What Is Known As…” Parklife at Twenty-Five: Blur’s Timeless Masterpiece

FEATURE:

 

 

“Confidence Is a Preference for the Habitual Voyeur of What Is Known As…”

ALL IMAGES/PHOTOS (unless credited otherwise): Getty Images/Press 

Parklife at Twenty-Five: Blur’s Timeless Masterpiece

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THERE are a few anniversaries happening this year...

that make me feel very old indeed! U.S. sitcom Friends turns twenty-five on 22nd September and The Simpsons is thirty on 17th December. I remember watching the pilot of The Simpsons at the age of six and being moved by this very strange and wonderful show. The same sort of emotion came over me when Friends came to the British airwaves and, soon enough, it became a fixture of my life. The fact that both iconic shows get a big celebration in 2019 does make me nostalgic…but there was a distinct period of culture that spawned these great shows and moments! Alongside the great T.V. that was around in the late-1980s and the 1990s, music was really starting to inspire. Music was always inspiring but there was this same period of time when things radically changed. Think of Blur and, for most of us, the first album of theirs that springs to mind is Parklife. I have a lot of affection for their debut, Leisure (1991), and it spawned baggy wonders such as There’s No Other Way and She’s So High. The album is wonderful but many suspected Blur had better in them. By the time Modern Life Is Rubbish arrived in 1993, the band upped their games. The record was more ambitious than the debut and, with songs like For Tomorrow and Sunday Sunday among the pack, more critics were taking them seriously.

 IN THIS PHOTO: Blur in 1994

Modern Life Is Rubbish is Blur’s first masterpiece and found them abandon the cores of their debut and going in with huge ambition. You could tell the band were throwing it all into the mix and had that immense sense of purpose. By the time Parklife arrived a year later, they were making waves and created a bigger, funnier and sexier version of their sophomore release. I cannot think about Blur’s path and triumph without mentioning Britpop and Oasis. Many people might cringe and balk – as many feel Britpop was overrated and a bit nauseating – but I love the battle between these two bands. Oasis made their debut later in 1994 with Definitely Maybe and it began one of the greatest rivalries of modern times – hitting a peak around 1995 and, by 1997, Blur had overtaken Oasis in terms of quality - and they survive to this very day. 1994 was a magical year and, whereas Manchester’s Oasis came in with a bombastic and anthemic tunes to get us together, Blur had their own design and intention. There was so much going on in 1994 – American Grunge was still raging – and there was this feeling of togetherness and making music that hit the heart – it seems so long ago since we had that joy and spirit in music! Blur’s lead, Damon Albarn, started writing prolifically after Modern Life Is Rubbish and you could tell the master was in inspired form.

Blur headed into the studio with the legendary Stephen Street to record their third album. Songs came together quickly and there was a feeling, quite rightly, that something special was happening. Aside from the complexity of This Is a Low, the band had no trouble getting the songs down; there were splits between the label and Blur regarding the quality and potential of Parklife. The career of Blur would mutate and evolve after 1994/1995 and embrace new sounds and directions. Parklife is the epicentre of their cheekiness, coolness and majesty. Across sixteen tracks, Blur run a gamut of emotions and tell these unique and captivating stories. From the anthemic Girls & Boys – Albarn writing about the lack of morals and rampant sex that occurred at spots like Ibiza; a sense of recklessness and abandon – through to the divine, sweeping This Is a Low…Parklife is a masterpiece! I was stunned by the album back in 1994 but I am picking up new elements twenty-five years later. It is utterly wonderful and engrossing from the very first notes to the last.

There is a nice balance between the funny/upbeat and the more mature. Tracy Jacks has that bounce and endless charm whereas End of a Century weirdly prefaced the lure and dominance of technology against romance – Albarn noticing how couples were more interested in watching T.V. endlessly than actually connecting. Parklife, with the epic commentary from actor Phil Daniels, is one of the true standouts. Endlessly quotable and sing-along, it is a song that has been used, parodied and rhapsodised since 1994. Albarn came up with the song, apparently, when living in London and watching joggers and pigeons go by. You can imagine Albarn wandering around parks and being compelled by all the buses, people and scenes going by. Parklife is so relatable now and, as I walk around London, you could soundtrack various streets and interactions with songs from Parklife. It is not exclusively British in its tones and themes but, at a time when this country is divided and cracked, an album like this snapshots a time when we were together and there was greater hope lingering in the breeze!

You listen to the song and picture all these scenes; the everyday and comical alongside one another. It is a classic track and one of many on Parklife. The album’s first half is its finest and exhausting. Bank Holiday, Badhead and The Debt Collector complete a woozy, exhilarating and packed opening half. The first track is about Bank Holidays and the barbeques, neighbours and working-class scenes. It is a thrilling rush and insatiable song that, again, has plenty of wit, evocative imagery and tangible familiarity. Badhead is more sombre and introspective: a tale, seemingly, of cross words and regrets after an argument; the need to correct things but there being this sense of stalemate and confusion. The Debt Collector is an instrumental that swoons and staggers and, after so much rouse and words, it is a nice break and, actually, quite a strong track. There are a couple of tracks on the second half that are not up to the standard of the other cuts. Far Out is Alex James’ (the band’s bassist) look at the stars and the galaxies; a bit too weird and far-out-there to connect and resonate. Clover Over Dover is a little slight whereas Lot 105 is a terrible way to end the album. If it should have been included – there must have been better songs in the vault than this throwaway song?!  - then bury it towards the middle! This Is a Low is a perfect, emotional way to end Parklife…but it is undercut and cheapened by a silly song like Lot 105.

In any case, there are some gems and underrated jewels that continue the pace and take Blur into new territory. Trouble in the Message Centre is often overlooked but it is a great track and one that gets into the head; London Loves has a terrific bounce and catchiness abound; Magic America is glistening and gorgeous. If the opening half had the stellar Girls & Boys, Parklife and End of a Century, the second half has the stunning To the End and This Is a Low. With its gorgeous orchestration and giddy waltz, To the End investigates a bad patch in a relationship and a couple trying to get through things. Parklife is synonymous with the polemic of humour and joy marked against the tender, bombshell moments that one would not expect from such a young band. The depth and range of the material is clear and riding high in the mix if the should-be-swansong, This Is a Low. The song started as an instrumental and there were various attempts at cementing the composition. Albarn was struggling to come up with lyrics and the breakthrough was tricky. Alex James revealed that he bought Albarn a handkerchief with a map of the shipping forecast regions on it. Oddly, this quirky gift compelled the lyrics and gave This Is a Low new dimensions and multiple layers – using meteorology and the weather to describe personal loss and split.

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Aside from embracing the mood of the time and capturing something wonderful in the Blur camp, there is not really a concept running through Parklife. I guess there is a sense of Britishness and, in some ways, interwoven stories that takes us behind bedroom doors and over garden walls. The lyrics jump from these charming little scenes of parties and raves to the rawer edges where relationships are destroyed and lives changed. Blur covered a multitude of lyrics and the range of compositions is dizzying. There is Waltz, Punk and Pop and, when you consider the finest songs on ParklifeThis Is a Low and To the End, for example– they seem to come much more from Damon Albarn’s personal space and situation rather than a general observation of British life. We often associate albums of the time (and Britpop) with a joyfulness and spritz but bands like Blur were producing these emotional and affecting songs that dug much deeper than mere fun and frivolity. This is one of the reasons why Parklife has picked up such a legacy: its balance of moods, emotions and themes. I think the album will continue to grow and amaze people decades from now!

PHOTO CREDIT: Terry O'Neill/Iconic Images/Getty Images

In 2007, AllMusic reviewed Parklife and provided their take:

The legions of jangly, melodic bands that followed in the wake of Parklife revealed how much more complex Blur's vision was. Not only was their music precisely detailed -- sound effects and brilliant guitar lines pop up all over the record -- but the melodies elegantly interweaved with the chords, as in the graceful, heartbreaking "Badhead." Surprisingly, Albarn, for all of his cold, dispassionate wit, demonstrates compassion that gives these songs three dimensions, as on the pathos-laden "End of a Century," the melancholy Walker Brothers tribute "To the End," and the swirling, epic closer, "This Is a Low." For all of its celebration of tradition, Parklife is a thoroughly modern record in that it bends genres and is self-referential (the mod anthem of the title track is voiced by none other than Phil Daniels, the star of Quadrophenia). And, by tying the past and the present together, Blur articulated the mid-'90s Zeitgeist and produced an epoch-defining record”.

Pitchfork gave their views in a 2012 review:

Parklife is the masterpiece of this era. Pop-art bright, stingingly funny, and at times suddenly poignant, it remains the defining artifact of Britpop. It's a nationalistic record in the same way Born in the USA is a nationalistic record: It might look like sloganeering patriotism if viewed from outer space, but up close it's a finely detailed, intricately cracked document of a very particular national malaise. The disco smirk "Girls & Boys" (propelled by one of Alex James' best basslines) finds its hedonistic vacationers "avoiding all work, 'cause there's none available," while the tragicomic "Tracy Jacks" sketches a lonely civil servant who goes quietly mad. With humor, pathos, and nostalgia, Parklife tells of a modern world where dreams have been boxed in by materialism, conformity and routine, and even the once-space-age future has lost its sparkle. "End of the century," Albarn shrugs over Coxon's minor chords. "It's nothing special."

The millions-selling, Brit-Award-sweeping Parklife was also the record that made Blur into bona fide pop stars, a role that some members embraced more readily than others. "I made a point of drinking two bottles of champagne a day for 18 months," is how bassist Alex James remembers 1994. "England only imports something like 100,000 bottles a year, so I reckon I drank 1% of England's total champagne import." At that point Coxon was, arguably, drinking even more, but without the joie de vivre; instead, he was increasingly uncomfortable with the band's success”.

There is a lot of debate as to which album of the 1990s is the best but everyone has to consider Parklife when compiling a top-ten. Many see the album as the definition of Britpop but Parklife is much deeper and more interesting than that. There have been articles celebrating and marking Parklife’s genius and influence through the years. As it is about to hit twenty-five, there will be new appraisal and retrospection. This article from Time five years ago argued that Parklife was a misunderstood album that was much more than Cool Britannia and this zeitgeist feeling that was circulating in Britain:

For all that Parklife is the work of a young band — “the mind gets dirty as it gets closer to thirty,” one line goes, with the big three-oh still seeming like a distant destination — it’s a remarkably confident, even cocky album. (A line from critic David Quantick about the Beatles recording Revolver and realizing “we are young and we can do anything” — that combination of talent and the invincibility of youth — comes to mind.) But Parklife is also a kind one, as well. “We all say, don’t want to be alone” Albarn sings in “End of A Century.” In “This Is A Low,” he sings of melancholy as something that can bring comfort: “It won’t hurt you/ When you’re alone, it will be there with you…

PHOTO CREDIT: Shinko Music/Hulton Archive/1994 Shinko Music  

“Even the album’s “comedy” songs show empathy towards their target characters. “Jubilee” is an outsider hated by all, who would love to be accepted but “no-one told him” how to do it, or where to go. For all that the Blur of this era would be attacked for being too arch and unemotional, Parklife is as warm and inviting as anything Oasis (or any other Britpop band) released during the same period.

Parklife may have inspired other bands to reach into their record collections, but it has a breadth and heart that so much of what followed lacked (including the band’s own The Great Escape, which feels cynical and uninspired in comparison). It has an inclusiveness towards music that stands at odds with the small-minded attitude that ended up defining so much of what Britpop became. In many ways, Parklife is larger than the genre that grew up around it, holding it up as a standard-bearer so proudly. It sounds as fresh today as it did 20 years ago — a summation of British pop music up to that point in all its occasionally contradictory, throwaway glory.

Looking back even further, to 2009, The 405 talked about Parklife as Blur’s revolution that provided the British scene with some much-needed clout and grit:

Blur turned out as one of the bands that gave the nineties British music scene some bite, and documented the lives of twentieth century Brits in a lucid but poetic style. Parklife is Blur's best album built on social commentary: the two before were paler versions of this, and the albums after became more introverted, or just not as good...

Even if you aren't planning on listening to the original guitar style of Graham Coxon, or the lyrics, there are some pretty excellent sing-along moments on Parklife, and that will never change. The tracks 'Tracy Jacks', 'Parklife' (which still receives radio play), Girls & Boys (though a tongue-twister), and 'Badhead' are all examples of sing-along classics. As for things which don't sound so good in retrospect, Parklife has a nineties polish on it, dusted with electronics it didn't need and some sampled sound effects that don't work so well. However, a little unnecessary production cannot stifle excellent song-writing, pretty melodies and great lyrics. In the future, if nobody ever gets bored in love anymore, never wants to escape their nowhere town, never feeds the pigeons to give themselves a sense of wellbeing - maybe in this imaginary future, Blur will seem irrelevant and dated. I should think we have a good few years before then to enjoy Parklife”.

I hope lots of people mark Parklife’s twenty-fifth anniversary on Thursday and its reaches the ears of new listeners. Even if Blur’s future is questionable – they are still a group, technically, but there are no plans for albums anytime soon – one can look at their 1994 breakthrough as an essential catalyst and part of the Britpop movement – even if it was a lot more complex and rich than a lot of the albums coming from British Pop that year.

PHOTO CREDIT: Paul Postle

Even in 2019, Parklife sounds fresh and I do wonder whether more artists should be taken inspiration from it. How many albums do we hear now that have the same sense of fun and variation?! It is a staggering album that lost the Mercury Prize in 1994 – M People’s Elegant Slumming, bafflingly, won – but is seen by many critics as one of the finest albums of the 1990s. There are multiple standout moments from Parklife but, when I think of the best, it is the addictiveness and catchiness of the title track! I will spin the album now and, as all the songs sink back into my head, the sound of Phil Daniels talking about joggers’ weight problems and feeding pigeons on a Wednesday (as he is rudely awakened by the dustmen) will remain in my head the longest! That song alone leaves a massive smile on my face and, twenty-five years after its release, there will be new people discovering Parklife. It is a truly wondrous album that, wonderfully, gets stronger and more profound…

WITH age.

FEATURE: Station to Station: Song Three: Mary Anne Hobbs (BBC Radio 6 Music)

FEATURE:

 

 

Station to Station

IN THIS PHOTO: Mary Anne Hobbs/PHOTO CREDIT: Laura Lewis

Song Three: Mary Anne Hobbs (BBC Radio 6 Music)

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EVERYONE has their own idea of what makes...

 PHOTO CREDIT: BBC

for perfect radio but, for me, there needs to be this blend of warmth, humour and knowledge. If a D.J. is not connected with their audience and does not get into the heart then there is something lacking. I listen to BBC Radio 6 Music because everyone on the station is dedicated to what they do and you feel like nothing else matters to them. Every presenter has their own story and pathway but, essentially, the twin temples at London and Salford house some of the most passionate, acute and compelling lovers of music in the country. That may sound like a big statement to make but one can detect a very physical electricity and desire emanating from the speakers every day. I started this feature off by looking at Lauren Laverne and how she is, to me, one of the very best on the station. I love her breakfast show and think that, having taken the role over from Shaun Keaveny, she is doing a fantastic job! She has made the show her own and added a unique stamp to proceedings. It is a great way to start the morning off and then, at 10:30, she hands over to Mary Anne Hobbs. There is a clear and affectionate respect between the two and, having come from different directions before making their way to BBC Radio 6 Music, it is fascinating that these two passionate and inspiring women are on the same station – even if Laverne is in London and Hobbs is up in Salford.

I have a serious radio crush on Mary Anne Hobbs and, rather than it being anything salacious, it is the knowledge that here is a human who feels the same about music as I do – and that, in a frantic, confusing and divided world, is very powerful and reassuring. It is that comforting nature that means many tune into Hobbs’ broadcast and would not be anywhere else. Before I come to Hobbs’ show and how her move to weekday mornings, one must think about her past and why she has such a knowledge of the industry. I will quote an interview from The Independent that was conducted back in 2015. I am missing parts out but it shows you how Hobbs has moved through the years and shows how hard she has worked to get where she is right now. The interview is illuminating and frank; it will be a great reference and inspiration for those starting out in radio:

The digital-first nature of Radio 6 and the Twitter dialogue she has with her two million listeners, means she feels she can truly engage with her audience. "It feels very much that they are part of what we do. They are a crucial component and they almost feel like family - I don't have my own family, but they've very much taken on that role in my life," she says.

After leaving Radio 1 five years ago, Hobbs worked for a year mentoring 700 students at Sheffield university. During that year she remembers attending her unof-ficial mentor John Peel's funeral and standing inside the cathedral "making a silent promise to myself” that she would share some of his encouragement and wisdom.

The university role gave her an opportunity to keep to the promise. The students produced 75 original radio programmes each week and worked on a digital TV channel. "It was really exciting, like being stripped to the bone every day by a school of starving piranhas," is how she remembers it”.

Hobbs moved to Los Angeles with Sounds and lived in a shed in someone's back garden in West Hollywood. She had just $600 in her pocket when she arrived. "I had sold everything I owned - which wasn't very much - to get to America."

Three decades on from witnessing the birth of thrash, Hobbs is now watching the emergence of a new classical music scene. She's hugely impressed by Nils Frahm, whom she describes as a "Berlin scholar of Tchaikovsky" who brings a mix of electronic/ techno and classical music. She's also credited for discovering - and popularising - dubstep in the past decade and remains a great evangelist for the genre, pointing to artists like Burial, James Blake, Mala, Kode9 and Digital Mystikz.

