Broadcasting a live edition of my radio show from the annual Melksham Christmas Fayre last weekend (December 23) turned out to be most enjoyable. As usual we had to deal with lots of technical problems, but soldiering on with that unique British spirit and pursuing our aims made it even more rewarding.
Listening back to our three hour broadcast afterwards was truly hilarious. A full and rather amusing account of our day plus a stream of the show will be coming next week as December begins. As part of the festive celebrations, RW/FF will once again be playing host to the musical Advent Calendar, featuring 24 different seasonal tracks from December 1 to Christmas Eve. I will also be asking various musicians about their favourite Christmas tracks. If you wish to distance yourself from Christmas music, throughout the month there will also be lots of Best Of 2013 articles, including features on the year’s finest tracks, the Top 50 albums of the year, plus the latest of my epic annual multi part compilations, which will be available to stream. Throughout December, RW/FF is a good place to be.
The debut album from the Manchester-based singer songwriter Sukh (aka Sukhdeep Krishanis) is undoubtedly one for the winter. The rich tones of his voice, the grand piano melodies and the gracious string arrangements across these ten tracks seem to wrap themselves around the listener like a comforting blanket, the gorgeous swell of the gently seductive opener ‘Arisen’ a fine example. A working musician, Sukh works as a doctor when he isn’t crafting and self-producing these easy going yet heartfelt numbers, and his understanding of medicine and the human mind even influences his musical work. Beautifully arranged with a charming warmth, when ‘Kings’ is at its best it makes an essential companion for these cold winter months. Not quite being as consistent as you’d expect a brief 35 minute album to be is the only reason this largely wonderful record isn’t scoring more marks overall. Read my full album review HERE.
On Wednesday I was sorry to hear that the magnificent Puressence had decided to go their separate ways. Dear Puressence: Thank you for making the late 90’s and beyond an even more glorious time. Thank you, and your legacy WILL live on with all of us who still love the music that has soundtracked our lives. Much respect and best of luck for the future, guys…
In gig action this week, I went to see the legendary Sparks for the first time, as they visited Bristol as part of their “Revenge Of Two Hand One Mouth” tour. A fantastic night in the company of Russell and Ron Mael, a fascinating act who remain as unpredicatable and forward-thinking as ever. A gig review will be coming soon in the Gig Reviews section HERE. In the meantime, photos from the gig can be seen HERE.
A few nights ago on Friday, I enjoyed a great night of local music at the Three Horseshoes in Bradford-On-Avon courtesy of the excellent Hell Death Fury, with support from the recently emerged Bite The Hand. Formed in around 2006, Hell Death Fury keep going from strength to strength, and after years spent strengthening their sound are preparing to release the follow up to their 2010 debut ‘Free Porn’. Tonight they were supported by the newly-formed Bite The Hand, a heavy five piece group playing rock and hardcore covers. Walking in to a band playing ‘Sabotage’ by the Beastie Boys is always a good way to begin your night, and as their set rolled on, it was surprising how powerful they were for a group only on their second ever gig. Singer Trigger and bassist Matt were also both former members of Nishe, and ex bandmate Bean made a guest appearance on a hectic and massively enjoyable cover of Refused‘s legendary ‘New Noise’. What a blast, and the first time in years that the three had shared a stage. With a superb drummer and a line-up who seem to gel brilliantly the future is bright for this lot. Hell Death Fury pitch their sound as a fusion of punk rock, ska, metal, dub and reggae. Never understating their love for a spliff, tracks from the debut LP like ‘Crack Party’, ‘Rude Boy’ and the awesome ‘Green Lane’ sounded fatter than ever, while their cover of Technohead‘s ‘I Wanna Be A Hippy’ went down a storm. Three brand new songs mixed ska, hip hop and hardcore, taking their sound to more complex but hugely enjoyable places. Certainly promises great signs that the second album could be even better than the first… Read more HERE, where there are also photos from the gig…
Another bright hope from my part of the country, Jordan Whatley is a Wiltshire based singer songwriter, who plays a stripped down, straight forward combination of folk and rock. His latest three track EP bears a somewhat darker, at times more angsty edge than the material on his debut album ‘The Shadowed Planet’. Knowing where his strengths are, while continuing to learn further and soak up more influences, the lead track ‘Ghosts Of Your Past’ demonstrates an impressive knack for direct, acoustic powered songs that don’t need to take diversions to get to where they’re going. Listen to more of his music by going HERE.
The great Analog Africa label’s new compilation ‘Angola Soundtrack 2’ is released on December 2, and represents the best of the short lived recording industry in Angola, the former Portuguese colony in south central Africa. It documents a brief moment of history between 1969 and 1978, when three recording companies produced approximately 800 limited records, mostly singles. They are rare jewels, each song with a significant story and feel behind it. You will hear exciting music blazed with the anticipation of emancipation, tracks fuelled with a sense of unity, community, importance and immediacy. In 2010, against all odds, Angola Soundtrack Vol.1 was awarded the German Record Critic’s Prize in the category “Black music”. Read Dominic Valvona‘s great review of the compilation HERE on his superb Monolith Cocktail site, a priceless resource for the eclectically-minded listener.
