FEATURE: Talking Heads: Music as a Powerful Form of Therapy

FEATURE:

 

Talking Heads

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IN THIS PHOTO: Emilia Clarke/PHOTO CREDIT: Emilia Clarke/Facebook  

Music as a Powerful Form of Therapy

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I often wonder how far we can take music and whether it...

 PHOTO CREDIT: @zacfriesen/Unsplash

can be used as a multi-level form of therapy. It is already used for this very thing and, whether it relates to memory or physical recovery, there is huge power to be mined. At the moment, it is hard to say how best to harness music – across its layers, genres and time periods – and integrate it into mainstream medicine. I have written about music as a way to combat mental-health problems (or provide aid at least) and as a form of emotional support. Whilst it is hard to say how effective music is when it comes to physical improvement and faster recovery, there is still a way to go – we know that, in some cases, there is a link between music’s power and the impact it has on the body. I was struck by a story that sort of came out of the blue. It involve Game of Thrones actor Emilia Clarke and traumatic events she has gone through. In fact, as this BBC article explains she almost died from two life-threatening aneurysms:

A Game of Thrones star has revealed she had to undergo brain surgery between two seasons of the hit series.

Writing in The New Yorker, Emilia Clarke said she suffered two "life-threatening" aneurysms.

The actor, who plays Daenerys Targaryen, underwent surgery twice, leading to "terrible anxiety" and panic attacks.

Despite thinking she would die, Clarke has now recovered beyond her "most unreasonable hopes".

The actress, who is from Oxford, plays a young princess sold into marriage who she describes as "a figure of power and self-possession"....

PHOTO CREDIT: @gpiron/Unsplash 

Clarke experienced her first aneurysm in 2011. She had been working out before collapsing in a toilet with "shooting, stabbing, constricting pain".

"In my worst moments, I wanted to pull the plug," she said. "I asked the medical staff to let me die."

She recovered enough to return to filming Season 2 of Game of Thrones but said: "I was often so woozy, so weak, that I thought I was going to die."

She says she is now "at a hundred per cent" and has helped develop a charity that supports people recovering from brain injuries and strokes”.

You can read about her experience in an article she wrote for The New Yorker and it is a very emotional and frank account. There has been a lot of reaction on social media and in the media regarding Clarke’s admissions and speaking out. It is hard to talk about something as saddening and traumatic as a brain aneurysm, let alone two. It seems like, let’s hope, she is okay now and she will not have to undergo anything like it again. It gets me thinking about her experience and how hard it must have been to talk about things. This article in Vogue explains her post-surgery life and how, in the face of a difficult time, she came out with something positive:

Perhaps more important than her acute treatment, however, is what happened after she left the operating room. Following her first surgery in London in 2011, Clarke experienced aphasia - a condition that left her incapable of remembering her own full name. The experience nearly broke her: “I could see my life ahead, and it wasn’t worth living...

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PHOTO CREDIT:  Carlota Guerrero for The New Yorker 

 I am an actor; I need to remember my lines.” Naturally, her second procedure in New York in 2013 triggered yet more frantic worry about cognitive loss. “Would it be concentration? Memory? Peripheral vision? Now I tell people that what it robbed me of is good taste in men. But, of course, none of this seemed remotely funny at the time,” she writes.

Clarke shares on the website for her newly-launched charity, SameYou. “As more people recover from brain injury and stroke because of improvements in acute care, we urgently need a major initiative to propel neurorehabilitation support services to the forefront.” Despite its relatively low profile in public health discussions, traumatic brain injury is in fact the leading cause of mortality in young adults. SameYou will work in partnership with the Royal College of Nursing, Stroke Association, Spaulding Rehabilitation Network, and Nursing Now to increase both funding and research.

In typically self-deprecating fashion, Clarke took to Instagram Stories to speak directly to her 19.1 million followers about the news, saying: “So, today is a doubly important day. Number one, I launched a charity, which is… sizeable. Number two, I learned how to use Instagram stories, possibly the more important one… There’s this thing where you swipe up - ahhh! - and that takes you straight to the charity webpage.” She continued on her main feed: “I kept quiet about something that’s happened to me for quite a few years…And I really sincerely would love to hear what you think. I’d love to hear your stories. Because that’s why I started this.” SameYou is now taking donations through its JustGiving page - and has racked up 37,000 followers on Instagram in less than 24 hours. Khaleesi would be proud”.

I know there are thousands of people around the world who suffer physical, psychological and emotional trauma and I feel, hearing Clarke’s story, there is a chance to move music into a therapeutic setting. Her charity, SameYou, is racking up followers and, if you can, give a donation and help support a great organisation that is giving a voice to those who have gone through the same as her. I have already made an approach, through her agency, looking to bring my talents/blog to her charity. Not in a collaborative way but trying to set up an initiative where music events can raise funds for SameYou; open dialogue regarding music and how it can used to help in the recovery and treatment of patients. I am not sure how Clarke managed to get through her experience: the fact she was thinking about ending things shocks and makes me wonder whether there are ways we can help those who have to go through awful challenges. I know people who have suffered crashes and accidents who have used music as part of their rehabilitation. Many who suffer from memory issues and neurological diseases are played music and, in many cases, it can unlock memories and access parts of the brain other therapies cannot. There is infinite power when we think of music and I think, in cases where someone goes through an ordeal and surgery; music can be a huge aid and sense of support.

 PHOTO CREDIT: @hyingchou/Unsplash

Emilia Clarke would have had her family around but one wonders, in her lowest moments, how she managed to find a way through. It is never possible to predict what life will throw at you. Whether it is a sudden attack (of violence) or a degenerative illness, it is always awful and people feel isolated and vulnerable. I have experience of people I know suffering illness and there are always periods where there is depression and confusion. I do wonder, in the times when things are bleak and there seems to be no hope, what the answer is. Music is not a cure-all and instant remedy: it can be difficult discovering a way to ensure music fits in a variety of situations.

Perhaps it would not be as simple as playing music to patients but I do feel like music’s spectrum and universe can, in so many cases, help enormously. I often find, when I am particularly exhausted and depressed, music is a huge help and can unlock something deep inside me. We know how music affects people and the fact is, in many cases, it can be hugely motivating. This article explores how music can change lives and aid in cases of recovery:

All forms of music may have therapeutic effects, although music from one's own culture may be most effective. In Chinese medical theory, the five internal organ and meridian systems are believed to have corresponding musical tones, which are used to encourage healing.

Types of music differ in the types of neurological stimulation they evoke. For example, classical music has been found to cause comfort and relaxation while rock music may lead to discomfort. Music may achieve its therapeutic effects in part by elevating the pain threshold.

Music may be used with guided imagery to produce altered states of consciousness that help uncover hidden emotional responses and stimulate creative insights. Music may also be used in the classroom to aid children in the development of reading and language skills. Receptive methods involve listening to and responding to live or recorded music. Discussion of their responses is believed to help people express themselves in socially accepted ways and to examine personal issues”.

There are other articles that break down the ways in which music can help us so, more now than ever, I think it is time to bring it more to the front. Not that people like Emilia Clarke are poster-girls/boys when it comes to this sort of thing but she has spoken boldly about her emotional state following her aneurysms. It is debatable that, were it not for her career and family, she might have gone somewhere very black indeed. It is hard to create this magical formula but music brings immense joy and can, at the very least, provide short/medium-term relief and hope. It is great there are charities such as SameYou springing out of a very bad and tough time. I know it will help many people and bring awareness. Music is already helping so many people who have suffered physical injury, psychological issues and other illness and we know how it can aid memory. Also, learning an instrument and having something constructive to focus on can be an enormous help. The process of picking up an instrument and mastering it, step-by-step, is a wonderful form of therapy.

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 PHOTO CREDIT: @mitchellsh/Unsplash

It taps into so many emotions and I am pretty keen to start something that makes music this very proactive and utilitarian tool. The NHS does marvellous work and, around the world, there are dedicated people who are here to help with recovery and support. Music is already being used in so many different situations but I think we can go further. Even for me, in cases when things are very hard-going, music’s magic can help soothe and unlock something positive. It is heartaching to think of all the people out there who have to go through terrible times – whether a life-long illness or something shorter – and find a way through. Every situation is different but I feel there is a lot to be said for music and its role. I definitely think it is worth the Government investing more in music regarding its place in a hospital/therapeutic setting and aiding those who need it. Music is a wonderful thing and it enriches people around the globe. I do not think we have come anywhere close to realising its true potential and I think, for that reason alone, it is worth exploring (music) in greater detail. From personal experience, I cannot thank music enough and, every day, it changes my life for the better. I was stirred and affected by Emilia Clarke’s experience and what she had to go through. She has come through the other end and, with her charity, wants to help many others. It is commendable to see and, when I read that, I was instantly motivated to...

FOLLOW her lead.

FEATURE: “It’s Lonely Out in Space”: The Elton John Biopic, Rocketman, and a More Truthful Representation

FEATURE:

 

“It’s Lonely Out in Space”

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IN THIS PHOTO: Taron Egerton as Elton John in Rocketman/PHOTO CREDIT: Press/Dexter Fletcher 

The Elton John Biopic, Rocketman, and a More Truthful Representation

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ONE of the criticisms that faced the Queen/Freddie Mercury...

 IN THIS PHOTO: Elton John (circa 1970)/PHOTO CREDIT: Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

biopic, Bohemian Rhapsody, was the moments omitted and a distortion of the truth. We got a good view of Queen’s rise but, with some inaccuracies and key aspects of Mercury’s life left out, some felt that the film played fast and loose with the truth. There is no denying that Mercury’s gay relationships were left out. We saw his relationship with Mary and their story but not a lot of revelation regarding the other side. By that, we did not see Mercury as this club-dwelling man; someone who was bisexual and those moments of excess. Maybe this was taken out to keep the film to a good length and there wasn’t too much space for everything. One feels, in order not to offend people, this was removed. It seems a shame that this Oscar-winning film was not bold enough to explore Mercury’s personality in real depth and venture into areas that are a little more eye-opening. There is more than one reason to feature Sir Elton John today. Tomorrow is his birthday so I know there will be radio stations playing his stuff and celebrating the man. I am a fan of his and, whilst I do not know all of his music, I do hope that the new biopic, Rocketman, included a good range of his material. The film is directed by Dexter Fletcher and written by Lee Hall. We get to see Elton John (Taron Egerton) go from this prodigy right through to moments of excess and him accepting his sexual orientation. There is this mix of the uplifting and the more challenging moments.

There have been articles published asking whether, like Bohemian Rhapsody, there will be little regarding the lead’s darker side; the weaker moments and times when there was real struggle. In the case of Freddie Mercury, he had this wilder side and as we know, dated men. This is not truly covered on the film and we only get to see a certain angle. Whilst some are reporting scenes of homosexuality and drug abuse will be taken out, it seems like Rocketman will play closer to the truth. Taron Egerton, when asked about the film, explained that there will be rawer moments:

"The movie begins with Elton marching into rehab in a real bad way, sweaty, grinding his teeth and that's our jumping-off point for the film. We learn his life through him recanting his experiences from this therapy room," he told Digital Spy and other press.

Egerton praised Elton's stance that Rocketman could show him at his "most vulnerable".

"It's right at the heart of what makes Rocketman quite special because Elton gave me the licence to go and make him look quite ugly at times, that was always very important to me," he continued.

"This movie is primarily a celebration of Elton's life and work and his musical partnership with Bernie Taupin, but it's also a story about someone who is not well becoming well".

In some ways, the film is going to be an atypical biopic. There will be moments of fantasy and playfulness but these are going to sit alongside more upsetting and stark scenes.

I do like the fact that the filmmakers are not standing back and projecting this rather one-sided and happy portrait of a complex artist. It seems like, rarely, we might see someone exposed and open. According to AV Club, it seems like we will have this rawer, R-rated film that does not shy away from giving a true portrait of the iconic Elton John:

This is per The Hollywood Reporter, which quotes sources stating that Fletcher’s movie is headed for a pretty definitive R-rating from the MPAA, at least in part due to scenes of drug use, foul language, and explicit sex between Egerton’s John and his former manager/lover John Reid. (Also: “brief rear nudity.”) There’s also a suggestion that Paramount has asked Fletcher to tone some of this stuff down in the interest of scoring some of that sweet Rhapsody cash, but the director recently issued a tweet denying such allegations, stating that Rocketman “has and always will be the no holds barred, musical fantasy that Paramount and producers passionately support and believe in.”

In other words, Rocketman—which various attached parties, including Egerton, have described as less of a straight biopic, and more of a “musical fantasy” based on John’s early career—sounds like the sort of weird, delightfully messy thing that it’s unlikely anyone will be able to accuse of shying away from the artist’s more decadent side. Which, frankly: Bring it on, especially since the first trailer for this movie already looked fantastic. Just be careful with the editing, please, unless you want to get another one of those Oscars everybody ends up making fun of for years”.

PHOTO CREDIT: EMG/Shutterstock

These are all rumours at the moment and, whilst Dexter Fletcher says that they are still making cuts and nothing is finalised, it seems like we will see Elton John in all his guises. The advantage of Rocketman is the fact that its subject is alive and consulted with the team. John was pretty straight when he said he wanted them to tell it like it is. There is talk that a gay sex scene has been cut but, with so many reports flying around, this is all rumours. I like the fact that an artist as big as Elton John has allowed this film and is happy for people to see his story. It is not going to be a rather dry and traditional story. There are these fantastical elements and we will see that juxtaposition of the camp/delightful and bleak. Elton John is this complex man and someone who, through the decades, has created some of the best music ever. People who have watched the trailers are excited and it does seem like we will see a balanced story. There is always that risk when it comes to biopics. From Jim Morrison and Johnny Cash to Freddie Mercury and anyone else...how easy is it to be honest and uncompromising and satisfy everyone? One of the ‘worries’ when it came to consider Freddie Mercury as this sometimes-veracious and Wildman...well, would people get upset and would the film be inaccessible to a lot of the audience?

If you give something an 18-certificate or make it very explicit in places, it cuts the box office appeal and means that fewer people go and see it. That might sound cynical but there are going to be those conversations regarding making the biopic family-friendly. People do not want to think about these stars as anything other than pure and perfect and, if we peak behind the curtain, will that illusion shatter?! In the age of social media – where everyone reveals everything about themselves – is film heading in the other direction and becoming too cagey and cloistered? It is hard to create an honest representation of an artist because you do not want to offend and it is hard to include everything. Dexter Fletcher has spoken with Elton John and will ensure that his film shows the superstar in a variety of lights. I am not sure how deep they are going regarding sex scenes – maybe a bad choice of words! – but there is a fine line between reality/honesty and being too explicit. The same goes for drug abuse – just how much do we want to see? In every case – whether it relates to sex, violence or drugs – you need to decide where the line is but not hide it from view. Why are music biopic trending and becoming a bigger thing now?

 IN THIS PHOTO: David Bowie (there is a planned biopic, Stardust, in-development)/PHOTO CREDIT: Nicolas Roeg/Getty Images

With planned biopics of David Bowie and Céline Dion on their way, it seems there is an appetite. The Guardian try and unpack the reason behind this rise:

But following the enormous success of Queen biopic Bohemian Rhapsody and the impending arrival of the Elton John film Rocketman, it seems like artists have realised that backing biopics and celebratory movies is a way of reaffirming their cultural relevance and opening new revenue streams as traditional incomes from record sales are on the wane. Although the forthcoming Bowie biopic Stardust – starring Johnny Flynn – has been made without the involvement of the late star’s estate, there’s a Mötley Crüe biopic out on Netflix in March, featuring the no-longer-touring band’s old music and four new songs written for the film. Also on the way is a Céline Dion movie, The Power of Love, while the Who’s Roger Daltrey recently suggested that his long-mooted biopic of drummer Keith Moon is finally in the offing.

“The movies sell the music, and the music is a marketing tool for the movie,” says Observer film critic Wendy Ide. Thus, Bohemian Rhapsody – the biggest music biopic yet – was pitched beyond Queen’s fanbase as “a display cabinet to introduce the songs to a new audience”. In the streaming era – as artists have less control over the dissemination of their own music – Ide sees biopics, musicals and similar vehicles as a way of taking back the reins. So Queen’s Brian May and John Taylor, creative consultants on the film, are “astute businessmen with tight control over their product, which extends beyond the music and into [late singer] Freddie Mercury’s personal history”. Hence the “slightly sanitised, safe and schematic” approach to any rock’n’roll excess”.

 

I am surprised it has taken so long for an Elton John biopic to come about and one would think a West End musical about his work would be happening. Maybe there has been reservation from the man himself or, maybe, the right project never came along. It seems that there is a desire from filmmakers to get these incredible artists to new generations. In this article, there is theory as to what makes a great biopic – and why a bit of imagination and fantasy elevates the mind:

“...Of course, musicians’ lives, like everyday lives, aren’t really like that. And, paradoxically, arguably the best music biopic is one that steadfastly refuses to romanticise either the struggle or the outcome. Anton Corbijn’s portrait of Ian Curtis, Control (right), shows him at his day job, or in his suburban home, or being an uncommitted father and husband. Even as Joy Division become popular, there’s no triumph. His death, when it comes, is not elevated into a substitute for the crucifixion: it’s all the more tragic for being so real.

Music is at its most exciting when it fires the imagination. And that’s what writing at length about music, at its best, can do. Without drab talking heads on screen, or some badly recreated gig on a studio soundstage, your mind and the words on the page can take you to the most hyperreal version of reality”.

There are other articles that ask whether it is ever able to be transparent and truthful when creating biopics. I think, in the case of Rocketman, we will get a fair and stunning look at this masterful musician. It will be interesting to see how Elton John reacts to the film and what he reckons. It will be great and I think we will see one of the most balanced and truthful biopics in a long time. Who knows, this time next year it might be challenging for Oscars! Elton John turns seventy-two tomorrow and it is a great time to listen to his music. Get involved and, if you can, start from the beginning. It is interesting seeing this rise ans change through the decades. Many say that Elton John has produced some of his best material in last couple of decades and everyone will have their own views on that.

John is taking part in his final-ever tour and, if you can, go and see the man on the road. I am not a super-fan but I recall listening to classics like I’m Still Standing and Crocodile Rock as a child. These infectious and catchy songs captured me at a young age but I also love the more emotive and softer songs. Rocket Man (I Think It’s Going to Be a Long, Long Time), in fact, is a favourite of mine and there are so many songs in the Elton John catalogue that can rank alongside the very best from all of time. I do not know whether there are more John albums coming along or whether we have heard everything from him – let’s hope there are many more records! If you have not discovered the bounty of Elton John’s music then have a listen on Spotify and go out and buy his records! It is a fantastic experience and Elton John changes between records. You can never predict a particular sounds because, at every stage, he picks up fresh influence - one of the most versatile and engaging artists there has ever been!

I have put a playlist down below that merely scratches the surface – there is so many more treats to be discovered. There is nobody quite out there like Elton John but he has inspired so many different artists – including Kate Bush. I think there are other musicians who deserve the big-screen connection but, as we have seen in the past, there is always a risk. Whether you glamorous the subject or whitewash a lot of the worse sides, it is never easy to please everyone. The music is the most important thing and, just looking at the trailer and you feel energised and excited. It will be interesting to see what comes when Rocketman hits our screens on 24th May (in the U.K.;  31st May in the U.S.). It shows there is this big love for Elton John and a real appetite for his work. Taron Egerton has some big shoes to fill and it must have been weird talking to the man he is playing; that balance of nerves, expectation and thrill. There is this line in Rocket Man (I Think It’s Going to Be a Long, Long Time) that goes “I’m not the man they think I am at home” which got me thinking about the Elton John away from music and the one who owns the stage and captivates audiences around the world. It will be unique seeing this glimpse behind closed doors and a more rounded view of the iconic – without tabloidisation and needless over-dramatisation. If you are a fan of his work or not, Rocketman is a film you will want to see and, unlike many music biopics, it seems like we will get pretty close to...

THE real truth of a legendary figure.

FEATURE: It Started with a Famous White Dress... The Visual Brilliance of Kate Bush

FEATURE:

 

It Started with a Famous White Dress...

IN THIS PHOTO: Kate Bush captured by her brother John Carder Bush (taken from his book, Kate: Inside the Rainbow

The Visual Brilliance of Kate Bush

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MY first exposure to Kate Bush would have been...

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 IN THIS PHOTO: Shots of the young Kate Bush from CATHY by John Carder Bush

when I was a child and I saw a video of her greatest hits, The Whole Story. It was that white dress Kate Bush wore in the Wuthering Heights video that opened my eyes and, with it, my world. I shall track things forward a bit because I write quite a bit regarding Kate Bush. I was going to pen a piece regarding an absence of material. Bush is a hard-working and always-inspiring artist and we are no stranger to gaps. The biggest one was the twelve-year gulf between The Red Shoes in 1993 and Aerial coming along. It has been almost eight years since her last album, 50 Words for Snow (2011). My article was going to be about the gap and whether anything is coming along in 2019. Bush always releases albums in the autumn and winter so one cannot expect anything too much before then. Maybe she will leave things until 2020 but there was an intimation, back in a 2011 interview she gave with Front Row’s John Wilson, that she was working on new stuff. There were new ideas, at least and that has not manifested itself yet. She has not been exactly quiet the past few years and, whilst I have discussed this recently, I want to briefly nod back to it. Her 2014 live show, Before the Dawn, was a sensation and her first live show since 1979’s Tour of Life. Bush released a book of lyrics last year and has also re-released her back catalogue; remastered and all available on lovely, shiny vinyl.

The fact we have received news and stuff from her as recently as 2018 should keep as all happy and satisfied. There is that need for new material, mind – the world is always better when we have Kate Bush music in it! Going back to Before the Dawn and it reminds me of a side to Kate Bush that is often overlooked: her visual aspect and how she inhabits new worlds on the stage and through videos. I mentioned the Before the Dawn show and how it marked a return to the stage after several decades. I was not lucky enough to get a seat there and be able to see one of the twenty-two shows at the Hammersmith Apollo. That show was definitely not lacking in theatre and there was this entire world. Bush performed the suites from Aerial and Hounds of Love (so there was a story and arc) and there were some big hits in the mix. The set contained masks and dancers; there were great backdrops and visual elements. Videos played to introduce various sections and it was this multi-media bonanza. It is not shock that 2014-Bush still had some magic in her fingertips. Look back at her 1979 live tour debut and she entered with a unique bang. This Guardian article from 2010 looked back at the Tour of Life and how Bush changed the game:

 “Few other artists had taken the pop concert into quite such daring territory; its only serious precedent was David Bowie's 1974 Diamond Dogs tour. There were 13 people on stage, 17 costume changes and 24 songs – primarily from her first two albums, The Kick Inside and Lionheart – scattered over three distinctly theatrical acts. Her brother John declaimed poetry, Simon Drake performed illusions and magic tricks, and at the centre was a barefoot Bush, still only 20 years old...

