🎶 100,000 scrobbles

I reached the milestone of 100,000 scrobbles on Last.FM today. Every time a song plays on my hi-fi at home, or on my Spotify account when I am out and about, it gets logged on the service. I love that I have all of this data about my listening habits. It’s fascinating to see all of those song plays displayed graphically and look back on what I’ve been listening to.

From Scatter.FM. Those plays in the early hours are intriguing!

From Scatter.FM. Those plays in the early hours are intriguing!

My top artists and top albums from the Last.FM site

My top artists and top albums from the Last.FM site

Last.FM used to be a big deal back in the day but has faded into semi-obscurity. As my listening habits have moved back towards physical and downloaded media I’ve had to compensate by using different tools to get things logged:

  • I buy music from Bandcamp and download the lossless files which I like to listen to on my iPhone. Eavescrob does a great job of logging things played on my iPhone’s native music app (although you have to remember to open it after a listening session).
  • Discographic integrates with my physical music collection that I have catalogued in Discogs and lets me log an album play with a swipe.
  • I recently discovered Finale which has a myriad of useful features, such as listening to what’s playing around you now, Shazam-style, and logging it for you.

It’ll be interesting to see how quickly I log the next 100,000. Will it take another 12 years?

🎶 Cover song grab bag

I am an obsessive. When a song gets inside my head, I find myself wallowing in it. Part of my wallowing is to scour YouTube for cover versions of the song, finding wonderful versions that people have recorded and uploaded. Here I have gathered together some that I’ve found and loved over the past few years.

I’ve often thought that the fidelity of a recording isn’t as important as the performance. Despite some of these being recorded in unusual locations and on basic equipment, the quality of the music shines through. They all make me smile.

Erin Rae — Some Misunderstanding (originally by Gene Clark)

Mike Massé and Jeff Hall — SOS (originally by ABBA)

My Morning Jacket — Thank You (Fallettinme Be Mice Elf Agin)/Rhythm Nation (originally by Sly & The Family Stone/Janet Jackson)

The Decoders — Black Gold Of The Sun (originally by Rotary Connection)

500 Year Flood — I Got The (originally by Labi Siffre)

Laura McFett — Your Eyes (originally by The Sundays)

DaViglio — Acapella (originally by Kelis)

Amy Tighe & Yuni Sabatino — Power of Two (originally by the Indigo Girls)

Walk Off The Earth — Shape of You (originally by Ed Sheeran)

Tyler Kealey — Captain Fantastic and the Brown Dirt Cowboy (originally by Elton John)

Trevor Moss & Hannah-Lou — Your Love Is Forever (originally by George Harrison)

Indianna Dawn — Fuzzy (originally by Grant Lee Buffalo)

Martina & Peter — So Far Away (originally by Roxette)

nonotnowjim — Cancer (originally by Mansun)

📺 The Beatles: Get Back

Finished watching The Beatles: Get Back. What a treat! It was well worth the wait.

This is how history is made.

This is how history is made.

The Beatles have always been part of my life. My awareness as a child moved to obsession as a teenager in the early 1990s. I listened to as much of their recordings and hoovered up as much information as I could, reading books such as The Ultimate Beatles Encyclopedia from cover to cover. My obsession has waned but my interest is still alive; I continue to pick up the odd Beatles-related book or movie every now and again.

I’ve never seen the original Let It Be movie from 1969. It was always out of print and unavailable to buy. But the recording sessions were infamous. I’d read and heard so much about them I felt like I knew the story. It turns out that I did, but there is so much more colour to the narrative than I was expecting.

The three episode format, each one longer than many films, seems like an odd choice at first but makes sense upon watching them. Each one covers a period of about a week or so. The first is based on the sessions at Twickenham Studios, the second when they move into Apple Studio in Savile Row and the third covers the concert on the roof of the Apple office. Eight hours seems like a long running time but it didn’t feel that way. Usually when I watch a music documentary I am always clamouring for the ‘super deluxe director’s cut extended redux’ edition and feel a bit short-changed, but not this time. Jackson has judged the running time superbly, having edited it down from approximately 140 hours of audio and 55 hours of video. The edits are superb; you can spot the audio-only segments as they are cut away from the person talking but it isn’t distracting. The first episode seems to run at breakneck speed as different snippets of songs appear before we quickly move onto the next one.

Jackson has thoughtfully added visual context to the films, interspersing the footage with brief interludes to explain things such as the incredible-looking venue in Tripoli that Michael Lindsay-Hogg was trying to persuade them to play at, and exactly who Enoch Powell was.

The most incredible scene comes in the first episode where McCartney and Starr are waiting for the others to arrive. McCartney is noodling a riff on the bass guitar and suddenly the basic shape of Get Back, the song, emerges. It is absolutely extraordinary to watch; the audio equivalent of seeing someone take a piece of clay or a blank canvas and create something amazing, new and unique.

Harrison seems to be particularly productive, staying up late and writing new songs such as I Me Mine which he demos to the others in an almost finished form. Through the first episode I can see why Harrison gets annoyed and ends up walking out. The full attention McCartney gives to Lennon is totally different to the poor-quality attention he gives to Harrison. It seems so passive-aggressive and I’m not sure McCartney was even aware of it. I have to remember that he was only 26 at the time. At one point McCartney disparagingly refers to a Harrison tune as “one of his ‘last night’ songs”. They touch on gems such as All Things Must Pass but never come back to them again. The others didn’t recognise the wonderful treasures he was bringing to the table.

