FEATURE: Vinyl Corner: Crowded House - Woodface

FEATURE:

 

 

Vinyl Corner

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IMAGE CREDIT: Spotify 

Crowded House - Woodface

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I promise there will be albums from women...

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

AllMusic reviewed the record in 2015:

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

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

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

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

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

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

 PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images/Press

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

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

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

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

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

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

NEEDS to own.

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

FEATURE:

 

 

Station to Station

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

Song Two: Ken Bruce (BBC Radio 2)

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IN the second part of my new feature...

 PHOTO CREDIT: BBC/Getty Images

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

He added: “And a dog that farted.”

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

IN THIS PHOTO: Dan Kennedy for The Sunday Times 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images 

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

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

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

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

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PHOTO CREDIT: BBC

AS Ken Bruce.

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

FEATURE:

 

 

“Slicing Up Eyeballs/Ha, Ha, Ha, Ho”

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IMAGE CREDIT: Spotify 

Pixies’ Doolittle at Thirty

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

AllMusic, in 2013, had their say:

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

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 PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images/Press

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

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

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

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

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

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PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images/Press

LIKE nothing else in the universe!

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

FEATURE:

 

 

Drowned World/Substitute for Love

IN THIS PHOTO: Madonna/PHOTO CREDIT: @Madonna 

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

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THIS is not the first time I have...

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

PHOTO CREDIT: @Madonna

VERY soon indeed.

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

FEATURE:

 

 

Groove Is in the Heart

PHOTO CREDIT: @black_onion/Unsplash 

Record Store Day 2019: How Records Have Changed My Life

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

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 PHOTO CREDIT: @joseantoniogall/Unsplash

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

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

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

 IMAGE CREDIT: John Patrick Salisbury

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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 IMAGE CREDIT: Getty Images

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

PHOTO CREDIT: @kj2018/Unsplash

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

 PHOTO CREDIT: @mensroom/Unsplash

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

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 IMAGE CREDIT: Spotify

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

 PHOTO CREDIT: @elliot_drew/Unsplash

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

PHOTO CREDIT: @lensinkmitchel/Unsplash

IN my heart.

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

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Sisters in Arms

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IN THIS PHOTO: Anna of the North 

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

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EVEN though it is Record Store Day...

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

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

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IN THIS PHOTO: Lily Moore

BRING the sunshine.

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

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Hope Tala Lovestained

NavvySubliminal

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Aisha BadruEnough

Gia MargaretBirthday

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Bailey Bryan - Perspective

PHOTO CREDIT: Jake Villarreal

FanclubUppercut

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PHOTO CREDIT: Wilk

Meg MacI’m Not Coming Back 

Jackie Mendoza - Mucho Más

PHOTO CREDIT: @create_often

The Naked EyeTell Me

AnukaFirst to Know

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Ellie GouldingSixteen

Chloe CastroDrunk

PHOTO CREDIT: Ingrid Pop 

Aldous HardingFixture Picture

Elle VarnerKinda Love

Anna of the NorthUsed to Be

PaytraToTo

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Lily MooreWhy Don’t You Look at Me

Jessica Mauboy - Sunday

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Grace May - Quiet

PHOTO CREDIT: Dan Wiebe

Chloe FoyOh You Are Not Well

Emma BlackeryCute Without You

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CaswellSurface

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Hey VioletBetter By Myself

SodyThe Bully

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Hannah Jane LewisThe Middle

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MadelinMonarch

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Eloise ViolaThink About You

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

FEATURE:

 

The April Playlist

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

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

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AS we move further into April…

 IN THIS PHOTO: The Raconteurs

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

 IN THIS PHOTO: MARINA

STRIKING back hard!  

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

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Courtney Barnett - Everybody Here Hates You

MARINATo Be Human

Anna of the North Used to Be

PHOTO CREDIT: Vance Powell

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

Tame Impala - Borderline

King Gizzard & The Lizard WizardPlan B

PHOTO CREDIT: Hamish Brown

The Chemical Brothers - Bango

Anderson .PaakYada Yada

Self Esteem - (Girl) Crush

PHOTO CREDIT: Daniel Dorsa

SinkaneDépaysé (Mad Alchemy Visual)

Local Natives - Tap Dancer

Christine and the Queens - Comme si

Beirut - When I Die

PHOTO CREDIT: Neil Krug

Cage the Elephant - Goodbye

PHOTO CREDIT: Richmond Lam

Broken Social SceneBig Couches

Emma BuntonEmotion

AURORA - The Seed

Nilüfer Yanya - Baby Blu

Mattiel - Keep the Change

PHOTO CREDIT: Rachell Smith

Jessie BuckleyCountry Rose

Ellie GouldingSixteen

MarthaGunn - Saint Cecilia

Faye Webster - Flowers

The AmazonsDoubt It

PHOTO CREDIT: @lacay.o

Amyl and the Sniffers - Got You

Lil PeepGym Class

Bear's Den - Laurel Wreath

IN THIS PHOTO: Avicii

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

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

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Hey VioletBetter Be Myself

Norah Jones Begin Again

Dylan Cartlidge - Higher

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Rob ThomasTimeless

Band of SkullsLove Is All Your Love

Grace IvesAnything

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

FEATURE:

 

 

The Lady Owns the Blues

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

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

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

 IMAGE CREDIT: Getty Images

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

 IMAGE CREDIT: Getty Images

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

THE music world.

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

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Blissfully Lost Inside the K-Hole

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IMAGE CREDIT: Getty Images

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

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I was just shy of fourteen when...

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

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

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

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

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

IMAGE CREDIT: Getty Images 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

GET on it now!

FEATURE: The Kinks Are in the Age Preservation Society? Ensuring We Keep the Music of the Legends Alive

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The Kinks Are in the Age Preservation Society?

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IN THIS PHOTO: Mick Jagger is recovering after undergoing heart valve replacement surgery/PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images

Ensuring We Keep the Music of the Legends Alive

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PERHAPS my feature title is a bit unwieldy...

 PHOTO CREDIT: Brian Rasic/Getty Images

but it seemed appropriate to name-check a classic album from The Kinks – a band that, one feels, will start to lose relevance in years to come. My mind has gravitated towards the legends of music because, in sad news, Mick Jagger might be off of the road for a while. The BBC reported the news regarding his heart problems and the fact The Rolling Stones have proposed dates in the U.S. and Canada:

The Rolling Stones frontman Sir Mick Jagger has said he is "on the mend" and "feeling much better" after receiving hospital treatment.

The singer has reportedly undergone heart valve replacement surgery.

In a tweet Jagger, 75, thanked hospital staff "for doing a superb job" as well as fans for their messages of support.

The band postponed their tour of the US and Canada after Jagger was advised by doctors that he needed medical treatment.

US gossip website Drudge Report was the first to report that Jagger would need surgery to replace a heart valve. The story was also reported by US music magazine Rolling Stone.

The Rolling Stones were due to kick off a 17-concert tour in Miami on 20 April, before travelling across North America until a finale in Oro-Medonte, in Ontario, Canada on 29 June.

The band are working with promoters to reschedule the shows.

Jagger previously apologised to fans for postponing the tour, writing that he was "devastated" and would be "working very hard to be back on stage as soon as I can".

 IN THIS PHOTO: Prince (who died in 2016)/PHOTO CREDIT: Richard E. Aaron/Redfern

There are varying reports but some are saying that Jagger and The Rolling Stones will not tour for another year. Jagger himself has said he’s in good spirits but, whoever you believe, it has been a bit scary. We always like to think the greats will be around forever and they will never go. We lost David Bowie and Prince in 2016 and Scott Walker died a week ago. My heart did slightly slow when I heard news Jagger was in hospital and that he needed an operation. He is in his seventies so it is understandable that he’d be prone to the same problems as anyone else. Jagger is this ever-fit and active frontman who struts around the stage and captivates the masses. I, like so many, grew up listening to The Rolling Stones and never would have believed Jagger and his band would still be performing in 2019. It is amazing to see the longevity they have and the fact there are no signs of retirement. Touring can be an issue for artists when they reach a certain age. Neil Diamond announced his plans to stop touring last year after a Parkinson’s diagnoses and illness has taken other icons from the stage. Although The Rolling Stones are not calling it quits yet, one feels that in this day and age the only real way of getting this great music to the stage is through touring.

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 IN THIS PHOTO: Joni Mitchell captured in 1983 (a favourite artist of mine and someone, I hope, whose music is preserved and celebrated long after she has gone)/PHOTO CREDIT: Laurie Lewis

The loss of David Bowie and Prince a few years back was devastating but, one hopes, generations will keep the music alive. I do think, in a streaming age, more emphasis is put on the newer breed. For many, the only way the music of legendary acts will get to them is via the stage. Paul Simon is another name that is on my mind as I was writing about Graceland yesterday. Simon is not quitting music but we will never see him tour again. The man has been a pioneer since the 1960s so it is sad, if understandable, that he has to give up performing. I guess it is inevitable that, when artists grow older, they have to think about their health and fitness. If some feel it is time to bow out, there are others who are raring to go. Paul McCartney has barely slowed down since The Beatles rocked into music in the early-1960s and, touch wood, he will keep plugging and playing for a lot longer. He is seventy-six now and I am not sure how many years of touring he has. It might sound like I am being morbid but there will be hard days ahead where we have to say goodbye to the icons of music. Mick Jagger, Paul McCartney and Paul Simon will go; Bob Dylan, Joni Mitchell and Neil Young too; Madonna, Ray Davies and many others. There is nothing we can do to stop it but, in less than a couple of decades, there is a chance that the greatest innovators and names who have ever lived will be gone – what happens with the music and keeping them alive?

We still listen to Prince and David Bowie but I do feel that there is a risk that, in time, the music of these geniuses will start to fade and buried in streaming sites. Radio stations will keep playing their music but I wonder whether there will be or should be a way of ensuring these great artists are as relevant now/the future as they have been. It is tragic thinking that there will be a day where the titans are not here but their music will inspire generations to come. Unless a musician/fan is looking for their music in record shops or listening to the best radio stations, will we see that popularity wane? The fact that I revisited Paul Simon’s 1986 masterpiece yesterday made me wonder whether I have been spending enough time with the music of people like Simon. I listen to McCartney a lot but do feel like bands like The Kinks and Pink Floyd are not as hot in my mind as they should be. When I was listening to Graceland yesterday, it led me to Paul Simon’s eponymous album and, from there, classic Simon & Garfunkel. I do wonder whether we tend to let classic albums slip because they are not being promoted or the artists responsible for them are not touring. We have come to a time when, sadly, some departed artists are being kept alive via holograms – a rather ghoulish and weird way of seeing them perform ‘live’.

 IN THIS PHOTO: David Bowie photoed in Paris in 1976/PHOTO CREDIT: Andrew Kent

Every time a huge musician leaves us, there is a grieving period and that reaction but, before long, we sort of accept the news. Scott Walker just died and I do wonder whether generations to come will discover his music as readily now that he is not with us. Radio and the Internet preserve the music but how to bring it to the attention of the young?! I do think there should be a website or some way of ensuring that the great albums from these immense artists are promoted and we do not let them slip away. I have been pitching the idea of a website that makes it easier for people to access the work of great artists easily. By that, I mean they do not have to randomly stumble upon the work of, say, David Bowie to bring him to mind. I do feel like streaming services are brilliant but there is an emphasis on the new and relevant. We risk ignoring the greats who helped progress music in order to highlight the newcomers. I grew up around classic albums and these icons; they were a natural part of my upbringing and, as my family were so record-focused, I was listening to music from artists who died before I was born – including Elvis Presley and Marc Bolan. The more we turn to the Internet and this dictates tastes, the likelier it is that the great artists we have now might struggle for attention in decades to come.

Maybe I am being a bit protective and worried for no reason but the mortality of icons like Mick Jagger has made me look ahead. We do not really have music museums and exhibitions to illuminate music icons to the young. There are not websites around, really, that preserve the music and ensure they are part of our regular rotation. I am aware that I am a bit remiss and overlook some bands/artists that are departed. I have not listened to Aretha Franklin for a while and, when she was alive, I was much more proactive and aware. I know we do not have a duty to promote artists when they have gone but, at the same time, how are musicians of the future going to discover their work? Will the young now miss out on classic acts because they are not putting material out? I think it is more than me being nostalgic or wanting the icons to stay alive and not go anywhere. The swell and wave of grief and affection received when we do lose a legend shows how much their music means. I do feel like there should be some sort of conservation or preservation whereby we are reminded about these heroes without having to stumble upon the music or happen to tune into the radio at the right time. Luckily, let’s hope, we do not have to incur the loss of a giant for a very long time and, for those who have left us, I would like to see their work more readily available. Whether that means sites like Spotify doing a bit more or seeing a return of the classic album series – what the hell happened to them?! – I don’t know. We do need to understand the importance of these huge artists and ensure that, in years and decades from now, their music is as played and discovered as it is now. To lose them is tragic enough but to lose sight of the music itself would be…

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 IN THIS PHOTO: Aretha Franklin died in 2018/PHOTO CREDIT: Fred A. Sabine/NBC/Getty Images

BEYOND heartbreaking.

FEATURE: Sneaker Pimps: Musicians and the Fashion Game

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Sneaker Pimps

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IN THIS PHOTO: Beyoncé appeared in VOGUE’s September 2018 edition/PHOTO CREDIT: Tyler Mitchell

Musicians and the Fashion Game

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IT is always risky when artists step into other areas...

 IN THIS PHOTO: Rihanna has her own line of Fenty beauty products/PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images/Press

and go outside of music. There is nothing new about the musician taking their talent to business or getting involved with their own label. There are big names who have their own record label and others who are involved in technology. Think about Dre and the Beats range of headphones, earphones and accessories. Artists are no stranger to promoting the latest bit of kit and getting involved with the coolest bits of tech. I can understand why many of them endorse technology and the benefits that can have. One wonders how many artists actually get involved with something they put their names to. Consider Dre and his role. Did he actually have any say regarding the headphones and accessories he has put his name to? I do wonder whether there is any real decision-making from him or whether it is more a financial investment. Other areas of commerce and profitability have seen big names in music create their own perfume. This article talked about the proliferation of divas adding their name to the scent market. One could, if they want, have perfumes endorsed by Rihanna or Jennifer Lopez. Many out there would want to smell like Jennifer Lopez or Rihanna or Taylor Swift – many men, one would imagine! – but you do query whether these artists had any say regarding the actual smell and the process. It is rather strange what artists say ‘yes’ to and how much it is about money or genuinely making something good.

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 IN THIS PHOTO: Liam Gallagher’s Little Green fashion range recently went into administration/PHOTO CREDIT: RANKIN

I feel that there is a risk regarding artist-endorsed products considering the state of the high-street. A lot of sales can come online but they rely on the high-street like many of us. How damaging can it be when a celebrity puts their name to something and then it doesn’t do that well. Fashion is a big seller and popular option that, again, has seen artists add their brand/name to for years. There have been a couple of stories that show different fortunes regarding musician-endorsed/launched brands. Oasis’ Liam Gallagher and his Pretty Green label has seen its fortunes dip. He has a range of parkas and clothes that have a very Gallagher-esque look to them. There is actually some pretty good stuff to be found but, against such rivalry and challenging times, it seems like the label is in danger. NME reported the news:

Liam Gallagher’s Pretty Green clothing brand has been sold to JD Sports, after it was confirmed that the label had gone into administration.

The brand, which was set up by the former Oasis singer in 2009, was purchased by the high street giant after administrators were called in last week.