For Them Heavy People she was a trench-coated, trilby-hatted gangster. On the heartbreaking Oh England, My Lionheart, she became a dying second world war fighter pilot, a flying jacket for a shroud and a Biggles helmet for a burial crown. Every song offered something new: she moved from Lolita, winking outrageously from behind the piano, to a top-hatted magician's apprentice ; from a soul siren singing of her "pussy queen" to a leather-clad refugee from West Side Story. The erotically charged denouement of James and the Cold Gun depicted her as a murderous gunslinger, spraying gunfire – actually ribbons of red satin – over the stage. There was no room for improvisation. The band was drilled to within an inch of its life and Bush never spoke to the audience, refusing to come out of character. "She was faultless," says set designer David Jackson. "I don't remember her ever fluffing a line or hitting a bum note on the piano."

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PHOTO CREDIT: John Carder Bush

As the tour rolled out around the UK the reviews were euphoric: Melody Maker called the Birmingham show "the most magnificent spectacle ever encountered in the world of rock", and most critics broadly concurred. Only NME remained sceptical, dismissing Bush as "condescending" and, with the kind of proud and rather wonderful perversity that once defined the British rock press, praising only the magician”.

If the visuals and the cinema Bush brought to the stage, both in 1979 and 2014, were mindblowing and unseen, one can forgive her for leaving a gap between her first and most-current tour – and why we might never see another tour/live set from her. So many modern gigs/tours have basic sets and lighting and, although it is expensive to put together, where is the sense of the magical?!

Even the biggest artists of this time – with deeper pockets and larger budgets – tend not to be too ambitious with their tours. Kate Bush, in many ways, was a benchmark in 1979 and, over four years since the last time she stepped on stage, is still the high-watermark! It is not only her shows that dazzle and stun. One need only look at her photos to realise that this visual imagination was not restricted to the stage. If you have not read the book Kate: Inside the Rainbow then you must. It documents photos taken by Kate Bush’s older brother, John, through the years. There are no simple poses and concepts regarding the snaps. Even when shot at home, there is a twinkle in the eye or something about her look that stands aside. It is worth exploring the photoshoots between 1978 and now and seeing all the wonderful images that feature Bush.

PHOTO CREDIT: John Carder Bush

Her album covers, perhaps, strike the eye the hardest. If The Kick Inside’s (her 1978 debut) had a cover image that would be bested then the promotional images of the time were more gripping and bold. Whether dressed in a leotard or posing on these elaborate sets, Kate Bush the visionary definitely outshone her peers. I love her album covers and whether you prefer the John Carder Bush-shot Hounds of Love (1985) or the intriguing The Dreaming – Bush with a key in her mouth, passing it to a man whose face we do not see (it is her then-boyfriend, Del Palmer, and relates to a song, Houdini, where a kiss is passed to the escapologist through a kiss) – there is much to choose from!

 PHOTO CREDIT: John Carder Bush

Kate Bush, as a dancer, was always attracted to the visual element of music and providing this very physical and theatrical look. It is her videos that, to me, represent the pinnacle of the Kate Bush visual experience. She has revealed in plenty of interviews how much she loves videos and her attachment to film. I mentioned the Wuthering Heights video: it is almost as iconic as the song itself because of the simplicity and power. She wore a white dress for the U.K. video release and a red one in the U.S. version. This amazing dancer entranced and enraptured in the song beguiled and, this many years after its release, it still amazes.

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IN THIS PHOTO: Kate Bush and crew watch the rushes of The Line, The Cross and the Curve (in 1993)/PHOTO CREDIT: Guido Harari

My favourite video from her debut album is Them Heavy People. Bush, in a trilby and purple, created this quirky and memorable film where she gets to dance and fight off these two men; there are broken chairs and bottles and something that definitely catches the eye – it raises a smile and stays in the mind! On Hammer Horror and Wow (singles from her second album, Lionheart), the wide-eyed and mesmeric Bush created these amazing videos that went far beyond the standard of the time (1978). By 1980, the standard had increased and Babooshka - where Bush played a couple of roles and could be seen twirling a double-bass (in the verses) and this brazen and enflamed figure (the chorus) – was a pivotal moment.

No other musician (aside from David Bowie, perhaps) was creating these colourful, vivid and bold videos that matched music that was as original and special. Look at the other two singles from Never for Ever, Breathing and Army Dreamers, and there are more iconic visuals. Breathing finds Bush cocooned in this bubble: foetus-like and protected from the world, it is almost a little film in itself. Army Dreamers, Bush’s favourite of her videos, sees army soldiers (played by Bush and members of her band) going into battle. The images follow the lyrics and we see a young man plunged into war; Bush and her comrades avoiding fire and the striking Bush, again, wide-eyed and amazing. Look at the charm and quirk of Kate Bush dancing through, what looks like a barn, in the Suspended in Gaffa video (from 1982’s The Dreaming).

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PHOTO CREDIT: John Carder Bush

Even if the album was more challenging and out-there than her previous efforts, the videos did not alienate. Sat in Your Lap, with its vivid pitch and pace, is matched in a video where Bush is on the floor, at first, almost jester-like in her movements. As the video progresses, she is joined by a cast of characters and the video is almost like an acid trip! One almost remembers the video about the song because of the amazing scenes! By 1985’s Hounds of Love, with the increase in ambition and the release of her most popular album, the videos become bigger and more filmic.

I love the packed and busy video for The Big Sky and Kate Bush as this sky-gazing figure. The song itself is the wonder of just staring at the sky and its wonder but the video throws in pilots, a jet and wild festivity. It is a joyous and bighearted video that is charming and filled with life. In Hounds of Love’s video, Bush runs through the woods with her sweetheart, chased by physical and spiritual forces (the ‘hounds of love’). One can hear Bush’s love of film and how she wanted to explore more. The video could well be adapted into something longer; maybe a short story or something a bit more expansive. It is hard to match a song as vivid and immediate as Hounds of Love with a video that does it justice but one cannot thank Bush alone – the directors she worked with in each case help bring these visions to life. I love Hounds of Love but one cannot talk about the album and ignore Cloudbusting and Running Up That Hill (A Deal with God). The latter is a simpler dance concept but it is amazingly sensual, brilliant choreographed and executed. Bush and her partner, Michael Hervieu, created something more sophisticated and classical than a lot of the dance videos of the time (the mid-1980s). Videos, mostly, had flashy images and effects and there was a real lack of sophistication and imagination.

Director David Garfath brings the best out of both dancer and it is another amazing visual. Perhaps her most ambitious video was for Cloudbusting. Featuring Donald Sutherland as the inventor (as the cloudbusting machine, Wilhelm Reich) and Bush as his son, Peter, it is an amazing video. The video shows the two on the top of a hill trying to make the cloudbuster work. Reich leaves Peter on the machine and returns to his lab. In flashback, he remembers several times he and Peter enjoyed together as Reich worked on various scientific projects, until he is interrupted by government officials who arrest him and ransack the lab. Peter senses his father's danger and tries to reach him but is forced to watch helplessly as his father is driven away. Peter finally runs back to the cloudbuster and activates it successfully - to the delight of his father who sees it starting to rain. Again, like so many Kate Bush promotionals, there is this film-like thing happening that elevates the song and augments its potent and unique lyrics. The fact Kate Bush is such a strong writer and creator gives her videos that natural edge. She never phones it in and, by 1985, was creating some of the best videos of the decade. Even by 1989’s The Sensual World, the standard did not slip. On The Sensual World, Bush looks elegant and resplendent as she dances and waltzes through woodland.

 

It is a gorgeous and beautifully-lit video that has this elegance and maturity to it. Bush, unlike so many other artists, changed between albums and did not stick with the same visuals and concepts. Kate Bush never does anything by halves and, with her videos, she wanted to create these special worlds. A lot of artists, then and now, do something quite basic and expend very little imagination. Even when she was representing a more stirring and emotional song like This Woman’s Work, the visuals did not lack. Bush, at the piano, provides this solemn, heartbreaking and memorable performance that far-surpasses other videos at the time. There is so much mystery and story in the video; a sense of devastation but also of wonder and curiosity. There have been fewer videos since 1993’s The Red Shoes but that is because there have been fewer singles released – and Bush, on Aerial and 50 Words for Snow – and longer songs. Moments of Pleasure is similar in scope and look to The Sensual World. Bush looks equally stunning and classical and there is this enticing dance and magical look.

PHOTO CREDIT: John Carder Bush

Bush seemed to have these two worlds. In terms of dance, she could bring this physicality and beauty to performances and, when more ambitious and bold, provide these filmic scopes that brought new life from songs. Eat the Music, to match the Reggae and festival mood, sees Bush dancing in a tropical scene whilst And So Is Love is darker-lit and stormy; The Red Shoes has this trippy, devilish and demented. So much range from the one album! I do wonder why we overlook the aesthetic and visual side of Kate Bush - given that it is so strong and captivating. Every one of her videos holds weight and gets into the mind. You just know she sees videos as art; part of her craft and something that not only sells songs but adds to them. It is hard to pick a favourite because there are so many classics in the pack - I guess every one of us picks different ones for separate reasons.

My favourite video from The Red Shoes is Rubberband Girl. Even if the record received some mixed reviews – many felt a decline was happening – the videos definitely did not suffer. Rubberband Girl sees Bush leaping on a trampoline and entwined with a dancer; keeping hold of him and not letting go. It is a great dance and, through the video, we see Bush walking the floor and, when the mood calls, letting her dancing side out. Apart from King of the Mountain on 2005’s Aerial, there have not been that many videos from Bush. She has just released some covers and rarities so we get videos for Rocket Man, The Man I Love and Under the Ivy. I recommend people get involved with that release, The Other Sides, and also check out her official website. There is, even in 2019, so much more to rediscover and uncover from this icon of the music world!

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IN THIS PHOTO: Kate Bush in the make-up chair whilst filming The Line, The Cross and the Curve/PHOTO CREDIT: Guido Harari

They are all great songs but, once more, we see new sides to Bush and her unending passion for film. One hopes, if there is another album coming, there are more chances to see Bush on the screen. Even though she is now sixty, she still has that verve, dance ability and passion. I look back from 1978 and the incredible videos that happened right at the start. From the innocent-yet-beguiling woman on the Man with the Child in His Eyes video and the live versions of Moving and Strange Phenomena, Bush was this spectacular performer. Even when she brought the songs to T.V. and the stage, she added this dose of pixie-dust and spirit; a chemical reaction that was hers and hers alone! They should bottle it because I see a lack of the same zeal and colour in today’s scene - perhaps indicating that Kate Bush is unicorn-like in her rarity and wonder.

The live spectaculars – just the two of them – defied expectations and blew away the critics whereas her photos show all the complex sides of a phenomenal woman. It is hard to say just how influential Bush has been regarding the visual aspect. Look at artists like Tori Amos and Björk and you can see a bit of Kate Bush in all of them. Nobody quite meets the standard but her legacy continues today. Bat for Lashes and St. Vincent cite Bush as a heroine and I feel a lot of other artists, in some form or the other, have been compelled by Kate Bush. We talk about Bush as this amazing voice and songwriter but few address her videos, photos and visual side. It is an important part of her aesthetic and a reason why she is she is so lauded. I look forward to seeing what the future holds and what she gives to the world. There is no official word regarding new material but I have a feeling this year will the year! There are many reasons to mark a Kate Bush album but the videos and artwork is definitely part of that. She creates these eye-opening and wondrous things that blow the mind and exceed anything out there. In an industry where record sales have declined and things are less physical; music videos lack the spark and quirkiness only Kate Bush can provide, I am glad we can all see and watch her work and remind ourselves that there is no one...

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PHOTO CREDIT: John Carder Bush

QUITE like her.

FEATURE: CaSe In PoInT: Is the Standard of English Dropping in Music?

FEATURE:

 

CaSe In PoInT

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PHOTO CREDIT: @neonbrand/Unsplash 

Is the Standard of English Dropping in Music?

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MAYBE the language in songs is not quite as bad...

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 PHOTO CREDIT: @patrickbrinksma/Unsplash

as I imagined but I have noticed a couple of things coming into music more and more. I have been listening to a lot of older music and some of the richest lyricists ever. From the classic songwriters to a sharper brand of Pop; I do wonder whether language has taken a back-seat to beats and a set formula. There are some great writers and thinkers in music but, more and more, the mainstream is being filled with music that is neither particularly challenging nor inventive. So many Pop artists are describing love in the same way and using very basic language. There is a simplicity and derivative nature that is not shifting. I know I am not perfect but I have to dig hard to discover songs where there is something poetic or sharp; a lovely line that catches you by surprise. That is not my biggest fear because, more and more, I am seeing song and album titles that mixes cases and miss punctuation. Maybe it is the cool new thing but artists such as Billie Eilish – who puts most of her songs in lower-case letters – are culpable. I know it is deliberate but other artists either put certain words in lower-case and some in upper. I also see a lot of songs with all the lettering in upper-case letters. This irks me but I wonder whether artists are trying to stand out or whether they feel bold text means the song is stronger.

I do worry whether this rather causal use of the English language results from greater reliance on text-speak and phones – whether everything is short-hand and we do not take the time to check. I am guilty when it comes to text messages. I often forget to put some upper-case lettering in or sloppily hammer off a text. Many people I see are firing text messages whilst walking and I do wonder how carefully they check regarding quality, clarity and accuracy. I have written before about the quality of the written word and how I am seeing more artists who are unable to construct simple sentences – I am aware I have made some errors regarding scansion and grammar (split infinitives) but I try my hardest. I know a lot of artists mix cases and stuff like that because it is different but I wonder why they do it. I hate looking at a song that has all upper or lower-case lettering or a mixture of both. I see so many songs pose a question without a question mark and it is getting hard to find that many artists who provide interesting and original titles. Look at the lyrics we see in many albums and there is a lack of scope and ambition. So many artists fail to dip into literature and the artists and I am finding few who write anything other than personal themes – what is wrong with stepping outside a comfort zone and opening your mind?

It is quite cool to play with language when necessary but I look at so many playlists and new songs and it does bother me. So many artists write ‘u’ instead of ‘you’ – I know Prince used to it; people are not Prince! – and so many songs fail to catch the mind because they are pretty average and formulaic. Our schools are great but I am concerned that, the more we rely on technology and do not write as much as we used to, this is going to bleed into music. This might sound like a personal beef and someone who is being picky but one can correlate between artists’ standard of English and the quality of music. I look back at songs/albums from years ago and can see a decline since then. In terms of titling, there is less need to mix cases and there is greater invention. Look back decades ago and, once more, the standard is increased. Maybe it is just a sign of things moving on and language evolving – but I wonder if this is a good thing. We communicate in a more brief and speedy way. We writer fewer letters and an history of the English language shows radical changes and evolution. I think one of the reasons Pop music has become slower and less optimistic is because of the way we communicate and how we use language. We are talking less and I feel like, the more technology takes over, the more this impinges on creativity and a certain outlook.

 PHOTO CREDIT: @thirdwheelphoto/Unsplash

I listen to a lot of songs and, whilst some are upbeat and forward-looking, so many are pretty tense and anxious. In terms of words we hear, there seems to be less spark and colour. That is a debate that we can have but I have noticed a certain decline in language that is not necessarily related to modernity and natural changes. Technology has advanced music hugely and led to so many breakthroughs. I am pleased we have been able to open the industry to countless artists but I feel there is a downside regarding using a crutch and being over-reliant. From the popular, if quite annoying, use of upper and lower-case letters in songs to poor punctuation and grammar, it concerns me how this will all affect music in years to come. I do think the most memorable and challenging songs are those where there is a richness and variety regarding language. As much as anything, I would like to see fewer tracks where there is an incorrect mix of lower and upper-case letters; a bit more attention when it comes to accuracy. Whether stylish or not, I do think it will become somewhat normalised and that is concerning. I do feel, as people, we are less attached to the English language and the written word. A lot of my hankering and observation comes from a desire to see these big and mindblowing songs that take us into this imaginative world; Pop songs that are more complex and music that, generally, spikes the imagination. Maybe it is hard to correct everything and see a big improvement but I do feel like we need to make some changes. To start with, whether the young find it eye-catching or not, it would be good to see fewer songs that are either all lower-case...

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 PHOTO CREDIT: @ninjason/Unsplash

OR ALL UPPER-CASE.

FEATURE: The March Playlist: Vol. 4: Two Titans, One Anthem

FEATURE:

 

The March Playlist

IN THIS PHOTO: Missy Elliott/PHOTO CREDIT: ELLE 

Vol. 4: Two Titans, One Anthem

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IT is a pretty good week for music…

 IN THIS PHOTO: MARINA

and there are some rather tasty selections in the pack! Not only have Lizzo and Missy Elliott teamed up for a mighty song but we have new music from MARINA, Jenny Lewis; Lucy Rose, Fat White Family and Grimes. It is pretty eclectic and potent week for music so it is best you dive in and listen to the newest edition of this playlist. I do wonder what else is coming in 2019 and how it will match against 2018. This year has already started pretty strongly but I am hearing more strength and variation than the past few years. This week is stronger than last week and it is great seeing some powerhouse songs rubbing shoulders. To get this weekend kicked and upbeat, check out these amazing songs and carry them with you. There is plenty in here to keep you entertained and make sure you are not short…

 IN THIS PHOTO: Lucy Rose

OF terrific tunes.  

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

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Lizzo (ft. Missy Elliott)Tempo

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MARINAOrange Trees

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Jenny LewisDogwood

Lucy RoseWhat Does It Take

PHOTO CREDIT: Eli Russell Linnetz

GrimesPretty Dark (Demo) 

Circa WavesPassport

PHOTO CREDIT: Kathryn Vetter Miller for MOJO

Weyes BloodMovies

PHOTO CREDIT: Roger Sargent/NME

Fat White FamilyTastes Good with the Money

Two Door Cinema ClubTalk

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PHOTO CREDIT: Noel Vasquez/FilmMagic

Tame Impala - Patience

PHOTO CREDIT: Richmond Lam

Broken Social SceneCan’t Find My Heart

Catfish and the Bottlemen2all

The CranberriesWake Me When It’s Over

Guy ChambersThe Road to Mandalay

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Lighthouse FamilyMy Salvation 

Pia MiaBitter Love

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PHOTO CREDIT: Amanda Demme

Andrew BirdProxy War

HRVY - Told You So

Peggy GouStarry Night (Original Mix)

Post MaloneWow.

Panic! at the DiscoDancing’s Not a Crime

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Foster the PeopleStyle

Sofi TukkerFantasy

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Kailee Morgue - Headcase

Sara BareillesSaint Honesty

Jessy WilsonClap Your Hands

Arlo ParksRomantic Garbage

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Liv DawsonPushing 21

Ady SuleimanBest Friend

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Molly Hammar (ft. Big Narstie)No Place Like Me

Mosa WildNight

Nemi Can’t Get Through to You

CLAVVSViolet Sea

PHOTO CREDIT: Bridie Florence Cummings

Gaffa Tape SandyHeadlights

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Ina Wroldsen, DynoroObsessed  

Glowie Cruel

FEATURE: Transpositional: Why Creating a Pose-Type Show in the U.K. Would Fill a Huge Gap and Bring L.G.B.T.Q.+ Culture/Discussions to the Mainstream

FEATURE:

 

Transpositional

IMAGE CREDIT: FX

Why Creating a Pose-Type Show in the U.K. Would Fill a Huge Gap and Bring L.G.B.T.Q.+ Culture/Discussions to the Mainstream

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I am not against all T.V. shows in this country...

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 PHOTO CREDIT: @sveninho/Unsplash

but I think are better when it comes to theatre and music. I have never been a fan of our iconic comedy shows - and feel they relied more on gentle humour rather than anything sharp and genuinely memorable – with a few exceptions. The same goes for our sitcoms. We are not great at family/friend-based shows and I find them so formulaic, laboured and lacking in humour. We have a couple of wonderful comedies/comedy-dramas, Fleagbag and This Time with Alan Partridge, but the former is more synonymous with its dramatic elements and the latter, I feel, relies too much on a sense of discomfort and rooting for this lovable loser – something British comedies have become more known for since The Office. Both provide moments of brilliance but neither is a patch on the best from the U.S. Brooklyn Nine-Nine is returning for a sixth season; Family Guy still has plenty of juice left in the tank and The Goldbergs is a sharp and warm show. I also love The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel and, whilst we are waiting a third season, this comedy-drama is much funnier than most of our ‘comedies’. There are some bad and average U.S. comedies – including Schooled and The Big Bang Theory: they have some pretty s*it others, too – but the best from the American stable is much stronger than anything we are providing. The same is true of drama. I think this is where the biggest discrepancy exists.

 IN THIS PHOTO: Fleabag creator/Killing Eve writer Phoebe Waller-BrIdge is one of Britain’s finest talents/PHOTO CREDIT: Scott Trindle for VOGUE

We are excited about seeing Line of Duty back on our screens but, essentially, it is not that inventive and different to any police/criminal dramas. Killing Eve – written by Fleabag creator/star, Phoebe Waller-Bridge – is a genuinely great drama and one that we need to model the rest of our work on. Look at the rest of our schedules and it does not vary much between criminal dramas, family tensions and the same old thing. Every new trailer than comes along bores me and I wonder why we lack such imagination and originality. We are obsessed by family dramas and focusing on very narrow themes. Most of the T.V. I am watching and enjoying is American and I feel we have the talent in the country to rival their best but the concepts that keep coming through are predictable and completely uninspiring. Music is an area that has always been under-exposed when it comes to drama and I do not know why. We have a lot of the same sort of dramas about but not a lot that goes beyond the same friends-family-deceit constructs that T.V. broadcasters are obsessed with! Big themes like teaching L.G.B.T.Q.+ lessons in school and political tensions makes me wonder whether this is being represented on screen. How about a drama that uses music/a music theme as its core and builds from there? How long since we have seen something like that on T.V. at all?