The global tipping point for dubstep was at the Sonar Electronic, a festival in Barcelona in June 2007, when she DJ-ed in front of 8,500 people with Skream, Oris Jay and Kode9, which she describes as "one of the greatest nights of my life".

She also worked on the soundtrack for the club and bar scenes for Darren Aronofsky's Oscarwinning Black Swan.

When judging the iSessions finals, she says she will rely on her gut instinct built up over decades of experience sourcing new music. "It is entirely subjective," she admitted. "But it's not rocket science. It's very exciting as I might go into the room and the next new thing could literally walk in."

And as "a child of John Peel" she believes judging these student bands is carrying on his legacy”.

I have, as I said, omitted a lot of details but it is clear that Hobbs has had a varied and exciting past. Looking further back and, as a youngster, there was a sense of yearning that was not necessarily being met. Every one of us approaches music differently and we all had a different experience. For Hobbs, as this interview shows, things were not easy:

“…As a young kid, I was way into punk rock, but my dad, who was an extremely violent alcoholic, had completely banned all music from the house. So if you wanted to buy a record, you would have to go to Mears Toyshop and place an order, and then one seven inch single would take nine weeks to reach the shop. At 12, 13, I was really really into punk, it was massively appealing to me. I cannot tell you how thrilling it was to sit in a class at school and be told in very grave and serious tones about how the Sex Pistols were literally on the brink of destroying civilised society as we knew it”.

Your heart goes out to Hobbs and it is amazing to think that the girl who had such a hard start is now one of the biggest names on BBC Radio 6 Music. I look at the route Hobbs has taken regarding music journalism, working both sides of the Atlantic and now, as her career continues to grow, working in the morning slot on BBC Radio 6 Music. The industry has changed since Hobbs started out but there are those out there who want to be where she is right now and wonder if it will ever happen. Hobbs’ has worked hard but, against adversity and challenges, she has managed to succeed and shine. She has mentored others and is a D.J. that has brought joy to millions. This is something that shouldn’t be taken for granted and I thank her for providing me with a real sense of purpose and hope every day. It is rare we discover someone as hard-working, dedicated and passionate as Hobbs.

PHOTO CREDIT: Jessica van der Weert 

When BBC Radio 6 Music announced their line-up change last year, I was a little wary. I was not sure whether the new combinations would work and how it would differ to what we knew and trusted. Within a matter of hours, you got this feeling that something good had happened. Hobbs, on weekend breakfast before, was allowed chance to expand and reach a new audience. I only got to catch her occasionally at the weekends but, now in this new slot, there are no excuses! I have read interviews Hobbs gave and she loves music as much now as she did when she started her career. There is something intoxicating about a presenter who has this much love for music and is always looking to unearth the best new artists around. I have received feedback from artists who have got gigs and new fans because of Mary Anne Hobbs. I do not think she knows the full effect her words and kudos has - and how important it can be to musicians that catch her eyes and ears.

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PHOTO CREDIT: Laura Lewis

I do wonder whether Hobbs’ career will ever make its way to the big screen as she has interviewed some huge artists, seen music movements come and go and had this amazing arc. It is awe-inspiring seeing this always-inspiring woman tackling new ventures and helping artists. She has helped countless musicians reach new audiences and, when you listen to her show, you realise that she will be at BBC Radio 6 Music for many more years. Another reason why I love her show is because of that voice. In order to connect with your listeners, there needs to be a certain tone and gravitas that hooks you in and keeps you invested. Hobbs’ legendary, silken tones are, perhaps, the most luxurious, powerful and sensuous around. Again, it is not me being a bit smitten but there is this warmth that keeps us all safe but one gets this real kick and smile from Hobbs. The choice of music she plays is also another reason to investigate her show. BBC Radio 6 Music is renowned for its great taste and eclectic spirit and I think Hobbs is the epitome of that. I love what Lauren Laverne and Shaun Keaveny do but listen to Hobbs and you get the full spectrum of brilliance. I was listening the other day and there was some Heavy Metal only a few moments after some Ambient sounds!

It is amazing how she can have these incredible shifts and make it all work. Hobbs is tireless about her work and is dedicated to what she does. Whether it is promoting the music of Manchester and Salford or getting involved with festivals at BBC Radio 6 Music, she is at the forefront and proud to do her bit. A champion of artists old and new, getting the gold standard from Hobbs is much-coveted. I have discovered so much terrific music through her show and use it as a genuine guide. I discovered Nils Frahm through her – his album, All Melody, is still one of my recent favourites – and IAMDDB. Every week, I discover new tracks from great artists I have not heard anywhere else. Hobbs’ knowledge of the underground and determination to shine a light on the best approaching artists about is hugely commendable. She balances this paternal attitude with an almost God-like understanding of music’s past; the variation she plays and the music she loves is insane. Every show brings solid gold and you come away feeling educated, uplifted and moved. In terms of the talent on BBC Radio 6 Music, Mary Anne Hobbs is one of the most precious and strong. I know that she has ambitions but I do hope she remains where she is because we need and trust her incredible voice and tastes. Hobbs’ connection to musicians and how important they are also touches me.

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 IN THIS PHOTO: IAMDDB (one of many great newer artists I have discovered via Mary Anne Hobbs)/PHOTO CREDIT: Haris Nukem

When Scott Walker died a month ago, Hobbs broke down and was moved. It was a huge shock to her and you get the feeling that Walker’s music was a huge part of her life. That sort of love and commitment to an artist is incredible and you really felt for her when Walker passed away. I remember when David Bowie died in 2016 and, again, Hobbs was shocked and affected. Music is such a huge part of her life and it has helped her in so many ways. We all listen to music to feel something but I feel, to Mary Anne Hobbs, it means more than anything. You’d like to think she switches off but I can picture her at home and still in that mindset – unable to turn that passion off and searching for the hottest new sounds around. When BBC Radio 6 Music announced their changes last year, Hobbs spoke to Music Week and discussed what it meant to her:

They’re really exciting times. Moving forward into 2019, everybody’s got an opportunity to play to their strengths and shine in the new slots,” said Hobbs.

“I’m thrilled to bits to have the opportunity to bring the rich diversity and palette of music I really love and that I’ve championed for a lifetime into the heart of the schedule. It’s a dream job, really.”

“What 6 have done is looked at a presenter who’s been very productive in the more shady areas of the schedule,” she said. “A great number of the artists I’ve championed over the years, people like James Blake, Kendrick Lamar, Nils Frahm, Kamasi Washington and Julia Holter, have resonated in the lives of our listeners. This is a chance to broaden the musical palette of the network in the daytime.”

The former XFM and Radio 1 DJ said she believes 6 Music bosses “would like to take many of the elements of the DNA of the programmes I’ve created for 6 Music at the weekends and evenings into daytime”.

I hope I have done her justice but I wanted to explain why Mary Anne Hobbs is so important to me and countless other people out there. She has made me a more aware and devoted feminist: not just the fact she plays so many powerful women on her show but you know Hobbs craves parity and change in the industry. This has rubbed off on me and I am always looking to raise awareness and argue against sexism in music. Hobbs has made such a big difference in so many people’s lives. For me, battling against depression and anxiety, her show provides that balm and gives me aspirations. I would love to be where she is and, when I was in Salford last year, I was sat outside the building where she broadcasts and wondering how cool it would be to be there. I can imagine the sense of drive and excitement she gets, still, walking into work and playing incredible music to the nation. We are so glad she is on weekday mornings and I know for a fact there are people out there who want to be Mary Anne Hobbs. She is such a source of inspiration and wonder – here’s to many more years of this titan on the airwaves! I shall leave my drooling and starry-eyed praise there but I do not do it lightly. I meant every word of the piece I wrote about Lauren Laverne and the same thing goes for Mary Anne Hobbs. She is a real gift to radio and music and, for that reason, we all owe her…

 PHOTO CREDIT: Laura Lewis

A debt of gratitude.

FEATURE: The LiveLive Revolution: Lewis Capaldi’s Anxiety-Coping Initiative and Creating a Calmer Environment at Gigs

FEATURE:

 

 

The LiveLive Revolution

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IN THIS PHOTO: Lewis Capaldi/PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images 

Lewis Capaldi’s Anxiety-Coping Initiative and Creating a Calmer Environment at Gigs

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I am not the only one who avoids big gigs because...

IMAGE CREDIT: @LewisCapaldi

there is this unnerving sense of discomfort and crowding. I am okay around most people but, when faced with big crowds and a busy environment, things can get a bit tense. It can be awkward for people who love live music to come to big venues and spaces where there are a lot of people. When you have anxiety, such as I do, then you become less sociable and miss out on quite a lot. Even a smaller gig can be a bit too much and there is that feeling that, more often than not, you have to avoid going out. Venues are getting better at accommodating people but there is still a long way to go. Access for disabled people is increasing but there is still a feeling that they are being overlooked. I do hope that all venues make sure they do not restrict disabled access and allowances are made. Many people do not realise that, for those who suffer mental illness, things can be pretty bad too – even if people cannot see it. Lewis Capaldi has introduced a scheme to help his fans who suffer from anxiety. Some have been saying that this scheme cannot work in practice and, up until now, we have been fine without measured aimed at reducing anxiety. In this article from The Guardian they look at what Capaldi is doing and how it will help fans:

The musician Lewis Capaldi has announced that he is to provide provisions for fans at risk of anxiety and panic attacks on his upcoming UK arena tour. Capaldi, whose single Someone You Loved has been No 1 for seven weeks, is adding a compulsory 50p charge to his ticket prices to cover the costs of a scheme he has named LiveLive.

PHOTO CREDIT: @aaronpaulos/Unsplash  

Things will start off small but, in time, there is a hope that other artists can adopt a similar approach to Lewis Capaldi. This LiveLive scheme, as the article continues, has a number of different components:

Fans will be able to access support from a qualified team at each venue before and during Capaldi’s arena shows, which take place in 2020. There will also be designated help points for anyone struggling emotionally, an “escape room” for anyone who needs time out, and a gig buddy system for fans travelling alone.

He said in a statement that he is often contacted by fans who wish to see him live, but feel they can’t because of potential difficulties with anxiety or panic attacks. He wanted to implement measures that allowed them to feel welcome. “I hate to feel that anyone’s anxiety is making them miss out on anything they want to do.”

Capaldi’s manager, Ryan Walter, told the Guardian that they had partnered with a company called Music & You that specialises in helping people working in music and the live environment. “We went through everything we as fans might want when thinking about attending a show, drawing from our own experiences – I’ve not gone to plenty of gigs both as a fan and on a professional level because of my anxiety.”

LiveLive is thought to be the first such initiative on a tour of this scale. Capaldi told the BBC: “I think with a little bit of success we could make it a more widespread thing, to be able to offer this to everyone at all gigs.”

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PHOTO CREDIT: @ernest_brillo/Unsplash  

Jacob Adams is head of research and campaigns at Attitude Is Everything, a charity that campaigns for improving deaf and disabled people’s access to live music. He told the Guardian that Capaldi’s initiative “demonstrates the ability artists have to directly influence the inclusivity of their shows, and welcome their entire audience to see them perform live. This is an important development in turning attention to the mental health of live music audiences, at a time when that of artists is rightly gaining increasing exposure”.

I have read some comments and feedback that is a bit sneering and seems to take the approach that, if people are anxious then they should not go to gigs. Mental-illness is being made more visible by artists and not something that should be dismissed. The last big gig I went to was at London’s 02 to see Queens of the Stone Age in 2017. I was okay to start with but, the more animated the crowd became, the higher my levels of anxiety became. I managed to stay for almost the entire concert but had to leave early. It is daunting being in venues where there are so many people and I agree it is difficult accommodating everyone and making sure they are okay. I hope greater movement happens regarding considering disabled gig-goers but I know so many people who suffer from anxiety and do not feel good going to gigs because of the stress.

We often go to gigs and do not really get an idea of what the space will look like and whether it will be quite intimidating. Gigs are very important and can be really exciting. Those who have anxiety and other psychological problems are never sure what they are in for and, if they avoid gigs, this adds to a feeling of isolation and loneliness. I am not suggesting that every venue has a sort of visual guided tour and advice lines but, until LiveLive can be rolled out by other artists, I think more needs to be done. Only recently have a lot of venues started to acknowledge disabled fans and it is positive seeing things move in the right direction. The fact the music industry is recognising mental-health problems and making allowances means that, hopefully, a lot of other artists will follow Capaldi. It does mean bringing more people into venues and providing support workers which, inevitably, costs a lot and will be a big commitment. For the cynics who say that this is too extreme and unfeasible, consider all the artists playing around the world and how many fans are avoiding attending because they are too nervous and anxious. Music should be for everyone and the live experience is one of the most amazing things possible. To be together with fellow music lovers and in that atmosphere is electric and hugely primal.

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 PHOTO CREDIT: @mclaren1/Unsplash

For some, it can be quite intimidating going to gigs and it is a shame to see so many miss out. Big props to Lewis Capaldi and what he is doing right now. He will help so many people and make the gig-going experience much easier and more pleasant. It is not to say that the LiveLive movement will cure anxiety but if we see this supportive and open space where fans can go without the fear of panic attacks and needless stress, then that is a really good thing. I do hope that many others take interest and, in years to come, most gigging artists either adopt LiveLive or they have something similar going on. I am not drawing a line between venues closing and anxious fans not attending but I do feel there are a lot of people at home reticent regarding attending gigs. Anxiety levels are on the rise and I do think we need to have conversations regarding those with mental-health problems. Music is this wonderful thing that unites us and, for those who cannot help the way they feel, it is heart-breaking seeing them miss out. It will be great to see this change and the fact more fans will attend Capaldi’s gig means a lot to him, clearly. Credit to him and, as I say, I do hope this is the start of something bigger. Anything we can do to recognise mental illness and ensure venues are a safe and calm (to an extent) environment is positive. Many people are getting excited about LiveLive and I, for one, welcome this endeavour that will make a huge difference in…

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PHOTO CREDIT: Sarah Louise Bennett

MANY people’s lives.

FEATURE: Hidden Treasures: Sheryl Crow – Sheryl Crow

FEATURE:

 

 

Hidden Treasures

COVER PHOTO: Steen Sundland  

Sheryl Crow – Sheryl Crow

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THIS is one of those albums that...

IMAGE CREDIT: Richard Frankel/PHOTOGRAPHY: Melodie McDaniel, Peggy Sirota and Scott Henriksen

scored some of my best days at school. I discovered Sheryl Crow when her debut, Tuesday Night Music Club, arrived in 1993. I was ten when that album came about and remember having my eyes opened by corking songs such as All I Wanna Do and Run Baby Run. I had not really heard a lot of Country and Folk together before; definitely not the same combinations Crow was putting down. I was struck by her beautiful voice and this unique sound. I was compelled to dig deeper and carried Tuesday Night Music Club around with me. That album was written with a collective that was formed by Crow and other musicians. There were disputes after the album was released regarding writing credits and whether her band was being given enough props. Although Crow was at the forefront, perhaps her musicians contributed more than were being given credit for. I love that debut because it sounds so fresh yet has maturity and real depth to it. There were some great reviews for the album but some felt that a few of the songs were half-formed and Crow was yet to find her feet. There is always a risk when you have momentum and you leave a big gap between releases. It took three years for Crow to bring us her eponymous album and, in many ways, the wait was worth it. Sheryl Crow, debatably, is the strongest album she ever released and, this time, songs are fully-formed and instantly golden.

Unlike her debut, Crow took control of production and created the album more in her own vision – a brave and bold move from someone so young. Even though it was her second album, Crow was not going to repeat herself and do what she did before. Most of Sheryl Crow was recorded at Kingsway Studio in New Orleans, Louisiana. Never fully immersed in the Country or Folk scenes, Crow was free to splice genres and bring her own spin. The album features tales regarding heartache and split; American life and ethical issues. It is an accomplished and varied album where the lyrical clout is as impactful as the wonderful compositions and stunning vocals. I was going to stick Sheryl Crow into Vinyl Corner but, instead, I have come up with a new feature for those albums that tend to skip by. It is hard to find Sheryl Crow on vinyl and, in fact, a lot of her back catalogue is quite hard to track. I was determined to cover this album because it is a favourite of mine but, whereas the vinyl is hard to get, you can get it online and enjoy. It is a record we tend to overlook and, compared to The Globe Sessions (1998), it doesn’t get the love it deserves. If Crow’s debut was quite a smooth and traditional album, her eponymous release is more off-kilter and off-balance in terms of the production. There is a lot of fuzz and rich instrumentation; some great little touches that take it out of the ordinary.

There are great songs throughout the album but, rather than stick with ordinary themes and cover the same ground as everyone else, Crow took a different approach. One of its singles, A Change Would Do You Good, is about getting away from a rigid lifestyle and doing something different. Maybe Angels, on the other hand, is about U.F.O.s and conspiracies; a song that you would not find on many other albums. I think Crow said in interviews that it was about finding Kurt Cobain joining John Lennon in a heavenly choir. It is a strange thing to focus on but the song sounds amazing and totally works! Crow talks about gun control and abortion; she tackles these big themes and areas that needed to be addressed. There were some bold artists back in 1996 but consider the leap between Tuesday Night Music Club and Sheryl Crow. In terms of sound, lyrics and production, you can see this immense gulf. That is not a bad thing but it is clear Crow had hit a peak on her second album. If It Makes You Happy is my favourite song from the record and started life with a very different sound. It was alternately twangy and Punk-like; it went through different machinations before arriving at where it ended. Everyday Is a Winding Road features Crowded House’s Neil Finn on harmony vocals and there are these standout moments. The singles are great but Sheryl Crow is solid throughout.