JD Sports will keep open Pretty Green’s flagship store in Manchester , but 11 other stores and 33 concessions in House of Fraser are set to cease trading – putting 97 jobs at risk.

The fashion label’s challenges were blamed on tough high street conditions and the knock-on effect of House of Fraser falling into administration last year. It’s believed that House of Fraser owed £500,000 to Pretty Green when the retail giant collapsed.

Peter Cowgill, executive chairman of JD Sports, said: “We are pleased to have completed the acquisition of the highly regarded Pretty Green brand. We look forward to working with the team on future positive developments.”

 

Simon Thomas, partner at administrators Moorfields said: “Pretty Green is a popular brand and received a considerable amount of interest. We are confident that JD Sports is the right fit for the business and will help to grow its online and wholesale channels.”

Speaking last month after rumours of the brand’s financial troubles first emerged, Liam Gallagher wrote on Twitter: “As long as we’ve got our health eh gotta put things into perspective”.

I did not know how far the musicians-as-fashion-designers thing goes. One feels Gallagher did have a big say regarding the products put out but, as this Billboard article shows, plenty of big names have made a success of it. Here are just a few who, through collaboration or personal innovation, have brought their own vision to the market:

Although this line is geared toward teens, Madonna's 2010 Material Girlline is a huge contender at Macy's with ladies like Kelly OsbourneTaylor Momsen and Rita Ora fronting the ‘80s themed ads. Last year, Pia Miawas recruited as the brand's first ever Fashion Director, fronting campaigns and designing pieces.

Blending the beat of Guatemalan, Japanese and Jamaican styles, L.A.M.B. is a brand that packs powerful personality, but while the singer pursued other creative paths, like her new Christmas album or campaign partnership with Revlon, she's been absent from L.A.M.B  shows and presentations in the past. The singer did, however, recently debut a third collection of gx by Gwen Stefani eyewear with Tura.

The rapper’s clothing brand, October’s Very Own (named after his record label, OVO Sound), was launched in 2014 and has flagship locations in Toronto, Los Angeles and New York. Judging by its website where almost everything is sold out, Drake’s involvement in the apparel industry has been quite a success so far.

After showing the first two seasons of her wildly successful Fenty x Puma collection in Paris, the Bajan beauty brought her Spring/Summer ’18 presentation to New York Fashion Week, and sent fashion fans’ hearts racing… literally. In addition to Fenty x Puma, she also created Fenty Beauty, which certainly met the long-awaited hype when the collection dropped 44 shades of foundation during NYFW. Her involvement with Puma was not the first of her design career though; she previously created collections for both Armani Jeans (2011) and River Island (2013)”.

I guess a lot of the success and failure comes down to how many fans an artist has any what their reputation is. Victoria Beckham is a much-loved fashion designer and innovator and has her past with the Spice Girls and the fact that she is this iconic figure. Someone like Liam Gallagher does have a great legacy but maybe not perceived as being cool and stylish as Victoria Beckham or someone like Madonna. Current favourites like Drake are involved in fashion and I do wonder whether people are buying the range because they want to wear a bit of that artists or whether it is an unbiased and objective fashion choice. Maybe that is irrelevant but I do think there is a bit of a risk, in these current times, entering the fashion market. I hope Liam Gallagher’s brand continues and can find success but, look back at the history of artists getting involved with fashion and success is not always ensured.

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 IN THIS PHOTO: Avril Lavigne/PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images/Press

Back in 2017, Format discussed the mixed fortunes of big artists who have got involved with fashion:

When recording artists become fashion designers, the result can be disastrous. Who told Avril Lavigne that Abbey Dawn was a good idea? There have been countless straight-up ugly clothing lines launched by rappers, pop stars and even country singers over the last twenty or so years.

But what about the musicians that have actually done a good job? Brands like Beyoncé’s Ivy Park and Rihanna’s Fenty x Puma often get more buzz and attention for their runway shows than a lot of major fashion houses. Even Vogue has jumped on board covering each new season of Kanye West’s Yeezy.

While the commercial success of these labels is largely thanks to the celebrity of their founders, it’s undeniable that certain musicians have a genuinely refined eye for colour, shape and texture in clothing. They’re not just copying fashion, they’re making fashion”.

The reason I bring up fashion as a line of musical inquiry is that Beyoncé is launching her own range of sneakers/trainers. She is no stranger to fashion herself but, very soon, people can walk around in sneakers (I have to call them that as they are American-made) with Beyoncé’s approval. Many have noticed how, of all the huge names out there, Beyoncé has been a little quiet regarding endorsement and fashion. I will come to the difference of those who are actively involved in design and marketing and artists who endorse a product. Maybe there is less risk regarding Beyoncé’s venture but it seems like, even with her clout, there could be risks.

The Cut give details regarding Beyoncé backing a new range of sneakers:

But on Thursday, the pop star and Adidas announced a “multi-layered partnership,” which will feature a relaunch of her Ivy Park clothing line and original product releases from the brand. Soon, you’ll be able to wear footwear created under the direction of Beyoncé herself.

“This is the partnership of a lifetime for me,” Beyoncé said in a press release. “[A]didas has had tremendous success in pushing creative boundaries. We share a philosophy that puts creativity, growth and social responsibility at the forefront of business. I look forward to re-launching and expanding Ivy Park on a truly global scale with a proven, dynamic leader.”

As a creative partner with Adidas, Beyoncé will have a part in designing footwear and apparel with the brand, as well as other collaborative projects. The brand and the artist will work to create “a unique purpose-driven program focused on empowering and enabling the next generation of athletes, creators and leaders”.

I think it is pretty cool when an artist gets involved with something like a clothing line or footwear as it is a bit more interesting than the usual fare you’d find in the shops. I am not sure whether Beyoncé’s Addidas’ are making their way to U.K. stores and quite what the reality is at the moment. Whereas one feels Liam Gallagher had a bit of a say regarding his Pretty Green line, I think Beyoncé had a little less input regarding the new sneakers. Her name will see sales boom and, so long as the product is not too expensive, it will inspire other artists to step forward. That issue of money and pricing some fans out is something the likes of Beyoncé will want to avoid.

A lot of young fans will want to, literally, follow in the footsteps of Beyoncé and have a bit of her on their feet. It would be tempting to slap a high price tag on the sneakers but that would alienate many and can be a reason for failure. Even if you are a big artist then you still need to work with suppliers and chains who stock your product. Looking at Beyoncé and she has suffered a bit of misfortune regarding that very thing. The Cut’s article continues the story:

Beyoncé launched Ivy Park in 2016, originally in partnership with Topshop. But she became the sole owner of Ivy Park last year, when Topshop owner Sir Philip Green was accused of racist and sexually inappropriate behavior, according to the New York Times. The relaunch under Adidas will still respect Beyoncé’s “ownership of her company which continues her journey as one of the first black women to be the sole owner of an athleisure brand,” according to the press release.

“Beyoncé is an iconic creator but also a proven business leader, and together, we have the ability to inspire change and empower the next generation of creators,” said Adidas board member Eric Liedtke”.

Making sure you do not price consumers out of the market, it is quite cool knowing that an artist has sort of given their blessing to a product. It seems like the sneaker/footwear side of the market is booming. Beyoncé is not alone and, as this CNBC article shows, there are rivals in direct competition.

Other retailers, including some of Adidas' rivals, are also tapping celebrities to push their products to more consumers. Sneaker maker Puma has an exclusive line with singer and actress Selena Gomez, as one example”.

PHOTO CREDIT: Kevin Mazur/Getty Images for TIDAL

There are examples where musicians have added their name to the fashion world and it has not always gone right. I do feel like Liam Gallagher will suffer a blow whereas it seems like an exciting new venture is opening for Beyoncé. I feel like these big names will influence newer acts to diversify and become more ambitious. A career in music is busy and stressful but there is nothing to say lesser artists can launch their own fashion range and collaborate. Maybe my feature title is a bit harsh: artists are not pimping themselves but, in my mind, I was talking about them pimping out and decorating sneakers. Some do feel like musicians endorsing fashion is a bit cheap and like they are trying to make some easy money. Music is not just about the songs themselves and I think a lot of modern artists are role models because of their business minds and aspirations. If the likes of Selena Gomez and Beyoncé compel other women to get into fashion and launch their own label then so be it. I think it would be cool to see other iconic 1990s bands such as Oasis get into the market.

PHOTO CREDIT: @theburbgirl/Unsplash

So many artists have signature looks so there are going to be people who want to copy them. It is great to see so many people take an interest in clothing because of a musician’s involvement. So long as, like I said, the price is not extortionate and people are not being scared off then it is a good thing. An artist needs to consider the potential of the brand/product and not just assume that, because they are famous, they will sell themselves. There have been so many failures through the years and there is no guarantee of success! As Beyoncé steps into the sneakers/trainers market, let’s hope it is profitable and successful. Even though there have been failures and misguided musician-fashion blends, if it is done right and a success then it can be hugely inspiring. I am interested to see which artist steps into…

 PHOTO CREDIT: @echaparro/Unsplash

THE world of fashion next.

FEATURE: Vinyl Corner: Paul Simon - Graceland

FEATURE:

 

 

Vinyl Corner

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IMAGE CREDIT: Getty Images 

Paul Simon - Graceland

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SOME albums come along and it seems scarcely...

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IN THIS PHOTO: Paul Simon (circa 1986)/PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images

possible they could sound as good as they do! Things were not overly-rosy in the camp of Paul Simon in the run-up to 1986’s Graceland. The album is Simon’s most-successful ever and has sold over sixteen-million copies worldwide. It is considered one of the finest albums of all time and it is definitely in my top-three records! Hearts and Bones (1983) did not fare that well commercially and, despite some positive reviews, there were many who doubted Simon’s genius and future potential. Not that Paul Simon needed to defend himself or please everyone. Hearts and Bones is a great album and features incredible songs like Rene and Georgette Magritte with Their Dog After the War. Simon’s partnership with Art Garfunkel was all but over and it seemed like he (Simon) was entering a rather difficult and unsure period. Recorded from 1985 to 1986, Graceland boasts a blend of emotions, genres and colours that saw Simon revitalised and inspired. Having become interested in bootleg cassettes of South African township artists, Simon was inspired and reborn. He travelled to Johannesburg where he spent a couple of weeks recording with South African musicians. The fact apartheid was raging when Simon was making Graceland meant he was taking risks and definitely turning heads. It was clear that the pre-Graceland period was fallow and Simon needed a spark to bring about revival and fresh guidance. With producer Roy Halee, this remarkable album was created alongside some of the best voices and musicians in South Africa.

Even if there was harmony in the studio, there was some hostility and antipathy directed at Simon in the outside world. It was difficult for a musician to directly go against apartheid and hire South African musicians at a very tense and divided time. Recording at various locations – including Los Angeles and Louisiana -, Simon slowly began putting Graceland together. Whilst there was ample inspiration and motivation for a new album, the tracks themselves did not come together as speedily as some of his other work. One of the reasons I fell in love with Graceland was the Classic Album series that, alongside this record, spotlighted great releases and spoke to the people involved. To see Simon dissect his song and talk about his creative process made Graceland come alive in new ways. Little details regarding sonic touches – reversing guitar sounds, for example – and how the musicians interacted filled me with delight and curiosity. Graceland is my third-favourite album and I never get tired of hearing it. It is one of those albums you listen to in full and never skip a track. I feel you need to experience every track to get a full impression of Paul Simon’s vision and motivation. Iconic artists like The Everly Brothers and Linda Ronstadt helped add new light and flavours to the album. Even though Graceland is a Paul Simon album, it seems more collaborative than a lot of what he put out before.

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 IN THIS PHOTO: Paul Simon in 1986/PHOTO CREDIT: Lynn Goldsmith

Los Lobos played on All Around the World or The Myth of Fingerprints whereas Ladysmith Black Mambazo featured heavily – especially notable on Diamonds on the Soles of Her Shoes and Homeless. You listen to Graceland and there is no sense of tension and struggle. That was very different compared with what was happening outside of the studio when Simon was recording in South Africa. Simon and his players would record until the evening but not walk the streets through fear of arrest or attack. Simon paid the musicians fairly and treated them with great respect even though politicians and others in South Africa were keen to divide and alienate. It was a very tense time that, in some ways, makes the music of Graceland as much a historical statement and landmark as a simple record! The sheer variety of sounds on Graceland is staggering. Pop, Rock and South African grooves all interplay and unite seamlessly. Think of albums released in 1986 and how many can you compare to Graceland in terms of sounds and scope?! Not only did Paul Simon help break down racial barriers in South Africa and raise awareness of apartheid but, musically, opened up a new world of possibilities. There had been crossover albums like Graceland prior to Paul Simon’s statement but very few released by artists as huge and acclaimed. Simon wanted an album that switched moods and felt more like a play.

We have serious songs Graceland with tracks such as You Can Call Me Al. Humour and wit sits alongside topics such as divorce and personal strife. Paul Simon was not used to working with African rhythms and the way the instruments moved. It is very different to Western sounds and traditional instruments he was used to up until that point. If the new horizon pushed his songwriting forward, it was a little tricky for Simon to acclimatise and adapt. Simon admitted he was bad at writing politics and was not used to it. There are very few overtly political statements on Graceland but, if the songs themselves are not protest statements, the circumstances around its recording and the musicians used marks Graceland out as a political record. If Hearts and Bones was quite a tense or introspective record, Graceland sounds more buoyant and optimistic. A lot of artists would write an album like Graceland, aiming for it to be positive, and the language would be quite simple. The wordplay, images and expressions on the songs is amazing. I feel Graceland is Paul Simon at his sharpest, most poetic and rich. You are transported into these songs and walk alongside Simon. The music is dizzying and fantastically alive; the performances are so compelling and every song has its own identity – even though everything hangs together and sounds perfect alongside one another.

Some songs were quite quick to put together but, due to the complex language Simon was using, some tracks took longer to gel. Simon maintained he was bad at political subjects in music but The Boy in the Bubble talks about terrorism whereas Homeless looks at poverty within the black majority of South Africa. Graceland was and is a bridge between races and cultures and, as such, transcends music itself. Artists such as Regina Spektor and Lorde have been inspired by Graceland and one can hear a lot of similar tones in the work of Vampire Weekend. Simon recalls the Graceland period as one of the most important of his life: the friendships he made and performing on the stage with South African musicians.

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IN THIS PHOTO: Miriam Makeba and Paul Simon/PHOTO CREDIT: Luise Gubb

Reviews were universally positive and Graceland marked a return to form for Paul Simon. Not only did critics and fans respect the boldness and originality of the music but the consistency of the music. More upbeat and emotionally diverse than previous albums, Graceland was a huge hit and is, as I say, regarded as one of the finest albums ever. AllMusic, in this review, give their impressions:

It is true that the South African angle (including its controversial aspect during the apartheid days) was a powerful marketing tool and that the catchy music succeeded in presenting listeners with that magical combination: something they'd never heard before that nevertheless sounded familiar…

As eclectic as any record Simon had made, it also delved into zydeco and conjunto-flavored rock & roll while marking a surprising new lyrical approach (presaged on some songs on Hearts and Bones); for the most part, Simon abandoned a linear, narrative approach to his words, instead drawing highly poetic ("Diamonds on the Soles of Her Shoes"), abstract ("The Boy in the Bubble"), and satiric ("I Know What I Know") portraits of modern life, often charged by striking images and turns of phrase torn from the headlines or overheard in contemporary speech. An enormously successful record, Graceland became the standard against which subsequent musical experiments by major artists were measured”.