What I find when it comes to U.K. drama and comedy is how lifeless and beige it is. We are ultra-serious and struggle to make anything that is colourful, bold and has a great leap of imagination. The sooner we get out of the same moulds and formats; we can actually then expand the palette and create something startling. It is a shame this happens because we have some great actors and directors but I do find our comedies and dramas are somewhat unspectacular. I would not normally be attracted to a show like Pose but, within a few minutes of watching the first episode – last night on BBC 2 – I was hooked. The show was created by Ryan Murphy, Brad Falchuk and Steven Canals and it is a huge-hearted, queer drama that has these amazing scenes and colours. Its budget is huge – which may mean it is hard to replicate here; we do not have such deep pockets and established studios – and features a large trans cast and set of writers – the largest in T.V. history, I understand. If its story is not exactly mould-breaking – a fairytale-like narrative where characters can be themselves and express themselves freely – then its script and look definitely is. In the first episode, we were introduced to the House of Abundance where it was led by the ‘Mother’ (Dominique Brebner plays the Elektra Abundance): a formidable leader who rules with a strict fist but is an inspirational figure.

She and her house compete in underground ballroom competitions before one of her ‘children’ breaks away to form her own house – she recruits her own members and they compete with the House of Abundance (they lose in the first face-off but have plenty of talent and fire in the ranks). Blanca Rodriguez-Evangelista (Mj Rodriguez) is the character who forms her own house after she discovers she is HIV-positive. By day, she works in a nail-bar but she harbours dreams of stardom and making something of herself. Ryan Jamaal Swain plays Damon Richards-Evangelista, a gay dancer who is abused and rejected by his family when he reveals his ambitions to become a dancer. He lives on the street and is discovered by Blanca; she takes him in and, before long, new members come into the house. He amazes judges and committee at a New York dancing school – after being reluctant to audition – and we sort of end the first episode with hopes that this House of Evangelista will square up to the formidable House of Abundance and gain fame in the clubs. I have summarised the plot but we see looks inside a Trump-era business – maybe a satire against the current U.S. President – and an office worker (Evan Peters plays Stan Bowes; he works in Trump Towers and his boss, Matt Bromley (James Van Der Beek), is all kinds of off-putting) who gets this big job but cheats on his wife with a trans prostitute; a look at late-1980s New York and how gay culture was largely confined to the underground.

 IN THIS PHOTO: Angel Evangelista (Indya Moore) is a trans sex-worker (in Pose) and craves a more settled and normal existence/PHOTO CREDIT: BBC/FX/Pari Dukovic

Pose even managed to squeeze in a Kate Bush tune in the first episode – Running Up That Hill (A Deal with God) was played a few times throughout! Critics were amazed by the liberating and unique vision of Pose. This is how The Guardian assessed the opening/pilot episode:

New York City. 1987. Glitterball. Vogue hands, as any Madonna fan of my generation will know them. Sometimes the right television series comes along at the moment you need it and Pose (BBC2) is just that: shimmering balm for the Brexit-eroded soul. For an hour and a bit, all the cynicism and rage evaporates and you rise from the sofa on a cloud of killer lines dropped from the hard-won lips of black trans women; the sound of Donna Summer; and sheer, fishnet-tights-clad resilience.

But this show is far more sophisticated than escapism. It’s like falling in love: heightened, revelatory, bruising. Pose is that good.

Above ground, we enter the stultifying world of straight, white, executive conventionality, embodied by Trump Tower, which is even more monstrous considering what the man who built it presides over now. Stan Bowes gets a job there while falling for trans sex worker Angel. In a masterful scene that could be straight out of Mad Men, he asks Angel what she wants from life and while she whispers the answer in bed – “I want a home of my own. I want a family. I want to take care of someone and I want someone to take care of me. I want to be treated like any other woman” – the scene cuts to Stan arriving home to his wife and kids. The life of conformity, of passing, that Angel craves is killing him. How does the scene close? With the opening synths of Kate Bush’s Running Up That Hill...

Pose treats with respect, pathos and love both the glamour of the ballroom and the guts of the Aids crisis, transphobia, sexism and racism. It’s a charismatic dance-off between appearance and reality, in which both sides are equally matched. Pray Tell might say “the category is … paramount realness!” The pose, in other words, is the realness.

Abundance by night: one of several teams competing in the underground ballroom scene, populated mostly by black and Latino trans and gay people. The houses are run by formidable “house mothers”, defiantly and poignantly recreating the families that once rejected them. Then there’s New York, the most iconic house mother of all, who welcomes everybody into her bosom and stands for both nurture and danger.

When Blanca finds out she is HIV-positive, she tells ballroom MC, Pray Tell, “At least now something in my life is for sure.” He replies, “You ain’t dead yet”.

It is early days but Pose has been met with huge affection in the U.S. – where more episodes have been featured – and I know it will succeed here. There are a number of reasons for me believing in this. For a start, against the sometimes-brutal and shocking scenes – domestic assault and young creatives struggling to find acceptance in America – there is an actual spirit of hope and togetherness. The music side of things is why I am including this feature in my blog.

 IN THIS PHOTO: The standout Ryan Jamaal Swain stars in Pose as Damon Richards, a gay, homeless dancer/PHOTO CREDIT: Lexie Moreland/WWD

I cannot recollect the last time we showcased something as giddy, bright and original on our screens when it comes to drama. The performances are uniformly excellent and the fact there are trans actors/writers gives Pose authenticity and insight. The interaction between the lead actors is incredible and the script mixes pathos/tragedy with lighter moments brilliantly. I love the arc of the pilot episode and how, in just over an hour, we got a great insight into the gay scene in 1980s New York. It is about the clubs and the freedom of the underground; the way trans performers (and queens) had a space where they could be themselves and not have to hide it. Even today, society is not as accepting and open as it should be and shows like Pose are going to be positive and powerful when it comes to changing attitudes. Against rather dry lessons and literature, T.V. shows like this provide a genuine experience and education. I have seen a lot of tweets recently regarding to schools and whether they should include L.G.B.T.Q.+ themes in their curriculums. A lot of children are scared of revealing their sexuality because there is not enough tolerance, discussion and love. Music is at the heart of Pose and, together with dance – the show is, in essence, about dance culture and voguing (a little bit before Madonna helped bring it into the mainstream with her Vogue single in 1990) -, we get this captivating and catchy world. You do not need to be trans or gay to appreciate the show and what it is trying to communicate.

 PHOTO CREDIT: @paul_1865/Unsplash

Pose beautifully unleashes this world that does not need to lecture and pander; it does not assume the viewer is aware of ignorant of the world in which it lives: instead, we get a really accessible look at gender politics and life in late-1980s New York. I am a heterosexual male and it definitely spoke to me. Great dramas like this can appeal to a wide demographic and create that balance between education and entertainment. Looking head-on at the HIV/AIDS crisis in America and the glamour of the ballroom is a difficult thing to do when it comes to hooking people in. The realness and authentic voice of Pose makes every scene come to life and get into the head. It is the giddy mix of sounds and movements that appeals to the artist and journalist in me. I love the selection of songs employed and we had a nice balance of dance-worthy jams and, as I said, Kate Bush. One does not need to know about the ballroom scene and the Disco elements; the glitz and camp to appreciate the show. I think L.G.B.T.Q.+/trans issues are as important in music as they are society at large. I know quite a few L.G.B.T.Q.+ artists and still feel there is a stigma and lack of recognition. Think about the mainstream and how easy would it be for a queer artist, let’s say, to get their voice heard?!

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 IMAGE CREDIT: iStock

Maybe a U.K. show that walks the same as Pose would not need to explicitly tackle that but I think there is a lot of talk and discussion happening regarding L.G.B.T.Q.+ areas in schools and the nature of sexuality. Aside from particular playlists and fringe plays, I do not think we get a real sense of the sexual spectrum and different identities in this country. One could argue that the U.S. is not so open-minded when it comes to sexuality but I think they are ahead of us. At any rate, their studios are more adventurous and willing to open up conversations. I know Pose is groundbreaking but we need not look at trans/gay artists in the U.K. It (a drama) could explore sexuality among school-aged children or roll the clock back to the 1990s and the culture then. Queer as Folk is still talked about and that was first broadcast back in 1999! Music would play a central role in any venture: the heart and soundtrack that need not be specific to that culture. By that, I mean the music does not merely need to be popular to the trans/L.G.B.T.Q.+ communities. Instead, there could be a blend of commercial/traditional music and LG.B.T.Q.+-focused songs. With so much political chaos and talk going on, I wonder how long it will be before the dust clears and we can have a chat regarding matters such as trans dancers/children; the L.G.B.T.Q.+ experience and bring that to the screen.

Pose is capturing the American population with its mix of heart, inspiration and hard-hitting authenticity. I feel we are too mired in the same old ruts and niches here. Every advert for some domestic drama makes me think the same: the fact we have seen this all before and we are not pushing boundaries. It’s great Line of Duty is coming back but look at all the other police/crime dramas and it is the same mix of plots and characters. The same can be said with comedy and I know, with talents like Phoebe Waller-Bridge about, we can create our own Pose. There are other great writers/wits, such as Caitlin Moran, who could write a great show; maybe Russel T. Davies – a gay screenwriter whose iconic shows include Queer as Folk – who could help bring about some sort of revolution. I feel it on the fringes and there is the desire for mainstream exposure and revelation. In terms of setting/period, why not London or Liverpool during the 1980s/1990s. We would be spoiled for choice when it comes to great songs and, though we do not have the same budget as U.S. studios, we could turn in something decent. One of the other strengths of Pose is the fact that it is a largely-black cast.

 IMAGE CREDIT: Getty Images

There are few dramas/comedies in the U.S. or U.K. that have a large black cast so, in another way, Pose is ground-breaking. I do get bored of our T.V. and, although some Alan Partridge awkwardness is entertaining, I am looking for something bigger, more glamorous and important. We need to laugh and come together but we can do that in a comedy-drama that wears its heart and fabrics like Pose. A U.K. drama does not need to look at a particular scene or culture: instead, it can fictionalise or look at trans/L.G.B.T.Q.+ characters finding their way against the changing music/club scene in the U.K. – maybe trying to form an underground following against House, Rave or Britpop. There are endless possibilities but they are not being explored enough. Pose’s following, popularity and five-star reviews show that, if done right, there are plenty of accepting, passionate and committed viewers who have been looking for a show like this for a long time! I don’t know. I do love our biggest T.V. shows and feel creators like Phoebe Waller-Bridge are incredible. She is one of the best writers and actors we have and I feel she could help spearhead something Pose-like here with her blend of cutting wit and dramatic flair. A lot of our dramas seem stuck and rigid; we are too samey and grey and, when we look at the U.S. and what their brightest minds are coming up with, it seems like the time to make that change and...

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 IMAGE CREDIT: FX

STRIKE a pose!

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

FEATURE:

 

 

Sisters in Arms

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IN THIS PHOTO: Erica Cody/PHOTO CREDIT: @anouskaphotography  

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

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WE need something to push us...

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 IN THIS PHOTO: Anteros

into the weekend and get the energy rising! The weather is not too bad but I feel that extra little bit of spirit is needed. We are comfortably into spring so it is time for another edition. I have been looking at all the new songs – and a couple of older ones – that are female-led and selected a few here. It is a great selection that has a variety of moods and genres. I know there will be something in there that captures your imagination and stays in your mind. If you need a bit of inspiration and motivation to get you into the weekend then I recommend that you start by listening to some terrific female-led tracks that will...

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IN THIS PHOTO: Rose Gray

STAY in the mind for a while.

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

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 PHOTO CREDIT: Louis Browne

Sølv – Bittersweet

Abby AndersonGOOD LORD

Cate Le BonDaylight Matters

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PHOTO CREDIT: Briana Davis

Post-DuskOvergrown

Ess_GeeBubble Queen

Erica CodyWhere U Really From

AnterosRing Ring

Liv DawsonPushing 21

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flora cashIndie on Loud

PHOTO CREDIT: @hasselblad

Rose Graygood life

PHOTO CREDIT: SHOT BY PHOX

Suzi WuError 404

Maggie LindemannFriends Go

Sinead HarnettBy Myself

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Nilüfer Yanya – Angels

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Chandler Juliethide and seek

Greta JaimeIndecisive

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PHOTO CREDIT: Zoe Rain/Whitney Middleton/MUA by Krystyn J Johnson

Jamila WoodsEARTHA

PHOTO CREDIT: @christiantjandrawinata

Emily MuliRhythm & Truth

PHOTO CREDIT: Sylvie Weber

Laurel HaloOneiroi - Mixed

Lucy SpragganLucky Stars

Rose Elinor DougallTake What You Can Get

Bianca BazinHeartbroken Fool

Clare Maguire - Vibe

Mari DangerfieldDear Admirer

Irini Mando (ft. KYZE) - MVP

PHOTO CREDIT: Chris Almeida for The Line of Best Fit

JGrreyNotice

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lennixxBad Bird

FEATURE: Vinyl Corner: Bob Dylan – Bringing It All Back Home

FEATURE:

 

Vinyl Corner

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IMAGE CREDIT: Spotify/PHOTO CREDIT: Daniel Kramer  

Bob Dylan – Bringing It All Back Home

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TOMORROW is also the anniversary...

 IN THIS PHOTO: Bob Dylan in 1965/PHOTO CREDIT: Everett Collection/REX

of The Beatles’ debut album, Please Please Me, but I have featured that before. It is a great record to buy and listen to on vinyl; sit back and let everything wash over you. It is an immediate and incredible album that, fifty-six years after its release, still sounds amazing. Another great record that celebrates an anniversary tomorrow is Bob Dylan’s Bringing It All Back Home – it turns fifty-four. It is one of those records that, in the great bulk of genius Bob Dylan albums, is not given the same attention and celebration as Blonde on Blonde and Highway 61 Revisited. Dylan’s early career sounds are noted for their acoustic sounds but, by 1965, Dylan was incorporating more electronic elements into his work – to the chagrin of some people in the Folk community who felt he was betraying its roots. Bringing It All Back Home is divided between electronic and acoustic sides and, on the first side, Dylan is backed by an electronic band. This caused consternation among those who felt Folk was acoustic and Dylan was making a huge mistake. I am not sure what the thinking was but maybe the thought of Dylan becoming more Rock was a sell-out; a sense he was abandoning Folk and trying to fit in with the mainstream. It is hard to think that his electric ambitions would cause outrage in the 1960s but, in many ways, Dylan opened up Folk and showed there was potential to cross-pollination and broaden its scope.

Listen to a lot of the Folk albums that followed – and how Folk sounds today – and one can hear Dylan’s influence. Dylan, by the middle of the 1960s, was moving away from his role as the protest singer – another move that irked and led some to believe he was betraying his roots – and writing more from an abstract perspective. Look at songs (on Bringing It Back Home) such as It’s Alright, Ma (I’m Only Bleeding) and one can definitely detect a stylistic shift. His delivery, on some numbers, is more fast-paced and his lyrics more personal and, in places, surreal – he would create these bigger, more surreal songs by the time Highway 61 Revisited arrived later in 1965. During 1964, Dylan was based in Woodstock and, as peer Joan Baez recalled, he was sat at the typewriter with a red wine near; getting down his thoughts and, in the middle of the night, would sometimes be heard staggering towards the typewriter to get something urgent down. It was clearly a fertile time for Dylan and the peace and scenery of Woodstock definitely inspired him. Still only twenty-three, Dylan was still concerned with world affairs and political ills but was looking in avenue avenues; broadening his songbook and integrating different sounds into the palette. There was this definite shift from the personal and political to the more surreal and fantastical.

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 IN THIS PHOTO: Bob Dylan in 1965/PHOTO CREDIT: Harry Thompson/Evening Standard/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Dylan was writing more in a stream-of-consciousness mood and he even influenced The Beatles – he met them in August 1964 and inspired a more introspective writing style; they, in turn, inspired a more electronic sound in Dylan. Look at the work Bob Dylan and The Beatles were putting out between 1965 and, say, 1968 and there is this sort of rivalry. It is hard to say who edges the battle but Dylan brought out Blonde on Blonde in 1966 whilst The Beatles would deliver Revolver that year and Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band the following year – if Dylan was edging it in 1964 and 1965, The Beatles overtook him by the latter-half of the 1960s. There was a bit of experimentation before Dylan and Bringing It All Back Home’s producer, Tom Wilson, decided on a set sound. They tried versions of Rock and Folk music but, having few guides and other artists doing the same thing, it was not overly-successful. Dylan and Wilson eventually recruited an electric band – including Al Gorgoni and Bruce Langhorne – and set to working on the album. The songs were captured quite quickly and, boasting a loose, live-sounding flair, these epic songs soon formed. It is amazing to think how quickly the master takes came together and how few takes were needed. Whereas some of Dylan’s earlier albums were a little limited when it came to sound and lyrics, Bringing It All Back Home was a much more eclectic and broad record.

Subterranean Homesick Blues has that intense and passionate delivery and talked about anti-establishment politics – Dylan was still reflecting political aspects but not in the same way as he did at the start of the 1960s. Bohemian lovers and breaking away from the protest Folk movement were all covered. Dylan’s incredible wordplay and indelible poetry infused every track and here was a man, still fresh-faced and making his way, who was producing these incredibly accomplished and nuanced songs. The 1960s was not short of genius writers but, when you listen to the words on Bringing It All Back Home, they sink in and take you somewhere extraordinary. The richness and maturity of the songs; the way Dylan pushed against rigid Folk values and structures. He worked with a variety of musicians and was moving away from mere protest songs. This was seen as somewhat revolutionary in 1965 but, today, it means Folk as a genre is much bolder and unafraid to adventure. A lot of the puritans were unaccepting of Dylan’s new phase but there were many new followers who latched onto his music. The wonderful It’s Alight, Ma (I’m Only Bleeding) opened doors and minds for Folk singers and Pop bands alike. Looking at the futility of politics through a series of incredibly vivid and entrancing verses, Alight, Ma (I’m Only Bleeding) is considered one of his finest-ever songs.

Dylan would delve deeper into love and tangles relationships later in his career but even at such a young age, Dylan has a fond understanding regarding the human heart and the complexities of love. It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue, as the title suggests, looks at the end of a long relationship and the sadness that has emanated from a once-happy bond. The eleven tracks from Bringing It All Back Home were recorded during a few days in January 1965 and it is amazing to discover how fast the whole process was. What we get is this live-sounding record that is raw and honest but filled with complex lyrics and gorgeous performances. The record is regarded as one of the best ever. Combining aspects of The Beatles and The Rolling Stones alongside Chuck Berry, it was a new form of Rock & Roll expression. Its influence is hard to calculate but it definite made a big impression on bands such as The Beatles who, themselves, inspired greatly a great deal of other bands – including The Beach Boys among many others. The reviews, both at the time and since 1965, have been near-spotless: I cannot think of anyone who had anything but pure admiration Bringing It All Back Home (although, there are always some who turn their nose up at anything!). AllMusic, from this 2016, review, show how Bob Dylan moved from 1964 and 1965 and the effect his fifth studio album had:

With Another Side of Bob DylanDylan had begun pushing past folk, and with Bringing It All Back Home, he exploded the boundaries, producing an album of boundless imagination and skill. And it's not just that he went electric, either, rocking hard on "Subterranean Homesick Blues," "Maggie's Farm," and "Outlaw Blues"; it's that he's exploding with imagination throughout the record. After all, the music on its second side -- the nominal folk songs -- derive from the same vantage point as the rockers, leaving traditional folk concerns behind and delving deep into the personal. And this isn't just introspection, either, since the surreal paranoia on "It's Alright, Ma (I'm Only Bleeding)" and the whimsical poetry of "Mr. Tambourine Man" are individual, yet not personal...

And that's just the tip of the iceberg, really, as he writes uncommonly beautiful love songs ("She Belongs to Me," "Love Minus Zero/No Limit") that sit alongside uncommonly funny fantasias ("On the Road Again," "Bob Dylan's 115th Dream"). This is the point where Dylan eclipses any conventional sense of folk and rewrites the rules of rock, making it safe for personal expression and poetry, not only making words mean as much as the music, but making the music an extension of the words. A truly remarkable album”.

This 2016 article from Rolling Stone looked at the impact and genius of Brining It All Back Home and how Bob Dylan helped transform music and

He conjured performances that would completely reimagine how pop music communicated – not just what it could say, but how it could say it. “Some people say that I am a poet,” he wrote coyly in the prose-poem notes on the back cover. Now, he was ready to test the limits of what that meant, rewiring himself for a singularly revolutionary moment. The fallout-shelter sign in the cover shot was on point: Bringing It All Back Home was the cultural equivalent of a nuclear bomb.

“The thing about Bringing It All Back Home was his words,” says David Crosby. “That’s what Bob stunned the world with. Up until then we had ‘oooh, baby’ and ‘I love you, baby.’ Bob changed the map. He gave us really, really good words”.

It is a seismic album that, in 1965, was battling some truly mighty artists! Who knows how inspiring Dylan would have been if he had stayed with protest politics and traditional Folk – would he have ever changed course?! There was a reaction against him going electric but, as we have seen in the ensuing decades, that decision was right. Bob Dylan knew what he was doing and has a plan in mind:

As Dylan put it in his memoir, Chronicles, “What I did to break away, was to take simple folk changes and put new imagery and attitude to them, use catchphrases and metaphor combined with a new set of ordinances that evolved into something different that had not been heard before.”

Dylan also got final takes of “Mr. Tambourine Man,” “It’s Alright, Ma” and “It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue,” one of the finest kiss-off songs ever recorded and a contender for Dylan’s prettiest song. “Baby Blue” reads as a barbed fare-thee-well to a lover, but also to Dylan’s old core audience. It was an acoustic song, just guitar and harmonica, excepting the beautiful forward-tugging countermelody played on electric bass by Bill Lee. But its heart was rooted in the rock & roll. “I had carried that song around in my head for a long time,” Dylan said. “When I was writing it, I remembered a Gene Vincent song. Of course, I was singing about a different Baby Blue.” Another instant classic, it would be covered by the Grateful Dead, Van Morrison, Bryan Ferry and many others”.

It is amazing to think that, fifty-four years after its release, Bringing It All Back Home can be heard in the work of modern artists. Maybe nobody has hit the heights Dylan did but mixing Rock and Blues tones within Folk is almost commonplace; stretching beyond the political and bringing more personal aspects into music. Folk would not suffer a huge blown when Dylan changed his sound but, rather than betray the genre, he offered other songwriters a possibility that was not known; a new direction and horizon. If you have not discovered Bringing It All Back Home then trying grabbing it on vinyl and letting its magic do the work. Bob Dylan would go on to create bigger and more celebrated works but Bringing It All Back Home is one of his most important records. Take the time to celebrate an incredible work that, in my view, grows in importance and stature by the year. In a year when The Beatles released Rubber Soul (after Bringing It All Back Home) and The Who gave us My Generation, Bringing It All Back Home seems more revolutionary and revelatory than both. It is a remarkable album and I hope it continues to find willing ears for many decades to come. I am going to play the album soon and reacquaint myself with the staggering and evocative songs that are almost breath-taking in their scope and quality. It is no shock Dylan could create such an album but I do not even think he himself could predict how important and influential...

