Week 5 : 4th February 1977 : Rumours turns 40

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Accompany music : The Chain

So we are still in 1977, 12 days after Pink Floyds ‘Animals’ is released, Fleetwood Mac release the epic album Rumours. My 9 year old soft rock/pop loving self would hear the singles and fall in love with the West Coast american rock sound, sublime songwrting and what seemed (to a 9 year olds ears) the happy upbeat themes. It wasn’t till much later I would realise the trauma that going on when the album was recorded, and then when own life experiences caught up, how perfect, relevant and bitter these songs are.

“People worry about kids playing with guns, and teenagers watching violent videos; we are scared that some sort of culture of violence will take them over. Nobody worries about kids listening to thousands – literally thousands – of songs about broken hearts and rejection and pain and misery and loss.” ― Nick Hornby, High Fidelity

img_2068Breaking up is a horrendous process. Whether its a first love, a short or long term relationship, the breakdown of a marriage or even a whole country leaving a larger organisation. Inevitably it brings acrimony, hurt, fear, mistrust, grief, arguments and difficult decisions regarding ownership of albums and black t-shirts. The issues are not usually confined to the couple, unfortunately children are sometimes involved, family and friends also feel the pressure. It seems to me a lot of the issues stem from a lack of communication and people’s inability to express themselves on how they feel. Men are particularly bad at this.

One of my favourite authors, Nick Hornby has written some sublime books which capture mens inability to express how they feel themselves whilst having no problem in expressing their love of hobbies/pastimes. I especially love his book High-fidelity, but it sometimes feels a little too close for comfort. Rob Flemming owns a record shop ‘Championship Vinyl’ and spends his days making top 5 lists of songs and albums, with his colleagues. When his relationship breaks down, he copes the only ways he knows how. Writing a list of his top break-ups, reorganising his record collection and making mix tapes. Some of these are too familiar.

You will be happy to know, I am not going to embark on my own personal list of relationship disasters, but in times of stress I have been known to reorganise the record collection. The worse case examples were, organising from happy to sad (too subjective), organising chronologically (impossible to remember) and organising by the colour of the spine of the album (who knew so many spines were not the same colour as the front). Every time the albums were quickly put back to A to Z. I did the odd mixtape as well, although I never gave them to the target… again these like writing letters are far too subjective. What I do find eases the pain  is to play sad, sentimental songs.

“What came first – the music or the misery? Did I listen to the music because I was miserable? Or was I miserable because I listened to the music? Do all those records turn you into a melancholy person?”― Nick Hornby, High Fidelity

img_2087There are tonnes of great examples of heartbreaker music that not only you can identify with, have a cry along to, sing defiantly along to or find strangely uplifting. In 2009, the Guardian published a list of 1000 spotify songs which were divided on 7 subjects, Heartbreak was one. I selected 32 as my own playlist and put them in my music diary. Amongst them, there are delicate songs that have a strange calming melancholy, Aint no Sunshine – Bill Withers, Flume – Bon Iver. Songs that pick up a direct feeling/situation which you can relate to, Suspicious Minds – Elvis Presley, Is She Really Going Out with Him – Joe Jackson. Or songs of real desperation, Take for instance, Winner Takes in All – Abba or Harry Neilsens cover version of Without you, which as well as being an impossible Kareoke song, actually makes you feel like things aren’t this bad. There are so many tracks not on here that apply also, including one or two which still cause me a  little discomfort as memories come back of times and places. But this is part of the Cathartic process that listening gives, helping us to move on and make us more happy of our current situation. Writing music/lyrics on such subjects especially about such situations must be a greater release. You see in so many cases, the other person is not involved (other than being a listener/unwilling victim when the song is released). So what happens when nearly all members of the band are involved in relationship issues and all writing songs about each other. Cue up ‘Rumours’

It has been 2 years since Fleetwood Mac released their 1975 eponymous album and the first album to feature partners Lindsey Buckingham and Stevie Nicks. It was a commercial success and spawned a great single Rhiannon which showed off the qualities of the new members. Entering the studio in 1976, the cracks in the band were beginning to show. Christine and John McVie are getting divorced whilst Buckingham and Nicks relationship was on/off. Even Fleetwood is reportedly having his own relationship issues. The thing that kept the band together was writing and recording music, which considering the majority of the subject matter was based on each other is surprising. Nine of the ten tracks are written by individuals and it is interesting to see their personal approaches. Both Buckingham (B) and Nicks (N) are writing candidly about each other and not pulling punches. whilst McVies (Mc) tracks are further on, considered and conciliatory. Its amazing that when these songs are put together along with the band credited (all) ‘Chain’, that a stunning complete album of human emotions is created.