Rewind: 1995 (continued)
Now for the ‘Rewind’ part of the column, where I continue to tell the story of my life and how music has shaped it. I think every music blog writer should do these every so often, it may be time consuming but it’s brilliant for reliving the past and enjoying old memories. It also brings the reader closer to the writer, giving them a better understanding of the author’s musical roots and maybe allowing them to identify more with the writer too. And those of you who also grew up with Britpop will certainly be able to relate to my recollections of 1995. I have now reached the latter part, around about this exact point 18 years ago in fact…
Usually the music that people hear in their early teens is the music that they’ll treasure most throughout their lives. But for some people it happens earlier than that, and those people are usually the ones who embrace music as a lifelong obsession. For me it was aged 11. At that age your ears become a tiny bit more advanced and you begin to appreciate and notice certain qualities in music that you didn’t hear before. And because 11 is still a young age, you still get massively excited about things in the way kids do. In 1995 it didn’t matter that there was plenty of what I considered to be shite in the charts, because there was a lot of great stuff to make up for it. Cher‘s awful ‘Walking In Memphis’ cover and an even worse version of ‘Itchycoo Park’ by M People were two things I used to play during my DJ sets, and yet I didn’t think they were that bad at the time. A number of regrettable solo tracks from Madness frontman Suggs were also spun during those nights, but were understandably eclipsed in the memory by Blur‘s magnificent ‘The Universal’ and the unavoidable ‘Wonderwall’ by Oasis, which had ridiculously been held off the number one spot by another one of Robson And Jerome‘s dire karaoke covers. Other things I remember buying at that point: Bjork‘s ‘It’s Oh So Quiet’, the unplugged ‘Like A Rolling Stone’ cover by The Rolling Stones themselves (purchased for 25p from the WH Smith bargains shelf not longer after it was released) and the glorious ‘Miss Sarajevo’ collaboration between U2, Brian Eno and Pavarotti which was released under the name Passengers. As great as they could be, it’s easy to forget singles like that when there was so much of an emphasis on indie guitar bands at the time, something which still defines the era in retrospect.
During the mid 90’s, Blur, Suede and Oasis arrived, followed by Pulp and many others, ushering in the very last golden age of popular music. For a few years, the “alternative” became the mainstream, and truly, those years felt like one big party. The optimism can be heard in the tone and vibe of much Britpop-era music, something else that makes those glorious songs shine with a massive nostalgic power when you hear them now. It’s sometimes even found in the lyrics too… “We will find a brighter day…” “It really, really, really could happen…” “We’re coming out of the sidelines…” No wonder I thought that Oasis were going to become so massive that one day they’d achieve world peace. How ridiculous does that thought sound now? But I truly believed that this music was amazing enough to bring the entire world together in harmony. The older generation had spent the previous few years expressing how they felt that the quality of music had declined since the golden days of the 50’s, 60’s and 70’s. But in the 90’s, we had a revival of classic songwriting. Britpop wasn’t about image, gimmicks or chasing fame. It was about good songs and nothing else. And for those who didn’t like indie guitar bands, there was plenty of other stuff going on in the charts. The 90’s had everything. It had everything the previous decades had, even The Beatles. Well, sort of.
Since my Mum had always been a huge fan, the Fab Four had always been part of my musical life. But it was in 1995 that I started exploring their remarkable music further, coinciding with the news that remaining members Paul, George and Ringo were to reunite and complete some unreleased John Lennon demos, effectively a Beatles reunion on record. With the great new bands of the mid 90’s evoking the glory days of British music in the 60’s, it seemed an appropriate time for them to return. Yes it did feel a bit weird, but tremendously exciting. Everything was back then. I had massively high hopes for ‘Free As A Bird’, after all this was the greatest band of all time making a comeback. Some would quite reasonably argue that the majestic ‘Abbey Road’ was the perfect way to say goodbye, and that this partial reunion was unnecessary, even wrong. But I loved it. The song was premiered along with a wonderfully nostalgic promo video as part of the ‘Anthology’ television series that I watched avidly as my love for the group’s music grew and grew. I bought the single on CD the week it came out, and played it pretty much repeatedly (along with the b sides). I even played the undeniably downbeat track during my DJ sets at the club, although it would be aired towards the end of the night as things wound down. Unbelievably, this beautiful song was held off the number one spot by Michael Jackson‘s below-par ‘Earth Song’. Yes, 1995 saw a lot of classic singles being denied the top slot by some truly terrible records, but better than every single decent song of the time being ignored in favour of utterly worthless trash (hello 2013). As usual, I digress…
At around the same time, from the Woolworths in Chippenham I got myself a copy of the ‘Magical Mystery Tour’ album on CD with the ten pounds my Dad would give me each weekend in return for my DJing work, but listening to their music wasn’t where my obsession ended. I will never forget holding my own ‘memorial day’ to mark the 15th anniversary of Lennon’s death, a day where I had a photo of the man propped up on my school desk throughout every lesson I had that day. Most teachers saw it as a touching tribute, and those who must have been Beatles fans back in the day could understand my respect for the man. But a certain Religious Education teacher took exception to my commemoration and ordered me to take the Lennon photo off of my desk and put it away. I refused. “This is religious education isn’t it?” I replied, “well, music is my religion and Lennon is one of the Gods I worship… And at least we know that John Lennon actually existed”. That REALLY didn’t do me any favours. Coming to think of it, she may have had the famous “bigger than Jesus” comment fresh in mind… Some people, eh? Weirdly, another R.E class involved a question and answer exercise with the teacher, which inspired a kid called Grant to ask her what she thought about “Noely” from Oasis putting cocaine on his cornflakes. The funny piss taking little bastard. Thinking back now, Grant was actually an alright dude, one of the very few people in my class who wasn’t a popularity-seeking wanker. I digress again. Christ, no wonder this 1995 recap has taken me months to write!
More next week.