When reviewing the 25th Anniversary version of Graceland, Pitchfork talked about musicians like Ray Phiri (a South African Jazz and Mbaqanga artist) being given a voice and face because of Graceland:

Ray Phiri describes a meeting he was called to in London with African National Congress officials while touring to support the album that speaks volumes. The ANC officials told Phiri that he was violating the boycott and had to go home, and his response was that he was already a victim of apartheid, and to force him to go home would make him a victim twice. In the end, Simon's assertion that Graceland helped put an emotional, human face on black South Africans for millions of people around the world doesn't seem off the mark…

This set also comes with a DVD of the concert Simon and these musicians played with South African exiles Hugh Masekela and Miriam Makeba in Harare, Zimbabwe, in 1987, and the joy visible on stage and in the audience certainly speaks to that.

It's easy to overstate what Graceland was. It wasn't the first world-music album, as some critics claim. But it was unique in its total, and totally natural, synthesis of musical strains that turned out to be not nearly as different from each other as its listeners might have expected, and the result resonated strongly around the world and across generations”.

The music on Graceland is timeless and inspiring new generations but it is clear that many still look at the controversy surrounding the record. This article from 2012 reflects Simon’s comments and impressions at the Sundance Festival in London (26th April). He spoke about going to South Africa and whether, if he were making the album again, he would do the same things:

But nobody did come to me so I was basically unaware of what was going on, I think perhaps people in the UK were more aware of the cultural boycott, we were not aware. I was aware enough not to play in Sun City with Simon And Garfunkel, but, let me point out the difference. Going to South Africa to perform in front of a segregated audience is to support the Apartheid regime…

Going to perform, I mean you could go to perform with South African musicians and if the audience were integrated I think that would have been fine, but that was not the case. Going to record is not the same thing. And it was never specifically declared to be something that shouldn’t be done.

However, Simon admitted that if he had ever been advised not to go and record in South Africa, he would likely not have done it. “Had somebody said to me ‘look we really don’t want you to go there’ I doubt that I would have gone. The only thing I can say in all honesty is that I did not vigorously pursue somebody telling me not to go. I went with the answer that I was hoping to hear which was ‘yes come, yes come and play with us’. I think that that answer and that thought process was never accessed by the ANC. They didn’t confer with their own musicians. And when they went to play in Europe they said ‘go home’.”

One cannot ignore the turbulence in South Africa in the mid-1980s and how risky it was for Paul Simon to do what he did with Graceland. Despite the problems and tensions, the way Graceland broke walls and progressed conversation outweighs everything. Nearly thirty-three years after its release, Graceland continues to compel and act as this bold and  fascinating point in musical history.

Consequence of Sound, in this feature , talked about the positives and impact of Graceland:  

This distinction is important, perhaps more so to Simon’s legacy and the lives of his collaborators than the record itself. Simon toured with South African musicians, something that not even a local had done. He brought their profound voices to the world, taking them out to far-flung countries and giving them the space to share their reality. Ladysmith Black Mambazo appeared with him on Saturday Night Live when they were completely unknown to much of America. While Simon started out seeking “the ecstasy of Africa,” parading as a celebrity seemingly unaffected by the political reality of the boycott, he left bound by and entangled in a brutal reality he never foresaw, tied inextricably to musicians who lived to tell the tale of Apartheid.

Though he might never have intended to, Simon carved a bridge between two cultures that don’t speak the same musical languages, yet are capable of speaking surprisingly similar political languages. Music never entirely exists outside of political realities, but luckily politics doesn’t exist in a world outside the influence of music either. Making Graceland was never as simple as Simon’s supposed pure artistic connection, nor was it as exclusively troublesome as others made it out to be. Though the decisions involved in producing the album are still worth analyzing, Graceland cross-pollinated beautiful music and artistic progression over troubled, choppy waters. Most importantly, the connection ceased to belong just to Simon — it became the world’s, linking together the oppressed, the politicians, the critics, the activists, and listeners. Music offers that powerful uniting force, particularly in times of struggle, giving the opportunity for each and every person who listens to build their own bridge rather than watch as the undercurrents of political and social upheaval wash life away”.

The Independent ran a feature that asked musicians about their memories of Graceland and when they first heard the album:

Regina Spektor

The first time I ever heard Graceland was in the halls at uni when I did my study abroad from New York and went to Middlesex University in Tottenham, London. A friend gave me a copy right before I left and I got little speakers at Argos and would blast my CD Walkman in my dorm. It instantly opened my mind – it sounded like nothing I'd heard before – the layers of hand-drumming and cool percussion and his voice made for a very specific world. It made me think of islands. It had this built-in joy and bounce. I really loved it.

Ed Nash, Bombay Bicycle Club

I first heard Graceland when I was 15 years old. I was on a school trip and one of my friends had it on their CD player and I borrowed it off him for the whole trip and listened to it the whole time. It kind of blew me away. Before that point in my life I hadn't listened to much music apart from pretty normal guitar music, and there were so many different influences that Graceland had – I hadn't experienced the wild musical style on that album before. With Bombay Bicycle Club we do something different like [Paul Simon] did with Graceland; we have a lot of very different influences, especially on the last album, with Afrobeat in the rhythm and [the style of] guitar-playing that's on Graceland the whole way through”.

Graceland is an essential album to buy on vinyl and experience in all its glory! We can talk about the politics around the record and how Paul Simon helped change attitudes but the music alone is worth the price of admission. There are articles that reveals secrets and facts of Graceland and aim to introduce it to new generations. It is a record that will continue to pick up new support and appreciation. If I was pushed to pick the best songs from Graceland I would go for The Boy in the Bubble, Graceland and Under African Skies. There are so many standouts and wonderful moments that only get stronger with age and affection. I love the record and have it on vinyl. I listen to it a lot and it only seems to become more receptive, open and revealing with every spin. If you have not heard the album before – or for a long while – then make sure you pick it up. Paul Simon is one of the greatest songwriters ever and, in a busy and varied career, Graceland sits at the top of the pile. It is a true masterpiece that gave new lease and purpose to Simon. There were doubts he would be able to revive his career and regain his critical acclaim; Graceland was a bolt from the blue and seemed to fall from the heavens. Whenever Graceland came into your life and whatever songs stand aside, I think we can all agree that it is a record that is…

IN THIS PHOTO: Paul Simon on stage with Ladysmith Black Mambazo/PHOTO CREDIT: Luise Gubb

TRULY unique and divine.     

FEATURE: 21st Century Breakdown: Green Day’s Last of the American Girls: The Punk Band’s Celebration of Rebel Girls…Without the Girls?

FEATURE:

 

 

21st Century Breakdown: Green Day’s Last of the American Girls

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IMAGE CREDIT: @GreenDay/Frank Caruso 

The Punk Band’s Celebration of Rebel Girls…Without the Girls?

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IT is always great seeing musicians venture into new territory...

but, in the case of Green Day, their debut literary/graphic novel outing has led to division. On 29th October, Green Day bring out Last of the American Girls. From its cover, you can see it is a celebration of the riot girls and all-American warriors. This article talks about some of the issues that have arisen.

Written by bandmates Billie Joe ArmstrongMike Dirnt and Tré Cool, it marks their debut book. However, the trio’s choice of male illustrator in Frank Caruso to bring the picture book to life is being scrutinized.

While many are echoing these sentiments, fans have come to the defense of the band, saying that the book doesn’t act as a how-to guide for women to live, but rather an illustrated version of the 21st Century Breakdown track”.

Green Day have stated how the book (I shall refer to it as such although it is a graphic novel) is an illustration of their song, Last of the American Girls, rather than an instruction manual telling women how to live their lives. Social media has been divided regarding Green Day and their intentions. We have not been treated to many extracts and content but the fact that the band hired a male illustrator to design the images has left many angry. One can ask them whether they consulted any female illustrators or whether Caruoso is a close friend of theirs. In any case, there has been this debate raging.

It is, essentially, an illustration of a song; a sort of musical graphic novel as opposed anything regarding telling women how to act. I do think that it is good there is a book out in the world like this and the fact that the band produced it should not be dismissed. Some ask whether a male Punk band are the right people to discuss feminist, empowerment and strong female role models. I think it is encouraging when anyone talks about these themes and we should not really overlook Green Day or question their motives. Even though Green Day did not want to patronise or mansplain anything, they have talked about the book being relevant in these times; a celebration of female empowerment and a celebration. Laura Snapes wrote an article for The Guardian regarding Green Day’s book and whether they were quite the right people to take on the job:

You can’t help but wonder if Green Day thought this through. Surely no self-respecting rebellious woman would buy a book about “female empowerment” by three washed-up punks. If only songwriter Billie Joe Armstrong could portray women as anything other than a random assembly of rabble-rousing tropes, including wearing makeup that looks “like graffiti on the walls of the heartland”, digging conspiracy theories and owning vinyl.

Armstrong’s manic punky dream girl is the nadir of publishing’s obsession with rebellious women. As the trend has proliferated, so the sharp edges of the women whose lives they document have been sanded down into vaguely aspirational #girlboss dross. It is also the nadir of Armstrong’s songwriting…

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IMAGE CREDIT: Chris Bilheimer  

Although Green Day are not as progressive as some bands, they are not exactly misogynists. You cannot accuse them of lacking empathy and being against female empowerment. Their music has cast women in the role of the seduced and aroused but that is not equitable to them being sexist or boorish. Snapes looked at Green Day’s changing lyrical voice and whether this contradicted their aims regarding Last of the American Girls:

Green Day’s early work was surprisingly progressive, and rarely – especially for US pop-punk – overtly misogynist. But in recent years, fetishising, contemptuous and paternalistic language has soiled Armstrong’s lyrics: irresistible women tease him with their devilish ways; the titular figure from 2012’s Drama Queen is “old enough to bleed now”, and the video to that year’s Oh Love is inexplicably filled with barely clothed models”.

 I take issue with a number of things Snapes addressed. I do not think Green Day are washed up and, if they were, whether that would be relevant. One would not call Patti Smith washed up if she were to write a book like this. Green Day have not been making albums on the same level as Dookie and Nimrod lately but that is a natural career decline. They cannot be expected to keep on that level, considering Pop-Punk has changed and they have matured. It is unfair to attack their commercial standing and assume that a younger, fresher band should write such a book…

A lot of the response comments to the article focused on the fact that, whatever happens, they cannot win. Should men avoid tackling empowerment and feminism because they are men and it is not their fight? Should women only be the ones writing about it and, if men do contribute, is their popularity and relevance important? The book is a bit of fun and Green Day are entitled to write about subjects such as strong women and empowerment. They are not women, sure, but that is not to say they lack understanding and a progressive attitude. Regardless of what some of their songs portray, to suggest they are insincere and inauthentic is a bit of an insult. I love Green Day’s music and, whilst they are not as progressive and positive regarding women as they could be, they are not exactly your belching and sexist band who is demeaning women at every turn! They are also not denying a female band from penning their own book. Rather than being motivated by greed or wanting to jump on a bandwagon, Green Day are coming at this from a good place. Of course men can and should write about female empowerment and, rather than talk about the right of men to do this, we should be looking at the quality and depth of the writing.

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 IN THIS PHOTO: Green Day/PHOTO CREDIT: Nigel Crane/Redferns

Are the illustrations going to be quite sexist or too sexy? Is the storyline, such as it is, sticking close to the Last of the American Girls song (from 21st Century Breakdown). Are going to get a male’s-eye view of strong women and something that puts physical assets about spirit and emotional strength? Maybe women would be more sensitive and knowledgeable regarding the correct approach but there is a lot of condemnation and anger at Green Day’s feet before we have even seen the book. The only thing that I do agree with is the lack of female participation. I am not saying the band should have employed all women to illustrate and market their book but maybe hiring a female illustrator would at least give the designs and visual aspect greater reality and a different perspective. There is always going to be concerned reaction when men write about female empowerment without considering women in their team. I do think the argument is quite complex but, essentially, Green Day should have thought a little harder when it came to their illustrator and how some might perceive the decision to hire a man. Frank Caruso is a wonderful talent but how about the boys scouting graphic novels and books and looking for a female illustrator who would have, at least, helped diffuse some of the tension. Some questions Green Day’s motive and whether it is purely commercial. If they were short of a few dollars then they could have re-released all their material on vinyl or done a simple cash-in.

 PHOTO CREDIT: @timothypaulsmith_436580_sink/Unsplash

There are countless ways the band could have got some money in – one feels something like Last of the American Girls is a bit of a roundabout way of pulling in some bucks! When it comes to throwing a middle finger to politicians and kicking up a storm, Green Day are pretty good at it. They might not be as convincing and potent as Punk bands like Ramones and Sex Pistols but they have inspired a generation and released some truly fantastic albums. I do feel that their intentions are good and, at a time when there is a lot of sexism, we are not seeing many men respond. Surely it is a good a male band, any band, is doing this. What does it matter whether they are young, profitable and hip? Their current status and appeal is nothing to do with their promise as authors. I do feel Green Day’s experience and reputation means they will shift a lot more copies than if a younger band were spreadheading. They have been on the block for decades and I do feel like their first real outing into the literary world will be a success.  It is, as I say, all down to quality. Peel away all the other crap and insults and you need to judge something like Last of the American Girls on its substance and quality. If it appears like a book written by a committee or seems like a very lacklustre thing then people have the right to complain. I think it is great a male band want to celebrate female empowerment and involve themselves in the conversation.

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 IMAGE CREDIT: Pinterest

In spite of what some rather dismissive journalists have written, one must judge Green Day on the material itself. The story and writing has to be sharp and true. If they infantilise or overly-sexualise women then that fights against what they are trying to represent. It is hard to get right but the band need to make sure what they have written sounds like it is coming from a female voice in a way. Some fear Green Day have written this rather condescending guide regarding women and how they should act. I do not think this is the case. I do hope that Last of the American Girls is an affectionate and respectful nod to strong women and rebel girls who want to kick ass. If it is done seriously and the band treats the subject matter with care then it will be a success. I feel a lot of people are worried it might be too cartoon-like or insincere. The dreaded impression of Green Day illustration generously-proportioned heroines who spout clichés and are seen as very one-dimensional, I guess, is a real worry. I know they have treated the subject with care and respect so, in a couple of weeks, we will get to see whether all the division that we’re hearing leads to positive reaction to Last of the American Girls. I think very few men are writing about female empowerment and that sort of thing so, surely, Green Day’s new foray is a good move that could lead to other male acts/musicians doing the same?!

 IMAGE CREDIT: Frank Maddocks

Those who state that Green Day have slipped on a banana skin by not employing any women does hold some weight. I have not seen as the credits for the book but I doubt there are many, if any, women on the publishing team or helping to promote the book. The fact that there is a male illustrator on the cover is the biggest sticking point – one I cannot really defend. The band had their reasons for hiring Caruso and it is not his fault at all. I do feel like it would have given Last of the American Girls a different voice and narrative if a woman had been chosen to illustrate. Maybe that was a mistake on their part but many people have been unkind towards the band, feeling they are ignoring women and blind to the irony. I do think that there needed to be women involved with the book but that is not the same as Green Day being ignorant and sexist. Men should be allowed to write about female icons and rebellious heroines. If we start questioning this sort of thing then surely it is holding back progress rather than helping to accelerate it? I do feel people need to give them a break on that front and, as I keep saying, judge Last of the American Girls on its words and quality. Away from their new literary venture, Green Day have been pretty busy. NME take up the story:

Meanwhile, Armstrong recently confirmed that he was at work on writing songs for the next Green Day album. This comes amid speculation of an anniversary tour in 2019, after the band revealed that they had been rehearsing classic albums ‘Dookie’ and ‘Insomniac’ in full.