 IN THIS PHOTO: Sheryl Crow in 1996/PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images

I love how many different movements there are and how each song has its own personality. You get the rush of If It Makes You Happy and the familiar twang of Everyday Is a Winding Road. Elsewhere, Superstar and Ordinary Morning find Crow embracing different sounds and she sounds completely released and free throughout. Some of the contemporary reviews for Sheryl Crow were a little muted – perhaps inspired by the sound happening in 1996 and how they album fitted in – but retrospective reviews have given the music time to sink in and strike. AllMusic drilled down to the heart of Sheryl Crow:

And, even with the Stonesy grind of "Sweet Rosalyn" or hippie spirits of "Love Is a Good Thing," it is an album that couldn't have been made any other time than the '90s. As strange as it may sound, Sheryl Crow is a postmodern masterpiece of sorts -- albeit a mainstream, post-alternative, postmodern masterpiece. It may not be as hip or innovative as, say, the Beastie BoysPaul's Boutique, but it is as self-referential, pop culture obsessed, and musically eclectic. Throughout the record, Crow spins out wild, nearly incomprehensible stream-of-consciousness lyrics, dropping celebrity names and products every chance she gets ("drinking Falstaff beer/Mercedes Ruehl and a rented Leer"). Often, these litanies don't necessarily add up to anything specific, but they're a perfect match for the mess of rock, blues, alt-rock, country, folk, and lite hip-hop loops that dominate the record. At her core, she remains a traditionalist -- the songcraft behind the infectious "Change Would Do You Good," the bubbly "Everyday Is a Winding Road," and the weary "If It Makes You Happy" helped get the singles on the radio -- but the production and lyrics are often at odds with those instincts, creating for a fascinating and compelling (and occasionally humorous) listen and one of the most individual albums of its era”.

SLANT, in 2003, had their say:

As always, Crow’s lyrics take a decidedly moralistic stance but never sound preachy. “Hard to Make a Stand” touches on abortion clinic terrorism while “Love Is a Good Thing” sees the solution to the world’s problems in the same four-letter word so many other rockers have enthusiastically endorsed over the years. Crow makes subtle references to the Beatles’ “Love Is All You Need,” but not before giving us a dose of modern reality: “Watch our children while they kill each other/With a gun they bought at Walmart discount stores.” This is certainly not the same hippie mentality of the ‘60s and ‘70s, and one can’t help but think that Crow is a tad less confident with her miracle product than, say, Lennon ever was. “These are the days when anything goes,” she sings on the buoyant “Everyday Is a Winding Road,” and the sentiment speaks for both the song’s playful optimism and the album’s sonic adventurousness. Crow has had some other great moments (“Leaving Las Vegas,” “My Favorite Mistake”), but none of her other full-length albums have been as consistent, immaculately produced or distinctly modern”.

Crow would go on to The Globe Sessions in 1998 and, whereas there were big hits to be found, it is less individual and surprising as her eponymous album. I think Sheryl Crow was the natural maturation from her bar days and playing with her band and having more of a say. She leapt in confidence from her debut and, despite some legal difficulties, was able to conquer new ground and produce a more rounded and complete album.

It is a shame one cannot get Sheryl Crow on vinyl but listen to it on streaming services. It is a fantastic release and one that marked her out as one of the most promising artists in the music world. The Globe Sessions would give us some of my favourite songs from her – including There Goes the Neighbourhood and My Favourite Mistake – but I love all the flavours and contrasts of Sheryl Crow. There are big hits like If It Makes You Happy but she really strikes a chord when it comes to more sensitive and big topics. Not only does this artist break from the mainstream in terms of predictability and use music to address important areas but she did it without alienating and preaching. I feel we overlook Sheryl Crow and do not realise how important it is as an album. It is one of the best albums from the 1990s and you can hear elements of the record in many artists today. Not many articles exist praising the album – I feel that this is wrong. Crow is still recording today and has changed a bit since her early days. I love what she does now but I get this warm tinge and sense of joy when listening to her eponymous album. I was thirteen when it really started to hit me and kept it close as I went through high-school. It was among the most essential releases for me and was a favourite with my friends too. If you want to discover a great album from the past that you might have missed first time around, have a listen to Sheryl Crow and fall for all its brilliance. It is one of the most complete and satisfying albums I have heard and I think it sounds fresh today – almost twenty-three years after its release. I am going to spin it now but, if you are used to listening to the same music and get stuck in a rut; have a gander at Sheryl Crow’s eponymous album and realise that a change…

WOULD do you good.

FEATURE: There’s No Place Like It: Beyoncé’s Homecoming and the Revolution of the Concert Film

FEATURE:

 

 

There’s No Place Like It

IN THIS PHOTO: Beyoncé in a promotional still from the Homecoming documentary (where she discussed her lead-up and route to Coachella 2018)/PHOTO CREDIT: Parkwood Entertainment

Beyoncé’s Homecoming and the Revolution of the Concert Film

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I am not usually prone to concern films...

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 IMAGE CREDIT: Getty Images

and celebrating gigs because, now, I don’t think there is the same shine and sheen. Look at classic gigs through time and you can see why we celebrate them and preserve the memory. Whether it is The Band’s final show or Nirvana playing unplugged in New York; The Beatles at their peak or classic Woodstock footage, we all have fond memories regarding gigs. Nowadays, there are venues around the world and big artists are touring the world with extravaganzas. It gets harder and harder to select these iconic gigs because there are so many. We stream a lot of music and films but how often do these worlds collide? I would like to see icons like Sir Paul McCartney play at an arena or the likes of St. Vincent and Solange playing. Would there be an appetite for these and would people dedicate tome to watch these gigs?! I do feel like we are becoming less patient and not really fascinated by the look and texture of a gig. We are happy to attend them but how often do we rhapsodise about gigs and how epic they are?! A few days back, I wrote about Kate Bush’s Tour of Life in 1979 and how she managed to transform the nature of a gig. She brought theatre and mime together with theatre and the spectacular. Artists like David Bowie took guidance from her and, soon enough, shows become more ambitious and transitioned beyond mere music.

Have we become too familiar with gigs and are not being surprised? One of the problems is that there is very little beyond the songs and the routine. Where is the explosion and the cast? When do we see something mesmeric and dramatic? Maybe artists have a slight budget but, with Beyoncé in the news, her Homecoming show has got people excited. You can see it on Netflix and her unbelievable set at 2018’s Coachella. I remember hearing the news about it and not seeing anything like it. There was a huge array of dancers and complex routines; so many different movements and looks that made it more like a dazzling film than a concert. You can listen to the live album and hear the crackle and thrill of the performance. Pitchfork reviewed the album and underlined why Beyoncé’s 2018 Coachella performance was history-making:

#Beychella redefined what was possible for a music festival. On stage, over 200 bodies undulated in unison but miraculously, every body moved in its own way. They filled out a set of risers constructed into a pyramid, built to look like the bleachers of a football stadium at a black college or university. Filling the structure was an orchestra that included a drumline and a full brass band that introduced themselves with the steady refrain of the Rebirth Brass Band’s “Do Whatcha Wanna.” Male dancers stood in a trembling line like black fraternity pledges, female dancers dressed as majorettes, background singers formed a choir of unified sound and movement, folding their bodies into Beyoncé’s intricately aggressive choreography…

Beyoncé’s core musical vocabulary is the rhythm and bounce of a tune. She’s a classicist who believes in a song’s structure—choruses, bridges, meticulous verses, extended vamps, key changes. Her uptempo songs like “Crazy in Love,” “Countdown,” and “Love on Top” are some of the most inventive, dexterous pop and R&B music of the past couple of decades. For nearly the entire 110 minutes, she isolates these adrenaline-spiking cuts, amplifying their kinetic energy with marching-band arrangements. The extended version of B’Day’s 2006 single “Get Me Bodied” is a highlight here, as is 2005’s “Check on It.” Both are supercharged booty thumpers, more than a decade old that sound newly baptized in the world of Homecoming: the clarion calls of trumpets and whoomps of sousaphones, the foot-stomping on the risers and the off-mic “ayys” of the dancers that are sprinkled throughout. The arrangements amplify the relationship Beyoncé’s music has to the inherently percussive body”.

The live album is the music itself whereas the Homecoming documentary itself has behind-the-scenes features and gives a visual edge to the gig. Beyoncé has already been afforded a $60 million three-project deal with Netflix following Homecoming. Although gigs themselves are not being utilised regarding film, there is a rise in music documentaries. Everyone from Aretha Franklin, Lady Gaga and Taylor Swift has been the subject of a documentary but Beyoncé’s Homecoming blows the doors open and changes things.

You can talk about the sets and choreography of her Coachella performance but there was history being made. This article from The Guardian looked at the power of Beyoncé and why her Coachella turn was more than performing the hits:

And yet, despite her willingness to share the stage, Beyoncé is the priestess, the ringleader, insistent on her authorship of this one-of-a-kind spectacle, which marked the first time a black woman had ever headlined Coachella. The writer, director and executive producer of Homecoming, which runs 137 minutes and was released in concert with a 40-song live album, Beyoncé has a way of reminding us of her unique ability to hold a crowd in the palm of her hand, to defy the trend toward cultural diffusion and force us to stand at attention.

So Coachella, she explains, was the homecoming she never had, but also a paean to the rich culture and vibrant aesthetic of historically black colleges and universities, the insignia of which can be spotted on the bright yellow and pink hoodies worn by Beyoncé and her onstage battalion (the film brilliantly cross-cuts between Beyoncé’s two Coachella sets to create an almost kaleidoscopic effect, edited down to each gyration and stutter-step). And even with the relative sparsity of information about how the concept came together, Homecoming is, alongside the southern gothic feminism of Lemonade, Beyoncé’s grandest articulation yet of her artistic mission. It’s a mission so great, she looks to no less an authority than Maya Angelou to put it into words. “What I really want to do is be a representative of my race,” Angelou says over grainy rehearsal footage near the end of the documentary, in what was the last interview she gave before her death in 2014. “I know that when I’m finished doing what I’m sent here to do, I will be called home”.

IN THIS PHOTO: Beyoncé during her Coachella show/PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images

I guess you had to be at the Coachella gig to get the full effect but the fact we have the live album and documentary means we get a more intimate and close look at this special and inspirational artist. The sheer scale, spectacle and colour one saw from Coachella exceeds anything we have seen in a very long time. I know there are big shows ad tours but Beyoncé topped them all and created a performance that will linger long in the history books. She used her platform to deliver power and passion – this extended beyond the music and provided education, history and the celebration of black Americans: The BBC explained in more detail:

Throughout Homecoming, Beyoncé included quotes and audio from black leaders and intellectuals, and I greatly appreciated the quote she used from W.E.B. Du Bois: "Education must not simply teach work - it must teach life."

This quote was radical and empowering over 100 years ago, and for better or worse it still leaves a lasting impact today. The quote is from Du Bois' "Talented Tenth" essay in 1903 that both articulated his vision of higher education for black people, and served as a stern rebuke to his rival Booker T Washington who advocated for blacks to prioritise industrial and agrarian training.

Beyoncé bookends her film with quotes from authors Toni Morrison and Maya Angelou, and their wisdom has always gracefully empowered our community, celebrated our humanity, and provided a richness to our struggle for equality that the world needs to hear.

The significance of Homecoming also is not merely about the celebrated African Americans featured in the film, or the behind the scenes look at how Beyoncé prepared for the concert; but is also about the foundational importance education has always held in the black community”.

There is a lot to love regarding Homecoming: from the stunning routines through to the messages Beyoncé was saying; to the electricity and sheer vitality of Coachella. It must have been incredible being there but, for those who missed out, we have this concert film that will get other artists interested. Homecoming is not a film made by a committee or designed to be simple and short. It is a passionate and personal feature that will resonate with Beyoncé fans and those who love live performance. Another reason why Homecoming is such a bold and vital step forward is because of the input Beyoncé had. The Guardian talked about Homecoming and how much say Beyoncé had:

For critic and author Hanif Abdurraqib, the fact artists are given creative control over concert films – Beyoncé is named as executive producer and music director on Homecoming – makes them more attractive. “Creative control is a major plus for artists now, who already have so much control over what fans see and don’t see of their everyday lives,” he said. “Social media and the performance of public presentation have all blended into this landscape where an artist can truly write their own narrative for how they wish to appear.”

Forde adds: “It fits with Beyoncé’s approach because her image is so complicated and there’s so much nuance in the way she presents herself, why wouldn’t she want to carry that on in a concert film?

“The concert films need to have visual consistency to continue the aesthetic of Beyoncé

Beyoncé’s film is notable because there are moments of intimacy with the star, who has given no interviews since a sit-down with Oprah in 2013. During Homecoming the audience follows her as she discusses trying to recover physically and mentally after having twins in June 2017. It’s the most intimate portrait of her in years – even if every second is delicately stage-managed”.

There is so much to unpick regarding Homecoming and where we go from here. At a time when artists are not using their stage to discuss important issues or truly create something memorable, I do hope that there is this wave of response that ups the game. I do feel like we have moved away from concert films and do not consider them essential. Beyoncé will not change things on her own but she has shown what is possible. Listen to the live album and, if you can, see Homecoming and get inside this remarkable gig. I cannot wait to see where Beyoncé heads next but, with her, you know it will be very special! She has been a pioneer and inspiration since her Destiny’s Child days but, in these turbulent times, her status and name has grown bolder and more important. I think a great concert film can give us a greater love of gigs and the artist behind them. We all attend gigs and get that rush but do we understand the levels and layers involved? Do we think beyond the music and do we experience something truly life-changing? It will be a hard feat equalling Beyoncé but I do feel Homecoming is a big explosion. If you need something to lift your spirits and open your mind then play Homecoming and experience something…

UTTERLY wonderful

FEATURE: Persona Grata: The Great Alter Egos Behind the Major Artists

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Persona Grata

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IN THIS IMAGE: David Bowie as Aladdin Sane/PHOTO CREDIT: Brian Duffy

The Great Alter Egos Behind the Major Artists

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THERE is a lot of buzz around Madonna right now...

as she is back with new music. Her previous album, Rebel Heart, was out in 2015 and there have been a lot of people waiting for new stuff. Madonna is no stranger when it comes to reinvention and bringing something fresh to the party. Most of these evolutions regard style and genres: occasionally, she has been known to embrace other personalities and roles. In fact, look back at 1992’s Erotica and how we saw a new side of Madonna. At the peak of her career, she could have repeated 1989’s Like a Prayer or made a move back in her career. In a progressive step that was not welcomed by all critics, she adopted the moniker of ‘Mistress Dita’ and assumed a more sexualised and confident look. The idea behind the alter ego was to highlight sexual freedom and confidence. Madonna was not looking to shock and offend people. Instead, we had this rather enigmatic and unusual heroine who, on the surface, was all rubber, scandal and provocativeness but, underneath, there was a deeper meaning and motivation. Madonna had already released a few albums as her and, whilst Erotica was a Madonna record, she used this Mistress Dita as a way of bringing a new character into her world. Now, twenty-seven years after that album, her second fully-fledged alter ego is here: Madame X is an updated and broader representation of Erotica’s muse.

It seems that this new personality is a superhero heroine who is everything and more. There is not a clear backstory yet but, as we have seen with Twitter teases, there is the teacher, the mistress; the lover, the nun and everything else. Some might claim this is a marketing tool and way of keeping her reputation burning but it is another step forward from an artist who has remained essential since the start of her career. Madame X seems to beckon this new era for Madonna; a character that is less alarming and direct than Mistress Dita but, in a way, more inspiring and interesting. When her album, Madame X, arrives in June, we will get all the different sides to this persona. Maybe it is not as affecting when new artists do it but it is great seeing legends embody someone fictional for an album. Madonna is definitely not alone regarding alter egos. I will come to the artists who, I feel, is the finest when it comes to reinventions but look around and you will see some other great examples. There have been some stumbles along the way – anyone recall Garth Brooks’ reinvention as Australian Chris Gaines back in 1999?! – but the more successful personas have definitely captured something. In a world, now, where superhero franchises are huge I do wonder whether big artists could reinvent themselves and produce a character like this; someone who could have their own film and drama.

So much of modern music is about process and the familiar: breaking conventions and the routine to bring a persona can backfire but it also makes for something brave and new. I am writing about Beyoncé later today but, back in 2008 she released I AM… SASHA FIERCE. This album arrived after B’Day (2006) and took a while to resonate. I like what she did but I felt many missed the all-out bangers and the sort of directness we had with previous Beyoncé albums. Sasha Fierce was already familiar as Beyoncé’s on-stage alter ego but there was a dichotomy on the album. The first half, I AM…, was a slower set of songs whilst SASHA FIERCE represented fire and the up-tempo. A lot of the muted response to the album was the difference between the softer numbers on the first half and the more traditional Beyoncé jams on the second. It was, essentially, the alter ego unleashed that was more impactful than the more reflective and heartfelt artist. Beyoncé is a celebrated icon and was a huge artist back in 2008. Bringing that stage persona to an album was a big move and one that, whilst not immune to criticism, inspired many and made a huge impression of her core fanbase – predominately young/teenage girls. Away from strong women like Madonna and Beyoncé, artists such as Eminem have adopted personas. He has been dubbed ‘Slim Shady’ and ‘Eminem’ as well as ‘Marshall Mathers’ – which is his real name.

