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.

Vinyl explorations

The seed was planted over a year ago, at my brother-in-law’s house, when we sat down to listen to some records. For the first time I can remember, I was blown away by how good vinyl can sound. The seed was then watered by That Classical Podcast. Or, more accurately, this tweet from one of the hosts:

Snowpoet’s Thought You Knew is a stunning, beautiful, delicate album. Since first hearing it in June it quickly raced up my ‘most played’ chart and has been on my mind all of the time. The band are relatively unknown. I wanted to give something back and support them, but had long since retired my CD player in favour of mp3s and Spotify. I ended up buying a vinyl copy for my brother-in-law but it didn’t completely scratch the itch that I had. I wanted to hold this album in my own hands.

When I’ve heard vinyl over the past few years, I’ve generally not been impressed. To my ears it didn’t sound better than a CD or even a good streaming service. That evening with my brother-in-law changed my perception completely. He’s been a vinyl collector for many years and has a lovely set of refurbished 1970s hi-fi separates to play his records on. The sound quality melted the wax in my ears. Somehow this experience paired up with hearing Thought You Knew and I started to think about investing in a decent turntable myself.

After a lot of research I settled on getting a Rega. The reviews for their turntables are overwhelmingly positive wherever you look. The only question was which one of their range to save up for and buy. Although we have a ‘proper’ (cheap) amp and speaker setup in our lounge there isn’t any room to place a turntable nearby, so I had decided that it would sit near to our trusty old Sonos ZonePlayer S5, feeding its signal to the ‘line in’ connection. This would have the added bonus of being able to send the audio to any of the other Sonos units in the house.

As much as I love my Sonos, I was sure that it would quickly become the limiting factor for audio quality — spending more money on a turntable beyond a certain quality level would be pointless — so I sought professional advice from my local hi-fi shop, Deco Audio in Aylesbury.

Located on a generic-looking industrial estate, Deco Audio is a shop where you need to ring the doorbell and wait for someone to come and let you in. When you step through the doors you see why — the shop is filled with beautiful equipment of all shapes and sizes.

I explained that I was looking to buy a Rega, but wasn’t sure whether to go for a Planar 1, a Planar 2, either of these first two with their respective ‘performance pack’1, a Planar 1 plus with an integrated phono stage, or a Planar 3. Too many choices. They made me a coffee, and were only too happy to spend time with me discussing my options. Given that it would be going through the Sonos, they tried to talk me down to the cheapest of the three models. In the end after a bit of debate I plumped for a Planar 2 because (a) the parts can be independently serviced and upgraded over time, (b) it was in stock and (c) I wanted that beautiful glass platter as opposed to the plastic one that comes with the Planar 1. I had to pick up a phono stage as well and went for the simple Rega Fono Mini A2D. Plus some cables, and a carbon fibre record brush to clean the LPs before they get played.

Deco Audio also have a record shop in-house with a great selection of vinyl, all of which has been put through their in-house Moth record cleaner. I spent some time flicking through the racks but was already feeling poor from my impending purchase so I didn’t pick anything up.

It was very exciting to get it home and put it together. Setup was extremely simple — the most difficult part was balancing the tone arm accurately with the counterweight, but watching someone else do it on YouTube first helped.

I had a few records in the house that my parents had passed to me and wasted no time in testing one out. The sound was instantly stunning. A friend paid a visit the next day and was stunned also. Both of us, stunned. It’s hard to put my finger on exactly why it sounds so great. I know that in part it is confirmation bias — I really wanted it to be a great experience and I am sure my brain is willing my ears to accept that it is — but that’s not all of it. There’s something different about it sonically, even though it is being output to a speaker that lives firmly in the digital realm. Maybe I’m just listening with more care and purpose again after so many years. By definition, older records will be completely analogue from recording to mixing to mastering (known as ‘AAA’); there is no sampling to create a digital signal and they therefore contain much more information. Whether that makes a difference is up for debate. To me, owning the records, holding them in my hands, caring for them, looking at the artwork, sitting around and purposefully listening is filled with pleasure. Anyway, every man needs a hobby.

