FEATURE: Raising the Needle: The Best Albums to Own Next Month

FEATURE:

 

Raising the Needle

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IN THIS PHOTO: Sleater-Kinney/PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images 

The Best Albums to Own Next Month

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THIS year has already produced some rather…

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 IN THIS PHOTO: Bon Iver/PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images

mighty albums and, next month, we have a few gems that are worth exploring! I am amazed by the standard this year and the fact that there have been so many remarkable albums out in the world. If you are undecided as to which ones you need to get a hold of next month, I have been looking around and selected the ten most-promising. No matter which genres you are into and whether you have heard of these artists, I would definitely recommend you get involved and have a look at these terrific works. If you are in need of some guidance as to the best releases to look out for next month then I think I have…

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IN THIS PHOTO: Sheryl Crow/PHOTO CREDIT: Wyatt Crow

YOU covered.

ALL ALBUM COVERS/IMAGES: Getty Images/Artists

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MabelHigh Expectations

Release Date: 2nd August, 2019

Label: Polydor

Producers: Various

Standout Tracks: Don’t Call Me Up/Selfish Love/Put Your Name on It

Key Cut: Mad Love

Pre-Order: https://shop.mabelofficial.com/*/Music/

SlipknotWe Are Not Your Kind

Release Date: 9th August, 2019

Label: Roadrunner

Producer: Greg Fidelman

Standout Tracks: Birth of the Cruel/A Liar’s Funeral/Orphan

Key Cut: Unsainted

Pre-Order: https://www.slipknot1.com/

Marika HackmanAny Human Friend

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Release Date: 9th August, 2019

Label: Sub Pop

Standout Tracks: wanderlust/blow/come undone

Key Cut: the one

Release Date: 16th August, 2019

Labels: Xtra Mile/Polydor

Standout Tracks: Nica/Eye of the Day/The Lioness

Key Cut: Sister Rosetta

Pre-Order: https://store.frank-turner.com/

King Gizzard & the Lizard WizardInfest the Rats’ Nest

Release Date: 16th August, 2019

Label: Flightless

Standout Tracks: Planet B/Organ Farmer/Perihelion

Key Cut: Self-Immolate

Release Date: 16th August, 2019 

Label: Secretly Canadian

Standout Tracks: side effects/religion (u can lay your hands on me)/ BKLYNLDN

Key Cut: the stage

Pre-Order: https://shura-uk.myshopify.com/

Sleater-KinneyThe Center Won’t Hold

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Release Date: 16th August, 2019

Label: Mom + Pop

Producer: St. Vincent

Standout Tracks: The Center Won’t Hold/Ruins/Bad Dance

Key Cut: Hurry on Home

Release Date: 23rd August, 2019

Labels: Republic/Taylor Swift Productions

Producers: Joel Little/Taylor Swift

Key Cut: You Need to Calm Down

Pre-Order: https://store.hmv.com/music/cd/lover

Bon IverI, I

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Release Date: 30th August, 2019

Label: Jagjaguwar

Producers: Chris Messina/Brad Cook/Justin Vernon

Standout Tracks: We/U (Man Like)/Salem

Key Cut: Hey Ma

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Release Date: 30th August, 2019

Label: Big Machine Records

Producers: Sheryl Crow/Jeff Trott

Standout Tracks: Live Wire/Beware of Darkness/Wouldn’t Want to Be Like You

Key Cut: Everything Is Broken

FEATURE: The Party Is Just Getting Started: The Unique and Brilliant Billie Eilish

FEATURE:

 

The Party Is Just Getting Started

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PHOTO CREDIT: Billie Eilish/Getty Images 

The Unique and Brilliant Billie Eilish

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A couple of weeks ago…

 PHOTO CREDIT: Hannah Sider

we were all enjoying Glastonbury and the wealth of artists on display. Even if you were not there, the performances were available on the BBC and there are clips on YouTube. I do think that this year’s Glastonbury was defined by female artists and their brilliance. Although Lizzo and Kylie Minogue brought something special and memorable to Glastonbury, a lot of people flocked to see Billie Eilish. I shall talk about her latest album in a bit but it is clear that Billie Eilish has risen and captured the imagination. She has accrued so many new fans and is definitely putting something fresh and exciting into the world. The reviews for Eillish’s Glastonbury set were pretty impressive. Here, NME provided their thoughts:

 “This year has been so big, that Emily Eavis was forced to bump Billie Eilish up the bill for her Sunday showing on the Other Stage. There’s an argument to be made that she could have leap-frogged the rest of the bill and headline Glastonbury’s second stage entirely: she’s that popular.

Her stage presence is more animated than usual and gees up the crowd for big drops – despite the sound issues that she says explains her “angry face” throughout. She need not worry, it sounds superb from where we are. Particularly, ‘You Should See Me In A Crown’ a destructive and affirmation of her current reign over pop music right now. ‘Copycat’ throws down the gauntlet to all the pretenders and phonies: “Copycat trying to cop my manner/Watch your back when you can’t watch mine”.

Billie has long been a live-force to reckon with. Even at her first ever shows in the UK at London’s Courtyard Theatre a couple years back – which she remembers fondly halfway through this set – she’s been a captivating performer for songs both loud and quiet. She lays flat on the stage for the twinkling ‘When I’m Older’ and for ‘Ocean Eyes’, she wants people to live in the moment: “Hold your phones down and look at me in the eye. We’ll never be in this moment ever again.”. Her ballads are just as impressive, too. ‘Wish You Were Gay’ is simply majestic and the swooning ‘Xanny’ is as addictive as they come”.

I do wonder whether, given her performance this year, Eilish will get close to headlining Glastonbury next year. She was on a smaller stage this year but Eilish was not fazed and gave an incredible set. It is amazing that, still a teenager, Eilish has this confident and seems to use the stage as an extension of herself. She has a legion of fans and there is something about her music and personality that draws people in. It is clear Eilish is honest and open and not afraid to speak out. So many artists are label-led and having very little to say. I think Eilish is refreshingly straight and she wants people to connect with her. Check out her other live reviews but, when it came to one of the world’s biggest music festival, Eilish delivered the goods and was completely on top. I expect to see her back at Glastonbury next year and determined to see her live myself.

A lot of attention has come the way of Eilish because of her unique and daring music. Reviews for When We Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go?, have been largely positive but there have been some reviews a little cold or confused. The thing with Eilish music’s is that it is very unconventional and, if you are expecting this teen to follow the pack and produce music that is pretty commercial and hummable than think again! Eilish ca do accessible but her music is more about texture, feel and experimentation than big choruses and climbing the charts. She does have beautiful moments on her album but there are plenty of interesting angles and diversions. Those who get what she is doing can bond with the songs and follow her mindset: those who want something a bit more settled are not quite sure what to make of Eilish. CLASH, in their review of When We Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go?, talk about Eilish’s contrasts and constant sense of movement:

The gloomy afterglow of ‘when the party’s over’ softly blurs into the sickly-sweet ukele of ‘8’ which is undoubtedly the oddball track on this peculiar record. ‘my strange addiction’ and ‘bury a friend’ pick up the beat before dissolving into the anxious lullaby of ‘ilomilo’. Billie then closes the album with a heartbreakingly melancholic mix of tracks, bringing you close to tears with ‘listen before I go’, ‘I love you’ and ‘goodbye’.

‘When We All Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go?’ is a brave and fortuitous debut album from the LA teen, capturing the hopes, fears and vulnerabilities of an entire generation. The genius in this record is its unaffected relatability. It is like a reassuring hug letting you know that you are not alone. Billie Eilish’s intelligent response to the world crumbling around her is to make it into art, and to see the beauty in her generation and their protests.

She champions the strange, the misfits, the misunderstood and offers an alternative to the oversaturation of vapid, plastic pop stars and reality TV ghouls. You might not get her but she embraces it and will thrive, but quite frankly she probably couldn’t give a damn”.

 PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images

I think that Billie Eilish’s debut album is an extremely bold, interesting and accomplished release from a seventeen year old (she wrote all the tracks with her brother, Finneas O'Connell). It is scary to think where she goes next and how good she might get in a few years. Right now, she is channelling her conflicts, problems and thoughts into music that you cannot ignore. I will end with some interview quotes and personal revelations which bond you closer with Billie Eilish but, for my money, there is not another artist around like her. Sure, some of the tracks on When We Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go? do not hit the mark and it is not the sort of album that you can listen at any time. I do think When We Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go? is best enjoyed when you need an emotional release or want to escape in this incredibly unusual and striking sound. Eilish, for that reason, might not be able to convert every listener but I think this is true of every innovative and challenging artist. She is this completely free and liberated artist on stage and one listens to her music and is stunned by the confidence and natural ability she has. Away from the cameras and microphones, there is a very relatable person who has an incredibly wise head on her shoulders.

I want to bring in a couple of interviews with Eilish (one from last year and one this year) that shows that there are a few different sides to Eilish. She is confident and bold but she is also anxious and fearful. It makes for this very real and brilliant artist who makes for very compelling focus. In this NME piece, some interesting revelations and quotes came out:

I’m the type of person if you tell me to stop doing something, I’m going to do the opposite,” she says in our interview.

She’s a teen – she’s meant to be rebellious – but Billie has an endearing ‘fuck you’ attitude that only a handful of people can carry off. Want proof? After a long day of shooting, she’s been asked by US TV network NBC to film a spritely ‘Happy New Year’ message to be shown on their New Year’s Eve coverage. She tries and fails several times to nail the happy-go-lucky attitude the network wants. On the seventh try, she looks like she’s about to nail it. She reaches the end of the clip and blows a kiss to the camera to sign off, then immediately flips the bird directly to camera. Her mum, Maggie Baird, who’s been with us all day, is exasperated – the clip is useless. “You need to leave a beat at the end of the clip for them to edit away,” she tells Billie. “I did,” Billie replies. “This is my beat” – and she throws up the middle finger once more.

 

It is not easy to predict Eilish and see where her music comes from but, when it comes to the type of music she listens to and the sort of life she leads, it is not too different to a lot of teens:

Like most people her age, her influences and listening habits are strikingly diverse. During the day-long shoot in West Hollywood she vibes out to music by rising US rapper Tierra Whack and her 15-minute album, ‘Whack World’, and as well as The Strokes and Arctic Monkeys. When we met last year, she cited The Beatles and Avril Lavigne, among others, as all-time favourites.

Though they are fairly traditional influences, her music is thoroughly modern. Her generation’s hope, anxiety, vulnerability and heartbreak are reflected in the songs she pens with Finneas. ‘Bellyache’, from that debut EP, was inspired by the regret she felt when she would shoplift or occasionally nab toys from friends. “I’d leave and want to throw up with guilt. I used to think the police were going to come to class and take me away from my parents,” she laughs. “It was completely irrational, but there’s nothing like that overwhelming feeling, and to say that a child can’t write about those feelings because they are too young is bogus.”

There is an uglier side to her success and Eilish is no stranger to the hateful side of the music industry; getting cruel comments and having to fend off a lot of negativity:

Being bombarded with hateful messages is a harsh reality of being a pop star right now, but it’s not all bad news, she says. “This industry is fucking horrible, but if I wasn’t doing this I would probably be miserable because this is always what I’ve wanted. No matter how horrible fame is and how horrible this and that is: a lot of things make all of this worth it, y’know?”

PHOTO CREDIT: Rachael Wright 

Do you think it’s because you’re a young woman that people feel that have a right to comment on what you do?

“Hell yeah. I’ve spoken a lot to female artists about this, because if you’re not a female artist you probably don’t think about this. If I was a guy and I was wearing these baggy clothes, nobody would bat an eye. There’s people out there saying, ‘Dress like a girl for once! Wear tight clothes you’d be much prettier and your career would be so much better!’ No it wouldn’t. It literally would not.”’

PHOTO CREDIT: Billie Eilish/Getty Images

I get the impression of an artist who wants to make music that seems very real to her but knows she has to play the game and is part of the bigger machine. This is something that irks Eilish and, whilst inevitable, I do wonder whether the success her debut has acquired will see the label making demands or people asking for a repeat – Eilish is someone always moving and not willing to compromise. Earlier this year, Eilish (and Finneas O'Connell) spoke with Zane Lowe for Apple Music and it is interesting to read. Every interview she gives is fascinating and it is a relief to hear this artist being true and not given these boring answers; those that are dictated by the record label and have to be on-point:

“In just a few short years, though, Eilish has gone from jumping that barrier to be right under her favorite artists to being the one whose barriers are being jumped and touring the world with Finneas at her side. She says they've talked about how this level of intense fame can't last forever, realizing that everyone has to keep living their own lives as well.

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"We can't have this be the rest of our lives. We were talking about it the other day, we're just like, 'I'm 17, dude.' I can't have my life exactly like this forever, and he can't either," she says, noting that her brother just bought a house with his girlfriend and got a dog. "It's a weird balance, because I want to grow in my life, and grow up and have a life. But I already have my career. ... Having been on tour, I know how it works. I know that you leave and it's a little bit of your friends being sad. Then, you're gone for long enough that life moves on and they keep doing things. It's the same way as if someone dies. You have to keep going. You shouldn't be mourning them every two seconds for the rest of your life. You have to keep going."

With so many songs that tackle dark, personal topics with often bleak imagery, Eilish tells Lowe that "there's only a few people in the world that can understand this," referring to life-changing events like becoming a parent, losing a loved one, fame or depression. "You just can't understand it, and you can't act like you do. When someone you love loses someone very close to them, you can't say, 'I feel you.' You just can't. That's okay," she says, encouraging listening rather than trying to empathize in a way you may not genuinenly be able to. "I feel like some people just try to act like they know, but just listen. It's not about trying to up their depression. It's not about who's sadder, who's gone through worse. It's about listening to people and actually just caring about them."

Eilish has worked incredibly hard to get to where she is now and one can imagine this young girl humming songs and dreaming one day of being on a big stage. She is only seventeen and she has achieved more than a lot of artists a lot older than her. That sort of spotlight and pressure might weigh heavy and be a burden but I feel like Eilish has a very mature attitude and she realises there are horrible sides to the industry. She has experienced anxiety and depression and is honest about it. She will provide comfort and guidance for many teens going through the same thing and I think her music is among the most powerful and memorable of the moment. Eilish is the complete package and I feel like we are seeing this star being born. Her Glastonbury set proved she could handle a huge festival and, actually, there was more attention put her way than a lot of more experienced and popular artists. Not only is Eilish a fantastic and spirited live performer but a brilliant songwriter and a young woman who has a lot to say and is fascinating to listen to. If you have not checked out Billie Eilish then make sure you do because she is an artist that is going to go very far indeed. Maybe her sound is not your usual cup of tea and the water might seem rather uninviting. Once you dip your toes in and experience all she has to offer, I guarantee you will…

                  

NOT want to get out anytime soon.

FEATURE: Too Many Voices in My Head: Is the Modern Collaboration Culture Less About Quality and More Concerned with Figures, Money and Backing Labels?

FEATURE:

 

Too Many Voices in My Head

IMAGE CREDIT: Ed Sheeran 

Is the Modern Collaboration Culture Less About Quality and More Concerned with Figures, Money and Backing Labels?

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THERE was a time in music when we had…

some memorable duets and collaborations that genuinely stood out. Whether it was a rare hook-up in the 1990s or a girl group like En Vogue mixing it alongside Salt-N-Peppa on Whatta Man; if you get the chemistry right, it can lead to something exceptional. If you think about the best duets of all-time then they have one thing in common: it is the perfect pairing of artists and adds something a single artist can’t. Listen to Peter Gabriel and Kate Bush on Don’t Give Up or Queen and David Bowie on Under Pressure. These are fantastic songs where different artists are joined and seamlessly gel; challenge one another and help create a simply wonderful moment of music. There have not been that many great cases of duets in the last few years. I don’t know whether demands have changed or what but it is a shame that we do not see great artists joining together to perform something focused yet ambitious. All those great duets and collaborations are notable because they are unexpected and different to what you are used to. I guess we all have our fantasy list of artists we’d like to see get together and make some magic stir. I do think there is something to be said for economy and rarity when we consider collaborations. Whilst it is nice to see a perfectly-judged unity and an unexpected partnership, I do think there is a bit of fatigue in the modern industry.

Rather than put artists together to create something inspiring and quality-heavy, it seems a lot of artists are coming together simply so they can boost their profiles or get streaming figures up on Spotify. Every week, I collate a playlist of new songs and use Spotify for guidance. You would not believe how many songs from the lists I look at – usually New Music Friday – weld together artists. It is fantastic when you discover a genuinely moving pairing but, more often than not, it is a case of artists you have not heard of all bustling together in a song that is overloaded and has no sense of focus. I am not suggesting we only should have solo artists and bands recording but I do feel like there are too many collaborations and songs where you have four or five artists together. It is more common in genres like Rap and Hip-Hop but it happens across the board; where you have a song where each artist takes a couple of lines or you get an artist that only adds the odd word or thought – making me wonder what the point is and what they are actually adding. My article has been influenced by Ed Sheeran’s new album, No.6 Collaborations Project. It is an album where Sheeran collaborates with everyone from Eminem and 50 Cent (Remember the Name) to Put It All on Me (ft. Ella Mai).

Where it does not have the same raft of people in the mix as a lot of songs around right now, I do think collaboration albums are a bit of a bad idea. Unless the song really calls for it, very few tracks are elevated and bettered by having more voices on them. Unless there is a fantastic song that specifically calls for several voices, I do think you need to be savvy and sure when it comes to bringing names in. I have listened to Sheeran’s record and, whilst a couple of the songs are quite affable, the album is rather safe and there are no extraordinary moments; songs do not really sink in and you sort of wonder why many of the collaborators were asked to come along. One of the problems is hearing someone rather bland and safe as Ed Sheeran performing on the same song as 50 Cent. It is quite extreme and the dynamic connection is not really there. He could have made the songs pop on his own or added some unknown voices in the background but bringing these huge names together makes everything seem like a case of flexing and using his fame rather than thinking about the music. The Guardian shared some positive comments and argued why Sheeran, more often than not, succeeds:  

The sound skews noticeably towards the R&B-influenced end of his oeuvre represented by Sing and Shape of You: if there isn’t a song here quite as undeniable as either of those, then both the Khalid feature Beautiful People, which sets an indelible melody line and chorus amid soft-focus synths, and Put It All on Me, which features Ella Mai and an insistent guitar hook draped languidly over a breakbeat, runs them close...

IN THIS PHOTO: Ed Sheeran/PHOTO CREDIT: Mark Surridge 

Indeed, it occasionally cleaves a little too closely for its own good: South of the Border sounds perilously similar to Shape of You. The latter also sees the appearance of what you might call the shameless Sheeran of Galway Girl, a man abundantly aware that the general public’s notion of cool seldom chimes with that of record labels or indeed rock critics. Charged with writing a song for the Cuban-American Camilla Cabello, he manages to last barely a minute before breaking out the Latin language of love: “Te amo, mamá.”

It’s not the only moment that doesn’t work. You can see the logic behind the Eminem and 50 Cent collaboration Remember the Name – the jaunty musical backing is clearly designed in the image of The Real Slim Shady – but there’s something jarring about Eminem rapping about sticking nails in his eyeballs next to Sheeran repping Ipswich.

But elsewhere, Sheeran succeeds in pulling off his patent trick of simultaneously stunning you with the pitiless commercial efficiency of his writing while retaining a certain ordinary-bloke humanity. For all the bragging about his achievements when the genre he’s dabbling in warrants it – put him in the studio with a rapper and it won’t be too long before he starts filling you in on the eye-popping financial take-home of his last world tour ($340m, in case you’re wondering) – there’s a tang of affecting authenticity about the parade of neuroses on display elsewhere in the lyrics. This ranges from social anxiety to fretting about the onset of male-pattern baldness: a reminder that, while Sheeran undoubtedly pioneered the valuable pop commodity of #relatability, he did it by default rather than design”.

If you are a big artist then it is tempting to brings some other artists in because you can pick whoever you want and go a bit nuts. I am one of these romantics who loves when artists are joined because they are passionate about the song and there is this mutual respect; no desire to boost the label or any marketing aims. All the greatest duets and collaborations, to me, seem to be based on the desire to make the song the best it can be. Maybe that is naïve to an extent but there are mouth-watering possibilities when it comes to big artists and what sort of song could come about if they got together. I do get a feeling that most of the collaborations we have now have no other aim but to raise the profile of other artists or to make money. How often do we see collaborations where the design and desire it the art itself?! This article from Rolling Stone talks about possible motives behind Ed Sheeran’s latest album:

It turns out that Sheeran shares a label with many of the artists he’s a fan of; No. 6 Collaborations may be an accurate reflection of Sheeran’s streaming habits, but it’s also a deft piece of brand synergy, showcasing a wide range of names on Atlantic Records. The guest list is culled so that nine of the singers or rappers here are in some way connected either to Atlantic, the industry-leading label according to one recent market-share estimate, or its parent company, the recently renamed Warner Records. Sheeran is throwing a party, and the bar is generously stocked, but most of the booze is staying in the family.

The Atlantic clan includes Bruno Mars, Meek Mill, PnB Rock, Cardi B and A Boogie wit da Hoodie, currently the label’s breakout star and the third most-streamed artist of 2019. The electronic producer Skrillex, who also appears on No.6 Collaborations, releases music through the label Big Beat, which is also under the Atlantic umbrella. The unpredictable rapper Young Thug puts out his music jointly through 300 Records and Atlantic. The grime star Stormzy — who scored his first Number One in England earlier this year and then headlined the country’s flagship music festival, Glastonbury — is signed to Atlantic UK. And the rising Argentinian trap artist Paulo Londra, who has amassed over a billion streams worldwide, is signed to another part of Warner Records, Warner Music Latin.

The rest of Sheeran’s duet partners appear to be roughly split evenly between Warner’s two primary competitors. Sony Music Entertainment shows up on No.6 Collaborations in the form of Travis Scott, Khalid, Camila Cabello, and H.E.R., while Universal Music Group lends Sheeran the services of Eminem, Ella Mai, Chris Stapleton, and Justin Beiber.

For Sheeran’s label-mates, especially the rappers and Londra, the inclusion on No.6 Collaborations is a chance to reach Sheeran’s more adult-contemporary-leaning fanbase, who would probably not seek out hip-hop or music in Spanish otherwise. And it’s also a nice jolt for their global profiles — Ed Sheeran is the most popular artist on the planet on Spotify, with over 65 million monthly listeners around the world”.

I can agree with a lot of the words in the article above. I do not think it is cynical to suggest that a lot of collaborations join label-mates and it is designed to get more attention and money the way of certain artists. Sheeran is not the only culpable artist and, indeed, so many modern-day collaborations are designed with money and statistics in mind rather than any notions of quality and originality. I do like it when you have artists joining together that create this golden moment and there is nothing in mind bar making something truly exceptional. I listen to the new songs coming out and there are so many names fused together and it makes me wonder why. It is subjective when it comes to saying which collaborations work and which don’t but I hate the phenomenon of crowbarring artists together just so that the line-up looks cool and they get some big streaming figures. I realise there are some great songs from solo artists and it is not like we are getting buried in collaborations. I do think the ones we have are not particularly great and I do wonder whether artists are coming together for the right reasons. These songs with so many names on them…what are they actually achieving and what is the actual point?!

I think it is great artists want to record together but I have this uneasy feeling that a lot of the motive revolves around backing label-mates or letting your ego reign. It has been a while since a truly classic collaboration has come about and maybe this is a sign of the modern times and different motives. I congratulate artists like Ed Sheeran and what he is doing but I think albums like No.6 Collaborations Project are less about merit and exploring new ground but, instead, it is quite cynical, ill-engineered and bland. When you stuff so many names together and come up with something ordinary that raises questions about motives then that does not look great. I still have these fond memories of the classic duets and do wonder whether those days are gone and we are going to be subjected to endless songs with faceless names all together singing rather listlessly. A great, supreme duet or collaboration can really hit the senses and remain popular for decades but I think there is little chance of that happening today. Instead, we have these insipid collaborations that do not stick in the mind and they are, let’s face it, sound pretty dull. Maybe there is a classic duet or collaboration around the corner and we will see a modern-day classic but, unfortunately, it seems like that possibility is…

A long way away.           

FEATURE: Female Icons: Part Eleven: Aretha Franklin

FEATURE:

 

Female Icons

ALL PHOTOS (unless credited otherwise): Getty Images 

Part Eleven: Aretha Franklin

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I am eleven editions into this feature and have not…

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mentioned a female artist who defines what it is to be an icon. Aretha Franklin is one of the most inspiring artists of all-time and someone whose music has changed so many lives. I guess I use that phrase quite a lot but it seems very apt when we speak of Franklin. The icon died on 16th August, 2018 and it was a very sad when we lost her. Franklin had been ill for a little bit but the world was rocked when her death was announced. Even though she has been gone almost a year, her legacy remains and you can hear her voice in artists coming through. Although there is nobody quite like Aretha Franklin, it is undeniable modern artists are taking her essence and incorporating it into their work; from the power of Franklin’s voice to the potency of the songs. Born on 25th March, 1942, Franklin sang Gospel songs at church in Michigan in her early life. Her father was a minister and that early experience of being in church and being exposed to such a powerful environment rubbed off on her. It is hard to say when she first stepped into church but, like so many Soul greats, it was the power of prayer and togetherness that brought something from Franklin. To be a witness to her earliest performances must have been transformative. Being around others who were delivering prayers and songs with such intensity instilled a desire in Franklin.