The Slim Shady alter ego is a ruder, more comical version of Marshall Mathers but, on all occasions, it provided Eminem the chance to embody someone else and allow himself greater license and creative freedom. This article from udiscovermusic looks at some of the best-known and loved alter egos in music. Included are Paul McCartney, Prince and Nicki Minaj:

After making Ram in 1971, Paul McCartney produced a big-band instrumental version of the entire album, which was later released in 1977 under the mysterious moniker of Percy Thrillington. Paul McCartney, along with his wife Linda, invented the fictitious character and even went so far as to take out ads in various UK music papers announcing Thrillington’s activites as well as spinning a detailed backstory for the Percy Thrillington liner notes.

More than a stage name, musicians have been creating multiple identities as part of their performance for centuries. For some, it was only for an album. When The Beatles wanted to retire their mop-top boy band image and be considered serious artists, they created Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. For others it was self-mythologising, with Robert Zimmerman dropping his supposedly unfashionable moniker for the much hipper Bob Dylan, complete with an itinerant troubadour backstory. For others, it was due to industry pressure. When Simon & Garfunkel were told their names were too “ethnic sounding”, they recorded under “Tom And Jerry”, borrowed from the cartoon adversaries. And some are just ill-fated from the start, like Garth Brooks’ fictional rock star persona Chris Gaines. From country to rock, jazz to hip-hop, these personas embody a specific moment in an artist’s development. Here we pick just a handful of the most famous alter egos from the 50s to today.

IMAGE CREDIT: Getty Images

Prince’s unreleased albums are nearly as famous as the ones he did release, with the only comfort being that some of this shelved material ended up on official albums. Such is the case with Camille, the 1986 unreleased self-titled debut by Prince’s gender-fluid alter ego. While Prince was no stranger to employing his falsetto (or alter egos, for that matter: Jamie Starr, Tora Tora and Alexander Nevermind are just a few others), for Camille, he purposely recorded his vocals at a slower speed and then adjusted them to the higher pitch to achieve a more feminine sounding voice. Most of the Camille tracks later appeared on 1987’s Sign O’ The Times, including ‘Strange Relationship’, ‘If I Was Your Girlfriend’ and its B-side ‘Shockadelica’.

In the self-serious landscape of hip-hop, Nicki Minaj is a true chameleon, employing various wigs and guises to embody alter egos, each with their own backstory – so much so that there’s an entire wiki page to track them all. The most famous (and Minaj’s personal favourite) is Roman Zolandski, a fast-talking, flamboyant British gay man who courts controversy. After first making an appearance on Trey Songz’s hit ‘Bottoms Up’, he pops up on other Minaj hits, including ‘Roman’s Revenge’, ‘Roman Holiday’ and ‘Roman Reloaded’. His mother, Martha Zolandski, is another one of Minaj’s alter egos, alongside Harajuku Barbie, Female Weezy (Lil Wayne’s female counterpart), Point Dexter and more than 10 others”.

You only need to look through articles like that to discover all the alter egos you have missed through the years. It is interesting when considering The Beatles and their album, Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.

Back in 1967, there had been a few alter egos in music but a lot of them had been from psychedelic acts and not many mainstream Pop artists were doing this. The Fab Four were as we knew them but, in trippy clothes and adopting this more militaristic and fantastical identity, they helped craft one of the most influential albums of all time – even if the record itself was not strictly a concept; its opening and closing tracks mention the fictional band but it is not mentioned anywhere else. The Beatles not only inspired other bands to try something different but, with that album, they pushed the studio to the limits and helped take music to a whole new level. This interesting article investigates some of the modern artists who have followed in the footsteps of Madonna, The Beatles and David Bowie:

Coming off of the enormous success of his 2015 sophomore album Beauty Behind the Madness, The Weeknd quickly went to work again on his 2016 follow-up record, Starboy. Inspired by another Bowie character, Starman, The Weeknd killed his old persona (literally in the "Starboy" music video when he suffocates himself with a plastic bag) by cutting off his signature dreadlocks, creating a brand new character: the boastful Starboy.

The Weeknd told Zane Lowe in their Beats 1 interview about Starboy's personality, "He's a more braggadocios character that we all have inside of us
".

Starboy brags about his expensive cars and sings about girlfriends snorting cocaine off of his ebony wood table. There's always the negative that comes with fame, though, and for a brief moment it seems as if he might regret his decision to become a mega pop star when he sings, "Look what you've done."

As it turns out, the devil really is in rock and roll - and he's flashy. U2 front man Bono took on the devil-meets-glam-rock-star Mr. MacPhisto during the band's ZooTV tour in the early '90s. On the same tour, he also morphed into The Fly (a vinyl-clad stereotypical rock star) and Mirror Ball Man, who author Bill Flanagan describes as an "American TV evangelist/used car salesman/game-show host in a cowboy hat throwing dollars around." Both The Fly and Mirror Ball Man laid the groundwork for MacPhisto. Bono explained in his autobiography, U2 by U2:

"It was time to put the Mirror Ball Man in mothballs. We wanted a more Eurocentric character, more decadent, more old world, rather than the brash Yankee salesman with God on his side. I started to think about what The Fly would be like when he's old and fat and playing Las Vegas. U2 conjured up the Devil!"
Lady Gaga, known for her outlandish fashion statements and over-the-top performances, pushed the envelope even further in 2011 at the MTV Music Awards when she performed in drag as her male alter ego Jo Calderone. Not only did she physically transform herself with a swoop of black hair and sideburns, but she stayed in character, only answering questions backstage as Calderone.

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IN THIS PHOTO: Lady Gaga as her male alter ego, Jo Calderone/PHOTO CREDIT: Terry Richardson

"My family's from Palermo, Sicily. And I'm not a singer or a model or actor or anything, I'm just a guy," Jo said.

Gaga originally created the character months earlier on the sly and sneaked him into a men's fashion editorial for Vogue Hommes Japan, leading fans to wonder if this new male model with a rough-around-the-edges style was indeed the female singer”.

It can quite strange for a relatively fresh artist to adopt a persona and some cynics might say it indicates a lack of original thirst. Conversely, artists who create a new moniker are looking to represent themselves in a way not explored before. Maybe being themselves is a bit too straight and they have to be overly-personal. One can allow some fantasy and expansion when you have an alter ego. It can, as said, be difficult getting the balance right and making the venture successful. There have been failures and confusing attempts but, when you hit the right notes, the effects are mesmerising! This article counts looks at the most famous David Bowie alter egos. There are no other artists out there who have enjoyed as many successful and compelling reboots as David Bowie. Even up until his final album, Blackstar (2016), he was trying out new guises and directions. The Independent, in this article, looked at Bowie’s different faces and personalities through the years:

His first and arguably greatest alter ego was born when Bowie broke through into the mainstream with Ziggy Stardust. Face daubed with a lightening bolt and mullet hairstyle dyed crimson red, Ziggy Stardust was a bisexual rock star alien who acted as a messenger for extra-terrestrial beings. Dressed in a multi-coloured Lycra jumpsuit, Bowie’s androgynous, wafer-thin doppelganger came to redefine an entire era of rock’n’roll. Widely considered one of the greatest albums of all time, it went on to sell an estimated 7.5 million copies worldwide

It was Major Tom who first propelled Bowie into the limelight. As the protagonist of ‘Space Oddity’, Major Tom helped establish Bowie as a solo artist to be reckoned with in 1969. A fictional astronaut, Major Tom has cut off all of his communication with planet Earth and floated into space. The character evolves throughout his career, making another appearance in the 1980 song ‘Ashes to Ashes’.

Aladdin Sane was a continuation of Ziggy Stardust. The protagonist of his sixth album, Bowie describes the alter ego as “Ziggy goes to America” because the album was inspired by his 1972 US tour. Later, he also told friends that the character was inspired by his brother Terry who was diagnosed with schitzophrenia. After all, the name is based on the pun ‘A Lad Insane’.

The darkest of all of Bowie’s alter egos, the Thin White Duke coincided with the peak of his cocaine usage. Although, on the surface, the Duke seemed more ordinary than Bowie’s former personas, at a closer look, he exhibited signs of real trauma. Bowie describes the Duke as, “A very Aryan, fascist-type; a would-be romantic with absolutely no emotion at all but who spouted a lot of neo-romance”.

It is heartbreaking that David Bowie is no longer with us because who knows where he could have taken that keen eye for reinvention, persona and the unusual. Who knows, also, how many other artists he inspired to break from the ordinary and step into a new realm? I think Ziggy Stardust is my favourite of his incarnations but I hold a special place for Aladdin Sane and The Thin White Duke. The darker Bowie, at the peak of his cocaine intake, was controversial but I think the most intriguing and complex iterations.

This feature shows that, even as late as 2016 (the year he died), we were seeing David Bowie adopt a new character:

The Blind Prophet After playing many different characters, on his last album, Blackstar (2016), Bowie shows the real him: David Robert Jones. In the videos, his eyes were covered with bandages as his character was a blind prophet foretelling his own demise. The black star on the vinyl cover contains a hidden message, transforming into a galaxy of stars when light shines on the cover. A beautiful goodbye message to his fans, since David Bowie passed away just days after the album's release”.

The death of Bowie, perhaps, took away the godfather of disguise, character and alter egos. He was a master when it came to embodying these marvellous creations but, rather than mourn a trailblazer, it is worthwhile using Bowie as a lead. Modern artists like Nicki Minaj and Eminem have taken their music in new directions but I feel like more can be done. I do feel like we get caught in the rush of promotion, all the new artists and news coming through. I have a lot of respect for artists who do things traditionally and like to walk that path but, for those who try something different, the effects can be incredible. I do not think there is anything calculated and cynical regarding reinvention and adopting a new name/guise. From David Bowie and Beyoncé to Madonna, Eminem and The Weeknd, there have been some cool and out-there alter egos. Against all the routine, predictability and ordinariness of music, having these eye-opening alter egos in the world gives music…

IN THIS PHOTO: Beyoncé as Sasha Fierce/PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images

A definite spark!

FEATURE: Sisters in Arms: An All-Female, Spring-Ready Playlist (Vol. VIII)

FEATURE:

 

 

Sisters in Arms

IN THIS PHOTO: Olivia Nelson 

An All-Female, Spring-Ready Playlist (Vol. VIII)

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WE can truly say that spring has arrived...

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 IN THIS PHOTO: Bloom

as the sun is shining and the heat is properly among us! I love the fact that the sunshine is blaring and we have some great music to keep us entertained. Among the female-led gems for this week is some Pop, Soul and, well, pretty much everything. There is a lot of variation in the pack and so many different shades to investigate. I have been looking through the fresh releases and deciding which songs will fit best on this spring-ready list. Have a listen to these top tracks and I know there will be something in there that…

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IN THIS PHOTO: Maiah Manser

GETS you pumping!

ALL PHOTOS (unless credited otherwise): Getty Images/Artists

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Ellie RoseAudrey

Lizzy LandCall Me

PHOTO CREDIT: Nathan Russell

Lauran Hibberd - Hoochie

PHOTO CREDIT: William Arcand

Claudia BouvetteCool It

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PHOTO CREDIT: Onishi Ltd

KINNOHAFeel for You

Angelique Kidjo Sahara

PHOTO CREDIT: Skulljan

Made in JuneCha Cha

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Alex HepburnGood Woman

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Morgan Saintgod bless our souls

PHOTO CREDIT: Austin Roa

Jade Bird17

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Dinah JaneFix It

Jasmine RaeRight Now

Sophia ScottDrink Too Much Wine

JainGloria

BananaramaStuff Like That

Olivia O’BrienJust a Boy

PHOTO CREDIT: Geert Breeks

TusksForeign

Ida Wenøe - Another Kind of Love

Olivia NelsonNo Answer

Stealing SheepJust Dreaming

Katie ToupinMagnetic Moves

BloomGround

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PHOTO CREDIT: @annaazarov

Maiah ManserSee Thru It

Dressy BessyTiny Lil Robots

Hannah CohenAll I Wanted

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IYVESGold

PHOTO CREDIT: Alison Mckenny Photography

Mairead Furlong – Cocoon

PHOTO CREDIT: Nicolae Bernal

A.O. GerberStrangers

FEATURE: The April Playlist: Vol. 3: I’m Not Medellin in the Homecoming Celebrations!

FEATURE:

 

The April Playlist

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IN THIS PHOTO: Beyoncé

Vol. 3: I’m Not Medellin in the Homecoming Celebrations!

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THIS week has few tracks/standouts…

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 IN THIS PHOTO: Loyle Carner

but the ones we do have are from some mighty artists. There is fresh material from Madonna and Beyoncé and, as two of the biggest names in modern music, it is great to have stuff from them out! There is also music from Beck, Lizzo; Loyle Carner, Jade Bird and The Flaming Lips – there is no shortage to be found when it comes to quality! Have a listen to this week’s best tunes and I am certain there are some moments in the pack that will capture your imagination. It is a big week for tracks but I think the Madonna and Beyoncé revelations stand above them all! I have compiled a playlist to get the weekend kicking off and moving. Take the songs with you and get behind all the magnificent songs we have been treated to. The sun is out, the temperature is rising and, in the world of music, things are definitely hot…

 IN THIS IMAGE: Madonna

RIGHT now.  

ALL PHOTOS/IMAGES (unless credited otherwise): Getty Images/Artists

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Madonna, Maluma - Medellín 

Beyoncé Formation (Homecoming Live)

PHOTO CREDIT: Ellie McIntyre

Jade BirdUh Huh

Lizzo Better in Color

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PHOTO CREDIT: Lauren Dukoff

Beck Saw Lightning

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PHOTO CREDIT: French Vanilla

Loyle Carner Krispy

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Carly Rae Jepsen - Julien

The Flaming LipsAll for the Life of the City

The Cranberries In the End

Honeyblood She’s a Nightmare

Fat White Family - When I Leave

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Four TetTeenage Birdsong

Cate Le Bon - Home to You

EELS - You Are the Shining Light

She Drew the Gun - Paradise

PHOTO CREDIT: Neil Krug

Cage the Elephant Social Cues

Jain Gloria

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Modest Mouse I’m Still Here

Peggy Gou Han Pan (Original Mix)

Blossoms I’ve Seen the Future

 
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Blake Rose Best of Me

Ellie Goulding - Sixteen

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PHOTO CREDIT: Dani Hansen

Jack Grace Slow Burn

PHOTO CREDIT: Eliot Lee Hazel

Tune-Yards SIGNS (Detroit’s Theme)

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Dinah Jane Heard It All Before

Tom Rosenthal Spring 

Tusks Foreign

LEISURE On My Mind

Another Sky - The Cracks

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PHOTO CREDIT: Mats Bakken Photography

Ora the Molecule The Cup

No Rome Cashmoney

Chasing Abbey 6 O’clock

FEATURE: Vinyl Corner: Crowded House - Woodface

FEATURE:

 

 

Vinyl Corner

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IMAGE CREDIT: Spotify 

Crowded House - Woodface

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I promise there will be albums from women...

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IN THIS PHOTO: Crowded House in 1991 (Mark Hart, Neil Finn; Tim Finn, Nick Seymour and Paul Hester)/PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images/Press

in this feature very soon - and I am aware it has been a while since I have included any. I wanted to include Crowded House and Woodface because it is an album that is back in my life (I am playing it quite regularly at the moment). It is one of those records that was around when I was a child and I always gravitated in its direction. Maybe it is the harmonies or the accessibility of the songs; the fact that there are so many moods or, maybe, it just that special magic that cannot be explained. Woodface was released on 1st July, 1991 in the U.K. and was the third studio album from the New Zealand/Australian band. The arrival of Woodface marked an interesting point in Crowded House’s career. 1988’s Temple of Low Men was a remarkable album and one that gathered a lot of critical acclaim. It was a change of tone from their debut album, and was a big leap in terms of quality. Neil Fin stepped up as a songwriter and dug deeper when it came to emotions. If anything, Woodface sort of brought back what Temple of Low Men was lacking in some respects: those easy hooks and a sense of breeziness. Tim Finn provided backing vocals for Temple of Low Men but was much more heavily involved in songwriting for Woodface. They started writing together when Crowded House had a break during the Canadian leg of their tour – the one that was supporting Temple of Low Men.

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  IN THIS PHOTO: Crowded House (circa 1991)/PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images/Press

Neil Finn wrote four of the tracks on Woodface – including one of its biggest singles, Fall at Your Feet – whilst the brothers co-wrote the rest (except for Italian Plastic, which was written by the band’s drummer, the late Paul Hester. Whereas Neil Finn led the writing previously, there was more harmony (in many senses) between the brothers on Woodface and, as such, the album seems much stronger and more ambitious. Tm Finn returned to the band as a full-time member now and, to me, the fact that he is much more a part of the music stepped up Crowded House’s vision and scope. Mitchell Froom and Neil Finn produced Woodface and the majority of the tracks see the brothers harmonising – Neil Finn taking the lead on Four Seasons in One Day shows that they could break up that pattern to devastating and emotional affect. Despite the fact that Tim and Neil Finn were supremely blended during Woodface, Tim would lead the band when they were touring the album in the U.K. – a brief moment in the spotlight and I wonder whether Tim and Neil Fin will ever record a Crowded House album together again. Everyone has their favourite moments from the album but, to me, three of the singles stand out: It’s Only Natural, Fall at Your Feet and Weather with You are perfection. These tracks were release around 1991/1992 and, at that time, I was at secondary school – I may have just been in the final stages of primary school when Fall at Your Feet came out in September 1991.