There are a couple of things I’ve had to do on the Sonos to make it work well. Firstly, I’ve had to move buffering to maximum. I found that with a low setting I kept getting dropouts when I sent the sound to other speakers in the house. A side effect of this is that there is a substantial delay from what happens on the turntable and what comes out of the speakers. It’s really weird to lift the needle from a record to have the music stop a couple of seconds later. More substantially, if you sit close to the turntable you can hear the unamplified music coming off of the cartridge, and this can be a little distracting from the music from the speakers given that they are behind, particularly when playing something that goes from quiet to loud. Closing the lid on the turntable helps to muffle this noise.

Secondly, I adjusted the level of the line in connection. The Sonos app lets you pick an appropriate level, which has the effect of increasing the ‘default’ volume for the component. I found that setting this quite high as described here gave a better sound without any distortion.

From here on in over the past few weeks it’s been a fun journey, learning the ropes of finding and buying records to play. Discogs is an invaluable resource. Where a particular album has been issued and reissued over the years you can read feedback from people who have heard those particular pressings, add the ones you want to buy to your wantlist and browse and buy copies for sale. There is a wealth of historical pricing information so you can judge whether you are being asked to pay over the odds or getting a bargain. From what I can judge, records are extraordinarily expensive if they are (of course) popular and either (a) extremely rare, (b) original first pressings of something that became really popular or (c) released in the late 1990s/early 2000s when presumably vinyl production and consumption was at its lowest, in effect leading to (a) again. To use Discogs you need to learn the grading nomenclature. Typically ‘Mint’ or ‘Near Mint’ (M/NM) cost top-dollar whereas ‘Very Good Plus’ (VG+) is closer to the median. I’ve now bought a few records via Discogs and have only felt let down by one purchase, but even then the seller refunded me straightaway and even paid my return postage. There’s something magical about coming home to find a well-wrapped package containing a new LP.

I’ve also been buying a few things from Amazon (good, new reissues mainly). They use a lot of packaging but you know what you’re getting and returning any damaged goods would be straightforward. There’s also The Sound of Vinyl which has an excellent clearance page where I managed to pick up a couple of new John Martyn reissues for around £9 each. The Super Deluxe Edition website is worth subscribing to for news of reissues, and regular updates on price drops on the various worldwide Amazon sites. Scott Nangle Audio has some very special releases, such as LPs mastered with a ‘one step’ process at 45 RPM — Bridge Over Troubled Water for £169, anyone? I can’t see me ever going there, even for albums I adore. There are cheaper pressings of lovely records too. Bandcamp is also a good outlet for new vinyl; as far as I can make out they broker the orders and pass them on to the artists/distributors. I ordered something from Bandcamp and Edition Records inadvertantly introduced me to Slowly Rolling Camera by sending me their Juniper album by mistake; they let me keep it, and it was a lovely way to make a great new discovery.

I was fortunate to stumble across the London Jazz Collector blog as I was looking to buy a copy of Waltz For Debby2. His site contains a ton of information on buying records that is worth devouring, including buying online, how to examine vinyl, grading records, how to store your vinyl and record cleaning. There is a wealth of wisdom here.

I also recommend the Vinyl Junkies podcast, particularly their ‘101’ series with episodes on originals vs reissues and ‘the art of crate-digging’.

The question now is what albums to own on vinyl. I’ve been buying much-loved records from my past with a plan to play them at a future Album Club night, as well as a couple of recent discoveries I have made via Spotify. The Guardian ran an article recently that asked whether a decade of Spotify has ruined music. As the author says:

Look: I pay my £9.99 a month. I use Spotify to make playlists for friends’ weddings and to compile 80s curios I discover on TOTP reruns. The genie isn’t going back in the bottle. But we can be responsible listeners (I buy albums I listen to more than five times) and hold Spotify to account because the people it is meant to benefit can’t.

Which brings me back around to that wonderful Snowpoet album. If you have the means, the rule of ‘listened to more than five times so then buy it on vinyl’ seems like a good one to me. It’s a great feeling to support an artist that you love through buying the thing that they have made, and this album is so great that I’m happy I’ve been able to buy a copy for me and a copy for a friend. I know I have many hours of enjoyment ahead.


  1. An upgrade to the cartridge, mat and belt at a cost of about £100. 
  2. I now have a cheap but lovely-sounding reissue, not an original. 

Chas

My musically-kindred spirit cousin sent me the sad news that Chas Hodges passed away today. I feel so grateful for having been able to see Chas and Dave at the Royal Albert Hall a few months ago. It was such a wonderfully fun gig. It amazes me how quickly someone can go from good health to not being here at all. I can’t imagine the loss for his family and friends.