The story of The Beatles being Lennon’s band at the start and McCartney’s at the end is well-known. Lennon had already started taking heroin at this point and seemed content to let someone else be the driving force. Towards the end of the first episode, McCartney is talking to the room, saying how they need to have more structure to the work that they are doing and Lennon sits next to him playing seemingly hungover or stoned word-games. I think McCartney comes across well here, showing incredible patience.

As we move to Apple Studio in episode two it struck me at how expensive the whole adventure must have been. The Beatles’ first album, Please Please Me was recorded in a single day. The contrast with the Let It Be sessions couldn’t be more stark; seemingly endless recording with no proper numbered ‘takes’ to speak of and a vast number of people milling around the studio. They seem happy to bumble along, singing silly versions of their songs as they record that they know will never make the final cut.

The second magical air-punch-worthy moment takes place in episode two when Billy Preston arrives. He instantly delivers the secret sauce on the electric piano. The riffs are recognisable in the final versions of the songs that you hear on the Let It Be album and the whole room seems to lift just from him being there. I’ve heard snippets of his work before, such as the live version of That’s The Way God Planned It at the Concert for Bangladesh, but I need to give his studio albums a listen.

In episode three we get to see the ‘takes’ that ended up on the Let It Be album, helpfully annotated on-screen. Throughout the series there are snippets of conversation that ended up on the record, such as “‘I Dig A Pygmy’, by Charles Hawtree and the Deaf Aids; phase one in which Doris gets her oats!” and “That was ‘Can You Dig It?’ by Georgie Wood. And now we’d like to do ‘Hark The Angels Come’.” It’s strange to hear these out of context without the music kicking in straight afterwards. Whatever you think of the lush ‘wall of sound’ strings that he applied to some of the tracks, Phil Spector did an incredible job to create a now much-loved album out of what he had.

In the same episode we also see Starr playing Octopus’s Garden. You can see from the film how much Harrison contributed to developing the song. I assume it was de-prioritised in favour of the Lennon and McCartney numbers, only to reappear later that year on Abbey Road.

The final scenes featuring the rooftop concert are well worth the wait. They blew me away. All of a sudden, the band that had spent endless hours noodling and clowning around in the studio look like a proper group again. Their run-throughs of the songs are electrifying, even when John fluffs some of his lyrics in Don’t Let Me Down. It was amazing how much of the album was derived from the rooftop concert, given that it is outside and they only have late 1960s technology to capture it. Jackson does an incredible job to intersperse the live music with everything else that was going on — people being interviewed in the street about what they were hearing, and the police being held off for as long as possible. The simultaneous multi-camera shots add to the excitement.

I absolutely loved this series. It is perfect — I don’t think I could have asked for more. The years of work that were poured into making this series have paid off in a massive way and I am so glad that it exists. What a wonderful thing.

Got notified of the opportunity to go and see Magdalena Bay at their gig in London tonight. It was so tempting, but I couldn’t face being in a packed room with everyone singing along while the new COVID variant is out there. I really miss live music.

🎶 Tunes night

Ever since I was a teenager, my friend Mat and I have had brilliant evenings where we’ve got together to play tracks to each other, taking it in turns to pick tunes late into the night. I have such fond memories of stuffing a rucksack full of my favourite CDs and cycling over to his house with them on my back. Now that the COVID-19 restrictions have started to lift in the UK, and with both of us gratefully double-jabbed, I spent another great night at his place swapping musical discoveries again.

For the sake of our memories, now we are both old, here are the tracks we got through.

BANKS — Gemini Feed

Aldous Harding — Fixture Picture

Daniel Rossen — Silent Song

Helena Deland — There Are A Thousand / Two Queries

Light Asylum — IPC

Wilder Maker — Drunk Driver

King Creosote — You Just Want

Katie Von Schleicher — Caged Sleep

Buke & Gase — No Land

FADE — Whole

Three Trapped Tigers — Cramm

Anna Koniotou — Smack My Bitch Up (Drum Cover)

Buke & Gase — Dress

Magdalena Bay — How To Get Physical

Them Are Us Too — Eudaemonia

Snowpoet — Pixel

Tom Vek — Trying To Do Better

Emma Ruth Rundle — Arms I Know So Well

Roisin Murphy — Let Me Know

Thandii — Cameo

Trevor Moss & Hannah-Lou — Your Love Is Forever

Thandii — Forgetful

Aldous Harding — The Barrel

St. Vincent — Laughing With A Mouth Of Blood

Broken Social Scene — 7/4 Shoreline

Wait…where’s the single?

The BBC’s excellent programme on Top of the Pops: The Story of 1989 has got me thinking. Until I watched it, I hadn’t appreciated the background to Marc Almond and Gene Pitney’s wonderful duet version of Something’s Gotten Hold Of My Heart.

Almond had recorded a cover of Pitney’s song for his 1988 album The Stars We Are. Pitney, the original singer of the song in the late 1960s, heard this version and offered to re-record it with Almond as a duet. This version was released as a single in January 1989 and spent four weeks at #1 in the UK chart.

I was 12 years old when the song came out and I loved it. It gets into your brain and you find yourself singing it for weeks. Imagine loving the song so much that you decide that you want to save up your money and buy the album instead of the single. You wander to the record store with your hard-earned cash. Find the album, buy the album, get it home, sit down in front of the stereo, play it, the big number arrives and…no Gene Pitney.

Wouldn’t you feel a bit cheated and let down?

It got me thinking — what other albums are there out there where the big single, or version of the single, is missing?

I canvassed some friends for other examples and have gathered some together here. I think that there are three variants to this.

What other examples have I missed?

1. Albums where the big song is present, but is significantly different to the single

Back to Life on Club Classics Vol. One by Soul II Soul. The single is a groovy, funky masterpiece. The album version is an acapella tune that while beautiful, lacks the punch that the single delivers. But the beats appear at 2:40 and it segues superbly into Jazzie’s Groove.