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 IN THIS PHOTO: Bob Dylan captured by Daniel Kramer in 1965

BRINGING It All Back Home would become.

FEATURE: British Beef: Is Drill, Rap and Grime Music Responsible for a Rise in Knife-Related Crimes in Britain - and Is It as Simple as Blaming Certain Genres?

FEATURE:

 

British Beef

IN THIS PHOTO: 67 are one of the rawest and most exciting crews in British Drill/Rap/PHOTO CREDIT: Blaow

Is Drill, Rap and Grime Music Responsible for a Rise in Knife-Related Crimes in Britain - and Is It as Simple as Blaming Certain Genres?

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WE are meant to live in a more developed...

 PHOTO CREDIT: @takeshi2/Unsplash

and conscientious world than decades ago and one would think, as we become more aware of different people and forms of music, we develop a sense of understanding. It seems appalling how many times I need to write about racism and judgement in music. I did so recently when speaking about the way Rap and Hip-Hop are still overlooked at award ceremonies – here and in the U.S. – and, without taking too much time to forget about that and hope things move on, it seems some of our best black artists are facing a rough time. We all know the knife-crime statistics in this country are shocking. I heard on the news that, interestingly, the past week has been a bit quiet – shocking when that means no-one has been killed; others have been injured or threatened – but the number killed on our streets in 2019 is insane. Most of the deaths have occurred in London and it makes me wonder what has caused this rise. I think there is a sense of disconnect among many youths and, whilst knife-crime is not a black problem, we often associate the problem with black youths. There are statistics to show regional variations and types of crimes involving knives but I think there is a lot of anger in the country and sense of tension. In London, I do feel like there is this sense that the country is falling apart; people are not being listened to and, when it comes to the young men in estates, they are being ignored.

I cannot pardon any knife deaths but the gang-motivated deaths seem to stem from a number of things. There is a lack of education and awareness being brought to estates and problem areas. I feel many are frustrated in school and not being reached out to; there might be struggles at home and it is felt the only way to belong and feel heard is through crimes such as this. Maybe the harsh alternative of crime and murder is the result of years of gentrification, alienation and ignorance that has affected many in the communities. Recently, Ciaran Thapar wrote in GQ about the experiences he has faced and the fact that we cannot link knife-crime to Drill music:

In his spring statement, chancellor Philip Hammond promised an extra £100 million to police for combating violence. The number of police on our streets has become the topical nucleus around which all other comment and argument has been orbiting (close competitors of the recent past are drill music and middle-class cocaine users). But this obsession with law enforcement and punitivism feels like yet another move away from trying to solve root issues. And even this focus is being reductively reported.

“Police officer numbers must be a factor, but not the factor. If you look back to the latter years of the noughties, knife crime was high and police numbers were high. Both fell, but now police numbers are low and violence is high again,” says Gavin Hales, an independent researcher and the former deputy director of the Police Foundation think tank. “So in some sense there is no direct correlation between officer numbers and violence”.

I have seen this worrying thing happening: Drill and Grime music being linked with knife-related deaths. Many assume that, because most artists in the genres are black, then they must be responsible for fanning the flames of hate. The music in the genres, too, is aggressive and there must be a correlation. One can also see a link between the way Hip-Hop and Rap are ignored: the feeling they perpetuate messages glamourising knife-crime and incite people to commit murder. I have been listening to Grime for the last fifteen years and Drill music for the last few. From early innovators like Wiley and Dizzee Rascal (Grime) to modern Drill artists like Ioski and SL; these guys are not promoting attacks and crime. Most artists at the forefront of British Grime and Drill are men – this is a problem in itself – but there is nothing to suggest that there is a link between these genres and the rise in deaths on the streets. Venues are suffering and police/the Government are putting pressure on them to respond to the rise in violence. Listen to genres such as Drill and Grime and there are very few messages regarding revenge attacks and violence. In fact, you can listen to any genre of music and there is always going to be an element of physicality and aggression – that is not to say those who listen to Pop and Folk will take that as motivation to attack someone!

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 IN THIS PHOTO: Rap artist Dave has created one of the year’s most important records with PSYCHODRAMA/PHOTO CREDIT: Elliot Kennedy for CRACK

Black music in Britain is more successful than ever and, with great Grime and Drill artists alongside brilliant Rap acts like Little Simz, there is this incredible new wave of talent. A lot of these artists have to hustle for attention and gigs; they have to be self-made and are not afforded the same opportunities as artists in other genres. Consider the decline in venues especially for Grime and Drill and it is clear that there is this sense of prejudice. A lot of gentrification and changes mean so many artists are pushed to the outskirts and struggle to integrate into the mainstream. Why has Drill music risen in popularity and why is it receiving heat in the press? Again, writing for The Independent this time, Ciaran Thapar tells the story:

Instead, drill music in particular comes after years of Conservative austerity. A sense of demonisation felt amongst the working class, predominantly black British young men who leverage the unapologetic genre as a medium of expression has persisted. Compared to grime, drill is the sound of an additional two decades of suppressed anger, normalised territorial violence, claustrophobic housing and exclusionary schooling. And its rapid growth has been enabled via the shareability and democratic hypervisibility of social media”.

A lot of artists, such as Dave (who released the sensational PSYCHODRAMA recently), are talking about black identity and perceptions; the state of the streets and, rather than add to the problem of violence, are actually against it and sending out positive messages.

The thing is, the young men we see in the news who are killing and adding to the shocking knife-crime statistics are not being fed and groomed by Drill, Rap and Grime. The artists are not urging their fans to act in an appalling way and, in fact, the messages coming out condemn violence and ask for rationale, sanity and greater harmony. I know there are a few bad apples who, invariably, will be glamourising a violent culture but they are in the minority. Thapar, writing yesterday, talked about the findings regarding British ‘urban’ music and how there is a prejudice:

This week, a Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) committee report has warned of the prejudicial treatment against black British music. It found that “institutionalised” racism still plagues the “urban” music sector, as “unfounded” concern from police and local councils continues to place pressure on venues to increase security (and therefore costs), or cancel shows altogether, if artists are affiliated with grime and rap. “Prejudices against grime artists risks stifling one of the UK’s most exciting musical exports,” says the new report”.

The decades-old habit of politicians and the police lazily linking genres like Hip-Hop and Rap to a rise in gang violence and street killings is continuing and there is no evidence whatsoever. I have watched the news over the past few days and there have been reports where black Drill artists have been interviewed and talked about the realities of their gigs.

People are there to be part of this community; to witness something thrilling that speaks to them and who they are. They are not right-wing followers who then spill into the street and act out their frustrations. Instead, the rise in knife-related deaths is because of changes in the country and the fact that, more and more, black youngsters are suffering the most. Thapar talked about his experiences at gigs:

And what evidence are they going on? I’ve been to countless concerts by grime and rap artists over the last decade and have seen infinitely less violence and provocation take place than while on nights out in comparatively whiter, more middle-class socialising spots across central and greater London. In 2019, with even fewer staff and resources after years of cuts, combined with an existing legacy of racialised methods such as stop-and-search or the “gang matrix”, police forces are unlikely to use a proportional and measured approach while dealing with venues showcasing music being made by the very same black people they intimidate, criminalise and imprison every single day”.

There are tough sentences for knife-related crimes but no sense of education and rehabilitation. Stop and searches have decreased but, more often than not, black men are being targeted without proof – fuelling a sense of anger and racism. Most knife-related attacks are carried out by men over the age of eighteen and the reason behind the shocking rise is complicated, as I said.

 PHOTO CREDIT: @neonbrand/Unsplash

This article speculates that rising school standards might be responsible: those in certain areas feel frustrated because they are slipping behind and do not have support in their communities. They might feel isolated at school and this anger filters into violence. I feel continued Brexit drama and the fact, the longer the Tories are in power, the less attention and understand there is regarding the young black population in the U.K. There is a link between a certain social standing and poverty of expectation in schools. Rather than blaming genres like Grime and Drill; rather than laying down prison sentences and not actually educating and raising awareness of the problem and alternatives, we are not going to see an end to this cycle. I feel music is actually a good way of bringing together the gangs and boys that are involved in knife-crime. Venues that host Drill and Rap, for instance, are not known for drug and violence issues and, conversely, they are this free and safe space where people can go and connect through their love of the music. Certainly, there have not been reports of flaring trouble and attacks outside Drill gigs so I cannot fathom why authorities are tightening curfews and coming down harsh. Music has the power to bring everyone together and, whether educational and leisurely, so many young men can turn their ways and learn a new way of life through this music.

 PHOTO CREDIT: @josephbalzanodev/Unsplash

One reaction to the rise in knife attacks is to bring music to neighbourhood and schools and give these young men – who feel estranged and ignored – a way of expressing themselves. A lot of these crimes are linked to men who are over school age and struggling to find work and acceptance. The messages and lessons need to happen at school level and those in power need to realise that music from Drill and Grime artists have an important role to play. They understand their audience much more than anyone in any government and they know full well that the problems we are seeing is nothing to do with music. The phenomenon linking Drill and violence is nothing new. Here, in this article from last year, it was suggested that a certain “emotional charge” in the music might urge others to carry out attacks or it might normalise the issue. In another article, the opposite was suggested: things are more complex and one cannot hold to account artists. NOISEY suggested the Government need a scapegoat and they came up with a very clear conclusion:

More than anything the marginalised in society need to stop being ignored; they deserve the opportunity to be seen as more than the group of people at the end of the tracks, away from the city, out of sight and out of mind until it’s too late, as is the case here. Ostensibly, the rise in youth killing isn’t a UK music issue, it’s a UK government issue. Saying otherwise is mad”.

Yeah, I know there have been songs that document knife attacks and domestic violence. Not all Drill, Grime and Rap artists are producing clean and inspiring music that sends out a positive message. There is a big difference between artists discussing it in their songs and compelling others to follow them like clones and brainwashes acolytes. One cannot blame lyrics for moulding these young minds in a negative way. Everyone is responsible for their own actions and there is a lot more positives to be taken from Drill music, for instance, than negatives. If there are cases where violence-promoting Drill songs did result in a gang or person committing a crime then it is not a problem with the genre rather than particular artists. Drill and Rap are hugely popular and one feels that, given the state of the country and how many black men are being ignored, perhaps there is a chance to use the platform for genuine good. I still maintain Drill and Grime cannot directly be linked to crimes but it is clear these artists hold sway and influence. Many have spoken out and say that, when it comes to gigs, they are peaceful and trouble-free. I do think our bodies in power need to look at things beyond Drill when it comes to knife-crime. Say if, like, ten-percent of knife problems were related to the music then it would still be a minority. I think, in most incidents, these young men are frustrated they cannot get work or are struggling at school; they are being judged and feel that they are being signalled out. Many feel they do not have a voice and are being overlooked by the better-offs. In any case, the issue is very complex and I do feel greater action needs to be taken. Blaming Drill, Grim and other genres for a rise in deaths and violent attacks is irresponsible and unfounded and, given the fact many artists in the genres are suffering as a result (of venues being stricter), it is definitely...

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THE wrong way to go about things.

FEATURE: Always Look on the Bright Side of Life: International Day of Happiness: The Playlist

FEATURE:

                                                                                        

Always Look on the Bright Side of Life

PHOTO CREDIT: @seteales/Unsplash 

International Day of Happiness: The Playlist

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IT definitely feels like spring now...

 PHOTO CREDIT: @priscilladupreez/Unsplash

and we are definitely moving into a more positive state of weather! It is nice to see the temperature go up and people feel a bit cheerier. Today is, rather cynically, International Day of Happiness and, whilst I have not noticed people being brighter and in a better mood, it is a good excuse to play some happiness-inspiring music. I think, given all the Brexit crap going on, we are all fed up and need something cheery! Because there is still light in the International Day of Happiness and the weather is a bit overcast, I have assembled a collection of songs that should get the smiles going and the energy levels rising. Have a listen to these tunes and, if you are in need of a boost and extra spritz of joy, then these songs should get you...

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 PHOTO CREDIT: @ramillesoares/Unsplash

IN the mood.

FEATURE: Madonna’s Like a Prayer at Thirty: A Landmark Record That Is a Reminder of a Bolder Time

FEATURE:

 

Madonna’s Like a Prayer at Thirty

IN THIS PHOTO: Madonna appeared in SPIN magazine in April 1989/PHOTO CREDIT: Herb Ritts

A Landmark Record That Is a Reminder of a Bolder Time

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I have already written one article...

 IMAGE CREDIT: Spotify/ALBUM PHOTO: Herb Ritts 

regarding Madonna’s 1989 album, Like a Prayer, turning thirty. I looked, extensively, at the album before and covered the period from 1986 and 1992: when she released True Blue (1986) and followed up Like a Prayer with Erotica (1992). I will not write at such length now but, when reading back on what I had written for that piece, I was struck by the fact that, in many ways, Like a Prayer represented a new height for Pop music: in some ways, the mainstream has softened and would do well to rediscover this album. There were more progressive and daring albums released in 1989 – this was during the golden era of Hip-Hop, let’s not forget! – but look at 2019 and is Pop really as bold and inspiring as it could be? I could say the same about all of music, in fact. I cannot claim to be a Madonna mega-fan – I am probably not part of her key demographic – but I love her aura and the fact that she seems like a relic of a past time. Not in any insulting way, you see: she is almost film star-like in her gravitas and life. Around the time of Like a Prayer, Madonna’s marriage to Sean Penn was in a state of crisis and she was channelling familial issues and domestic stories into her work.

Here was someone who was taking inspiration from around her, good and bad, and making this very challenging and open album. There are those who claims that Like a Prayer has filler in it – one cannot argue Love Song is an essential cut – and records like Ray of Light (1998) and True Blue (1986) are most consistent. There is snobbishness regarding Like a Prayer and the attention it gained. Maybe those who slur it are looking for the same old Madonna: peppy Pop hits that get you dancing. That is the beauty and strength of Like a Prayer. There are fresh and youthful songs like Express Yourself but, as one of the world’s biggest artists, she was not afraid to tackle subjects that were more meaningful. It is because of albums like Madonna’s 1989 gem that artists today are bolder with their material. It is not common to hear about domestic issues and bigger themes like AIDS in modern music but look at how Pop changed from 1989 and the artists that came through. Whether it was greater expression regarding sexuality and personal matters; making albums less commercial and more thought-provoking...a lot of this quality can be traced back to Madonna. Madonna, also, is a star then and now who does not run her words by a publicist or manager. Not to say she was reckless but, if she was as cautious as some artists today, would she have put together material that was much more progressive and challenging than her peers’ work?!

I do think there is far too much caution today and, in this social media age, are the best of the mainstream taking risks and standing out? Look at the images for Like a Prayer, the title song’s video and how Madonna created this piece of art. Musicians today are pushing the album concept and joining together art and music – again, many can trace that debt back to Madonna. Even though Like a Prayer is three-decades-old, I feel like it is still inspiring the Pop scene. In a way, mind, it remains a rare and unique thing. I have talked about artists who take to stage and screen but, aside from Lady Gaga – who has often been compared to Madonna – there are not many multi-disciplinary artists who one can see gracing the screen and cranking out top albums. No names spring to mind and, in an age where everything is so calculated and controlled, does the bigger artists have the same work ethic? Even though there was a three-year between True Blue and Like a Prayer, Madonna was in films, on the stage and hardly resting! That concept of this all-conquering Popstar, I feel, stopped with Madonna. There have been some mighty artists since 1989 but I feel like we do not have icons anymore.

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 IMAGE CREDIT: Peter Seminck

Like a Prayer was part of this narrative: the birth and rise of a star that was conquering music and turning heads wherever she went. Whether you are a fan of the album or not, the sheer excitement and publicity that was out at the time was incredible. I know Madonna, like artists today, has a team behind her and she was not truly solo but, in the way she acted and how she portrayed herself, this was someone trying to stand out and inspire. I mentioned how Madonna helped bring certain subjects into the mainstream and, in 2019; I wonder whether we have stepped back. Although she has inspired countless artists with Like a Prayer, I feel like an anti-Madonna campaign that greeted her in 1989 (the likes of Rolling Stone are responsible) remains still. I hope people listen to the album on its thirtieth tomorrow and discover a very rich and rewarding album. There is a depth and sense of conviction throughout that is missing from so many albums today. Madonna was considered a poor singer by some because she lacked belt and that raw power. As we still celebrate talent show clones and waste our time supporting them, those who appreciate singers with greater subtlety and colour know where Madonna’s strengths lie. Madonna would make bolder albums than Like a Prayer (such as Erotica) and better-reviewed ones (like Ray of Light) but, on 21st March, 1989, she added this bomb to the Pop scene.

In a year that was more synonymous with other genres and breakthroughs, Like a Prayer was this event and extravaganza that confirmed Madonna’s place as the Queen of Pop. Think about the controversial Pepsi ad – she was pulled after the Like a Prayer video received flack – and the fact Madonna was this spokesperson. The documentary, Madonna: Truth or Dare, was not far away and she would soon embark on her Blond Ambition tour – this huge, worldwide sensation that, once more, showed she could never slow down! So many of the artists we see today straddling huge tours, various mediums and what not must consider Madonna a role model. She was so different to anything in music in the 1980s and her impact was clear. I do love the fact that she inspires artists and has been responsible for changing music (in her own way). I do wonder whether, in a rather bittersweet way, Like a Prayer is a happier memory from a different time. Certainly, apart from a few artists in the mainstream, there are few that write genuinely optimistic Pop songs – how many can write songs that have no negativity or anxious undertone?! I do miss the idea of a genuine icon that has these evolutions between albums (and reinvents themselves). It is hard to detect icons and unique artists today. We could clearly see Madonna changing before 1989 and, after the success of Like a Prayer, she would take even bigger steps and become even more extrovert and boundary-pushing.

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 IN THIS PHOTO: Madonna in the controversial Like a Prayer video/PHOTO CREDIT: Mary Lambert

There are Madonna-like artists but nobody who carries the same kind of weight and gravity. Maybe there was greater room for boldness and momentum in 1989. Perhaps it is hard to stand out today and have the same sort of trajectory as Madonna. It is not worth dwelling on any negatives or nostalgic areas when it is clear Like a Prayer influenced generations. Madonna pushing the envelope visually; the concept of music-as-art and the way she used her songs to talk about gender equality, domestic scenes and lesser-covered themes has definitely been carried through the ages. Perhaps the electronic age and the packed music scene mean we can never see another Madonna come through and enjoy this film-like career. Maybe that is not a bad thing. The risks Madonna took and the way the music endures and compels three decades down the line – who knows where music would be were it not for albums like that? Like a Prayer creates discussion when it comes to picking her best album but one cannot refute the importance and place it holds. It is both a sign of a time and culture that has ended but, in so many other ways, it was the dawning of a future: a more valorous style of Pop that went beyond the cliché themes and predictable chart hits. And, even though some overlook and criticise the album, you just know everyone will have their favourites from the album. From the jewel-wearing, jean-grabbing cover; the standout and iconic videos through to the sheer range of sounds and themes throughout, Like a Prayer deserves its place in Pop history. We do not really give iconic albums enough weight and exposure when they celebrate anniversaries but, in the case of records such as Like a Prayer, they definitely deserve...

BIG respect.

FEATURE: Common Sense Against Poor Decisions: Why BBC Radio 3’s Late Junction Cuts and Changes to Its Schedule Will Be a Blow for Musical Diversity

FEATURE:

 

Common Sense Against Poor Decisions

IMAGE CREDIT: @BBCRadio3 

Why BBC Radio 3’s Late Junction Cuts and Changes to Its Schedule Will Be a Blow for Musical Diversity

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THERE are not many corners of the dial...

 PHOTO CREDIT: @christianchen/Unsplash

where we can find genuine diversity regarding music. There are specialist stations where you can find your daily dose of Hip-Hop and Pop but what about sounds that are rarely played on the radio – those that often are seen as fringe or are on the rise? I listen to BBC Radio 6 Music and consider that diverse but, in terms of genres, it is not as broad as it could be. I know it is not likely to play Classical music but when you think of the great Experimental sounds and Jazz emerging right now, are they represented as much as they should? I look at the schedules for a lot of the BBC stations and a lot of the shows feel the same. There is this feeling that, if one wants something away-from-the-obvious then they need to turn into a station like BBC Radio 3. I have been dipping into the station for a while and do find it is bolder when it comes to taking risks and putting on shows you would not hear anywhere else. There have already been cuts – and there are more planned – that could threaten the diversity of BBC Radio 3. This article from The Guardian reacted to the decision to cut their popular show, Late Junction. The BBC are planning on cutting the show from three nights per week to a single two-hour broadcast on Friday evening.

This will happen in the autumn and is part of a bid to make savings on the BBC. It is a case of the current Government putting pressure on the BBC and making these cuts – to formats they deem inessential and needlessly costly. One never assumes those in power know much about modern music and shows like Late Junction: maybe BBC Radio 4 would be more up their street and they would be safe. It seems a shame that the more interesting and ‘niche’ avenues of music are suffering. As the Guardian article explains, there is a great demand for Late Junction; its loss (or slow demise) is going to be a big shame for those who like their music more experimental and left-field:

At the end of February, hundreds of people packed into the artfully dilapidated surroundings of Earth, a former art deco cinema in east London, for the inaugural Late Junction festival. Over two sold-out nights, it showcased exactly the kind of programming that makes BBC Radio 3’s flagship experimental music show great: a stunning set by revived post-punk pioneers This Is Not This Heat; the fractured state-of-the-nation techno of Gazelle Twin; the first ever performance by doom-jazz troupe Pulled By Magnets; and a new project featuring singer Coby Sey and Under the Skin soundtrack composer Mica Levi”.

In a music scene and radio culture that seems to play it safe and is not really willing to throw in too many unusual selections; what was the reasoning for such cuts?

It seems that, ironically, this cut has been made so that BBC Radio 3 can continue to offer rich and interesting shows for those who prefer something a little different. It seems a bit ironic that one of their most popular shows is being given less time on air:

In a statement, Radio 3 controller Alan Davey said that the changes to the schedule had been made “to make sure we continue to offer a rich mix of music and culture to existing and future audiences” – Late Junction’s raison d’être. It has recently broadcast incredible sets from its festival, an innovative, spoken-word documentary on Brixton by dub poet Roger Robinson, a set of Somalian disco, a playlist of music for plantsan in-depth interview with composer Laurie Anderson and a show devoted to bagpipe music from across the globe. The slightly woolly promise of a Late Junction replacement in the form of “a new classical music programme designed for late-night listening” summons up visions of snore-inducing Spotify playlists featuring artists like the tasteful yet bland Nils Frahm.