Of all of the Chas and Dave performances I’ve seen, the one that sticks in my mind is the 1982 Christmas Knees-up TV special that was filmed in a pub in Walthamstow. Everyone there seems to be getting more than a little bit drunk, having a great time and occasionally falling over. There’s even Eric Clapton in the audience and he joins the band on stage late in the show. There’s nostalgia in me for the time where we had a shared culture and the family all focused on one thing when we got together, like watching programmes like this at my Nan and Grandad’s house.

Highlights are The Sideboard Song at the very start, The Banging In Your Head at 15:00, Ain’t No Pleasing You at 22:00, Eric Clapton’s appearance at 28:30 and my absolute favourite, the beautiful I’ll Never Write A Love Song at 36:00.

Thanks for all the music Chas.

Behind The Mask

I’ve recently been listening to Spotify’s Discover Weekly playlist on my commute. It’s good to have on in the background when I need to get some work done; if a song draws me in I can quickly capture it and explore it later. This week it threw up a weird one with what I thought was a bizarre recent electro cover of Eric Clapton’s mid-1980s track Behind The Mask, by the Yellow Magic Orchestra. I wasn’t overly-enamoured with it and skipped ahead.

Just hearing half of the song was enough for the earworm to bury itself in my brain. So, I went back to explore and ended up going down a rabbit hole. To my shock I found that this was actually the original from 1979 and that Eric Clapton’s version is a cover version. For a piece of electro-pop that is nearly 40 years old, it still sounds very fresh.

Hearing it again only puzzled me more. Yellow Magic Orchestra’s original version only has lyrics for the ‘minor chorus’ of the song1. Where did Eric Clapton’s lyrics come from?

Wikipedia of course has all the answers. Apparently a chap called Greg Phillinganes covered the song on his 1985 album Pulse:

Listening to it now, it sounds like the bizarre love-child between the Yellow Magic Orchestra and Clapton versions. All the lyrics from the Clapton version are there, including the backing vocals as the song winds down. He has also kept the prominent synths from the original — probably delivered by the keytar that he is clutching close to his chest on his album cover.

_Serious_ keytar

_Serious_ keytar

In the 1980s, Phillinganes was keyboardist for Michael Jackson and it turns out that the King of Pop himself  is responsible for all of the additional lyrics. The end of the song (from around 3:54 onwards) sounds like a mini-tribute to Jackson and doesn’t really fit with the rest of the tune, but it does give a clue to its pedigree.

Jackson had recorded the song himself in 1982 for the Thriller album but due to disputes over royalties it didn’t surface until Michael was released posthumously in 2010. It doesn’t sound like a track from 1982; I’m sure it has been extensively reworked and the results are pretty great.

Phillinganes had taken the song to Clapton who recorded it for his August album in 1986. Phillinganes contributes both keyboards2 and backing vocals, giving us a direct line between all three covers. Going back to this recording, which I’ve known so well since I used to hear it in my dad’s car as a boy in the 1980s, is strange after following this weird journey. But I still love it. Thanks Dad.


  1. I’m 99.9% sure ‘minor chorus’ is not the correct technical musical term. But if you know the song I am sure you understand what I mean. The Clapton version strange in that it has two repeating passages, the major one being ‘Who do you love/Is it me babe/Is it him now/I wanna know…’ etc. (which doesn’t feature in the original) and the minor one being ‘There is nothing in your eyes…’, both of which repeat. This probably contributes to the song’s earworm-esque qualities. 
  2. I’d be disappointed if this is ‘just’ keyboards and not a keytar. 

The best night of the month

Last night I hosted Album Club #79. That’s 79 months — almost seven years — of Album Club evenings, so I thought it was about time I wrote about them.

Way back at the start of 2011, my friend Bill dropped me an enthusiastic email with a link to a BBC News magazine article about Classic Album Sundays:

A growing number of music-lovers unhappy about the way album tracks are enjoyed in a pick-and-mix fashion have decided to take action.

The rules are strict. No talking. No texting. You must listen to every song on the album.

Classic Album Sundays treat our best-loved records like great symphonies and are being set up in London, Scotland and Wales.

Groups of music fans sit in front of a vinyl turntable, with the best speakers they can afford, dim the lights and listen to a classic album all the way through.