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By the age of eighteen, Franklin stepped away from performances in church and embarked on a secular career. Her first few recordings established her voice and promise but, having signed with Atlantic Records in 1966, the hits started to come. It must have been a hard transition to go from a more faith-based style of music to stepping into more traditional areas such as love and yearning. By the end of the 1960s, Franklin established herself as The Queen of Soul and was reigning supreme. One looks at artists now who are in a position of power and influence and, in terms of their past, there is nothing extraordinary or especially tough. Some artists do grow from humble beginnings or struggles but, when it comes to Aretha Franklin’s background, she overcame so much. Here, in this article, it is revealed what Franklin endured as a girl and, as a young woman, how her life changed:

But her childhood was not a happy one. Amid rumours of infidelity, her parents separated in 1948 and her mother moved to Buffalo with a son from a previous relationship. A few years later her mother was dead.

The job of looking after the young Franklin fell to several women, including one who was known as the "greatest gospel singer in the world", Mahalia Jackson.

The world she grew up in was one in which gospel singing took centre stage, and where the growing popularity of her father's driving sermons led to his mission being visited by various performers like Jackie Wilson and Sam Cooke.

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 It may have been because of the unstable nature of life at home that she fell pregnant and had children twice before the age of 15.

At 18, she told her father she wanted to follow in Sam Cooke's footsteps and become a pop artist, and after she signed to Columbia she enjoyed a degree of success on the R&B chart.

She was managed by Ted White, a man she married in 1961 at the age of 19 and had another child with three years later.

White was described by a number of sources as controlling, dealing out domestic abuse on many occasions.

In 1970, after their marriage broke down, Jet magazine reported that White was investigated for shooting Sam Cooke's brother, who attempted to protect Franklin when her husband turned up at her house”.

Franklin released a series of albums in the 1960s but her undeniable first ‘peak’ was when she released I Never Loved a Man the Way I Love You. I shall talk about this more later but, when it comes to defining Franklin and what makes her an icon, the delivery of the music has to be discussed. Her phrasing and that raw release; how she moves through the verses and emits so many different emotions, each of them pure and natural. Although Franklin co-wrote a few tracks on I Never Loved a Man the Way I Love You, it was the covers that really stood out. The way she heightens and transforms Otis Redding’s Respect; the explosive and passionate title track and the sheer brilliance of Soul Serenade – these tracks have survived through the decades and remains as evocative now as they did then.

Critics, naturally, were full of praise for I Never Loved a Man the Way I Loved You and contemporary reviews are hugely positive. AllMusic, in their review, underline the importance of Aretha Franklin’s 1967 masterpiece:

While the inclusion of "Respect" -- one of the truly seminal singles in pop history -- is in and of itself sufficient to earn I Never Loved a Man the Way I Love You classic status, Aretha Franklin's Atlantic label debut is an indisputable masterpiece from start to finish. Much of the credit is due to producer Jerry Wexler, who finally unleashed the soulful intensity so long kept under wraps during her Columbia tenure; assembling a crack Muscle Shoals backing band along with an abundance of impeccable material, Wexler creates the ideal setting to allow Aretha to ascend to the throne of Queen of Soul, and she responds with the strongest performances of her career. While the brilliant title track remains the album's other best-known song, each cut on I Never Loved a Man is touched by greatness; covers of Ray Charles' "Drown in My Own Tears" and Sam Cooke's "Good Times" and "A Change Is Gonna Come" are on par with the original recordings, while Aretha's own contributions -- "Don't Let Me Lose This Dream," "Baby, Baby, Baby," "Save Me," and "Dr. Feelgood (Love Is a Serious Business)" -- are perfectly at home in such lofty company. A soul landmark”.

 

Franklin would record a lot of big albums through the 1970s but it was two more 1960s albums that, like her 1967 release, showcases this tremendous singer who had transformed from an aspiring singer and promising force into a mighty artist who had no equals. 1968’s Lady Soul is another masterpiece that contains some iconic Franklin performances. Chain of Fools; (You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman and People Get Ready are all in there! Franklin inspired so many singers after her heyday and regency – including Whitney Houston and Beyoncé; others like Amy Winehouse – but can we think of any other singer who has the same gravitas and can deliver a song like she did?! Aretha Now, whilst shorter in terms of inclusions, packed hits such as Think and I Say a Little Prayer and the latter is one of my favourite songs from Aretha Franklin – written by Hal David and Burt Bacharach, Franklin’s sublime ready sends shivers down the spine. Franklin’s fortunes would dip a bit through the 1970s and the 1980s especially, but that extraordinary run of albums in the late-1960s took Franklin to rare heights and revealed this staggering talent. We know a lot about her music and those brilliant albums but it is clear that Aretha Franklin’s personal life enforced her music. The Guardian, following Franklin’s death, discussed her private life and how success mixed alongside struggle. I wanted to quote a few passages that talk about Franklin’s pains but also how she got involved with the civil rights movement and became this voice for America:

Franklin’s fraught personal life was instinctively understood by the select few she allowed into her circle, particularly the female soul singers with whom she bonded. “There was always an unspoken understanding between us,” Etta James later confessed, “...we’d be drawn to men, the wrong men, who weren’t in love with us, but were in love with who we were.”

In Franklin’s case, the pain and heartbreak were transmuted into song, sometimes expressed with an almost casual, but paradoxically powerful, delivery that belied the traumas of her life. The cost, though, was often high, and her life was punctuated by mysterious illnesses and bouts of severe depression.

In all of this, Franklin expressed her own personal struggles as well as the simmering discontent of an America in which race was – and remains – a fault line. Fifty years after she reluctantly travelled down to Alabama, the ideology of white supremacy is once again being openly expressed in parts of the American south not that distant from the studio where she recorded her first great soul song, surrounded by white musicians awed and inspired by her talent.

When people say she was the voice of America, there is an obvious truth in that, given the integrated context in which those early soul songs were created and the singular journey they precipitated. She went on, after all, to sing for presidents, her voice distilling the aspirations and hopes of the Obama era in particular, and by extension of a nation that finally seemed to be coming to terms with the legacy of slavery and segregation”.

It is hard to put into words how important Franklin was and how important she remains. The way she spoke out against injustices and represented the civil rights movements inspired millions. Her music translated beyond genre boundaries and compelled generations. I discovered Aretha Franklin when I was growing up and was not a huge fan of Soul.

 PHOTO CREDIT: Rick Kern/WireImage.com

Maybe it was my rigidness, but I got into Soul through Aretha Franklin. I was instantly hooked and blown away by this incredible voice and the way music could get into my bones. I followed other Soul artists but it was Aretha Franklin that lit the fuse and stands above the rest. This article from Legacy drills down to the core: the fact that there is nobody like Franklin:

When we describe a singer’s voice as incomparable, we actually mean to say: like Aretha. Any song she sang became hers, and anytime she sang, you knew who it was. Franklin sang for queens and presidents and Super Bowls and Black Panthers and victims. She was a money-where-mouth-is activist, performing on behalf of civil rights causes in the '60s and offered donations spanning the Black Power era of the '70s and various medical causes throughout her life. Even her unapologetically audacious church hat became famous in 2009 as she sang at President Obama’s inauguration. Through it all, it is important to remember that Franklin is not a hall of fame singer; she is the hall of fame. The lessons of her style are injected into the DNA of nearly every popular singer since 1961. She was church for people who didn’t attend services, the patron saint of women who have decided to take no more, the queen of clapback back when it was called “sass.” “Legend” is an enormous word for just about anyone you can ascribe it to, but not Aretha Franklin. You cannot say it about many artists, but for Aretha Franklin, legend really is too small a word”.

I will round things off in a minute but, before I do, I want to bring in an NME article that explains how Franklin transitioned from that incredible period of the late-1960s and continued to evolve in the 1970:

American history wells up when Aretha sings,” Barack Obama said in 2015. “Nobody embodies more fully the connection between the African-American spiritual, the blues, R&B, rock and roll – the way that hardship and sorrow were transformed into something full of beauty and vitality and hope.” 
Franklin’s success would continue into the early ’70s, when her 1972 gospel album ‘Amazing Grace’ would sell 2 million copies, and she became the first R&B singer to headline San Francisco’s Filmore West venue. Further albums on Atlantic fared less well, however, and it wasn’t until moving to Arista in 1980 that her career was revived, thanks to poppier hits such as ‘Who’s Zoomin’ Who?’ and ‘Freeway Of Love’ as well as successful collaborations with The Eurythmics on ‘Sisters Are Doin’ It For Themselves’ and George Michael on ‘I Knew You Were Waiting For Me’. Over 20 years on Arista, Franklin established herself as a grand dame of soul music, and since leaving the label in 2004 has made celebrated appearances at the 2006 Superbowl, at President Obama’s inauguration and at the 2015 ceremony to honour Carole King at the Kennedy Center Honors
”.

There has been nobody like Franklin since she came into music and I do think we will ever see another singer like her. Even though nobody can walk in Franklin shoes, so many artists have been inspired by her.

I have mentioned a few but listen to the likes of Alicia Keys and Christina Aguilera and how you can hear Franklin in their voices. There is no telling just how far Franklin’s influence extends - but it is clear her inspirational messages and scintillating performances have compelled so many. Consider the performance of (You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman at the Kennedy Centre Honours during the section for honouree Carole King. That performance set the Internet alight and I can think of few other performances as moving and spellbinding. It is hard to explore Aretha Franklin in proper depth and explain why she is such an icon. Her earliest recordings are immense but make sure you check out her albums of the 1980s and beyond as there is gold to be found. Her live shows were the stuff of legends and the way she raise awareness of corruption and social injustice cannot be understated. Franklin was more than an artist. She was a leader and spokesperson for those who wanted to see change and equality. I have covered a few female icons already but I do not think any of them have quite the same legacy as Aretha Franklin in terms of what she achieved and the people she has inspired around the world. I shall end things now but, after you listen to my playlist below, do some more digging and investigation and realise what an amazing artist…

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ARETHA Franklin was.            

FEATURE: Tomorrow Never Knows: Keeping The Beatles’ Music Burning for Future Generations

FEATURE:

 

Tomorrow Never Knows

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PHOTO CREDIT: REX

Keeping The Beatles’ Music Burning for Future Generations

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WHEN we talk about iconic acts and those…

 PHOTO CREDIT: David McEnery/REX Shutterstock

artists who will live forever, surely The Beatles are top of the list. I am not saying other acts lack worthiness and that sort of clout but The Beatles are on their own planet; a plain so rarefied that it is hard to see any other artist ever getting to that level. The band’s album, A Hard Day’s Night just turned fifty-five and we get to celebrate fifty years of Abbey Road in September. I love the fact that, with Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr still making music, we have two of The Beatles in the world. It is a privilege but one cannot overlook John Lennon and George Harrison and the fact these four guys created the best music the world has ever known. It does seem unbelievable that, somewhere, someone does not know who The Beatles are; maybe, in years to come, there will be less awareness and their music will not be as prolific as it is now. That is a bone-chilling thought but, in these days of streaming, are we doing enough to keep bands like The Beatles alive and shared? Sure, radio plays their songs and many of us have records by The Beatles but on these big platforms, are people who are a little new to the band being led in their direction? The Beatles will always be played an adored but I do have a concern that, as we use streaming services more now, whether there will be a day when the greatest band ever are not as influential as they once were.

With the recent film, Yesterday, still in our minds, it has created a nice effect: many of The Beatles’ classics are making their way back into the charts. Billboard explain more:

Classics by The Beatles infuse Billboard's Hot Rock Songs chart following the theatrical release of Yesterday, which features many of the band's iconic tracks.

In all, five '60s/'70s Beatles titles re-enter the Hot Rock Songs tally dated July 13, led by "Here Comes the Sun," at No. 9. (Older titles are allowed on Billboard's multi-metric charts, such as Hot Rock Songs, if they rank in the tallies' top half and show a meaningful reason for resurging.)

Renewed interest in the band's catalog comes thanks to Yesterday, which premiered in theaters on June 28. In the film, the lead character, portrayed by Himesh Patel, finds that he is one of the only people alive who remembers The Beatles, leading him to begin performing their music and passing it off as his own.

In the June 28-July 4 tracking week, The Beatles saw a 26% boost in equivalent album units, earning 54,000, according to Nielsen Music. Of that sum, 17,000 comprised traditional album sales, a 41% increase. Additionally, the band's catalog was streamed 51.2 million times on on-demand services, up 17%, and it moved 35,000 digital downloads, a vault of 40%.

"Here Comes the Sun" leads the band's Hot Rock Songs return with 3.8 million U.S. streams and 2,000 downloads sold. "Let It Be" follows at No. 12 (2.8 million streams, 2,000 sold). The other three re-entries: the film's namesake "Yesterday" (No. 14; 2.3 million streams, 2,000 sold); "Hey Jude" (No. 16; 2.4 million streams, 2,000 sold); and "Come Together" (No. 17; 2.7 million streams, 1,000 sold).

All five titles had previously reached Hot Rock Songs, with "Here Comes the Sun" and "Come Together" the band's highest-charting titles prior to the latest list, both at No. 14 (in 2017 and 2016, respectively). Thus, thanks to "Here Comes the Sun" at No. 9, The Beatles land their first top 10 on Hot Rock Songs, which began in 2009”.

I do like the fact that a film can put a band’s music back to the fore and many argue that The Beatles are always at the front and never go away.   are always stories about The Beatles and we get to celebrate their big albums. I do have a concern that there will be a generation that hear about The Beatles through their grandparents. Consider how many people discovered The Beatles: we had our parents’ collection and we were raised on their sounds. Now, I do think that parents and relatives have The Beatles in their collection but there will be a day when that shrinks.

 PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images

One might say that all great artists warrant as much acclaim as The Beatles and I would agree with that. I think all the legendary bands/artists who have given the world so much should endure for decades and be heard by as many people as possible. Whilst many of The Beatles’ biggest songs have millions of streams on Spotify (Here Comes the Sun has over 324,000,000 streams), compare that to new artists and it is quite glaring. By comparison, some of Pop’s modern stars are more popular and have bigger sway on streaming sites. I feel The Beatles, more than anyone else in music, should be put on a pedestal and should have this immortal love behind them. They changed the world in so many ways and, whilst it is great Yesterday has put some of their songs back into the charts, I do feel like more should be done to keep The Beatles’ music right at the centre. Some people might approach my fears with a simple argument: vinyl will always exist so their records will endure; their music is always in the world so people can find it. This is true…but consider how prevalent their music was years ago and how that has changed. I do think The Beatles are played far less on the radio than they should and, whilst I know stations have quotas and they cannot play too much from the same act, I do not hear the Beatles nearly enough.

I do think that there needs to be more happening on streaming sites and radio to get The Beatles’ music out there; to play some of the lesser-known songs and encourage people to seek out their music. One hopes that tradition of passing on vinyl will continue but, the more digital we get, will this happen less? I know The Beatles will never be completely forgotten but I genuinely have heard some younger people ask who the band is; not aware of their songs and, in a way, it sort of mirrors the plot of Yesterday: living in a world where one person remembers The Beatles and they do not exist to anyone else. The band inspired my parents and I am so glad that The Beatles were brought into my life from a young age. I cannot put into words the effect the band has had and how much they have transformed me. I am in my thirties and there are still songs from the band I have not heard. Algorithms on streaming sites work to an extent but I think they are too narrow and they are not nearly as bold as they should be. We all sort of get into a habit of listening to the music we are used to and not often breaking away from that. I do have this anxiety where The Beatles are relatively underground on streaming sites and there is still this reliance on new artists. Fewer parents will keep vinyl and the radio stations, who do not play The Beatles’ music enough, will not do as much as they should.

Sure, there are podcasts, articles and news items about The Beatles but will we get to a stage when this will star to dry? Will The Beatles’ genius start to dim? I do not think that is possible but I feel like here is a band that have influenced so many people and artists and their music needs to be preserved and promoted as much as possible. Even as a die-hard fan, I still get surprised by a track of theirs I have not heard in a while. Radio stations do not dig deep enough into the back catalogue and I hope this recent wave created by Yesterday continues. We are, as I mentioned, lucky to have two Beatles with us still and Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr do not look like they are going to retire anytime soon! I am not saying streaming sites need to put out a Beatles alert ever week but I do think we owe this wonderful music more than we are giving it right now. In the meantime, we have Abbey Road’s fiftieth to celebrate in a couple of months and who knows where McCartney and Starr will go from here? The Beatles’ music sound as original and exciting to me now as it did when I was a child and I hope that sensation continues for generations to come. There are other remarkable artists who have shifted the world and changed music but, in my opinion, none have had the same impact…

AS The Beatles.             

FEATURE: Spotlight: JOHN

FEATURE:

 

Spotlight

PHOTO CREDIT: Lindsay Melbourne 

JOHN

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IT is hard to know where to start with JOHN

 IMAGE CREDIT: JOHN

because, actually, there is so much to unpack but fairly little known about them. Hailing from Crystal Palace (something about that makes me smile; I do not often associate Crystal Palace with musical excellence), this exciting pair are definitely worth watching! They are called JOHN but, to make them more searchable online, they are referred to as JOHN (TIMES TWO), too – because they are both called John and are, you know, performing together! I have this charming image of the two Johns drinking tea together at their flat and preparing to go out and cause mayhem. I have also noticed that a lot of the gnarliest duos/bands from the past few years require their members to be pretty well-bearded: look at Royal Blood and, as I will mention soon, the modern-day heroes, IDLES. Maybe there is a connection but one thinks, with a name as Google-unfriendly as JOHN and with its protagonists able to blend in with their pack, what separates these fellas?! I shall get to that but, cribbing from their Facebook page, here is what JOHN are all about:

Taking the mundane spirit of their name as a manifesto, Crystal Palace based two piece JOHN (both members aptly named John) offer a deadpan approach that has become the recognisable force of their live performance, with an almost mechanical solidity rare for only two bodies. Alongside the rhythmic synchronisation of guitar and drums, introspective lyrics suggest that literature and spoken word are just as important influences as the Punk, Noise and Rock genres they might comfortably fit into. This tight balance between content and volume has lead them on to stages with bands such IDLES, Metz, Pulled Apart By Horses and USA Nails, as well gathering notable support from writer/actor Simon Pegg and BBC 6 music. If you were in need of any more persuasion, debut ‘God Speed In The National Limit’ (released at the back end of 2017) bears testament to their unique approach”

‘In this post-truth world where alternative facts get squeezed out via the distorted prism of social media, the simplicity of a band like JOHN makes for a refreshing tonic’ Loud and Quiet”.

I do think this year’s music needs the sort of anger and fire that is inside most of us. There are a few bands and acts on the fringes that are doing some sterling work but I think IDLES are leading the way. Their world domination is going well and, by the month, the guys seem to get bigger and more popular. It is no surprise when you think about what they offer: of-the-moment, intelligent songs that are delivered with intensity and fantastic attention to detail. Let by Joe Talbot, I get the feeling that JOHN have a fond place in their hearts for IDLES. The two acts are different but what is to say JOHN cannot get to the same level as IDLES? Alongside them and Fontaines D.C., it seems like we have some angry young men who are providing catharsis and plenty of fire! What makes JOHN’s revelations and biblical fury impressive is the fact there are only two of them! With only four legs, four arms and an adequate supply of wood, metal and grumble (seriously, I still have images of JOHN tearing it up on stage at night and then settling down in the evening, Bert and Ernie-like after a hard day’s labour!), it is mighty impressive that their new single, Future Thinker, makes such a noise! There is something IDLES-like in the delivery of our lead John but, actually, this exciting twosome have more groove and swivel than the IDLES boys. Future Thinker boasts raw and snarling lead vocals that, if you try to imitate them, you’ll be speaking like Dot Cotton after a heavy bender for several days!

 PHOTO CREDIT: Simon Holliday

Alongside the raging vocals and butt-loosening thrill of their new single comes something, I’ll say it, a bit groovy and cool working its way through! The guitar stabs belches but there is a nice little kick and wiggle that adds some much-needed dance and temperament inside the bubbling cauldron of JOHN - not to mention the tubthumping percussion! The guys headlined The Lexington at the end of May and their album, Out Here on the Fringes, arrives in October. You can check their Bandcamp to see their older recordings but Future Thinker is the sound of JOHN right now; the chef and the painter-decorator (the working boys don’t have the means and money to quite their day-jobs just yet!) are articulating something seriously meaty and substantial! JOHN have caught the ear of BBC Radio 6 Music and, especially, Steve Lamacq. He has an ear for a major rager so it is no surprise he has latched onto JOHN and their ball-melting cocktail of Future Thinker. If you want to see how far the lads have come then check out their debut album, God Speed in the National Limit, and you will see that early promise taking shape. I think JOHN have strengthened and hit a new high with Future Thinker; their minimalist vibes (check out the video to see whilst I mean!) serve them well. Keep your eyes on the social media feeds to see where JOHN are heading and what they are up to because I predict they will be making a lot more noise very soon.

I am not saying they can instantly climb to the same levels as bands like IDLES, but we are living in a time when we are fearful of the future and technology; enraged by our Government and worried that we are sort of being cast adrift. Throw into the mix environmental issues and other problems and music provides some much-needed relief and release. Don’t expect JOHN to be this rather basic and simple duo that are shouting for no reason. Their introspective lyrics and keen intelligence suggests a couple of men who are as fascinated by rhythm, nuance and literature as much as they are volume, force and physicality. With fans such as Simon Pegg (yep!) on their side, I am predicting the JOHN juggernaut to go far and wide. Their incredible live performances and legendary and have been lauded and celebrated by fans and the media alike. Again, there are only two of them and it is amazing that they can make such an avalanche – I know Royal Blood did but their songs did not dig as deep and I do wonder where they have slinked off to! Go buy their upcoming album in October and keep abreast of their happenings - and see them live if you can. Actually, thinking about it, their guitar groove reminds me a bit of the song, The Bird Is the Word but, hey, I digress! These guys are on a roll and I do think they will be rocking festivals and climbing up the musical ladder before too long. With big stations and ears latching onto their incredible music, it seems the averagely-named JOHN are…

 PHOTO CREDIT: JOHN

HERE to stay!                

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Follow John

FEATURE: Intergalactic and Beyond: Beastie Boys’ Hello Nasty at Twenty-One

FEATURE:

 

Intergalactic and Beyond

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Beastie Boys’ Hello Nasty at Twenty-One

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THE fortunes of the Beastie Boys

 IN THIS PHOTO: The Beastie Boys in 1998/PHOTO CREDIT: Danny Clinch

hardly ran smooth early in their career - and it took a few albums before they were winning critics over. Take the first couple of albums and how long it took people to understand and appreciate the trio: 1986’s Licensed to Ill was hardly a raging success and, with accusation of sexist lyrics, the Beastie Boys found themselves fighting the tide and, when Paul’s Boutique came out in 1989, there were a lot of confused heads being scratched. Not only did Beastie Boys set the benchmark high on Paul’s Boutique but they pushed Hip-Hop to new levels. They were ahead of their time and, perhaps, critics of 1989 were not prepared for what they were laying out. That album turns thirty on 25th July and I do think that we owe it a huge applause and sense of gratitude! It is an immense achievement and, luckily, after the album was released and a bit of time accumulated, people unravelled its genius and understood just how good Beastie Boys’ masterpiece is – the legacy and reputation Paul’s Boutique has acquired since 1989 is staggering. 1992’s Check Your Head brought critics back on board and is a more accessible work whereas, to many, 1994’s Ill Communication (which recently turned twenty-five) is seen as the definitive Beastie Boys record – anything with Sabotage on it must be respected! It is amazing that the New York legends managed to survive their first two albums and the fact that they were not instantly taken to heart.

It would have been easy for critics to bury them but, soon enough, they were showing how wrong people were and scoring massive reviews – even if, to be fair, their first two albums gained big reviews from those whose ears and minds were not clogged! In many ways, their fifth album sort of put the bar perilously close to the gold standard of Paul’s Boutique. Whilst not as sample-heavy as that album, Hello Nasty is a seriously ambitious and spectacular album that is packed with highlights and gold. Released on 14th July, 1998, some four years after Ill Communication was unleashed on the world, and caused controversy before a single song was heard. The original cover for the album depicted the band crammed into a pack of cigarettes; right down to the tiniest detail. The cover we have now is them in a sardine tin but the original only lasted a few days before it was replaced and, rightly, replaced with something less controversial – going to show that the Beastie Boys were hardly calming down and playing it safe after all these years. I love the fact that there was a rebellious streak running through them and the sheer rawness of Hello Nasty is fantastic. If albums such as Paul’s Boutique and Ill Communication are fairly dense and elevated by the samples, I think Beastie Boys’ lyrics and rapping rock-solid across Hello Nasty.

I will come to the articles that celebrated Hello Nasty turning twenty last year and some of the reviews the album has picked up but, for me, the record connects me with my school days. Specifically, I am transported back to the final couple of years of high-school and the carefree after-school moments. I was well aware of the Beastie Boys and has experienced the pleasures of Paul’s Boutique and Ill Communication but Hello Nasty spoke to me more directly and animalistically – not that this is a word but I cannot think of another word that will do! It is quite bittersweet remembering when an album came into your life because, inevitably, you cannot go back to that time and experience it first-hand; the memories are dimmer than they were and, sadly, the scents, sounds and specific details of those times are grainy and misremembered. What I DO know is how I felt listening to songs like Intergalactic and thinking how unusual this was; nothing had come out like this and I was hooked by the robotic sounds, slick raps and the sheer class of the song! No Beastie Boys album is about a single track, and so, Remote Control, Body Movin’ and Flowin’ Prose (those guys do love their apostrophes!) sunk in and became part of my Beastie education! Across twenty-two tracks, the Beastie Boys blew open their imaginations and produced, in my view, their most eclectic album.