Revolution on The Beatles (also known as The White Album). Crazy loud electric single, replaced by a plodding, organic-sounding groove on the album. To be fair to the band, the album version had a ‘1’ suffix, but you could be forgiven for mistaking this as just distinguishing it from its long-lost cousin Revolution 9 which is also on the album.

19-2000 on Gorillaz. Not a band I was into, but it was early enough into the new century to still be ubiquitous on the radio and TV. The album version of the song is slow, and the version everyone played from the single (the ‘Soulchild remix’) is much faster.

Professional Widow on Boys For Pele by Tori Amos. The Armand van Helden ‘Star Trunk Funkin’ Mix’ that was everywhere in 1998 couldn’t be more different from the harpsichord-heavy album version. According to Wikipedia:

1997 – Boys for Pele was reissued in the UK and Australia featuring both the LP version and the full-length Star Trunk Funkin’ Mix back-to-back. Consequently, the track “In the Springtime of His Voodoo” is cut from the album.

Gain a massive tune, lose a song.

2. Album versions which are mildly, but jarringly, different from the single

I grew up (“tall and proud”) listening to Queen’s Hammer To Fall on their Greatest Hits II album. This is the version that accompanies the official video, so I assume it was the single. When I finally got around to buying The Works, it was weird to hear the different vocal snippet and additional few bars of guitar at around the two-minute mark in the song.

The B-52’s Love Shack always trips me up at weddings. You don’t know until around three minutes in whether you’re dancing and a-lovin’ to the single version, or the extended version that appears on the album.

3. Albums where a song is missing (and you should really have checked the track listing before you parted with your cash — you only have yourself to blame)

Queen’s Sheer Heart Attack doesn’t appear on the album Sheer Heart Attack, it is actually on News Of The World.

Gomez’s Bring It On doesn’t appear on the album Bring It On, it is actually on Liquid Skin.

The original release of Some Friendly by The Charlatans didn’t contain The Only One I Know. It was added later.

Ride’s song Going Blank Again wasn’t on their album of the same name, but instead was a track on their Twisterella EP of the same era.

According to Wikipedia, Michael Jackson’s single Leave Me Alone “was not included on the original vinyl nor cassette releases [of the Bad album] but was included on the CD release and now is included in all releases.”

Die Da!?! Memories of MTV Europe

Satellite TV arrived in my life in 1988 when I was eleven years old, and it felt like I sudden leap into the future. My dad had seen a ‘you can’t afford not to’ offer in the newspaper that got us a dish and 16-channel decoder supplied and fitted for next to nothing. Turning it on for the first time was a big event — we were the first people I know to get a dish and I remember having lots of friends and neighbours over to see it. We were all falling over each other in the lounge as we looked with wonder at the new channels.

An Amstrad Fidelity decoder. Look at all the buttons! (Picture courtesy of Wikimedia Commons)

An Amstrad Fidelity satellite TV decoder, circa 1988. Look at all the buttons! Picture courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Dishes all over Western Europe pointed skyward to the Astra satellite, and we all received the same programming. There were only 16 channels on the service, but this was a crazy amount compared to the four that we got through our terrestrial aerial. Only a few of the new channels were British — Sky One, followed eventually by Sky Movies and Sky News — with a significant number of others in German. The most fun were those that were aimed at everyone over Europe, typically in English, such as Eurosport and Screensport. The king of them all was MTV Europe, the channel that was probably the reason we got the dish in the first place. From that point on, when I wasn’t in front of my home computer you could usually find me in front of the TV.

Music was a big deal in our house when I was growing up. The radio, a tape or CD were playing all the time, whether we were at home or in the car. As it was for millions of others, for me Friday at school was spent talking about all of the bands that we’d seen on Top Of The Pops the night before. Having MTV Europe in the house meant that I no longer had to wait for Thursday. Back then, the ‘M’ in MTV meant something, and music was front and centre in the programming. When a specialist show such as 120 Minutes, Most Wanted or Yo! MTV Raps wasn’t showing, we would get a stream of videos from the MTV playlist one after the other. It was brilliant.

One of the big benefits of having a pan-European station was that the songs on heavy rotation often hadn’t gone far up the charts in the UK. They even had a specific chart programme, the MTV European Top 20 countdown, hosted by Pip Dann. Compared to our national chart, this one seemed to change at a glacial pace, and Dann must have been challenged to keep her commentary fresh every week.

Over the years I’ve noticed that there are a whole bunch of songs that I remember from those days that my friends don’t seem to be aware of. With the help of a wonderfully old-school-looking website, I’ve scoured my memories to pick out the weird and wonderful songs that got tons of airplay on MTV Europe but are relatively unknown here in the UK.

Lambada — Kaoma (1989)

People seem to know this song but aren’t aware of the band that made it big. A video filled with Latin dancing, revealing clothes, Orangina, a silent angst between children who want to dance with each other, and an angry adult who slaps a young girl.

Got to Get — Rob ‘n’ Raz featuring Leila K (1990)

I could never make my mind up as to whether this was ‘so bad it’s good’ or actually good. One thing I do know is that it burrowed into my brain very, very deeply. I’ve never met anyone else who has heard of Leila K, “a Swedish Eurodance singer and rapper of Moroccan descent.”

Heading for a Fall — Vaya Con Dios (1992)

Not the sort of thing I would have gone out and bought, but it had something about that I enjoyed. Everything seemed vaguely ‘adult’ about the music. Listening again now, the vocals are superb. I have no idea what the video’s all about though.