The band are also working on a movie adaptation of their now seminal album ‘American Idiot”.

PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images/Press

There is always going to be a certain amount of flack and criticism from journalists and social media when big artists take on something like this. I do wonder whether someone like Paul McCartney would have got anger aimed at him if he wanted to write a novel about a powerful female musician from the 1960s. I refute Laura Snapes’ line regarding Green Day’s purpose and relevance regarding being spokespeople for female independence. It has been years since they were riding the commercial wave and at the top of the tree but what does that have to do with literature and something non-musical? This is something completely fresh and, again, if a more current and popular artist had tried to write their version of Last of the American Girls then would they be subjected to the same sort of reaction?! I cannot reconcile the lack of female inclusion on the work and do feel they missed a real opportunity having a female illustrator. It shouldn’t dent the appeal of Last of the American Girls but I think the band, if they do another edition, need to think about hiring women on their team. Regardless, I do think it is a good step for the band to take and their hearts are in the right place. Rather than judge them and question their motivation, go out and get Last of the American Girls and judge it on its literary merits. If they can win the people over in that respect then they could open the door for many other men in music to…

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 PHOTO CREDIT: @seteales/Unsplash

FOLLOW the same path.   

FEATURE: The April Playlist: Vol. 1: Orange Trees for a Hungry Child

FEATURE:

 

The April Playlist

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IN THIS PHOTO: MARINA 

Vol. 1: Orange Trees for a Hungry Child

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THIS is a week where some big releases…

IN THIS PHOTO: Hot Chip

have come in and will provide the weekend with a nice kick! Not only has MARINA released her album, LOVE, but there is new material from Solange, Hot Chip; Billie Marten and The National. It is a busy week for music so, to honour that, I have included the best of the releases into the latest Playlist. Make sure you have a listen at the rundown and investigate everything that has come about – an eclectic and interesting assortment of songs. I wonder whether we will see April continue this pace or whether it will quieten down a little next week. We will see but, for now, there is more than enough to get your teeth into! Take a dive into these songs and I am sure you will agree that they are pretty epic. If you need a nice little boost to get your weekend off to a great start then you need to…

IN THIS PHOTO: Solange

START here.  

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

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MARINAOrange Trees

Solange Beltway

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Hot ChipHungry Child

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Peter Doherty & The Puta Madres - Paradise Is Under Your Nose

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Billie MartenCartoon People

IN THIS PHOTO: Alison Mosshart/PHOTO CREDIT: Emily Korn Photography

Mini Mansions (ft. Alison Mosshart) - Hey Lover

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Billie Eilish bad guy

Vampire Weekend This Life

PHOTO CREDIT: MTV UK

Sam FenderHypersonic Missiles

Reba McEntireStorm in a Shot Glass

IN THIS PHOTO: Ezra Collective

Ezra Collective (ft. Loyle Carner) - What Am I to Do?

Rozi PlainSwing Shut

Amber MarkMixer

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The NationalLight Years

Luke Sital-SinghI Do

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MAC DEMARCO - ALL OF OUR YESTERDAYS

PHOTO CREDIT: Kathryn Vetter Miller for MOJO

Weyes Blood Wild Time

The Ninth WaveUsed to Be Yours

IN THIS PHOTO: Anderson .Paak

Anderson . Paak (ft. Smokey Robinson)Make It Better

IN THIS PHOTO: Jennifer Lopez

Jennifer Lopez (ft. French Montana) - Medicine

PUP Morbid Stuff 

IN THIS PHOTO: Ariana Grande

Ariana Grande and Victoria Monét - MONOPOLY

Snoh Aalegra - You

Khalid Free Spirit

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Alison WonderlandPeace

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Loren Gray Options

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PHOTO CREDIT: Dara Munnis

Tash Sultana Can’t Buy Happiness

Circa Waves The Way We Say Goodbye

Orla Gartland Flatline

Jasmine Thompsonsome people

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Paloma Faith I’ve Gotta Be Me

Rita Ora Big Yellow Taxi (Recorded at Spotify Studios NY)

AURORAThe Seed

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TulisaDaddy

Gia WoodsKeep on Coming

FEATURE: Hard Pressed to Explain It: The Decline of Drowned in Sound and Future Worries for Music Journalism

FEATURE:

 

 

Hard Pressed to Explain It

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PHOTO CREDIT: @diklein/Unsplash 

The Decline of Drowned in Sound and Future Worries for Music Journalism

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THERE are a lot of messages on social media at the moment...

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 PHOTO CREDIT: @thomholmes/Unsplash

mourning the end of Drowned in Sound. Whilst the site has faced some troubles before, it has survived and grown and, sadly, it is no longer. To be fair, not everything is disappearing but the Drowned in Sound we all know and love is unable to fight on. It’s founder, Sean Adams, posted this message to his Facebook page:

As mentioned elsewhere, with a heavy heart, I have some professional news (or whatever the meme-cliche is for these kindsa posts). Like At the Drive-In's hiatus (rather than LCD's "retirement"), Drowned in Sound will not be commissioning new reviews or features for the foreseeable future.

Our forums will remain (thank you for all the donations).

We will publish some pieces and festival reviews that we've committed to on our Medium blog (subscribe for alerts), plus I'll continue to do some music recommendations on our Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. I'm also really enjoying doing the weekly recommendations via Facebook Messenger, so I'll continue doing that for the foreseeable future.

I'm writing a proper explanation about what and why soon, but for now I'd like to say a massive thank you to everyone who's been involved in making the site what it's been for the past 19 years. Special thanks to Derek Robertson who's kept things going in recent years, and Andrzej Łukowskiwho's not only looked after our reviews since being forced to make everyone redundant 11 years ago, but built a team of eloquent music fanatics.

I'm going to take make a few changes and take some time to get things stable again financially, and then attempt to do some special activity as we enter our 20th year next year.

Thanks again for reading, sharing, indulging, exploring, engaging, and everything else”.

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 IMAGE CREDIT: @DrownedinSound

The site has been going since, pretty much, the turn of the century and has grown into this mighty and must-visit location for music lovers. There is no word whether the closure/downscaling will be permanent but financial struggles/demands have played a decisive factor. Whereas some music sites like NME are seeing an upturn in their fortunes – able to revive their printed format due to increased demand and success their way – I am seeing too much loss in music journalism. There has been this discussion and debate as to whether music journalism is in crisis and whether it will survive. The Guardian wrote an article last year that showed a healthier side to the industry:

And yet, to walk into any major newsagent in 2018 is to be greeted by a dizzying array of titles – far more than there were when Melody Maker, NME and Sounds shipped hundreds of thousands of copies. Today’s circulations are lower, but there are magazines for every niche or genre, from Classic Rock to Blues & Soul to avant garde title The Wire.

“I’ve read thousands of words about the so-called ‘crisis in music journalism’, but your average punter would be hard-pressed to understand that,” says John Mulvey, who edits the 63,000-selling monthly Mojo, which celebrated its 300th issue last month. He argues that the ill-fated free NME was “a last attempt to court a general audience, as titles have realised that they are no longer mainstream but specialist publications”.

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IMAGE CREDIT: @DrownedinSound 

Internet titles have been hit hard by a collapse in web advertising, following Facebook and Google’s greater ability to place advertisements right in front of any target audience – refined, by algorithms, to age, location, “likes”, music tastes and so on. “I’m constantly being shown ghost adverts saying, ‘All your readers could see this on Facebook if you pay us,’” says John Doran, co-founder of the Quietus. The esteemed left-field website recently turned 10 and attracts 400,000 monthly readers for coverage of acts from Guttersnipe to the Fall, but requires supporter donations and pays journalists when it can (many work gratis to assist what is seen as a noble cause). Doran admits that he and colleague Luke Turner are themselves “on less than minimum wage, forever five minutes from the dole. Today, I wouldn’t start a website. I’d start a free, bi-weekly, multi-genre paper, distributed in universities.”

Perhaps music journalism isn’t as central to young people’s lives like it was when information-starved fans waited patiently for the “inkies”, but now, with so much instant music and such sophisticated algorithms out there, perhaps the trusted navigators are needed more than ever. As L&Q’s Stubbs puts it: “Someone has to make sense of the noise”.

There does seem to be this split between smaller printed publications and Internet sites. Consider the fact that, largely, these printed editions cost something to buy and, if you sell enough copies and combine that with advertising revenue, then profit is easier to come by.

 PHOTO CREDIT: @jmvisuals/Unsplash

Internet sites like Drowned in Sound do not ask for a fee and people can browse as they like without having to pay anything. It cost money to go to gigs and review them; there are people who work for them who need paying and it is hard to find balance and success when you have to work with such tight margins. It does seem to be the case that the biggest advertising revenue is reserved for a very small sector. With a lot of new websites coming through, it is tough to survive when the main source of income is from advertisers. I have mused whether people should pay a subscription fee to view sites but, with so many out there, would this backfire? It is great that there are big websites out there where we can get our daily news and views and smaller ones that cater to niche tastes. I do think that there is plenty of choice but I would not wish anything bad for any of these sites. I do not think we should send the message that Internet sites will struggle because they operate for free. It is hard asking for money and getting funding from readers but, at the same time, how are sites like Drowned in Sound expected to put out great-quality stuff all of the time? With such competition around, sites have to get ambitious and put out more work which, inevitably, means the costs go up.  

 IMAGE CREDIT: @RollingStone

I am glad that not all music magazines are suffering and people are still willing to go out and pay for something cool. People put a lot of work into these editions so it is rewarding to see that this is being reciprocated by passionate and eager fans. There is something pleasing about buying a magazine and digesting it gradually over a cup of coffee! Most of us want our music sustenance on the move and, therefore, we look to the Internet. More and more, we are flicking between sites and doing it for free. I do not agree – as The Guardian suggests – that music journalism is in rude health and there is no crisis. Some publications and managing and building but many others have razor-thin margins whereas others are closing. Look online and I do wonder how many of the smaller sites will survive and continue to operate. A lot of the big names like Pitchfork do rake in quite a lot of advertising finance and I feel this is why NME has managed to keep going – and get its print edition back up and running. This Europavox article examines advertising revenue in the Internet age and the state of music journalism in 2019:

For anyone harbouring optimistic thoughts about the future of journalism, it’s been a sobering start to the year. BuzzFeed and HuffPost, leading players whose viral content and revenue-per-click strategy were once considered groundbreaking, laid off over 1,000 employees, while Condé Nast, the media conglomerate that owns publications such as GQ, Vanity Fair, Wired, and Pitchfork, announced that by the end of the year all its titles will be behind paywalls. For sites and publications lacking in cred or venture capital millions, things are even bleaker; newsrooms and staff positions across Europe and the US have been decimated, with 2018 being the worst year for media redundancies since 2009.

PHOTO CREDIT: Alamy  

Legendary titles that used to shift upwards of 250 000 copies a week have either disappeared altogether or have been forced to re-invent themselves; the iconic NME became a free weekly in 2015 before abandoning print altogether to focus on NME.com. The situation is just as grim for publications that were born on the web and never embraced print; with Google and Facebook tightening their grip on digital advertising revenue – by 2020 they’re expected to take more than half of global ad spending – the likes of The Quietus and Drowned In Sound struggle to survive, frequently relying on supporter donations and funding drives”.

Many say that it is sad that sites are closing and there are issues but, in this age, do we need music journalists? Many are giving us opinions when we can make our own. One can easily download and access anything without any hesitation and many do not have time to sit down and look at long articles and reviews. The fact is that music journalism is more complex and broad than mere criticism and opinions. There are vibrant articles and suggestions – music venues to visit and classic albums to check out – and so much one cannot get idly surfing the Internet. Many reviews are providing background and balance; information that has a professional perspective and insight that many do not possess. To write off music journalists are irrelevant and pointless displays an ignorance of what we do and how important websites like Drowned in Sound are to artists both new and established.

PHOTO CREDIT: @curiousbino/Unsplash

The article continues and argues why we need to keep music journalism alive:

The formats may change – are changing – but music needs a vibrant, diverse, independent press to champion what the mainstream won’t – or can’t –, to be honest and fearless in its approach, and act as a catalyst for debate. Over the coming weeks and months, we’ll be running a series of articles looking at the above issues in depth, drawing on the experience of writers, editors, and websites from across Europe. Journalists’ role as curators, Big Data, AI, and algorithms, and sustainable business models are just some of the topics we’ll explore, all of which are, of course, relevant to Europavox.com and our ongoing project. We believe music journalism continues to be important, and are invested in its survival; we hope you are too”.

I do think that money is a big sticking point and, when we shut down sites and magazines, we are denying the world something wonderful and passionate; many lose their jobs and this creates a bad impression regarding music journalists coming through. It is a great thing to do but if we see such loss and argue the only way to make a go of things is working for free, how attractive does that appear?! I would hate to see a day when the public make up their own minds and feel the music media is a product of a time that no longer exists.

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 PHOTO CREDIT: @paul_/Unsplash

New artists rely on sites and magazines to break them and get the word out; bigger acts need those reviews and release albums so, naturally, it is nice they get some feedback and good words from those in the media. There is a lot of competition out there and there is no obvious answer when it comes to survival and how to ensure great websites stay afloat. There are plenty of articles (such as this) that argue the importance of music journalism and how those who criticise it need to redress their views. The passion out there is clear but, sadly, many work for free and do so tirelessly. The physical and emotional debt is huge and, if you want to go to gigs and produce content that will surpass rivals, cash needs to be injected regularly. It would be good to see some sort of government initiative that provided more money for music media and ensured lifelines to those in trouble. It is heartening to see some magazines succeed and other websites continue without issue but that does not mean music media in general is healthy and safe. In fact, there are a lot of sites barely managing and people like me who work for free and cannot afford to travel/go to gigs through lack of financing. I get the odd offer regarding advertising and finance but this comes from betting websites and, a) I never know if it is a scam and, b) the sort of money they will bring me is negligible.

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 PHOTO CREDIT: @johnschno/Unsplash

I will end things here but I wanted to pay tribute to Drowned in Sound and I hope, down the line, they can be revived. The fact they have been going for so long means we need to preserve the site and understand how important they are to musicians and fans alike. It is impossible to say definitively whether music journalism is sustainable and solid right now as there is this split between online and print and the battle between the giants and everyone else. The fact so many sites have to rely on donations and appeals is really worrying but that is not to say one should overlook ambitions of becoming a music journalist. There are options out there and ways of getting advertisers interested in your site but, for a lot of those who have been around for years, it is tough competing and keeping afloat. Who knows what the next few years hold but I do know, the more people that come into the market, the less money there is for everyone. It is really tough to make a success of your website or magazine but don’t let that deter you. Musicians rely on the passion and dedication music journalists provide so I do hope money becomes available for music media in this country as it is tragic seeing beloved sites like Drowned in Sound struggle and have to downsize dramatically. As I said, I hope there is chance of resuscitation for them because losing them from the market after so long is…

 PHOTO CREDIT: @gaspanik/Unsplash

SUCH a crime!

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

FEATURE:

 

 

Sisters in Arms

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IN THIS PHOTO: Billie Marten 

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

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IT is hard coming up with a new introduction...

 IN THIS PHOTO: Noname

for each part of this feature but, as the weather is still pretty good, I thought it would be sage we had another female-led, spring-ready assortment to get you in the mood. I am excited for summer and warmer days but, right now, it is not too bad at all. I have been scouting the new tracks out there and have joined together a few of the best. If you need some awesome jams to get you through to the weekend, I have just the remedy! Have a listen to these great female/female-fronted tracks and let them do their work. The weather is meant to be pretty good today so that will put us all in a finer state. Let the tunes work their magic and I am certain there is something in the pack that…

IN THIS PHOTO: Hatchie/PHOTO CREDIT: Alex Wall

WILL peak your interest.