img_2067Second Hand News (B) – ‘Someone has taken my place’ – Starting with what seems an uplifting song with Jangly guitar. Dig further and it has reflective lyrics about being dumped and moved out of the picture. There also seems to be a little bit of regret in this. Chorus couplets with Nicks are great and fascinating. Dreams (N) – ‘Now here you go again, You say you want your freedom’ – A Beautiful song with soft Nicks drawl. Laid back drums, bass, guitar and keyboards washes over the listener reflecting the mood. Lyrics recounting her partner wanting to move on, her happy to let them go and reflecting on how lonely they will be afterwards. You get what you sow. Going Back Again (B) – ‘I’m never going back again’. Another paired back track, with acoustic guitars and Buckingham jumping from amerciana to children’s nursery rhyme. Lyrics suggests trying to go back and sorting out issues, but giving up in the end.

Don’t Stop (Mc) – ‘It’ll be, better than before, Yesterday’s gone, yesterday’s gone’ – Song about looking forward about the future, moving on, apologising for the past and looking after each other. Wrapped up in a wonderful singalong which has an ear worm of a catchy happy tune. Which belies the sadness of the situation. Go Your Own Way (B) – ‘Loving you, Isn’t the right thing to do’ – This is the song which I thought was the uplifting track as a child. Its musically brilliant, from opening acoustic riffs and Buckinghams verses then into the amazing singalong harmonised choruses. Fleetwoods drumming is powerful and drives the track along. The bridge gives enough space before the last resounding chorus. Buckingham lyrics placing the issues directly at the door of his ex. Songbird (Mc) – ‘And I love you, I love you, I love you, Like never before.’ – Beautiful track, with McVie singing along to acoustic piano. Lyrics show how much the relationship and she has moved on and how much she cares for her ex, wishing them the best for the future. Its delicate and sublime and pure McVie on this album.

img_2072The Chain (All) – ‘And if you don’t love me now. You will never love me again’. Only song credited to more than one writer and rightly in this case, to the whole band. The track seems to show a group of people recognising their issues and fighting that this will not effect the group. The track shows the band pulling together, from the initial drum, banjo, guitar americana start and harmonised vocals. Building in defiant stated choruses, and almost pledge like responses. McVies bass brings in the tremendous change in the song with Buckinghams stretched guitar solo and the rolling pace which was perfect for Grand Prix coverage. The final chorus, the shouts of ‘Keep us together’ is apt for a track the whole group contribute to. Making a stunning centrepiece. You Make Loving Fun (Mc) – ‘I never did believe in miracles, But I’ve a feeling it’s time to try’. Whilst every other song on Rumours seems to be backward looking, this is McVie looking forward and singing about her future and seemingly a new relationship. The whole song is a little more sexy, a little more comforting and uplifting. Lyrics are about renewal and giving love another try. It has a great chorus which stays in your head with angelic voice backing.

I Don’t Wanna Know (N) – ‘You say you love me, but you don’t know’. Another paired back Fleetwood Mac song, acoustic guitars, bass and drum prominent. Nicks and Buckingham singing in unison, about the confusion of love, coping with it and moving on.  Oh Daddy (Mc) – ‘If there’s been a fool around, It’s got to be me’. Dark, slightly sinister and melancholy track. McVie mournful lyrics searches for answers for what should be the end of a difficult relationship, but always end up going back to herself as being at fault. Gold Dust Woman (N) – ‘Take your silver spoon and dig your grave’. Great track in that great Americana tradition of painting portraits of people. Nicks bittersweet lyrics are given centre stage with the easy laid back playing and builds an effective and compelling background.

img_2069And there we have it. Rumours is a classic album that does not date in 40 years. Mostly this has to do with the sublime songwriting, great production and the brilliant musicianship. The songs are beautiful and uplifting it their own right without having to understand the actual meaning of the tracks. The Heartfelt lyrics and their amazing delivery adds another dimension. Here we have musicians writing and singing through major emotional difficulties and these translate to the listeners own experiences. The feelings felt in love and in break-ups do not change over the years. Its difficult to know what Buckingham, Nicks and McVie were feeling when they wrote these songs, I can assume as above but a lot of this is built on reflecting on my own person experience. I especially relate to McVies contributions which moves away from blame and looks forward.