Being so young, I was hooking onto music that was accessible and catchy. It would take years for me to realise the depths and true meanings behind the songs but, being so young, I was made giddy by the great hooks and big choruses. Maybe Weather with You is the biggest song from Woodface and a song that is instantly recognisable. I have heard the song countless times and it is a track that gets people singing along loudly! One of the only drawbacks of Woodface is the fact that it is top-heavy: its five biggest songs happen in the first half and most of the lesser-known songs are in the second half. From the singalong beauty of It’s Only Natural and Weather with You to the tenderness of Fall at Your Feet; the beautiful visions and harmonies of There Goes God and the calm of She Goes On, Woodface has so many different sides and expressions. In terms of variation and range, there is so much to enjoy about Woodface. If their fourth studio album, Together Alone, received stronger reviews in 1993, I feel Woodface is a more complete and satisfying listen. The bonus of having both Finn brothers together in writing and vocals gives Woodface its additional shine and brilliance. In 1991, Entertainment Weekly reviewed Woodface:

With richly melodic songs that captured the whimsy and wistfulness of falling in love without ever seeming calculated or maudlin, Crowded House’s self-titled 1986 debut album came about as close to being perfect pop as anything that was released that decade…

On the band’s new, third album, Woodface, singer-songwriter-guitarist Neil Finn continues to prove himself one of the canniest and most gifted melodists around, and here he’s given vocal and songwriting assistance by singer-pianist Tim Finn, his brother and former bandmate in Split Enz, whose plaintive tenor makes for some spine-tingling harmonies. The beauty of the music is, however, sometimes mired in a self-conscious sardonicism that, more than a decade after New Wave came along to mock every musical and cultural movement that preceded it, seems a bit tired. Best are the romantic ballads, particularly the buoyant ”It’s Only Natural” and ”She Goes On,” which features the most elegantly elegiac melody line you’re likely to hear this year”.

AllMusic reviewed the record in 2015:

Where Crowded House's previous album, Temple of Low Men, showcased the often dark side of a man alone with his thoughts, Woodface represents the joy of reunion and the freedom of a collaborative effort -- more than half of the album was originally conceived as a Finn Brothers project, which was Tim and Neil's first crack at writing together. The songs are easily their finest to date, combining flawless melodies and the outstanding harmonies of the brothers' perfectly matched voices”.

Woodface is an album that seems to grow stronger over time and keeps on revealing fresh layers. It sounded pretty bloody great when I was a child but, in 2019, I think many people overlook Woodface and it definitely warrants new investigation.

This article from 2015 examined Woodface but explained that, as a first single release, Chocolate Cake was not a wise move from the band:

By all accounts, Crowded House (over the objections of management and label) insisted that the first single, and the album’s lead-off track, be the surreal dance song “Chocolate Cake.” The Finn/Finn collaboration was a tongue-in-cheek attack on Americans and their obsession with excess and celebrity. “Chocolate Cake” took potshots at everyone from Tammy Faye Baker to Andrew Lloyd Webber (“May his trousers fall down as he bows to the queen and the crown”). The joke wore thin quickly.

“‘Chocolate Cake,’ in hindsight, may well have undone us,” Neil Finn said. “It started off as a live song, which was tremendous fun to play. But as a first single a lot of people were put off by it. It was confrontational, which was good in a sense — people either loved it or they hated it. But maybe it gave an impression of the album which was quite remote from what the album actually was.”

While Woodface became the band’s best-selling album in Great Britain, topped the chart in New Zealand and was a huge seller in Australia and Japan, it hit the U.S.A. with a resounding thud. It peaked at No. 83 in Billboard. “Chocolate Cake” had been issued early, as a CD single and accompanied by a garish, expensive video”.

 PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images/Press

Through the years, I have heard bands and artists inspired by Crowded House; songs that borrow little elements from Woodface and try and update that sound. There are some great features that re-examine Woodface and highlight its incredible selection of songs. XZ Noise ran a feature in 2015 and argued why Woodface deserves new fondness:

Woodface is the strongest collection of songs put out by Crowded House on one release. Taking that fact into consideration, Woodface is overdue for a well deserved dusting off and re-examination. What the band produced on Woodface was transcendent pure pop, where they produced numerous three minute melodic miracles. The band created lyrical songs that were in keeping with their desire to follow the musical whimsy which was woven into their DNA. The album displayed Neil and Tim’s fantastic songwriting abilities. It also emphasized Neil’s knack for crafting high quality songs that combined meticulously crafted irresistible melodies and lyrical details. Critics have always known and credited Neil with the ability to write lyrics that set the band apart from the rest, but on Woodface he exceeded himself. Thematically and lyrically the material soared above what any counterparts had on offer. Finn all the while provided beautiful melodies and memorable choruses that addressed happiness as real but ephemeral, and love songs set on their head with thinly veiled biting realism. The resulting verdict is that if not for the misfiring of the first track Woodface comes very closing to being a Crowded Housemasterwork.

The song in hindsight that many agree should have begun the album; its Only Natural has that familiar beloved Maori strum guitar. Even better was the beautiful harmonizing between the Finn brothers. It is a lovely shimmering song with a country twang that Tim introduced to liven up CH’s sound. The lyrics speak to human nature and the way every one wants things their way. “…and we don’t even have to try”. Everyone wants to be on the top of the heap with out it being difficult.

The splendid Fall at Your Feet is a sublime song. It is the perfectly bridge from the brooding Temple of Low Men, taking the mood and instrumentation and shaping it into something enthralling. The song overcomes one of the biggest obstacles that Crowded House had always faced; which is that the vocals and lyrics are so strong that the stellar musicality of their work gets overlooked, everything on this track is in perfect balance. The keyboards are bell like and the gentle touch to the production is spot on. The theme is an examination of the hills and valleys of relationships. Displaying the tangled emotions of a long term love; “Whenever I fall at your feet you and you let your tears rain down on me.” It is the fallout after an inevitable fight, “…the finger of blame has turned upon itself and I’m more that willing to offer myself do you want my presence or need my help who knows where that might lead.” This song contains some of Neil Finn’s most beautiful vocals”.

If you have not heard Woodface or feel like the album is a bit outdated, go grab it on vinyl and (re)discover this incredible work.

It might be nearly thirty years old but it never sounds dated. In fact, I wonder why there are not bands around like Crowded House. It has been so long since a band like them came around; all the big hooks, choruses and sumptuous vocals! Great albums should hook you in right away and make that impression but unveil things the more you listen. The big hits from Woodface endure and continue to impress but some of those songs you overlook the first time around – Tall Trees, All I Ask and Italian Plastic among them – get stronger and need a bit more time. I do love the fact there are tracks on Woodface that sort of grow in stature and meaning over time and, the longer time moves on, the grander the album becomes. Go and grab a copy and spend some time around a simply superb album. It is perfect if you need to be calmed and drift away but it is also brilliant of you need to be uplifted and discover something rousing. Woodface deals with some heavy emotions and situations but there is so much joy to be found. Maybe that is a reason why I keep coming back to the album! I am in need of a boost right now so I am going to enjoy Woodface this afternoon and make sure there is a smile on my face. There is no telling whether Crowded House will record another album – their last, Intriguer, was released in 2010 – but one thing is for sure: they will never release anything as strong and timeless as Woodface. It is a record that everyone out there…

NEEDS to own.

FEATURE: Station to Station: Song Two: Ken Bruce (BBC Radio 2)

FEATURE:

 

 

Station to Station

IN THIS PHOTO: Ken Bruce/PHOTO CREDIT: Lorenzo Agius/BBC 

Song Two: Ken Bruce (BBC Radio 2)

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IN the second part of my new feature...

 PHOTO CREDIT: BBC/Getty Images

I am looking at a radio personality that has brought so much life and energy to so many people! In my next instalment, I am going back to BBC Radio 6 Music – I opened last week by spotlighting Lauren Laverne – next week but I felt it only right that I give some time to Ken Bruce. One of the biggest drawbacks featuring Ken Bruce is the lack of publicity photos online. I guess radio personalities are never going to be too stocked when it comes to images and the only reason I managed to find a lot of images for Lauren Laverne is the magazine interviews she has given and the fact I embedded a few tweets. I will do that for Ken Bruce as well (putting tweets in) but, when one thinks of a classic radio voice, Bruce comes to mind. It has been a little while since I have heard his morning show but, after breakfast, Ken Bruce is there to ease us all towards lunchtime. I was a bit fearful last year when the moves were announced on BBC Radio 2. I was not concerned they’d can Ken Bruce because, let’s face it, he is the longest-serving male presenter on the station and someone who will be there until he dies! The fact that a few of the best female presenters on the station were being moved, I thought, might mean Bruce moving to a later slot.

The transition and substitutions performed meant that we got a new breakfast host (Zoe Ball); a great one-two of Sara Cox (at five in the afternoon) and Jo Whiley (following her at seven) and the feeling of a more balanced station. Maybe this is not the best week to highlight Ken Bruce’s place in the rankings as many of the D.J.s are off next week. Bruce is being covered by Jo Whiley whereas Whiley is being covered by Mark Radcliffe. No worries, though! Regardless of whether Ken Bruce sees this feature or not that does not matter. He will be back in his regular slot very soon and, if you are reading this, chances are you know what he is about and how his show sounds. Like Lauren Laverne, I am going to start with Kate Bush. Bush was right when, in 2011, she spoke with Ken Bruce and said that he had the best radio voice ever! Their conversation was great and, when promoting Director’s Cut, there was this easy flow and sense of trust. You could listen to Ken Bruce talk for hours because he has that naturally smooth, warming and comforting voice that brings the best out of his subject. Not only does Ken Bruce have that affection and bond with his guests but he has a much more personable nature. Many interviewers can appear stiff and business-like when they interview artists and popular figures but Bruce is a different kettle of fish.

I have a lot of respect for his work and I could not imagine radio without him. The Glasgow-born D.J. and broadcaster started life on radio in the 1970s and moved to BBC Radio Scotland in 1978. By 1980, he moved to a mid-morning slot and, by 1983, he presented a daily current affairs programme. All of these early experiences prepared him for the move to BBC Radio 2: his natural home that has been lucky enough to have him since 1984. It must have been quite a difficult and stressful start to life on BBC Radio 2. He started with a late-night show but was also doing his presenting duties at BBC Radio Scotland. There was a move to breakfast show in 1985 but, in 1992, Bruce stepped into the mid-morning slot. It is amazing to think he has been in that position for twenty-seven years and looks set to be there a lot longer. I look at the radio schedules now and you see a lot of people who have been at stations a while but never in the same slot! Breakfast hosts might be able to last a decade before they get too tired; there are rotations all the time but Ken Bruce, stoic and ever-popular, is still where he is. It would have been a travesty if he were to be moved or was pushed back to a later slot as part of the moves last year. Zoe Ball tees him up and, whilst Lynn Bowles departure as traffic reporter (Richey Anderson is the new traffic reporter) last year was a blow for the station and Ken Bruce, there has not been a great deal of change regarding format and personnel.

Bruce has worked his way to where he is and has his set formula. His show is the perfect way to get people ready for the rest of the day and, aside from dedications and love songs, there are features that we all know and love. Matt Everitt presents music news on Thursday mornings (he is a regular on Shaun Keaveny’s BBC Radio 6 Music afternoon show so gets the best of both worlds, seeing as both stations are housed in the same building!) and there is the Record and Album of the Week slot. I am not sure how much Ken Bruce backs the albums featured because you’d think, at times, he would prefer other albums to be featured. I guess that is the problem with radio: you are told what to promote but, for the most part, you know Bruce is behind the music. The two biggest and most-impressive features on his show are Tracks of My Years and PopMaster. The former is sort of like Desert Island Discs. Whereas the BBC Radio 4 cornerstone involves guests selecting eight records to play, Ken Bruce’s equivalent is a bit different. Each week, there is a popular guest who picks a couple of tracks each day of the week that means a lot to them. It is a simpler format but, crucially, we get more music.

It is great to find out the musical tastes of personalities that, for the most part, we only hear about through the media. Like the interviews Ken Bruce performs, Tracks of My Years has that naturally warm and friendly tone that brings a lot of laughter and banter to the plate! I think there are few funnier broadcasters than Ken Bruce and, every morning, we can rely on his sharp wit and observations. I used to listen in when Lynn Bowles was at the station and was amazed how much humour they brought to the traffic slots. The loving and sometimes-teasing interactions between them is one reason why so many listeners have stayed with the show. There is a new traffic reporter but that is not to say that the laughter has dried at all. I shall cover other things before I wrap this up but the words ‘Ken Bruce’ and ‘PopMaster’ seem to go as naturally together as ‘Piers Morgan’ and ‘massive twat’. The weekday music quiz has been running for years – it was revamped in 2008 with new jingles after possible phone-in allegations and controversy – and it is almost an institution! Against all the stress of the morning and work responsibilities, we can all congregate around the radio to catch two callers battle it out in PopMaster! The format is quite simple, really. There are general music questions but, for bonus points, the caller picks a specialist subject.

Not many competitions and features last this long but you can tell just how much Ken Bruce loves PopMaster after all these years! It is great when you listen and get the questions right but, on many days, there are some tough ones! I am amazed by the knowledge of some of the callers and the fact they are so calm given the pressure and time limits. The bonus rounds are pretty cool and you never quite know what you’d going to get. There are some smart-ass callers who score big points but, normally, there is a pretty close call. The winner of the head-to-head goes through to the final segment – where a band/artist is named and the caller has to name three hits. It is pot luck so you do not know whether you are going to get The Beatles, James Blunt or Fairport Convention! It is a great relief when we get an artist we can all name hits for but, given the fact callers have ten seconds to name three hits, there is often a silence as we all try and recall a hit. You can check out the PopMaster page to get your fix and all the information you need. PopMaster is part of the radio fabric and a big reason why so many people tune into BBC Radio 2! I cannot foresee a day when PopMaster vanishes from the airwaves!

Even though Ken Bruce has been on the radio for decades, he is always keen to spread his wings and step into new realms. He is BBC Radio 2’s commentator for Eurovision and always provides a very witty and fun turn. Like the late Sir Terry Wogan, there is definitely tongue very much in cheek and Bruce is keen to acknowledge the pantomime and silliness of it all. I do love the fact that Bruce is not confined to radio and we get to see him step into other areas. He is on a well-earned break right now but we will be hearing him cover Eurovision next month and he will be back on his regular weekday radio slot. There have been some stand-in presenters for Bruce’s show – including Jo Whiley, Simon May; Michael Ball and Trevor Nelson – but none have the same charm and lure as the man himself. Have there been any bad moments across his run on BBC Radio 2’s mid-morning show. This article from Irish News revealed one guest who was not memorable – not in the right way, anyway! Geri Horner was the one name that stood out:

Bruce said: “She brought in somebody she had met on the street, and this was just after a major terrorism incident.”

He added: “And a dog that farted.”

Bruce has been a BBC fixture for more than three decades, is Radio 2’s longest-serving male broadcaster, and his mid-morning show has an audience of more than 8 million.

IN THIS PHOTO: Dan Kennedy for The Sunday Times 

Is there a secret to his success and popularity? Modest as ever, Bruce feels there is not a special ingredient or reason why he has been taken to heart:

But of his secret to success, he said he believes there is none.

He said: “I just come on and am roughly myself – or a slightly better version – and hope that’s what people like.

“I don’t do laugh-out-loud stuff: wry smiles are what I like to get.”

The veteran DJ said: “Would something that works for someone my age work for someone of 15 who is listening in the car with their mum, or someone who is 35?

In this feature from Radio Times, Ken Bruce talked about the connection he has with his listeners and his love of BBC Radio 2:

 “This downplays his rapport with the Radio 2 audience, which rivals that of Terry Wogan. “I’ll take that as a compliment,” says Bruce. “The Radio 2 audience is a very giving group. It really is a dialogue. People have a feeling of ownership about the station.” On his first day at Radio 2, sitting in for Ray Moore in 1982, he was handed a box of records to play and a pile of cards from Moore’s listeners, welcoming him to the show. But you mess with this audience’s expectations at your peril. When Davina McCall stood in for Bruce in 2007, there were 150 complaints.

PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images 

Maybe Davina lacked his common touch. “You have to remember the broad sweep of the audience,” says Bruce. “Would something that works for someone my age work for someone of 15 who is listening in the car with their mum, or someone who is 35? Broadly speaking, I do normal life: things going wrong with your washing machine, children not cleaning their bedrooms. I don’t go to showbiz parties, but I wouldn’t talk about it if I did. If you talk about digging the garden – not everyone’s got a garden. Not everyone can afford a car. You have to not say things that’ll make people think, ‘He doesn’t begin to understand my life’.”

“We used to smoke in the studio,” says Bruce, “and the drinking culture – God, it was massive.” But some things never change: “In 1978 I went to a meeting and was told radio was a dying medium and TV was going to be everything now. But television audiences have declined. Radio has seen a massive number of stations join in and the radio audience appears to have grown. People will download podcasts and the iPlayer is successful, but it’s not going to replace hearing something live, in its own time, on radio.”