Still Got The Blues — Gary Moore (1990)

Always had my dad playing air guitar within half a second of appearing on TV. People seem to have heard about Gary Moore, formerly of Thin Lizzy and Skid Row, but this song only made it to number 31 in the UK. The Belgians (#1), Dutch (#2), Norwegians (#3), Swedes (#4), and Finns and Poles (both #7) must have driven the amount of airplay that this got on MTV.

Die Da!?! — Die Fantastischen Vier (1992)

This could have so nearly been the first song to have an interrobang in it’s title. To this day I have no idea what they are singing about (“that one!?!”), but the fantastic four showed me that German rap is fun!

Tag am Meer — Die Fantastischen Vier (1994)

A totally different vibe with this one. Like the Beastie Boys moving on from their (You Gotta) Fight For Your Right (To Party) phase, the band seem to have matured, got serious, and increased the video budget. Chilled out rapping in front of a video that reminds me of Neneh Cherry’s Manchild. Weird. Great.

Cose Della Vita — Eros Ramazzotti (1993)

Italian power pop, complete with a truck driver’s gear change. Apparently Ramazzotti is massive in Europe, and this song made it to #1 in Belgium, #3 in Spain and #4 in Italy. I bought a tape copy (quite literally) of the album on a family holiday in Bulgaria in 1994. This is the best song on there.

Bakerman — Laid Back (1989)

Fancy dress sky diving to Danish electro-pop with Prince-style backing vocals in a video directed by Lars von Trier. What could be better? Made it to #44 in the UK chart, but the Austrians took it all the way to #1.

Wind of Change — Scorpions (1991)

“I followed them on squark, down to gonky park.” Those immortal misheard opening lines from this German metal band were seemingly played every few minutes on MTV Europe in 1991. Despite the video being a montage of recent news footage, I had no idea at the time that this was such an important song with associations to the fall of the Berlin Wall and the Soviet Union, with viewers of the German ZDF network in 1999 choosing this as ‘the song of the century’. 14 million copies sold. Made it to #2 in the UK, but you never hear of it here now.

(I Wanna Give You) Devotion — Nomad featuring MC Mikee Freedom (1991)

I love this song, a one-hit wonder from Nomad. The video is super low-budget but completely memorable. And I saw it a lot. Much, much better than other songs of the time that ‘featured’ a rapper. Take-it-a-down-now-Mikee!

Go For It — Joey B Ellis featuring Tynetta Hare (1990)

The first three CDs I ever bought were George Michael’s Listen Without Prejudice Vol. 1, a Do The Bartman single and the Rocky V soundtrack. This was the lead song from the somewhat patchy soundtrack and for a short time I thought it was superb. These days Joey B Ellis is known as MC Breeze.

Crucified — Army Of Lovers (1991)

The only other person I know who has ever heard of Army of Lovers was a young Russian chap I worked with over a decade ago. They had a dark-haired male singer that looked like Paul King, and everyone seemed to flounce around in revealing underwear. Swedish euro pop was all a bit too much for me at 13 years old.

From looking at the charts, as the 1990s progressed it seems as though the number of big European Top 20 hits that were unknown in the UK seemed to diminish. We were all listening to the same songs. As the number of available satellite channels grew, MTV Europe was replaced with regional broadcasts, which further reduced exposure to massive hits from the continent. I drifted away from MTV as studying, exams and going out with friends replaced the time I had spent at home on the couch. But these tunes are still with me.

Today’s Bandcamp Friday purchases

It’s Bandcamp Friday, where the company forgoes their revenue share from everything sold on their platform for the day. It’s a great way to support artists, particularly during a time where they are unable to make any money or promote their music with live performances.

Over the past few months I’ve really enjoyed exploring Bandcamp and finding new artists to listen to. It takes a little bit of effort, and that’s part of the fun. I tend to take a look at who else has bought/supported an artist I like and see what else they have been buying. Finding something new that you love is very rewarding.

I’ve bought vinyl copies of everything where I can. The lovely thing about Bandcamp is that you can stream from the website or download lossless files while you wait for the physical music to make its way to you.

What I bought today:

Magdalena Bay — A Little Rhythm And A Wicked Feeling and mini mix vol. 1

I’ve been listening to Magdalena Bay for the past few weeks and really love what they do. Their music and videos both have a very home-grown feel, crossing 1990s sounds with graphics that look like they came out of the early days of the web crossed with GTA: Vice City.

They refer to both of these records as EPs, but A Little Rhythm And A Wicked Feeling is pretty much album length at just under half an hour. There are so many good songs here, and it’s a fabulous journey from start to finish.

mini mix vol. 1 is only 13 minutes long, but you don’t feel short-changed when you hear it. The songs are dreamy and catchy, and you want to start the whole thing over again once you get to the end.

What has recently blown me away is how incredible their songs are when they are stripped back. Paste Magazine posted a set to YouTube earlier this year which has three of their songs with just vocals and keyboard and they are stunning. My favourite is Mine from mini mix vol. 1:

Helena Deland — Someone New

I raved about Helena Deland here a few months back. It was great to get an email to say that her first album will be out soon, so I’ve taken the opportunity to pre-order it today. The title track has been released and I’m really looking forward to hearing the rest.

Incidentally, one of our cats seems to be mesmerised by the video to this song, which is a ringing endorsement.

Peggy Sue — Vices

A band with a very un-Googleable name. Their music is a little bit 1960s surfer guitar mixed with now and the results are splendid. The guitar in the chorus of In Dreams reminds me a little of the climax of Belle and Sebastian’s Lazy Line Painter Jane, in a very very good way.

MUNYA — MUNYA

I’m still exploring Munya’s music but didn’t want to wait until next month. Her mixed English/French dream-pop has pulled me in.