In terms of ranking the biggest, best and stankiest Beastie Boys albums, people will rival one another in vociferousness; quoting lyrics and reviews to back up their arguments; each camp as passionate and dedicated to their beliefs and intuitions. This is the sort of delightful fervour the Beastie Boys provoke but, to me, Paul’s Boutique is their most important and, yes, Hello Nasty is their best. It might not be as fulsome when it comes to samples and the big hits – not that the trio are a ‘hits band’ – but Hello Nasty has more than its fair shout of great songs. Listen to Putting Shame in Your Game and Song for Junior and you feel involved with these songs; the sheer force, skill and nuance of the numbers seeps into the skin and bounces around the brain for months!  Maybe Paul’s Boutique garnered bigger reviews – considering the retrospective acclaim – than Hello Nasty but I think a lot of journalists and sources miss the point; maybe not as receptive as they should be. AllMusic, in their review, had this to say:

Moving from electro-funk breakdowns to Latin-soul jams to spacy pop, Hello Nasty covers as much ground as Check Your Head or Ill Communication, but the flow is natural, like Paul's Boutique, even if the finish is retro-stylized. Hiring DJ Mixmaster Mike (one of the Invisibl Skratch Piklz) turned out to be a masterstroke; he and the Beasties created a sound that strongly recalls the spare electronic funk of the early '80s, but spiked with the samples and post-modern absurdist wit that have become their trademarks…

On the surface, the sonic collages of Hello Nasty don't appear as dense as Paul's Boutique, nor is there a single as grabbing as "Sabotage," but given time, little details emerge, and each song forms its own identity. A few stray from the course, and the ending is a little anticlimactic, but that doesn't erase the riches of Hello Nasty -- the old-school kick of "Super Disco Breakin'" and "The Move"; Adam Yauch's crooning on "I Don't Know"; Lee "Scratch" Perry's cameo; and the recurring video game samples, to name just a few. The sonic adventures alone make the album noteworthy, but what makes it remarkable is how it looks to the future by looking to the past. There's no question that Hello Nasty is saturated in old-school sounds and styles, but by reviving the future-shock rock of the early '80s, the Beasties have shrewdly set themselves up for the new millennium”.

SPIN, when tipping their cap to Hello Nasty this time last year (for the twentieth), revisited a review from 1998. It noted how the Beastie Boys were moving forward and not willing to rest:

If you’re still waiting for the Boys to renew their license to ill, abandon hope now: They are never going back to their old school. But they are going back to everyone else’s. No matter how much they swear they’re “getting on down for the year 2000,” the Hello Nasty that is given over to hip-hop is filled with so much money-makin’ and disco-breakin’ on and on till the breakadawn, you’d think we’d taken the way-back machine into the early Kangol era. Yet such recapping doesn’t sound even faintly kitschy. More like a labor of love by three premillennial mensches laying their roots down: a B-Boy Anthology of New York Folk Music.

U.T.F.O., Mantronix, and T. La Rock? It’s in there. Battle rhymes and zodiac signs? In there. Fat stacks of Flash and Run-D.M.C? In there like Times Square. “Super Disco Breakin'” and “The Move” kick off the jams with 808’n’hi-hat action on the classic tip, plus sirens, hand claps, and even a little beatboxing. “Unite” locks up funky breaks, horn samples, and ye olde def rhymes— if anything’s New York folk music, this is. They pledge to tradition and tea (“I’ll be smoking roaches in the vestibule/Till the next millennium I’ll still be old school”) and try to bridge the breakers and the ravers.

It would be a perfect album closer, except that it’s followed by three throwaways, including an excruciating Lee Perry guest dub. And back in the middle of the record, “There MC’s and One DJ” (with guest cutup Mix Master Mike) should be the disc’s fattest single. But who will play it? The problem with history is that you can get stupid with it but you can’t exactly get stupid-fresh, and none of this heritage-hop delivers the shock of the new, much less the schlock of  the popular. Without a gangsta, playa, soldier, or an R&B hook in the house, Hello Nasty can say goodbye to both pop and urban radio. Lacking an airwave outlet, the Beasties have no way to find a new audience, and you can feel them hemmed in with their core fans: the same class clowns they’ve been stuck with all decade. There’s a lot of love in the room, but the room is beginning to reek”.

There is no debate that Paul’s Boutique is a masterpiece and there are very few that have anything bad to say about it. The long running time of Hello Nasty means that it will never gain quite the same heft and acclaim as Paul’s Boutique. In this article, Stereogum had an interesting take on Beastie Boys and were they were in 1998:

So when the Beasties sampled that line on “Intergalactic,” it wasn’t just a fun, goofy, exciting moment. It was the first time that the Beasties really embraced their own legacy — where they picked over their own old records for something cool, the same way they’d already picked over everyone else’s old records. It was the moment that they recognized themselves as cultural forces. And it was also the moment when they effectively became a legacy act. Maybe I wouldn’t have been so excited that afternoon in the minivan if I’d realized that. 

If a band gets famous enough and then sticks together for long enough, legacy-act status is practically an inevitability. It’s going to happen; it’s just a matter of how you slide into it. All through the ’90s, the Beasties had been building themselves their own tiny empire of cool. They had their own label and their own recording compound. They had their own interconnected web of associated acts. They had their own magazine, read religiously by dorks like me. They ventured away from rap, into scratchy instrumental funk and dirt-stache hardcore. And yet they always had something to do with mainstream rap. Check Your Head and Ill Communication, their two previous albums, could be heard as distant branches on the Native Tongues family tree, and the Native Tongues were still making popular records at the time. But by 1998, Native Tongues were a distant memory, and the Beasties couldn’t have possibly had less to do with Bad Boy, or DMX, or Master P”.

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PHOTO CREDIT: Danny Clinch 

Although there is a sense that Hello Nasty is a bit long and the standout song (Intergalactic) gets more attention than the rest, Beastie Boys were original and they were innovators. Consequence of Sound, in this feature, explain in more detail:

So, while Beastie Boys have little in common — stylistically speaking — with contemporary counterparts like Drake, Migos, and Rae Sremmurd, they all follow a similar blueprint when it comes to their releases. All have been overshadowed by larger-than-life singles (in the Beasties’ case, “Intergalactic”, “Sabotage”, and “Fight for your Right”). And all released longer-than-necessary records that were more akin to giant mix tapes than they were original “albums.” However, where the emphasis in contemporary hip-hop is placed on framing massive, chart-topping singles, Beastie Boys could not be more polar. The aim of an album like Hello Nasty — with its densely layered samples — was to act as a modern purveyor of music’s vastly overlooked history. Beastie Boys were originals, setting release trends well before their time, and we can only hope that the artists carrying their torch spend anywhere near as much time digging into music’s rich past.

It makes for one hell of a ride”.

I think the denseness and length of Hello Nasty does mean that, compared to some of their other albums, many take longer to appreciate it. I will end with my final thoughts but, in this Billboard article, they talk about the ambition of the album and a particular song that stands out because of its emotional sensitivity and beauty:

The christening of the album wasn't the only convention defied on Hello Nasty. At 67 minutes and 22 tracks, it stands as the longest Beasties album in their catalog. What Mike D, MCA and Ad-Rock stood for as one of the premier rap acts of the day was exemplified on such crowd faves as "Remote Control," "Body Movin'," and lead single "Intergalactic." However, what really helped to make Hello Nasty stand out were the directions the band was going beyond the realm of hip-hop in 1998. Lyrically, Mike Diamond, Adam Horovitz and Adam Yauch were harking back to the Treacherous Three-era of rap, but on an instrumental level the group was eager to explore sounds and styles beyond the scrappy hardcore and Blaxploitation soundtrack funk of 1992's Check Your Head and 1994's Ill Communication.

The most poignant dynamic shift on Hello Nasty, however, comes 15 songs into the album with the song "I Don't Know," a tender bossa nova ballad sung by the late, great MCA with a tenderness and vulnerability that stands in firm contrast to the gruff-voiced braggadocio of his rapping.

"I still have the lyrics sheet of 'I Don't Know' in my memory box," explains Cibo Matto's Miho Hatori, who sang backup for Yauch on the tune, in an email message to Billboard. "Adam's handwriting always brings back the memory of that moment in the studio, vividly. He was very calm in the studio and handed me the pencil, with a hand written lyric sheet. I had nothing to say except YES because it is just full of Adam Yauch in it. What I could do was just sing the melody and no words -- it was already like a pure gem in the rough. He was the kind of person who was transparent about himself, had no fear to show his soul-searching in his life in that time. He was open to share with us. I think Adam's spirit lives in the lyrics of that song. I really have a huge respect to Mike D, Adam Horovitz and the producer, Mario Caldato Jr. who finished the song to be the way it is. I'm so blessed to be a part of such a beautiful song!".

I will celebrate Paul’s Boutique at thirty before its anniversary on 25th July but I think it is important to mark Hello Nasty and appreciate an album that, whilst not as lauded as giants such as Paul’s Boutique, it is a phenomenal record and one that means a lot to me. I recall the excitement of hearing Intergalactic for the first time but, when I bought Hello Nasty, other songs came to life and I was amazed by all the different shades and brilliant moments. Hello Nasty rewards those who are prepared to give it time and let the songs do their work. With Paul’s Boutique’s thirtieth not too far away now, many will look in that direction and the legacy of an incredible record. Even though Hello Nasty does not hold the same stature, I think we all need to give this remarkable album…  

A lot of time and love.

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

FEATURE:

 

 

Sisters in Arms

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IN THIS PHOTO: Greentea Peng 

An All-Female, Summer-Ready Playlist (Vol. IV)

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IT is time for another female-led playlist…

 IN THIS PHOTO: BANKS

that is guaranteed to keep the summer sun burning and, when you need some cool, calm things down and relax you. It is great weather at the moment and I think music is a wonderful way to spend the day. If you want to discover the best female-led sounds right now, then this is the playlist for you! Take a look at all the artists included; the range of genres and the quality on display; spanning multiple genres and hitting the senses all at once. It is another busy and bustling week and, as the weather is pretty terrific, take these artists…

IN THIS PHOTO: Clara Bond

WHEREVER you go.  

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

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Ina Wroldsen Forgive or Forget

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Eve (ft. Konshens) - Reload

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Lola Coca Staring into the Sun

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Phoebe Ryan Build Me Up

Joanna SternbergPimba

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BANKS Sawzall

Anna Meredith Paramour

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K.Flay Bad Vibes

Greentea Peng Downers

PHOTO CREDIT: Melissa Nelson

Kate Davis Cloud

CLEWS Hollywood

Yuna Forget About You

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Ann Marie Karma

Cool Me Loop Self Love

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Sabrina Carpenter I’m Fakin’

Clara BondPink Wine

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PHOTO CREDIT: @handsomemusic

Julia Church Tremble

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Jessica Mauboy - Sunday

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Gemini Rising, Tensnake, Flora Just Because

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Ólah Bliss Homegirl

Madeline Merlo Dear Me

Penelope Isles Cut Your Hair

Mabes America

Elle Varner Kinda Love

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Sam DeRosaBaby I Know

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Bailey Hefley So That Girl

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AVA Deep Blue

Dara Stay Over

PHOTO CREDIT: Linn Emmery

MiyntLucy in Disguise

FEATURE: The July Playlist: Vol. 2: Oh My Gosh!

FEATURE:

 

The July Playlist

IN THIS PHOTO: Sampa the Great/PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images 

Vol. 2: Oh My Gosh!

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THERE have been some pretty tasty releases…

 IN THIS PHOTO: Anna Meredith/PHOTO CREDIT: Kate Bones

this week and there are some really big names in the pack. Not only is there a hot new track from Sampa the Great but Beyoncé has released a new song (from The Lion King soundtrack) - and it sees her go in a slightly different direction. Not only that but BANKS and Anna Meredith have new tracks; so too do Villagers and Mystery Jets; throw in some gold from Gruff Rhys and The Murder Capital and it is a reliably eclectic and solid week! I love what is on offer and I suggest people dig deep into this week’s collection of tracks. It is another warm weekend so this is a perfection selection to take with you – or stay at home and enjoy at your leisure. With some true gems out this week, I guarantee there is something in this assortment that…

 IN THIS PHOTO: Gruff Rhys/PHOTO CREDIT: Tom Oxley/NME

YOU will love.  

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

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Sampa the Great OMG

PHOTO CREDIT: Graham Tolbert & Crystal Quinn

Bon Iver – Faith

Mystery Jets Hospital Radio

PHOTO CREDIT: Robyn Beck

Beyoncé Spirit (From Disney’s The Lion King)

Villagers Summer’s Song

BANKS Contaminated

Anna Meredith Paramour

Mark Ronson (ft. Camila Cabello) - Find U Again 

PHOTO CREDIT: Jake Haseldine

Marsicans - Little Things

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Gruff Rhys Pang!

Billie Eilish (with Justin Bieber) - bad guy

IN THIS PHOTO: Ed Sheeran

Ed Sheeran (ft. Eminem & 50 Cent) - Remember the Name

Sheryl Crow, Jason Isbell Everything Is Broken

PHOTO CREDIT: Luke Hannaford

Oh Sees - Poisoned Stones

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PHOTO CREDIT: Ben Gibson

Elton John Never Too Late

Dizzy Heavy

Emeli Sandé – Shine

EVE (ft. Konshens) - Reload

PHOTO CREDIT: Gavin Ovoca

The Murder Capital - Don't Cling To Life

Palace Younger

Ina Wroldsen – Forgive or Forget

LeToya Luckett – Feeling

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Sea Girls Closer

Of Monsters and Men – Wild Roses 

Phora On My Way

Matt Corby, Tash Sultana - Talk It Out

Will Joseph Cook - Hey Brother

CLEWS Hollywood

Sofi Tukker – Swing

Phoebe RyanBuild Me Up

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AJ Mitchell Move On

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K.Flay Good News

Gallant Crimes

FEATURE: No Prizes for Guessing! Which Albums Will Make the Mercury Prize Shortlist?

FEATURE:

 

No Prizes for Guessing!

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IN THIS IMAGE: The cover for IDLES’ 2018 album, Joy as an Act of Resistance (surely a shoe-in for the Mercury Prize shortlist?!)/IMAGE CREDIT: IDLES

Which Albums Will Make the Mercury Prize Shortlist?

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WE are almost at the point…

IN THIS PHOTO: Nadine Shah (who many thought would win the 2018 Mercury Prize for Holiday Destination (released in 2017)/PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images

when the best British and Irish albums from the past year are revealed. I am referring to the Mercury Prize shortlist announcement and, on 25th July, we will know which albums have made the cut. There is always debate and consternation when the shortlist is announced because, invariably, you cannot include all the best albums from 2018/2019 – there will be some that miss out and are overlooked! Last year’s shortlist was impressive and, whilst I expected Nadine Shah’s Holiday Destination to walk away with the award (she did too!), it actually went to Wolf Alice and Visions of a Life. How does an album/artist make the grade when it comes to Mercury Prize eligibility? The official website gives the guidelines:

1.3 The album must have a digital release date between Saturday 21 July 2018 and Friday 19 July 2019 inclusive (although entries must be received by 15 May 2019). Entries received after 15 May 2019 will not be considered for the 2019 Mercury Prize.

1.4 The album must, as a minimum, be available to buy from at least two selected major UK digital retailers and/or to stream from at least two selected streaming services (please see cl. 5 of the full Terms & Conditions for the list of selected digital retailers and streaming services). The album may also be available to buy in other formats”.

That seems pretty set in stone and clear but there is one part of the rules that can confuse early betters and those making predictions: the fact that an album nomination has to have been received by 15th May. One recent album of the year contender, Thom Yorke’s ANIMA, has just been released and, whilst it is a digital album that sneaks under the wire, I do wonder whether anyone at the record company nominated the album ahead of time – will ANIMA be considered I wonder? Because of that, I am discounting Yorke’s latest record because I do feel like it is a bit too new to make the shortlist. Everyone will have their own views of the albums that will make the shortlist and I have divided my predictions into two categories: those outsiders that might be in with a shout and the more solid group that are likely to be included. It might sound odd I am starting with Fontaines D.C. and Dogrel as an outside bet but, in the past, not that many Irish acts have won the award – nor Welsh, for that matter. The Mercury goes to English acts more often than not but the only reason I am putting Fontaines D.C. on the longlist is because there are two albums, which I will get to, that are going to be odds-on to win this year. Dogrel is a remarkable album and it is one of the very best of 2019. I do think this year’s winner is going to be an album/artist that conveys a sense of anger and need for unification.

On 19th September at the Eventim Apollo, we will decide which album has won this year’s Mercury. I do think there are some albums that are in with a shot of nomination. Nina Nesbitt’s The Sun Will Come up, the Seasons Will Change received some great reviews and, whilst it has not garnered as much attention as some albums this year, it is a fantastic record that deserves to be in the mix. The same can be said of The Cinematic Orchestra and their album, To Believe. Released back in March, it is one of those albums that can be considered an outsider – as it is not as mainstream/commercial as other albums that will be on the shortlist. It is a remarkable record and this is how CLASH reviewed To Believe:

In the now crowded field of acts combining neo-classical jazz with electronic sensibilities, genre progenitors The Cinematic Orchestra remain a band apart.

There’s an elegance to their music that marks them out, a gracefulness that has grown in their 11-year absence.

Where previous albums soared high, ‘To Believe’ glides low. Jason Swinscoe and co. revel in restraint, eschewing big statements in favour of weaving intricate patterns.

A core message for hope in a fragile world (delivered via singers like Moses Sumney and Tawiah) completes this delicate musical tapestry perfectly, resulting in a quietly triumphant comeback from the British masters”.

I do think Grime and Hip-Hop will be, like last year, very much in the running but, when it comes to Skepta and Ignorance Is Bliss.  His album did get some good reviews but some felt there were half-measures and it was not as engrossing as some of his earliest work. There are some tremendous tracks on the album but I do feel that Ignorance Is Bliss, if it is on the shortlist, is unlikely to be among the favourites. I will mention a couple more albums that are underground delights and two you can add now are Musica Alla Puttanesca by Madonnatron and Queen Zee by Queen Zee. I am a big fan of Madonnatron and they are gathering pace right now; getting their music played on some big radio stations and turning heads as they go. I do think it is a long-short Madonnatron will be shortlisted but you never know! A band who are producing something wonderful and weird are Liverpool’s Queen Zee. Their eponymous album has been going down a storm. Here is how The Line of Best Fit judged Queen Zee:

This record marks the first, bold step towards carving their legacy – even if that means breaking a guitar and a few bones on the way. With an orb of garish proto-punk firmly grasped in one hand and a sceptre of solidarity and bravery in the other, this is the coronation of a band who have waded through gender dysphoria and homophobia, only to emerge the other side as icons for the ideology they represent.

Queen Zee are here to put on a show that incites a mushroom cloud of anarchy, frazzling your brains with a shock of colour in a genre defined by mawkish men in black. This debut album proves that even in the studio, Queen Zee know how to put on a show. The album opens with a two—second hesitance, and that is all the mercy you’re afforded – from that point on, you are plunged at a neck-breaking speed into anarchic world. You won’t have the chance to gasp for air again”.

I am a huge fan of Billie Marten and her music and, whilst I feel Feeding Seahorses by Hand warrants a Mercury nod, it might be a bit of a stretch. That is a shame because Marten’s writing is incredibly mature and developed (she is still a teenager) and her voice is exquisite. Her 2016 debut, Writing of Blues and Yellows, was a revelation and was a very personal record: her 2019 follow-up is more varied in terms of themes and covers politics, self-doubt and the experience of the city. I do think her album merits recognition but I feel Lucy Rose and No Words Left is a safer contender. Released through Communion Records back in March, I love what Lucy Rose is doing and think she is worth a bet. Not many albums in the Folk genre have won the Mercury lately and, as more Hip-Hop and Rap steps into the spotlight, I do not think 2019 is a year where we will see things change in that respect – not that this is a bad thing, as such.

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IN THIS PHOTO: Lucy Rose/PHOTO CREDIT: Harry Wade

I feel Sleaford ModsEton Alive is an album that is worth a bet, too. It might not be in the top-ten but I think the Mercury Prize offers surprises every year so you cannot discount Sleaford Mods. The latest record from Nottingham’s Jason Williamson and Andrew Fearn is business-as-usual: political statements, great jokes and some cutting jibes. This is NME’s assessment of Eton Alive:

So there are no great state of the nation addresses here, but there are good stand-up routines about running scams in manual jobs (‘Discourse’), ingratiating yourself with someone else’s family (‘Subtraction’) and having one more bin than the Council has allocated (‘Policy Cream’). For the most part, ‘Eton Alive’ sounds politicised only because we’re now so unaccustomed to hearing people from council estates make popular music that isn’t aspirational. There’s a reason the video for ‘Kebab Spider’ depicts uncouth blokes chanting.

Fearn’s arrangements are more sophisticated than ever before, the bassy groove of ‘Big Burt’ (“Shelling out 1500 pound to see an ‘asbeen who can’t even do three gigs in one go – what’s that?) sounding like an actual song. And ‘Top It Up’, with an ominous synth line, veers into art-pop territory. This indicates the polish that success has afforded Sleaford Mods (on ‘OBCT’ Williamson admits he lives “in a house three times the size of my old one” and drives past “Oliver Bonas in the Chelsea tractor”). But they’ve not changed. They’re still taking the piss.

Sometimes a joke starts wearing thin, but goes on so long that it comes back around. And ‘Eton Alive’ is a pretty great punchline. Not everything has to be escapist or explicitly political – sometimes you just want to hear people make gags about a world that you recognise. It’s cathartic, it’s entertaining. It says: you exist. ‘Eton Alive’ makes Sleaford Mods funny again”.

The last few names I am nominating display a breadth of textures and genres but, again, maybe 2019 will not be their year. Ezra Collective are rising and popular at the moment and, on You Can’t Steal My Joy, they are producing music that is essential, original and striking. This is The Guardian’s review of their latest record:

While this generic meandering might seem jarring, Ezra Collective make it part of their ethos – a patchwork celebration of jazz’s enduring diversity. The collective’s strengths come in its longstanding telepathic musicianship with highlights on jazz-leaning instrumentals such as King of the Jungle and Shakara, featuring Kokoroko. The record is a joyous listen, which will only be enhanced on their forthcoming tour, and a confident assertion of Ezra Collective breaking out of the once-restrictive jazz enclave”.

Although Loyle Carner was nominated for the Mercury in 2017 for his debut, Yesterday’s Gone (2017), I do not think his follow-up, Not Waving, but Drowning, will be in the pack. It is an accomplished album but not quite as heady, revelatory and acclaimed as his debut. The reviews have been largely positive but I do think judges will be looking elsewhere when it comes to the shortlist this year – which is a shame because I feel like Yesterday’s Gone deserved the Mercury in 2017 (Sampa’s Process won that year). The final name I will put in the ‘outsiders’ list is The Chemical Brothers. One might feel any album from them should be taken seriously and, whilst No Geography is one of 2019’s very best, I do wonder whether it will make the selected shortlist of twelve. Like Folk, Electronica has not scooped a Mercury Prize for some time and I think something Post-Punk/Hip-Hop-scented will win this year. In any case, No Geography has been collecting rave reviews. Here is Pitchfork’s viewpoint:

Still, despite featuring some of the strongest and most straightforward singles of their surprisingly successful last decade, No Geography is best consumed as a front-to-back experience. Most of its 10 songs flow into each other as separate suites, the opening trio forming a perpetual build not unlike Boredoms’ Vision Creation Newsun before blasting off with the splashy drums and Drive-redolent synths of the title track. The centerpiece and closer—respectively, the lovely yawns of “Gravity Drops” and the squiggly comedown “Catch Me I’m Falling”—exist as breathers amid No Geography’s perpetual exhilaration”.

Which twelve albums will be in the shortlist for this year’s Mercury’s Prize?! I will include thirteen names – because I am annoying that way – but these are the albums that are more likely to be nominated. First up is The Comet Is Coming and Trust in the Lifeforce of the Deep Mystery. I think every year we get one Jazz record and something more out-there. The Mercury Prize has been accused of tokenism and ignoring certain genres but I do feel like The Comet Is Coming will be included. AllMusic were impressed by Trust in the Lifeforce of the Deep Mystery:

Blood of the Past" is darker, tenser, and freer, given added dimension via the apocalyptic poetry of guest Kate Tempest. An airy intro gives way to skittering, urgent, dubby electro funk in "Super Zodiac." "Timewave Zero" enters from the margins in a soundscape at once cinematic and intimate before articulating a fusion of spiritual jazz-funk, dancehall rhythms, and punky grime. "The Universe Wakes Up" closes the set and atmospherically evokes the spirits of the Coltranes as CIC attempt to reach beyond the heavens. Hutchings' circular breathing underscores the aggressive pulse of the rhythm section. Trust in the Lifeforce of the Deep Mystery is urgent, sophisticated, and humorous. It actually delivers the music of tomorrow via the traditions of past and present; it's a convulsive exercise in the articulation of inner and outer space”.