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

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Lizi BaileyWho Am I

Riley ClemmonsFighting for Me

PHOTO CREDIT: Kane Hibberd

Alex LaheyAm I Doing It Right?

PHOTO CREDIT: Daniel Dorsa

Emily ReoStrawberry

Billie Marten Cartoon People

Clara CaseyPhysical

Jordan Genovese100 Years

Ariana and the RoseYou Were Never My Boyfriend

Elinor Rose DougallChristina in Red

PHOTO CREDIT: Sophie Hur

HatchieStay with Me

Amber-SimoneOnly You

Rosie LowePharaoh (Edit)

ShunajiNighthawks

Gus HarveyThe Mirror

Lady LeshurrI’ve Gotta Be Me

Baker GraceHandcuffs

Orla GartlandFlatline

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Tash SultanaCan’t Buy Happiness

Zoey Lily I Wish I Had a Heart

BLACKPINK Kick It

Daniella Mason Deepest of Wells

Noname Song 32 

PHOTO CREDIT: Charlie Woodward

Saltwater Sun The Great Deceiver

Grace Lightman Zero Impact

Amber Mark Mixer

Molly Rainford Long Run

FEATURE: About a Boy: Remembering the Iconic Kurt Cobain

FEATURE:

 

 

About a Boy

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IN THIS PHOTO: Kurt Cobain performing with Nirvana for MTV Unplugged in New York on 18th November, 1993/PHOTO CREDIT: Frank Micelotta

Remembering the Iconic Kurt Cobain

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I can recall a lot of upsetting memories from music...

 ILLUSTRATION CREDIT: Shawna Rowe

that struck me hard when I was growing up. We get into this headspace that musicians we idolise are immortal and they will never leave us. When anything bad happens to them, we are affected deeply and it scars us. Some might say it is weird to feel that way about someone you have never met and who never spoke to you. The thing is that these artists get into our hearts and we feel connected to them through their music – like they are speaking to us and understand what we are going through. I was only ten when I learned about the news of Kurt Cobain’s death on 5th April, 1994, but it was a moment that moved me. Before that point, I was a Nirvana fan and was discovering music away from Nevermind. That was the album that kids raved about in school. Released in 1991, it was somehow illicit and naughty listening to Nirvana because they were not the chart warriors and Pop acts that we ‘should’ have been listening to! I was an eclectic and adventurous child and so, naturally, bands like Nirvana were in my sight. It wasn’t just the physicality of the music that got to me and seemed to speak louder than what was coming out of the mainstream. Although I would become more involved with Nirvana’s music after Cobain’s death, it is amazing to think what an impact they made on me early on.

If anything, Bleach – their 1989 debut – strikes me harder and has a bit more surprise. I love Dave Grohl (percussion) and Krist Novoselic (bass) but it was the lead, Kurt Cobain, that seduced me. Maybe it was the worldview of the fact he seemed a lot more personable and different. From the Beatles-inspired About a Girl to the fuzz and grunginess Blew, Bleach is a fantastic album and one that gets overlooked. That raw and scratchy voice has power and vulnerability and the words paint vivid images and dig deep into the emotions. I love the fact Cobain was not like anything in the mainstream and did not seem to want the fame and attention so many of his peers craved. Although Bleach sags a bit towards the end, there are so many standout cuts that warrant further investigation. Before I come onto other Nirvana albums and live performances, it is worth noting that there were many sides to Kurt Cobain. As this NME article shows, Cobain knew that his bandmate Dave Grohl had some singing chops – maybe keeping them hidden as not to take away some of his light:

Nirvana‘s former manager has spoken of how well aware Kurt Cobain was of Dave Grohl‘s vocal talents, suggesting that there may have even been “a touch of envy” between the two.

Danny Goldberg, who has also worked with the likes of Led Zeppelin and Bonnie Raitt, managed the Seattle band between 1990 and 1994. This week, he released Serving The Servant: Remembering Kurt Cobain – a book featuring his memories of the frontman, interviews with Courtney Love, Nirvana bassist Krist Novoselic and other members of Cobain’s family and friends, as well as files that were previously unavailable to the public.
Now, Goldberg has spoken of Cobain’s thoughts about drummer Grohl’s ability as a singer, long before he formed 
Foo Fighters.

“Kurt just said to me, ‘I don’t think you realise how good a singer Dave is, but I hear him singing harmonies every night.’ It was like he was really doing it so I would know this because there was this very fraternal side of him and a sweet side of him, but also it had a touch of envy in it. I mean he was competitive,” Goldberg told The Washington Post”.

I think many assume they had Cobain pegged and he was this blonde-haired, moody and simple being who was all about Grunge, being a bit rebellious and not wanting fame. There is this simplistic vision of a very complex and pioneering artist. (More on this, alas, later). Many associate Nirvana and Cobain’s genius with Nevermind. It is the album that took the trio to the mainstream and made them stars. This level of fame was something Cobain resented but one cannot deny the brilliance of the songs and the anthemic, Smells Like Teen Spirit. That song is viewed as one of the very best from the 1990s and is a rallying cry for generations of outsiders. It is one of the best album openers ever and is joined by plenty of fraternal gold. Grohl’s drumming is pummelling and incendiary whilst the bass work keeps the songs together and propels Grohl. Cobain’s riffs are fantastic and nuanced whilst his songs are full of emotional outpouring, anger and complexity.

 PHOTO CREDIT: Kirk Weddle

So many people identify with the messages in Nevermind but, as a piece of work, it is one of the greatest statements ever. Nirvana helped bring about a radical shift in tastes and pushed music to new heights. It helped popularise Seattle Grunge and assimilate Alternative-Rock into the mainstream. It is an album more mainstream than Bleach but not polished and accessible enough to be seen as something chart-based or simple. It is a hugely potent and grand work but it has that sense of accessibility that helped move Grunge to the masses. Cobain hated the attention songs like Smells Like Teen Spirit brought him but one cannot deny the impact that record has had on generations of musicians. Reviews in 1991 and those since have praised Nevermind and understood its importance – so many truly great records are usually understood and appreciate way down the line. The immediate impact of Nevermind was pure and obvious but, as this retrospective review from AllMusic shows, the album is not just a sign of a particular time:

And, yes, Nevermind is probably a little shinier than it should be, positively glistening with echo and fuzzbox distortion, especially when compared with the black-and-white murk of Bleach. This doesn't discount the record, since it's not only much harder than any mainstream rock of 1991, its character isn't on the surface, it's in the exhilaratingly raw music and haunting songs. Kurt Cobain's personal problems and subsequent suicide naturally deepen the dark undercurrents, but no matter how much anguish there is on Nevermind, it's bracing because he exorcizes those demons through his evocative wordplay and mangled screams -- and because the band has a tremendous, unbridled power that transcends the pain, turning into pure catharsis…

And that's as key to the record's success as Cobain's songwriting, since Krist Novoselic and Dave Grohl help turn this into music that is gripping, powerful, and even fun (and, really, there's no other way to characterize "Territorial Pissings" or the surging "Breed"). In retrospect, Nevermind may seem a little too unassuming for its mythic status -- it's simply a great modern punk record -- but even though it may no longer seem life-changing, it is certainly life-affirming, which may just be better”.

Nevermind is Nirvana’s commercial album and, although it brought them new attention and following, you sort of feel like their final studio album, In Utero (1993), was a reaction to that. It is, like Bleach, a more intense and dirty album that sounds like the record Cobain always wanted to make. There are no songs as big and timeless as Smells Like Teen Spirit but, in many ways, In Utero is a more complete, personal and satisfying work. Who knows where Cobain’s mind was as the band started to create In Utero.

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IN THIS PHOTO: Nirvana (Dave Grohl, Kurt Cobain and Krist Novoselic) photographed in 1991/PHOTO CREDIT: Paul Bergen/Redferns

Rape Me and Scentless Apprentice are as primal and cathartic as anything they have ever recorded whilst All Apologies is Cobain at his most open and emotive. There is the strangely catchy Dumb and Pennyroyal Tea and the much-sampled Very Ape. The reviews for In Utero were not as emphatic as for Nevermind but, as this Pitchfork assessment shows, there was a lot going on and Nirvana were determined to create a very different third studio effort:

 “For the past two decades, we've essentially been living with two versions of I**n Utero. The first was officially released Sept. 21, 1993, though its legend was established several months prior. As the intensely anticipated follow-up to the most transformative rock album of the 1990sNirvana’s third record was pre-destined to become a battlefield in the heightening clash between indie and corporate culture, as mediated by a band that was philosophically faithful to the former but contractually beholden to the latter...

Upon release, In Utero may have debuted at number one, but initially it was something of a pyrrhic victory: Rather than lead a wave of Jesus Lizard-inspired noise bands to the top of the Billboard charts, In Utero would send millions of Nirvana’s more casual crossover fans scurrying into the warm embrace of Pearl Jam’s record-setting October '93 release Vs., an album that, from a music-biz perspective, was the true blockbuster sequel to Nevermind. In that sense, this first version of In Utero resonates as much today as a symbolic gesture as a collection of 12 unrelentingly visceral rock songs, a how-to manual for any artist at the top of their game-- from Kid A-era Radiohead to Kanye West circa Yeezus-- that would rather use their elevated position to provoke their audience than pander to it”.

One cannot talk about Kurt Cobain and his genius without nodding to Nirvana’s legendary set at Reading in 1992. The band was one of the biggest in the world and there was so much pressure on them. So much expectation and hype; a sort of once-in-a-lifetime event that sort of defined the time. Cobain arrived on stage in a wheelchair and, from there, one knew it was going to be a truly memorable gig. Nirvana’s 1992 turn is seen as one of the best Reading Festival turns ever – as the official website backs:

It’s times like this that are peppered throughout the set and remind you of the band’s – and especially Kurt’s – resistance at having such a huge following. Despite the huge crowd in front of them they were playing for themselves. It’s just lucky the throng enjoyed being brought along for the ride.

You’ll never know at the time just how much impact a single performance like this might have, but like The Beatles on the roof of Apple, or Oasis at Knebworth, this gig will forever be known in the lore of rock. So much so in fact, that recently released Nirvana documentary ‘Montage Of Heck’ opens with it, showing backstage footage from the band”.

Before concluding and talking more about the man himself, you cannot forget the decade-defining set Nirvana performed, unplugged, in New York for MTV. Their MTV Unplugged in New York gig was very different to the Rock-driven performances that one expected. Nirvana taped their performance in a single take – unlike most acts – and the fourteen-song set contained a mixture of original songs and covers.

 PHOTO CREDIT: Frank Micelotta

Cobain asked for the set to be decorated like a funeral: chandeliers, lilies and black candles. Although the set is ‘unplugged’, Cobain gave some extra intensity and fuzz as he ran his acoustic guitar through an amp and effects pedals. It gave songs like The Man Who Sold the World (David Bowie) new life and meaning. The set was taped on 18th November, 1993 at Sony Studios and was a definite break from MTV traditions. There were nerves from Cobain as the rehearsals were beset with disagreements and problems. Cobain was suffering from drug withdrawal and, as the network were unhappy with the lack of Nirvana songs, the frontman threatened to boycott and not play.

You look at the filmed performance and there are few smiles and laughs. It is a very focused and intense performance but, saying that, Cobain did talk between songs and appears a lot more casual and involved than many give him credit for. Dressed in a cardigan and sitting on an office chair, it is a mesmeric performance from Cobain and one that brings something different from his voice. In this article, Fred Perry asses the magic and importance of Nirvana’s unplugged masterpiece:

A dozen years before Youtube, MTV was still the way that many in America and Europe accessed new music in a visual medium. Unplugged caught Nirvana at a unique point in their short existence as a band and introduced them to audiences in a new way. Cobain's struggles with his own success were already well documented, and Nirvana were not completely happy the MTV unplugged format. MTV wanted a setlist of Nirvana's greatest hits with guest appearances from the like of Pearl Jam and Tori Amos, but instead, the set list featured songs by David Bowie, Leadbelly and '80s Scottish band The Vaselines. The additional players were made up of members of Meat Puppets along with Nirvana's touring guitarist Pat Smear, a former member of American punk band Germs.

Kurt Cobain managed to present an alternative to the stereotypical rock star ego throughout the set. One of the most memorable moments of the set was the cover of David Bowie's 'The Man Who Sold The World'. The inclusion of the song introduced the audience to an era of Bowie that many were unaware of, knowing Bowie more for his then relatively recent period with Tin Machine or 'Let's Dance'.

Despite the worldwide success of 'Nervermind', it was Unplugged that gave Nirvana the biggest platform, and Kurt Cobain used it to dismantle the idea of the strutting male singer with a guitar, replacing it with a reality young people could connect with”.

Everyone talks about Cobain’s suicide and drug problems; how he was this rather troubled character but we do not think of Cobain as this pioneer and groundbreaking writer. He was against the egoistical and macho type that dominated Rock and was very support of women’s rights and the L.G.T.B.Q. movement. In this feature, the band’s former manager Danny Goldberg spoke about Cobain’s depths and forgotten sides:

 “But the former Nirvana manager, who Cobain had hailed as a "second father," emphasized that behind the drug use and depression the superstar was a "musical genius."

He was also a romantic goofball, Goldberg said, who happened to be the proud owner of four pristine, sealed copies of The Chipmunks Sing the Beatles Hits.

PHOTO CREDIT: Anton Corbijn/Courtesy of the Artist

Goldberg believes Cobain's "slacker" appeal – the tattered sweater, the ditchwater-blond locks, swept frequently and absent-mindedly from ocean-blue eyes as he flicked a hand-rolled cigarette – drew attention from his impressive intellect.

"I always knew there was a depth to the energy and feelings that he was playing with; it was deeper than just a great chorus – even though he did write great choruses," Goldberg said.

His manager credits Cobain with championing women and helping to "redefine masculinity" within the music world.

"He could be very powerful and compelling – and at the same time, be sensitive and caring. That was a departure from the rock orthodoxy of the time," Goldberg said”.

 

Popmatters backed this up and explained how we often view Kurt Cobain in one-dimensional terms:

Hard rock today still relies a good deal on drawing crude sonic inspiration from Nirvana’s dynamic and emotionally volatile output. What’s really distressing though is what elements have been discarded over the years. Cobain’s outspoken advocacy of feminism and LGBT rights, his sarcasm, his uncertainty regarding celebrity, his tendency for self-effacement, his esoteric musical taste, his inclination to not care if a note was out of tune or a guitar made a horrific noise on a potential hit single -- all these are too complicated and uncomfortable for much populist hard rock these days to deal with, and are thusly ignored. Instead, a band like Nickelback takes the turgid guitars and gruff vocal timbres of the grunge era, polishes it up, and marries it to hoary old rock tropes like getting drunk and partying with strippers.

For a long time, critics and music industry types sought the next Nirvana, and by extension, the next Kurt Cobain. Indeed, they positively pined for someone else to come around with the same weight of importance around him. Nowadays, Cobain really is a musical ghost: there are flickers and flashes of his voice and guitar still audible, but much of what defined him -- what he believed in and what he stood for -- doesn’t resonate in today’s musical climate. To me, that’s the real shame. I’ve long accepted the fact that events in history have limited the Nirvana songbook. Yet I am really disappointed by how despite a stretch in the ‘90s that in retrospect appears anomalous, Cobain’s obstinate relationship with the music industry and rock stardom did not become a new kind of normal after all”.