Bruce was the fourth and least extrovert child of a Glasgow businessman, which contributed to his appreciation of the well-timed quip. He attended grammar school and trained as an accountant then worked for a car-hire firm, until his voluntary work for hospital radio led him to the BBC. He’s done some television but prefers the intimacy, spontaneity and “lack of paraphernalia” of radio. He commutes in by train each morning from Oxfordshire, where he lives with his third wife Kerith, who was a broadcast assistant on his annual gig presenting the Eurovision Song Contest. He has three adult children from his first two marriages and three – the eldest of whom, 15-year-old Murray, is autistic – with Kerith”.

Who knows what is ahead for Ken Bruce! There will be more big interviews – maybe he’ll get to speak with Kate Bush again! – and I do hope that he stays on BBC Radio 2 for many years to come. He has side-projects like Eurovision and the odd T.V. bit but it seems like he has found his home. Bruce is still in his sixties so I think we have a couple more decades of Ken Bruce on the radio. Balancing family life in Oxford with his daily duties in London, Ken Bruce is an essential figure in radio. I have featured him because I feel he is one of the most inspiring personalities around and the fact he has been with BBC Radio 2 for so many years shows he is doing something right! I love his show and the fact that these established features work so well. I am not such a fan of all the music he plays but that is not really his choice! The main attractions are the humour, professionalism and, of course, PopMaster! If you want to have a long and successful career in radio then follow Ken Bruce! The man has been on the airwaves for decades and has one of the biggest daily audiences on British radio. The voice alone can lead cults, sink ships and seduce anyone and, when it comes down to it, you’d do anything Ken Bruce asked of you with that voice! Even though Bruce is off next week, make sure you keep the man on your dials! When it comes to the radio game, there are few as loved and popular…

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PHOTO CREDIT: BBC

AS Ken Bruce.

FEATURE: “Slicing Up Eyeballs/Ha, Ha, Ha, Ho": Pixies’ Doolittle at Thirty

FEATURE:

 

 

“Slicing Up Eyeballs/Ha, Ha, Ha, Ho”

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IMAGE CREDIT: Spotify 

Pixies’ Doolittle at Thirty

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I recall the time when I fell in love with this...

 IN THIS IMAGE: The cover for Pixies’ 1988 album, Surfer Rosa/IMAGE CREDIT: Spotify

rare album that seemed to touch area of my being none others had. Pixies released Doolittle on 17th April, 1989 (in the U.K.; the following day in the U.S.) and I didn’t really get a real whiff of it until the early part of this century. Not too long after leaving university, I was working in a hardware/homeware store and, as part of my role, I was charged with arriving early to greet the delivery that came in – and then would have to unpack various kettles, nails and homeware goods and put them on the shelves. I was alone in the shop until about eight in the morning and so I was allowed a bit of flexibility regarding noise and my selection of music. I vividly remembering bringing to work a stereo – this was before Spotify – and having a selection of C.D.s alongside it. My favourite early-morning pick-me-up was Pixies’ Doolittle. From the vivid and terrifying Debaser to the equally intense Gouge Away, it was a real experience! That sonic experience, of a morning, was more intense than a caffeine enema and more eye-opening than having a herd of camels fart in my face – I am not sure what the collective noun for a group of camels is! I was already a big Pixies fan and loved Surfer Rosa and Come on Pilgrim. They had already released epic songs such as Caribou (Come on Pilgrim) and Gigantic (Surfer Rosa) but Doolittle was their most complete work so far. In fact, it is debatable whether the band hit such heights through the rest of their career – they are still together today, albeit without one of their cornerstones, Kim Deal.

Pixies’ work between 1987 and 1988 was modest in scale and ambition but unique. The band received positive reviews for Come on Pilgrim and Surfer Rosa – essentially a twin-album rather than two releases – and they were working on a tight budget. Although Doolittle is not exactly a huge-budget extravaganza, one feels a definite increase in determination, quality and nuance by 1989. Doolittle, from its cryptic and memorable cover to its wide-ranging songs, is a true masterpiece. The album tackles subjects such as violence, torture; surrealism and death and, if that sounds intense and strange, it was handled in a very intelligent and mature manner. Doolittle never sounds too isolationist or intense; never quite as oppressive as its themes would suggest. The line-up of Black Francis, Kim Deal; Joey Santiago and David Lovering would not last too much longer owing to tensions within the band - which I shall address later. Whilst Steve Albini produced earlier work from the Pixies, Gil Norton was drafted for Doolittle and offered a more polished and cleaner production sound. That change of sound/producer was a sticking-point for some fans who felt the Pixies had lost some of their edge and raw sound by the time Doolittle was unleashed. One cannot argue against that. Whilst Norton did not create the commercial, mainstream album, Doolittle lacks the sort of grit and ragged edges that would have benefited the songs and band – a problem Nirvana faced on their second album, Nevermind.

Some would argue few of the tracks from Doolittle are commercially-aimed and would struggle in the charts. Here Comes Your Man and Monkey Gone to Heaven were released as singles and successes in the U.S. whilst Doolittle was an unexpected hit in the U.K. It is no shock that Doolittle captured a sense of energy and intent from Pixies. Surfer Rosa was a hugely-regarded debut and Black Francis was busy writing songs for the follow-up by 1988. Tracks such as Dead, Tame and There Goes My Gun were recorded during several sessions of John Peel’s radio show in 1988 and, by the middle of that year, the band were creating demos. It is a surprise the band managed to get recordings down considering they were in the middle of a tour at this point. They were putting down demos when they had breaks but one can imagine a certain tension and sense of expectation at this point. Liverpudlian Gil Norton was chosen to anchor Doolittle and, whilst this appointment proved divisive, he definitely took Pixies’ sound to new heights. It is the variety of material and the different moods explored that makes Doolittle so masterful. Rather than being an all-out attack or lacking any potency, you get these switches and polemics. Tame is a deliriously berserk track that lasts for a very short time but definitely sticks in the mind. Opener Debaser projects all kinds of evocative images: sliced eyeballs is among the most shocking, memorable and vivid Pixies ever created! Crackity Jones whips and sparks; there are barks and yelps and, yeah, it is distinctly the work of Pixies!

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 IN THIS PHOTO: Pixies (circa 1988/1989)/PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images

The quiet-loud dynamic Pixies had mastered at this point would be taken on by other bands after Doolittle’s release – Nirvana among the more famous and prodigious exponents. Pixies had definitely matured and expanded their palette following their debut. I Bleed and Here Comes Your Man reveal a softer side and make Doolittle a more rounded, challenging and eclectic album. Pixies were not only relying on the basic structure of guitar-vocals-drums-bass for their explosion: violins and other strings were brought in to give songs such as Monkey Gone to Heaven extra depth and, strangely, elegance. There is a lot of sonic range on Doolittle and that is one of its big strengths. The band could have gone for an all-out thrash or something quite basic but, instead, they created this genre-fusing and cross-pollinating animal that was unlike anything at the time. They were also tackling themes such as ecological and environmental destruction and death alongside more traditional themes such as love and commitment. In fact, the lyrical individuality of Doolittle makes it such an enduring and enriching work. The band looked at prostitution (Mr. Greives) and the environmental ills of Monkey Gone to Heaven; Biblical imagery on Gouge Away and Dead and the terrific Kim Deal-penned song, Silver (Black Francis co-wrote the song). Francis was deeply into Surrealism and avant-garde films at the time of Doolittle so it was no surprise his lyrics would come with more trip, weirdness and eyebrow-raising imagery!

I will end by talking about the reception Doolittle was afforded and its influence but, only a short time into their careers, there were stressed and strains with Pixies’ camp. The source of the tension was between Black Francis and Kim Deal and, actually, one suspects that Francis was main instigator regarding hostilities and arguments! Although Doolittle started quite fun and professional, things soon changed and the mood became sour. Members of the production team and those close to the band – including the rest of Pixies – were often in the middle as Francis and Deal squabbled and fought. Following Doolittle’s completion, the band went on a tour (Fuck or Fight) and soon took a break – it was clear that there needed to be changed in the ranks and time away from one another. One is not entirely sure what the main issues were or whether it was a matter of control (Kim Deal wanting more input regarding songwriting) but I am amazed Pixies, as a unit, have survived to this day – even if Kim Deal split from the band a while ago. Deal would have limited say when the band recorded Bossanova in 1990 and Trompe le Monde the following year; the band was broken up by the start of 1993. Even though the spirit and unity of Pixies started to fade after Doolittle, one can attribute some of that nervous and combative energy to a certain quality on Doolittle. The album is hugely influential and has received scores of impassioned reviews.

In 2014, Pitchfork assessed the catalogue of Pixies and included a review of Doolittle:

“It’s in Doolittle's margins—the faux-hillbilly cackling of “Mr. Grieves,” “There Goes My Gun” and “Dead”—that the album becomes what it really is. At heart, the Pixies were a kind of American goth band, fascinated by rural violence, the intersection of lust and danger, creepy innkeepers and the sexual magnetism of strangers who wander into roadside cafés from parts unknown. Their biggest crossover single, “Here Comes Your Man,” is less tied to European dada than the rustic imagery of a pulp paperback: The boxcar, the nowhere plains, the big stone and the broken crown”.

AllMusic, in 2013, had their say:

Though Doolittle's sound is cleaner and smoother than the Pixies' earlier albums, there are still plenty of weird, abrasive vignettes: the blankly psychotic "There Goes My Gun," "Crackity Jones," a song about a crazy roommate Francis had in Puerto Rico, and the nihilistic finale "Gouge Away." Meanwhile, "Tame," and "I Bleed" continue the Pixies' penchant for cryptic kink. But the album doesn't just refine the Pixies' sound; they also expand their range on the brooding, wannabe spaghetti western theme "Silver" and the strangely theatrical "Mr. Grieves." "Hey" and "Monkey Gone to Heaven," on the other hand, stretch Francis' lyrical horizons: "Monkey"'s elliptical environmentalism and "Hey"'s twisted longing are the Pixies' versions of message songs and romantic ballads. Their most accessible album, Doolittle's wide-ranging moods and sounds make it one of their most eclectic and ambitious. A fun, freaky alternative to most other late-'80s college rock, it's easy to see why the album made the Pixies into underground rock stars”.

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 PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images/Press

Doolittle is seen, by many critics, as one of the best albums of the 1980s. The quiet-loud dynamic Pixies perfected was hugely influential on the Alternative-Rock scene. Nirvana’s Kurt Cobain was especially hooked and claimed that Smells Like Teen Spirit was a Pixies rip-off. Not only did Pixies’ Doolittle make a huge impact on bands coming through in the late-1980s and 1990s but, thirty years after its release, it is still viewed and a hugely important achievement. This article suggests which records influenced Pixies’ masterpiece whilst this piece from 2014 brought together Sean O’Neal, A.A. Dowd; Josh Modell and Evan Rytlewski as they discussed Doolittle at twenty-five. It is an interesting article and drew some illuminating reactions:

Josh Modell: Doolittle is nearly perfect, and yeah, it seems almost insane to think that this is a watered-down version of anything. In fact, my first thought after hearing these demos—which are fascinating, though essential only for huge fans—was that whoever provided the direction for the album versions (whether that was Norton, the band itself, or some combination thereof) did an incredible job. Take the demo for “Wave Of Mutilation,” which has plenty of spunky energy but very little of the weird alchemy that the actual Doolittle version does. They took a song that was essentially a mess and sharpened its claws. It got stronger as it got slicker. In fact, I can’t point to a single demo on this disc that I prefer to the album version: “I Bleed” gets close, but that might be because its version here is notably close to Doolittle’s anyway. But “Dead” is actually far less crazy than the album version, as is “Crackity Jones”…

A.A. Dowd: I certainly won’t. As much as I’d like to voice some objections, and transform this Pixies lovefest into an honest-to-God debate, I just can’t throw any shade Doolittle’s way. The songs, the sequencing, the performances—they’re all too perfect. Unlike you, Josh, I still spin almost all of the band’s records (excluding Indie Cindy, because I don’t hate myself). Come On Pilgrimhas the funniest lyrics. Surfer Rosa has “Where Is My Mind?,” which conventional (and correct) wisdom will tell you is the Pixies’ greatest song. Bossanova has that gorgeous floating-in-space quality…

Sean O’Neal: Ultimately, the Pixies were as “real” as any major rock group, of course. Black and Deal each had careerist aspirations, and those came to a head almost immediately after Doolittle. By the time I got to them, they’d already broken up in the wake of an anxiety-ridden stadium tour with U2 (but a stadium tour with U2 nonetheless). So while I would probably also offer some very minor contrarianism here and suggest, gun to head, that the unhinged snarl of Trompe Le Monde is probably my personal favorite Pixies album, as Alex points out, I think the reason we regard Doolittle as the apex is because it’s the last record that truly feels like those four “regular people” made it together”.

Thirty years after its release, Doolittle sounds remarkably fresh; offering up new insights and revelations. You can hear so much of the album in bands of today working in all manner of genres. Whether it is a certain braveness regarding lyrics or that Doolittle-esque sound, the album continues to influence musicians and resonate. I listen to Doolittle and go back to my time, years ago, when I was in retail and was listening to the record at the crack of dawn and had that freedom. I think we should all mark its thirtieth anniversary on Wednesday and understand what an important record it is. A lot of seismic albums turn thirty this year but few have the same clout and reputation as Doolittle. It inspired Nirvana to take their music to new places and, as such, inspired a raft of bands following their split. In honour of its big birthday, I am going to put Doolittle and immerse myself in its sliced eyeballs, ecological foreboding and incredible band interplay. It is a wondrous record and, thirty years after its release, it still sounds…

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PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images/Press

LIKE nothing else in the universe!

FEATURE: Drowned World/Substitute for Love: Madonna, Eurovision and the Ongoing Conflict Regarding Musicians Performing in Israel

FEATURE:

 

 

Drowned World/Substitute for Love

IN THIS PHOTO: Madonna/PHOTO CREDIT: @Madonna 

Madonna, Eurovision and the Ongoing Conflict Regarding Musicians Performing in Israel

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THIS is not the first time I have...

 IN THIS PHOTO: A shot of Israel/PHOTO CREDIT: @john_visualz/Unsplash

looked at Israel in a controversial light. Due to ongoing conflicts in the country, it is always difficult for artists to know whether they should play there. I shall come to that later but, right now, Madonna’s planned appearance at this year’s Eurovision (in Israel) is receiving some backlash. It is great that such an iconic artist would choose to play something, well, a little bit cheesy. I do not know why she is playing but there is talk she will perform a new track alongside a classic. Given the fact Madonna has pushed Pop and inspired so many artists, maybe it is not a shock to find her supporting Eurovision! It seems, as this article shows, there are those asking for withdrawal and reconsideration:

 “A group of Palestinian Arab academics and intellectuals are pressing Madonna to abandon her plans to perform at the Eurovision Song Contest, which will be held in Israel next month.

The European Broadcasting Union confirmed earlier this week that the pop icon will take the stage in Tel Aviv on May 28. It will be her fourth time performing in the Jewish state.

The Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (PACBI) - part of a Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) campaign – has called on her to cancel the performance, suggesting her appearance would be used by the Israeli government "to mask its deepening oppression of Palestinians."

A statement posted to social media by PACBI and quoted by SBS News read, "Palestinians hope that you will not undermine our struggle for freedom, justice and equality by performing at Eurovision in apartheid Tel Aviv, on the ruins of the ethnically-cleansed village of al-Shaykh Muwannis.”

"The call from Palestinian artists to boycott Eurovision hosted by Israel is supported by more than 100,000 people signing petitions, over 100 LGBTQIA groups, more than 20 Israeli artists, and hundreds of prominent international artists including the 1994 Eurovision winner,” the organization said.

"Israel's fanatic, far-right government is cynically exploiting your performance, and those of the contestants, to mask its deepening oppression of Palestinians," it charged”.

I have addressed the Israel issue before and whether artists should play there right now. In previous articles, I asked whether it was fair to deny fans the chance to see their favourite artists. Many Israeli citizens cannot afford to travel to another country/part of Israel to see a gig – hoping to avoid tension and judgement. Madonna is playing Eurovision, not to stir trouble or create publicity – although she has a new album coming soon -, but to deliver something special to the people. It is sad when politics and conflict impacts on music and creates negative energy around artists. Madonna does not have a political standpoint regarding the issues in Israel and is not looking to back either side. Instead, she just wants to perform and contribute to a special night. One could say that  music has nothing to do with politics –many seem to disagree. Madonna is known for supporting the L.G.B.T.Q.I.A.+ community and, back in the 1980s/1990s, putting the AIDS crisis into focus and generally raising her voice when it was required. She could easily weigh in on the debate and speak out but, rather than stir a hornet’s nest, she has remained relatively quiet. The iconic artists has been performing around the world for years and I do not think it is right for anyone to say whether she should be at Eurovision or not.

 IN THIS PHOTO: Machane Yehuda Market, Jerusalem/PHOTO CREDIT: @roxannedesgagnes/Unsplash

Other nations have issue regarding warring factions or there are political tensions but, in many cases, artists are not accused and told to stay away. Musicians want to connect with their fans and are not supporting atrocities when they play in nations ravaged by division. I have been reading an article from DAZED - written early last year - that looked back at the occasions where various artists have been faced with that questions: Do I play Israel or sit this one out?