There Are A Thousand

I recently discovered Helena Deland via Bandcamp, and now cannot get her song There Are A Thousand out of my head. Particularly this amazing live version recorded outdoors in Paris.

The original studio version is incredible also, with its slightly distorted/lo-fi guitar. It’s so beautiful.

Instead of releasing an album, her latest music was in the form of four EPs, Altogether Unaccompanied Vol. I–IV, one EP on each side across two vinyl records. Delicate vocals, with moods that take you all over the place. Both Claudion and Rise on volume IV remind me of the early Gemma Hayes EPs which I have loved for many years.

The other big earworm from the EPs for me is Body Language, which is a masterpiece of understatement.

The EPs came out in 2018, so I have my fingers crossed that I’ve found her music at a time when there is more to come soon.

Ed’s Not Dead -​-​-​- Hamell Comes Alive!

I’m so excited that Hamell on Trial’s live album from 2000 is being re-released. I’ve loved the CD for many years, but jumped at the chance to own one of the 100 vinyl copies. I first saw him in 2001 and this really captures the incredible live show that I witnessed, where you have to remind yourself that it is just one guy and a single guitar making all that noise. One of the best live records I’ve ever heard.

Live stream concerts

I use a couple of services to track upcoming gigs for bands that I like, SongKick and BandsInTown. As there are no gigs to go to, both of them have taken different approaches to what you can do instead. SongKick has a list of upcoming concerts that will be live-streamed, and BandsInTown has its own live Twitch channel where they will be streaming music from this evening.

I managed to get the Smoke Fairies gig on 3 April added to the SongKick list, and now just need to decide whether it is worth opening a temporary Facebook account to attend!

🎧 A baker’s dozen of the moment

I love my commute home on a Friday night. It’s the one guilt-free evening of the week where I stop thinking about work, give my podcast-saturated brain a rest and spend a bit of time with my headphones on, getting lost in an album. Being involved in our little Album Club (and, more recently, investing in a turntable) has brought a lot of music into my life, and I’ve been on many voyages of discovery. On one of my recent Friday night commutes I collected together a playlist of 13 songs from the best albums I’ve heard over the past year or so.

Track-by-track

Oyster Trails — Blue-Eyed Hawk

After falling in love with Snowpoet’s album Thought You Knew (more on that later), I dug around to find other music that the band members had created. Blue-Eyed Hawk’s Under The Moon features Lauren Kinsella’s beautiful voice front and centre, and pre-dates the latest Snowpoet album by a few years. It’s a really interesting album — it definitely pushes up against the boundaries of the kind of jazz that I like, but has some great songs on it. Oyster Trails kicks off the album in a very bizarre, dream-state fashion, kind of like an updated version of the start of Kate Bush’s Moving, the opening track from her debut album. This song then takes a different path when when the distorted bass and drums kick in, followed by Kinsella’s wonderful vocals and a gradual crescendo of the most incredibly beautiful trumpet.

Les Fleur — Minnie Riperton

This track is one that turned up on my Spotify Discover Weekly playlist and made me sit up and take notice. The opening few bars were so warm and resonant and felt really familiar, even though I was sure I had never heard them before. They immediately got me into a place where I know I could be about to hear something really good. Riperton’s vocals are wonderful and delicate, and the song soon builds to a big crescendo with the backing vocals singing the main chorus. Like the album it comes from, Come To My Garden, it has a very strange vibe and reflects the out-there musical collective of Rotary Connection, the band that Riperton had emerged from. The album isn’t a straightforward listen and is a bit of an acquired taste; some of the songs leave me with feelings that no other music seems go give me, almost as they are not from this world. The final minute or so of Rainy Day In Centerville is a case in point; it is haunting and unnerving, and I cannot work out whether this was intended or if I am just hearing it with ears not tuned correctly to the 1970 vibe. Stevie Wonder was a big fan and collaborator, and said in an interview that he played this album so much that he wore out multiple copies.

Oh I Wept — Free

I spotted a copy of Free’s Fire and Water album while flicking through the bountiful vinyl crates in Aylesbury’s Deco Audio. I’ve loved All Right Now since my mum introduced me to it as a child but I’d never explored their music further. The super-cheap price lured me to take a chance and I am glad I did. This album has a lovely warm and organic vibe to it. Oh I Wept is the second track and has a sound that belies the bands age at the time they made it; when it was released in 1970, lead singer Paul Rodgers was only 21.

Send My Love — Marika Hackman

I wrote about my love for this album in a recent post. After many plays, this track remains my favourite. It comes at the end of side one and is achingly beautiful, starting as a quiet, understated message to a loved one and building to an incredible three-note guitar riff which sounds as though it is being played at the top of a mountain, resonating across the valleys all around. The song is a brilliant, clever bridge between the first and second halves of the album, and like all of the tracks it works best when heard as part of the whole.

Thank You (Falettinme Be Mice Elf Agin) — Sly & The Family Stone

Another ritual of many a Friday night is tuning into iPlayer, to see what music programmes have turned up. I thought I had already seen Janet Jackson: Taking Control but although it was a few years old, either I had missed it the first time around or wasn’t paying enough attention. I never owned any Janet Jackson records as a kid but her music was definitely something that I enjoyed, and it was a love shared with my school friends. In the documentary they broke down the details of Rhythm Nation and I discovered that the main riff that underpins the whole song comes from a break in this amazing Sly and The Family Stone tune. It’s a strange song — very monotonous, almost hypnotic, and only breaks at the end of each chorus. But it chugs along with such an incredible vibe that you don’t want it to stop. Soon after watching Taking Control I was fortunate to catch The Story of Funk: One Nation Under A Groove where I learned that this is the song upon which Family Stone bassist Larry Graham invented ‘slapping’. Maximum funk.