Twenty-five years after Kurt Cobain’s death, there is still so much we do not know about him. If you have seen the film/documentary, Montage of Heck, you will learn more about his childhood and early life. The genius music is only one side of Cobain and, as we mark twenty-five years since his passing, we must think about the incredible human behind the music. He was, at times, confrontational and distant but he was also very warm, progressive and vulnerable. He was the antithesis of the rather simple and crude male role model – let’s hope that Cobain’s legacy and personality makes more of an impression on history than the rather cocky and jock-type bands that many idolise. I have compiled a Kurt Cobain/Nirvana playlist to end this feature but there are videos, interviews and other artifacts I suggest people seek out to get a better impression of this remarkable artist. Although albums like Nevermind and In Utero have influenced artists since their release, I do wonder whether we will ever see anyone like Kurt Cobain. I think he was this brilliant star that burnt very brightly for a short time. Maybe, given the age in which we live, we will never see anyone like him again! For that reason, I think we all need to see Cobain in different terms and realise he was a lot more than what the media portrayed. It is sad that Cobain left us at the age of twenty-seven but, in a short time, he did so much for music and influenced a generation. He will continue to inspire musicians for decades to come but I wonder whether, twenty-five years after his death, we truly know…

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 PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images/Press

THE real Kurt Cobain.

FEATURE: Station to Station: Song One: Lauren Laverne (BBC Radio 6 Music)

FEATURE:

 

 

Station to Station

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IN THIS PHOTO: Lauren Laverne attending the forty-fifth annual Television and Radio Awards hosted by the Broadcasting Press Guild (she deservedly won the Radio Broadcaster of the Year prize on Friday, 15th March, 2019)/PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images/Press 

Song One: Lauren Laverne (BBC Radio 6 Music)

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IN this new feature...

PHOTO CREDIT: Sarah Lee for The Guardian

I want to look at those in radio who inspire me and, in addition, countless others. I was trying to find a cool title for this feature and, for some reason, the much-overlooked David Bowie album of 1976 came to mind (TVC15 is a dope-ass song and needs to be played on the airwaves!). Next time out, I will feature Ken Bruce: someone who has been at BBC Radio 2 for years and has established himself as a bit of a legend – not least because PopMaster is a national institution! I wanted to start rolling the ball because, appropriately, I have just finished (as part of my research for a podcast series) listening to Lauren Laverne’s interview with Kate Bush back in 2011. It was when she (Bush) was promoting 50 Words for Snow and, to me, it is one of the best interviews I have heard! There is such a natural chemistry between the two and the questions are thoughtful and interesting. I cannot believe it has been over seven years since Bush’s last studio album and, bugger me, we do need another one along very soon! Anyway, I deflect and digress somewhat…

PHOTO CREDIT: Boden Diaries

Bush has provided a few interviews to BBC Radio 6 Music – Mark Radcliffe has done several of them, the lucky bugger! – and I know, when a new album arrives this/next year, it will be interesting to see who gets the call. I hope Laverne does because, as you can see from the YouTube comments on her 2011 interview, people responded hard…and it brought new sides from Bush (who knew the icon liked the film, Source Code, and was partial to the odd explosion!). It was refreshing to hear an interview with Kate Bush where the same questions were not being asked and, as a result, she was a lot more relaxed and revealing. One of my life-long dreams is to interview Kate Bush so, if Laverne does get the call, maybe I can be ‘security’ or ‘food carrier’ – or I can stowaway somewhere and covertly get in; vibrate like a gleeful moron and meet an idol. A boy can dream but, yeah, I think that chance has passed by.

I know, alas, I will need to craft my own way and put the miles in before being afforded a chance to come face-to-face with the mighty Bush. It might seem like a diversion and non-sequitur – it is forty years to the day Kate Bush opened her Tour of Life in Liverpool (I wrote about it yesterday); a groundbreaking and innovative concert series that revolutionised the feel and ambition of the live show – but one of the reasons a personality like Laverne connects and makes me stick with BBC Radio 6 Music of a morning is that common ground. Knowingly or otherwise, she has this innate ability to appear friend-like and paternal; like a cool mate in the schoolyard who is into the same sh*t as you; a radio version of multi-vitamins and rainbows – able to nourish every part of the body and soul and provide light and colour (that might sound wanky but, sue me, that’s how it feels). She has a great love of live music and new releases; a tireless curator and discoverer of brand-spanking music and the hottest fresh sounds around. I do love how Laverne embraces every aspect of music and every sonic corner. There are not many like her in the radio world!

Every listener will have their own connection to her but, as I say, it is that feeling like there is someone who thinks the same and has your taste in music. Not only do I imagine she’d chat about Beastie Boys (heroes of mine); the best Madonna albums (ditto: the obsession is more to do with her career evolution rather than fashion or anything like that – I just find her neat and unique); which album and song defines Steely Dan (as mega-fans we’d disagree but you know she’s put up a good fight). I find the Steely Dan thing interesting, actually, as I do not hear of many high-profile figures who have such admiration for the band/duo (one of the founders/members, Walter Becker, died of cancer in 2017). I have never met Lauren Laverne but I would probably start by asking about her love of Steely Dan and when they came into her life. I wonder whether her exposure is the same as mine!

PHOTO CREDIT: Boden Diaries 

There are other niche aspects to my passion I feel she’d understand – such as Michel Gondry music videos (Lucas with the Lid Off is my favourite video ever) and the sounds of the 1990s (and how it was the last really joyful time for music; we need to revive some of the best Dance/House/Pop music today). She also lives fairly close to me – Alexandra Palace is a venue local to both of us; she is in Muswell Hill and I’m in Wood Green – and is of a similar age (she is a few years older) and, rather than being this distant and unreadable D.J., it feels like there is this very open and of-the-people person who easily and warmly embraces all of us. I know for a fact many others feel the same way and, because of that, I hope she remains on the air for many decades to come. Why is Lauren Laverne on the block and the first BBC Radio 6 Music D.J. I wanted to feature, you might ask? (I am also going to include Shaun Keaveny and Mary Ann Hobbs at a later date). I used to listen to Absolute Radio (a station dedicated to playing the same songs over and over; a bafflingly-popular option) but, in truth, it was her old mid-morning show that opened my mind! The reason I became attached to the written word was – stay with me here, okay… – was school memories; a time when literature was a big part of the primary/secondary-school syllabus.

PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images/Press 

I used to love book fairs at schools; where we could all pick up second-hand books for 50p and such. We’d also have these yearly ‘reading days’ where, in each classroom or hut - my old school (f*ck me, Steely Dan just came back into my head!) had traditional classrooms but we used to have huts/portacabin-type builds where art and subjects like that were taken - a chapter from a different book was being read out to those who wanted to hear it. The children could move from classroom to classroom and, simply, hear a passage read out by one of the teachers. It was on those days – one in 1989, to the best of my recollection – where I fell in love with books such as A.A. Milne’s Winnie the Pooh (the collected stories) and Kenneth Grahame’s The Wind in the Willows. The latter was my favourite book as a child (Winnie the Pooh is now, oddly) because of the way the teachers made it spring to life; a dear friend of mine gave me the book as a birthday present – we were both born on the exact same day –, and I was immersed in the power of the written word and imagination. When it came to radio, listening to Lauren Laverne’s mid-morning show broadened my horizons in a similar way. I was already a mega-passionate music fan and journalist but new realms were introduced; this giddy and exciting world that was shut to me previously – why did I waste time listening to any other stations before?!

I shall come to Lauren Laverne’s change from mid-morning to the breakfast slot, but I think the reason she has such passion and authority is because of her musical past. She previously sat in for BBC Radio 1’s Steve Lamacq (now her colleague at BBC Radio 6 Music) and joined XFM – now Radio X, I think – back in 2002 (I am going via Wikipedia here so apologies for any errors. Her birthday is one day after my mum’s…kind of cool!). She started hosting the XFM breakfast show from 2005 after Christian O’Connell moved to Virgin Radio so, in a short space, she had worked for various stations and already done a breakfast gig. She joined BBC Radio 6 Music in June of 2008 and, before long, became a favourite for many. Since then, Laverne has hosted on every BBC radio station – maybe BBC Radio 1Xtra alludes her but that is about it! She has that experience and range and, although she is only forty, she has more experience and confidence than many of her much older peers. Not only did Laverne’s style and show inspire my ears and confirm my love of BBC Radio 6 Music but it has made me a more proactive and motivated feminist (as have her peers such as Mary Ann Hobbs). Not only has she enjoyed plenty of eclecticism behind the microphone in the radio world but she is a former musician.

I was a follower of Kenickie back in the day and, aside from their cool Grease-referencing moniker – I am not a fan of musicals but anything with Hopelessly Devoted to You and Greased Lightin’ (a song I first heard at eight; pretty eye-opening considering John Travolta talks about chicks creaming, his car being a “pussy wagon” and him saying “sh*t” and “tit” without much hesitation) is pretty good by me -, the band were writing songs more immediate and fresh than a lot of what was being played on the radio! As part of the four-piece Kenickie (her brother was also in the band), they released their debut album, At the Club, back in 1997. I know I have skimmed this subject in other Laverne-related pieces but, for context, it is important I travel back to a time when I was fourteen and discovered this cool new band. At the Club arrived three days after my fourteenth birthday on 12th May, 1997 and scored a lot of critical love! This is a sample review; AllMusic definitely impressed with the band’s debut:

Like Ash before them, Kenickie have an adolescent exuberence that makes At the Club a joyous, infectious debut. Kenickie are self-styled adolescents, making a big deal of their age, not only in their surprisingly funny lyrics, but in the way their guitars and drums bounce off each other, creating a wonderful cacophony. And just as wonderful are the songs themselves, filled with hooks and melodies that ring in the head, especially since they're delivered with ragged, invigorating enthusiasm. "Punka," "Come out 2 Nite," "P.V.C.," and "In Your Car" all date from early singles, yet they've lost none of their power. More importantly, Kenickie have come up with another batch of originals that are just as strong, making At the Club a terrific punk-pop debut”.

Laverne and Marie du Santiago penned most of the tracks and, with gems like Punka (one of the playground favourites when I was at high-school – a track co-written with her brother, Johnny X (real name Pete Gofton. Gofton is Laverne’s maiden name…gets confusing!) – it was small wonder At the Club resounded and was a definite favourite in my C.D. collection. My friends and I used to wax lyrical about bands like Kenickie. The group released a second album, Get In, in 1998 and, aside from the writing dynamic shifting slightly – the siblings co-wrote the bulk of the songs and were much more harmonious and less bitchy than Liam and Noel Gallagher of Oasis! –, the quality was right up there. This Pop-Punk band was a breath of fresh air at a time when Britpop still lingered in the wind and big bands like Blur were starting to take guidance from U.S. guitar acts such as Pavement. Groups like Radiohead, The Prodigy; Sleater-Kinney and Blur were defining 1997: Massive Attack, Beastie Boys; Hole and Garbage a year later…

Kenickie were able to ride the waves and create their own style: commercially popular and fresh enough to sway those who were following what was owning the charts or scoring big on music T.V. Laverne’s music career did not end when the band split and, in addition to giving a memorable backing vocal for The Divine Comedy’s Come Home Billy Bird in 2004 (she sang few words but made an impact in the chorus – sort of like Kate Bush’s duet with Peter Gabriel on Games Without Frontiers), she worked with Mint Royale and other artists. All of her experience in the industry during its absolute peak goes into her radio work. I am not suggesting those who have enjoyed a career making music translate into D.J.s more readily…but it is clear Lauren Laverne has a deep knowledge of the industry, having been in the spotlight for a time. Being part of a popular band, she can definitely relate to musicians today and what they have to go through. The landscape has altered since the 1990s but a lot of the same highs and lows remain in place.

IN THIS PHOTO: Emmy-Kate Montrose, Lauren Laverne and Marie du Santiago of Kenickie/PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images/Press

To play and find popularity in the 1990s must have been immense, but that is not to say Lauren Laverne is rigid when it comes to playlists – her selections are, in fact, broader than most on BBC Radio 6 Music. This all takes us to now and why I feel she is one of the best on the airwaves. She took over Shaun Keaveny’s breakfast show back in January – they really need to take off the sting/jingle that opens her show saying that it is ‘new’ – and settled into the role very naturally. The woman deserves a week or two off to recharge her batteries as one feels weeks and weeks of early starts and having two young children must have her clamming for some calm and chill! I know Laverne’s work ethic is endless and she never sounds like she is flagging. I am not sure where she gets all that energy from but one can, vicariously, feel uplifted and driven listening to her every morning!

There are many reasons why broadcasters like Lauren Laverne mean a lot to me. Apart from her devotion to Steely Dan (Pretzel Logic is their finest album and Deacon Blues their greatest song, by the by!), if I had to put my finger on it, it is like she is in your head. It is also like no other area of the world bar Wogan House down on Great Portland Street, London means as much to her. I am sure the bus/Tube ride to work and back is not exactly a bed of roses each day but you just know she arrives to work with a smile and would not be anywhere else! This infectiousness rubs off on all of us as we struggle to lift our heads out of our cereal and negotiate every Tom, Dick and Twatbag (would that last forename be hyphenated?!) on the daily commute. It is that boost and hug that we all need and, damn it, I would be a weaker man without it, that is for certain! I think we all owe a debt of thanks to Lauren Laverne and her wonderful team.

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PHOTO CREDIT: Boden Diaries

I was sceptical whether the move from mid to early-morning would work and whether it would mean we’d lose the best features and aspects from her regular show. Even though Biorhythms has gone, there are new features: The Maths of Life (with Dr. Hannah Fry) is great and Monday’s Cloudbusting (ten Kate Bush points there, team!) is ace; Social Recall (named after the film, Total Recall, I would imagine, minus Arnie Schwartznegger and the three-breasted mutant) allows listeners to put together a playlist of songs that represent a memorable and meaningful time of their life. It is the way Laverne interacts with the listeners and it has this mix of mother-like and matey that makes her so popular and accessible. Maybe it is just me but I do think some D.J.s are either too lacking in warmth or they can seem very anodyne and forced. Laverne has years’ experience but she is always growing as a D.J. and I think she is influencing and speaking to a generation of promising new talent who want to follow her example.

I know Laverne does talks and has spoken about radio and her career to audiences. I think, as we are hearing about music being taken from schools and (it’s) seen more as a ‘hobby’ and less of an essential thing, the experience and talent Lauren Laverne has can not only help guide young minds but make a big impression on those in the government who are depriving future generations. We cannot rely on music schools and universities to mould and discover the next breed of D.J.s and broadcasters. I think music/radio needs to be taught at school age and we cannot really allow it to slip from the public consciousness. This is just me going down another garden path, but one feels that Laverne’s words and guidance could help bring about change when it comes to the important of music in our schools.

She is still a very young woman but many colleagues of her age either try to be too cool or a little, let’s face it, boring! Lauren Laverne has that natural blend that we all love. Always funny and knowledgeable, she is like the very cool aunt you never had (expect my favourite aunt played loads of Steely Dan so I DID have a cool aunt once upon a time), but someone who is very much able to be serious and sympathetic. I remember listening to her show – in her old slot – when the news of David Bowie and Prince’s deaths were announced back in 2016. She provided us news of Scott Walker’s passing last week and, at all times, she keeps her composure and opens her show to include music from that artist. Some may say that is mere professionalism but it is an understanding of her listeners and a natural compassion that means we all stick with her and feel part of the family; comforted and less alone. Laverne has also made me more curious about vinyl; introduced me to great new artists and led me to become more attached to radio as a medium. In fact, aside from my life-long dream of interviewing Kate Bush (it might happen is she lives a few more decades!), having a once-a-week show on BBC Radio 6 Music is right up there! Because of Laverne’s eclectic music, her sheer energy and warmth…these are all reasons to aim high and be ambitious. Never give up, eh?!

