🎶 Return of the tunes night

Last Saturday, I got together again with my friend Mat at his place to indulge our love of music, taking turns to play tracks to each other. We’ve been doing this every now and again since we were teenagers in the 1990s, cycling over to each other’s houses with rucksacks full of CDs. It’s amazing that we hadn’t had one of these evenings for a couple of years. Here’s what we played.

Febueder — Alligator

Easybeats — Friday On My Mind

Wilder Maker — All Power Must Remain Hidden

Bombay Bicycle Club — What You Want

The Brian Jonestown Massacre — Anemone

True Widow — The Trapper and the Trapped

Grails — Take Refuge

The Kinks — Rats

Amen Dunes — L.A.

Father John Misty — Hollywood Forever Cemetery Sings

Aldous Harding — Old Peel

Jim James — Hide In Plain Sight

Terry Callier — You Goin’ Miss Your Candyman

Alex G — Thorns

Minnie Riperton — Expecting

Grails — Deeper Politics

Helena Deland — Pale

Warpaint — Champion

Grails — Take Refuge (Live)

Dave Abbruzzese & Friends — Powerman (Live)

Tom Vek — Trying To Do Better (Live)

Burrows — Top Of The Pops (Live)

Bon Iver — Skinny Love (Live)

The Brian Jonestown Massacre — Anemone (Live)

Grizzly Bear — Sun In Your Eyes (Live)

Mariah Carey — Vision Of Love (Live)

King Creosote — You Just Want (Live)

Kathryn Joseph — The Bird (Live)

SomaFM on Sonos integration — beta

Great email from SomaFM today on setting up their radio stations as a Sonos service. I’ve never found anything better to work to than their Groove Salad station and have been tuning in — on and off — for over twenty years.

To get set up:

In the Sonos mobile app, look at “about my system” under Setting->System. Make a note of this.

Now, add a custom service by opening a web browser to http://[your sonos IP]:1400/customsd.htm

Then fill in the form with the following:

SID: 255 (or any other number in range 1-253 if you’ve added other custom integrations before)
Service Name: SomaFM Beta
Service Endpoint URL: https://sonos.somafm.com/
(make sure it starts with https:// or it won’t work)
Polling Interval: 10 seconds
Authentication SOAP policy: Anonymous

Click the ‘Submit’ button. You’ll get acknowledgement that the custom integration was added.

Now, in your Sonos app, browse the list of available content providers, and ‘SomaFM Beta’ should appear. Add it, and try to play a SomaFM channel. It should start playing without any of the annoying TuneIn ads.

It would be even better if the songs scrobbled to Last.FM as they played, but I haven’t seen this on any Sonos radio service so far.

U.S. music revenues

A recent Stratechery post pointed me in the direction of these wonderful graphs of music revenues and sales. They fascinate me.

Some random thoughts:

  • Ringtone revenues were massive, for a very short period. 2005 is when they register on the graphs, but by 2008 they are already in decline. I would have thought that they would be correlated to the introduction of the iPhone, but the sales seem to pre-date it.
  • I’d never heard the term ‘synchronisation’ before. Apparently it is the payment for using songs in films, TV shows and adverts (and presumably videogames too).
  • Physical music video sales were never a big thing but they don’t seem to be killed off until 10 years after YouTube turned up in 2005.
  • I’d forgotten that cassette singles were a thing. I had some. I barely played them.
  • 1998 was the peak revenue for recorded music in the U.S., adjusted for inflation. Paid streaming subscriptions now dominate, as you would expect, but the revenues are way down. Spotify has never turned an annual profit. It would be interesting (and probably impossible) to see what a graph of total artist payouts for recorded music sales looks like. Maybe the revenue decline for artists is a return to a historical norm.
  • I don’t know what the ‘Kiosk’ category is. It seems to start in 2005, but is barely noticeable.
  • LPs/EPs really dominate the early years of the graph. I guess that by 1973 we are already beyond the era of singles being the main focus.

🎙️ Album Club on Sharp Tech

It was so great to hear Andrew Sharp read out my email on the latest edition of the Sharp Tech podcast. On recent episodes, Andrew and co-host Ben Thompson have been talking about the joy of gathering together in person with friends, focused around a hobby. They are now both members of ‘cigar clubs’. I wanted to let them know about our slightly healthier alternative that has been running since 2011.

Made You Look Someplace Else

Is it just me, or does Made You Look by Meghan Trainor sound remarkably like Someplace Else by George Harrison?

I heard Trainor’s song when I was getting a haircut a few weeks ago. I heard it again a few minutes ago as it played via someone browsing TikTok in the house. I pounced on them to find out what it was.

🎶 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 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 in Belgium, 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 .

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 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.


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.


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.