We Are The Light — The Alarm

Another discovery thanks to the BBC4 documentary team. Smashing Hits! The 80s Pop Map of Britain and Ireland with Midge Ure and Kim Appleby hit all the right spots for me, with new interviews with many different artists through a geographical lens. I settled into enjoy the series but didn’t expect to find anything revelatory. Then in episode two they focused on Rhyl, North Wales, and The Alarm showed up. I’d been aware of the band since I was very young; some forward-thinking relative bought me a copy of the Look-in Pop Annual in the early 1980s and I had started to read about groups and artists that I had never actually heard. Music was very expensive for a pre-teen on 50p pocket money a week and I had no access to explore anything I was reading about. The Alarm stayed in this bracket for me until a few months ago, when this documentary exploded them onto my screen playing 68 Guns from Top of the Pops in September 1983. The song is instantly likeable, as is their over-earnest performance and laws of physics-defying haircuts. It was like I had struck gold — a good eighties band that I had never heard of, hidden in plain sight. So far I’ve only managed to explore their debut, Declaration, and have been taken aback by how many great songs are on there. I don’t think I’ve ever heard any of them on the radio and cannot fathom why. We Are The Light is a real highlight and gives you a taste of the kind of music you can find on the album; it’s as good as anything else that came out of the 1980s.

Drink The Elixir — Salad

My parents bought a satellite dish in the late 1980s when I was eleven years old. Adding 161 channels to our existing four felt like a giant leap into the future, so much so that I had friends come over to my house after school specifically to watch it. The fact that MTV Europe was one of the channels was life-changing, and I don’t think that there were many days from that point on that it wasn’t tuned in for a few hours in our house. Listening to and talking to my friends about music dominated my time at school, and I remember Salad being one of the many guitar-based bands that were part of the chat in the mid-1990s. They stuck in my mind as their lead singer, Marijne van der Vlugt, was familiar to me as an MTV Europe host. At that time I didn’t invest too much of my attention their way. Earlier this year the wonderful Super Deluxe Edition blog alerted me to a new 1990s UK indie compilation called Lost Alternatives2, curated by Steve Lamacq. There are some highlights, as well as quite a few lowlights, but this Salad track is a standout for me. It’s a low-key, lo-fi start with some strange vocals but it soon finds its groove and takes me back to being 17 again. It’s of its time, but it still sounds great. YouTube even have a version of the song where the band appeared on the MTV Europe show Most Wanted, hosted by fellow presenter Ray Cokes, which makes me really feel like I’m back there again.

Fading Lines — Amber Arcades

Over the past couple of years I have spent countless hours listening to Brexit-related podcasts, catching up on news and trying to work out what I can do to help resist the nationalistic, inward-looking path that we are going down. The jewel in the crown is Remainiacs, which strikes a wonderful balance between humour, anger, information and positive thinking. What I never expected was that the podcast would introduce me to new music. Amber Arcades, a/k/a Annelotte de Graaf, appeared on an episode way back in October 20183, talking about her then new album European Heartbreak, and they featured an excerpt of her song Goodnight Europe. I loved it and couldn’t wait to explore more. Fading Lines is actually from her first album, which is a little less laid-back and a bit more indie. The song reminds me of 1990s pop, with its shimmering distorted guitar riff and difficult-to-discern vocals. Best played very, very loud.

Furnaces — Ed Harcourt

Ed Harcourt is another artist that I have been aware of for some time but hadn’t listened to. I’m pretty sure that his name appeared regularly in Uncut magazine when I read it in the early 2000s, but I never sought him out. Once again, Spotify’s Discover Weekly playlist brought him firmly to my attention when the amazing Loup Garou turned up one day. The whole Furnaces album is very good, and the title track is a good representation of what you can find there. Great songs, great lyrics, great vocals. From what I’ve read, this may not be his best album which means that there is plenty more for me to get my ears wrapped around as I explore his back catalogue in the future.

Moonshine Freeze — This Is The Kit

From Discover Weekly once more. I’m not sure exactly which song from this album turned up in my feed (possibly Hotter Colder?), but it was quirky and different enough for me to notice and want to explore more. I don’t know much about the band yet, but I love the sound of this track, which blends an eerie folk sound with a beat that makes me want to dance.

Love Again — Snowpoet

I’ve written about Snowpoet here a few times. Their album Thought You Knew was a major catalyst to me purchasing a turntable last year. Love Again is a big track on a very short album, running at seven minutes of the 34 in total, but it’s a lovely thing that it is allowed to expand in the way it does. The main refrain is hypnotic and draws you in as the song progresses. All of the instruments perfectly compliment each other to make something wonderful — the jazz drums and keyboards alongside the most gorgeous, warm bass and a perfect saxophone solo — layered with Lauren Kinsella’s beautiful voice.

Honey — Robyn

Back to MTV Europe again. Robyn came to my attention back in the mid-1990s when MTV were playing Do You Know (What It Takes) and Show Me Love on heavy rotation. I’m an unashamed fan of great pop music and I loved both of these songs. Later, I picked up a cheap second-hand copy of her debut album Robyn Is Here. Ten years later, I noticed from the billboards on the London Underground that Robyn was back as a dance artist with tracks such as Dancing On My Own and seemed to have a new generation of followers, but I never spent the time to check out her new music. Fast forward another ten years to the release of Honey. This time, I took a chance and bought the album. After repeated plays the album reveals itself to be a masterpiece; it’s dance music, but it is so much more than that. I wanted to include both Baby Forgive Me and Send To Robin Immediately (sic) in this playlist as they compliment each other so well as back-to-back tracks, but that would be two songs! Honey is a good compromise. It’s the centrepiece of the album and manages to sound simultaneously joyous and contemplative. It’s wonderful.