“Sentimental music has this great way of taking you back somewhere at the same time that it takes you forward, so you feel nostagic and hopeful all at the same time.”
― Nick Hornby, High Fidelity

Rumours is a classic, full of passion and pain but always leaves me comforted, a little bit fuzzy inside and very hopeful.

img_2073For the card for Rumours I wanted to portray the broken-ness within the band, that gave us such amazing individual songwriting that when it came together makes a stunning collective piece. I took the cover and a heart shape was cut out. This was divided into eleven pieces (one for each track). Then lyrics from each track were printed onto free slightly gothic-y (Stevie Nicks-like) backgrounds. Four colours are used corresponding to the writers of the tracks Nicks-Black, McVie-Red, Buckingham-green, Whole Band-Blue. The broken Heart pieces were used as templates to cut out each lyric, and were then glued together. A small tab placed between the two parts which is then used to attach to the card vis some small openings. And there we have a shattered heart of the album, with the ability to turn over each piece to access a lyric. The 3d stand up nature of the pieces gives great movement and texture to the front of the card. On the back a key is produced showing each writer, the colour of their pieces and a rough indication of the number.

Billy (still aged 9 at time of album release)

Week 4 : 23rd January 1977 : Pigs Might Fly

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Pink Floyds ‘Animals’ turns 40


Accompany music : Pigs (3 Different Ones) Roger Waters – Mexico 2016

img_2058Early January 1977, the governor for Georgia, Jimmy Carter is inaugurated as the 39th President of the USA. A couple of months later, Carter would visit Britain and Newcastle. I went with my family  to witness him standing alongside the Prime Minister Jim Callaghan and the Lord Mayor of Newcastle, Cllr Hugh White (who coincidentally was the father of one of my drinking buddies, Paul). Carter would receive freedom of the city and with a ‘Howay the Lads’ would charm the North East. It’s the only time I have seen a President or a Prime Minister in the flesh, and it is strange to think both men would last only one term. History would (unfairly in some cases) see them as fairly ineffectual leaders. Carter would do many honourable things, including striving for peace in the Middle East (and do many more after his presidency) but was viewed as not being strong enough on foreign policy. Meanwhile Callaghan had in the previous year taken over from Wilson, and was shoring the parliamentary party with deals with the liberals. A year later  a continued policy on pay restraint would tip the balance and the Winter of Discontent would cause his downfall. In 1979 in Britain, the public turned towards a very different politician, Margaret Thatcher and in 1981, America would take it a stage further by electing former actor and Governor of California. Ronald Reagan.
photo-16In 1977, (as a 9 year old) I had little or no interest in Politics, I knew who the leaders were and the main people in parties (as you would see them on the news or Parkinson). I didn’t connect them to all that happened in society. I remember 3 day weeks, rolling power cuts and a year later, the strikes during the Winter of Discontent, but I didn’t necessarily link them to the policies of politicians. As I got to 13 in 1980, I started to pull these strands together. I could start to see the policies of the Conservatives were further right and were already causing issues to the North East of England and I feared leaving school and not having a job. In ’81 I remember Reagan being elected, wondering what had America done and worrying whether the world would survive.

I have previous written about a turning point in my political understanding was when I read the book Animal Farm by George Orwell. I summed it up in the post as (in my allotted 140 letters), ‘A dystopian allegory of Russian Revolution, with the slide from uprising to how power corrupts through use of doctrine, propaganda & violence’. Most of all it give me the understanding that political revolution and change  is sometimes necessary…. but beware of who you put in power because they are possibly worse than those you have deposed.

So on 23rd January 1977, Pink Floyd release Animals. A concept album that is roughly based on Orwells novel, with Capitalism instead of Stalinism being the target. This time 3 animal types tell the story, the authoritarian powerful dogs, the ruthless manipulative pigs, and the unquestioning sheep. With the latter in this group rising up to take down the Dogs. The album made up of loosely connected tracks echoing the changes within British Society at that time. As with the Orwell novel, Animals presents a dystopian, dark world of moral decay, of political manipulation, discrimination and violence.  Even when the underdogs rise, the light at the end of the tunnel is not so bright as they would hope.

img_2059The album starts and finishes with ‘Pigs on a Wing‘, which seems a little out place with the dark subject matter within the rest of the album. Waters voice and acoustic guitar reminds me of ‘Wish you were here’ but the lyrics in part 1, seem to focus on loneliness and isolation whereas part 2, I feel, moves towards a more happier place with the importance of working together. Both tracks are sublime and give light to the main dark filling of the album.