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

If Jazz offerings from the past have not walked away with the Mercury, the same cannot be said of Pop. One name that is on the tongues of many is Lewis Capaldi. The Scottish artist is definitely capturing hearts and, off the back of a successful set at Glastonbury this year, would one bet again Divinely Uninspired to a Hellish Extent being named as a contender?! It is his debut album – the Mercury judges love a good debut! – and Capaldi has definitely been exposed nicely and is pretty much everywhere you look! Some balked when Ed Sheeran was nominated in 2017 for % but I think Capaldi is in with a shot. Again, it is unlikely to be the winner. Look at the last few years and we have seen other genres dominate. I think it will take years for this to change and, as we have award ceremonies like the BRITs celebrating Pop, the Mercury Prize is unlikely to be too commercial when it comes to its winners. I would desperately love Neneh Cherry (I know she is Swedish but I believe she holds a British passport, making her eligible) to be in the top-five names for this year’s Mercury because Broken Politics (released last October), her fifth solo album, is a belter. Laura Snapes’ review for The Guardian shows why Broken Politics is an album one cannot ignore:

Poignancy has accumulated at 54 – an age her voice carries beautifully. “Don’t live for nostalgia, but the impact of everything resonates,” she sings on Synchonised Devotion. Cherry still has “an allergy to my realness, like my own self-worth”, she sings on Natural Skin Deep – a simmering, almost angry outlier – but refuses to give into it: “Don’t have anywhere to go / Nowhere to hide / All of me is now.” Cherry’s sage perspective weaves through these tender, bristling tracks, and elevates Broken Politics from being simply a beautiful record to a revelatory one. “Just because I’m down, don’t step all over me,” she warns on Fallen Leaves, and promises to remain open to risk and common sense: an admirably holistic approach to a shattered world”.

I do think albums that reflect the modern world and dig deeper than you average Pop fare will resonate with the Mercury judges. For that reason, I think The 1975 are definite favourites with their critically-lauded album, A Brief Inquiry into Online Relationships. Released back in November, it is a truly stunning album that drew comparisons to Radiohead’s OK Computer. I think The 1975 are releasing another album soon but I would be surprised if A Brief Inquiry into Online Relationships failed to make the shortlist for this year’s Mercury Prize – considering it was voted one of the best albums from last year and got five-star reviews from so many sources. This year has been incredibly strong in terms of female artists. I think this dominance will continue and, when we consider the Mercury shortlist possibilities, artists like Self Esteem need to be on the mind. The moniker of Rebecca Lucy Taylor, her Compliments Please album is a stunning work that proves Taylor is one of this country’s best songwriters. Drowned in Sound had this to say when reviewing Compliments Please back in March:

We haven’t even touched on the total command that Taylor has over those big diva moments in the album; or the perfect lacy cherry icing that the violins add; or the incredibly balanced pace between slow-burning ballads and Beyoncé-worthy bangers; or just the salacious rhythm on tunes like ‘Rollout’ or ‘Wrestling’. Granted, Taylor knows that she’s a white chick borrowing tricks from folks of colour, and she doesn’t shirk from that; the skits in between feature the monologues of black men and women, which in turn reflect back to Taylor’s own narrative of seeking and carving out independence. Is that equalising two struggles that may not necessarily be equal? Or are these skits free-standing parts to a well-intentioned, all-inclusive tribute? I’d like to give it to the latter.

At any rate, I digress. The point I want to hammer in is that Compliments Please delights me more and more with each spin - in part because the tunes are solid, but also because the heart and the intentions underneath are solid, too. Pop artists don’t have to stick to the same ol’ lovesick schmooze to land a hit, damn it. If we can rewire girls’ heads to value independence and their own ambition with a flourish of sassy strings, then I say let’s hijack the radio and get this party started.

Before coming to the five names that I think will definitely be shortlisted and among the bookies’ favourites, I want to bring in a few more albums that are worth investigation and consideration. FoalsEverything Not Saved Will Be Lost – Part 1 has not scored massive reviews across the board but I do think the band is on a roll right now and, after a Glastonbury set that inflamed and delighted, I think they will be on the minds of Mercury judges. I am in two minds as to whether AJ Tracey will be in the elite group of nominees. On the one hand, he has produced a sensational eponymous album and he is a hot talent. Singles Psych Out and Ladbroke Grove are two of the strongest from this year and, alongside Dave and slowthai, AJ Tracey is one of Britain’s finest Hip-Hop artists.

IN THIS PHOTO: AJ Tracey/PHOTO CREDIT: Mike Prior

I know his debut has been getting a lot of buzz and AJ Tracey will be a future headliner, for sure. Maybe it is a bit early in his career to get a Mercury nod but, as we know, debuts are always considered and one cannot rule out AJ Tracey.  The other artist who I think will be nominated but not necessarily but mixing it with the top names is James Blake. He has been Mercury-nominated before - in 2011 for his eponymous debut – so who is to say Assume Form will miss out? I actually think Blake’s fourth album is his most complete and memorable so, for that reason, I do hope to see it among the nominated dozen. I do think that, as I keep saying, certain genres will be favoured and the judges are going to go for albums that are less personal and more political, perhaps. Maybe that will not come to pass but this year is a divided and stressful one so I feel the panel will look for an album that reflects the divisions and tries to make sense of everything. Of course, there are always albums you forget or do not expect to get shortlisted that make the cut – I am sure there are a few that I will be kicking myself about! In terms of those frontrunners, again, I might need to put a star by two albums which, whilst released recently, maybe the label did not submit them to the Mercury judges/panel in time. I also forgot to mention Kate Tempest’s recent album, The Book of Traps and Lessons. It was released a few weeks ago so, whilst it definitely should be among the shortlisted, has it arrived too late?! Tempest, again, has been nominated so few would be surprised if it were to happen this year – and it would be richly deserved for what is a stark, gorgeous and highly-praised album.

This brings me to the albums/artists, I feel, cannot help escape the attention of the judges. I should probably start with those two albums I mentioned which might have missed the cut-off but one suspects will be shoe-ins for shortlisting: slowthais Nothing Great About Britain and Cate Le Bon’s Reward. The former was released on 17th May through Method so one feels that, by sneaking in perilously close to the submission date, it has to be in the mix and will be one of the shortlisted twelve! Cate Le Bon’s new album was released on 24th May so one feels that it will also get through and the label (Mexican Summer) have submitted it. Both albums have gained massive reviews and are very different works. Le Bon’s Reward is a deeper, more nuanced work whereas I think slowthai has released a more immediate album. I do think both will be among the favourites and, in a strong field, either album could win the prize. Make sure you check out both albums but, when considering slowthai’s Nothing Great About Britain, CLASH had the following to say:

slowthai’s particular brand of rap is uncompromising and cutting. His bars are infused with punk pastiche and poetry, possessing an underlying and ever-present charm. As he dances between exasperated, affecting and vulnerable lyrics, a certain degree of innocence and hope emerges from the rubble of angst that surrounds the Midlands MC. There is a certain therapeutic temperament to this record, both vital and resplendent in nature, transcending most ideals and beliefs and resonating with most of us mere mortals.

This compelling and provocative record is a haunting echo of a seemingly hopeless vignette of Britain today, where slowthai offers the slightest glimmer of optimism for a potentially brighter future. slowthai is the unexpected hero for the people we didn’t know we needed, but so many, justly deserve”.

The Line of Best Fit, when they were reviewing Reward, highlighted Le Bon’s unique textures and edge:

Tracks like the ultramodern “Mother’s Mother’s Magazines” swaggers with billowy sax bursts while “Here It Comes Again” is an ode to Nico if there ever was. But while Le Bon brought in a number of other collaborators such as Kurt Vile, H. Hawkline, and Warpaint’s Stella Mozgawa, Reward stands as a labyrinth into Le Bon’s stately and riveting mind. “You Don’t Love Me”’s minimalist output serves as an avant-garde trip – exotic at times, with horns, and woodblock knocks.

Nevertheless, to be welcomed into Le Bon’s world serves as quite the ride and right now, no one’s producing what she’s creating”.

As mentioned, there will be albums I have overlooked and I know, when it comes to Jazz, Electronic and Pop artists, there are bound to be a few artists that will surprise you – will the fresh-out-of-the-oven album from Hot Chip (A Bath Full of Ecstasy) have been considered or have they released a pearl a bit too late for inclusion?! Everyone will have their own views but, to me, there are three albums that are the ones to beat.

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I will wait until the end to reveal the album I think will win this year’s Mercury but there are two artists who have released glorious albums in 2019 that warrant a fair shot. Dave’s PSYCHODRAMA is among the best albums of this year and I am a particularly big fan of his. He is able to articulate the realities of modern Britain and its problems; the experiences of the black population in this country but he also gets personal and provides some hugely emotional moments. You’d have to go out of your way to find a reviewer who has not given PSYCHODRAMA a hearty thumbs-up and hugely positive review. It is one of the most daring and crucial albums we have seen in a very long time and, if it did win the Mercury Prize, it would be a popular choice…and it would be an important moment at a time when black artists are still being overlooked. The Guardian, in their review of PSYCHODRAMA, highlighted the contrasts and twists that makes the album so spectacular and fresh:

Despite the presence of hit-making producer Fraser T Smith – who progressed from knocking together the pop-rap singles that brought Tinchy Stryder success a decade ago to helming Stormzy’s Gang Signs & Prayer – the album’s sound is spare and sullen, its beats lightly decorated with moody piano figures and ghostly snatches of warped vocals, its tone unsparingly downbeat and sombre. Even the most pop-facing track, the ostensibly romantic Voices, comes replete with intimations of paranoia and mental illness. There are chinks of light about the music on Purple Heart, or the Drake-esque Location, but you’d never describe them as party-starting bangers.

Moreover, those tracks serve largely as a brief moment of respite between plunges into bleak, street-level reportage. Streatham casts an unsentimental eye over the rapper’s youth; Screwface Capital starts out swaggering about success and sexual prowess, but becomes increasingly dark and despairing, unable to shake off the ghosts of the past, before the lyrics crash to a halt. The last minute and a half is entirely instrumental, given over to a haunting, jazzy keyboard solo, as if the rapper can’t face talking any more.

On the face of it, Psychodrama seems a strange way to go about achieving the latter: unvarnished and emotionally raw, it frequently makes for tough listening. Equally, as a showcase for Dave’s talents, it unquestionably works. His lyrics are smart, thoughtful, unflinching and self-aware. In a world where artists seem terrified of their audience hitting the fast-forward button, of skipping to the next song on the streaming service playlist, it’s a big ask to confront listeners with an 11-minute rap track, especially when the subject matter is as unremittingly grim as that of Lesley, but it’s genuinely gripping. Indeed, it says something about how incisive Dave is as a writer that the album lasts for the best part of an hour, and not a minute of its running time seems wasted or padded out. The end result is certainly the boldest album to emerge from UK hip-hop’s renaissance. It may also be the best. However big its ambitions, Dave has the talent to fulfil them”.

IN THIS PHOTO: Little Simz/PHOTO CREDIT: Jack Bridgland

Dave is a definite favourite in my view but he faces stiff competition from the wonderful Little Simz. Like PSYCHODRAMA, GREY Area has been greeted with explosive reviews and passion from all corners. Little Simz is one of these artists I can see headlining major festivals because she has that gravitas and incredible talent that is hard to deny. The past few years have seen a fair few London rappers/Hip-Hop artists get shortlisted – including Skepta, Loyle Carner and Kate Tempest – and this year will be no different. The judges would be foolish to overlook these bold and truthful records at a time when music is providing greater popularity, trust and faith than our politicians. Critics were, as mentioned, blown away by GREY Area. Here is NME’s review:

The record swells with pride, and Simbi’s celebration of her sense of worth is catching. See opening track, ‘Offence’, where she reminds us that she’s back again and has to pick up where she left off before (“I said it with my chest / I don’t care who I offend – uh huh!”). Her unapologetic words, coupled with that vicious beat, make you feel unbreakable, and set the tone for the journey you’re about to embark on.

On ‘Flowers’, the final track, Simz wonders if the ambition she has for herself – wanting to be legendary and iconic – comes with darkness. Here, she reflects on her idols, such as Amy Winehouse and Jimi Hendrix, and ruminates on their dizzying highs, but tragic endings. It’s a indication of the mindset she was in while writing ‘Grey Area’; the north London powerhouse was going through a dark time, which became pivotal in her creative process. You can hear this free-flowing energy – up and down– that runs through the album.

Across these 10 tracks, Simz utilises her most valuable commodity: honesty. Having stripped away the narrative cloak that shrouded the highlights of ‘Stillness In Wonderland’, she’s crafted a knockout record – and finally come true on her early promise. This is the best rap record of the year so far”.

There was a lot of confusion last year when the shortlisted Mercury albums were announced. Many felt IDLESBrutalism was overlooked and should have been included. That album was released on 10th March, 2017 so should have been one of the shortlisted albums for 2017’s ceremony - but that was not to be. As Joy as an Act of Resistance was released on 31st August, 2018, there is nothing to stop the album getting the nod this year! I think it would be the biggest error and oversight if Joy as an Act of Resistance was omitted so, to me, it seems like a guarantee. Not only do I think shortlisted but it will win the Mercury. IDLES are on fire right now and are getting fiercer and stronger by the moment. Whilst many would argue they do not need the prize money given – many favour smaller artists winning so they can use the money to fund recording – and are not short of adulation, the Mercury Prize needs to reflect quality in addition to giving a nod to a new artist who would otherwise have been missed by award ceremonies. Wolf Alice won last year and, whereas the judges might go in a different sonic direction this year, I feel Joy as an Act of Resistance is the most deserving of the Mercury. Is it my favourite album from 2018 and I know IDLES have a wonderful, long future ahead of them.

I will end my section about IDLES with a couple of review snippets but, in terms of what they are saying in interviews, we should all be listening. Led by the inspirational Joe Talbot, here is a band that are saying something real and genuinely want to see a change in the world. As this article from last year explores, the band are bringing people together and helping those vulnerable; those who might feel they do not have a voice and are not listened to:

“‘Joy As An Act Of Resistance’ is a record that champions vulnerability, openness and community, and these threads also sit at the heart of the show. Joe dedicates ‘Danny Nedelko’ to the immigrants that make this country a better place, with the titular man in question bursting out on stage at its finale, while ‘Divide & Conquer’ is introduced as an ode to the NHS.

In speaking to the band’s most devoted fans - a clan growing at great pace with each passing day - it’s clear that in laying their deepest fears and vulnerabilities on the line in songs, IDLES are one of the country’s most potent voices, forging the kind of connection only achieved once in a generation. AF Gang member Helen Reade can attest to this more than most.

“What they’re saying is what we really need to hear right now,” she explains before the show. “My partner passed away of cancer at quite a young age, and we have two children. When I first heard ‘Brutalism’, and heard that visceral grief, and that absolute internal rage that I couldn’t articulate - because I had to look after two kids - it just connected, and it became a daily routine. ‘I can get through my day, and I can cope with everything, if I listen to this album, because this person, whoever he is, understands where I’m coming from.’

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IN THIS PHOTO: IDLES/PHOTO CREDIT: Jenn Five/NME

Alongside Little Simz, Dave and slowthai, IDLES have released the most important album of the past couple of years – that’s what I think anyway. Apart from a few less-than-empathic reviews for Joy as an Act of Resistance (Pitchfork, I’m looking at you!), there has been so much love out there for the Bristol boys. When The Quietus reviewed IDLES’ sophomore album, they were full of praise:

Bolstered by a rout of incendiary drives from bassist Adam Devonshire, guitarists Mark Bowen and Lee Kiernan, and drummer Joe Beavis, the overarching missive here is to brace grief, connect, push forward and, above all else, learn to love oneself. And yet, it’s in those bursts, when Talbot picks apart the cul-de-sac cunts whose idea of self-actualization means owning a 50” TV, that often lands the biggest punch.

Striving to see the good in things when one-time reference points to surety and stability are taken away takes not just a considerable amount of mettle: it demands an immense faith in one’s fellow world citizen, whether they reside next door, down the road or beyond Blighty’s beloved seashore. Guided by his friends and fellow punk conquistadors in Idles, as a lyricist, Talbot has just elevated himself to the ranks of craftsman by ensuring that the sheer currency of vulnerability, and the unkillable spirit of community, is threaded throughout JAAAOR. With it, as distilled via his closing call to sense on the album’s closing peak ‘Rottweiler’, Idles take their rightful place as not Britain’s, nor Europe’s, but the world’s most vital band”.

DIY were similarity stunned by IDLES’ remarkable album:

When your world falls apart, you find new ways to make sense of what remains, and ‘Joy As An Act of Resistance’ does that through warmth and humour, openness and honesty. Across its 12 tracks, it runs the full gamut of emotions. ‘Never Fight A Man With A Perm’ is hilarious and sarcastic, perfectly encapsulating the small-town macho types running on too much booze and testosterone (“Me oh me oh my, Roy / You look like a walking thyroid”). ‘I’m Scum’ up-ends the insults thrown at liberal lefties in righteous fashion, culminating in the snarled crescendo of “this snowflake’s an avalanche”. On the cathartic purge of album closer ‘Rottweiler’, meanwhile, the band whip up a tornado of joyous noise as Joe yells the album to a close: “Keep fucking going! Smash it! Destroy the world! Burn your house down!”

Across its 40-odd minutes, ‘Joy As An Act of Resistance’ makes you want to laugh and cry and roar into the wind and cradle your nearest and dearest. It is a beautiful slice of humanity delivered by a group of men whose vulnerability and heart has become a guiding light in the fog for an increasing community of fans who don’t just want, but need this. No hyperbole needed; IDLES are the most important band we have right now”.

I do feel like IDLES deserve the Mercury because Joy as an Act of Resistance is the strongest album from the past year and they are definitely humble – the album would not be taken lightly and I know the prize money would be used for good.

On 25th July, this year’s shortlisted albums will be announced and, true to form, people will have their opinions and grumbles. There are only a dozen albums allowed on the list so one cannot please everyone! I have chosen the outside albums that are in with a chance and another group that, I feel, are a more sure bet. I know I have missed some obvious albums (I will kick myself when I realise) and there are those underground albums that get the nod – the ones you might not even know about. There is always debate and criticism that comes down to whether new/underground artists get enough exposure; whether the winning artists deserve the award and money and whether there is enough range regarding genres – not a lot of Metal and Folk making the shortlist. I have argued for a broader shortlist in future years (maybe fifteen names) but I still think you run up against issues whatever you do. Maybe my predictions or off and maybe we will see a whole host of other artists shortlisted but I am pretty confident; I definitely think this is IDLES’ year and, if they are not even shortlisted, I might need to hold an enquiry and see what is going on at Mercury Prize H.Q.! I feel like the Mercury Prize is a great event and it (winning the award) is a big thing for an artist; that recognition and sense of elevation. Before we hear the winner announced on 19th September.

Every year’s Mercury shortlist/award-winner provokes questions and, writing in reaction to last year’s Wolf Alice win, The Guardian’s Alexis Petridis explained the problem: 

This year’s offered not even a vague pretence of covering a wide range of music: its two jazz entries aside, it was a narrow sampling of albums from the mainstream or, at best, a couple of inches to the left of it. The chairman of the judges, Radio 2 and BBC 6Music controller Jeff Smith, found himself presiding over a list substantially less eclectic than the output of either of his stations: no folk music, nothing avant garde, nothing from the spectrum of hard rock, no modern classical, not even any dance music. The quality of the shortlisted entries ranged from overhyped to pretty good to unequivocally excellent, but there were no curveballs, nothing to frighten the horses, nothing you wouldn’t already know about if you had been keeping abreast of a broadsheet newspaper’s music pages

The problem with a limited shortlist is that it can reflect back on the eventual winner: there’s more value in being first out of a wildly varied and intriguing selection of albums than there is in being first out of a limited and predictable list”.

I do think this year’s shortlist will be broader and reflect a wider spectrum but, when it comes to selecting the best of British, let’s hope common sense prevails. That might be a subjective statement but, regarding the albums that deserve the Mercury Prize the most, I have…

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IN THIS PHOTO: Self Esteem (Rebecca Lucy Taylor)/PHOTO CREDIT: Mathew Parri Thomas

MY own predictions.

FEATURE: The Light of the Dawn Chorus: The Wonder and Golden Voice of Thom Yorke

FEATURE:

 

The Light of the Dawn Chorus

PHOTO CREDIT: Alex Lake 

The Wonder and Golden Voice of Thom Yorke

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THERE is so much to cover when we talk of Thom Yorke

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 PHOTO CREDIT: Alex Lake

but, rather than give you his entire career laid out – I will end with an ultimate Thom Yorke playlist, mind –, I wanted to highlight this incredible artist who is still turning heads. I will come to his Radiohead output and underline how it has changed my life but, just now, Yorke is promoting his album, ANIMA. He billed it as a Dystopian work but, actually, there is ample beauty and reward. It is not as dark as one might imagine and, instead, it is deep and full of nuance. You get hit by songs when you first hear them but something in your mind alerts you to a scent that you missed; compelled to return, you dive back in for another swim! The reviews for ANIMA have been largely positive. In fact, looking close, the reviews have been dazzling! The Telegraph, in their review, had this to say:

All that and you can dance to it. Opening song Traffic is a squidgy tour-de-force that layers Yorke’s "we’re all doomed" yelp over a rush of gothic grooves that will sweep you away even as it makes you feel very bothered about climate change. He’s in full prog mode, meanwhile, on Twist, seven minutes of processed despondency that builds into a swell of spiritual torment. That may sound like a slog – but Yorke’s melodic instincts glimmer through, even as the claustrophobia rises.

He bungs in the album’s wispiest, most optimistic tune, Dawn Chorus – the one with which Anderson closes the video – halfway through, as if to make it explicit the respite will be only temporary. There aren’t many surprises, it’s true. And those tempted to write Thom Yorke off as pop’s misery-guts-in-chief will find plenty of ammunition. The closest to a curve ball is right at the end on Runwayaway, as Yorke is shoved aside by a tumult of blues guitars.

“This is when you know,” he chants ,“who you your real friends are.” It’s bleakness on a stick. But Anima is also a dystopian rhapsody that will stay with you long after the moment and rates as one of the purest expressions yet of Yorke’s devastated world view”.

In this review from The Independent, they highlight the promotional techniques used prior to ANIMA’s release and how, on his solo outings, Yorke favours various shades of grey and black – with some light and optimism in the mix:

Commuters on the Tube in London were recently confronted by advertisements for ANIMA Technologies, a company claiming to have built a “Dream Camera“ that could capture the world of the unconscious. “Just call or text the number and we’ll get your dreams back,” it said. Callers were met by a rambling message about cease and desist orders, and an admission of “serious and flagrant unlawful activities”.

It was, perhaps, the most “Thom Yorke” way of promoting an album. On ANIMA, the Radiohead frontman's third solo record, he drifts like a spectre through a labyrinth, exploring his favourite themes of sleep, reality and the subconscious.

The tones here are stark and bleak, compared to the claustrophobia of 2014’s Tomorrow’s Modern Boxes. You can hear his paranoia in the stuttering techno opener “Traffic”, which channels the heady grooves and pulses of electronic artist Floating Points (who, with his neuroscience background, seems like an entirely fitting reference point)”.

I have been a fan of Thom Yorke’s since the earliest days of Radiohead and, decades after those early cuts, Yorke’s brilliance has not waned. He is able to tap into the vein of modern life and articulate a common feeling.

He can do that and not shy away from being explicit and honest but, tucked in every song is immense beauty and grace. I adore his music but, as a general guide and role model, Yorke is always relevant and brilliant. He recently unveiled all the demos and tracks from the OK Computer sessions after Radiohead were held to ransom by hackers. Yorke was not going to play ball and, rather than pay to have that music back, he just put it out into the world. Not only that but he asked people to buy the work and gave all proceeds to Extinction Rebellion – helping to fight climate change. Thom Yorke has been talking about his new album and why, in these tough times, discussing anxiety is a good thing:

The Radiohead frontman spoke with The Sunday Times in an interview about his new solo album, ANIMA, where he also spoke about his band, thoughts on current music, and ongoing social and political issues.

“It’s good that depression and anxiety are being talked about more,” he said. “But they’re also on the rise… [there’s] much less security about what may happen in the near future. Much less trust of institutions there to protect them, as well as wider issues like climate change. This all makes people anxious, and it’s crazy that people don’t just acknowledge that.”

“Am I such a sad f****** human being that I pour my dirt out like that? Maybe others do, I don’t. My lyrics are spasmodic, and I wish I could do storytelling, but I don’t know how. So I resort to what I do know, which is more about images, imagery, visuals”.

Not only is Yorke eye-opening when discussing anxiety, the modern world and climate change but he has a nifty and charming sense of humour – and, as this interview shows, he has his finger on the modern pulse:

“…My favourite Radiohead gig was when they headlined Reading Festival in 2009. “When we came on with Creep?” Yorke asks, laughing loudly about the hit they came to hate. Creep, though, segued into the space jazz of The National Anthem, from Kid A, and the crowd still sang along. The whole show felt like a victory lap for making millions from exploring ever more outré sounds.

“This will mess them up!” He smiles at the humour in the jarring of styles. But he is proud. “There’s never been a conscious decision to be like that. It’s just informed by everyone in Radiohead listening to different music, and I never understood why that’s a problem.”

Billie Eilish. “That was a fine moment,” he says, shaking his head. “We sat down and what’s-his-name — the guy who did the Bond film we didn’t do?” That would be Sam Smith, who sang the theme for Spectre when a Radiohead song was rejected. “That’s it. He stands behind us, and I’m sitting with my daughter, her friends and my girlfriend, when suddenly everyone goes, ‘Saaam!’” Yorke squeals his name. “I’m, like, ‘Aaaargh!’” Still, he liked the gig? “Yes. I like Billie Eilish. She’s doing her own thing. Nobody’s telling her what to do.”