This monthly club in north London is run by Colleen Murphy and for her it is a strike against “‘download culture”, the sense that music has just become an endless compilation of random songs used as background noise.

”Everyone, stop multi-tasking, sit down, open your ears and do some heavy listening.”

Bill’s questions to me: Shall we start an album night of our own? Did I know anyone who might be interested? Yes and yes! This was great — it sounded like a book club without the homework. I was definitely in.

Five of us gathered on a February evening at Bill’s place. A lot of what happened that night set the tone of all Album Club evenings to come. We arrived, had a few beers and crisps in the kitchen and about 45 minutes in we were ushered through to the lounge. Bill revealed that he was going to play us a vinyl copy of David Bowie’s Hunky Dory. He’d printed the Wikipedia notes for the album and gave a small speech about why he had chosen it. Then the music began.

We sat there, in complete silence, listening intently. His stereo sounded amazing. I’d never heard the album before and from the opening notes of Changes to the fading sounds of The Bewlay Brothers it was a revelation. On this particular evening, and for the next couple of Album Club nights, the enjoyment of the music was mixed with the self-consciousness of sitting there in silence with everyone. Where do you put your eyes? Is it okay to jiggle my legs as the music takes me? Could I cough? Eye contact was strictly avoided.

After a few months the format was well-established and we consciously agreed some rules as follows:

  • Album Clubs are held monthly. In the case of being unable to book a date that people can make (August and December are particularly difficult) we can double up with two in the following month.
  • Hosting follows a round-robin format, with each member taking a turn in succession. In the case of sudden illness or force majeure on behalf of the host someone else can step in, ideally the next person in line so that you can simply swap places in the hosting order.
  • The host has to supply all of the drinks (ale, lager, wine) and snacks.
  • Most importantly, the host gets to choose the album. As host, your responsibilities for picking a suitable album are:
    • You must love it.
    • You are not allowed to play an album that you yourself have never heard before (see previous point).
    • Strictly no compilations.
    • No live albums. (This point is controversial with opinions on the rule split down the middle; I personally think these are legitimate albums in their own right but others believe that the inevitable presence of live versions of the artists’ own songs mean they are a type of compilation.)
    • Albums are played as if they had been bought on vinyl, with the end of a side giving people time to pop to the loo, have a brief chat about what they’ve heard so far and top up with beer. If you don’t have the vinyl and are playing the CD or streaming the album, make sure you do your research to know when to press pause. Double albums will have three breaks, triple albums (and you have to be very brave or completely infatuated by the album to choose one) will have five. If streaming, a top tip is to make some playlists of the various sides in advance.
  • At the end of the album, everyone can completely relax and enjoy the rest of their evening. Typically we end up lining up records on the host’s hi-fi that are linked to the album or fit with the vibe in some way. If it’s a Friday, a lot more beer is consumed.

Picking an album can be a difficult affair. Do you go with the one you really love or do you play something that you think people haven’t heard but are likely to like? Experience now tells me that you should go with your heart instead of your head and don’t over-think it. When everyone loves what you play (for me, Siren by Roxy Music, Heartbreaker by Ryan Adams and Tommy by The Who have all been successes) it’s a great feeling; when they don’t (see Human Racing by Nik Kershaw) it can be a bit deflating, but you get over it quickly.

Over the past six and a half years we’ve seen a few people come and go; two of the original five founding members moved away which made membership impossible and with a bit of recruitment we now have a ‘full team’ of eight. This is probably the perfect number — sometimes one or two people can’t make it at the last minute but it still leaves you with enough of the crew to make it worth it. For a while we had six but this means you always have the same two months of the year, no good if you find yourself lumbered with August or December. “Who’s turn is it next?” can always be answered by looking at our back catalogue of events lovingly put together and maintained by Mat.

It’s been brilliant to have an evening every month where I know I can just sit back, relax, listen to (typically) a great album and enjoy the company of a cracking group of friends. For me the best nights have been when I’ve discovered a truly brilliant album that I had never heard before: Creedence Clearwater Revival’s Cosmo’s Factory and Gary Numan’s The Pleasure Principle have been the pinnacle for me, closely followed by the unexpectedly punky eponymous The Pretenders. John famously loved Cosmo’s Factory so much he bought a CD copy of on Amazon before the first track had even finished playing.

Massive love and thanks to Bill for creating what is now commonly known as ‘the best night of the month’. We miss you, fella!