You Don’t Care — Terry Callier

I stumbled across this album while browsing Discogs one evening, being drawn in by the amazing cover. This album is a complex affair from 1972, with incredible songs that stretch out without feeling too long, and an opener that runs to nearly nine minutes. I hadn’t realised that I’d first heard Callier’s voice when he duetted with Beth Orton on Pass In Time from her Central Reservation album, a favourite of mine from 20 years ago. What Color Is Love is a real late-night treat, and You Don’t Care finishes things off with a backing-vocal driven refrain and beautiful guitars. It’s the only song on the album that doesn’t feature Callier’s vocals, but it sticks with you long after it finishes.


  1. Potential channels. From memory, not all of the 16 were ‘live’ at the time we had the system installed. 
  2. The entire compilation is available as a Spotify playlist
  3. From about 37:30 onwards. 

The best album I’ve heard this year

Warning: The songs in this blog post contain a significant amount of swearing and other adult material. It’s best not to play them out loud if there are little ears around.

I first heard Marika Hackman in early 2019 through my Spotify Discover Weekly playlist. I tend to stick Discover Weekly on in the background as I commute to and from work on the train. The playlist has been consistently excellent at introducing me to new music. As my brain is unfamiliar with the songs, it stops me from getting distracted — if I don’t know what comes next I find I can concentrate more. Occasionally, a song will break through into the foreground of my consciousness for a bit; I tend to ‘like’ them to explore them later, and then carry on with my work.

Marika Hackman’s Time’s Been Reckless was a different beast. It demanded to be listened to and made me completely stop what I was doing in order to pay attention. After a couple of plays of the album that this song came from, 2017’s I’m Not Your Man, I found myself becoming obsessed. It’s very rare for me to go back and start an album again as soon as it finished, but for weeks I just didn’t want to listen to anything else.

When I heard that Marika had new music coming out in 2019 I felt as though I had found her at just the right time. But how could the new album be anywhere near as good as I’m Not Your Man? The first single, I’m Not Where You Are, was very catchy but more electronic and poppy than what I had fallen in love with. I played it a few times, enjoyed it, but was worried that I wasn’t going to like the new stuff as much.

A little while later, The One came out. I was worried. I liked the music even less than the previous single. It was even more poppy and further away from the downbeat masterpieces on I’m Not Your Man, with amusing lyrics, a fancy video and some weirdness that I just couldn’t get my head around. It seemed gimmicky.

But when it was released in August, hearing the album changed everything. It all made sense. Any Human Friend is a masterpiece.

With 11 tracks spread over just 41 minutes, the album is a perfectly-sized thing that is much greater than the sum of its parts. It starts off with Wanderlust, a strange, folksy, delicate lo-fi song, somewhere between something off of Marika’s first album and an early song by Kathryn Williams. As it peters out, the start of The One is in perfect juxtaposition, ramping things up to its modern sound. It really works, and repeated listens reveal a depth to the song that I didn’t realise was there at first. Marika has even put out a couple of acoustic versions of the song which offer completely different perspectives, showing how good the song is.

All Night then brings things down again, with effortless vocals and a simple guitar riff quickly turning into a song that is lyrically shocking, but delicate and dreamy in its delivery. It quickly became my favourite on the album at first. It’s been difficult to stop myself from singing this as I go about my day, but given the lyrics it is one to whisper in your head as opposed to sharing it with everyone around you.

Blow has a wonderful eighties-sounding synth beat to it, and a release when the chorus comes around that you didn’t realise you needed until it arrives. There are echoes of The One, particularly in the backing sounds which are like the ‘human’ instrument on the old organs from the 1980s. I’m Not Where You Are follows, which again sounds so much better now that it is in the context of the album as a whole.

Send My Love is probably the highlight of the album for me after repeated listens. Forlorn and full of melancholy with a layered complexity that quickly creeps its way in from a simple start. When the song’s main lyrical content is over, it has built to a grand instrumental soundscape which makes me feel that I am at the top of a hill looking at the land all around, before being stripped back to leave nothing but the strange robotic vocal chant at the end. Cleverly, the same repeated lyric that finishes the song is actually the hook of the next one, Hand Solo. I don’t think I noticed it at first, and I imagine that if you have the vinyl this would be even more subtle as a flip of the record stands in between the two tracks.

Hand Solo is the third single from the album and at first I thought it was going to be gimmicky (with that title) but it’s actually a fantastic tune — bass-driven and thumping, again with the layers that reward repeated listens. There’s an excellent live version on YouTube that highlights just how good this song is1. Once again, it’s over as quickly as it starts.

The echoey sound effects at the end of Hand Solo turn into the the complex opening beats of Conventional Ride, which despite its strange timing turns into a relatively straightforward song. It’s good, but like all of the songs on the album it doesn’t outstay its welcome before getting into a Beatle-y dreamscape finish.

Come Undone has a swagger about it which you can’t help but love, with a bass riff that makes your feet want to dance. All of the elements from earlier in the album come together here, with very loud, almost grating FX-heavy guitar which gets better every time you hear it. The chorus is a real earworm; this is the other song that I found myself singing in my head.

Hold On brings something different again. It puts the brakes on, with a simple downtempo metronomic beat — at some points that is literally all you hear for a few bars — and eerie echoey vocals that are almost impossible to make out. Magnificent and beautiful.