When Lorde announced a slew of international tour dates in support of her second album Melodrama last month, a scheduled show at Tel Aviv’s Convention Centre drew immediate criticism. An open letter titled “Dear Lorde, here’s why we’re urging you not to play Israel” was posted to The Spinoff, with the New Zealand musician subsequently cancelling the show. “I pride myself on being an informed young citizen… but I’m not proud to admit I didn’t make the right call on this one,” she said in a statement

The controversy may seem familiar to music fans. Last year, Radiohead ended up in a similar situation with a show they had booked for Tel Aviv – but unlike Lorde, they went ahead despite the backlash. In recent years, artists from Lana Del Rey to Nick Cave have all drawn controversy over their decisions to either perform or not perform in Israel, while last August, more than eight artists withdrew from Berlin’s Pop-Kultur festival over its partnership with the Israeli Embassy”.

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IN THIS PHOTO: Lorde/PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images/Press 

It seems, as Madonna will find, that whatever decision you make will result in backlash. If you perform in Israel then you are seen as sympathetic to the horrors being witnessed but, if you stay away then you are creating disappointment and anger from fans. How does someone like Madonna face something like this?! I feel it is hugely unlikely she will pull out of her planned performance because there are no ramifications or problems. She might draw a small protest but Eurovision’s sheer size and celebration means that will be all drowned out. One can look back at when Paul Simon recorded in South Africa during Apartheid when recording Graceland. He got a lot of flak for that but, more than anything, he helped raise awareness and give South African musicians a voice. I do feel artists can play in Israel and actually inspire change – rather than create this sense of divide and hate. The DAZED article continued and looked at an organisation that is stepping in:

Inspired by the South African anti-apartheid movement, BDS is a non-violent, Palestinian-led campaign that protests the Israeli occupation of Palestinian land. As Amnesty International report, Israel has occupied Palestinian land in the West Bank, East Jerusalem, and the Gaza strip for decades in violation of various international and human rights laws.

BDS argues that the music industry should be subject to the same scrutiny as any other industry that’s operating within Israel. PACBI (the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel) agrees, saying that Israel uses culture as a weapon and a form of propaganda to whitewash, or ‘art-wash’, the actions of the state. “The cultural boycott of Israel is inspired by the South African anti-apartheid struggle,” says PACBI’s Stephanie Adam. “(During the 1980s) international artists refused to play Sun City in response to the calls of Black South Africans not to do ‘business as usual’ with apartheid.”

IN THIS PHOTO: Gil Scott-Heron/PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images/Press 

Many musicians have supported the cultural boycott. Scheduled concerts from Lauryn Hill to the late Gil Scott-Heron have all been axed in the past, while Princess Nokia cancelled her slot at Kalamazoo Festival last year. Outside of Israel itself, BDS asks artists to decline participation in anything sponsored by the Israeli government, which is what happened at Berlin’s Pop-Kultur last year. This year, over 100 artists (including Brian Eno, Kathleen Hanna, Talib Kweli, and Roger Waters) have signed an open letter supporting Lorde’s decision to cancel her Tel Aviv show, while rapper Vic Mensa recently penned an op-ed describing his experiences in Palestine.

However, many musicians have gone ahead with scheduled performances in Israel despite calls to cancel. Lady Gaga, Justin Timberlake, and Macy Gray have all played (though Gray later said she regretted it), while two high profile examples last year came from Radiohead and Nick Cave. Speaking at a press conference in Jerusalem, Nick Cave said he wanted to “make a principled stand against anyone who wants to censor and silence musicians.” When Radiohead went ahead with their Tel Aviv show, frontman Thom Yorke issued a statement: “Playing in a country isn’t the same as endorsing the government… We don’t endorse (Israeli Prime Minister) Netanyahu any more than Trump, but we still play in America. Music, art, academia is about crossing borders not building them”.

Would artists like Madonna be turning a blind eye and encouraging the current state of affairs if they boycotted? I do not see what artists have to gain from overlooking Israel. Their fans are being denied and it is ridiculous telling musicians to stay away. Unless an artist has an overt political opinion that could exacerbate the situation then I see no harm in them performing. Surely?!

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 IN THIS PHOTO: Nick Cave and The Bad Seeds/PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images/Press

With conflict in Israel still raging and there being this gulf, how long is it going to be until artists can safely and ethically play in the country? I guess there are neutral zones and areas where they can perform but it seems extreme having this map of regions they can play and keep everyone happy. Music has the power to break barriers and bring people together but, right now, there is too much separation. The latest incident regarding Israel and their views regarding outside artists playing gets me wondering. Madonna, I hope, will play and not feel quelled but you have to ask whether, in a short time, artists will be banned altogether. There are problems in multiple countries around the world but very few of them have created such discussion as Israel. The Israeli music scene is so strong and vibrant and I feel like it is being robbed or substance and support – so many artists from the West feeling they have to boycott. I do hope that Madonna is not tarred and feathered and feels she needs to rationalise her decision to play next month. I do feel like she can be a positive influence in this situation and show that, above all else, the music is king and she is not spreading propaganda. It is a shame that artists have to face such attack and pressure when performing in a country. If we deny fans the chance to see their favourite artists them we are robbing them of something precious. For the sake of everyone in Israel and musicians, let’s hope that there is an end to the conflicts…

PHOTO CREDIT: @Madonna

VERY soon indeed.

FEATURE: Groove Is in the Heart: Record Store Day 2019: How Records Have Changed My Life

FEATURE:

 

 

Groove Is in the Heart

PHOTO CREDIT: @black_onion/Unsplash 

Record Store Day 2019: How Records Have Changed My Life

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WE are coming to a close on this year’s…

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 PHOTO CREDIT: @joseantoniogall/Unsplash

Record Store Day and I have been keeping abreast of all the happenings and news. There are those who ask what all the fuss is: Should we dedicate a special day to record shops or do so the entire year. Others say that vinyl is a thing of the past or it is a bit stupid having one day of the year where we all go nuts over records. Today is much more than that: tribes of record lovers around the country are connecting, finding new discoveries and showing their passion for music of all genres. Every year sees limited edition records and gems for those with the desire. Whether it is a picture disc or a n older record being released; a long-forgotten single being given new shine and release or something classic for new fans, how can one refute the pleasure and allure of Record Store Day? Some people have been queuing outside their local shops since yesterday afternoon and it is amazing to think how dedicated you have to be. I was going to approach this article from a different standpoint but I was led to a great article from Caitlin Moran. I have been a fan of her work for a while and love what she does for The Times and The Sunday Times. I have been looking at my future in journalism and wondering whether I am ambitious enough. For years, I have been reviewing and interviewing small acts and not really getting pleasure out of it.

 IN THIS PHOTO: Kate Bush (in a promotional shot for her 2011 album, Director’s Cut) - she is the artist I want to interview more than anyone/PHOTO CREDIT: John Carder Bush

I want to approach the big acts but feel I need to do all this groundwork to get their attention – to the point where it is exhausting and a lot of the pleasure has escaped. I know I need more followers on social media but, to get those, I keep having to review a lot of smaller artists so I can build the numbers. It is like being trapped under ice in a sense: I can see a way through to somewhere I need to be but, at the moment, things are a bit bad. Music, outside of what I do, has provided some guidance and, when listening to classic artists, I realise why I am doing all of this. Next year, to me, is when I need to start getting realistic regarding my talents and the type of folks I should be featuring. I am listening to Fleetwood Mac (Hold Me) whilst typing this and, aside from them, there is a wish-list of artists I want to approach. My dream interviewee would be – as always has been – Kate Bush and I think, unless I start getting more ambitious then that possibility is never going to be fulfilled. I digress but, over the past couple of weeks, the stress of ambition and a sense of dissatisfaction has led me back to my roots; my love of the artists who have guided me and played such a role in my life.

 IMAGE CREDIT: John Patrick Salisbury

Moran’s piece concerned the notion of our younger selves. We might have had embarrassing tastes in music and T.V. or been hard on ourselves; perceived as a little dork-like or foolish. It is an article worth reading but there were some passages – maybe more pertinent to Moran herself – that caught my eye:

 “We all were, of course, more foolish when we were younger. A human being is just a collection of actions and emotions, and we tend to refine, and improve upon them, as we age. If you haven’t tweaked yourself over a couple of decades as you come across new information, then you are, presumably, made of wood.

Having, then, been suitably emotionally primed to be embarrassed to listen to Jagged Little Pill, the writer put the needle on the record. And even though she had a Proustian rush over what the album had meant to her when she was 12 – “I remember the shock of recognition at her long-ass tangly hair. She was a weird, dirty, uncontainable girl just like me … Holy f***, did [the lyrics] speak to my sense of not being nearly good enough” – she ends up texting a mea culpa to her husband: “This [album] is actually Very Bad.”

If, in a fit of fortysomething aesthetic spring-cleaning, you trash everything you were before – if you deny your heroes, your songs, your history – you’re selling out the only person who has believed in you, and gunned for you, since day one: you. Don’t. Play her song, and send her all your love”.

I have been looking at the Twitter feeds of all the record shops celebrating today and the effect Record Store Day is having. People are bustling and clambering for their favourite records; seeking those rare diamonds and, as much as anything, bonding with like-minded souls. The reason I have cited a Caitlin Moran article is (because) music played such a pivotal role in my early life. I often think of my pre-teen and teenage years as embarrassing and wasted. I think we all get into that headspace where we feel we were a bit nerdy or unsure; liable to making bad decisions and mistakes. We should be proud of our younger selves and who we were. Whether we were lonely or had a taste in music that clashed with our peers, that has made us who were are now. Moran explained how important that younger self is to who we are today –“For the weird backwardness of time means that your teenage self was the mother of who you are now” – and why we should embrace them. My Fleetwood Mac playlist has taken me to Stevie Nicks’ Dreams and, appropriately, it casts my mind back to the 1990s and a time that started my musical quest. I turned thirteen in 1996 (9th May) but my love of vinyl began sooner than that. My mum had (and still does) a vinyl cupboard where she had the likes of The Beatles and The Small Faces rubbing shoulders. The young me was filled with curiosity holding these larger-than-life records in my hand; marvelling at the colourful artwork and the physical sensation.

 IN THIS PHOTO: Fleetwood Mac being interviewed in the U.S. in 1975/PHOTO CREDIT: Polaris

I was subjected to countless days where an array of great records were being played. Whether experiencing the sweet sounds of Fleetwood Mac being played as the needle lovingly kissed between the grooves or discovering the best new sounds around, records were a huge part of my early life. As I grew into my teen years, C.D.s became more of a focal point but I never abandoned that love of vinyl. Right from my earliest experiences of music – including playing cassettes from a red, portable tape player on a go-kart as me and my friends pedalled around the block; delirious and propelled by artists like The Beach Boys and T. Rex – I have gained this sort of connection and understanding. I graduated to C.D.s and went through the MP3 phase (what the hell was THAT all about?!); I have embraced social media and streaming services but, above all, I have records to thank for my love of music. I look back to my childhood and teenage discoveries and vinyl always comes to mind. I recall hearing The Beatles for the first time as a child at home; listening to these huge artists via this rather quaint and magical record player. Me and my friends would discuss music and there was this real sense of community, bonding and understanding. I am not sure music is shared in the same way and has the power it did back in the 1980s and 1990s.

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 IMAGE CREDIT: Getty Images

The 1990s was a formative period for me and, from the early blossom at the turn of the decade – when the likes of Soul II Soul and Deee-Lite were putting out these life-affirming records – to the rebirth of British Dance and Electronic music at the end vinyl, again, was at the heart. I do not think my love of records has ever faded and, even today, nothing gives me more joy than buying a cool record. My favourite record shop, Brighton’s Resident, has been inundated with hungry punters today…and I take great joy in going there and snapping up records I should have bought years ago – Joni Mitchell’s Blue was the last I bought there, but there are some rare singles and great Hip-Hop records I still need to own. One need not have an agenda when it comes to records: sidle in, browse the genre sections and you’ll find some albums that you never knew you needed – but you definitely do need them! I think it was the way I was raised and (the fact) vinyl was part of my earliest days means that I still seek out records in a very obsessive and primeval manner. I have been doubting my abilities and purpose when it comes to journalism; wondering if the younger me would be proud. If the article I quoted thinks about how we as adults look at our teenage selves, I wonder what the thirteen-year-old me would say to the thirty-five-year-old now?!

PHOTO CREDIT: @kj2018/Unsplash

Back then, I was listening to some cool music but there were some records that were a bit square; maybe some cheesy ones and I was never one to follow general trends. Back then, you get it into your heads that you are not being understood and that you are the only one who has this taste in music. It was, at times, alienating and lonely; the teenage version of me listening to records wondering if something was wrong or I was a bit silly! It was only later in life that other people felt the same way. I think it takes until adulthood and days like Record Store Day when you know there are so many others who grew up listening to the same stuff you did and, when you see them sharing their love and records, you feel less alone and like you are part of the family. Of course, I was not to know that back in the 1990s but I realise that there were so many people out there like me as teenagers. So many feeling a little strange and outsider-like; listening to a wide array of music and wondering if we were cool. Those who were listening to the charts and what was ‘trendy’ might have been more popular and happier…but those of us who dug deeper and really appreciated music in all its possible iterations were really the cool ones.

 PHOTO CREDIT: @mensroom/Unsplash

Teenage years and childhood is hard for us all and I realise that records were a way of coping and feeling less alone. I can look back and be proud of the younger me because, even if it felt like I was a bit dorky and too obsessed with music (rather than people), I would not be as far along as I am now if I was different back then! It is a shame we cannot travel back in time and get how important records are and how they will shape our lives. Most of my happiest memories of my younger days revolve around music and I cannot explain how important records were to me; how vital they are not and how ingrained they are into everything I do. They got me through deaths in the family and the blackest days. They scored those carefree days when nothing mattered and they were my introduction to new horizons. I am proud of all the silly records and stuff that others might consider a little crap. Everything has shaped me and made my life much more interesting than it would otherwise have been. Record Store Day is a chance to unite with people now and support your local record shop but it is also an opportunity to look back and understand how records have shaped us. A lot of bad days greeted me growing up and, at times, it felt as though nobody understood me or was on my side.

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 IMAGE CREDIT: Spotify

Music was always there and who knows what would have been was it not for the great albums that kept me focused and lifted – from the vinyl my parents played to the new treasures I bought and squirrel away. I was, as I explained earlier, going to write about Record Store Day in more general and academic terms – regarding the biggest new releases and those rare records you want to get – but I have, instead, taken the chance to look back and try to explain how important records are to me. It is days like today where I get the chance to think back to my childhood and understand how important music was. I think we all get into the mindset where we think our young selves were a bit clumsy and we have, since, grown to become something more respectable and sensible. In many ways, we were far more interesting back then than we ever knew. I feel music is such a big part of a person’s identity and we cannot judge anyone based on their tastes. Whether a record seems a bit lame or not, it means something to someone and, for that reason, it is very special. Everyone gravitates towards various albums for different reasons and they speak to us all differently. There will be many children and teenagers today who feel the same way I did back then – whether they are listening to vinyl records or streaming them – and wonder whether they belong or are alone.

 PHOTO CREDIT: @elliot_drew/Unsplash

It might take a while but you will grow to realise who you are now is a lot stronger and cooler than you think. Embrace everything you listen to because, when you grow to adulthood, you’ll not lose that love of records and discovering every sub-genre, strange aside and absolute banger. It is our unpredictable tastes and personal loves that make us what we are and make us such strong and compassionate adults – whether we know the fact or not! Between the grooves of beloved records, so many people have unique memories, happy days and visions that are hard to put into words. There is something magical about records, vinyl and the way it gets into the soul. Record Store Day is a perfect chance for us to underline the importance of record shops: sanctuaries and temples eager and pocket money-wielding children like me used to frequent and go nuts-bananas over these intoxicating and beautiful objects. Maybe we felt a bit misunderstood back then and felt our tastes were a bit weird. I definitely felt that way but, looking back after all this time, I know me and so many others like me were, actually, much more special than we gave ourselves credit for and, because of that, records will always have a huge place…

PHOTO CREDIT: @lensinkmitchel/Unsplash

IN my heart.

FEATURE: Sisters in Arms: An All-Female, Spring-Ready Playlist (Vol. VII)

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Sisters in Arms

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IN THIS PHOTO: Anna of the North 

An All-Female, Spring-Ready Playlist (Vol. VII)

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EVEN though it is Record Store Day...

 IN THIS PHOTO: Fanclub/PHOTO CREDIT: Marshall Tidrick Photo

and I should be writing about that – I will be later on – I was keen to celebrate the great female-led music at the moment. Among these new tracks, there is a great range of sounds and genres. It is incredible seeing all the fantastic music being made by women at the moment. Some might say one should not do an all-female playlist as it someone makes worse the issue of sexism – women should not be defined in terms of gender and should not need that ‘special’ treatment. I disagree and feel that, at a time when there is sexism in the industry, it is important to celebrate the great women who are making some incredible music. Take a look at the brilliant tracks here and I’m sure you’ll find a lot in here that gets you in a better mood. The weather is a bit crap at the moment so we need a musical lift. Here, for your weekend pleasure, is a selection of great songs that will definitely…

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IN THIS PHOTO: Lily Moore

BRING the sunshine.