A lot of my radio experience from the 1980s and 1990s revolved around the charts and seeing which new albums I needed to rush out and buy. I think purchasing Now That's What I Call Music! 24 in 1993 is right up there, sadly or not! (Actually, that compilation is f*cking boss so nuts to the sniggering!). The more options we have, the harder it can be to focus and find that sense of excitement. I listen to BBC Radio 4 when I can but, for my daily fix, it just has to be BBC Radio 6 Music. My first memory of life emanated from a radio: Tears for Fears’ Everybody Wants to Rule the World wafting into a brown-and-beige house in, I’d say, 1986. That is such a special and evocative memory; I always get shivers when I hear the first few notes/seconds of Everybody Wants to Rule the World. Now, many of the happiest moments I have are because of Lauren Laverne’s show and her colleagues on BBC Radio 6 Music. For that alone, I am inspired to get into radio and, as is my dream, have my own show on the world’s best radio station.

I hope Loz gets a week or two off soon because she has been a busy human! She was justly named Radio Broadcaster of the Year at the forty-fifth Television and Radio Awards and, with that on her shelf/bedroom table/dashboard in her car, one thinks she’s owed a break and a pay rise (I dread to think whether D.J.s like Lauren Laverne and Mary Ann Hobbs get the same money as peers like Steve Lamacq and Gideon Coe). Maybe that is getting too political but, I dunno, it is something that needs to be discussed at some point. Laverne also hosts, now and then, Late Night Woman’s Hour and also, whilst Kirsty Young is ill, Desert Island Discs. She is brilliant on BBC Radio 4’s most-popular series and I hope she gets her own show (if she has time) on the station in the future. I am jealous of the way her career has grown and evolved through the years and how happy she sounds right now. It is motivating for me and so many people who love radio and have made it a big part of their daily lives.

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PHOTO CREDIT: BBC Pictures/@BBC6Music

My fondest wish is that more opportunities are given and doors opened for her. Like some of her peers/friends such as Caitlin Moran, I can see Laverne moving into screenwriting and literature (her 2010 novel, Candy and the Broken Biscuits (Candypop, Book 1) is available here). With awards and greater airtime, she is definitely proving why she is ahead of her peers. I do wonder whether she will get her own documentary or permanent show on BBC Radio 4; if there will be a small move into T.V. or new musical endeavours (owning a label or keeping up with backing vocals). Right now, she is adapting to a sort-of-new slot on a great station and providing companionship and fun to her listeners. I am curious whether there might be new features or, in time, live performances will be part of her morning routine. As it is, the show is pretty damned brilliant…but I know Laverne is a curious person always looking ahead at what could be.

IN THIS PHOTO: Lauren Laverne and St. Vincent looking pretty happy and relaxed/PHOTO CREDIT: @BBC6Music

I can envisage Laverne being on BBC Radio 6 for many more years but I think she will be on radio for as long as Annie Nightingale – the first woman to broadcast on BBC Radio 1 and a bit of an all-round legend who is still going strong! I wanted to tip my hat (again) to her because of her continued rise and the fact she has provided so much inspiration to me. I do think D.J.s and radio figures are not given the same space and love as T.V. and film performers and this is wrong. The work that people like Lauren Laverne and her peers do on a daily basis is hugely important. There is a lot of talk in the media - I argue and write about it a lot - regarding gender inequality in music and an evident pay gap. I hope women like Lauren Laverne help raise awareness (in the work they do and how popular it is) and bring about change in the industry. It is tough times and there are some controversial debates but I do feel like the best female broadcasters warrant the same pay as the men - this is something that bugs me and I do hope it gets sorted very soon.

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I am so impressed she can easily switch from her weekday duties on BBC Radio 6 Music to her Desert Island Discs role on BBC Radio 4. The past year or so has been very challenging as I have tried to find a footing in London and make my way. Aside from seemingly contracting a cold every week – is it even possible to stay healthy in London when you take the Tube every day?! –, I have experienced some personal loss and bad fortune. It is nothing tragic but, as one knows, there are setbacks and problems along the way and it would have been easy to crumble or let them get on top of me. Music and radio has been my sanctuary so, in that respect, people like Lauren Laverne are invaluable and very precious to me indeed. I cannot complain too much but, having to adjust to a big city and a new way of life, it has been quite daunting and challenging.

 IN THIS PHOTO: Lauren Laverne and actor Martin Freeman on Desert Island Discs/PHOTO CREDIT: @BBCRadio4

Laverne herself had some bad moments last year (including the sad death of her beloved father) but I think, in more ways than one, she is able to soothe and provide guidance without knowing me/many others. All great D.J.s and broadcasters should be able to speak to each and every listener without trying too hard and knowing who they are. The BBC Radio 6 Music listening demographic is pretty broad and the average fan has a pretty eclectic vinyl collection! The Sunderland-born D.J., broadcaster and writer does not betray her roots and, instead, it is almost like we are sitting in her family home of a morning, listening to Laverne play some cool tunes, having a chat with us and fixing us up a brew. I could prattle on a bit – I think I have done that enough – but many people ignore the radio or tend to find that it all sounds the same. The D.J.s I am going to include in this seven-part series each have their own personality and lure but they are all bonded by a common trait: the ability to hook you in and make your life better. If you are feeling a bit crap or need a good laugh; if you need to release some anger or are on the look-out for some solid musical recommendations, a great D.J. can satisfy these demands with a sort of telekinesis.

I will bring Ken Bruce to you in a week or so (not many sharp/great-quality photos of him online, alas!) but I wanted to start with Lauren Laverne. Make sure you check out her BBC Radio 6 Music page. You can also follow her on Twitter and Instagram. I will end with part of a message Laverne posted to her Instagram account after she won the Radio Broadcaster of the Year gong at the Television and Radio Awards:

“…I am so grateful for is that it has taught me to do things juuuust before I think I can (ie to make the leap when I’m almost ready but don’t quite feel it yet). Sometimes I fell on my face but mostly it worked out and even more often I ended up having the most interesting, hilarious, worthwhile professional experiences precisely because I tried things before I waited until I was overqualified/over prepared/10lb lighter/the kind of woman who looks casually amazing and has an upscale yoga lifestyle. My life is full, surprising, immensely rewarding and I’m never *quite* ready for any of it - maybe that’s part of the fun? Thank you most of all to my sensational family for their love & support”.

As a teen Pop-Punk artist or just starting out on radio, could she ever have imagined she’d be where she is now?! Laverne might have said that she is never quite ready for all the challenges and busy life…but her family extends to those who wake up with her every morning. She might not realise the impact her words have on us out there – as she cannot see us and it can all be a bit abstract – but there are countless stories in countless settings where our lives, short or long-term, have been improved by broadcasters like her. She is still a young woman and I do wonder just how far Laverne can go in the next few decades – that thought might scare the crap out of her (sooooorrrrrry…)! Every award and listener figure boost she gets shows how many people rely on her so, if you have not heard Lauren Laverne checking in like a champ every morning, then you really owe it to yourself to go…  

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PHOTO CREDIT: Marks and Spencer

CHECK her out.

FEATURE: Left of the Centre: Pushing Great Women to the Forefront and Redressing Imbalance

FEATURE:

 

 

Left of the Centre

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IN THIS PHOTO: Lizzo (her album, Cuz I Love You, is out on 19th April)/PHOTO CREDIT: Cameron Wittig

Pushing Great Women to the Forefront and Redressing Imbalance

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MAYBE I am sounding like a broken record...

 PHOTO CREDIT: iStock

but, with every passing week, there seems to be some report or article that highlights gender inequality and discrimination. This Guardian article talked about black women in the industry and how there is a big problem with genres, especially Grime. How many women are being promoted in the Grime sector and, aside from that, how many black women does one see highlighted and successful in the mainstream?

I recently asked the same question in a documentary with BBC Radio 4 and though there were several answers, the one that felt most pertinent is that this is hardly a “grime problem”. The music industry as a whole has a dearth of black women. Whether it is pop music or more so-called “urban” sounds such as UK rap and Afro-bashment, black female artists are very rarely heard above the underground. Even in styles such as afrobeats (where gender is the issue as opposed to race) you’ll likely name heavyweights such as Wizkid, Davido, Burna Boy before one female artist.

In more soulful British pop and R&B, the likes of Jess Glynne, Adele and Jessie J are the major faces. Whatever the genre, it is hard to think of a black woman who has had the same commercial success as them – at least, without jumping ship to the US as Sade did”.

It is clear that there is an issue with race and the fact that, in most genres, black women struggle the most. I have written countless articles regarding gender and the fact there is so much work to be done – and how little movement has been made the past few years.

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 IN THIS PHOTO: Little Simz (whose album, GREY Area, is among the best of 2019 so far)/PHOTO CREDIT: Jack Bridgland for CRACK

I have written about the lack of women in headline spots and how this is a major issue. I feel the best work of this year has been produced by women. Think of everyone from Little Simz to Julia Jacklin and I think women are making the most interesting and arresting music around. I know festivals are trying hard to balance their line-ups but headline slots are still going to men – and, let’s face it, some rather boring artists! I do hope 2020 is a year when we not only see more women further down the bill but more headlining. 2019 is being dominated by women so I feel it is criminal that so many are being overlooked. I could go on for ages regarding the best female artists around and, look at the underground, and there are countless great female-led bands/artists; solo acts and duos who are pushing music in new directions. I do feel like there are improvements happening but how often do we see women pushed and idolised the same way as men? Look at music magazines and what stares back at you: largely, there are familiar men and I wonder why women are, for the most part, being shunned. I do think that the last couple of years has been ruled by women and, when I want to find innovation, style and passion, then it is female artists I gravitate towards.

 IN THIS PHOTO: Lana Del Rey (she will be releasing her hotly-anticipated album, Norman Fucking Rockwell, soon)/PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images/Press 

I can name at least ten world-class albums of 2019 from women that top anything by a male act and we still have albums to come from Lizzo (Cuz I Love You) and Lana Del Rey (Norman Fucking Rockwell). I do not think it will be a whitewash from women this year but I would be shocked if anything but male artists tops the best from the women right now. We know the strength of music being made by women – this has been the case for so long. Whether this translates to festival bookings and success I am not sure. What does need to happen is how women are (under)represented in the media and still have to struggle. Entire genres are being dominated by men and it is undeniable there is such a wave of immense female talent waiting to come through. Not only do the finest female artists around deserve better than they get but we need to ensure that the industry changes its values and we do not continue to see such an imbalance. It is not just festivals and the mainstream that has a problem recognising the finest female artists around. I found this report from a Canadian website that highlighted the proportion of female songwriters and producers (compared to men):

A report published in February 2019, by the USC Annenberg Inclusion Initiative, stated that of  the top 100 songs of every year, only 21.7% were by women artists. The report also found that 12.3% of songwriters and 2.1% of producers of those songs were women and that women producers are outnumbered 47 to 1 by male producers.

In response to this report the Canadian Music Publishers Association recently launched a mentorship program, Women in the Studio. This initiative is designed to “provide the cohort with opportunities for skills development and networking opportunities that they would otherwise be unable to access”.

 IN THIS PHOTO: Producer and engineer Catherine Marks (she is one of the most successful and talented in the business and has worked with the likes of The Amazons and St. Vincent)/PHOTO CREDIT: Catherine Marks

I keep mentioning the great female producers around and why they warrant acclaim. Award-winning producers like Catherine Marks, Lauren Deakin Davies and Sylvia Massy continue to do amazing things and are helping to bring about awareness. I am especially a fan of Catherine Marks and the work she does; the variety of artists she has produced for and how influential she is – and is acting as a really strong role model for female producers. Producers in general get comparatively little attention in the industry but the role of the producer is vital and undervalued. I have noticed women in radio and how strong their voices are. From Arielle Free and Sara Cox to Dotty and Lauren Laverne; Georgie Rogers to Annie Nightingale and Elspeth Pierce, there are so many great women who, one suspects, are being paid less than their male peers. The disparity regarding women in radio and how few are given the bigger shows worries me. I do not want to cover too much ground I have explored before but I do think these great women need to be put in focus. Like the best music coming out right now, I find that the most appealing and interesting voices in radio belong to women. There have been some changes regarding gender imbalance on the big stations but not enough. It seems, in every corner, women are either being ignore or provided fewer opportunity than the men.

 IN THIS PHOTO: Carly Wilford is a successful D.J., businesswoman; public speaker and presenter/PHOTO CREDIT: Tom Jamieson for Huck

From the super-producers and headline bands to the biggest D.J.s, those in power and the innovators, we need to get away from the male-dominated attitude and start recognising women more. From Country radio in America prioritising men to the festivals not acting fast enough, so many problems need addressing. Not only is it frustrating to see so little big progress but a general ignorance means that many great artists and talent and struggling. I have sort of skimmed the surface and mentioned a few names that I really love but, to be honest, it would take hours for me to pay proper tribute to all the great women who have helped shape my music tastes and inspire me today. This great article is one I stumbled on when I wanted to look at the finest albums by female artists. It is amazing seeing how many classics are there and, when we think about it, how much the industry owes them. We live in an age when anyone can put out music and it would be naïve to say that women are being held back when it comes to recording and getting their material heard. I do think a lot of the issues stem when it comes to the top of the industry and those who make the decisions. Emily Eavis has said how she feels the male-dominated culture at festivals like Glastonbury is impenetrable.

 IN THIS PHOTO: Emily Eavis/PHOTO CREDIT: Katherine Rose

This article goes into more detail. Eavis is keen to see progress but she described a typical viewpoint/impression of a male booker and those in charge:

"They love a beer with the guys, the agents. They do golf days, they do football trips, and there's a whole brotherhood which is so tight. It's impenetrable. It feels like it. I'm like, 'Come on'.

"I know they are labelling me as a real hassle, and it's such a hassle. 'Will you just shut up' and 'It wasn't like this when your dad was in charge’

Men in every genres and corner of music need to be more vocal regarding women – I think there is not enough being done by them. Whether it is Grime and Rap addressing gender imbalance or those in the mainstream speaking out against inequality and asking for change. The fact that statistics keep coming out regarding the amount of hits written by men compared to women in shocking. Many might say this indicates a lack of talent from women but that is not true. There are countless incredible female writers, producers and engineers that are not finding as many opportunities as the guys. I do worry that, unless there is some sort or revolution or radical change, these statistics will remain. Will festivals book women to headline and will genres that have an imbalance start recognising talent and opening its doors regarding women and their worth?! I do think a lot of the issues can be addressed and overcome by those in charge.

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 PHOTO CREDIT: Help Musicians UK

There are women who run labels and book festivals but, largely, things are still male-dominated. Most articles regarding sexism and gender inequality are by women and when it comes to speaking out and asking for progress, are men doing enough in general?! Whilst it is not true that women in every corner of music are being marginalised, I do think there is anything close to parity. In terms of merit, some of the best music around is being by women and it is not converting to acclaim and adequate attention. Music is going to be removed from the school curriculum and will that make it harder to see more women in studios and working for labels?! Innovating and bold women like Rhiannon Mair, Olga FitzRoy and Carly Wilford are all names I have mentioned before – and might get sick of me name-checking them a lot – but more needed to be done by men. There are panels, discussions and symposiums where strong female artists, producers and D.J.s (and others) talk and provide this education. If we are seeing some small steps being made – and there is development in some areas – I do feel like it is women pushing this.