The distinctive off beat acoustic guitar riff, and fading organ herald the track Dogs. The subject matter places Dogs as the heads of business with Waters superb lyrics like “club tie and a firm handshake, a certain look in the eye and an easy smile” and the ruthlessness which they show “to pick out the easy meat…to strike when the moment is right”. Takes a moment to realise that this is Gilmour singing with such relish. Surprisingly for a track of this nature, it is so laid back, slow in pace with Gilmour (as usual) not hurrying and stretching every note. Add some Floydesque long keyboard and guitar solo’s and it’s epic.

img_2056Pigs (3 Different Ones) starts with pig noises, electronics and we are into a track similar to that of Money or Have a Cigar. We aren’t told who the 2 of the 3 pigs are directly (the 3rd one is mentioned as moral campaigner Mary Whitehouse) but the lyrics seem to describe those who think themselves as a class above (“Big man, pig man, ha ha, charade you are You well heeled big wheel, ha ha, charade you are”), of moralising (“You’re trying to keep our feelings off the street”), of digging through dirt (“With your head down in the pig bin”), and spreading untruths. I love the groove of this track that goes along with Waters drawl of lyrics and change in menace in choruses reminiscent of the Beatles.  Theres also some great elements such as the repeated choral organ and Gilmours soaring solo.

Bleets of sheep are interrupted by the opening organ notes of Sheep. The track builds with the organ and a bass line which reminds me of an an old school Doctor Who theme. Then suddenly leaps into desperate leaping verses with Waters lyrics flying towards the listener (‘Harmlessly passing your time in the grassland away, Only dimly aware of a certain unease in the air…) driven along by Waters bass and spiky guitar and sci-fi organ interludes. Halfway through a vocoder version of Psalm 23 can be heard spoken in the background leading to the final verse of revolution as the sheep rise up “Bleating and babbling we fell on his neck with a scream, Wave upon wave of demented avengers, March cheerfully out of obscurity into the dream’. The end of the track returns the bleats as the sheep return to normal life.

img_2053Needless to say I really like this album for its grandiose tracks and meaning. It is an album which you can listen to in the background and it is kind of calming with a great groove to the music throughout. But listening closer the additional musical elements and nuances add complexity and the gently spoken lyrics drip with spite, cruelty and resentment. It’s a revelation that took me quite a while to appreciate fully. I think at the time, after Dark Side and Wish You Were Here, a similar feeling was felt about this album. It lacks the variety and length of those two albums but makes up for in meaning and passion and is a perfect lead in to ‘The Wall’. It should also be put into context, that this was a 1977 anti-establishment album in the height of Punk and an full 10 months before for the Sex Pistols NMTB album to arrive. Floyd seem to have had picked up the vibe that people were sick of the current establishment and working systems. As discussed above industrial issues were rife and the establishment were telling people how to behave including censorship by public serving groups. A change was going to happen and the ballot box was the way to do it. So the sheep had their say, bye bye, to Callaghan. Hello Thatcher.

I think voting is really difficult. Too many politicians are corporately similar and when parties start vying over the same policies and the same centre ground, it’s almost impossible to distinguish the good from the bad. I believe in peoples power to get rid of establishment, the oppressors and those who do not listen. I appreciate that sometimes to do this, people may need to side with those, who you may not always agree with (and you will have to live with that afterwards). Popular movements are springing up at every election, challenging the established political system and removing the centre ground. Instead people are stretched out across the whole political scale with greater numbers in the far left and right camps. I am happy in elections when turn outs are high, and people have their say…. I just wish they think of the consequences before doing so. As I said in the last post, change is a good thing but people need to consider what it leads to and who it puts into power.

It is strange how history repeats. In 2017, a new revolution at the polls within referendums and elections at difficult times,  brings new leaders, May and Trump. And now 36 years later, I find myself having those similar feelings as I had as a teenager of a fear of being unemployed and a worry of the world ending. 