I suggest you investigate ANIMA and listen to all Thom Yorke’s solo work. To me, though, his magic comes from the voice; the instrument that has scored some of the most memorable tracks of the past twenty-five-plus years. I discovered Radiohead when Pablo Honey arrived in 1993 and, whilst there were few songs that truly struck my imagination, I was captivated by Yorke’s voice. In 1993, I was listening to Nirvana and bands like that and I was not really used to a group whose lead had this combination of intensity and sublime beauty. Creep is a song that divides fans (and the band) but one could not help, when they first heard it, be bowled over and taken aback by this unique voice. The Bends (1995) and OK Computer (1997) is when I really got into the band and bonded with Thom Yorke. The Bends is one of my favourite albums ever and I just adore the songs. Every track has its own personality and, whilst the band are supreme throughout, it is the dexterity and power of Yorke’s voice that makes it. Consider the range he displays on The Bends or the exquisite sadness of Fake Plastic Trees; the electricity of Just and the haunting refrains of Street Spirit (Fade Out). Maybe, back in 1995, there were few singers showing sensitivity and emotions in quite the same way – Jeff Buckley released Grace in 1994 but there were not many like him around -; so it was no surprise that Radiohead resonated.

 IN THIS PHOTO: Radiohead in 1995/PHOTO CREDIT: Jeoffrey Johnson

OK Computer followed and, in some ways, Yorke’s voice incorporated more shades, sides and suggestions. Paranoid Android is him sweeping between operatic, angered and soft whereas Exit Music (For a Film) is, I think, one of Radiohead’s most affecting songs. When we consider the greatest singers ever, Thom Yorke does not feature as high up lists as he should. In 2010, Rolling Stone declared Yorke the sixty-sixth best singer ever. This is what they had to say:

By the turn of the century, the broad, emotive sweep of Thom Yorke's voice had made him one of the most influential singers of his generation. His high, keening sound, often trembling on the edge of falsetto, was turning up on records by Coldplay, Travis, Muse, Elbow and numerous others. "I tried to sing like Thom Yorke," Coldplay's Chris Martin told Rolling Stone. "The Radiohead influence on us was plain to see." But Yorke himself "couldn't stand the sound of me anymore" — and went on to reinvent his voice beginning with 2000's Kid A. Using electronic trickery and exploiting what he called "the tension between what's human and what's coming from the machines," he changed his voice into a disembodied instrument; songs like "Everything in Its Right Place" sound like fragmented transmissions from some distant galaxy”.

Not only has Yorke inspired artists such as Coldplay and Matt Bellamy (Muse) but he ensured Radiohead’s songs reached as wide an audience as possible. In lesser hands, the band might not have translated and resonated as they did but, with a voice that cover so many different emotions and conveys so much, Yorke has managed to inspire and seduce the masses.

It is amazing hearing Yorke’s voice now (he is fifty) and realising it is as pure and stunning as it was back in the 1990s. By the time Kid A rolled around in 2000, Yorke was putting his voice into the machine more and that still remains the case to an extent. Albums such as Hail to the Thief (2003) and In Rainbows (2007) saw Yorke put his voice into the fore but, on solo albums such as The Eraser (2006), there is that combination of pure vocals and technology-fed voices, if you see what I mean. Whether Yorke’s voice is machine-processed or standing on its own, it is always exquisite and full of meaning. I do not think there are many singers alive today that can say so much with their voice. Radiohead are still going – let’s hope there is a new album soon… – but their latest album, 2016’s A Moon Shaped Pool, is, yet again, Yorke bringing something new from his voice. The mark of a great singer is someone who can shine in any genre and cover every theme. From the simpler Rock of early Radiohead to the jitter and electronic tones of A Moon Shaped Pool, Yorke is effortless and seamless; his voice always striking and evocative. A lot of fans prefer Radiohead’s OK Computer/Kid A period as the peak but, to me, one cannot easily define the band because every album they release is brilliant. I love Hail to the Thief and I think that it is much underrated; I also love Amnesiac (2001) and feel like it does not get the credit it deserves.

Thom Yorke’s voice is this constant strike shaft of light that fills the imagination and senses and makes the music – whether Radiohead’s or his own – so spellbinding. Yorke has also performed as part of the band, Atoms for Peace (alongside Red Hot Chili Peppers bassist Flea, longtime Radiohead producer Nigel Godrich (keyboards, synthesisers, guitars); drummer Joey Waronker of Beck and R.E.M. and percussionist Mauro Refosco of Forro in the Dark), and has duetted with PJ Harvey (on This Mess We’re In on PJ Harvey’s album, Stories from the City, Stories from the Sea in 2000) and Björk (on I've Seen It All for the Dancer in the Dark soundtrack of 2000). Every version and iteration of Thom Yorke is fantastic and, with a new solo album out, he is still blowing minds – the reviews for ANIMA are among the most positive and universally-adoring of his career. I love, as I said earlier, the fact that Yorke is quite cheeky and has this common touch. As you can see from this Stereogum article, he has a near-close encounter with Sam Smith – an artist who, I imagine, is not one of his favourites!

Yorke recently went to a gig by the pop star of the hour, Billie Eilish. “That was a fine moment,” he says, shaking his head. “We sat down and what’s-his-name — the guy who did the Bond film we didn’t do?” That would be Sam Smith, who sang the theme for Spectre when a Radiohead song was rejected. “That’s it. He stands behind us, and I’m sitting with my daughter, her friends and my girlfriend, when suddenly everyone goes, ‘Saaam!’” Yorke squeals his name. “I’m, like, ‘Aaaargh!’” Still, he liked the gig?

Anyone who is new to Thom Yorke, I would suggest you start at the beginning with Radiohead’s debut (Pablo Honey) and work your way forward. There are some who prefer the band and have not discovered Yorke’s solo cannon and, in that case, check out his albums because they are terrific. I have mentioned his voice and the sort of power it holds but there is much more to Yorke than the voice alone: a truly influential and inspiring artist at a time when we need direction and stability. Whether it is ANIMA’s boldness and stark beauty or the fact Yorke is a hugely likeable, intelligent and, as we can see, funny guy (he has thrown a bit of light shade the way of Muse but I kind of get the impression that is inevitable – Muse are heavily influenced by Radiohead so it is natural streaming logarithms would guide Yorke the way of Muse). Yorke and his bandmates thwarted hackers and have raised money to battle climate change; Yorke is always busy and you never quite know what he is going to do next. He composed the music for the Suspiria soundtrack last year and demonstrated a natural aptitude for film score/soundtrack – highlighting what I said about his adaptability and chameleon-like talent! I think Thom Yorke is one of the finest voices who has ever lived and it does not seem to be getting any dimmer with age – not that Yorke is that old! As the man throws some cheek the way of Sam Smith and Muse; with ANIMA in the world and claiming big reviews; with his voice, in music and in public, moving and compelling at every term, we are so lucky having an artist like Thom Yorke…

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 PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images

IN the world.

FEATURE: Small Steps and Big Conversations: Closing the Gender Pay Gap in Music

FEATURE:

 

Small Steps and Big Conversations

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PHOTO CREDIT: @lordmaui/Unsplash 

Closing the Gender Pay Gap in Music

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I was going to do a more general piece regarding…

gender inequality and, to be fair, it is on my mind today! I saw a tweet yesterday posted that reacted to a tweet from BBC Radio 6 Music and Sharon Van Etten’s performance at Glastonbury. Someone commented that, given BBC Radio 6 Music has spent a lot of time covering Glastonbury and has highlighted some great female artists, that it is gender-biased and sexist. It was only the one comment on this occasion but I have seen so many other people bemoan the coverage of female performers at Glastonbury; others that feel the festival does not need to be fifty-fifty in terms of gender because music should be a meritocracy and we need to book artists based on talent – and letting more women through would spoil that, in their mind. Coming back to the BBC Radio 6 Music tweet and one can hardly accuse the station – or any other – of skewing towards women and being biased. Most stations play more male artists; they have more male presenters and Glastonbury – like most festivals, too – has more male performers. I am not sure what that tweet riled me but it has got me thinking about equality again and how this year has been defined by women. I have argued this before so, apologies, I am covering some well-trodden soil! Every year, the BBC announces its highest-paid talent and who makes the cut.

 IN THIS PHOTO: Vanessa Feltz/PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images

I have never understood why this is done but I guess the BBC wants to be transparent. This year’s list is out and it is the first time in a long time where women have been featured in the top-ten. 

New Radio 2 Breakfast Show host, Zoe Ball, makes her debut on the list, paid £370,000 – £374,999, while Vanessa Feltz’s salary has increased from £330,000-£339,999 to £355,000-£359,999, and Claudia Winkleman remains one of the BBC’s highest paid women at £370,000-£374,999 – a similar figure to last year.

Jo Whiley’s pay has also increased by about 100k since last year, in light of her new solo evening show on Radio 2, while Fiona Bruce and Emily Maitlis mark new jobs on Newsnight and Question Time with big increases. The Today programme has also narrowed the pay discrepancies in its presenting line-up.

Political Editor Laura Kuenssberg’s salary has for the first time overtaken that of North America Editor Jon Sopel – both received increases but Kuenssberg’s was larger, putting her on £250,000-£254,999. Her Brexitcast co-star Katya Adler also got a pay bump, going from £170,000-£179,999 to £205,000-£209,999.

The list of the BBC’s top-paid stars skewed 66:34 in favour of men last year, but the 2018/2019 gender balance sits at an improved ratio of 55:45. The format of the report has also changed, with pay brackets now at £5,000 increments, compared with £10,000 in last year’s version.

It is positive seeing more women ibncvluded in the list and, at the very least, the gap is closing. In terms of radio, there are a lot of women ijn the top twenty/twenty-five but, when youi look at the top-ten earners, there is still a discrepancy:

Chris Evans – £1,250,000-£1,254,999

Steve Wright – £465,000-£469,999

Zoe Ball – £370,000-£374,999

Vanessa Feltz – £355,000-£359,999

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IN THIS PHOTO: Lauren Laverne/PHOTO CREDIT: Boden Diaries 

Nicky Campbell – £340,000-£345,999

Stephen Nolan – £325,000-£329,999

Nick Grimshaw – £310,000-£314,999

Lauren Laverne – £305,000-£309,999

Jeremy Vine – £290,000-£294,999

Scott Mills – £285,000-£289,999”.

BBC Radio 2 stars Zoe Ball and Vanessa Feltz are near the top but I do feel like great women like Annie Mac and Mary Anne Hobbs should be higher up – earning more for the work they do. Consider Lauren Laverne and the fact her breakfast show has record listener figures; she is also helming Desert Island Discs and, in terms of work-rate, there are few who can match her. I appreciate pay is based on popularity and experience but I feel a presenter like Laverne is a lot more valuable than Nick Grimshaw; there are other women lower down the earnings list that, I feel, warrant greater earnings. The fact that a few prominent female broadcasters are appearing near the top of the BBC’s pay list is impressive and shows there is change coming but I do feel like there is a way to go.

 PHOTO CREDIT: @divandor/Unsplash

I do feel like the best radio at the moment is being made by women and, because of that, I wonder whether the BBC has taken that into consideration – are the likes of Lauren Laverne and Zoe Ball being paid what they deserve!? Record companies are more open when it comes to gender and pay and, since 2017, we have seen more figures come out. This article shows that there is still a way to go regarding closing the pay gap:

The three major labels, using figures from April 2017, showed 33.8% pay gap.

Warner was the worst offender with a 49% gap, Universal with 29.8%, and Sony at 22.7%.

Live Nation’s UK operation reported a 46% gender pay gap, alongside an incredible 88% difference in bonuses between male and female employees.

Since then, many sectors of the music industry have worked hard to address the problem, caused largely by the fact that only 31% of leadership positions at majors were filled by women.

Morna Cook MBE, senior director of HR, Universal Music UK told Music Business Worldwide, “At Universal Music, diversity and inclusion isn’t driven by compliance or obligation.

“Success in our fast-evolving industry depends on us attracting people from all kinds of backgrounds, and having a team that truly reflects and supports the incredible diversity of our artist roster and society.”

Universal has been working on its paid interns program, more mentoring of its female executives, and working at a 50:50 split in its A&R teams.

Sony implemented “inclusive environment” learning programmes and better support for working parents.

Warner, which in 2017 had 41% of females in its workforce but only 16% in leadership roles, has taken a look at its staffers through a diversity and inclusion perspective, and put more women in frontline roles”.

 PHOTO CREDIT: @helloquence/Unsplash

Music Business Worldwide break down the statistics ion more detail:

In the top-earning quartile of Universal Music UK’s business, 73% of employees are male and 27% are female.

The average hourly rate of pay across the whole business is 29.1% lower for females vs. males.

(Taken as a median %, this figure falls to 20.9%.)

When it comes to bonuses, female executives are paid 24.4% less on average than their male counterparts.

Bonus pay is given to 81% of males and 80% of females.

In the ‘upper middle quartile’ of Universal Music UK (ie. the second tier of executive pay), 59% of employees are male and 41% are female.

In the top-earning quartile of Sony Music UK’s business, 60.2% of employees are male and 39.8% are female.

The average hourly rate of pay across the whole business is 20.9% lower for females vs. males.

(Taken as a median %, this figure falls to 1.3%.)

When it comes to bonuses, female executives are paid 50.1% less on average than their male counterparts.

Bonus pay is given to 76.3% of males and 71.5% of females.

In the ‘upper middle quartile’ of Sony Music UK (ie. the second tier of executive pay), 50% of employees are male and 50% are female.

On April 1 Spotify revealed its figures for the first time after its UK workforce crossed 250 employees 2018 .

As at April 5 2018, Spotify’s UK mean gender pay gap was 11.6% and median gender pay gap was 16.8%.

Average bonuses for women at Spotify were 19.7% lower than men and 10.3% lower at the median.

On this date, 42% of Spotify’s UK workforce were women and 58% were men”.

 PHOTO CREDIT: @stereophototyp/Unsplash

I am not saying that very radio station and record label insists all men and women are paid exactly the same because, when it comes to earnings, the issue is more complicated than that. I do think questions need to be asked in both areas. I realise radio earnings are linked to listener figures but I do think, in general, not enough women are being put in popular slots and being recruited to big stations. Look at all the major stations in the U.K. and there is still a big imbalance and that does not look like it will be redressed anytime soon – even though BBC Radio 2 overhauled this year and has three women (Zoe Ball, Sara Cox and Jo Whiley) leading big shows. I think radio bosses do need to work to redress gender imbalance and, when it comes to record labels, why is there still a gap?! Maybe things will improve in a few years but a lot of the biggest labels out there are still paying men more than women. A lot of the problems relating to pay gaps relates to recruitment and retaining women in various sectors of the music industry. Before I sort of conclude and look ahead I want to bring in an article that was written by the UK Music’s Head of Diversity, Felicity Oliver:

This month was the deadline for companies with 250 or more employees to report their gender pay gaps. This is the second year that organisations have been required to publicly disclose these statistics after the Government made it compulsory in 2018.

Shining a light across industries has given us an insightful, if unsurprising, snapshot on the state-of-play for women. Last year it was revealed for the first time that the country’s biggest organisations paid men 78 per cent more than they paid women.

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PHOTO CREDIT: @kmuza/Unsplash 

This year’s statistics go to show that change won’t happen quickly as a BBC analysis of this year’s figures found that across 45 per cent of firms the discrepancy in pay actually increased in favour of men.

Although reporting is in its early stages, and this year’s results do not indicate a huge change from last year in relation to the music industry, progress has been made on an individual level. Many firms have introduced workplace schemes that should bring about improvements. This is something that UK Music will continue to monitor and develop.

UK Music’s 2018 Diversity Survey results which measured gender and ethnicity across the music industry workforce, found there was an encouraging 6.3 percentage point increase among female workers aged 35 to 44 and a welcome 6 percentage point increase in females aged 45 to 64.

However, there remained fewer women overall in these age groups, highlighting an issue with the retention of females aged 35 and over. The lower number of females than males in senior posts is a key factor to consider when reflecting on the gender pay gap reporting.

I’m confident that the gender pay gap reporting will not only tackle disparities in pay but also help to elevate more women into senior leadership positions across the industry. Change is starting to take place already. It has opened up difficult conversations in the workplace for the first time and is going some way to create a more inclusive industry.

Flexible working and parental leave packages must reflect the needs of society while companies must take responsibility of their recruitment processes. UK Music has supported Labour MP Tracy Brabin’s ‘selfie leave’ campaign along with MPG Executive Board member Olga FitzRoy from the MPG. It’s also great to see mentoring schemes being established within industry to create an inclusive network of support.

Our report showed an encouraging increase in younger females entering the industry with a 10.7 percentage point increase. However, we must do all we can to ensure these women are equipped to rise up the career ladder to the very top.

Only when we have tackled the gender pay gap head on can we achieve genuine gender parity in our industry”.

IN THIS PHOTO: Billie Eilish/PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images

There is a long way to go but I think, from radio stations and labels through to every other corner of music, there needs to be a review regarding pay and promoting more women into senior positions; retaining more women and creating greater visibility. There are so many great female broadcasters, producers; label employees and journalists that are not getting the same opportunities as men and, when they are in the same job, they are getting paid less. It takes me back to my early point about this year’s music and how 2019 has been defined by great women and the wonderful material they have put out this year. I wonder whether the women who appeared at Glastonbury and made it so wonderful were paid the same wage as the male performers. The BBC’s publication of earnings showed movement and improvement but it also highlighted that, certainly in radio, some incredible popular women are not, I think, being paid what they deserve and there is still an imbalance regarding the number of women on stations compared to men. That gender imbalance extends across music and, as this article outlines, there is still a divide when it comes to producers and songwriters:    

But the disparity between representation on the stage and behind the scenes is stark, to say the least. Only four out of 871 producers were women of color. Out of 400 songs and 871 producers, only 2 percent were female. “The gender ratio of male producers to female music producers is 47 to 1,” the report said.

When it comes to songwriters, 57 percent of the songs studied did not credit a woman. Meanwhile, only three tracks (counting as less than 1 percent) did not credit a male songwriter. Among female songwriters, 43.3 percent are women of color.

PHOTO CREDIT: @diskander/Unsplash 

Men outdid women when it came to songwriting credits on the Hot 100 over the past seven years. Max Martin had the most credits at 39, while Nicki Minaj topped the list of female songwriters with 18 credits. A quarter of the songs were written by the top 10 male songwriters”.

2019 has been an improvement on 2018 regarding steps forward but I do wonder whether a big enough leap is being made. Considering a lot of the labels and businesses are being run by men, is progress slow because they are not the ones affected? This feature from last year confronted the pay gap at festivals and how change is being predicted. I am pleased there is motivation for change but, as we think about closing the pay gap and promoting more women into management positions, I also think we need to start at grassroots level regarding recruitment. In studios, radio stations and at festivals, women are still in a minority and I do not think this reflects the talent and quality out there. Festivals are working to close the pay gap but, as 2019 has been such a strong year for women, I feel constructive and progressive conversation needs to happen quicker. I do think attracting more women into live music and behind the scenes roles is crucial.

 PHOTO CREDIT: @diskander/Unsplash

This IQ article from earlier in the year shows some big music organisations are working hard but many say the same thing: more can be done and we cannot be complacent. I look out and am seeing improvements but I think, if we want to bring more women into music, then we need to tackle the pay gap. Many women will look at the figures and, whilst they will note the evolution from last year, the fact there is disparity still might make them feel like they will be underpaid compared with their male colleagues. I keep saying how 2019 is being defined by terrific women and this extends beyond the stages and feeds into studios, labels and beyond. I do believe the gender pay gap will close completely at labels, radio stations and festivals very soon because I think the industry is so much richer when we encourage more women to shine and inspire. I shall end things here but, in concluding, the fact discussions are happening and articles are being published gives me hope things will keep heading in the right direction. Businesses are fighting for change and acknowledge things do need to change regarding recruiting more women and promoting them to senior positions. From the fabulous stars of BBC radio to festival standouts; the industrious female producers and the brilliant label bosses and P.R. representatives that are pushing music to new levels, we owe the fantastic women in music…

 PHOTO CREDIT: @diskander/Unsplash

A bigger voice and a larger cut.

FEATURE: Melody Cool on This Uncloudy Day: Mavis Staples at Eighty

FEATURE:

 

 

Melody Cool on This Uncloudy Day

PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images

Mavis Staples at Eighty

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I realise I recently produce a piece...

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 PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images

about Mavis Staples for my Female Icons feature but, as Staples is eighty tomorrow, I felt it only right that I include her once more! It is important we mark the birthdays of music legends, I think, because it gives us the chance to celebrate, bring their work to new people and thank them for their contribution to music. When one thinks of Mavis Staples, it is hard to put into words what she has given us and the impact she has had on the industry. I have heard interviews Staples has given and she is always infectious, fascinating and compelling. Whether it is sharing stories from her past or talking about the new breed of artists, there is nobody out there like Mavis Staples. Of course, it is the music of Staples that hits the hardest. From her classics with The Staple Singers through to her new album, We Get By, the extraordinary Staples is a mesmeric artist. Her new album, in fact, is one I would list among the best from 2019. It seems that many critics agree with that assertion. In this review, American Songwriter noted how Staples’ voice is still an immensely powerful force:

Harper dials down Staples’ often fire and brimstone attack to a more subtle, less aggressive approach that still connects beautifully with this relatively understated material. Additionally it showcases just how strong, sturdy, flexible and resonant her singing remains when many others her age have long since found their voices have weakened.

It’s unusual when discussing legendary artists to recommend newcomers start with their most recent release, as opposed to cherry picking older tracks.  But in the case of the phenomenal We Get By, novices to Staples’ iconic voice may want to begin here and work their way back”.

I have so much respect for icons like Mavis Staples who have been performing for decades and continue to inspire artists. It is tricky changing with the times and trying to appeal to various generations but, with the passage of time, Staples accrues more and more fans into her camp. In terms of interviews, as I said, she is always fantastic value and eager to talk about her own music as well as the new breed emerging. In this recent interview with Billboard, Staples was in fantastic form:

To hear her laugh is to understand that her joy bubbles up from a well of inextinguishable enthusiasm, one she’s miraculously protected while living -- and singing -- through many of the darkest periods in modern American history. Staples has been using her voice to drown out hate since her first public performances with her family band, the Staple Singers, in the early ‘50s. Under the direction of her father, Roebuck “Pops” Staples, she, along with her brother Pervis and her sisters Yvonne and Cleotha, responded to the injustices wreaked by segregation in the Jim Crow South through song.

The younger crop of musicians penning songs for Staples have taken up the mantle of the other rock- and folk-minded artists before them, in that they, too, want to further Staples’ mission by giving her more to sing, thus offering her fans the salve they need to combat the onslaught of headlines in a Trumpian age. Live in London, her new album, was recorded over the course of two shows at London’s Union Chapel in July 2018, and serves as a transcript of a conversation between her past and present. New songs (like the Tweedy-penned “No Time For Cryin’” or Harper’s “Love and Trust”) blend seamlessly with the older standards (“Touch a Hand, Make a Friend,” the album closer, was a hit single for the Staple Singers in 1973) on her setlist.

PHOTO CREDIT: CLASH 

Regarding current popular music, and artists who embrace or encourage activism or political involvement in their work -- who’s doing really well on that front? Who are you really excited about or inspired by?

I like these kids today. Maggie Rogers, I love her. Brandi Carlile, she’s great. I’m proud of the young people today with the songs they’re singing… Youngsters are just falling in, singing positive messages in their songs. I appreciate that. I love Pharrell. When he came with his song, “Happy,” I said, Lord, why couldn’t I get that song?! I couldn’t get enough of it. It kept me smiling.

When Hozier came with “Nina Cried Power,” I just collapsed. He wanted me to sing it with him. I said, “Oh my God!” Nina Simone was a good friend of mine, and then all of the other artists that we’re calling out in that song are artists who have made commitments to the world through their message songs. I just had all kind of jittery feelings. He’s so handsome! I said, “Don’t look at me, Hozier! You’re making me blush!” [Laughs.] I had to tell him, “Andrew, that name doesn’t quite fit him for me,” so I said, “I’m gonna call you Hozier.” He said, “You can call me whatever you want, Mavis.” I enjoy him and his band so much. For an old girl like me to be having so much fun and getting excited again, it’s just god’s plan. As Drake says, it’s God’s Plan. [Laughs.]” 

I will end with Staples and her musical legacy (and impact) but there is so much to discover when it comes to her background and need to change the world. Through her music, she wants to compel change and awaken people to what is happening around them. I think this desire and compunction stems from her childhood; being raised in church and growing up in Chicago. In this interview with CLASH earlier this year, Staples reflected on her upbringing and her father’s influence:

“…Speaking of going to church, you once said that you were “just doing my job”. Do you think your role is to inspire spiritual change in people?

Yeah, it is. It’s what I’ve been doing all my life. And then, I’m the last one here - I’ve got to keep going. It is my duty to sing my songs for my father’s legacy, Dr. King’s legacy - I’m the last one. I don’t ever intend to stop unless I lose my voice, but yeah, it’s my job, and I think I’m doing what I’m supposed to be doing. I think the Lord put me here to sing these songs and to try to help bring love and hope into the world, to bring us together as a land of freedom, a land of hope, a land of love - people. You know, we’re living in trying times. This man has got us in trouble. This hatred and bigotry, it was subsiding; it was getting better. And then this man gets to talking and running his mouth, and all of a sudden here you see these people coming out of Charlottesville with torches marching all through the city, and I’m saying, ‘Are they going to come with burning crosses next? What are they doing, and how is this happening?’ Well, see, you weren’t seeing anything like that until he got in, and whatever he says, they feel like it’s alright to do what they’re doing.

You grew up in urban Chicago and Pops grew up in Mississippi on the infamous Dockery Plantation. How did the experiences of his childhood impact on your own?