What makes Late Junction so exciting is its presenters’ love for their selections: the programming is never self-conscious or apologetic for its strangeness, as mainstream culture often is when it confronts the left field. In its eclectic broadcasting, jazz sits alongside throat singing, contemporary classical, odd pop, folk and noise. Crucially, this has a huge impact on the diversity of the show’s programming: artists from around the world aren’t pigeonholed into a “world music” ghetto, but treated with the same seriousness as their western peers”.

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 IN THIS PHOTO: Holly Herndon/PHOTO CREDIT: Ronald Dick for CRACK

There is nothing new regarding the feeling music is not taking risks and there are fewer spots where one can experiment and take leaps. In a related article, a selection of musicians spoke out against modern music and the fact that it is safer than it used to be. Holly Herndon was one such artist interviewed:

When I was in high school, I went to music for ideas and to understand what my identity could be – and I think that’s shifted. I’m not sure music is the place where radical thought is happening any more. I’m interested in the crypto community, people who are interested in radically changing the infrastructure that organises our society. Those kinds of totally out-there ideas and thought processes I don’t really encounter in music quite so much.

Everything is documented and immediately public now, so I don’t feel like people in the underground have the ability to mess up and experiment in the same way they once did, because there’s such scrutiny on people at a really early stage”.

There has been a reaction to Luke Turner’s article regarding Late Junction and the cuts it will experience. Consider how hard it can be for Jazz and Classical artists to get exposure in the mainstream. One hardly hears them on BBC Radio 1, 2 and, even though it is a broad church, BBC Radio 6 Music merely flirts with a lot of experimental sounds.

 IN THIS PHOTO: Nubya Garcia is one of the finest British Jazz musicians of the moment/PHOTO CREDIT: Mahaneela

Where does one turn if they want to hear the latest upcoming Jazz artists or musicians who are travelling in wonderful and weird directions?! Late Junction, in a sad way, seems to be the only real place that all these wonderful sounds can be heard. Not only is BBC Radio 3 cutting back on one beloved show: there are changes coming in that will sacrifice key Jazz shows that are providing this voice to the new generation. There are booms happening and, as a reactionary article from The Guardian shows, there is a revolution happening:

British jazz is experiencing a renaissance. Folk acts are attracting broader audiences. Electronic and experimental music is thriving, and boundaries between genres, media and scenes are being dissolved and swirled into ever more exciting permutations. It is staggering, therefore, that, in the month of its sold-out festival in London, Late Junction is being reduced from three shows a week to one. Jazz Now and Geoffrey Smith’s Jazz are being “rested”. Music Planet, Radio 3’s only dedicated programme exploring music from around the world, is having its running time cut by half. We welcome new show Unclassified, but it has only an hour in the schedules. This is not enough.

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IN THIS PHOTO: Musician and D.J., Carla Dal Forno/PHOTO CREDIT: @BBCRadio3

Our culture benefits so much from these programmes. Music lovers tune in to make new discoveries and build new creative communities. Music makers rely on these shows as lifelines to support and share their music with enthusiastic audiences, nationally and internationally. New works and unexpected collaborations have happened either directly or indirectly due to these shows. This flourishing cultural ecosystem will be damaged, and musicians’ careers profoundly affected, as opportunities for their work to be experienced by the mainstream will be drastically reduced, at home and abroad”.

Given the fact that we may soon be leaving Europe - although this is in the air! - I do wonder whether that will dent the proliferation of influence from the continent. There is not enough Jazz played on a lot of the bigger stations so I do wonder, with these changes and moves, what will happen - whether a lot of the new breed will still get a say and the attention they warrant.

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IN THIS PHOTO: Radiohead’s Ed O’Brien is one of hundreds of names that has a signed a letter protesting cuts and schedules changes at BBC Radio 3/PHOTO CREDIT: Dimitri Hakke/Getty  

It is clear shows like Late Junction and Jazz Now give a home to artists that are normally neglected by other stations. That article I have just quoted is actually an open letter that has gathered more than five-hundred signatures. Many across music and broadcasting have added their names to this plea; the need to get BBC Radio 3 to rethink their decisions and keep one of its finest shows as it is (is) urgent. I have heard Late Junction a few times and can attest to its broadness and quality. I hear a few radio stations that are embracing the new wave of cross-pollination and growth of genres like Jazz and Folk. These genres are splicing together and widening: they are no longer as we imagine and it is time for reappropriation! What is the impact of limiting exposure for shows that offer a platform for those who provide us with something genuinely more interesting than what is commonly sold? If we ration shows and stations then, like venues closing, it means artists will struggle to get their voices heard. Unless another big BBC radio station takes on the show or creates an equivalent, what is going to happen? I understand there are equivalents to be heard – Stuart Maconie’s Freak Zone is fairly similar – but there is this great love for Late Junction.  The BBC kept BBC Radio 6 Music open when it was threatened with closure back in 2010; one hops that there will be hope Late Junction can remain where it is and not be limited to one weekly slot.

I am worried there is not the sort of variation and boldness on the radio as we need. I know it will be difficult acclimatising everyone to a bit of change but why should we rely on single shows to offer this area for creativity, experimentation and brash expression? I love a lot of the British Jazz coming through and wonder were it not for stations like BBC Radio 3 (and 4, perhaps) whether I would hear it. There is so much out there in terms of choice and sounds and this is not being reflected across radio. Some find the sort of music played on Late Junction a bit dark and stark and not what you’d want to hear during the morning commute. I can appreciate there are some who want something a bit brighter and accessible but, if we integrate carefully and slowly, before long, people will become sued to it and we will not notice the difference – like getting a reluctant child to eat their vegetables; not realising that it is actually good for them. So many young artists are knocking down doors and trying to get their music heard. It is tough if you are producing something not immediately commercial. The underground is an area where we can discover truthful, astonishing and different sounds and, for the most part, artists here struggle harder than those who are delivering music that is less challenging and provocative.

Social media and the Internet allow artists the platform to sell and spread their music but radio is a hugely powerful medium. Often, social media can be a bit restrictive - and people are unwilling to share tunes they like. I have listened to stations and, without warning, been introduced to this great artist that slipped my attention. They might have been grafting on the Internet but, in the tide and sea of other artists, not been able to penetrate everyone’s view. Radio allows music the chance to get by retweets and shares; to instantly hit the masses and deliver that instant punch. So many underground and experimental artists are grafting hard and not getting their dues in the mainstream.

Radio stations are reluctant to play something that is not, in their view, popular and marketable and that is creating a real sense of dread and anxiety. Shows like Late Junction offer a certain sanctuary and golden platform where we can witness the most daring and colourful sounds around. Let us hope BBC Radio 3 reverse their decision to limit Late Junction and the Government do not put too much pressure on them. It would be a real shame to see the move happen and I do wonder how this will affect the popularity and prosperity of underground/experimental music. If one lesson comes out of this controversy then it should be that radio stations need to rethink their approach and accept the fact there are so many great Jazz, Folk; Experimental and underground artists who are creating brilliant and music – a lot of us do not get to hear it. Against the bad decision that has been made and will impact Late Junction (and its listenership) I do hope that BBC Radio 3 listens to the protest – and the open letter that has just been published – and adopts some form of...

COMMON sense.

FEATURE: The Immaculate Conception: Madonna’s Like a Prayer at Thirty

FEATURE:

 

The Immaculate Conception

IMAGE CREDIT: Spotify/ALBUM PHOTO: Herb Ritts 

Madonna’s Like a Prayer at Thirty

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I have a fond admiration...

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 IN THIS PHOTO: Madonna, in her Portugal home, posing for a selfie on 22nd February, 2019/PHOTO CREDIT: @Madonna

for legendary and decades-lasting artists who are keen to look back at their best work and are not stuck in the present. There is nothing wrong with looking ahead and only wanting to concentrate on that but I love when artists can mark album anniversaries and get a bit nostalgic! There is no danger when it comes to Madonna: someone who is often caught in the hot breeze of reminiscence and willingly celebrates her big achievements. This year sees two more Madonna albums celebrate important anniversaries. Like a Virgin (it turns thirty-five on 12th November) and Bedtime Stories (turning twenty-five on 25th October) give music lovers a reason to cheer later in the year. Whenever an exciting Madonna-related event pops up, the Queen of Pop herself is there to get on social media and ask her followers where they were at the time. I guess a lot of her fans are young and do not remember the first bloom of her success. It seems that there is still a massive love of her older work.

Mötley Crüe have just, for some reason, covered Madonna’s Like a Virgin – one can only imagine what their motivation is! It is a track from the soundtrack from their upcoming biopic, The Dirt. For those who prefer her 1998 album, Ray of Light, another title-track has been captured - this time by the band, POND. It is great that artists, so long after album releases, are still vibing to Madonna and keen to have their say. I am wandering off the path of focus here and, as Madonna has a new video is in-the-works featuring drag queens (not an acoustic ballad, one suspects!), there is a lot of action in her camp. Included in her plans is an appearance in this year’s Eurovision but, as some are reporting, it might not yet happen:

 “Madonna’s participation in the Eurovision Song Contest is currently unclear, after production officials reviewed the songs the singer was preparing to perform and found one of them to be inappropriate for the audience and expected atmosphere of the competition, according to Ynet.

A new replacement song has not yet surfaced, and it is unclear if it will.

A number of sources located within the Eurovision contest itself expressed their dismay with the intended performance of the song, while others said that artistic freedom should be respected and to leave the choice to Madonna herself. The acting director-general of the public broadcasting corporation is in favor of the latter and directed production not to interfere with her artistic expression.

Meanwhile, Israeli media unofficially reported that Madonna filmed a political advertisement that would “lead to controversy.” It is unclear if this is in any relation to the controversial song choice
”.

IMAGE CREDIT: Spotify/ALBUM PHOTO: Herb Ritts 

It is a very big year for Madonna because she has new material coming. The album she is working on, Magic (not confirmed but looks like it will be), is taking shape and Madonna keeps dropping teasers and clues as to what the album will contain and when it will come. But, in 2019, we also get to mark three huge albums celebrating important anniversaries. The heftiest of them all happens on Thursday: Like a Prayer turns thirty. I will concentrate on the album itself very soon but, before that, it is worth looking at the period before 1989. It is fair to say that Madonna revolutionised and transformed Pop through the 1980s. When her eponymous debut arrived in 1983, she was not at her very best but definitely showing true promise and something different. Like a Virgin (1984) was a quick follow-up and, again, an album packed with danceable tunes and Pop flair. There were signs that she was becoming bolder as a songwriter and not just writing about usual subjects: matters of the heart, the perils and unpredictability of relationships and, at times, the need to get everyone together in celebration. Her first big leap occurred in 1986 when she released her third studio album, True Blue. In some ways, it is an album from her early-career that people forget. Not because it is bad – it is far from that! – but, if you had to name five Madonna albums, it is one people forget. True Blue marked a new phase in Madonna’s career. She has ascended from this rising Pop artist to someone who, whilst not quite queen of the scene, was making moves towards the throne!

If the first couple of years’ work was synonymous with these big and bold Pop tunes, True Blue was Madonna mixing loftier themes into her work. The album was released on 30th June, 1986 and co-written and co-produced alongside Stephen Bray and Patrick Leonard (there were a few other writers in the mix as well) – the trio would also work together on Like a Prayer. The young Madonna was blossoming as a songwriter and showing many of her peers – who had teams writing their songs and were essentially cogs in a machine – that she was a cut above. Although a lot of True Blue looks at love’s spectrum - visions of relationships and the highs and lows – there is a definite edge that runs throughout. The title cut is about her then-husband Sean Penn and it is great hearing a very revitalised, positive and happily-in-love Madonna writing these paens to a healthy and life-affirming bond.

 IN THIS PHOTO: On 20th September, 1986 Madonna attended the Second Annual ‘Commitment to Life’ Gala to Benefit AIDS Project Los Angeles at the Wiltern Theatre in Los Angeles, California./PHOTO CREDIT: Ron Galella/WireImage

There was this definite aspect of Madonna trying to engage with an older audience. Classical elements came into True Blue and, on Papa Don’t Preach, there is this distillation of proactive and rare themes, a more mature and less predictable sound and the Pop-queen-in-waiting taking a leap. Papa Don’t Preach, the standout from the album, is indication of where Madonna was heading to on Like a Prayer. Tackling teen pregnancy, pro-choice and dealing with reactions from her family and boyfriend, it was like nothing else in music. The album cover of True Blue also reflected an artist who was growing in maturity - and did not want to be just as another young and bright-eyed Popstar.

Madonna was producing more ambitious music and, at the same time, becoming this fashion icon. She was always a pioneer but, with every album, a new look would come in. Look at the video for Papa Don’t Preach and there is this more Punk-like, short-haired star that was very different to the Madonna who greeted us earlier in her career – more bangles, longer hair and a traditional 1980s look. If Madonna and Like a Virgin flirted with weightier themes and taking on important issues, True Blue was a definite seduction. Maybe La Isla Bonita’s characterisation of certain races and people would not be considered P.C. today but Madonna was adding new sounds and ideas into the modern Pop scene. Open Your Heart’s video is like a peep show and voyeuristic look that portrays Madonna as a stripper. Madonna was experimenting more with sexuality and freedom; it retained a sweet and naïve vibe due to the fact that outside of the strip joint was a young boy waiting for Madonna. It is clear that, since her 1983 debut, Madonna had grown and was becoming more daring with her subject matter and image. All of the signs were there regarding Like a Prayer’s look and sound. Madonna was working non-stop and, when one project ended, she would embark on another one. She launched into the Who’s That Girl tour in 1987: a thirty-seven-date event to promote the film and soundtrack of the same name.

Madonna was no stranger to acting – having appeared in Desperately Seeking Susan in 1985 – and, whilst Who’s That Girl (film) would receive mixed reviews in 1987, her real big flop would occur when Shanghai Surprise reached cinemas. Featuring the then-newlyweds of Sean Penn and Madonna, the 1986-released film looked like it was cinematic gold. Combining huge names on the poster and a plot that had promise – Penn played Glendon Wasey, a sleazy conman struggling to sell glow-in-the-dark neck-ties in Shanghai; Madonna a missionary nurse (Gloria Tatlock) who wants to procure supplies of opium to ease the suffering of her patients; the two unite on a quest to obtain these supplies – it was panned by critics and was a commercial bomb. Most of the criticism came, one suspects, from people wanting to tear Madonna down: at that time she was the biggest artist on the planet and this was a way of kicking her a bit. The slew of bad reviews did not deter her ambitions and visions. If anything, film roles and more prolific touring allowed Madonna the chance to play with personas and naturally inhabit these characters. Within the space of six years, this bubbly and bright new Pop artist had risen through the ranks; performed in several films and brought her music around the world. True Blue went on to sell over twenty-five million copies and, before Like a Prayer was released on 21st March, 1989, Madonna was becoming this global icon.

 IN THIS PHOTO: Madonna, Joe Mantegna and Ron Silver on stage performing in Speed-the-Plow in 1988/PHOTO CREDIT: Brigitte Lacombe

Whilst many artists struggle to manage all their touring and recording demands, Madonna was capable of balancing album duties and her acting desires. She wanted to be a big star on and off of the screen and she was even stepping into theatre. In 1988, she appeared in David Mamet’s Speed-the-Plow and, whilst there were some negative reviews, there was some praise for her performance. It was this break-neck and restless work ethic that amazed people when Like a Prayer arrived – how could someone who was appearing in films and on the stage (not to mention touring the world…) manage to create an album, no less one that redefined Pop as we know it?! True Blue is marked by a sense of happiness and contentment with this new love, Sean Penn. However, by the time Like a Prayer hit shelves, the couple’s divorce was almost finalised – the signatures would be dry by the end of September 1989. Every album saw a Madonna revolution and Like a Prayer was no different. True Blue was this big leap that was unafraid to go off the traditional Pop map regarding its subjects and sounds: Like a Prayer augmented that and, from the cover alone, one could tell Madonna meant business. Together with Herb Ritts – who also was the photographer for True Blue – we had a cover that was fully colour (rare for Madonna) and, whilst it did not feature Madonna’s face (that was a first), it was a lot more striking and artistic than anything she has released.

 IN THIS PHOTO: Madonna pretty looking chic in a 1989 shoot/PHOTO CREDIT: Herb Ritts

Some have compared the album’s cover to Bruce Springsteen’s Born in the U.S.A. – he is wearing denim jeans on the cover but is facing the wrong way round; one hand in his back pocket with a pink/red rag hanging out. That cover was sort of Springsteen as this grafter and rebellious figure. Madonna’s denim-sporting cover was a more mystical, culture-fusing and less sexual thing. Some also feel that Like a Prayer is similar in tone to The Rolling Stones’ Sticky Fingers. That cover is overtly sexual – as the album title suggests – whereas Madonna sports Eastern jewellery and has playfulness to it. When the album came out, she infused it with patchouli oil so that it has this scent of exoticness, eroticism and the peaceful. Let’s pan back a bit and look at Madonna in Speed-the-Plow. She turned thirty during its run and was thinking about her time of life. As Caroline Sullivan discussed in her excellent book, Madonna: Album by Album, other big artists born in 1958 were changing their musical dynamic when they hit/were approaching thirty. Prince experimented with spirituality on Lovesexy (and lost sales) in 1988 whilst Michael Jackson was rallying against injustice and the plight of the world – this would surface on his 1991 album, Dangerous. All three artists (including Madonna) were born relatively close to each other in the Midwest of America and it is interesting seeing these artists transform and evolve by the summer of 1988.

Given the dislocation of her marriage and other problems, Madonna’s Like a Prayer was her most introspective and personal album to date. Songs on the album dealt with her mother’s early death (Promise to Try); her reaction to her father as he dealt with his wife’s death (Oh Father) and the importance of family (Keep It Together). It is hard to say whether the impending divorce from Penn or their decision to have children – the idea was mooted for 1989 but fraught and confrontational issues at home added more nails to the coffin – was the biggest factor when it came to songs about family. It is clear Madonna was moving away from the throes of love and youth and more concerned with something deeper and more important. She addressed AIDS on Pray for Spanish Eyes (on some editions of the album it is just called Spanish Eyes) and domestic abuse on Till Death Do Us Part. Working alongside Stephen Bray and Patrick Leonard, Madonna engrossed herself in work and wrote a lot of the album’s biggest songs over a productive two-week period. Madonna would turn up in the studio with a notebook and, as Patrick Bray told Chris Heath of Smash Hits, she wrote in a stream-of-mood; taking a few hours for song fragments and impressions to turn into fully-formed lyrics. She was still learning but exerting more influence and control over the songwriting. In an age where, today, a lot of artists are too safe and rely on teams to dress and direct them, write their songs and keep them focused…Madonna was not going to write an album that was too safe and commercial.

Like a Prayer was a different beast to anything Madonna has ever produced. She was placing the importance of experimentation and texture over mere beats and easy tunes. Aside from personal circumstances and growing older…the biggest change in Madonna’s music from her True Blue period was the tone. On the album, there is far less of the anthemic and sing-along songs that defined her reputation. If anyone was looking for an album packed with Holiday, Like a Virgin and Borderline-like merriment, they would be in for a disappointment. If anything, Like a Prayer was a much more varied and broad album that anything in Pop at the time. If one was looking for a jam then they had the title-track: God being symbolised as a lover saving Madonna; the icon at her most overt, challenging and bold. Cherish is a simpler song but one that, against her relationship problems, was about embracing love and its wonders. Express Yourself is a thrilling and hugely-catchy song that reminds me of her Madonna/Like a Virgin oeuvre. Every one of Like a Prayer’s eleven tracks has weight - and there is such a huge range of themes and sounds throughout. Madonna continued her sonic endeavour and was mixing more into the pot. The album would receive huge reviews but, almost before things began, momentum was almost derailed. Madonna signed a five-million-dollar deal with Pepsi to promote them…

She was intrigued by this project that mixed commercialism with something more challenging – not merely an artist cashing it in to promote their latest project. Pepsi won the right to broadcast Like a Prayer’s title offering before anyone else and they would also sponsor her tour. The single was due for release on 7th March but the public got an early taste five days previous. The advert was a celebration of inclusiveness and, with Joe Pytka directing (he also helmed Michael Jackson’s Pepsi adverts), it all looked safe on paper. The advert was promoted heavily and almost hyped as this worldwide event! The advert aired during America’s top-rated sitcom, The Cosby Show, and saw two-hundred-and-fifty million people across forty nations tune in. The commercial soon took on a sour tinge when the video for Like a Prayer received backlash from various corners. Most of the antagonism came from churches and religious bodies who felt the image of burning crosses was blasphemous and in support of groups like the Ku Klux Klan.

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IN THIS PHOTO: On 21st September, 1989 Madonna was featured on the cover of Rolling Stone magazine for the second time that year (she was also featured in March)/PHOTO CREDIT: Herb Ritts

The sight of Madonna kissing a black man in the video was seen as controversial and many were uncomfortable with what she was putting out. This reaction caused Pepsi to pull their deal and, whilst they had no idea what the video was like and how it would be perceived, they bore the brunt of the negativity – many complaining to them rather than MTV (who aired the video and knew what it contained). The furore and fallout from the Pepsi/Like a Prayer debacle could have backfired regarding the album’s perception and success. The fact that the video for Like a Prayer threatened to overshadow Madonna’s album of the same name is remarkable. As this article from 2016 shows, the video got a lot of attention - not the kind of focus that it should have received:

As one might expect, the “Like a Prayer” video was talked about incessantly upon its release, which was great in terms of inspiring record sales, but it also led to the cancellation of the contract that Madonna had recently signed with Pepsi to use the song in a commercial. More impressively, the Vatican actually took time to condemn the video.

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IN THIS PHOTO: Madonna entrapped in the epic Like a Prayer video/PHOTO CREDIT: Mary Lambert

“I knew that we were pushing some big buttons, but I sort of underestimated the influence and bigotry of fundamentalist religion and racism in this country and the world,” director Mary Lambert told Rolling Stone. “I always think that, if my work is successful, it goes beyond my intentions and in this case it definitely did. The most important thing was to force people to reimagine their visual references and really root out their prejudices. Using burning crosses to reference racism to religion. Why not a Black Jesus? Why can't you imagine kissing him? I wanted to speak about ecstasy and to show the relationship between sexual and religious ecstasy. I think that subconsciously a lot of people understood this and were either enthralled or outraged by it”.