Look, it all might be okay…. and pigs might fly.

img_2054The card for Animals is based on one of my favourite rock stories. The classic cover of Animals was conceived by the band with the genius Storm Thorgerson, and depicts a pig flying over Battersea power station. For the shoot Floyd got a giant 30 ft pig balloon made and floated it over the Power Station ready for photographs. A marksman stood by in case in escaped. Unfortunately, the shoot lasted for a 2nd day, someone forgot to book the marksman and of course the pig escaped. It floated over Heathrow causing mayhem and was spotted by planes, went missing and was eventually found in a farmers field in Kent where it had crash landed.

So a sky blue card is used and photographs of the Power Station (faded with pink) is cutout and attached to front and card. There is no pig on the front. Inside there is a pop up consisting of 4 cloud shapes, all v folded and glued in one behind the other. These are all on top of a piece of white card shaped like a cloud. Next a strip cut from stiff transparent plastic is used to support a pink pig and this is glued/taped in behind one of the clouds giving the impression of the pig flying. A guide rope is attached to one leg and additional clouds and a plane is added to the inside.

Billy (aged 9 at time of album release)

Week 3 : 20th January 1983 : No Serenade, No Fire Brigade, Just a Pyromania

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Accompany music : Photograph

Its January 1983 and I am 15 years old and should be in the height of rebellion…. Im not. The closest I get is growing my hair long and listening to particularly loud music. I hung around with a bunch of great mates who were all metal fans and (as we would now be classed) school geeks. We were all very pleasant, far removed from the hell raising, drug, drink, satanic, idiot stereotype which was being expressed about Heavy Metal at the time. As I have mentioned before in the blog, I loved soft rock/pop music (ELO, Supertramp, Kate Bush) and these friends introduced me to a range of music which built on these. They showed me that I actually liked rock music and we all started to link to old folk music, classic american rock and music that could get much heavier. And my musical tastes started to change.

img_2020In 1982-83, I was introduced to a number of bands who in the previous years were known as the New Wave Of British Heavy Metal (NWOBHM), among them Motorhead, UFO, Tygers Of Pang Tang, Raven, Saxon, Judas Priest, Angel Witch, Girlschool…. What really caught my imagination with these bands were the heaviness, the rawness, the pace and simple hooks (everything I didn’t like about punk). The movement had essentially been going on since the mid seventies and took off between 1979 and 1981. By the time, me and my mates turned up in 82-83, the movement was already declared as finished but some of the bands had become huge. I found myself really liking Iron Maiden. I loved their first 2 albums but was not sure at the time about their new singer. I also had heard a couple of albums by a band from Sheffield called Def Leppard.

I heard first, their debut ‘On through the night’ which I thought was okay, pretty generic metal/rock with the odd catchy hook song like Hello America and Rock Brigade. Their follow up ‘High and Dry’ a year later was a different matter, the band had hooked up with ACDC producer Robert Mutt Lange, and produced an album with slightly more polished rock songs, a lot still generic NWOBHM but also had some great tracks which had started to cross over into commercial  rock. The epic ‘Bringing on the Heartbreak’ I heard first on the Friday Rock show, combined great emotional songwriting with the essential riffs and power chords from Clark and Willis. During these two albums Def Leppard were accused of selling out and targeting an American market, but the band continued to evolve and change.

img_2023In late 1982, Elliot, Savage, Allen, Clark and Willis returned to the studio with Mutt Lange to record their 3rd album. During the recording Willis left the band and was replaced by Phil Cohen from another NWOBHM band Girl. With the changed line up the band continued to build on their previous album with more accessible songs, more polished performances and production. So on 20th January 1983, ‘Pyromania’ came out. I heard the album a week or two later and was blown away. On February 3rd, the single ‘Photograph’ came out and became at the time the most requested video on MTV. Pyromania shipped 6 million sales of the album in that first year, only being held off the top of the US album charts by ‘Thriller’. Def Leppard on the back on this album become household names in America, although strangely less famous at home (well until Hysteria appears in 1987). So why was it special…. lets give it a spin.