Well, Pops would tell us stories all the time. What happened, we were singing because he had been singing with a group of men - the Trumpet Jubilees. He just wanted to sing, and these guys, they wouldn’t come to rehearsal. There was six of them. Pops would go to rehearsal and he’d see maybe two of them there, and the next week he’d go and there might be three or four. He just got so disgusted. He came home one night and he went in the closet where he had that little guitar, he called us into the living room, and sat us all on the floor in a circle. My Aunt Katie was there. She said, ’Roebuck, what are you doing?’ He said, ‘I’m gonna sing with my children.’ I didn’t even know Pops had a guitar! We had never seen it. It didn’t have all the strings on it, but he could make it sound alright. He sat us on the floor and he started giving us parts to sing that he and his sisters and brothers would sing when they were in Mississippi. So, the very first song he taught us was ‘Will The Circle Be Unbroken’. We were singing, and Aunt Katie came through and said, ‘Shucks, y’all sound pretty good. I want y’all to come and sing at my church on Sunday morning.’ Oh Lord, we were all so glad we were gonna sing somewhere other than on the living room floor! We go to Aunt Katie’s church, man, we sang ‘Will The Circle Be Unbroken’, and, you know, we didn’t know nothing about no encore or clapping us back. But people kept clapping us back. We ended up singing that song three times!”

Staples never wants to retire and she is determined to spread messages of freedom and the hope of a better world to the new generation. She believes in God’s plan and, in a way, I guess she is doing his work. Let’s hope we see Mavis Staples music for many more years to come because there is nobody that possess the same grace, humility and fascinating backstory as her! When you hear her speak and understand how she was raised, one cannot help but summon images; the young Staples in church or discovering all these great artists who would inspire her. I am ending with a Mavis Staples playlist but it is amazing to think that this iconic artist is still making the hairs stand at eighty (well, eighty tomorrow!). That innate power and spirituality comes from her time with The Staple Singers and the fact they took guidance from the messages of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Here, Facing History charts the background of The Staple Singers and their role in the civil rights movement:

 “The Staple Singers belonged to that tradition. Beginning as a gospel group, they became soul superstars at the height of the civil rights movement. As Rob Bowman notes in Soulsville, U.S.A., “They attempted to broaden their audience by augmenting their religious repertoire with ‘message’ songs.”

Musically and politically, The Staple Singers fit right in at Stax Records, that model of racial harmony in a time of societal upheaval. Co-owner Jim Stewart argued, “If we’ve done nothing more, we’ve shown the world that people of different colors, origins, and convictions can be as one, working together towards the same goal. Because we’ve learned how to live and work together at Stax Records, we’ve reaped many material benefits. But, most of all, we’ve acquired peace of mind. When hate and resentment break out all over the nation, we pull our blinds and display a sign that reads ‘Look What We’ve Done—TOGETHER.’”

Co-owner Al Bell went further: “Dr. King was preaching what we were about inside Stax, where you judge a person by the content of their character rather than the color of their skin. And looking forward to the day when, as he said, his little black child and the little white child could walk down the streets together, hand in hand. Well, we were living that inside of Stax Records.”

The “‘protest’ material against a ‘folk rock’–oriented beat” that The Staples Singers performed also owed much to King.

According to lead singer Mavis Staples,

The songwriters knew we were doing protest songs. We had made a transition back there in the sixties with Dr. King. We visited Dr. King’s church in Montgomery before the movement actually got started. When we heard Dr. King preach, we went back to the motel and had a meeting. Pops [Mavis’s father, who played guitar and shared lead vocal duties with his youngest daughter] said, “Now if he can preach it, we can sing it. That could be our way of helping towards this movement.” We put a beat behind the song. We were mainly focusing on the young adults to hear what we were doing. You know if they hear a beat, that would make them listen to the words. So we started singing protest songs. All those guys were writing what we actually wanted them to write. Pops would tell them to just read the headlines and whatever they saw in the morning paper that needed to be heard or known about, [they would] write us a song from that”.

I have just skimmed the surface of who Mavis Staples is and why she is so important but, as she turns eighty, it has forced me to look back at her start and gobble up as much information as I can. Staples is a musical treasure and someone who cannot help but stir the soul and put a smile on the face. As The Telegraph noted when they caught Mavis Staples’ set at Glastonbury a couple of weeks back, she still holds the power to enthral audiences of all ages:

Her voice bellowed and rasped, ripe with age but having lost none of its bite. She made an impassioned speech about young people with guns, mothers who’d lost their sons, and children who’d been separated from their parents “in cages”.

“I’m tired,” she said, placing the blame at the foot of the man “in the White House”. And then this: “I’m going up to the White House. I’m going up there! I just might run for President!” “Are you with me? President Mavis! We’ve got work to do!” The crowd went wild.

As she left the stage to rapturous applause, she waved to all around her, clearly relishing the experience. Or perhaps this great soul survivor was practicing for yet another late career surge: as a politician. All hail President Mavis”.

Staples is a wondrous force of nature and we all wish her a very happy eightieth birthday! She has no plans to slow down and it is amazing seeing how much energy and passion she has! As we salute and tip our caps to Mavis Staples, enjoy a selection of some of her best-known and beloved songs. It (the playlist) proves that, in terms of power, legacy and emotion, there is nobody in music…

LIKE Mavis Staples.                                                                                                       

FEATURE: Scouts’ Honour: Thiago Silva and Pockets of Gold: The Problem with the Get-Famous-Quick Artist and How the Music Industry Overlooks Black Artists like Dave and AJ Tracey

FEATURE:

 

 

Scouts’ Honour

IN THIS PHOTO: Dave is one of the U.K.’s fastest-rising artists and released the sublime PSYCHODRAMA earlier this year/PHOTO CREDIT: Vicky Grout 

Thiago Silva and Pockets of Gold: The Problem with the Get-Famous-Quick Artist and How the Music Industry Overlooks Black Artists like Dave and AJ Tracey

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CERTAIN fads happen in music…

 IN THIS PHOTO: Glastonbury sensation Alex Mann rapped Thiago Silva with Dave last week and gained a lot of attention and praise/PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images

and you sort of grit your teeth and try and get through it. We had the New Romantics and all of that; there was the Crazy Frog song and Peter Andre…but one thing that is not going away anytime soon is this quick-success story; the ‘viral star’ who is given a booster seat at the table of musical accomplishment without any sense of graft or purpose. I don’t know if anyone saw Dave perform at Glastonbury last week(end) and caught his amazing performance. After the release of his incredible album, PSYCHODRAMA, earlier on this year, critics and fans alike are unified in their praise and respect for the London rapper. One can argue the Streatham artist has seen his Spotify streaming figures rise because of what happened at Glastonbury. During one of his tracks, Thiago Silva, he called out to the crowd and asked if anyone would like to come up to the stage and sing with him. The set-up could have gone drastically wrong and a nervous fan might have been embarrassed in front of thousands of people. Unbeknownst to those in attendance, Alex Mann climbed onto the stage and delivered a knockout performance. To be fair, I do not want to crap over Mann and discourage him from pursuing a career in the music industry. I am sure he has a talent for writing and rapping but he came onto the stage and performed a Dave song that many other people knew.

That would be okay if he got some buzz and then sort of went away. He would have had the confidence to pursue his own path and discover that confidence but, as is the way with modern music and the way record contracts are handed out to those who have hardly worked, the viral star (dubbed ‘Glastonbury Alex’) has got himself signed. One cannot blame Dave for the outcome because he gave this rare opportunity to Mann and is now responsible for this unknown teenager being elevated to rare heights of celebration and fame. I can respect the fact that Mann is perfectly entitled to be an artist but, considering a week ago he was anonymous and has now got a record deal does not send out a good message. I have forgotten to mention the fact that AJ Tracey also appears on Thiago Silva and, as such, should get full props. There is a debate as to whether Alex Mann has actually signed a solid deal but, as this article explores, the boy is not short on offers! Many have taken to social media to laud Mann and underline the fact he stepped onto this huge stage and delivered confidently. That is fine but consider the fact that, essentially what he has done is recited some lyrics on stage…the same way someone would at a talent show or drunkenly at a pub. The fact that record labels are sniffing around Mann after a single, high-profile performance raises interesting questions.

Music scouts are in the world to, one hopes, discover the best artists around; those who have grafted and deserve their big shot. I have attended gigs where labels have been in attendance and there have been scouts looking to get a wet signature from a great new band or solo artist. That is the traditional, correct impression of music and connecting rising talent with labels. Of course, there is inherent issues regarding signing with management and labels so early. One is never sure whether the contract is favourable to the artist or whether the deal will be fair. In any case, talent scouts and those responsible for uniting musicians with labels should be at gigs and on the toilet circuit – seeing the moment when an as-yet-unknown artist gets that rapturous explosion of love from the crowd and seems to tasty to turn down. One question I have is whether, in an age where social media and streaming is dominating, whether it is easier scoring a viral hit and getting a record deal that way – compared to doing things the honest way and grafting your way to that platform. Are those who are responsible for marrying artists to record labels looking for genuine talent and longevity or are factors such as hype, novelty and quick financial turnaround more important? Even if Alex Mann shapes up to be the next best thing (which he won’t be!), he has not put in the requisite hours to warrant a record deal and does not have the experience to navigate pitfalls, hurdles and the demands of the circuit.

Artists who get contracts after years have played the circuits and they have won their stripes. Consider Dave and AJ Tracey and how they would have hustled, slogged and performed all around the place to get their voices heard. Dave was not on that Glastonbury stage because he won a talent contest or became an overnight hit on YouTube – the festival does not operate that way and books artists on the basis of merit and not because of some noxious fad. Now that Mann has got record companies chomping, one feels his resolve with dissipate soon and we will soon see a debut album – one presumes with generic Rap songs written by committee; an album that will be slaughtered by the press and, after that, one assumes natural entropy. Not only is that cruel to a boy who, one feels, is already looking ahead to headline festivals but it sort of send the message that all one needs to get a record deal is to be in the right place at the right time – so long as they can hold their nerve on the stage and, essentially, deliver someone else’s words. That is setting the bar pretty low and it does a disservice to those busking to get heard; bands sweating around the land and artists who have been plying and plugging for years! I do begrudge Mann his time in the sun and respect he is getting because, let’s face it, he got people together and talking – there is a big difference between letting that adulation fade and that experience leading to a record contract!

I came across an excellent article from The Independent that raises another question around music and race. Consider the fact Thiago Silva was performed by two black artists and, between them, they have a respectable and loyal fanbase. Dave and AJ Tracey are fantastic artists to watch and have got to where they are because of their innate talent, steely determination and mettle. Now throw in a third, white name into the pot and Alex Mann – who did not write the song or have any hand in it – is becoming more talked-about than the men who crafted the tune. If a black teenager came to the stage then would record companies be knocking down his door? I doubt it. There is this perception that the nervous white kid who beams cutely is a lot more appealing and marketable than a black artist who is far less sell-able and ‘chart-friendly’. One feels, if Mann does make an album, it will be far less gutsy and authentic than what Dave and AJ Tracey have created. Not too much is known about Mann but he does not strike me as someone who has lived the same reality as Dave and AJ Tracey: his narrative seems far more comfortable and, when you translate that into the studio, will people see right through that?! The Independent’s piece highlights how there is this instant divide between black and white artists: how the white artist is talked about in fond terms and is commercially viable whereas, in the case of black artists like Dave and AJ Tracey, they are seen as a bit dangerous, suspicious and, to be fair, no way as adorable as a teenager like Alex Mann:

Meanwhile, Alex was invited onto Good Morning Britain, where Piers Morgan – who usually only acknowledges rap during debates on knife crime and gang violence, or else to insist white people should be allowed to use the “n” word – gushed over how Alex had supposedly “slayed” Glastonbury (no mention of Dave’s performance or Stormzy’s explosive headline show).

“That’s what the youth of today should be doing more of,” Morgan proclaimed, fawning so much he turned even redder than usual, “taking their chance and slaying it.”

IN THIS PHOTO: AJ Tracey/PHOTO CREDIT: Mike Prior

It was excruciating, not just for the fact that everyone watching will have known that, until now – and perhaps even after that interview – Morgan had no idea who Dave and AJ Tracey were. The same praise he was lavishing on this white teenager from Somerset would never be applied to the artists who actually put in the work, who made the beats and came up with the flow and the lyrics, and who both achieved top 5 albums this year. Interestingly, Morgan didn’t bring up the lyrics of “Thiago Silva”, which reference gangs and violence, in reference to Alex rapping them.

Dave and AJ Tracey are both independent artists who have capitalised on live performances and streaming, along with raw talent and hard work, to build their own careers with little support from traditional platforms. Just this month, it was revealed that AJ’s music has been streamed more than half a billion times, marking him out as a growing number of artists pursuing commercial success on his own. The only person he splits the profits of his music with is his mother. He’s a talented businessman as well as an artist, but without label support he has to work 10 times as hard as someone signed to a major”.

There is a lot to study and discuss when it comes to the perception of black artists today – and I cannot do it full justice – but I think it is glaring that Mann, without a sufficient backstory and collection of original tracks, is gaining far more traction and less distortion than Dave and AJ Tracey – two artists who have an impressive catalogue and are inspiring youngsters around the country.

 PHOTO CREDIT: @dizzyd718/Unsplash

Maybe it is that misguided impression we have of genres like Rap, Hip-Hop and Drill; the assumption that its proponents and supporters are out to conspire and cause trouble; they are promoting bad messages and are morally suspect. It is not a surprise that Piers Morgan did not know who AJ Tracey and Dave were and was fawning over Alex Mann. We know the man (Morgan) is a toad and someone who is completely ignorant and uneducated when it comes to genres like Rap and the black community as a whole. There are artists, sure, who will promulgate negative messages and perpetuate stereotypes; brag about wealth and celebrate violence in the neighbourhoods. That sort of music needs to be addressed and censored at a time when knife violence in London is running high – that is a different argument and, again, is more complex than the black-and-white. Dave and AJ Tracey are delivering the sort of music that Britain needs right now: truthful songs that dig down and expose the truth. The tracks go inside council flats and they walk the streets with caution. Dave, on PSYCHODRAMA, runs a gamut of emotions and shows no fear when it comes to creating these bold and exciting compositions. Critics and fans have lauded his work – quite right! – but he has had to work so hard to get there and, when it comes to publicity, are some press outlets a bit cautious when it comes to spotlighting a young black artist in modern Britain?

I am sure Alex Mann is actually reacting the same way many people are: surprised he is being offered a deal and, if he wants to get into music, step back and respect the fight his heroes have had. He is not the villain in this because he has not asked to be signed and he has not created all the publicity. My problem comes with labels and the media who put people like Mann on a pedestal when genuine artists like Dave and AJ Tracey are afforded less kudos and are producing brilliant original music. I think everything comes down to the fact that we live in a time when the panacea of talent shows provides false idols and one-album-worthy artists who are generic, commercially manipulated and exposed to the gaudy pantomime and excruciating sob stories of talent shows. I admit that some YouTube artists are worthy of greater respect (such as Dodie) but so many are getting famous because of cover versions of viral videos when there are hard-working and years-grafting artists who are getting overlooked. In today’s music scene, is getting a record contract easy when you are on a talent show or Internet but much harder if you go down the conventional routes? I do think we need to do away with talent shows and sending out the message that this is the way to get into the industry.

We still need record label representative and scouts at gigs but they need to follow artists who deserve record deals: this idea of seeing someone do a single turn on T.V. and then send record contracts their way is an insult to every artist who has toiled in anonymity in order to get a deal. I do hope that some of the approbation this Alex Mann story is getting opens eyes and means that, the next time some hopeful gets onto a stage and recites a few bars, record labels calm down and we can contain the brief fire – nip it all in the bud and not give any more thought to something that was good in the moment but has no potential or place in the world beyond that. I do think we also need to ask why genuine, genius black artists are being talked about in minor tones whereas white artists are given a lot more credit and positive attention. From Piers Morgan drooling over Alex Mann to AJ Tracey being given a slightly rough ride on the Victoria Derbyshire show back in February – where she did actually say the following: “Some of your other videos we were playing earlier on, you know, it’s almost like a bit of a shout-out to kind of gangs in London; I’m not suggesting you’re advocating gangs, but there do seem to be a lot of guys hanging out – is that a conscious message, or is that just the scene that you’re in, the music scene that you’re in?” – we need to tackle this discrimination, stereotyping and ignorance. Seeing the furor Alex Mann’s Glastonbury performance has caused has delivered a very bad message into the world and what it takes to get famous and noticed. It has also opened eyes to the fact that the men responsible for launching him to the public (Dave especially) are being comparatively ignored and seen in a very different light. Talent scouts, record labels and the media need to be aware of how they book talent and who they promote. Let’s hope Alex Mann is not given a deal and gets to think about his career on his own terms but, although this story/situation will dissolve (let’s hope!), I am afraid so much damage…

 PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images

HAS already been done.

FEATURE: Une Belle Âme: The Intoxicating Spirit of Christine and the Queens

FEATURE:

 

 

Une Belle Âme

IN THIS PHOTO: Christine and the Queens (Héloïse Adelaide Letissier)/PHOTO CREDIT: Alex Lake (www.twoshortdays.com) for GQ

The Intoxicating Spirit of Christine and the Queens

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THIS might seem like a feature...

 PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images

that is out of the blue or, perhaps, is designed to fulfil personal tastes and affection. In fact, when thinking about Héloïse Adelaide Letissier and her moniker Christine and the Queens, one can never really say enough nice things! She was one of the artists who played Glastonbury over the three-day weekend and played the Other Stage on the Sunday, 30th June. Not only did she look fantastic and put in a commanding performance - but she begged the question as to why there are not more female headliners at Glastonbury. Not only did we have Lizzo and Kylie Minogue whipping up the crowds and owning it but, with Christine and the Queens and Janelle Monáe producing these epic, physical sets, surely it is only a matter of time before we see more female headliners – let’s hope so, anyway! I am a particularly big fan of Letissier because, for one, she is so articulate and passionate when she speaks. I caught her chatting with Matt Everitt at Glastonbury (via BBC Radio 6 Music – I was sat there spying on them!) and, as he said after the interview played out, Letissier is more articulate and intelligent when speaking her second language than most people are in their mother tongue. One listens to Letissier discus her music, her progress and process and it is almost poetic! I promise I am not going into dewy-eyed, wide-smiled adoration: this is a feature that demonstrates and outlines why Christine and the Queens is a force to be reckoned with.

Check out Christine and the Queens on Twitter to see where she is heading next. In terms of bossing, truly moving performances, Christine and the Queens’ Glastonbury set will live long in the memory! Letissier bonded with and charmed her audience but managed to deliver this spellbinding, almost theatrical set that was beautifully choreographed and realised. I think a lot of artists are still beholden to rigidity and a very formulaic way of performing. They expose little in the way of conversation and biography from the stage and one can tell they are running through the motions a lot of the time. In the case of Letissier, she puts her everything into every performance and each time she takes to the stage we get a slightly different take. There is so many nuances in her performances and it makes her/Christine and the Queens a must-see. I will catch her next time she is around London because, as NME outlined in their review of Christine and the Queens at Glastonbury a week ago, this is an experience you cannot afford to miss:

At times, the set breaks with captivating dance routines, first to Travis Scott’s ‘Sicko Mode’, and later to ‘I got 5 on it’ and Janet Jackson’s ‘Nasty’. “I just had to do it!” she says joyfully,  charming the crowd. Reminiscing about her first Glastonbury performance she tells the audience how much she loved it, before adding: “And I’m not even being nice to you! Since then I’ve been bragging about you, actually back in France I was like “Glastonbury!” and they were like “…okay”, I was like I want to call him back but I don’t have his number, and there you are again!”

It’s humbling to see an artist who’s so excited to be playing the festival, and throughout she clearly relishes every second of her time on stage. “Glastonbury! I’m going to say it until you get sick of it…” she tells the crowd.

The staging is more theatrical than that of a festival set, with elegant pyro raining down on Chris, dazzling lights strobing throughout and a rig that elevates her above the stage during an emotional version of ‘Saint Claude’. Further performance highlights come in an emotional cover of David Bowie’s ‘Heroes’, a welcome respite amongst the rest of the high-octane setlist, and an euphoric version of ‘The Stranger’ that ends with an apocalyptic light show”.

The Independent were full of praise when they reviewed Christine and the Queens’ headline slot at All Points East recently:

The whiff of danger is in keeping with a somewhat apocalyptic evening. Just as Letissier was due to arrive on stage, a rainstorm erupted. Now, after a few songs from her excellent Eighties funk-inspired second album Chris, it has given way to a dramatic red sky. Whenever the singer steps out onto the walkway that stretches into the crowd, a forceful breeze causes her unbuttoned shirt to billow like a cape.

Letissier, for her part, is a potent performer, thrusting and flirting her way through a set full of sexual tension and premature climaxes – halfway through, a confetti canon showers the air with gold. During the gender-bending anthem “iT” from debut album Chaleur Humaine, she thrashes around on the floor, and then squares up to a female dancer in a display of lust and hostility”.

Not only is Héloïse Adelaide Letissier one of the finest and most scintillating, natural live performers out there but the music is so engrossing, rich and deep.

My first exposure to Christine and the Queens was back in 2014 with the debut album, Chaleur humaine. The very different-looking lead is on the album cover holding flowers, her hair longer and air of grace and romance lingering in the air. The 2015 edition of the album contains the phenomenal Tilted but, to be honest, the original version of the album is crammed with so much brilliance and life. It is an affirmative and gorgeous album but there is personal revelation and exposure that draws you closer to Letissier. I adore the debut album and think that it is one of the most confident and compelling from the past ten years. The press were keen to heap praise on Chaleur humaine. In my opinion, there was nothing like Christine and the Queens in the music world in 2014: this combination of keen intelligence, sophisticated emotional blends and sensual, sexual mixes that inflame the intellect, body and soul. The Guardian, when reviewing the record, define Chaleur humaine more succinctly:

Chaleur Humaine is a rich and rewarding album that works whichever way you slice it. If you want to take it as an extended musical treatise on queer identity and non-binary sexual orientation, there’s plenty here to keep you occupied. Take, for example, the opening track iT’s declaration of “I’m a man now and there’s nothing you can do to stop it.” (Later in the song, an unconvinced Greek chorus suggest: “She draws her own crotch by herself but she’ll lose because it’s a fake.” Or take Half Ladies’ defiance in the face of abuse: “I’ve found a place of grace … every insult I hear back darkens into a beauty mark,” she sings, before another fantastic chorus – one on which her love of Michael Jackson shines through – sweeps the song along.

It’s informed by a sharp musical intelligence – Paradis Perdus takes an exquisitely orchestrated, vaguely Pink Floydish track from a 1973 album by French singer Christophe and Heartless from Kanye West’s 808s and Heartbreak, identifies a common mood between the two, and melds them together seamlessly – but one that it chooses to wear lightly. You never find yourself in the presence of music that sounds self-consciously clever. Everything flows easily, nothing jars.

“A song is like a virus,” Letissier told an interviewer last year, “everyone can have it.” It’s a lovely sentiment, and Chaleur Humaine bears that line of thinking out: for all the seriousness of the issues the lyrics explore, it always feels like a pleasure rather than hard work. The question of whether it will prove as infectious in the UK as it has on the continent is a tough one: the innate conservatism of mainstream British pop sits pretty uneasily with an artist who clearly thinks pop music can be both an unalloyed pleasure and a conduit for ideas, a means of provoking thought, a world in which you can reinvent yourself at the same time. The question of whether it deserves to be is more easily answered”.

Like Kate Bush adopting a more muscular and expressive sound on Hounds of Love (compared with, say, The Kick Inside), Christine and the Queens became Chris in 2018. The titular album is a bolder revelation and one where we see a marked difference on the cover – from the long-haired heroine holding flowers to the shorter-haired Chris providing a complex look to camera, one can see the changes.

 PHOTO CREDIT: Dustin Condren

I guess, to Letissier, Chris was a new persona; a reinvention who she could base her songs on. Chris is one of 2018’s best-reviewed albums and it is a staggering record. One can feel the changes and the shift in terms of personality but, at its heart, Chris is Letissier taking on new challenges and moving in new directions. The Independent, when reviewing Chris, had this to say:

Letissier makes her vintage synths snap, crackle, pop, fizz, freeze, squelch, shimmer and soar. There’s even a shattered glass effect (on “Stranger”) to complete the Old Skool Electronica bingo card. Treble notes bounce from air-cushioned soles. Bass lines lasso your hips. Chiffon layers of Letissier’s Anglo-French vocals glide around your neck and shoulders and roll them back. It’s ridiculously danceable.

The quirky lyrical pleas for understanding of early hits like “Tilted” has been replaced by the empowered seduction of “Girlfriend”, on which lines “Don’t feel like a girlfriend/ But lover/ Damn, I’d be your lover” simmer over flickering flames of funk-guitar”.

I want to finish up with a couple of interviews – one from late last year and another that is more recent. In the 2018 interview, Letissier talked with The Independent about her sexuality, how she helped (men she dated) deconstruct their own masculinity – she also reacted to the way some journalists perceived her new ‘Chris’ persona:

In her life off stage, Letissier sought love from a multitude of “macho men”. She’s said before that she learned how to be a woman from the drag queens she met. Did she learn anything about masculinity from these men? “I learnt about intricacy,” she says. “[All my life], I had to deconstruct my femininity because of how I felt, and who I loved... but people all deal with that complexity. I deal with it out in the open, because in a way I was forced to, but some people deal with it more secretly, and sometimes it creates wounds that never stop bleeding.”

For some of the men Letissier dated, she was the catalyst they needed to deconstruct their own masculinity. “They were confiding in me about those things they couldn’t deal with. And also I was taking a bit from their masculinity to [put] on my femininity. I feel like a weird composite. It’s one of my kinks to explore that. And the more I explore it, the freer I feel. But even in relationships that were supposed to be ‘woke’, with people who were as queer as I was, there were systems of oppression that were lingering. I’m just learning that actually, nothing is simple.”