Despite being the title track, Any Human Friend is probably the least memorable of all the songs. It has a fresh feel to it, almost like the sound of a clear new spring day after everything that has gone before, with minimal effects and Japanese-sounding strings. It’s a satisfying end.

The lyrics throughout the album are amazing. They are extremely explicit in parts without feeling like they are there just to shock; there is always a point. I haven’t yet bought a vinyl copy as it would be a rare occasion when I would be able to play it out loud; it’s definitely one to enjoy with headphones on your own.

I love this album. I’ve played it so much, but still enjoyed listening to it as I wrote this post. Marika Hackman is an incredible artist. I’m fortunate enough to be going to see her live in March next year, and I can’t wait to hear what she’ll do next.


  1. From the 4:31 mark onwards. 

Everything old new is new old again

There’s a certain joy in hearing an old song and recognising a sample that was used in a tune I’m more familiar with. Thank You (Falettinme Be Mice Elf Agin) was a great recent discovery for me whilst revisiting Janet Jackson’s Rhythm Nation, Eminem’s My Name Is has been usurped by Labi Siffre’s incredible I Got The1, and I never expected to hear shades of De La Soul when listening to a Steely Dan album recommended to me by a friend last week.

On a recent Friday night ‘music nostalgia-fest for one’, I found a Spotify playlist for Hits 6, a compilation that my parents had bought on tape back in the day. Seeing the black-and-rainbow album cover art again triggered a torrent of happy memories. In the late 1980s I had listened to it over and over again, and even remember packing the bulky double cassete case in our hand luggage for listening to on my personal stereo, as well as in the hire car when we went on holiday. Hits was a rival compilation series to Now That’s What I Call Music (the excellent Super Deluxe Edition website recently reviewed Now 4 and the first Hits album side-by-side) and all of those albums from the late-80s period are special to me.

What I hadn’t expected when listening to Hits 6 was the completely new feeling of finding a song again that I once knew well, but recognised the hook from a completely different tune that I’d heard many years later. Strike had the genius idea of taking Donna Allen‘s Serious and sampling it for U Sure Do; the later song had earwormed itself into my brain in 1994 without making a connection to the original. Donna Allen’s is the more interesting tune, although I’m not convinced about either of the videos!


  1. Featuring Chas and Dave, no less! 

Snowpoet @ Green Note

Green Note

Green Note

Now that was a delightful night out. The Green Note is a lovely, intimate venue just a few yards away from Camden Town tube station. I got there early and brazenly plonked myself right at the front, a good move as the place was sold out and ended up fully packed. As it filled up I had the good fortune of the seat next to me being taken by Peter Freeman, a stalwart of the jazz scene who goes to gigs almost every night of the week. He was delightful company. Everyone in the band seemed to know him, and I overheard one of them say to him at as I left at the end that they always need to be on their game when he’s in the audience. What a wonderful way to spend your retirement.

It doesn’t get much closer to the stage than this. My table is visible in the lower part of the shot!

It doesn’t get much closer to the stage than this. My table is visible in the lower part of the shot!

Full up but they kept coming

Full up but they kept coming

Snowpoet were brilliant from start to finish. Lauren Kinsella‘s voice, and her delicate control of it, was the centrepiece. The band played a couple of songs where Lauren was accompanied by very little, and it was mesmerising. The rest of the band were amazing, with members jumping between instruments for each part of the set, playing seamless segues between songs and letting the music build, leap and soar.

In many ways it must be more daunting to play smaller venues than larger ones, with every last piece of the performance under the microscope, and a dependency for the audience and the performers to tune in and respond to each other. Awkwardly, the stage was placed at the entrance to the room which meant that anyone needing to go to the toilet, needing to come back from the toilet, arriving late or getting bar supplies had to shuffle past in between songs. After the first number, a latecomer tripped on the guitarist’s music stand, sending the sheets flying everywhere. The band coped admirably with the pauses and flying paper, keeping the audience engaged and sustaining the vibe.

I felt like a stranger when I entered, but fully part of the room by the time it wrapped up with a wonderful encore of Love Again. I’m really looking forward to seeing Snowpoet again sometime, and hearing more from them on record again soon.

Snowpoet

Snowpoet

Merch!

Merch!

Rhythm Nation

I recently caught this BBC documentary on Janet Jackson on iPlayer, and it has made me rediscover her early work. I was 12 when Rhythm Nation came out and remember one of my school friends raving about it. I loved the video when I saw it on MTV all those years ago. Thirty years on, the song has once again become an earworm for me for the past few weeks. Incredible music, incredible dancing.

The documentary pointed out that the main sample on Rhythm Nation comes from a Sly And The Family Stone song, Thank You (Falettinme Be Mice Elf Agin). I’d never heard this before; it’s a complete beast of a tune and has been in my ears just as much.

When I get into a song or an album I tend to obsess about it. YouTube is such a great resource for ‘going deep’ and finding other performances and versions. This drum cover of Rhythm Nation from Cypriot drummer Anna Koniotou is brilliant — I love the way she’s smiling and clearly enjoying herself throughout the song, and the fill and stick throw at the 1:15 mark is so much fun to watch. Fantastic.

Album Club #100

I’m so excited to be attending Album Club #100 tonight. I’ve no idea what album will be in store, but our host Matt has promised some “very special vinyl”. Where did 100 months go?

Our current members have nominated their five favourite tracks that they discovered through Album Club, which have been assembled into this Spotify playlist. We’ve heard some fantastic music over the past eight years and this is great reminder.

It’s still the best night of the month.

https://open.spotify.com/user/matthewprice17/playlist/0pnU6T1E4oAzH7tSxF1Y3z?si=WP3fSsodTSyMh8hA0yKxkw