To be honest, bar the big orchestral power chords at the start, Rock Rock (Till you Drop) starts from where ‘High and Dry’ left off, solid hard rock track with chanting chorus. But there are differences: the production seems cleaner and the band seems tighter. I can see why ‘Photograph’ was so popular. Its a stunning, breathtaking, fabulous pop rock track. From the opening riff, its a brilliant piece of songwriting with the way it rolls along within the verses and lifts up in the chorus (with added harmonies), I love the bridge and Collens solo and the uplifting finish with that last guitar flourish… Yeah this is still great.
I have always had an issue with the false crowd start to Stage Fright. I understand it links to the songs theme about performance but it is a pity because its another good song with pace, power and unexpectedly emotional choruses. The emotional roller coaster starts to go downhill, with the opening chords of Too Late of Love, Elliots opening lyrics set the scene into slow paced juddering verses and chanting chorus. The choir herald a change of pace and further angsty reflections. The helicopter sound effect at the start of Die Hard the Hunter, on the other hand is well placed. Again Elliot introduces it with opening verse, with the chorused responses. Suddenly we leap into the rolling, galloping structure of this track dragging us through a journey. Especially when the solo kicks in which seems to go off at tangents before returning to the central theme.

img_2024I always thought the track ‘Foolin’ was the heart of this album, as well as being one of my favourite Leppard songs. There is a certain desperation about love in this track which fitted perfectly with the psyche of a 15 year old teenager. I especially like the slow build up with acoustic song corresponding to lyrics that are trying to logically work out what is wrong. As it builds towards choruses, Steve Clark power chords and more desperate expressive rants are evident. Mutt Langes non-sensical “Gunter glieben glauchen globen” introduces Rock of Ages. The songs feels like a close relative of Queens ‘We Will Rock You’ . Elliots spoken bits are fun and the lyrics a little cliched but also very tongue in cheek. The responding chanting sounds like it was fun to do and makes this track into an anthem at gigs.

Comin Under Fire, starts with an almost echo guitar riff, before delving into another slow emotive simmering verses. I love the constant changes of pace in this track from verse, to chorus, to bridge, to solo whilst every so often returning to that initial riff and harmonised responses. Action Not Words, great song which is more upbeat. more pop/rock and for the only time on the album, has stereotypical dubious rock subject matter (Women, Sex, Cameras). The final track Billy’s Got A Gun is a great atmospheric song which builds by leaving space between elements, to start there’s no shredding or riffage just atmospheric power chords and the choir adding harmonies. It builds the intensity and pace  along with the story. The last minute is fab from solo to a beautiful filled bridge with Allen’s drumming to Elliot’s last desperate lyrics to the final choral responses. Only leaving the minutes drum loop at the end.

When I first heard Pyromania I thought it was brilliant. For someone who was changing my music style, this album hit the centre ground between the music I grew up with and the music I was currently listening to. It was safe but had enough for me to go on and explore more rock and metal, whilst waiting for the next Def Leppard album to arrive. It was a bit of a wait, not at least for the band who went through so much trauma to get into the studio. In 1987, Hysteria arrived and again raised the bar in Def Leppards journey.  It lifted production and songwriting quality to new levels making use of new technology to build on the always great musicianship in the band. It would bring more fame in the USA and deservedly some in Britain. I would get to see them on the tour for the first time with Tesla (in my top 10 gigs) and a few more times after. I don’t think they ever achieved the heights of Pyromania and Hysteria again, although the band have continued to be excellent live and have released some great tracks since but not the consistent quality. My favourite band member was Steve Clark, who sadly passed away after Hysteria.  I loved the way he played guitar. He had a great staggering, swaying motion, that every so often produced a kick in time with one of his awesome power chords. I used to replicate it whilst air guitaring at the Mayfair, sort of like pretending to be Michelle Platini whilst playing football in the school yard. Pyromania continues to be one of my favourite albums and I am grateful for it being part of my rock evolution.

img_2021Def Leppard and the Union Jack seem to be intrinsicly linked at this time. Look at the video for Photograph with Joe Elliot wearing his sleeveless t-shirt or the Foolin video with Rick Allen’s shorts. One infamous photo shows the whole band decked out in the same Union Jack t-shirts and shorts. It seems the band were a) proud of where they came from and b) trying to respond to the earlier pro-American criticism.