More upsetting was the way certain journalists sneered at her new persona. “Sometimes when people interview me, there is a slight smile of like, ‘Oh so now you want to be called Chris?’ And I’m like, ‘How can you make me feel sorry about that? It’s all about reinvention and freedom. Come on, man. It’s playful, man. How come it’s violent enough for you to try to defuse it with mockery?’ It’s also fun. It’s also entertainment. Sometimes I read things and I’m like, ‘Sh*t, I’m not that solemn.

In this second interview, there is a feeling that Letissier feels more at home, focused and safe on the stage compared with her actual life. It is interesting seeing her talk about her styles of performance and the way she is pushing live music:

On her most recent tour, she used her background as a theatre student to present a show that was a long way from standard arena pop dazzle but still visually unforgettable: grand painted landscape backdrops, a gentle snowstorm, falling lines of sand, a surprise balcony appearance, and dancers who eschewed formation routines to tell a story in movement.

“Some people were surprised at the theatricality of it. There were points where they didn’t know whether they should clap. I wanted to invite people in differently. It was an interesting challenge to think of big venues as something fragile. I wanted something really bare and exposed and naked”.

The amazing Héloïse Adelaide Letissier is different things to different people. Whether you associate her with the image and sound of Christine and the Queens’ debut or think her modern-day incarnation if a truer representation, that is the beauty of the artist: she is not restricted and is always looking to explore and evolve. She can captivate and allure in French and is far wiser, sharper and smarter than most native English speakers – a truly inspiring artist who is pushing down boundaries and barriers and delivering something unique and utterly fascinating. Keep a check of Christine and the Queens’ social media channels for tour dates and updates but, right now, the heroine is on a roll. Fresh from two big festival performances in the U.K., I don’t think there is a live performer as spellbinding as Letissier – maybe Lizzo and IDLES would run her close. In any case, Christine and the Queens’ figurehead is an exceptional human and musical package. An accomplished musician, a role model for women and the L.G.B.T.Q.I.A.+ community and, for everyone else, someone who drops the jaw and opens the mind, I felt compelled to salute Letissier. Whether you gravitate towards her earliest work or cannot get enough of Chris’ jewels; whether you adore her sense of boldness or gravitate toward the more vulnerable artist, it is clear Christine and the Queens’ Héloïse Adelaide Letissier is someone…

ADORED and respected around the world.

FEATURE: Female Icons: Part Ten: Annie Lennox

FEATURE:

 

 

Female Icons

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PHOTO CREDIT: Annie Lennox/Getty Images 

Part Ten: Annie Lennox

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NEXT week...

 PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images

I am featuring Aretha Franklin in this feature because, to me, she defines what an icon is: the grace and power she projected; the timelessness of her music and how her messages spread further than something commercial and obvious. In so many ways, she helped change the industry and provided the world with some of the most stirring songs ever. Although the Queen of Soul is no longer with us, she will continue to inspire and move people for decades to come. Today, I have been thinking a lot about Annie Lennox and how her music has impacted the music industry. Whether part of Eurythmics or as a solo artist, one cannot deny the sheer wonder of Annie Lennox’s voice. Born in 1957, Lennox caught the attention of the public in the late-1970s as part of the band, The Tourists. She was a member alongside future-Eurythmic Dave Stewart - and the two would go on to achieve huge acclaim and success through the 1980s. The 1980s was a wonderful and underrated decade and, to me, it is not defined by its great solo artists as it is bands. That might be a sweeping statement but, aside from a few obvious legends, I think more people talk about bands than the solo artist. Look at the greatest voices from the decade and, to me, Annie Lennox is right near the very top. If Eurythmics’ debut album, In the Garden, did not quite have the same impact and great reviews as their later work, it was a pretty impressive introduction and Lennox’s songwriting and vocal gifts were at the forefront.

I was born in 1983 and it was in that year when Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This) was released to the world. The title track is one of the best-known tracks from the album and I think it is Lennon that makes it shine. Listen to the way she projects the lines and the emotions she puts into the song. Lesser singers would do a very straight rendition but Lennox has her own dynamic; much more an actor projecting lines; ensuring every ounce of emotion and intrigue is put into the song. SLANT, when reviewing the album in 2008, highlighted Lennox’s soulfulness and natural abilities:

Not only did the Eurythmics’ breakthrough Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This) give the genre a distinctly feminine voice, it helped give it soul, marrying the intentionally artificial, repetitive elements and robotic rhythms of techno to more organic sounds (a cornucopia of live flute, scat-like vocals, and synthesized organ creates a jungle milieu on the brief “I Have an Angel”; trumpets sound a lover’s forced departure on “The Walk”), not to mention Annie Lennox’s smooth, soulful voice. This was no more evident than in the title track (the album’s final single and the duo’s first U.S. hit), an ode to masochistic desire in which Lennox’s supple vocal takes on the stern, dominant tone of a taskmaster—and, mirroring the androgynous, Grace Jones-inspired dual personas of many of the group’s music videos, she is also the subordinate”.

Again, lesser bands would take a bit of a break before releasing another album - Eurythmics’ follow-up, Touch, came later that same year! With each album, Lennox was growing as a singer. Listen to Here Comes the Rain Again and the melodrama and cool vocals from Lennox turns the song into a masterpiece. There is no other singer that would give the track so much verve and personality, I feel. Contrast that was a slightly icier turn on Who’s That Girl and, whilst soulful and deep, Lennox adopts a different persona. Of course, the success of Eurythmics was down to the partnership and chemistry between Lennox and Stewart. With Stewart’s incredible compositional drive and direction, Lennox was free to roam in all manner of directions. An album like Touch does not stay still or have a singular sound. Right By Your Side is a more tropical, Caribbean vibe that shows how dexterous Lennox is as a performer. The 1980s was a huge and busy year for Eurythmics. Before 1985’s Be Yourself Tonight, the duo had already recorded a soundtrack (1984 (For the Love of Big Brother) and were riding a huge critical wave. Touch saw Lennox reach new peaks but I think her voice hit new plains on Be Yourself Tonight. There Must Be an Angel (Playing with My Heart) and Sisters Are Doin’ It for Themselves (with Aretha Franklin) are incredible songs and, when on the same track as Aretha Franklin, Annie Lennox does not sound inferior at all – she manages to match the Queen of Soul seamlessly.

The reviews, again, for Eurythmics’ music was impassioned. AllMusic, when reviewing Be Yourself Tonight, highlighted Annie Lennox’s incredible vocals:

The second single, which was a huge chart topper in Europe, "There Must Be an Angel," is nothing short of shimmering beauty, with Lennox providing truly angelic vocals and Stevie Wonder lending an enchanting harmonica solo. Aretha Franklin lends her powerhouse pipes for the duet "Sisters Are Doin' It for Themselves," which has gone on to become an immortal feminist anthem. From the soulful electronic beats (a rarity) in "It's Alright (Baby's Coming Back)" to the beauty of the Elvis Costello duet "Adrian" to the pain and longing of the sorrowful rocker "Better to Have Lost in Love (Than Never to Have Loved at All)," this album runs a wide array of musical styles, each song standing tall on its own two feet”.

Perhaps Be Yourself Tonight was the last huge Eurythmics album – although 1986’s Revenge and 1987’s Savage had their share of fine moments. We Too Are One was the last album the duo recorded until 1999 and, in 1989, there were signs that Annie Lennon wanted to move in her own direction. Consider the big albums of 1989 and perhaps Eurythmics’ sound was not as striking and original as it once was; tastes where changing and, whilst Annie Lennox remained this pivotal force and unique singer, it was clear that a change was afoot.

I love Eurythmics and grew up listening to their music. Although I am a big fan of Dave Stewart, it has always been Annie Lennox’s lead that has won my heart. When she went solo, even though I was not even nine when her debut album was released (in April 1992), I latched onto her music and was transfixed. Entering a new decade, it would have been understandable if Lennox took a bit of time out and struggled to assimilate. Coming from a successful duo, Annie Lennox effortlessly mastered solo life. Diva is a classic and hugely memorable album that went to number-one in the U.K. charts and sold over a million copies in the U.K. alone. Diva won the Album of the Year award at the 1993 BRIT Awards and was nominated for Album of the Year at the Grammys that same year. Any album that opens with Why and Walking on Broken Glass is impressive but Diva is much more than the sum of its opening duo of tracks. In Eurythmics, Lennox had shown her vocal prowess and multiple sides; she was blossoming as a songwriter but I think her debut solo album unified everything and took her to new heights. SLANT, in this review, marks Diva as one of the finest albums of 1992:

The song, "Why," is hardly the sort of melodramatic setting we'd imagine from an album whose very name evokes histrionic pretense. But Annie Lennox isn't and has never been a representative pop diva. Her body is lanky and angular instead of curvaceously plush. Her exaggerated facial features (capped off with a most spectacular set of cheekbones that she wisely never allowed her hair to grow long enough to cover) are matched in androgen-fabulousness only by her tremulously guttural alto.

The first album Lennox released after the Eurythmics called it quits, Diva's relative quietude is reflective of a woman in full awareness—if not complete control—of the occasional ostentation of her emotional whims. It's musically analogous to All About Eve's ferocious Margo Channing during those rare moments when she's alone and contemplating the social consequences of her violent temper. It speaks exactly what she (Margo, Annie, every woman…) wished she could convey, but the music underneath most of the album's tracks is filled with the rumbling turbulence that betrays her best intentions. Practically speaking, the music video for Lennox's baroque dance hit "Walking On Broken Glass" harnesses this stress to a T. Dressed in Amadeusboudoir finery (not to be confused with the Vegas headdress crowning Lennox on the album's disingenuously gaudy cover), the clip's heroine finds her flirtations ignored until she gets her paramour alone in her chambers. He mistakenly reads her interest as sexual heat and, outraged, she casts him away, banging her fist against the wall in synchronization to the song's rimshots. "Every one of us was made to suffer," she reasons. "Every one of us was made to weep." One of the most brilliant singles of the era, "Walking On Broken Glass" and its video cast a suspicious eye on the deliberate façade-maintenance of modern pop by playing up the same mixed signals that equips Diva with its power”.

1995’s Medusa is an album of cover versions but, unlike so many covers albums, Lennox seems to have a real attachment to each track and makes the music her own. No More I Love You’s is, perhaps, the best-known track from that album but some did find the choice of covers unusual and wrong-footed. It took until 2003 before another album came about. Bare is one of Lennox’s most affecting and emotion records ever. No singles were released in the U.K. and, whereas that might have meant commercial suicide, there wasn’t anything as immediate and chart-friendly as previous album. Bare is best enjoyed as a single experience; playing the songs together and seeing it as one body of work – rather than dividing songs and choosing certain ones for special treatment. Just when you thought Annie Lennox could not get better and more accomplished as a writer and singer, she managed to outdo herself on Bare. AllMusic summed up the album like this:

But it's in the lyrical paradox where the grain of her voice goes straight for a truth and need that the listener almost feels she's peeled off one layer too many -- not hers, ours: "I wanna hold you/And be so held back/Don't wanna need you/But it's where I'm at/Thinkin' about you every day/How come I was made that way...God it makes me so blue/Every time I think about you/All of the heat of my desire/Smokin' like some crazy fire/Come on here/Look at me/Where I stand/Can't you see my heart burning in my hands?/Do you want me? Do you not?"

The previous track is a guitar-kissed ballad with limpid choruses that sear with the truth of having believed -- perhaps willingly -- each lie a lover ever told; it is destined to be played in every post-midnight, brokenhearted, half-empty bedroom for decades to come. And though the previous examples come from near the middle of the album, they don't begin to tell the whole story, as each track fits hand in glove with another. It not only can be taken as a whole, it must be, for it rains down on the heart of the listener with such a fierce life force, despite the depleted spirit exhibited in many of the cuts. There are no more words for the ravaged, triumphant Bare -- the truth of its fineness and devastating beauty is in the hearing”.

Annie Lennox’s most-recent album, 2014’s Nostalgia, is another covers album but one that fared better with critics. I do wonder whether Lennox has plans for another album because there is always that demand. It is not only her phenomenal music that leads me to believe she is a true icon. Lennox is a social activist and has raised money/awareness for AIDS/HIV (and how it has affected women and children in Africa). She was awarded an OBE in 2011 and constantly features in the lists of ‘greatest singers ever’. Small wonder that so many artists look up to her and she is revered so much.

One only needs to look at the awards Lennox has won and the accomplishments that makes her C.V. so hard to beat. In 2007, Lennox performed at the Nobel Peace Prize Concert in Oslo and she appeared the following year at Nelson Mandela’s 90th Birthday Tribute. In 2009, Lennox opened the Edinburgh Festival of Politics and condemned Pope Benedict XVI’s approach to AIDS and HIV prevention in Africa – the Pope denounced condoms and, quite rightly, Lennox highlighted how this was hugely irresponsible. Lennox received the Music Industry Trusts Award for her music and charity commitments in 2013 and, yet again, it was a well-deserved nod of recognition. Not only is Lennox a political and social activist but she is a big supporter of the L.G.B.T.Q.I.A.+ community and, as a result, Lennox is a gay icon. From the eye-catching videos with Eurythmics through to her solo work, she has helped shape popular culture and change attitudes – alongside peers such as Madonna and Michael Stipe. Lennox, like all icons, is more than a musician. She strives to make the world a better place and affect change. She is not using her fame to get ahead and see change but, instead, tirelessly working and raising awareness where she can. As a feminist and activist, she has helped bring about discussion and break down walls. Before rounding things off, I want to bring up an interview Annie Lennox conducted in 2011.

She spoke with High Profiles and talked about her start as a singer and the importance of campaigning:

Had your heart always been set on being a singer?

No. I always sang, always, but I never thought of it in any other terms than [being] just for my own pleasure. No, actually I was fairly proficient at the flute and I had an idea that I would become a classical flute-player; but the standard is so high and so specific, I quickly realised… You know, I was the best in my town, as it were, but there are hundreds of towns like that full of people who are far more gifted than you.

I get the impression that you were quite a shy person – and yet only a few years later you were this exuberant performer sporting a man’s suit and dyed orange hair…

Oh, I am a shy person. I’ve always been a shy person. I don’t think it’s that unusual to find that a performer off-stage is not the person you might assume they are. A stage persona allows you to work in a very different way from [what you are like] in normal circumstances.

Has campaigning made you less melancholy?

Well, if I’m less melancholy… I would say yes, I would definitely say so, because I have to say that the wake-up experience of being face-to-face with people who have absolutely nothing and then coming back to a Western world that is so fully resourced – whenever one might slip into a ‘Poor me!’ state, you’re swiftlyreminded that, wait a minute! this kind of pain – anguish – you bear is just negligible compared with people whose whole life…

PHOTO CREDIT: Mike Owen 

If you were born into chronic abject poverty, you have a very small, small chance of getting out of it – that’s a fact. And the only way, the only way, you could possibly take a step towards, you know, the exit would be [through] education. But if you can’t get food in your belly to help you to concentrate through the day, that education isn’t going to help. And then if you get an education and you can’t get a job even so, that’s also a problem. The odds are so stacked against people, and that is – that’s the injustice that I can’t bear.

If you had to give up either the campaigning or the music, which would it be?

Well, that puts me in between a rock and a hard place, really. I would… I would be a campaigner, yeah. But at the moment I’m so fortunate because I can do many things, and so I’ll just continue doing what I do until I can’t do it any more.

And when you can’t do it any more? Does that worry you?

Ah, you mean getting older? Well, it is what it is. Does it worry me? I don’t think it helps to worry about getting older, so I tend not to – I look on it as a journey, and I think that I’m very fortunate to be 56 and to feel like a – you know, my mind is incredibly inspired and driven to engage with things that I feel passionately about.

I mean, I’ve lived a long life and I’ve had the benefit of youth and I often look back on it and it seems like there was a lot of vanity in it (but no one realises that until maybe they’ve lived a bit longer). They say that youth is wasted on the young, and very often it is; but the trouble is, people keep seeking eternal youth as if that would be the solution, and I don’t think it is – I feel that you must move, you must keep flowing, you must grow old graciously and – actually, almost with excitement. Being older, I can let go of things that once were so important to me. It’s like: Do you ever look back on your childhood and think how obsessed you were with sweets and wish you were still that person? I don’t”.

Annie Lennox is the type of human who will not rest until there is equality and progress in the world. She is this amazing spirit and campaigner who is inspiring to watch and, as an artist, Lennox has been responsible for some truly staggering songs. Her voice is unlike anyone else’s and, whether with Eurythmics or working solo, Lennox has inspired and influenced so many other artists. One only needs to listen to a single Annie Lennox track and you realise how much music means to her and what her voice can do. I think Lennox is a treasure and let’s hope there are more albums from her in the future. If you have not listened to her solo work or are new to Eurythmics, make sure you right that and investigate immediately. There is nobody like the wonderful Annie Lennox and, for that reason, there was no doubt in my mind that she belonged in my…

FEMALE Icons feature.

FEATURE: Spotlight: Hatchie

FEATURE:

 

 

Spotlight

PHOTO CREDIT: Sophie Hur 

Hatchie

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THERE are a lot of great female artists emerging...

 PHOTO CREDIT: Sarah Louise Bennett

at the moment but, to me, Hatchie is one to watch closely. I think 2019 has been a really exciting year for music and so many great albums have been put out already. Hatchie is someone who definitely needs to be on your mind. She sort of combines the sounds of Kylie Minogue; Cocteau Twins, Kate Bush and Wolf Alice to create this stirring and evocative sound. She is sort of Dream-Pop  but there is Shoegaze and Alternative blends working alongside one another. The twenty-six-year-old, Brisbane-based artist has released one of 2019’s best albums – I shall come to that soon – but has been turning heads since her debut E.P., Sugar & Spice. Hatchie (Harriette Pilbeam) started singing as a child and fell in love with music from a young age. One can only imagine the range of sounds and records that the young musician would have experienced in her house. Hatchie picked up the guitar and bass in her teen years and the piano and clarinet later on. It is clear that there was a clear curiosity and desire burning. Early singles such as Sure (her second single released in 2017) tuned heads and announced her as an original talent and, in January 2018, Hatchie signed with Double Double. The Sugar & Spice E.P. arrived on 25th May, 2018 and received hearty critical praise. The five-track release (four previously fresh tracks and an additional track, Bad Guy) is terrific to listen to and contains many highlights.

Here, in this review from DIY, we hear about some of the musical influences that would have guided Hatchie:

‘Sugar & Spice’ cements her as the modern day successor to dream pop titans Cocteau Twins from the get-go. Robin Guthrie had already blessed her with a remix of ‘Try’ in 2017, but his influence shines through even more with the opening bars of ‘Sure’, as shimmering guitars wash through in layers. ‘Sleep’ is a climactic follow-up built around shuffling beats and heroic choruses, with a smoky hook that recalls Depeche Mode’s ‘80’s classic ‘Just Can’t Get Enough’. Later, the title track’s shoegazey guitars closely mimic the iconic, ethereal sound of My Bloody Valentine.

Harriette doesn’t possess the unique, wobbly vocal style of Elizabeth Fraser, instead opting for pure, uplifting pop hooks (it’s telling, then, that she counts Kylie Minogue among her influences). It comes naturally to her - “all my songs start with singing,” she says - which makes sense given the vocal strengths present across these five tracks. With a finessed production tying everything together, the end result is pretty ecstatic”.

In a year that has seen so many great women emerge and own, Hatchie can definitely be added to the conversation. She writes about love and heartbreak but can do it in a very fresh and original way – and ensure that it resonates and connects with the listener.

 PHOTO CREDIT: Kristina Wild

The incredible Australian artist is definitely hitting a high right now. Her album, Keepsake, was released on 21st June and it has definitely collected some big reviews. Here, in AllMusic, there were plenty of impassioned words:

On the album's luminous second half, Hatchie returns to the more familiar terrain of Sugar & Spice with the strummy ballads "When I Get Out" and "Kiss the Stars" as well as the irresistible finale "Keep." She also finds new nuances within her blend of dream pop and pop with a capital P -- somehow, "Without a Blush"'s swooning guitars and vocals have as much in common with Curve's "Coast Is Clear" as they do with Taylor Swift's "Wildest Dreams," while "Stay with Me" proves she's as capable of epic emotional climaxes as any chart-topping artist. Throughout KeepsakePillbeam develops the flair for pairing widescreen sounds with down-to-earth lyrics that she hinted at on Sugar & Spice. "Obsessed" is a standout, not only for its nagging arpeggiated synth hook, but for the clever way she dismisses her feelings while hinting at how deep they run. By contrast, "Her Own Heart" is unabashedly earnest and, with its clouds of guitars and piles of harmonies, one of the album's prettiest moments. As Hatchie exceeds the expectations set by Sugar & SpiceKeepsake reflects her growth into an even more confident and varied artist”.

DIY were back for another taste and were deeply impressed by Keepsake:

As Hatchie, Brisbane native Harriette Pilbeam provides the soundtrack to falling in love. She floods your ears with dreamy melodies, sugary tones and lush vocals, nestled in a perfect middle between Cocteau Twins and Alvvays - though commanding an artistry entirely her own. Having already released a slew of strong singles, the debut LP from the Australian musician veers away from the sometimes-sickly sweet sound of her older work.

She ventures out into pulsating basslines and deeper, darker ‘80s synthpop while still being able to turn virtually every sigh of a melody she breathes into an earworm. “If I could kiss you one more time, would it make everything alright?” she wonders on ‘Without a Blush’, before pleading “Give it a try,” on ‘Unwanted Guest’. She writes and wears her heart on her sleeve, half-singing, half-sighing through her songs with wide-eyed candour, shining through such swoon-worthy dream- pop. At some point, you’ll wonder if it was Hatchie’s heartache and pain that was written about, or your own”.

Maybe it is the dreaminess of her music or the fact, as some reviewers have noted, Hatchie provides comfort and wide-eyed gaze at a time of turbulence…it is very good she is in the world and providing music that can lift us but make us reflect at the same time. Even though Hatchie is writing beautiful music, her subject matter has changed and she has definitely evolved since her debut E.P. In an interview with Rolling Stone, Hatchie explained how her music has altered in the last year or two:

During the past year or two, Pilbeam became acutely aware that her music was being viewed primarily as a vehicle for expressing romantic infatuation. Early songs like “Sugar & Spice” and “Sleep” were bright, synth-heavy depictions of the near-delirious early rush of love. “Just come see me in my dreams,” she sang in the latter, “No wonder I’m smiling in my sleep.”

But when she began writing Keepsake, Hathchie knew she wanted to change course.

“As a young woman, I was like, ‘What is this saying about me that all my songs are about this?'” she says. “There’s nothing wrong with that, but I put a lot of pressure on myself to not write about that, which is silly because it’s what everyone writes about.”

Some of the best songs on Keepsake make explicit Hatchie’s ongoing process of sorting out the parameters of her own work. “You can call it an obsession/Call it anything you want to,” she sings on the opening standout “Not That Kind.” It’s a line of winking self-awareness for an artist who’s become increasingly aware of the importance of self-definition, even as she’s realized that her creative persona is ever-evolving.

“I feel like I’m changing so much every six months,” says Pilbeam. “Even this new album feels like a past version of myself.” Since the recording of Keepsake, she’s found herself writing unadulterated dance-pop. She enjoys these early stages of writing, before she needs to conceive of her work within the framework of her career to date”.

In some ways, Keepsake is Hatchie starting over or discovering who she is. It is clear that her new album has been taken to heart and the author cannot help but feel pleased with what she has accomplished. Hatchie has an Australian tour coming later in the year but I hope there are dates in the U.K. coming up.

 PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images

Many people here would love to see her perform and, with Keepsake still fresh, hearing those songs live and in-person would be an amazing experience. I am going to follow Hatchie closely but, if you are new to her work, go back and listen to Sugar & Spice. Although Hatchie has since adopted a new lyrical and musical approach, I maintain the E.P. is fantastic and a great window into an artist who was making some early, impressive moves. This year has been a competitive and thrilling one for music and it will be hard to call the best albums of 2019 come December – I do think Hatchie’s Keepsake needs to be in the mix. She has this wonderfully rich and engaging voice that brings you into the mix and, in a way, sort of unites you with other artists; musicians she grew up around and still adores. She is only just begun and I do think there will be a lot of great albums coming from Hatchie. It is clear she is doing something different and wonderful and, at a very angry and divided time, Hatchie is giving us music to soothe the soul and warm the heart – although there are tears and soul-baring moments to be found. The spectacular Hatchie crosses boundaries and genres and you cannot help but fall in love with her music. If she does come to the U.K. and plays some shows, make sure you go and see her as it is an experience…

 IMAGE CREDIT: Hatchie

YOU will not want to miss.

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FEATURE: Vinyl Corner: Stevie Wonder – Songs in the Key of Life

FEATURE:

 

 

Vinyl Corner

Stevie Wonder – Songs in the Key of Life

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AS the legendary Stevie Wonder is...

 IN THIS PHOTO: Stevie Wonder in 1995/PHOTO CREDIT: Jeff Christensen/Reuters

exciting the crowds at Hyde Park right now, it seemed only fair to bring one of his albums into Vinyl Corner. I have already covered Innervisions so, when we think of the best Stevie Wonder album, is Songs in the Key of Life far from our minds?! (Make sure you buy it on vinyl). Wonder released Fulfillingness' First Finale in 1974 and, in this classic period, he was simply unstoppable. By the time 1976’s Songs in the Key of Life was released (on 28th September), Stevie Wonder was one of the most revered artists in R&B. He was scoring these chart successes and winning critical applause all around the world. Actually, by the time 1975 came to an end, Wonder was actually considering working with disadvantaged children in Africa and quitting music. Maybe there was a sense of expectation and weight around him…that it was getting a bit too much or, after such a busy creative time, it would provide a perfect contrast. Instead of emigrating to Africa for a bit, Wonder signed with Motown and, by 1976, he had created a signature album; a work that was instantly loved and respected. Over one-hundred-and-thirty people worked on Songs in the Key of Life and the sheer depth of the material is staggering. Wonder has, in interviews after the album’s released, claimed the period around Songs in the Key of Life was especially happy and he was in a very good place.