 IN THIS PHOTO: Olga FitzRoy alongside Rhiannon Mair are both newly-elected directors to the MPG (Music Producers Guild) Executive Board/PHOTO CREDIT: Music Producers Guild/Rhiannon Mair

Articles like this show an issue in Pop whereas this feature shows the industry has a long way to go until there is genuine equality. It is pleasing to see that there is movement and steps taken; there is hope that, years from now, we might be close to balance. Given the fact there are so many epic and pioneering women in all sections of the music industry, does the media, festivals; labels and other men in the industry need to do more to highlight them? Organisations like Women in Music and Help Musicians UK are doing sterling work but I do wonder whether a lot more shout and energy needs to come from men. How often does one see male journalists speak out and label bosses asking for change and greater progress?! Maybe it would be risky to do so but, with such a one-sided and female-led drive, is it enough to penetrate and resonate? From Classical music to Internet radio; to the studios and mainstream through to bedrooms and the club circuit, there are some amazing women who are inspiring and hugely impressive. We want to think that the music industry can compel girls and young women and, if they want to be a producer or a successful songwriter, then there is no fear and barriers. So many great women are working hard to change attitudes but a few recent news stories have affected me.

PHOTO CREDIT: @hannynaibaho/Unsplash

From Emily Eavis trying to rally against the golf-playing executives who laugh off her suggestions of more women at Glastonbury to the Government feeling music in schools is expendable…what does this mean for music and gender equality? I think the biggest lessons and the greatest sense of guidance comes at school age. Apart from the amazing talent out there, how are we going to foster the next generation of female producers, musician and talent? I shall resist writing too much about discrimination and imbalance for a while but, whilst some good and positive steps are happening in some places, there are heels digging in where we do not need them. I am not sure whether there is a quick solution regarding bringing about equality but there needs to be more action and impetus from the Government and the big names in the music industry. I am always passionate when it comes to women in every area of music but I know for a fact they have to shout louder and struggle harder than the men. This is not a happy situation and I do worry what example this is setting for future generations. Whether it is more men shouting themselves or something else, I do feel like so many ultra-talented and passionate women are not being rewarded. Rather than let progress trickle on and assume that things will catch up eventually, I think it is paramount that men – in power or just those in the industry – do a lot more to ensure that women are pushed…

 PHOTO CREDIT: @globelet/Unsplash

TO the forefront.

FEATURE: A Circus Inside of a Snow Globe: Kate Bush’s Tour of Life at Forty

FEATURE:

 

 

A Circus Inside of a Snow Globe

IN THIS PHOTO: Kate Bush on the stage and alluring during her 1979 bonanza, Tour of Life/PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images/Press 

Kate Bush’s Tour of Life at Forty

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I do promise that I will ease up on the...

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 IN THIS PHOTO: Kate Bush in action during the Tour of Life/PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images/Press

Kate Bush articles until, well, there is cause to celebrate an album, new or old. In fact, it is important we mark anniversaries regarding her music. Today, I look ahead to tomorrow because it is an important day in her history. On 3rd April, 1979, Kate Bush started a twenty-two date tour, her first-ever, at the Liverpool Empire – she did a warm-up concert the night before. She would then embark on a six-week tour of Europe with the show and brought her music to fresh faces. Given the fact that Kate Bush’s debut album came out the year before – The Kick Inside – one could forgive her for producing a debut concert that was a bit basic and just got the hits out. The Tour of Life (also officially referred to as the Kate Bush Tour) was her performing songs from her first two albums – Lionheart also came out in 1978. There was a lot of talk and excitement regarding Bush at this point and, invariably, people wanted to see her on the stage. Of course, 1978 was a mixed year. She achieved her dream by releasing an album. In many interviews Bush has talked about that desire she had regarding just having an album out in the world. If she has somewhat distanced herself from The Kick Inside – claiming it was a bit airy-fairly and not as raw/masculine-sounding as she’d hoped; a need for more control over her musical direction – Lionheart was a fast follow-up and an experience she did not really enjoy. That might sound like a rather cold and unappetising recipe for a concert series that lacked heart and meaning.

Rather than being a disappointment and something Kate Bush was being forced into, she took to the project with determination and passion. I shall end with her second-ever tour/series later but, in 1979, there were very few artists doing what she was doing. David Bowie and others were bringing characters and something theatrical to the stage but nothing that rivalled Bush’s concept. One can claim Bush helped engineer the wireless microphone because, as she would be live and dancing throughout the show, she would not be holding a microphone. Pop artists since have been using this technology to ensure they could produce a more energetic, physical and ambitious show! During the Tour of Life, Bush fused magic, mime and high-drama to give the audience something spectacular and unique. Look at the videos – rather grainy and scratchy – from that tour and you marvel at the costume changes and the sets for each song. It was not a case, like many artists today, where there is this rather routine performance and the focus is on the song itself. Bush created this little world for each song and ensured that the visual aspect was as important as the sonics. Indeed, rehearsal and documentary footage shows she was determined to make the songs as tight and down-pat as possible. If there was a wrong note or drum fill out of place, she would let her band know! She was paying the wages and, for that reason, she could not have it go wrong! There was a brutal regime when it came to getting everything figured. The band and Bush were working five-day weeks for six-to-eight weeks. She was rehearsing her choreography at The Place and then convene with her band at Wood Wharf Studios, Greenwich in the afternoon - continuing her practice and dance back at her flat late into the night.

Fans and the media knew what The Kick Inside and Lionheart sounded like through their record players and realised that this special and promising young woman was making some truly beautiful and original music. Apart from that, there was not really much known. How would she bring these albums to the stage and would this relatively new musician be able to cope with such a grand and multi-layered production?! Not only did critics rave but the audiences packed in to see this bonanza! She made sure members of the Kate Bush Club got tickets but, through its run, there were barely any empty seats. From the Tour of Life, there came the E.P.s On Stage (1979) and the video, Live at Hammersmith Odeon (1981) – an important part of London that would play a role in her 2014 return to the stage. This was not the only time Bush had the chance to bring her music to a wider audience. She was offered the chance to support Fleetwood Mac at the end of 1978 but she knew that their tour support slot would not be right. She’d not be able to express herself in the way she wanted and have enough time to give a proper performance.

IN THIS PHOTO: Bush, brolly in hand, wows the crowds for the Tour of Life/PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images/Press

I look at the footage of Bush and her band rehearsing for the Tour of Life and a lot needed to be ticked and perfected before they stepped onto the stage. A lot of the rehearsals revolved around Bush’s band getting to grips with the song structures and adapting from the studio to the stage. Twenty-three songs were penciled in from Bush’s first two albums - Oh, to Be in Love was the only one not included on the set-list. James and the Cold Gun (The Kick Inside) was the end of the main body of the show; a wonderful set-piece where Bush was ‘gunning down’ dancers in this dramatic interpretation. There was debate how to get the effect of blood. The idea of using film blood was mooted but that left pink stains on the ramps/set and was not deemed practical - red silk was used until the final night when, naturally, they had just cause to go for it!

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 IN THIS PHOTO: Kate Bush looking happy to be in Liverpool in 1979/PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images/Press

Bush had a say when it came to fabrics and set; she was in on all aspects and not a performer who was at the centre and let everyone make the calls. In other ways, she changed the role of musicians in live shows and gave them a voice. Various members of the tour crew - including the set designer, David Jackson - noticed how Bush had a very dogged and determined style of management that was quite intense and, at times, confrontational. This was the first real occasion when Bush allowed a degree of autonomy and, as it was her music, there was responsibility at her feet. Certainly, the Tour of Life offered this new world for artists. Rather than having a basic set and performing in a very straight way, there was a chance to open the imagination and utilise technology at the time. Her Tour of Life wanted something theatrical and moving to contrast the usual style of Rock musicians of the 1970s. Not only was her use of a head-mic unique but she performed using playback - unheard of in the 1970s. Soon enough, big artists brought their tours to stage and followed Bush’s lead: David Bowie (Serious Moonlight/Glass Spider), Prince (Lovesexy); Madonna (Blond Ambition) and U2’s Zooropa had threads and elements of Kate Bush’s theatrical and groundbreaking tour. Music, poetry and the biblically eye-opening mixed alongside one another in a four-section show that took the audience through her first two albums. Rather than rattle off the hits and do things chronologically, Bush created this immersive, sense-awakening show that boasted some of the most ambitious sets and performances up until that time.

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IN THIS PHOTO: Kate Bush in charge and bold during a Tour of Life performance/PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images/Press

It is hard to overstate just how ground-breaking the Tour of Life was and what it did for music. There were artists providing these big sets and shows but, in terms of Pop solo artists, this was unheard of. Look at artists who followed Kate Bush – such as Madonna and Britney Spears – and how you can see the Tour of Life’s elements in their work. Bush, modest as ever, did not expect the rapturous reception and seemed a bit shocked by all the positivity. She had worked hard on putting together her first tour and it paid off! It is no surprise that the tour was a success after the effort and money invested. Although EMI (the record label Kate Bush was signed to) was not involved, the tour still cost up to £250,000 - an eye-watering sum in 1979! There were battles with budgets considering Kate Bush’s scope. She was fitting these epic sets into smaller venues. Whether it was lighting or set design, compromises had to be made but Bush was determined not to be steamrolled.

The tour itself almost didn’t happen. Following a warm-up gig at Poole on 2nd April, the lightning engineer, Bill Duffield, was killed in a freak accident. He performed a ‘dummy check’ where he ran around the venue to ensure nobody was left there and there were no bags/bits of kit etc. the crew had forgotten. It was quite dark and he fell from a seating structure in the venue. There should have been warning lights and barriers; there should have been signs but, when trying to step onto a ledge that wasn’t there, he fell onto concrete and died in hospital. It was a tragic accident and one that should not have happened. Kate Bush was, naturally, distraught and considered calling off the tour. She later wrote the song Blow Away (for Bill) in memory of Duffield and the first of her three London dates was a benefit concert for Bill Duffield. There were so many positives from the tour and, in spite of a raw tragedy and loss, there was more good than bad. Critics heralded this staggering artist who had created something unlike anything else! The concept of live performance would change and, whether she knew at the time, Bush was able to inspire and guide legions of other artists. Every interview since 1979 seemed to focus on one thing: whether Bush would ever perform again. That was not the only question people were interested in but she could not dog that demand and speculation.

 IN THIS PHOTO: Bush poses in front of a shop in Amsterdam in 1979/PHOTO CREDIT: Barry Schultz

Having produced such a celebrated and wonderful first tour, everyone was keen to discover whether Bush would follow it soon. Few realised how much energy Tour of Life took out of her. Even from a performance perspective, she was drained every night. There were moments when crew almost had to carry her off stage (at the end) because she was wiped and had put so much of herself into the show. This was what she wanted but there was not a lot of chance for Bush to party and socialise after the show because of fatigue. She became used to flying pretty soon but was not a fan of it early on. International commitments were part of her career but something, one feels, she did not always enjoy. Maybe another tour would demand she played around the globe and, in terms of physical demands, that would be a huge ask. Given the tragedy surrounding Duffield, that had taken its toll and she did not want to see that happen again. Also, the effort and imagination needed to put the Tour of Life together was huge and she could not simply trot out another show like that! Bush committed herself to albums after 1979 and did do T.V. performances and the odd bit here and there. She loved doing the tour but it was very demanding on her time and body, and so, going through all that again was not as attractive as one might suspect. Bush, in 1979, also wanted her work to be taken seriously and be seen as a serious artist. In the studio, engineers and producers were as much a part of the work as she was: touring allowed a sense of freedom and expression she had not been afforded by EMI/those who guided her first two albums.

As I said, every journalist was asking whether she would tour again and, even when promoting 2011’s Director’s Cut/50 Words for Snow, that question kept coming up. She deflected it by saying that she had no plans and that, yes, she enjoyed her 1979 tour – she was not sure whether she would play again but was always open to it. It was a shock to everyone to see her on stage in 2014, at the Hammersmith Apollo, to perform Before the Dawn – some thirty-five years since Tour of Life. Unlike that debut tour, this was more of a residency: Bush was at the same venue for the run of dates but the concept/ambition of the show was no less impressive. Whereas Tour of Life took from Bush’s first two albums, Before the Dawn focused on the song suites from Hounds of Love (1985) and Aerial (2005). I was not lucky enough to get a ticket for the show(s) but everyone who went was seduced and stunned. Taking mainly from Hounds of Love’s The Ninth Wave and Aerial’s A Sky of Honey, she did sprinkle songs from other albums in the mix – although she overlooked her first couple of albums (she could not fit everything in and did not want to repeat herself). Bush’s son, Bertie, was largely instrumental in getting his mum back on the stage. He inspired her album, Aerial, and there were reservations from the icon.

It was a big undertaking and not one she took lightly. With him adding backing and drive, Bush created another show that blew people away. Before she took to the stage again, articles came out that wondered what we’d get this time. In a space that was familiar to her, Bush created another spectacular for the senses. A cast of musicians, masks; visuals and brilliantly-conceived performances meant that this enigma and cherished artists was captivating a new generation of fans. In many ways, she had to top herself and equal what came in 1979. Before the Dawn was a different beast but one no less impressive than her debut. Reviews were impassioned and everyone had kind words to say. Consequence of Sound assessed it in these terms:

While it’s tempting to look at this as an endpoint — a final and well-deserved victory lap — Bush has described this album as “a rather big comma.” This isn’t the end, apparently, and nor should it be. If anything, Before the Dawn is living, breathing proof that Bush still has the creative prowess and unique sensibilities that made her a superstar in the first place. Like most live albums, this is not essential listening for new or casual fans. However, for dedicated fans, both those who could and could not attend the run of shows, it is a reminder of the still very potent lust for life that Bush has always exhibited in her music, art, and personality. It’s a reminder that fear can be conquered in the most ambitious and uplifting way, that fear does not define who we are”.

Questions will circulate, even now, whether there will be another tour. She has not released another studio album since 2011’s 50 Words for Snow so we are waiting for that. I suspect there will be something coming in the autumn but cannot be sure. She is now sixty and, whilst peers her age are still on stage and performing high-octane shows, where would the material come from? Which albums would she take music from and would she be up for another exhausting and time-consuming show? My suspicion is that we will never see another tour/residency because of all of these factors. Maybe she will change her mind but I do feel that there will be albums from Kate Bush but no more gigs. One can never predict with her and say where she might head. We could not predict Before the Dawn and nobody expected anything as grand and memorable as the Tour of Life back in 1979.

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IN THIS PHOTO: Kate Bush’s delivering Before the Dawn at the Hammersmith in 2014/PHOTO CREDIT: Ken McKay/Rex Features

It is strange to think that this excited and eager artist stepped onto the Liverpool stage on 3rd April, 1979 and would soon change the way we viewed the live show. Kate Bush had already set one record (Wuthering Heights was the first time a British female artist had hit number-one with a self-penned song) and 1980’s Never for Ever would set another (the first British female artist to have a number-one album) but Tour of Life…that was something else! Bush not only upped the live experience but showed what was possible regarding visuals, technology and sets. So much of what was seen in 1979 has translated to performances ever since. She would not have known, back in 1979, the impact her tremors would cause but, forty years since she opened her Tour of Life revelation, artists are still trying to equal…

IN THIS PHOTO: A typically eye-opening shot from Kate Bush’s Tour of Life set/PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images/Press

HER debut live tour.