The Union Jack for Great Britain & N. Ireland has faced criticism itself. At best it represents being together and Union. The flag itself is a combination of England, Scotland and N. Ireland flags. Some see it proudly as a symbol of a true, fair place of many nations, cultures & beliefs. Alternatively others may see it as a flag of oppression and of an old age of empire. In the worst cases, it has been adopted by far right groups as a flag of division, oppression and hatred. Like the use of the flag of St George, it is unfair to blame the flag for the actions of a few idiots.

So a Union Jack card was made. Lyrics for all the songs were printed onto red and blue card. Getting the right colours was really tough,so much so I settled for these darker shades (I really like the toned down contrast). A template was made of the flag and each element is cut out separately (The cross of St George is cut in two). The templates were transferred onto the coloured lyrics at different angles and cut out. Some elements were glued straight onto a plain white card background whilst others are slightly raised. It gives the flag a ripple effect and the effect of something in Britain that’s changing and evolving. For better or for worse.

Billy (aged 15 at time of album release)

Week 2 : 8th January 2017 : Blackstar turns 1

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Accompany music : Blackstar

I wrote this piece late January 2016, after making the box as a way of paying tribute…. Unfortunately I didn’t have the heart to post it. So to celebrate Blackstars 1st birthday, remember again those 3-4 days & celebrate Bowies life, here it is.

A couple of years ago we had an extended Steph orientated weekend in London. Initially built around seeing her favourite modern dancer Akram Khan at Sadlers Wells doing his excellent and compelling Desh show. We then had the opportunity to see her favourite singer Siouxsie Sioux at the Royal Festival Hall. Again an amazing show. To balance this out I was given free reign to plan somethings for us over the 3-4 days there. Amongst the lovely walks, fine bars and exhibitions at Tate modern and Britain. I was determined to get to one show. The ‘This is David Bowie’ exhibition at the V&A.

We turned up early, queued for tickets and then had an hour wait before our entry time which meant we could peruse the excellent exhibits in the V&A collection. As the allotted time arose we were presented with headphones and a small box. Instead of the usual tour guide where manual operation is needed to access information, the headphones leaped into life when near an exhibit. In many cases it was near videos presentations where the track would boom out, at other times Bowie (and other contributors) would appear randomly in your head. The exhibition took participants on a journey from early Bowie through to the present day in a celebration of his music, fashion, design, acting and his overall inspiration. All of it was spellbinding but there were quite a few spine tingling moments. From his life as David Jones, through Space Oddity through to the Top of the Pops video of ‘Starman’ with sharing a hug with Mick Ronson and pointing at the camera in the harlequin jumpsuit (which was just behind glass a few feet away).  Ziggy Stardust continued into Piero and into  the Berlin Years, culminating in a concert hall, showing gigs on huge screens. Fashion, Stage sets, lyrics, song writing techniques, and films  showing his influence spread out across generations.

IMG_0589All the time the headphones played as we stopped at each set of videos. At one point at a monitor a number of us gathered to watch a few of his most well known videos surrounded by the costumes worn. It was then Life on Mars started up. This is my favourite Bowie song. I love its beautiful piano at the start, with the fragile vocals. I love the way it powerfully builds up and up and leads into sublime choruses. I love the non-sensical lyrics and I love Wakemans fadeout piano solo. But I always find it irrationally emotional.  From the first note of piano and the first shot of red hair and pastel blue suit (which stood almost at touching distance just to my left) I felt myself taking a deep breath trying to hold on. By the first chorus and the amazing bridge that leads to it, I am filling up and the first tear is rolling down my cheek. At this point I took my headphones off, embarrassed at what was happening. And there I was standing in the silence, watching a silent Bowie. I look around at all the other 20-30 people all with headphones in tact and nearly all crying away. Maybe at this point I understood what Bowie meant to me.

I wouldn’t say I was the biggest Bowie fan. I had heard a lot of Bowie singles on Radio 1 as I grew up and I knew lyrics to quite a few of them. It wasn’t till my early teens I heard the full albums. The first was Hunky Dory, then Ziggy and Diamond Dogs. I loved this whole period. Later I grew to like the Berlin era but was a little lost by his later 80’s/90’s productions. I lost track a little and became a little dismayed by his music. It wasn’t till years later I went back and relistened to albums and got a greater understanding of the work I liked and how it had shaped other music I listened to. Recently Mr Drayton Record Player, our communal vinyl playing evening had played a number of the classics, all well attended and gave further insight into his genius. But at that moment in the V&A I got it, Bowie was (like for many others of my age) an integral part of our musical listening life. I may not have liked all his stuff, but the tracks I did were awe-inspiring rock/pop that made me think and made me emotional. In fact the exhibition it was amazing to see how influential he was on society in general.