ALL PHOTOS (unless credited otherwise): Getty Images/Artists

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Hope Tala Lovestained

NavvySubliminal

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Aisha BadruEnough

Gia MargaretBirthday

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Bailey Bryan - Perspective

PHOTO CREDIT: Jake Villarreal

FanclubUppercut

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PHOTO CREDIT: Wilk

Meg MacI’m Not Coming Back 

Jackie Mendoza - Mucho Más

PHOTO CREDIT: @create_often

The Naked EyeTell Me

AnukaFirst to Know

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Ellie GouldingSixteen

Chloe CastroDrunk

PHOTO CREDIT: Ingrid Pop 

Aldous HardingFixture Picture

Elle VarnerKinda Love

Anna of the NorthUsed to Be

PaytraToTo

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Lily MooreWhy Don’t You Look at Me

Jessica Mauboy - Sunday

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Grace May - Quiet

PHOTO CREDIT: Dan Wiebe

Chloe FoyOh You Are Not Well

Emma BlackeryCute Without You

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CaswellSurface

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Hey VioletBetter By Myself

SodyThe Bully

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Hannah Jane LewisThe Middle

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MadelinMonarch

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Eloise ViolaThink About You

FEATURE: The April Playlist: Vol. 2: It’s Human If Everybody Hates You

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The April Playlist

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IN THIS PHOTO: Courtney Barnett/PHOTO CREDIT: Elizabeth Weinberg for GQ

Vol. 2: It’s Human If Everybody Hates You

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AS we move further into April…

 IN THIS PHOTO: The Raconteurs

I am finding music broadening and providing more treats. It is always hard predicting whether a week will be big regarding new releases or a bit underwhelming. This week is a pretty good one as we have new releases from Courtney Barnett, MARINA; The Chemical Brothers and The Raconteurs! That might seem impressive but have a look down this list and there are so many other giant artists bringing us fresh sounds this week! It is hard to take it all in but, as I must, I have collected together the best tunes from the week: from the mainstream acts through to those in the underground, it is another ripe and interesting one for fantastic music. Have a listen through this collect of songs and I am sure you will find something in there that takes your fancy. The weather is not too great at the moment so settle down with some great tunes that will soothe the soul! Things have been a little mixed regarding new music but, as this week shows, the very best are…

 IN THIS PHOTO: MARINA

STRIKING back hard!  

ALL PHOTOS/IMAGES (unless credited otherwise): Getty Images/Artists

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Courtney Barnett - Everybody Here Hates You

MARINATo Be Human

Anna of the North Used to Be

PHOTO CREDIT: Vance Powell

The Raconteurs - "Hey Gyp (Dig the Slowness)"

Tame Impala - Borderline

King Gizzard & The Lizard WizardPlan B

PHOTO CREDIT: Hamish Brown

The Chemical Brothers - Bango

Anderson .PaakYada Yada

Self Esteem - (Girl) Crush

PHOTO CREDIT: Daniel Dorsa

SinkaneDépaysé (Mad Alchemy Visual)

Local Natives - Tap Dancer

Christine and the Queens - Comme si

Beirut - When I Die

PHOTO CREDIT: Neil Krug

Cage the Elephant - Goodbye

PHOTO CREDIT: Richmond Lam

Broken Social SceneBig Couches

Emma BuntonEmotion

AURORA - The Seed

Nilüfer Yanya - Baby Blu

Mattiel - Keep the Change

PHOTO CREDIT: Rachell Smith

Jessie BuckleyCountry Rose

Ellie GouldingSixteen

MarthaGunn - Saint Cecilia

Faye Webster - Flowers

The AmazonsDoubt It

PHOTO CREDIT: @lacay.o

Amyl and the Sniffers - Got You

Lil PeepGym Class

Bear's Den - Laurel Wreath

IN THIS PHOTO: Avicii

Avicii (ft. Aloe Blacc) - SOS (Fan Memories Video)

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Maren Morris - Kingdom of One (from For the Throne (Music Inspired by the HBO Series, Game of Thrones) 

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Hey VioletBetter Be Myself

Norah Jones Begin Again

Dylan Cartlidge - Higher

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Rob ThomasTimeless

Band of SkullsLove Is All Your Love

Grace IvesAnything

FEATURE: The Lady Owns the Blues: Billie Holiday at One-Hundred-and-Four: The Ultimate Playlist

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The Lady Owns the Blues

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IN THIS PHOTO: Billie Holiday in the early-1950s/PHOTO CREDIT: Hulton Archive/Getty Images 

Billie Holiday at One-Hundred-and-Four: The Ultimate Playlist

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IT is tragic that the great Billie Holiday only lived...

 IMAGE CREDIT: Getty Images

to the age of forty-four. Holiday was diagnosed with cirrhosis in 1959 and battled alcoholism for a lot of her late life. She was in frail health in the last couple of years before she died at the age of forty-four in 1959. She did not record a lot before her death but 1958’s Lady in Satin has some real highlights – including Frank Sinatra, Joel Herron and Jack Wolf’s I’m a Fool to Want You. Holiday’s voice had lost a lot of its higher range and there was an unintended sense of tragedy and loss. 1959’s Last Recording – where Holiday wanted to sound like Frank Sinatra – is rather tragic and sad; Holiday has to be propped up by a nurse at times so she could get through a take. There is a lot of tragedy surrounding Billie Holiday but her impact and legacy cannot be ignored. Holiday’s vocal range was not huge and she did not have a musical education. Like many of the great artists, Holiday’s power came from her unique tones and intuition. Whereas some artists seduced with vocal range and belt, Holiday buckled knees with her intensity and passion. One can read articles relating to Holiday’s best work and fans will have their own opinions. It is a stretch to think, even in good health, Holiday would have lived to the age of one-hundred-and-four! One of my earliest memories of Blues and Jazz music is being played Billie Holiday records such as Lady Sings the Blues and Lady in Satin.

 IMAGE CREDIT: Getty Images

It is clear that Holiday had her troubles – personal, legal and substance-related – but her vocal prowess and stunning music stands the test of time. This article from The Atlantic in 2015 shows how Holiday’s name lives on and how she has inspired many modern artists:

How many musicians are relevant at 100? Given how quickly styles and sounds change, it's hard to stay current for more than a decade, much less a century. Take Frank Sinatra, who was born in December 1915. Ol' Blue Eyes remains an icon, but Bob Dylan tributes aside, Sinatra sounds, well, old. Louis Armstrong? Still loved by musicians, but mostly known in the general public for his treacly late-career anthem to optimism, "What a Wonderful World."

What accounts for her longevity? For one thing, she's arguably the greatest jazz singer ever. She's certainly the most familiar. Even people who can't tell Ella Fitzgerald from Peggy Lee know that voice, so recognizable and so difficult to describe. And as John Szwed notes in a new book, her myth is also an essential part of her continued appeal. There's her birth to a teenaged, unmarried mother; her rape and work in prostitution before her 14th birthday; her many marriages and entanglements; and her death. Most of all, there's her long battle with heroin, a struggle about which she was unusually open. For many listeners, one suspects, the personal life is inextricable from the professional. The pathos of Holiday's life seems to ooze out between the notes in her voice.

Alternately, some singers have opted to try to reproduce Holiday's sound. That's surprising, given how much importance is attached to Holiday's biography (who can hope to capture that sort of pain?) and given how hard it is to capture what made her so great—the phrasing and musical coloring and nuances. Imitating her strange tone enough to evoke Holiday is easier, and plenty of singers have drawn comparisons to her, from the lite-jazz of early Norah Jones to the twee jazz-pop of Madeleine Peyroux”.

Holiday, as this article shows, broke ground and barriers:

In 1938, Holiday became the first Black woman to work with a White orchestra. One year later, her label, Columbia Records, would refuse her request to record "Strange Fruit," a song about the lynching of a black man.

Major record labels feared losing sales in the South. Holiday recorded "Strange Fruit" with Commodore Records, recognized as America's first independent jazz record label.

In a 2001 New York Times obituary, Commodore's founder, Milton Gabler, was said to have had one photo by his bedside at the time of his death at the Jewish Home and Hospital in Manhattan. It was of Billie Holiday. She had died 42 years before the 90 year old.

Time Magazine called Holiday's haunting ballad the song of the century. It has sold millions of copies.

The late jazz writer Leonard Feather called "Strange Fruit," "the first significant protest in words and music, the first unmuted cry against racism”.

I think the fact her music is still being played and new listeners are discovering her work shows how important her legacy is. It is amazing to think how long Holiday’s music will be played but listen now and it still sounds completely staggering, evocative and spin-tingling. Even if her later material was quite frail and haunting (in a bad way), it did hold its own special power and place. There are many great Billie Holiday recordings but, to mark what would have been her one-hundredth-and-fourth birthday, I have compiled an essential playlist. Take a listen to this sensation icon whose life might have been short but, in the time she was with us, she made such a mark on…                    

THE music world.

FEATURE: Blissfully Lost Inside the K-Hole: The Chemical Brothers’ Dig Your Own Hole at Twenty-Two

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Blissfully Lost Inside the K-Hole

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IMAGE CREDIT: Getty Images

The Chemical Brothers’ Dig Your Own Hole at Twenty-Two

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I was just shy of fourteen when...

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 IN THIS PHOTO: The Chemical Brothers (circa 1995)/PHOTO CREDIT: David Tonge

The Chemical BrothersDig Your Own Hole came out. I was discovering Trip-Hop from the likes of Massive Attack (their debut album, Blue Lines, was released on 8th April, 1991) and harder sounds. It would be a couple more months until The Prodigy released their third album, The Fat of the Land, but, at such a young age, I was being exposed to these edgier and more exciting sounds. There were samples and Rock beats being integrated into something less conventional and mainstream. The Chemicals Brothers – formerly the Dust Brothers – were no stranger to remastering and reworking layers; taking music in new directions and creating material that was at once tripped-out and calm at the same time. The sensational Exit Planet Dust was released in 1995 (the debut from The Chemical Brothers) and there was a lot of anticipation around their second effort. Dig Your Own Hole was the first album from the duo to reach number-one and boasted five singles. With guest vocalists such as Noel Gallagher, the album was able to appeal to Electronica/Breakbeat fans and crossover into other genres. The Chemical Brothers were touring heavily in the run-up to Dig Your Own Hole and were keen to try out new material. As a teenager, I was excited by the mix of strangeness, darkness and effusive passion that made the songs explode and remain. Perhaps Block Rockin’ Beats is the standout but, to be fair, some of the lesser-played songs hold as much weight. It is a fantastically rich and rewarding album that stands the test of time.

When I was in school, there was still a lot of chatter and focus on Rock and Pop. 1997 was a year when Britpop mutated and there was a sort of shift from British dominance to new American ideas. That was nothing new. Trance and Dance music sort of spiked during the early/mid-1990s and then we saw Britpop and other tastes take over. One could definitely see a particular taste throughout the 1990s and, whilst a lot of the music was joyous and unifying, there was not a great deal of danger and sonic experimentation. Not in terms of electronic fusions and subverting traditional sounds. Electronic music and Big Beat were beginning to filter into the British mainstream. The fact Massive Attack brought out their debut the same week as The Chemical Brothers introduced their sophomore revelation shows there was a real revolution happening. I am not sure whether one can link British Big Beat and Electronic music with the House and Trance movement that moved a generation. Whether The Chemical Brothers’ Dig Your Own Hole as the next phase or a natural evolution, it definitely spoke to critics and fans alike. A lot of tastes during 1997 were still aimed at the charts: The Chemical Brothers offered this new world and sensation. Me and my friends were taken aback and, although we could not identify with a lot of the lyrical themes and sources of inspiration – one feels Dig Your Own Hole was primed at slightly older listeners – the music stood out and translated.

Maybe it was the primal energy of the beats – The Prodigy had already laid this foundation but The Chemical Brothers provided their own take – or the guest vocalists like Noel Gallagher and Beth Orton (Where Do I Begin)…something about Dig Your Own Hole cut through everything else and sparked the imagination. It might seem unusual to mark an album’s twenty-second birthday but I think pioneering records deserve investigation every year they are in the world. I do think there is nothing in music now like Dig Your Own Hole. The Chemical Brothers are releasing their ninth studio album, No Geography, on Friday and it will be interesting to see how they fare this time around. It is clear Tom Rowlands and Ed Simons have lost none of their spark but how many artists like them are around right now? Even if The Chemical Brothers remain untouched and in their own league, the magic and fire of Dig Your Own Hole inspired Big Beat and Electronic artists thereafter. The reviews for Dig Your Own Hole were emphatically positive. In this retrospective review from AllMusic (from 2011), they celebrated the energy and diversity of the album:

Everything is going on at once in "Block Rockin' Beats," and it sets the pace for the rest of the record, where songs and styles blur into a continuous kaleidoscope of sound. It rocks hard enough for the pop audience, but it doesn't compromise either the Chemicals' sound or the adventurous, futuristic spirit of electronica -- even "Setting Sun," with its sly homages to the Beatles' "Tomorrow Never Knows" and Noel Gallagher's twisting, catchy melody, doesn't sound like retro psychedelia; it sounds vibrant, unexpected, and utterly contemporary.

IMAGE CREDIT: Getty Images 

There are no distinctions between different styles, and the Chemicals sound as if they're having fun, building Dig Your Own Hole from fragments of the past, distorting the rhythms and samples, and pushing it forward with an intoxicating rush of synthesizers, electronics, and layered drum machines. The Chemical Brothers might not push forward into self-consciously arty territories like some of their electronic peers, but they have more style and focus, constructing a blindingly innovative and relentlessly propulsive album that's an exhilarating listen -- one that sounds positively new but utterly inviting at the same time”.

It is clear, now, Dig Your Own Hole changed music in 1997 and helped bring Big Beat and Electronic music closer to the mainstream. DJ magazine wrote an article last year explaining how Dig Your Own Hole made a huge impression on the scene and helped push The Chemical Brothers to new heights:

With the release of their debut album, 1995’s ‘Exit Planet Dust’, The Chemical Brothers were still seen in many quarters as representing the lingering remnants of big beat: a fun, if rather shallow, mid ’90s dance phenomenon that combined rock music structures with electronic production. After 1997’s ‘Dig Your Own Hole’, however, it was impossible to see The Chemical Brothers as anything but their own men, a legacy that has stayed with them until today. Open up a new Chemical Brothers album in 2018 and you genuinely don’t know what to expect, from shiny trance fusion to soil-worn psychedelia. This is the legacy of ‘Dig Your Own Hole’, an album that radiated ambition and adventure, as Tom Rowlands and Ed Simons matured as producers, growing up without ever growing old.

IN THIS PHOTO: The Chemical Brothers in 1997/PHOTO CREDIT: Joseph Cultice

It is a fitting closer for an album that remains almost unparalleled in electronic music for scope and adventure. Individually, the 11 tracks on ‘Dig Your Own Hole’ are fantastic; collectively they add up to a milestone of musical ambition, one that stinks of the sheer possibility of the electronic sound. In many ways, ‘Dig Your Own Hole’ is a nostalgic album, a reminder of an age in which Britpop, rock, beats, clarinets and psychedelic reels were united in the hearts of open-minded ravers. But it is very forward-looking too, its genre-hopping foreshadowing the post-genre pop world in which we now live. The Chemical Brothers didn’t just dig their own hole back in 1997, then; they dug out a new space for everyone”.

Two years ago, Loud and Quiet investigated The Chemical Brothers’ second album and how it added something fresh to music; a response to a particular sound that was becoming, perhaps, a little stale:

On another, though, characterising ‘Dig Your Own Hole’ as a big beat record today seems absurd. If you remove the hulking behemoth of ‘Setting Sun’ from its middle (which, of course, you can’t – but more on that shortly), the album is suddenly recontextualised as three suites of ecstatic electronica, full of abstract glorious noise, nagging repetitions and polyrhythms and, crucially, a level of stylistic depth that separates it from merry pranksters such as Fatboy Slim and Bentley Rhythm Ace entirely

That’s not to say, though, that even without Noel Gallagher’s presence, ‘Dig Your Own Hole’ would be a record for purists. Indeed, from the album’s opening combination of samples – bassline from jazz fusion, drums from funk, vocals from hip-hop – to the dizzying climax of ‘The Private Psychedelic Reel’ with its sitar drones and clarinet improvisations, it’s clear that Rowlands and Simons are more magpies than pure musicians, drawn less to the introspective, technical cleanliness of techno’s thud and more to the shimmering breadth of its influences.

…But nonetheless, in the comparison with Revolver perhaps lies Dig Your Own Hole’s ultimate appeal and addictiveness: alongside Leftfield’s ‘Leftism’, this is dance music’s greatest response to classic rock’s obsession with the idea of album flow (a very big-beat idea, one might argue), stymied only by a genius but entirely incongruous one-off single. Thankfully, in 2017, that can easily be fixed: Put on ‘Dig Your Own Hole’, but delete ‘Setting Sun’ from the playlist, instead letting ‘It Doesn’t Matter’ pick up straight from where ‘Piku’ left off: all of sudden, there materialises one of the all-time great albums – seamless, generous and engrossing – regardless of genre”.

To the school-age me, the full impact and beauty of Dig Your Own Hole could not be felt but, at the age of thirty-five, I am picking up new things I did not notice back then. Apart from The Chemical Brothers, there are not many acts that can create such a daring and sense-spinning sound. I am hearing of approaching artists picking up little bits from Dig Your Own Hole and updating and stretching it in their own directions. It is great The Chemical Brothers’ 1997 record is still creating influence and, back upon its release, it was a sensation. I am going to spin it (again) now and, if you have not experienced all its giddy wonder and innovation, make sure you…     

GET on it now!