A few reviews felt that the material lacked conviction and was a tad pretentious. To be fair, there were moments of pretention (if you consider she was this boy toy-like figure before Like a Prayer) but Madonna’s delivery and songs were at peak levels of emotion and conviction! Madonna never faked a moment and to call her anything other than true and authentic was an insult. Other critics (rightly) lauded the material as being brave and ambitious: against a Pop scene that was changing in 1989, Madonna was confirming her place as its leader and spiritual guide.

If Madonna’s range was not huge and as impactful as singers like Mariah Carey and Whitney Houston, it was a lot deeper and stronger than it was at the start of her career. Madonna has always been an underrated singer and Like a Prayer is a perfect demonstration of how expressive and rich her voice is. We live in a time when T.V. reality shows promote and celebrate singers who can belt out a tune with power but very little appeal and nuance. Madonna is an artist who has always stunned with her conviction and natural abilities. Six singles were taken from Like a Prayer and, apart from Oh Father (which was the first single not to crack the top-twenty since Holiday), she kept having hit after hit. It seemed that before one hit could die and fade, another was released and creating a storm! In fact, Express Yourself went to number-two and it was helped by its Metropolis-inspired video: based on the Fritz Lang film, the huge-budget video featured Madonna playing the boss of enslaved young men; she then becomes a slave - lots of futuristic scenes and gorgeous looks. It rightfully won three MTV Awards and remains one of her most striking promotional videos ever.

 IN THIS PHOTO: Madonna praying in a fantastic-looking shot/pose from 1989/PHOTO CREDIT: Eric Kroll

Perhaps the only song on Like a Prayer that seemed expendable was/is Love Song. It is one of two songs featuring Prince (his backwards-guitar would feature on the charming, funny and interesting Act of Contrition) but it was not a great showing. There is steaminess and some French vocals; two massive stars on the same song but, when all is said and done, neither added anything great! The fact Love Song is third in the tracklist – behind the massive Like a Prayer and Express Yourself – showed Madonna held hopes it would be a big hit. Most reviews are tepid regarding the song and, whilst it is interesting, it is not Madonna’s best moment. Against minor controversies and missteps, Madonna was ending the 1980s on a huge high. Enormous reviews (as I shall mention soon) gave her confidence and kudos and publications frequently included her in the best-artists-in-the-world lists. Madonna completed the 1980s with a fifty-seven-date world tour (Blond Ambition) and she was the biggest star in the world.

Madonna, on Like a Prayer, was shaping how music videos and Pop music should be; how the 1980s should have been away from the slightly cheesy and kitsch offerings. From 1989 onward, magazines and critics ranked Like a Prayer as one of the most important and influential albums ever – not just of the 1980s. The transformation from Madonna the Pop contender to the uncontested Queen of Pop was complete. She was opening discussions regarding religion and tackling subjects like domestic abuse and AIDS in a very inspiring, open and personal way. It was a turning point where Madonna was being taken much more seriously. One feels her incredible work ethic contributed to a stronger and more assured album. I still struggle to get my head around the fact that Madonna was appearing in various productions whilst still able to produce one of the best albums of the 1980s. Many critics were also stunned when they realised that, not long after she was being reviewed in a film, people were turning their attentions to a fresh album.

Like a Prayer, in many ways, was Madonna blossoming into womanhood. Her fans were willing to follow and she was not shedding them off: the same girls who fell for her in 1983 were with her but Madonna was picking up new acolytes. Like a Prayer was a pioneering album and one of the first Pop records to tackle sexuality, religion and gender independence. One can look at the biggest Pop albums from the past few decades and you can hear Madonna’s influence and see her fingerprints – although none have been as transformative and groundbreaking. The risks Madonna took in 1989 inspired bold albums from the likes of Beyoncé and Lady Gaga in the 2000s. Although Pop has changed a lot since 1989, one can still feel the tremors of Like a Prayer. Contemporary reviews were very positive but Like a Prayer has won its fair share of love since. Pitchfork, when assessing the album in 2015, said this:

 “So maybe Madonna’s protests that Like a Prayer wasn’t autobiographical were a bit of a ruse—or just another way to keep the minds of America’s pop-watchers thinking about her music as she gave them an album where she was less afraid to show her flaws, more willing to try on new personas that had bits of her selves attached. After all, as she told The New York Times in 1989, “What I do is total commercialism, but it’s also art.” Like a Prayer straddles those two ideals with gusto, with even its less satisfying moments adding to the heat given off by the MTV era’s brightest star”.

This is how Blender perceived Like a Prayer in 1989:

Her divorce album,” says producer Pat Leonard, with the post–Sean Penn fallout most evident on the anguished “Till Death Do Us Part” (“You’re not in love with me anymore”). From the ethereal-metal guitar and globe-shaking drum boom of the title track’s intro onward, Like a Prayer is Madonna’s most touching, least strident record. “Dear Jessie” does “Strawberry Fields Forever”; “Express Yourself” is a mood-elevating pop thrill; and the lavishly orchestrated, dad-baiting “Oh Father” brings mist to the eye. Madonna’s ex-boyfriend Prince turns up on “Love Song,” presumably to piss off Penn”.

One cannot assess the impact and place of Like a Prayer without considering the before and after. We have already looked at True Blue and the transition from 1986-1989 but, between 1989 and 1992, Madonna stepped up and evolved once more. The soundtrack, I’m Breathless (from the film, Dick Tracy, which came out in June 1990) was another foray into film - and one better-received than some of her earlier efforts. The standout track from that album, Vogue, was Madonna promoting gay culture and creating an iconic video. Employing some House elements, Madonna was reacting to the changes in music during the early-1990s. There was this rise in House music and European innovators transforming the landscape.

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The 1991 documentary, Truth or Dare, was a revealing look at Madonna’s life: the superstar we all knew and the person away from the spotlight. There were darker and difficult moments – her arguing and clashing with her Dick Tracy co-star Warren Beatty among them – but it was a well-received and illuminating look at the world’s biggest music star (I omitted to mention Madonna appeared in the 1989 film, Bloodhounds of Broadway. It was another performance that garnered mixed reviews but further proof she was a work-machine!). The success of singles such as Vogue and Justify My Love (a non-album track; it was included in her greatest-hits collection, The Immaculate Collection, in 1990) indicated how she was transitioning from Like a Prayer to Erotica.

IMAGE CREDIT: Spotify/ALBUM PHOTO: Stephen Meisel  

The album arrived on 20th October, 1992 and, one day later, her Sex book hit the shelves.Vogue sold six-million copies and put gay ‘ball’ culture in the spotlight; Justify My Love sold one-million - and there was no stopping Madonna’s momentum! Erotica marked one of the most divisive periods of her career. Unmarried and entering a different phase of her life, the shift from the more spiritual and introspective Madonna to the bolder and more sexual artist was complete. People loved Justify My Love and it was felt that more of the same (in the form of Erotica) would be a big success. Even though Erotica sold six-million copies – compared to fifteen-million of Like a Prayer – it was seen as a comparative disappointment. It was clear Madonna was pushing the envelope and not willing to repeat what had come before.

She wanted something grittier and tougher than the cleaner and more polished Like a Prayer. She was no longer working with Patrick Leonard and Stephen Bray. Instead, writers like Shep Pettibone were brought in to give her work more oomph, House influences and something sexier. Madonna wanted something tougher for the 1990s and turned in her most club-friendly record since her debut (in 1983). If Madonna was entering a new stage and following her instincts - perhaps the public were unprepared for the sex-heavy nature of her work. The video for Erotica certainty turned heads: risqué and sensual, its myriad eye-opening images and visions might have enticed some viewers…but some critics were not impressed. To Madonna (Erotica) was about everyone being able to express their sexuality with freedom and without judgement. She was not trying to corrupt America or lead people astray: instead, her aim was to create these brilliantly expressive and evocative tracks that opened up conversation and inspired the people. If some of the songs sound impersonal - Rain and Bad Girl could have been released by any other artist of the day one feels - the songs get into the head and stay with you.

This blend of softcore porn and artistic expression was another evolution from Madonna but some felt Erotica was a cold and controversial album that contained little in the way of warmth or anything sexy. The Sex book featured images slightly tame by today’s standards but, at the time, Madonna was ruffling feathers and seeing her sales drop. In retrospect, Erotica inspired Pop stars during the 1990s and 2000s. It welcomed in a bolder and more sexually-expressive sound that has been cited by some huge artists. The reviews were not all bad but they were not as glittering as (for) Like a Prayer in 1989. I love Erotica and there are some fantastic songs on the album – including Erotica and Rain – but it was clear, after the attention from the groundbreaking Like a Prayer, Madonna wanted to take her music in new directions and conquer the world. It would take until 1998’s Ray of Light to get Madonna back in the critics’ good books (she received acclaim but nothing as heady as Like a Prayer or Ray of Light) but one can see this fantastic Pop artist exploring and evolving by 1992. I keep using the word ‘evolving’ but it is rare to see an artist change so frequently and boldly! Madonna would face new challengers and Pop-queens-in-waiting during the 1990s but her constant sense of movement and confidence kept her ahead of her peers.

 IN THIS PHOTO: Madonna, looking seductive, only has eyes for Steven Meisel during a Vanity Fair photoshoot in October 1992

Nothing, to me, in the Madonna cannon is as important and iconic as Like a Prayer – even though I feel Ray of Light is her defining album –, and it is an album that, even now, is still being played and celebrated. Musicians have taken it to heart and, whilst we can definitely thank Madonna for opening up discussions regarding religion, darker themes and uncommercial avenues, I do not think an album as bold and brave has been created. It is strange that, in a way, Madonna created this benchmark that has not been equalled. The Queen of Pop is still going strong and is preparing to release her fourteenth studio album, Magic (as I said, it is not 100% confirmed but looks likely), very soon. I believe a new music video is being shot and Madonna has posted photos of her posing with Pharrell and Snoop Dogg; singing with female vocal groups and hinting at a record that will be a mixture of textures, cultures and genres.

IN THIS PHOTO: Madonna gives Pharrell Williams a cheeky little touch as an always-cool Snoop Dogg smokes a cigar in a photo posted by Madonna to her Twitter account on 27th February, 2019. She captioned the photo with the words “With The Godfather and his Consigliere”, perhaps signalling that they might appear on her fourteenth studio album, Magic/PHOTO CREDIT: @Madonna

She is now sixty but is not keen to rest and compromise. Madonna is active on social media and not someone who is stuck in the present: she commemorates big anniversaries and is happy her music is still inspiring and reaching new people. She is posting new tweets every day and it is great seeing this iconic artist engaging so wholly and personally with her fans, whether that means posting photos of her children or keeping people in the loop regarding music. Maybe her insane work rate has declined slightly (lest it kill her) but Madonna is definitely not looking to retire: she loves what she does and, as a Pop innovator, excited to fuse sounds and different cultures. I do hope there are many more years of Madonna albums because one thing she cannot be accused of is being boring! Even now, she is still more brash and organic than most of the music world - one would forgive her if she became a little more settled and cosy but, sh*t, this is Madonna, bitch! We look forward to fresh material and her next chapter but, thirty years on from the biblical sermon that is Like a Prayer, it is worth taking a moment and recognising this incredibly inspiring, popular and milestone album.

Everyone will have their favourite tracks from the record (mine is Express Yourself) but, if you are new or familiar, spin the album in full. 1986’s True Blue hinted at this artist who would become a Pop queen but Like a Prayer confirmed her place and moved the music world. Why was Like a Prayer so important and why does it remain so in 2019?! In this Huffington Post article from 2017, some interesting theories are explored:

 “A Rolling Stone review by J.D. Considine from April of 1989 correctly noted that Like a Prayer was “as close to art as pop music gets.” The album touched on topics such as childhood innocence, childhood loss, child abuse, spousal abuse, women’s rights, and spirituality. It mixed all of these themes together to not only make the listener think and dance, but ask questions as well — some of which were risky to ask in 1989. Like a Prayer proved that an artist can mix style and substance in order to break societal and musical barriers. 28 years later, many pop artists, including Madonna herself, are trying to hit all the correct spots Like a Prayer hit, but they just don’t have the same effect”.

It is a titanic and hugely important album that cannot be ignored. As the A.V. Club explain in this 2014 feature, Like a Prayer was a pivotal moment for both Madonna and Pop music as a whole:

“Like A Prayer was Madonna’s first truly substantial record, the dividing line between her chirpy club-kid days and the mature sounds and themes that increasingly marked her ’90s work. The album’s sustained run at No. 1 buoyed her self-assurance and bravery, and validated that people were willing to follow her even as she transitioned into adulthood. And even today, Like A Prayer remains provocative and progressive: The racial tension alluded to in the “Like A Prayer” video is striking, while the album’s themes of religious and sexual oppression still feel all too relevant. Madonna dictated pop’s future direction while also being firmly in control of her own fortunes”.

There are articles dedicated to how Madonna has changed the world; how Like a Prayer had these unique edges and was a definite progression from the superstar. A lot of Pop from the 1980s and 1990s can date and sound a bit tired when played today. Listen to any Madonna record and that is never the case: Like a Prayer is, perhaps, the album that gives us the most through time and changed music the most. Critics noted how Like a Prayer was as close to art as an album could get.

 IN THIS PHOTO: An alluring and pensive Madonna captured in 1989/PHOTO CREDIT: Herb Ritts

From the huge and moving videos to the album cover and Madonna the fashion icon inspiring legions, this was a music leader laying down an incredible testimony that was far deeper and more important than anything coming from Pop in 1989 - aside from a few other bold artists (like Kate Bush), the year was more defined by other genres and revelations, including a couple of Hip-Hop classics. Many media sources will overlook Like a Prayer or merely nod to it in musical form. One suspects the title offering will be played a lot but what of the lesser-exposed songs such as Promise to Try and Pray for Spanish Eyes?! If the album’s creator was looking deeply at her life at the age of thirty and seeking to make changes, I hope the thirty-year-old masterpiece that came from Madonna creates a similar effect regarding the music scene today. We do it a proper nod of respect and there are so many songs on the album that get overlooked. Till Death Do Us Part mixes something more serious with a spirited and driving composition; Promise to Try’s elegance captures your heart and mind whilst there is a certain audaciousness placing the candid and intoxicating right next to the stately and emotional Oh Father! Really, Like a Prayer is an album so packed, eclectic and nuance that, even now, I am shifting my top-five-songs-on-the-album list!

IN THIS PHOTO: A bubbly Madonna is photoed by Alberto Tolot in 1989

There are numerous why Madonna inspires and guides the scene today but, as Barbara Ellen wrote in The Guardian when celebrating Madonna’s sixtieth birthday last year, she instinctively knows how to write an amazing song!

In truth, popular culture still reeks of Madonna’s influence for a good reason: she’s earned it. Far from being a shallow shape-shifter, she always knew her way around a pop classic (her oeuvre is full of them), and developed a flair for choosing talented collaborators to keep her music fresh. Moreover, back when she could have played it safe, Madonna called herself an artist and acted like one, tirelessly reinventing herself. From plonking a black saint in the Like a Prayer video to putting out a book called Sex, at the peak of her fame, just about everything Madonna did alienated middle America, because she wanted to define the zeitgeist, not merely reflect it”.

It is evident Pop is strong but nowhere near as strong and compelling as it could and should be. Let’s raise a glass to Madonna (I am sure she will be doing likewise at her home in Portugal!) and, if you have it on vinyl or loaded on Spotify, play the record from its start to finish. The sheer range of moods, subjects and experiences seems like Madonna laying her heart, soul and bones on the table for all to see.

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IN THIS PHOTO: The Queen of Pop cryptically posted this image on Twitter on 18th March, 2019 with a message regarding “A taste of things to come”, perhaps signalling new material was afoot/PHOTO CREDIT: @Madonna

It is the nakedness and revelation from her that makes the whole experience so breathtaking. Like a Prayer is a rare musical gift that keeps on uncovering new revelation and surprises. I do hope that journalists make an effort to mark thirty years of Like a Prayer because it is a seismic album and one that changed the foundations of music. Even in 2019, you get the feeling Madonna can shake Pop to its core and deliver something truly staggering. This is an artist who is always moving forward and not willing to follow the herd. In a year where music, I feel, is becoming so closed-off and lacking in optimism, there is plenty on Like a Prayer that can get us in a better mood! This enormous album rose to the top of the Billboard 200 within a few weeks and kept that position for six consecutive weeks - making it her longest-running number-one album. The album spent a total of seventy-seven weeks on the charts and laid down this incredible marker for musicians of the 1990s. Pop artists have been learning from Like a Prayer ever since its release; whether that be tackling controversial themes or showing an incredible, eclectic spirit. Its influence and impact is almost impossible to quantify but I am sure various websites will try and calculate that over the next couple of days. Like a Prayer, as I said, sounds as fresh and exciting today as it did on 21st March, 1989. It is an album that, thirty years after its birth, remains daring, human; passionate, unique and, above everything else, a Madonna who was unafraid to...

EXPRESS herself.

FEATURE: It’s Time to Get Animated! As The Simpsons Nears Thirty: The Music Inside the Humour

FEATURE:

 

It’s Time to Get Animated!

IN THIS PHOTO: U.S. Pop artist Katy Perry (with Mr. Burns) appeared on an episode of The Simpsons, The Fight Before Christmas, in 2010/PHOTO CREDIT: Nicole Wilder/FOX

As The Simpsons Nears Thirty: The Music Inside the Humour

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ONE can hardly believe that any T.V. show...

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 IN THIS PHOTO: Lady Gaga (she appeared in the episode, Lisa Goes Gaga, in the show’s twenty-third season)/PHOTO CREDIT: Collier Schorr

could run for nearly seven-hundred episodes. The Simpsons first aired on 17th December, 1989 and its debut episode, Simpsons Roasting on an Open Fire, is full of charm and a rare mixture that would define the show’s glory days. That opening episode saw The Simpsons find their loveable pooch, Santa’s Little Helper – a treasured Christmas gift that came about when Bart and Homer (Simpson) went to the local dog track and, having bet on a loser (Santa’s Little Helper), instantly fall for him. Look at the show now – its thirtieth season, I believe! – and the animation is so much more advanced; the ambitious larger and the feel a lot different. It is almost thirty years since the record-breaking show (the show became the longest-running prime-time scripted series (beating out Gunsmoke) when it passed six-hundred-and-thirty-six episodes back in April (2018)…and there are debates whether the quality is high enough. The reason I wanted to talk about the show before its thirtieth anniversary is because of the way it blends musical guests and original numbers. In many ways, The Simpsons is as synonymous with its great tunes and musical feel as it is the laughs and memorable characters. Many feel that the show was at its peak between the third and tenth seasons (1991-1999): that 1990s’ gold-run that brought the sharpest scripts, best musical numbers and classic moments. Maybe things have changed because Homer has: sharpest and crueller as opposed his more bumbling and loveable days.

It is hard to say but, throughout its long run, The Simpsons has delivered some wonderful musical moments. Even though they are removing one guest (Michael Jackson) from syndicated episodes, look back from the start and there have been guests from all corners of the musical numbers. The top image features Katy Perry: The Simpsons gave her a role during their Christmas special: a rare excursion into live-action that parodied A Christmas Carol. It was quite a raunchy episode in places – for an animated comedy, at least! – but it was great to see a larger-than-life figure transposed and transported into this legendary comedy. One of my favourite music-related episode of The Simpsons is when Home ran for Sanitation Commissioner of Springfield (Trash of the Titans was the show’s two-hundredth episode) after seeing trash build up on the street. Steve Martin appeared as his rival – the current job-holder who was a nice guy but replaced after Homer promised crazy thing that won over the idiotic town – and, before long, Homer descended into crime and illicit ways when it came to hiding the mountain rubbish. U2 appeared in places: we saw them at a concert and, when Homer tries to come on stage to deliver a message, he is pummelled down: another moment sees them at Moe’s Bar, singing a song with their arses hanging out.

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IN THIS PHOTO: Sonic Youth appeared on The Simpsons in the 1990s in the musician-heavy fest, Homerpalooza/PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images

The show has not only been confined to mainstream stars when it comes to guests. I love the fact that they have included The White Stripes and The Rolling Stones; The Who and Britney Spears in some pretty memorable episodes. There are lists that celebrate the best musical moments and, to me, the artist-filled episodes such as Homerpalooza stand out. There, the acting was not up to much but we got to see big acts of the 1990s such as Smashing Pumpkins and Sonic Youth feature and interact in a rare way – in the episode, Homer gets a gig on the music circuit after discovering he can take a cannonball to the gut! Whether it is Linda Ronstadt going into business to rival Homer’s snow-plow endeavour (Mr. Plow) or Homer going to a Rock Camp and meeting the likes of Tom Petty, Mick Jagger; Keith Richards, Lenny Kravitz and Elvis Costello (How I Spent My Strummer Vacation); we have seen these wonderful episodes that combine the worlds of music and comedy. I love the latter episode because we see these iconic musicians brought together and little rivalries form – Lenny Kravitz reveals Kenny Loggins puts a sock down his pants; Mick Jagger and Keith Richards are crunching the numbers rather than rocking-out. Some of the appearances have been crow-barred and a bit fake but some of them, including Lady Gaga appearing in Lisa Goes Gaga (season twenty-three), used a big star to portray a powerful message: Gaga comes to Lisa, who is very depressed, and teaches her the meaning of happiness in the Tim Long-penned episode.

It is wonderful when this influential artist comes into a big T.V. show like The Simpsons and is not nearly there to boost ratings! Perhaps packed episodes like Homerpalooza were not full of great acting moments but when stars get a bigger role, like Lady Gaga, it shows them in a new light. I think some of the best appearances and scenes from The Simpsons have involved musicians. Most of these are during that golden run during the 1990s but Katy Perry’s yuletide raciness is definitely a highlight! Look at when Johnny Cash voiced a coyote – a hallucination Homer had after eating a super-psychedelic chili pepper at a cook-off – and how he added to the show. The late icon brought his authoritative and deep voice to this role and, whilst Cash did not sing, it was a classic moment seeing Cash voice this character. Look back even further when the classic episode, Flaming Moe’s featured, among others, Aerosmith. There, Homer discovered this drink by accidentally mixing cigarette ash, cough syrup (its secret ingredient!) and other assorted liquids when the family ran out of booze after Marge’s sisters, Patty and Selma, were showing holiday slides - much to the ire of the bored family. He confided in Moe and, when the bartender realised this drink would put him on the map, his tavern brought in big musical artists like Aerosmith – everything was ruined when an incensed Homer revealed the secret ingredient just as a businessman was about to lure Moe with a multi-million-dollar contract!