One can hear that freedom and inventive spirit running right through Songs in the Key of Life. At the time, the album was a big success but it has since gone on to inspire legions of artists. Everyone from Elton John, Michael Jackson and Mariah Carey have name-checked the album and have cited it as an influence. Not only has the album’s power and depth moved artists in terms of their own material; tracks from Songs in the Key of Life have been sampled and appropriated by other acts. Pastime Paradise was adapted by Coolio for Gangster’s Paradise; Will Smith used I Wish as the base for the hit, Wild Wild West, and (the album) continues to impact and resonate. Upon its release, sales exceeded expectations and Songs in the Key of Life became a blockbuster. It was certified diamond in the U.S. alone and was the biggest-selling album of 1977 behind Fleetwood Mac’s Rumours. It was not a shock that Songs in the Key of Life was a success. Think about some of the reviews that have arrived since 1976; the effusive words that have been paid to this masterpiece. I will borrow the words of two much-trusted sources on this blog: AllMusic and Pitchfork. The former, in their review, discuss the balance of love songs and social commentary:

Though they didn't necessarily appear in order, Songs in the Key of Life contains nearly a full album on love and relationships, along with another full album on issues social and spiritual. Fans of the love album Talking Book can marvel that he sets the bar even higher here, with brilliant material like the tenderly cathartic and gloriously redemptive "Joy Inside My Tears," the two-part, smooth-and-rough "Ordinary Pain," the bitterly ironic "All Day Sucker," or another classic heartbreaker, "Summer Soft."

Those inclined toward Stevie Wonder the social-issues artist had quite a few songs to focus on as well: "Black Man" was a Bicentennial school lesson on remembering the vastly different people who helped build America; "Pastime Paradise" examined the plight of those who live in the past and have little hope for the future; "Village Ghetto Land" brought listeners to a nightmare of urban wasteland; and "Saturn" found Steviequestioning his kinship with the rest of humanity and amusingly imagining paradise as a residency on a distant planet. If all this sounds overwhelming, it is; Stevie Wonder had talent to spare during the mid-'70s, and instead of letting the reserve trickle out during the rest of the decade, he let it all go with one massive burst. (His only subsequent record of the '70s was the similarly gargantuan but largely instrumental soundtrack Journey Through the Secret Life of Plants.)”.

Pitchfork talked about Songs in the Key of Life’s success and how some objected to the sheer size and ambition of the record – and how the magnitude and cohesiveness of the album won big sales and awards:

Almost everyone understood the magnitude of Wonder’s achievement, but there were some objections, mostly having to do with the length and sprawl of the record. “[I]t has no focus or coherence,” wrote Vince Aletti in a wildly mixed but mostly favorable review in Rolling Stone. “The eclecticism is rich and welcome, but the overall effect is haphazard, turning what might have been a stunning, exotic feast into a hastily organized potluck supper.”

But to complain about the excess was to miss the point—any great double-album (The White AlbumExile on Main Street) could easily be edited into something tighter and more consistent, but the all-encompassing aspiration is the whole idea, the desire to contain multitudes and to cover as much ground as possible during a revved-up creative groove. Sometimes, more is more.

Certainly, the public understood. Songs in the Key of Life entered the album charts at No. 1, only the third record to hit that spot straight out of the gate (after Elton John’s two previous releases). It then stayed there for the rest of the year; to understand just how ubiquitous the music of the mid-’70s could be, consider that it knocked Frampton Comes Alive! out of the No. 1 slot, and was finally bested in January of 1977 by Hotel California. Inevitably, Wonder won his third straight Album of the Year award at the Grammys (he missed the ceremony because he was visiting Nigeria at the time)”.

There are countless highlights on Songs in the Key of Life but, to me, Pastime Paradise, As and Another Star are the finest tracks. To be honest, there is an embarrassment of riches and everybody is justified to argue with me. If the album sounds radical and truly breathtaking now, Songs in the Key of Life transformed R&B back in 1976 – as this article explores:

Broadening the genre: The record was influential because it completely blew apart the confines of R&B. It features a tremendous amount of experimentation that dig into striking new sonic and lyrical territory. The meter-defying "Contusion" is essentially a jazz fusion standard. "Village Ghetto Land" is a slice of Baroque classical that presents an uncomfortably visceral exploration of ghetto life — "Families buying dog food now / Starvation roams the streets / Babies die before they're born / Infected by the grief." And "Black Man" is essentially a master class in race relations and alternative history set to surging funk.

It was a near miracle, and Wonder did it almost entirely on his own. Wonder wrote dedications and thank yous to more than 150 people, but he alone wrote, produced, arranged and composed pretty much everything on the album himself. That idea of the R&B auteur has left a significant legacy in modern music — you can see it clearly in artists like Prince and D'Angelo”.

It is obvious Wonder was on a mission in 1976. Buoyed by the success of previous albums, Songs in the Key of Life shattered predictions and any notions of what Wonder was capable of. Not only was his eighteenth studio album a revelation in terms of quality and scope but, in composition terms, it was a chance to broaden his range. Here, as Rolling Stone write, Wonder was definitely aiming high:

For Wonder, the banner was a personal dare to expand his compositional range. “I challenged myself [to write] as many different things as I could, to cover as many topics as I could, in dealing with the title and representing what it was about,” he says in Classic Albums. “The title would give me a challenge, but equally as important as a challenge it would give me an opportunity to express my feelings as a songwriter and as an artist.”

It was a challenge he met head on, working to the point of obsession. Nonstop sessions stretched across two-and-a-half years, two coasts, and four studios: Crystal Sound in Hollywood, New York City’s Hit Factory, and the Record Plant outposts in Los Angeles and Sausalito. More often than not, he could be found in one of those spaces, sometimes for 48 hours at a time, chasing his muse with a rotating crew of engineers and support musicians. Over 130 people were involved in the recording, including Herbie Hancock, George Benson, “Sneaky Pete” Kleinow and Minnie Riperton. “If my flow is goin’, I keep on until I peak” became Wonder’s mantra”.

 PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images

In terms of the songs and how they make you feel…are there any other albums that contain the same powers, scenes and effects?! It is amazing experience listening to Songs in the Key of Life now because the songs sound so fresh and relevant. I love the fact that he is playing in Hyde Park now and many people will get to hear moments from Songs in the Key of Life for the very first time – almost forty-three years after its release! It is hard to believe that any album would endure for so many years. Maybe that is me being sceptical in a digital age but, when one mentions Stevie Wonder, naturally people will talk about Songs in the Key of Life. Different people have their own reasons for adoring the album. I love the sheer width of the material and the fact there is so much happening! I have already noted how Wonder’s magnum opus affected musicians after the fact and, in this article from The Daily Beast one can hear Stevie Wonder impact modern icons and true legends:

You can hear Stevie’s legacy throughout music today. Pharrell’s Stevie-isms come through all the time, from his approach to drumming to his melodies. Kanye’s early soul-driven productions owe a lot to Stevie (the bass on the intro to Common’s Be album) and ‘Ye himself admitted in 2005 that Stevie was his barometer for greatness: “I'm not trying to compete with what’s out there now. I’m really trying to compete with Innervisions and Songs in the Key of Life.”

Even Paul McCartney hailed Stevie’s “genius” after enlisting him for a song on his 2012 album Kisses on the Bottom, 30 years after the pair created No. 1 hit “Ebony and Ivory”: “Stevie came along to the studio in L.A. and he listened to the track for about 10 minutes and he totally got it. He just went to the mic and within 20 minutes had nailed this dynamite solo. When you listen you just think, ‘How do you come up with that?’ But it’s because he is a genius, that’s why”.

Stevie Wonder’s most-recent studio album is 2005’s A Time to Love and, one hopes, there will be more albums from him. There was this golden period from Stevie Wonder that, to many, sort of ended after Songs in the Key of Life. Here, The Quietus explain how material post-Songs in the Key of Life was not quite in the same league:

Still, this was 1976, this was Stevie Wonder, this was Songs In The Key Of Life, and there was no reason to think he would only step up to even higher ground from here. And yet . . . that was pretty much it. Next up, two years later, was the largely instrumental album Secret Life Of The Plants, which made a good pitch for the affections of Prince Charles but otherwise baffled critics. 

1980 saw a partial return to form with Hotter Than July, and the bountiful, bouncing ‘Master Blaster’, which optimistically heralded a bright future to come for newly free Zimbabwe. But thereafter? He attained even greater commercial success in the 1980s but on the back of more sporadic and distinctly weaker material; ‘Ebony And Ivory’, his facepalm duet with Paul McCartney which marked the decline of two towering artists into granny-friendly balladry long before their time and ‘I Just Called To Say I Love You’ are but two examples of how he’d cooled from black hot to tepid. ‘Happy Birthday’, meanwhile, calling for a National Holiday in honour of Martin Luther King. It’s as if Stevie Wonder himself had passed from innovator to national institution, answerable to nobody, retired from the responsibility of making decent records. Songs In The Key Of Life would turn out to be his last major stand”.

One can argue, perhaps, Stevie Wonder peaked in 1976 - but Songs in the Key of Life was not the last remarkable album he put out. Many switch between Innversions (1973) and Songs in the Key of Life as his finest moment. To me, the sheer beauty, intensity and ambition of Songs in the Key of Life wins the day! You can put the album on any day with any weather behind you and you are instantly transformed and immersed. It is a hugely powerful creation and, decades after its release, the songs keep on revealing fresh secrets and qualities. That is the mark of a genius album and, if you can get it on vinyl and spend some time with it, then I am sure you will agree. The staggering Stevie Wonder is in London right now and I know those who are watching him tonight will take away memories they will never forget! He is this timeless hero whose music has touched and enriched…

SO many lives.

FEATURE: Peace, Beats and Love: Saluting the Incredible Ringo Starr at Seventy-Nine

FEATURE:

 

 

Peace, Beats and Love

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IN THIS PHOTO: Ringo Starr in the 1960s/PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images 

Saluting the Incredible Ringo Starr at Seventy-Nine

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IT is hard to know where to start when it...

 PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images

comes to Ringo Starr! The recently-knighted icon turns seventy-nine tomorrow and, ahead of his birthday, it has made me think about all he has given to music. On a purely personal level, there are few out there as cool and inspiring as Starr. One only needs to look at his Twitter and Instagram feeds to realise he is one of the nicest and coolest people around. From the 1960s, we have opened our hearts to a man who promulgates peace and love. The positivity he sends out into the world is infectious and you can always rely on him to brighten your day and, of course, put out those peace-loving vibes. As a member of The Beatles, Starr was part of the Summer of Love back in 1967 and loved through a time where there was this spirit and harmony in the air – set against political turmoil and disconnection. Back then, in the U.S., the people came together and, here in the U.K., The Beatles very much took that notion to heart. There was this feeling that, through their music, they were bringing people together and sending out these incredible messages. I especially love The Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band because I can sense a certain harmony and magic. The psychedelic colours and iconic album cover, together with what was in the air in 1967 is absolutely magical. When one thinks of The Beatles, you have to consider Ringo Starr and how essential he was to their success…

We all talk about John Lennon and Paul McCartney because they wrote most of the hits and were at the front. George Harrison’s guitar work and incredible talent was a key ingredient and he wrote two of the biggest Beatles songs – Something and Here Comes the Sun (both from 1969’s Abbey Road). In terms of Starr’s songwriting contributions, well, I have always had a soft spot for them. Many claim Starr’s Beatles songs are a bit silly and, when you listen to the likes of Octopus’s Garden, there is a definite whimsy and originality. I love Don’t Pass Me By from 1968’s The Beatles but it is the Starr-sung songs that really strike me. Consider what he brings to The Beatles’ closing track, Good Night, and what a wonderful vocal performance it is. Track back to The Beatles’ debut album, Please Please Me, and a song like Boys – Starr was, in my mind, a stronger singer than George Harrison at that time. Yellow Submarine is a pretty silly song, to be fair, but it sounds utterly irresistible when you have Ringo Starr singing it! He turns the song into something almost transcendent – that might be pushing it but his voice is perfect for the song. Consider, perhaps, his greatest vocal contribution to The Beatles: Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band’s With a Little Help from My Friends. I have been thinking a lot about The Beatles. In a few days (on 10th July), A Hard Day’s Night turns fifty-five: it is one of the best albums from The Beatles and a key turning point for them.

Also, on this day in 1957, a young Paul McCartney met a slightly older John Lennon at the Woolton Village Fete and, as they say, the rest is history! One can talk about some pretty incredible Ringo Starr vocals – What Goes On (Rubber Soul), Act Naturally (Help!) and I Wanna Be Your Man (With The Beatles) among them – but it is his drumming that has inspired the masses and helped score some of the greatest songs ever written. Let’s get one thing right straight off of the bat: Ringo Starr is one of the greatest drummers there has ever been. I will end with a collection of his best performances but you only need listen to songs like Rain and Ticket to Ride to realise what a player Starr was – and remains to this very day. Watch videos of him performing these classic tracks and he looks positively relaxed at the kit; giving songs these epic chops that other drummers would struggle to match. I guess the inter-band ribbing (I am not sure which Beatle said Ringo was not the best drummer in the world; he wasn’t even the best drummer in The Beatles) but we all know how good Starr is. Some of the earlier tracks (1963-1964), maybe, was a case of him finding his feet and style but he was already cemented and realised by 1965’s Rubber Soul – in many ways, it is a drumming album and it is Starr’s passion that defines the songs.

Right from the rush and explosion of Drive My Car to the powerful performance on Think for Yourself to the excellent beats of If I Needed Someone…Starr’s unique D.N.A. is all over the album! One can look at some of the early songs and see Starr was adding so much to the music back then. Would She Loves You and I Feel Fine be the same in another drummer’s hands?! I want to bring in article from Drum Magazine that supports the case that Ringo Starr is one of the best drummers ever. They started by defining Starr’s technique and style:

This fact cannot be overstated, as Starr has taken some hits over the years from fans and even fellow drummers who make meritless claims that he wasn’t so great; that he “played for the song” and nothing more. Part of the reason for this notion is because what Starr did was so deceptively simple. It didn’t sound difficult—it wasn’t exhaustive or athletic enough—so it couldn’t have been hard. But what he achieved was more seamless and meaningful than mechanical flash: He played the perfect part at the perfect time.

Beyond that, there’s the inescapable matter of sheer style, and Starr radiated wondrously idiosyncratic flair. Whether he was tossing his shaggy fringe from side to side behind the drum kit, crooning forlornly on tracks like “Yellow Submarine,” or tossing off random malapropisms like “it’s been a hard day’s night,” “tomorrow never knows,” or other weird, head-scratching phrases that magically became catalysts for Beatles songs, he was always—inevitably—“just Ringo.” And The Beatles were the better for it”.

There are four songs that, I feel, are turned from gems to masterpieces by Starr – with Drum Magazine providing the commentary:

For those who disparage Starr as an unadventurous drummer, “Rain” should prove to be an ear-opener. After firing off bracing snare shots, he’s all over the kit by the halfway point of the first verse, and he stays that way through the entire song, free-forming fills and never repeating a phrase. The Beatles cut five takes of the rhythm track, recording them at a fast tempo but then slowing down the tape, which resulted in lower tones and a more disorienting drum sound.

Rather than a standard-issue guitar solo, there’s a break at 2:24 during which McCartney performs a booming, squiggly run. Starr locks in with him, matching every note on the snare before taking off wildly into the song’s psychedelic coda, replete with Lennon’s drug-induced backward chants. Summing up his own work on the track, Starr is anything but humble, at one point calling it “the best out of all the records I’ve ever made.”

“Tomorrow Never Knows” is about as radical as a pop song can be. It is primarily the work of Lennon, who composed the lyrics after reading Timothy Leary’s Psychedelic Experience: A Manual Based On The Tibetan Book Of The Dead. And, oh yes, he was consuming a whole lot of LSD during this period. There are tape loops galore—seagull sounds, an orchestra droning on a B-flat chord, a finger rubbing the rim of a wine glass—along with backward guitar solos and other bits of aural experimentation. Underneath Lennon’s almost unrecognizable sneer (altered by a Leslie speaker and artificial double-tracking) is a pounding, hypnotic, and utterly sensational drum performance by Starr. Playing on slackened tom heads, his minimalist pattern of eighth-notes on the crash (with a subtle variation on his snare-and-tom work from “Ticket To Ride”) barely waivers. Paired with McCartney’s equally repetitive bass line, it’s the perfect underpinning for this daring musical free-for-all.

The resulting single (Strawberry Fields Forever) features a cavalcade of musical riches—brass and cellos, backward cymbals, swarmandal (an Indian zither), pitch-shifting—and Starr matches the moods and dynamics with the precision of an orchestral percussionist. He’s a long way from being that basher at the Cavern as he glides thoughtfully and tastefully on a snare-and-bass-drum backbeat through the song’s first verses, his rolling tom fills foreshadowing the same masterful approach he would use two years later on Harrison’s “Something.”

With each new verse, he opens the kit up more, laying down a furious sixteenth-note groove on the floor tom while increasing the intensity of his fills. By the final verse, taken from the “harder” second take, he’s bearing down like he’s in a drum line. After the innovative fade-out/fade-in fake, Starr is in full freak-out mode, performing some of his most flamboyant and sophisticated licks before the whole thing ebbs away with Lennon’s infamous “cranberry sauce” line, which many listeners thought was “I bury Paul,” one more element of the “Paul is dead” hoax.

The penultimate track on Abbey Road—and the last song recorded collectively by all four members—gave us something we’d never heard before: an honest-to-goodness Ringo Starr drum solo. “The End” gives us something else too: a chance to hear the other three Beatles trade guitar solos. It features a wicked display of the other three Beatles’ individualistic six-string chops in a blistering section of hard-rock glory; the three go at it with a series of two-bar blasts. (For those keeping score at home, it’s McCartney, Harrison, and Lennon, in that order.)

Starr famously hated drum solos—he’d always preferred to function as a crafty accompanist—but he was swept up in the spirit of the band to end their career on this extended instrumental spree. In truth, Starr’s section didn’t start out as a true solo; he originally played to guitar and tambourine accompaniment, both of which were muted in the final mix.

He begins with a forceful eighth-note pattern on the bass drum and keeps it going while hitting a dramatic series of tom fills, alternating his sticking approach (left to right when working his way down, right to left when moving up) before wailing on the floor tom. With his drums now wide in the mix, he opens the door for the other three Beatles to rush in like gangbusters for their fiery axe gunfight”.

Before wrapping things up, I want to bring in an article from The Guardian from back in 2017 that, again, explained why Starr is such a great drummer – and why so many people (who think he is not) are wrong:

Most drummers recognise this. “Define ‘best drummer in the world’,” Dave Grohl said in a tribute video for Starr’s Rock & Roll Hall of Fame presentation. “Is it someone that’s technically proficient? Or is it someone that sits in the song with their own feel? Ringo was the king of feel.”

What this means is that many of Ringo’s best performances go unnoticed. These are beats designed to enhance the song rather than show off the drummer’s abilities. Take She Loves You, the song that kicked off Beatlemania. Ringo’s brief introductory tom roll is the shot of adrenaline that gets the heart of the song thumping; it is teen mania in sound, and one of the most important drum rolls in recorded music history.

Some people consider Ringo to be a terrible drummer because he doesn’t play solos. But who, apart from other drummers, really enjoys a solo? Ringo knew this and for years resisted all attempts to get him to play them, eventually giving in for the 15-second break on Abbey Road’s The End. It’s not flashy or difficult, but it has an understated funky charm and when it turned up on Beastie Boys’ The Sounds of Science 20 years later, it was hard to resist a smile.

In fact The Sounds of Science, which also borrows Ringo’s strident drum beat from Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Heart’s Club Band (Reprise), shows just how funky Ringo’s drums could be when recontextualised. One

At 77, being the butt of drumming jokes is certainly not going to faze the famously phlegmatic Ringo Starr. But underestimate him at your peril. Because if you don’t get Ringo Starr, then you’re only getting three quarters of the Beatles – and that’s no laughing matter”.

It seems that Starr has had to battle off these uneducated ears and tongues for most of his career. A man who is so laidback and love-focused does not let that get to him because he and everyone else knows that the drumming beats he puts down are insane – and have inspired countless other artists. There are articles out at the moment that give you some cool facts and, as he turns seventy nine, there are new interviews about. I want to quote from one because, right now, I do not think there is anyone cooler than Sir Ringo Starr!

 PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images

How do you stay in such great shape?

I get up in the morning and I meditate. I go to the gym and I have a trainer, and I work out myself too, when I’m on the road. I’m a vegetarian. When we’re on tour, to get out of the hotel, I usually go to the local organic shop just to see what they’ve got. But I’m only a vegetarian, not a vegan. I eat goat cheese. A vegan is very hard, and they eat a lot of sugar. I’m careful about sugar.

You also have a sustained dedication to photography. Another Day in the Life is your third book of photos. What attracts you to photography?

There are only seven photographs of me taken from birth to 18 or 19. We never had a camera as a family. So when I got a camera, I just loved it! And I got better cameras as the Beatles went forward—eight-millimeter cameras, a lot of them.

In the same way that the Let It Be film was seen as a sad end to the Beatles, many originally saw 1968’s White Album [officially titled The Beatles] as a chronicle of a band coming apart. Was that accurate?

We were not falling apart at all until we split. We played together right up until that. I love the White Album. I mean, Pepper [Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band] was great, but there was a lot of sitting around. We were like studio guys. This time, we were back to being a band. People say, “What’s your favorite song on there?” I love “Yer Blues.” We’re in a six-foot room—amps, drums, vocal mics. No separation. It was like, “Yeah!”

What’s your favorite Beatles song of all time?

There are too many. I like to say “Rain.”

What’s your favorite Beatles song that was sung by you?

I think “With a Little Help From My Friends.” It’s given me a whole career. I’m thankful many a time for that”.

I have quoted from articles and interviews and, to be fair, that is only the tip of Ringo Starr. He is a legendary bloke and someone who, nearly every day, is spreading joy and love to the world. He looks ridiculously good – how the hell can he be seventy-nine and look so youthful?! – and there is no stopping him! I have not really covered his solo career and you can check out his work here. There is also a cool Starr-compiled playlist of peace and love that is worth checking out but, if you want an ultimate Ringo Starr solo album then I would recommend 1973’s Ringo. There will be lots of love for Starr tomorrow and, as we consider what makes him such an icon, we have to consider the drumming and singing; his tireless philosophy of peace and the way he keeps on making the world a better place. To me, Starr was the key ingredient regarding The Beatles’ compositions; the terrific beat and rush that made their early work shine and, later on, a blossoming and evolving player who was turning seemingly simple songs into these nuanced, golden cuts. There is nobody like Ringo Starr and, at seventy-nine, he is in a league of his own! If you want to discover more about Starr then you can look here but, really, it is the music that does all the talking. A drumming genius and all-round superstar, let’s hope we have many more years…

OF Ringo magic!

FEATURE: Born This Way: The Pride Playlist

FEATURE:

 

 

Born This Way

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IN THIS PHOTO: People united for the 2019 World Pride NYC and Stonewall 50th LGBTQ Pride parade in New York/PHOTO CREDIT: Reuters 

The Pride Playlist

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I put together a Pride in London playlist last year...

 IN THIS PHOTO: Scenes from last year’s London Pride/PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images for Pride In London

and brought together some classic cuts. Those across the L.G.B.T.Q.I.A. spectrum are united in London and it is a great day out there. I have been travelling around London and there is a lot of happiness, colour and togetherness. There is a lot more to come today and, if you are in London, you will see the crowds together; everyone with banners and the people in step. It is rare that we see this sort of mass descend on London for such positive reasons. It is, as this report from The Evening Standard shows, a year when we celebrate but also mark fifty years since the Stonewall uprising

As many as 1.5 million people will descend on London today for what is being hailed as the UK’s biggest and most diverse Pride parade yet.

Those taking part will celebrate 50 years since the Stonewall uprising in New York, a moment which changed the face of the gay rights movement around the world.

Parade groups will honour five decades of activism, protests and victories, and those behind this year's march have said it is an opportunity for people to stand up against bigotry and hatred in all its forms.

From midday on Saturday some 600 groups, a 25 per cent increase on last year, will march through the capital's streets for the annual burst of colour, music and dance.

PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images 

This year's parade is aiming to champion diversity, with the introduction of a new World Area at Golden Square in Soho, in a bid to increase the visibility of black, Asian and minority ethnic (Bame) LGBT+ people.

The event also has improved accessibility this year, including viewing platforms for the Trafalgar Square stage, sign language interpreters and captioning for all performances across two large screens, and accessible, gender-neutral toilets.

It is an important year for sure and it makes me wonder whether we have progressed. In terms of music, there are some fantastic L.G.B.T.Q.I.A. artists but one feels that their path to mainstream is not as smooth as it should be. There is a lot to unpack and discuss in the music industry regarding equality and visibility but, with this Pride celebration being so huge and timely, I do hope change and progression comes into music. Today is all about togetherness and pride, and so, I am focused on some great Pride anthems. From the classics through to those outsider hits, here are some great tracks that will soundtrack…

 PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images

UNLIKE anything else.