Looking back at the music of 2016 (& looking back at music in 2017).

img_1995As I didn’t write a post for a whole year, it seems weird that I follow my compilation of 2015 with my compilation of 2016. It was a year overshadowed with the passing of so many musical icons from all genres and so much world turmoil. In my life, music was one of the things that kept me sane, and luckily I think it was a very good year with great gigs and good albums. The music chosen for this playlist just happens to reflect the year. It is a little more melancholy, contains quite a few protest songs and starts and finishes suitably with Bowie.

Track 1 – Steven Wilson – Space Oddity (Live) : In January 2016, I saw Steven Wilson perform for the 4th time in the year. Once again, he played an emotional storming set of the Hand, Cannot, Erase album and other solo classics and Porcupine Tree rarities. He included tracks from his new EP 4.5. Unfortunately singer, Ninet Tayeb wasn’t at our gig, so we couldn’t hear this fab tribute, at a time when the majority of the audience were still in mourning. Luckily this version appeared as a b-side of the Happiness III single and is a fitting start to the album.

img_2002Track 2 – Martin Green – Suitcase. A gig we didn’t know anything about but at the end left us in emotional tatters. Stunning concert of modern folk music telling the story of migration, starting with Martins Grandmother fleeing Germany and then reflecting other peoples journeys to Britain. Emotional songs, great performances, bittersweet monologues, angry rants and amazing storytelling. The brown paper scenery, animated projections and an amazing rotoscopes added the to pictures but also gave a dose of surrealism. Amazing, thought provoking night.

Track 3 – Wardruna – Odal : Loved this track instantly. A little use of sound effects gives way to tribal drumming, Nordic chanting and sublime melodies. Its so intoxicating and takes you to a time and place long ago (if that doesn’t sound so transcendental). Wardruna are best described as playing Norse Dark Folk and this is from the third album of a trilogy Ragnarok. Each track of the albums is about journey through one of the Nordic Runes.

Track 4 – Field Music – Disappointed : The Brewis brothers from Sunderland created a fabulously laid back album in Commontime. So many influences are in here, Talking Heads, Prince, Todd Rundgren to name a few. This song has elements of all of these and was a pleasure to hear at the Sage. Was such a different environment to when I first saw them play in the music projects in Sunderland nearly 15 years ago.

Track 5 – Kate Bush – Top Of The City : Was gutted I couldn’t get a ticket for any of these gigs and whilst not surprised that a DVD has not appeared, I was a little disappointed. More so now because the audio is s good. I picked Kate going for it during an excellent renditon of Top of the City from the Red Shoes album. Full of passion and rage.

Track 6 – Fay Hield – Willow Glen : We went to a very interestng Fay Heild gig at the Sage regarding storytelling and the passing of myths. A lovely talk beforehand followed by a gig of old transcribed folk and the odd modern turn. This track was a highlight, sang with solo instrument.

img_2003Track 7 – Opeth – Will O the Wisp : The move from Death Metal to Seventies Prog continues for Opeth. Whilst the Sorceres album is not without its loud elements there are sublime calming passages right from the Caravan, Tangerine Dream and in this case Jethro Tull back catalogue. Not a surprise considering the Opeth Beer Launch at Northern Monk earlier in the year, guitarist Fredrik’s DJ set mixed all these elements including Tull.

Track 8 – Radiohead – Burn The Witch : It’s a brave band that wipes their social media history and then turns up again posting with a Trumpton/Camberwick Green video. Burn the Witch (and its crazy video) summed up the great Moon Shaped Pool album . On edge, atmospheric, lyrically relevant and distinctly Radiohead.

Track 9 – Public Service Broadcasting – Signal 30 : ….…this is an old one. Signal 30 is originally from the very good 2013 Album Inform Educate Entertain. PSB are as progressive as modern music gets, swapping styles from ambience, electronica to rock whilst integrating ‘vocals’ from Public Information Films. The version from this years Live at Brixton album is worth putting on for its pace and ferocity… something not usually associated with Public Service Broadcasting.

Track 10 – Bellowhead – Byker Hill Walker Shore : Traditional song from my area (Byker Hill is minutes away) and has so much of our Geordie heritage of industry and hard drinking. Starts fairly traditional, builds to chanting song with heavy metal mid-section. I’m sure this is the reason I lost my voice at one of their gigs…. it was worth it. Credit to Cyberbane for this live video

Track 11 – Villagers – Witchita Linesman : This was the first track on the compilation at the start of the year. This cover of Kenny Rodgers classic is so beautifully delicate. The simple arrangement of piano and guitar with muted trumpet solo is great, but the fragile vocals are spine tingling.

Track 12 – Marillion – Living in FEAR : there was a bit of shock that the old fellows at Marillion would bring out an album with a swear word in the title. F**k Everyone And Run is an amazing album which summed up the year. Songs touching on fear, violence, confusion, hate, greed, prejudice, capitalism… One song doesn’t do this protest album justice, but I love this track about shouting how you feel, taking a risk and standing up for your beliefs.

img_2004Track 13 – Ben Folds & Y-music – Phone in a Pool (live) : Ben Folds gig this year was awesome with the amazing talented mini orchestra Y-music. Great interpretations of old and new Ben Folds classics. Add some Ben Folds Five requests and audience participation and we had a great night. This version comes from the live EP that came out for Black Friday Record Store Day.