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 IN THIS PHOTO: Green Day appeared in The Simpsons Movie in 2007/PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images

It is hard to say which moment tops them all but, if I had to select two standout episodes, it would be Krusty Gets Kancelled (the season-four episode united big musicians like Bette Midler and Red Hot Chili Peppers during a special show to get Krusty the Clown back on the air after his kids’ show is cancelled). Another one that leaps to mind is when Spinal Tap played a special gig in Springfield – which was fraught with disasters and delays – during The Otto Show in the third season. The show keeps bringing in stars – Green Day appeared in The Simpsons Movie (2007) - and there is a whole list you think should be included. I wonder who else is left to come because, through its near-thirty-year run, The Simpsons has featured everyone from Beyoncé (not a voiceover appearance but her music has featured) and David Byrne to George Harrison. There are many more years left in this iconic show but I look back at all the music appearances and, although it is a brief turn, when Paul McCartney appeared in Lisa the Vegetarian, the show hit its peak. The seventh season episode revolved around Lisa becoming a vegetarian and questioning why she eats meat. She is ostracised and ignored by her family and, when running away from home, she goes to Apu’s Kwik-E-Mart and there, on the roof, is Paul and Linda McCartney. They do not sing – although they tease that a new song is about to arrive – but it is a great use of a famous musician to give the show an extra twist and moment of heart.

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IN THIS PHOTO: Linda Eastman (1941-1998) talks to Paul McCartney at the press launch of The Beatles’ album, Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band, on 19th May 1967. Linda and Paul appeared in The Simpsons episode, Lisa the Vegetarian, in 1995/PHOTO CREDIT: John Pratt/Keystone/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Whether you love the moment the Ramones are threatened with death by Mr. Burns after performing a raw version of Happy Birthday; you idolise the time Cypress Hill appeared stoned and accidentally hired the London Symphony Orchestra (Homerpalooza) – there are so many wonderful occasions when artists have appeared on The Simpsons. Not only is the animated comedy great when it comes to assimilating musicians into their world but, rare for a comedy, they are nifty when it comes to penning originals. I think about some of the best Simpson-esque songs and I look at when Marge appeared in a local version (with serious flaws) of A Streetcar Named Desire and there was a song called New Orleans - a number dedicated to all the trash and corruption in the city. How about when Homer joined the secretive sect, The Stonecutters (like The Freemasons but less shady!), and there was this hugely catchy song, We Do (The Stonecutters Song) - where members admit that, among other things, they rob cave fish of their sight and keep the metric system down! The wonderful composing and razor-sharp words make these musical numbers almost as standout as the funniest scenes. Of course, The Simpsonstheme-song (composed by Danny Elfman) is legendary and, love it or not, we can all whistle it! Even if it is a little ditty (Homer singing about the time he was seventeen, got a fake I.D. and sat up listening to Queen whilst drinking beer; an episode, Duffless, where he gave up drink) or it is a more ornate number like we saw in Homer’s Barbershop Quartet.

This was the episode where George Harrison appeared at the end – the story of Homer forming a band followed the arc of The Beatles; when Homer’s band started to fall apart, the show parodied The Beatles’ fraught recording of Let It Be – and the original songs were great. The standout was Baby on Board, a Doo-Wop-like 1950s-inspired number inspired by Marge buying a baby on board sticker to stop other motorists intentionally ramming their car off the road! How about Linda Ronstadt giving Homer’s Mr. Plow jingle a special touch?! Who can forget the rapturous slander, Señor Burns, when Latin-Jazz musician Tito Puente is a suspect in the attempted murder of Mr. Burns. When questioned by the police, Puente admits to hating Burns but denies shooting him. Puente says he prefers an act of musical revenge to violence.

If you had to pin me down to the occasions when The Simpsons got all the ingredients right in a musical number than I would choose Dr. Zaius (A Fish Called Selma) and The Monorail Song (Marge vs. The Monorail). Both songs are performed by the late Phil Hartman. The former is during a production of Planet of the Apes; him revitalising his broken career after a scandal comes out – he marries Selma and gets all these big offers when people realise he is a family man (rumours of him having sex with fish dogged his reputation!). The song is a spoor of Rock Me Amadeus (Falco) and a brilliantly goofy and misplaced song in a very strange theatre production.

The latter song is Hartman playing this shady man trying to sell Springfield a monorail after he learns they have come into some money. He persuades them to buy his dodgy plan after starting this great song. All the townspeople join and add lines; a real musical extravaganza with its catchy melody and superb construction. Maybe that is the best musical number but, when it comes to The Simpsons, we are spoiled for choice! This article has a different view when it comes to the number-one musical number: Why Springfield, Why Not? during season twenty-six’s Walking Big & Tall:

The new Springfield anthem was created and performed by the town’s children after residents realize the original song was mass-produced for multiple cities. As luck would have it, when Hans Moleman was mayor, he bought the original song from a traveling salesman, as did half the cities in America.

After the town exiles Moleman, Bart and Lisa set to writing and come up with a song that perfectly describes what Springfield is all about.

Sure, our cops are easily bought,
And our dentists are all self-taught
but, Hooray for Springfield.
Give two cheers,
Smallpox free for seven years.
Why Springfield, why not?

Other comedy shows have used music and original songs – including Flight of the Conchords (who actually appeared on the show) – but The Simpsons has this edge and unique charm. Maybe it the fact it is an animated show and they can bring so many big artists into crazy episodes. Perhaps a guest is there to make the episode stand out or, when done right, they are an integral part of the soul.

The Simpsons turns thirty at the end of the year and it is scary to think that I remember watching the first episode as a six-year-old back in 1989! Nobody thought the show would last past the first season, let alone thirty! There are many reasons why the show has survived and has no end in sight but, to me, one important component is the music. I love every celebrity appearance but get an extra burst of excitement when I see someone big from the world of music inhabit The Simpsons’. I do love the way the show can have these original songs that take episodes in a new direction. I have only mentioned a few but I think about all those earworms from episodes-past that you sing along to and know word-for-word! I watch the classic episodes and I love those times when you hear this big and brash number when characters of Springfield all come together and perform this bold and often-ridiculous song!

From Paul McCartney being instrumental regarding Lisa forgiving Homer for judging her and, similarly, for her being harsh to Homer, right through to Homer having his Rock & Roll dreams fulfilled by heroic musicians, The Simpsons has provided us with countless moments filled with music stars and instantly memorable numbers. Whether you are a bigger fan of the original numbers or prefer the times when well-known artists have made their way into the show, one cannot deny that, at the beating heart of The Simpsons, is this love of music in all forms. I have not even mentioned the late Bleeding Gums Murphy: a fictional late, great Jazz musician who is Lisa’s hero and gives him her saxophone! There are so, so many and I will get all nostalgic and teary-eyed listing them all off! When The Simpsons hits thirty later in the year, there will be multiple celebrations and events around the world. For me, as a music journalist, I am going to mark fondly a show that, through its run, has mixed the worlds of animated comedy and music in...

 IMAGE CREDIT: FOX/Matt Groening

EXTRAORDINARY ways.

FEATURE: Mardy Bum: Is Genuine Joy Escaping from Music?

FEATURE:

 

Mardy Bum

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IN THIS PHOTO: Tom Walker/PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images 

Is Genuine Joy Escaping from Music?

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THIS is something I have raised before...

and it seems that, with every passing month, there is no real improvement. I am thankful we have artists like Lizzo around right now: someone who brings a festival to music and can definitely make you smile. She is not the only one who brings funk and sass to the table. There are others in the mainstream who, rather than mopping or opening their bleeding hearts are genuinely trying to say something positive. I understand it is important being pure and honest and, in fact, two albums I have recently written about, Like a Prayer and The Velvet Rope, had positive and upbeat moments but there were a lot of deeper moments. From domestic abuse to AIDS, they are not exactly light albums. I love both of them and I always approve of artists who put their all into albums and can stray away from the obvious themes of love and heartbreak. Big musicians like Janelle Monáe certainly have a lot of drive and there are plenty of bands out there who can put us in a better mood. A few articles caught my eye over the last few days that seems to suggest that, largely, artists are becoming a bit downbeat and defeatist. I have reviewed some great mainstream albums this year and loved what they were about.

 IN THIS PHOTO: Little Simz (her album, Grey AREA, is one of the top-rated of the year)/PHOTO CREDIT: Vicky Grout for TRENCH

From Julia Jacklin’s Crushing through to Little Simz’s GREY Area, these records are terrific and pack a huge punch. The reason these albums resonate is because the artists are discussing their lives and not shying away from its harshness and realities. There are breezier moments in both albums but, largely, it is a more confessional and stirring listen. One must distinguish between music that is down and slightly negative across the board – in terms of lyrics and music/vocals – and those tracks that have slightly heartbroken lyrics but can build up a real storm with the composition. Many artists are still using love and its sting as their major stock so, invariably, we are seeing a lot of songs that are slower, more repetitive and have that haunting sound. It seems that, especially with male solo artists, there is this rather rigid and predictable sound. Most of them are white and heterosexual; they are quite cosy and, in these troubled times, providing music that is pretty safe but, when you listen to it, somewhat dour. The vibe is not especially captivating and, led by artists such as Ed Sheeran and Tom Walker, we have these samey and identikit men who are willing to talk about their lives with real honesty but you never feel joyed or happier hearing them. This illuminating article from The Guardian talked about this new trend and how a rather boring and unspectacular brand of artist is storming the charts:

In this moment of international pop utopianism, Britain, naturally, has gone the other way. Our current pop stock-in-trade is a school of male singer-songwriters with exceptional voices and wilfully unexceptional images that entrench an impression of authenticity. They are all white, despite their soulful vocals, which sing of safely secular salvation (they’ll provide it), epic loves (they’ve had and lost them) and struggle (broadly defined). These ordinary boys bolster their yearning with a sound that homogenises sturdy rock heft, EDM dynamism and delicate electronica, with occasional intimations of hip-hop. And hats...

IN THIS PHOTO: Ed Sheeran/PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images 

That direct appeal to men has also fostered an environment where these artists can connect by discussing mental health. “There’s an idea in society that men have to be really masculine, tough and unemotional and put on a hard exterior,” says Grennan, who started playing guitar as part of his recovery from a violent attack and the depression that ensued. “I’m sometimes spoken about as being a ‘geezer’, which is weird to me as I’m just a product of my environment – a working-class lad from Bedford. But if that helps other ‘geezers’ talk openly and drop the bravado, then great”.

Look across most genres now and is there one that stands out regarding happiness and something more positive? We used to have a great House and Dance scene that was all about joyfulness; a British Pop movement that, if you see it as crap or not, was definitely determined to make people come together – there has been a massive shift in terms of subject matter and mood in music. I look at the Pop mainstream and even when one looks at some of the biggest artists like Dua Lipa and Ariana Grande; their music might be quite poppy and bouncing but their words, for the most part, are about heartbreak or challenges in life. It is important to have your audience identity with you but I fear, at a time when we need a more positive wave in music, artists are going in the wrong direction.

Look at Country and Folk and, yes, there are happier times to be had but not a huge difference. I listen to a lot of Country and do appreciate that one can definitely find greater energy and excitement when it comes to the compositions at least. Big artists like Kacey Musgraves can get one kicking but, look closely at what is being sung, and there is still an element of being trampled or having to overcome difficulty. I am not suggesting we have this sad-free culture that urges people to come together but I wonder where the chink of light will come from. Another article from The Guardian investigated how a more confessional and revealing style of Hip-Hop is coming about. The genre has always been pretty strong regarding tougher subjects and talking about stuff like suppression, depression and violence in the streets. Now, with so many performers suffering from poor mental-health, this is coming into music a lot more:

The data – amassed from lyrics in songs featured in the end-of-year charts from 1958 to 2017, using a computer program called TextBlob – reveals that the most popular music genre in the US may also be its most depressed. A rise in rappers discussing mental health has led to a significant spike in the number of tracks mentioning suicide, depression, anxiety and prescription drugs.

The study, run by marketing agency Take 5, found that 24 of the 100 singles overall across rock, pop and hip hop in 1958 mentioned mental health, compared with 71 in 2017. The data also backs the huge popularity of what has been dubbed SoundCloud rap, an offshoot described by the New York Times in 2017 as “the most vital and disruptive new movement in hip hop”...

From the very beginnings of hip-hop, rappers have reflected on difficult lives; in 1982 Grandmaster Flash delivered one of the most seminal verses in pop history with The Message. The lyrics – “Don’t push me ‘cause I’m close to the edge, I’m trying not to lose my head/ It’s like a jungle sometimes, it makes me wonder how I keep from goin’ under” – are just one example, says Dr Carson, that show hip-hop has always been about more than the cliches around gangsta rap

I have advocated, for a long time, for artists to be more honest with regarding mental illness to ensure that we raise awareness. I have also been keen for political matters to be tackled and, largely, artists have done this – not that I had anything to do with any of it! I appreciate that music is this platform where artists can discuss important and life-threatening issues but is there too much reliance on seriousness and drilling the point home? It would not distil the cocktail and take away from the gravity of subjects like mental-health concerns and drugs if there was some humour and light. So many artists – from be-hatted British mainstream artists to Rap and Hip-Hop stars – are unable to find anything positive and fun to talk about. There is a school of thought that suggests we are beholden to the music we grew up around and modern music is a bit rubbish.

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 PHOTO CREDIT: @brucemars/Unsplash

I grew up on artists who would talk about heartbreak and splits and was not immune to the pains they were going through. That said, whether it was The Beatles or Oasis, there was always something upbeat to be found. Whether it was a hands-in-the-air chorus or a beautifully-crafted Pop song, I always had that sense that things would be okay. I do not think I would be invested in music and where I am now were it not for all the sunshine and energy I found growing up. Have we, now, had to settle for a compromise regarding mood? Are we happy enough if a song has a spirited aesthetic and sound even if the lyrics are melancholic. I have hope that a lot of the more promising Pop artists, such as Sigrid and Robyn, are going to keep injecting energy and bangers into the mix. In fact, Robyn was the focus of a recent Pitchfork article. She is unique in this age and has a lot of passionate fans. So many modern artists, such as Carly Rae Jepsen, adore her because of her passion and how her songs make you feel. Even if the lyrics cover something quite sad and heartbroken, Robyn sort of combats that with the sense that things will be okay; that there is light and hope to be found. Jepsen is definitely a convert regarding Robyn’s objectives:

When I ask Jepsen which of her own songs feels most indebted to Robyn, she picks the airy and yearning “Love Again,” a bonus track on E•MO•TION. “It has that same sad-but-hopeful message, that idea that you get back up and keep going even when it feels like you’re heartbroken,” she muses. Jepsen’s lovestruck, wondering songs on E•MO•TION are full of imprecations to take her to the feeling. That feeling, in her songs, seems closely related to the tropical-house vibe that shimmers out of Robyn’s songs like bodysuit spangles. This is, in many ways, the Robyn Feeling: sad, exultant, vanquished, triumphant. Human romantic longing as epic unstoppable tide, something that might start from within but quickly engulfs from without”.

I do love Robyn’s music and suggest you seek it out if you want to hear pure Pop made by a singular artist. What is it about Robyn’s music that gets to people, though?

Robyn’s music prioritizes seamlessness and unity. Her tracks feel like Robyn’s moods, her internal weather made manifest. When she sings, “Don’t go messing with love, it’ll hurt you for real/Don’t you know that love kills,” she sounds determined, grim, and defensive, and so does the track. When she walks you through the process of breaking up with your girlfriend so you can be with her instead on “Call Your Girlfriend,” she sounds sly and winsome and flirtatious and empathetic, and so does the track. You can wrap the whole thing around yourself, live inside of it, and still dance to it.

Dance music has a long history of unleashing exultant energies, but Robyn brings an element to that cresting wave that is less common: melancholy. Melancholy, historically, is largely an emotion that makes you drop your arms, hang your head, feel like a coat hanger holding up your own body. But in Robyn’s world, melancholy is blown up, glittering, transfigured. Her music acknowledges the weight of melancholy and pulls against it with apposite weight. The feeling Robyn’s songs want you to have is hard-earned glory: Glory within your own body, however gawky or awkward or weird you believe it to be; glory in your life, however lonely or sad you feel”.

There does seem to be this split between artists who always project something boring, moody or routine – I refer to the British male solo artists who seem incapable of finding light anywhere. Maybe I am being harsh but there is a trend here towards something a bit sunken, confessional and samey. Look at modern Pop and Hip-Hop and, whilst we have some thrilling artists to be found, there is a greater weight regarding the introspective, confessional and quite unhappy. We do not have the same explosive Dance scene we once had and even Hip-Hop is producing fewer of these kaleidoscopic and colourful acts that could bring some wit and humour to the party – I do miss the glory days of De La Soul! Even a treasured artist like Robyn, as we all know, can get people dancing with her tunes and, whilst her messages project hope, there is still that base of something more melancholic. I understand how vital it is for artists to understand what we all go through and write something relatable. We all need to know that artists go through the same s*it and we will all come together. That is great but I do worry, as I have theorised before, music has lost its smile, sense of joy and colour. Surely, as we are more torn and broken, a new wave of House and European invention – that brought us the likes of Deee-Lite, among others -; some innovative and joyous Hip-Hop or Pop that has no agenda and genuinely has a positive outlook in all respects...this is what we need more than ever. The reason I listen to more older music and stuff I grew up around is not because of nostalgia at all but, rather, that I know I can get a hit of fun and positivity with no sour core. We all need something delirious, inspiring and positive to get us through but does that mean, more often than not, we need to...

STEP back in time?

FEATURE: No April Fools: The Best Albums to Own Next Month

FEATURE:

 

No April Fools

IN THIS PHOTO: Fontaines D.C./PHOTO CREDIT: Richard Dumas  

The Best Albums to Own Next Month

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WE have seen a lot of great albums come out...

 IN THIS PHOTO: Aldous Harding

this month but I feel April is going to be another hot one. There are a couple of weeks left but I wanted to look at some of the records you will want to own! It is always hard to get to grips with all the great music coming out but there are some definite standouts from the April-due records. If you have some spare pennies and are looking for what to own next month, I have collected together the essential releases. The days are getting warmer and longer so it is a great time to invest in music. That might sound strange but we are happier when the weather is finer and I feel this season is conducive to a lot of musical passion and fresh investigation – less fatigued than we are in the winter time. As I say, it is challenging deciphering the best from the average but here, in this assortment, are the albums you need to get involved with...

 IN THIS PHOTO: SOAK

IN April.

ALBUM COVERS/PHOTOS: Spotify/Getty Images

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 Circa WavesWhat’s It Like Over There?

Release Date: 5th April, 2019

Label: Prolifica Inc.

Standout Tracks: What’s It Like Over There?/Movies/Passport

Pre-Order Link: https://circawaves.com/#home

Key Selection: Times Won’t Change Me

PRIESTS The Seduction of Kansas

Release Date: 5th April, 2019

Label: Sister Polygon Records

Standout Tracks: Jesus Son/I’m Clean/Control Freak

Pre-Order Link: https://priests.bandcamp.com/album/the-seduction-of-kansas

Key Selection: The Seduction of Kansas

Anderson .PaakVentura

Release Date: 12th April, 2019

Label: Aftermath Entertainment

Standout Tracks: Make It Better/Winners Circle/Jet Black

Pre-Order Link: https://buy.andersonpaak.com/collections/music/products/ventura-2xlp-webstore-exclusive

Key Selection: King James

Fontaines D.C.Dogrel

Release Date: 12th April, 2019

Label: Partisan Records

Standout Tracks: Too Real/The Lotts/Boys in the Better Land

Pre-Order Link: https://www.normanrecords.com/records/174852-fontaines-d-c-dogrel

Key Selection: Big

The Chemical BrothersNo Geography

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Release Date: 12th April, 2019

Label: Virgin EMI Records

Standout Tracks: No Geography/Got to Keep On/Gravity Drops

Pre-Order Link: https://www.thechemicalbrothers.com/

Key Selection: Free Yourself

Cage the ElephantSocial Cues

Release Date: 19th April, 2019

Label: RCA Records

Standout Tracks: Black Madonna/Ready to Let Go/The War Is Over

Pre-Order Link: https://www.cagetheelephant.com/2019/01/31/social-cues/

Key Selection: House of Glass

Fat White FamilySerfs Up!

Release Date: 19th April, 2019

Label: Domino Recording Company

Standout Tracks: I Believe in Something Better/Fringe Runner/When I Leave

Pre-Order Link: https://fatwhitefamily.bandcamp.com/album/serfs-up

Key Selection: Feet

Jade BirdJade Bird

(NOT ACTUAL ALBUM COVER)

Release Date: 19th April, 2019

Label: Glassnote Records

Standout Tracks: I Get No Joy/My Motto/Uh Huh

Pre-Order Link: https://www.banquetrecords.com/jade-bird/jade-bird/GLS-0242-02

Key Selection: Lottery

LizzoCuz I Love You

(NOT ACTUAL ALBUM COVER)

Release Date: 19th April, 2019

Labels: Nice Life/Atlantic

Pre-Order Link: https://store.warnermusic.com/cuz-i-love-you-digital-album-1.html

Key Selection: Cuz I Love You

Aldous HardingDesigner

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Release Date: 26th April, 2019

Label: 4AD

Standout Tracks: Fixing Picture/Treasure/Heaven Is Empty

Pre-Order Link: https://www.normanrecords.com/records/175059-aldous-harding-designer

Key Selection: The Barrel

Peter Doherty & The Puta MadresPeter Doherty & The Puta Madres

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Release Date: 26th April, 2019

Label: Strap Originals

Standout Tracks: All at Sea/Someone Else to Be/A Fool There Was

Pre-Order Link: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Peter-Doherty-Puta-Madres/dp/B07N47DRWJ

Key Selection: Who’s Been Having You Over

SOAKGrim Town

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Release Date: 26th April, 2019

Label: Rough Trade Records

Standout Tracks: Everybody Loves You/Crying Your Eyes Out/Scrapyard

Pre-Order Link: https://store.roughtraderecords.com/products/soak-grim-town

Key Selection: Knock Me Off My Feet

FEATURE: Vinyl Corner: Janet Jackson – The Velvet Rope

FEATURE:

 

Vinyl Corner

IMAGE CREDIT: Spotify 

Janet Jackson – The Velvet Rope

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THIS is the opportunity where I get to put a record...

 IN THIS PHOTO: Janet Jackson/PHOTO CREDIT: Vibe

into the corner and give it special appreciating. As Janet Jackson has been confirmed for Glastonbury, it seemed only right I would focus on one of her albums. I am of all of her work but I have a special love for The Velvet Rope. I was a teenager when it arrived and it instantly took me aback. Jackson signed a contract with Virgin Records for $80 million; the largest recording contract in history at that point. With that sort of money behind it, it was clear her future work had to live up that sort of belief. She was no stranger to hit albums and singles but she was entering the peak of her career and a lot of eyes were on her. Around the time of the album (1997), Jackson experienced an emotional breakdown and was going through a rough time. A lot of the turmoil stemmed from childhood problems and traumas and, rather than sublimate the fear and unhappiness, she used it in a sort of concept album that would tackle these feelings. The title, The Velvet Rope, refers to that need to feel wanted and popular: it also has that sort of feeling that there is a hidden world away from those who are not V.I.P. Jackson put her heart and soul into the album and, whereas there were inner-scars and personal burdens in the songs, The Velvet Rope was a much broader album that looked at things such as same-sex relationships and domestic violence.

By the time of The Velvet Rope, Jackson was seen as one of the greatest and most seductive vocalists of the 1990s. Helped in part by a lot of the album’s charged and passionate songs, Jackson’s status rose and she proved she was far ahead of most of her Pop peers. The inclusion of same-sex marriages and homophobia on The Velvet Rope turned Jackson into a bona fide gay icon and she received huge kudos. The Velvet Rope is a twenty-two-song bonanza that has a running time of over an-hour-and-a-quarter. Many artists embarking on a project of that ambition would be derided and critics would be all over them. Jackson was going through a lot of change and struggle so it is only fair she would be granted the chance to let everything out. Co-writing with her then-husband René Elizondo Jr., Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis, there were contributions from the likes of Vanessa-Mae, Q-Tip and Joni Mitchell (even if it is more of a sample). Not many artists can boast that sort of eclectic line-up and that was mirrored in the variety of genres on The Velvet Rope. Alongside Pop and R&B was Trip-Hop, Folk and Jazz – a myriad of sounds and expressions. It was clear that Janet Jackson was struggling away from the microphone and she was starting to question her career path. Feeling the pressures of the industry and the demands of fame, The Velvet Rope is a cathartic thing from an artist trying to make sense of everything and see where her future lay.

Although The Velvet Rope received bans and judgements in some nations (including Singapore) because of its look at homosexuality and support of same-sex marriage, it struck a huge chord with critics. In fact, a lot of the criticism was coming from a few corners but it seems strange that, in 1997, singing about homosexuality and sexuality in general would provoke outcry. On various numbers, Jackson addressed AIDs and bisexuality; personal scars and fears as well as a more conventional mixture of topics. Jackson herself saw no issues as, aside from having a lot of gay and bisexual friends, this was her being natural and a true artist. She was pushing boundaries and opening up the conversation and, when the album arrived on 7th October, 1997, it seemed like nothing else. I wonder whether we have seen many albums as bold and eye-opening in the near-twenty-two years since! Listen to the song, What About, and how Jackson discusses domestic abuse. She was unflinching and raw and, alongside some of the other songs on the album, The Velvet Rope could be seen as starling and hard to swallow. Consider the fact that, in 1989, Madonna was addressing similar themes on Like a Prayer - including AIDs, domestic abuse and freedom of expression. In this article udiscovermusic talks about The Velvet Rope being this risk-taking album that saw the growth of this Pop rebel:

By the time The Velvet Rope came along in 1997, the girl from Gary, Indiana, had morphed into a confident young woman whose two follow-up albums to Control – 1989’s Rhythm Nation 1814 and 1993’s Janet, both co-produced by the singer with the dependable Jam & Lewis – made her the most famous woman in the world at that point...

The whole album was an access-all-areas invitation into Janet Jackson’s internal private world – a world usually cordoned off by a velvet rope. Explaining the album’s title and concept, Jackson said, “We’ve all driven by premieres or nightclubs, and seen the rope separating those who can enter and those who can’t. Well, there’s also a velvet rope we have inside us, keeping others from knowing our feelings. In The Velvet Rope, I’m trying to expose and explore those feelings. I’m inviting you inside my velvet rope.”

Despite the controversy it engendered, The Velvet Rope topped the album charts around the world on its release in the autumn of 1997 and reaffirmed Janet Jackson’s position as the pre-eminent top-selling female recording artist of her generation. But Jackson’s main goal was more about personal development and exorcising her demons than selling records. Above all else, her honesty on The Velvet Rope was genuine and sincere. “I think it’s important to be true to yourself in your music,” she said. “I think that’s the only way I can actually write music”.

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PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images

Away from the (unnecessary and overactive) controversy, The Velvet Rope remains this hugely inspiring and different album. It is, as The Guardian explains, a hugely eclectic and challenging album:

There are also the various shades and moods that go with a 22-track album, showcasing what lifelong fan How to Dress Well, AKA Tom Krell, refers to as the album’s “recklessness with genre conventions and restrictions”. For pop star MNEK it covers “the full human condition. The whole thing bares a sadness but still a joy.” Not many albums utilise a Tubular Bells sample next to a solo from violinist-turned-Olympic skier Vanessa Mae...

At its core, too, is the enduring relevancy of its subject matter. Written following a severe bout of depression – “I’ve been burying pain my whole life,” she told Ebony at the time – the songs are therapy-esque monuments to self-discovery (very 2017), bookended by sensual self-exploration (Rope Burn) and, on the cover of Rod Stewart’s Tonight’s the Night, the suggestion of bisexuality. The jazz-tinged Free Xone, meanwhile, tackles homophobia. “It felt incredibly personal, like I was diving into someone’s creative process,” says lo-fi pop practitioner Shura of the first time she heard the album. “I love the idea that a fearless record like The Velvet Rope has inspired artists and albums that are so vastly different”.

In terms of its influence, The Velvet Rope has inspired so many artists since. Janet Jackson helped make the dark and riskier album seem part of the fabric. Before then, there were not many artists talking about such weighty topics as domestic abuse on their albums. Jackson was also mixing genres like never before and combining Jazz, Folk and Techno shades to create this bright, unique and stunning soundscape. Artists who followed her could see what could come from fusing strange bedfellows and taking greater risks regarding subject matter. The Velvet Rope was a rarity regarding mainstream releases and was creating all these wonderful angles and digressions. Jackson was this liberal and explosive songwriter who was sexually free and showing that this was okay – that was a big revelation in 1997! In terms of its nakedness and boldness, artists like Rihanna and Fiona Apple have been inspired. The list, in fact, is long and one can link a lot of songs/albums back to Velvet Rope. In this time, we do not see many albums like The Velvet Rope and I wonder whether artists need to take note. The 1990s did see bolder and expressive artists put out these incredible albums and, in many ways, things have become softer, safer and less risky. I do think music needs to learn from artists such as Janet Jackson and ask why we are more reserved and less brave regarding what is put out there.

Some were unsure about The Velvet Rope when it came out but a lot of retrospective reviews have seen the album in a more positive light. There is a lot to enjoy about it. In this review from SLANT, they look at the sexual themes expressed and how her honesty and emotional openness was the finest quality of all:

For a sex album that also seems to aim at giving fans an unparalleled glance behind the fetish mask (literally, in the concert tour performance of “You”), Janet’s probably never been more cagey.

But behind the sex is something even more compelling, because it gradually dawns on you that Janet’s use of sexuality is an evasive tactic. That it’s easier for her to sing about cybersex (on the galvanizing drum n’ bass “Empty,” one of Jam and Lewis’s very finest moments, maybe even their last excepting Jordan Knight’s “Give It to You”) and to fret about her coochie falling apart than it is to admit that it’s her psyche and soul that are in greater danger of fracturing. Soul sister to Madonna’s Erotica (which, in turn, was her most daring performance), The Velvet Rope is a richly dark masterwork that illustrates that, amid the whips and chains, there is nothing sexier than emotional nakedness”.

Following the announcement Janet Jackson will play at Glastonbury, it is a good time to look back at her catalogue and gems like The Velvet Rope. Although it is quite tricky tracking the album down on vinyl, there are second-hand copies and chances to pick it up. After all this time, it still sounds completely forward-thinking, revolutionary and raw. It will be exciting seeing whether any of the songs (from the album) make their way to the Glastonbury stage and how the crowd react to them. Maybe Janet Jackson released more critically-acclaimed albums than The Velvet Rope but, to me, she never released...

 PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images

ANYTHING more accomplished.

FEATURE: Glastonbury 2019: Has It Moved Forward at All?

FEATURE:

 

Glastonbury 2019

IMAGE CREDIT: @GlastoFest  

Has It Moved Forward at All?

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THE list of artists who will play this year’s Glastonbury...

 IN THIS PHOTO: Christine and the Queens/PHOTO CREDIT: Eva Pentel for DIY

have been announced and, whilst there are more names coming, we have the idea regarding the sort of sounds that will define the festival, it is interesting to see how things have changed through the years. It is definitely a packed and varied festival with plenty of great talent in the pack. Here, as The Guardian writes, there is an eclectic spirit running through the line-up:

The Killers and the Cure have been announced as the final headliners of the 2019 Glastonbury festival. Brandon Flowers’ Vegas band will headline on the Saturday, and Robert Smith and co on the Sunday. They join the previously announced headliner Stormzy, who will close the Pyramid stage on Friday night.

It is the Cure’s fourth time headlining Glastonbury, following slots in 1986, 1990 and 1995. They join Coldplay as the only groups to have headlined the festival four times.

Down the bill, there are first-time Glastonbury appearances from Janet Jackson, Lauryn Hill and Miley Cyrus, among others. Liam Gallagher will follow his packed Other stage show at Glastonbury 2017, and Christine and the Queens returns for her second Glastonbury, having provided a flash of European optimism with her debut at the 2016 festival, the day after the UK voted to leave the EU.

There is a strong showing for the crop of young, game-changing pop stars: the goth-pop icon-in-the-making Billie Eilish joins the hip-hop and flute polymath Lizzo. The Spanish flamenco trap musician Rosalía, Norwegian power-popper Sigrid, British producer Shura and Fiona Apple-endorsed King Princess also perform...

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IN THIS PHOTO: Kamasi Washington/PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images

The UK rap scene is well represented with Stefflon Don, Little Simz, Kate Tempest, Loyle Carner, Slowthai and Bugzy Malone, as is the burgeoning international jazz community with Kamasi Washington and Britain’s Sons of Kemet and the Comet is Coming. Britain and Ireland’s male singer-songwriter set is represented by George Ezra, Hozier, Rex Orange County and the socially conscious guitarist Sam Fender”.

I do like the fact Glastonbury have mixed in new Pop artists and the best when it comes to British Rap. It is hard to include every genre together but the fact Glastonbury is not all about Pop and Rock is rewarding. Stormzy is a good headline shout because it breaks away from the usual Rock bands and provides a platform for British Grime and Rap. I will come to the headliners soon but I do like the look of the artists under the headliners. More names are coming through but some of my recent favourites, like IDLES and Jorja Smith, have a chance to capitalise on successful 2018s and get their music to a new audience. Similarly, it is good that newer artists like Anne-Marie get to sit alongside established names such as Sheryl Crow. Glastonbury has always been good regarding its blend of the older and new and this year is no exception. This means that revellers of all ages will come along and there will be this great community.

 IN THIS PHOTO: Kacey Musgraves (omitted from this year’s Glastonbury line-up)/PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images

Look down at the line-up and one can have few reservations regarding the mix of genres. There has been criticism that some genres have been left out. I wonder whether Country artists like Kacey Musgraves got a call and whether Country as a whole was considered. I do feel like there is a place for greater variety. The same can be said of Metal. Maybe adding a big Country name like Kacey Musgraves alongside a legendary Metal band or newer name would make Glastonbury even broader. I know there are specialist festivals for Metal but many would like to see it play a part at the country’s biggest event – it has been missing for a very long time now. More names will be revealed so we cannot say we have seen everything yet. It is the powerful female showing of Janelle Monáe, Christine and the Queens and Janet Jackson that excites me. Many, myself included, are thrilled to see Janet Jackson included on the bill. Many of us know her biggest hits but she will have chance to play a career-spanning set to a delighted crowd. I am about to feature her album, The Velvet Rope, later today so I will be in Jackson territory for the rest of the day! It would be good to see more bands in general because, largely, this year’s line-up is solo-heavy.

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 IN THIS PHOTO: Janet Jackson/PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images

I am glad obvious names like Foo Fighters and Muse are excluded but there are a lot of great bands emerging that would benefit from a spot. Look at the best albums from 2018 and it is a little odd not seeing some of their creators included. Cardi B (Invasion of Privacy) and Ariana Grande (Sweetener) could sit alongside The 1975 (A Brief Inquiry Into Online Relationships) and Robyn (Honey). There is no inclusion of Arctic Monkeys and I do hope some of these names get included later. It is wonderful Lauryn Hill and Liam Gallagher are involved but I do wonder why names such as George Ezra keep getting appearing so high! He is headlining and dominating festivals at the moment and I cannot figure out why! He has a bland sort of Pop charm but it is not something that needs to appear at so many big festivals. Kylie Minogue has been confirmed already to play in the ‘legends’ slot and I do wonder whether we will see more like her, who can bring genuine fun, coming along. I was a little shocked to see artists such as Hot Chip and Pond appear on the bill when there is an absence of bigger acts. I guess you need to balance the established with the rising so, in many ways, it is hard to please everyone. There is a nice balance of British and American artists but not that many from outside these two countries – except for a bit of Swedish and French shine.

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 IN THIS PHOTO: Stormzy/PHOTO CREDIT: Shirlaine Forrest/WireImage

To me, the biggest benefits and standouts from the names already announced is the variety of sounds. It is one of the most multifarious rundowns and many new punters will come to Worthy Farm in Somerset. I do feel like, in future years, a few extra steps can be taken regarding ignored genres but we have Rap, Grime; Jazz, Pop and everything else thrown into the blender! A major festival should not be just about big names and those who have enjoyed long careers. Stormzy’s headline set is a rare chance for a new artist – only one album in – to have their say. Including icons like Janet Jackson, Kylie Minogue and Lauryn Hill in the mix gives Glastonbury a strong backbone and that sense that, regardless of the weather, people will flock to see them! Although organisers Michael and Emily Eavis tried to get a fifty-fifty gender balance, about 42% of the names are women. I am curious how one tries and fails to get a fifty-fifty split. Surely it is simple arithmetic and you just invite a few more women?! One doubts they’d refuse and so, next year, there is no excuse for needlessly having a male majority...however small it appears. Artists like Kacey Musgraves, St. Vincent and Dream Wife would have been terrific and, if it meant bumping a few lesser-known male names then so be it! It is strange hearing excuses and wondering why, when the most exciting music made right now is by women, there is still that male majority.

 IN THIS PHOTO: A guaranteed crowd-pleaser, Lizzo/PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images

It is good to see Sharon Van Etten on the bill and also Little Simz. They have both turned in terrific albums this year – Remind Me Tomorrow and GREY Area respectively – but where is Julia Jacklin? She has been consistently great and, with Crushing, provided us one of the best albums so far this year. Despite my gripes, the bill is pretty solid and a lot of effort has gone in. Seeing the names most likely to provoke excitement and dance and, again, they are women. Look at Janet Jackson, Christine and the Queens and Kylie Minogue; Lizzo, Billie Eilish and Sigrid; Miley Cyrus is in there too – an unusual booking but a pretty good shout. There is a lot of energy in there and, when compared to some of the boys on the bill, I think the greatest power and pull will come from the women! I understand that Janelle Monáe is headlining a stage and Kylie Minogue is the big name in the legend slot but when it comes to the Pyramid Stage and, effectively, the major headliners it is another case of men ruling. I could forgive, maybe, male-heavy headliners if the rest of the bill was dominated by women. As it stands, we have an imbalance further down the bill and 100& men as the headliners. Excluding names I have already mentioned, I could rattle off a dozen-plus women who could replace any of the headliners.

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 IN THIS PHOTO: The Cure’s Robert Smith/PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images

I knew The Cure were headlining because they have been odds-on for weeks now and nobody is shocked. You need a legendary act as a headliner and The Cure’s inclusion is good. I was wondering whether Sir Paul McCartney would get the call but The Cure have a huge fanbase and their headline slot is welcomed. They have headlined before but I know they will be adding new songs and elements to their set this time around. Stormzy’s headline nod was always going to divide people but, as we have a new male artist and an iconic male group already confirmed then why add a third?! The Killers have their own qualities but they are not really adding anything truly exciting or new to Glastonbury. You need a female voice at the top of the bill and, looking at this year’s headliners, it seems like we are traveling back in time. Glastonbury’s bill shows progression but the headliners seem to have frozen us about a decade or two back! The headliners are the big selling-point and a big reason to come to Glastonbury. I am annoyed, if not surprised, there is an all-male look – cast your eye back to the last decade of Glastonbury and you can pretty much count the female headliners on two hands and have fingers left! – but it is general quality that frustrates me. I do think that, looking forward, the Eavis’ need to think more about gender balance and providing a more exhilarating headline look.

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 IN THIS PHOTO: The Killers/PHOTO CREDIT: Eric Weiss

2017 saw Ed Sheeran included alongside Foo Fighters (turning in the same old set) and it has been a long time since we have seen a truly standout, history-making set. Regardless of the predictable gender imbalance and that beige headline booking, the rest of the bill should sort of set an example as to what we want the headliners to be about. The fact Janet Jackson is getting more positive buzz than The Killers makes me wonder why she could not have been booked as a headliner. There is definite forward-movement regarding genre diversity and bringing more to the party. I do feel like that reach need to stretch a bit more for 2020 but it is a pleasing mix of newer and big names on the poster. Even if the weather does not hold up, there is plenty of strut and electricity to get people jumping and united. That is what we need, I guess. We are in a very testing and struggling time so music can fill that gap. I am not quite enticed enough to go to Glastonbury – the headliners need to be a bit stronger – but it is wonderful seeing so many promising newcomers get their shot. To mark a busy and eclectic Glastonbury – with more names still to come – I have put together a playlist of songs from the artists already booked. As the playlist shows, the sheer assortment of sounds...

 IN THIS PHOTO: Kylie Minogue/PHOTO CREDIT: Kylie Minogue/Getty Images

IS amazing.

FEATURE: The March Playlist: Vol. 3: Our English Rose

FEATURE:

 

The March Playlist

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

Vol. 3: Our English Rose

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IT is a bit of a slender week…

PHOTO CREDIT: Arcade Fire

regarding big new releases. Aside from new tunes from Lucy Rose, Billie Marten; Arcade Fire, Solange and Shura, there is a bit of a mixed bag. It goes in cycles so you can never tell when we will get a really hot week or whether it will be a bit quiet. In this case, things are a little on the quiet side but there are still some great songs to be found. There is enough in there to keep you energised as you go through the weekend and, if anything, a chance to look at the lesser-known artists breaking through at the moment. As the weather is still a bit rough, let’s settle down with this week’s new music and let the assortment of sounds…

IN THIS PHOTO: Shura

DO their work.  

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

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Lucy RoseTreat Me Like a Woman

Billie MartenBetsy

Shura - BKLYNLDN

PHOTO CREDIT: Mary Ellen Matthews

Arcade FireBaby Mine

Wallows - Sidelines

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PHOTO CREDIT: Eliot Lee Hazel

Karen O & Danger MouseTurn the Light

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Jade BirdMy Motto

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PHOTO CREDIT: Elias Tahan

SolangeBinz

PHOTO CREDIT: Pennie Smith

The Good, The Bad & The QueenThe Truce of Twilight

Foals White Onions

Kara MarniLose My Love

Twin ShadowTruly

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IN THIS PHOTO: Vampire Weekend

Vampire Weekend (ft. Steve Lacy) - Sunflower

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Jenny LewisWasted Youth

Julia MichaelsApple

Khalid - Talk

PHOTO CREDIT: Bennett Raglin/Getty Images for Power 105.1

Juice WRLDHear Me Calling

PHOTO CREDIT: Israel Ramos

Anderson .Paak - King James

Emeli SandéSparrow

IN THIS PHOTO: Etta Bond

Etta Bond (ft. Kojey Radical, Shaé Universe) – If I Fall

Iggy AzaleaSally Walker

Lennon StellaBITCH (takes one to know one)

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Rachel PlattenWonder (from Wonder Park)

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Tierra Whack - Wasteland

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Una Healy - Strangers

IN THIS PHOTO: Cheat Codes

Cheat Codes, Daniel BlumeWho’s Got Your Love

PHOTO CREDIT: WDZIEKONSKI

King Gizzard & the Lizard WizardFishing for FishIes

Joy WilliamsWhen Does a Heart Move On

Hands Off GretelIt’s My Fault

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LalehKnock Knock

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Sophie Zelmani - Sunrise

Natalie McCoolWoman’s World

FEATURE: We Stand Together: The New Zealand Playlist

FEATURE:

 

We Stand Together

IN THIS PHOTO: Christchurch, New Zealand/PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images 

The New Zealand Playlist

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IT has been an horrific day for the people of Christchurch...

 IN THIS PHOTO: Christchurch, New Zealand/PHOTO CREDIT: @edwardmanson

in New Zealand. A terrorist attack has left forty-nine dead and many wounded in a senseless and insane attack. People around the world are sending their sympathies and best wishes but one wonders how it happened and what provoked anyone to carry out so a violent attack. The BBC reported the news here:

Forty-nine people have been killed and at least 20 wounded in shootings at two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern described the incident as a terrorist attack and one of New Zealand's "darkest days". It is the nation's deadliest attack.

A gunman identifying himself as an Australian live-streamed the rampage at Al Noor mosque to Facebook.

A man in his late 20s has been arrested and charged with murder. Two other men and one woman were also detained.

Firearms and explosive devices were recovered, Police Commissioner Mike Bush said. One of those detained was later released.

The gunman live-streaming the attack from a head-mounted camera said he was a 28-year-old Australian called Brenton Tarrant. The footage showed him firing indiscriminately at men, women and children from close range inside the Al Noor mosque.

Police called on the public not to share the "extremely distressing" footage online. Facebook said it had removed the gunman's Facebook and Instagram accounts and was working to remove any copies of the footage”.

New Zealand is known for its peaceful people and safety and this comes as a huge blow – a moment of evil that has shocked a nation! Although there is nothing that can make things better, I wanted to bring together some New Zealand-born/based artists and celebrate the music of the country. There will be a lot of questions following the terror attack and we hope the death toll does not raise. New Zealand is a fine nation and, as you can tell from the playlist below, it is a country that has produced...

 IN THIS PHOTO: Lake Tekapo, New Zealand/PHOTO CREDIT: @tokeller/Unsplash

SOME truly wonderful music.