Track 14 – The Gloaming – Repeal the Union : Beautiful traditional folk instrumental from the excellent Gloaming 2 album. The track has been used as a relaxing interlude throughout the year. As it is here

Track 15 – Drive By Truckers – Sun Don’t Shine : The American Band album caused a bit of ruction within the fan base of Drive By Truckers some of whom couldn’t see that this band is radical, forward thinking and have always voiced their beliefs. Tracks about Black Lives Matter and gun control, were just some of the issues which made this the most relevant album of the year. Sun Don’t Shine is a lovely little song, especially the bridge verse which recounts “when the big one comes” and loving someone till the end of the world.

Track 16 – Seth Lakeman – Meet me in the Twilight : Probably the most rousing uplifting chorus on this playlist. Seth Lakeman knows how to write and deliver modern folk songs with sometimes an Americana twist. This track was criminally not played at his otherwise excellent Sage gig.

Track 17 – Divine Comedy – To The Rescue : To be honest, it took me a while to get the Divine Comedy. I love quirky music and I quite liked some of their earlier tracks but it wasn’t till Duckworth Lewis Method, I really got them. The Foreverland album is fab, full of humour and tonnes of pathos. To the Rescue, was beautifully delivered on stage.

Track 18 – David Bowie – I Cant Give Everything Away : Listened to Black Star on the first day, thought it was amazing. 3 days later couldn’t bring myself to put it on for the fear of crying. As year went on, I have played and played this epic album. The title track is outstanding, Lazarus is sublime but I plumped for the finishing track which held so many clues but also so much hope, with the flourish of brass at the end.

img_2005So theres my 120 minutes filled up, but theres more. Can’t resist putting the tracks down which couldn’t make it on because they just didn’t fit thematically or time.

Metallica – Atlas Rise : Some great songs on the Hardwired album which are reminiscent of 1982-85. Just wish they wouldn’t stretch the tracks out and maybe get a bit more variation, Love this song though.

Shirley Collins – Cruel Lincoln : in Windows music store, me and Chris heard this track and thought the broken, melancholy, fragile, expressive vocals must be Martin Carthy. Turns out it was one of the other Grand folk legends Shirley Collins and it happened I was holding her album in my hand ready to buy.

Lanterns on the Lake – Something from the stunning Sage gig with Northern Sinfonia. A track only didn’t make it on because I couldn’t get a physical copy of the album.

Dream Theatre – Gift of Music : The Astonishing is a really good concept album (if not a little too long and its no Metropolis). I’m not sure songs are as good as the overall effect and therefore difficult to take one out context.

Devin Townsend – Stormbending : Really not sure why Devin didn’t make it on the album this year, because Transcendence album is great. Probably too epic for the melancholic madness of the playlist.

And there’s lots more (digging round for Alterbridge, Lonely Robot….). The videos attached are a hint of the greatness of the tracks, some are a little out of context (some different live performances and I couldn’t find a Kate Bush video that would give the live feeling, so I found just the normal version). As always if you like some of the tracks, please go out and purchase on CD, Vinyl or download if you have to.

img_1996The artwork on the CD sleeve reflects as always an influential album of the Year. So this time in a tribute to Blackstar, a cube cut out of shiny black card minimally sits in the middle of a plain matt black background. Only a few dots at the bottom give an indication of the compilation year.

For the record (as I have mentioned above) I went to some awesome gigs in 2016. My favourites in no particular order were Steven Wilson, Fish, Ben Folds, Martin Green, Lanterns on the Lake, Levellers, Octovo Yo and They Might be Giants. I could list the other 12, to be honest I didn’t go to a bad one. Music was one of the highlights of the year and sharing it with my friends was a particular highlight.

I didn’t blog that much in 2016. So many momentous events happened which filled our screens and minds, some awful, some baffling and a lot tearful. Rightly or wrongly I didn’t think a pop-up or a box or yet another diatribe from me would add any substance to the issues and in the end, I felt it would just add to the huge pile of social media traffic expressing the same views. As much as I didn’t shout and scream, I talked, discussed and reflected. It didn’t stop doing the things I loved playing games, music, making things and spending time with wonderful friends. These were the things that kept me going.

Hopefully 2017 will be better, as it will contain a special birthday for me. So I wanted a few different ways to celebrate and track this year. One idea I will play out on the blog, combining the music and card making. You may have seen previous posts celebrating the “birthdays” of albums. For Pink Floyds ‘Dark Side Of the Moon’, I created a birthday card and for Marillions ‘Misplaced Childhood’, a set of themed bunting. I plan to do this for the year, each week I will pick out an album which I will create a piece for and write a short post. I plan to follow a simple set of rules.

  • The albums will celebrate a birthday/anniversary within that week.
  • I am looking specifically at significant round ages 10, 20, 25, 30, 40, 50. So from 2007. 1997, 1992, 1987, 1977, 1967.
  • Every so often I will bend this rule when a significant event, overtakes and requires a certain album. For example week 2 has a 2016 album (for obvious reasons).
  • As it is my significant birthday year I may also play special albums from my life and from significant ages 16, 18, 21.
  • I will create the card/box/art thing whilst listening to a play of the album (so about 60-90 minutes making time). Although there may be some quick preplanning.
  • Don’t expect an epic review on the nuances of the album. Pieces may be short and will be scattered with the usual randomness and tangents. These will be my views and I will probably be wrong. But I’m picking albums I genuinely like, so hopefully some of the love will come across (even if you don’t agree). And ignore the grammar and spelling…

Last thing to say is I hope you enjoy the music above and chaos to follow

Billy (aged 49)

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