IMG_0587So January 2016…..

Friday January 8th, a special Record Player was held to play Bowies new album Blackstar. A packed digital lounge settled down for a first listen of his latest opus. A startling black album with cut out star was carefully unwrapped. Inside a transparent sleeve contains the vinyl, it is placed on the player, the lights go down and the light from the powerpoint takes over as the first discordant notes of the title tracks starts up and Bowies almost gregorian hypnotic lyrics kicks in. I had heard this track earlier in the day and loved its Crimson like elements along with electronic drum and bass and jazz sax. And so it continued track after track of stunning songs, mixing the new and old with jazz solos and fills abound. Bowies fragile distinct vocals unmissable throughout with  what seemed his usual bamboozling lyrics which carried so much darkness and emotion but some clever word play which seemed to be a little joke with the listener. Afterwards we talked about it, those who had sat through the previous album had thought he was pointing to retirement then, but this one seemed to hint at it as well. We thought… oh, he’ll be back. We did agree that this was the best Bowie album in years. It was fresh, groundbreaking, inspiring and influential. Afterwards we celebrated Bowie with a quiz and listened to more of his tracks. A great night was had by all.

img_2001Monday 11th January 7:05am : Waking up for work, I sleepily reach over and hit the button of the radio for Radio5, and I lay my head down to hover in the outskirts of dreamland. Usually I am brought around by cheerful discussion of Nicky Campbell, but this morning his voice sounded dulled, broken even betrayed. ‘We have just had confirmation of the social media reports that David Bowie has died’….. I opened my eyes…. What… It was repeated in more broken terms explaining he had died the previous day (Campbell was devastated) and I struggled to take it in…. And then they played Lazarus and the first lyrics boomed out ‘Look up here now, Im in heaven’ and suddenly I was in shock. I kept thinking ‘my god the album makes so much sense now’. They then played a chunk of other tracks which finished me off. On the way into work, those in the know looked shocked whilst being soundtracked by the tinkle of peoples mp3 players playing Fame, Heroes, Ziggy… The day at work was a stunned loss with the constant play of Life on Mars in my head only interrupted when I checked the internet as I remembered more Blackstar lyrics.

Blackstar : ‘Something happened on the day he died’  , Sue : ‘The clinic called, The x-ray’s fine’ , Dollar Days : ‘Don’t believe for just one second I’m forgetting you, I’m trying to, I’m dying to’, I Cant give Everything Away : ‘I know something is very wrong, The pulse returns the prodigal son, The blackout hearts, the flowered news, With skull designs upon my shoes’

There are so many obvious clues but trying to second guess Bowies lyrics remains impossible. What is without doubt is that Blackstar is a stunning goodbye letter to fans that helps with the pain. Amongst all the tributes on Social Media one person stated the genius of Bowie, showed that a terminally ill person created this amazing piece of work and had more creativity in his little finger than the rest of humanity put together.

IMG_0425I remember Elvis dying in 1977 and people being upset and reruns of Elvis movies. I remember in 1980, John Lennon dying, family members crying and his singles dominating the charts. The death of Bowie in 2016, hit me unexpectedly hard and took me back to that day in the V&A, crying in the silence of Life on Mars. Bowie was an enigma, a style icon, a fantastic storyteller, the goblin king, a leader, a hero, an influence and a hell of a musician. Rest in Peace.

I wanted the box created for this piece to reflect the solemnness of the occasion, but also celebrate his influence and life with an array of his images. I chose 6 iconic images and printed them black onto black card almost so they can’t be seen. A star is cut out of two facing sides and a star tunnel created linking both sides. It felt apt that there should be something missing in a box celebrating Bowies influence on all of us.

One year on…… What have we learned

  • No musical icon is indestructible….. Prince, Cohen, Michael, Swarbrick, Frey, Emerson…. Never mind the icons lost of the screen, sport, architecture, art, politics, humanities.
  • Bowie continues to be an inspiration and the planet desperately needs his calmness, humility and common sense.
  • I continue to be grateful for his music legacy which still fills our screens and turntables, which I continue to rediscover.
  • Blackstar continues to be an epic album. It is so deep with every listen unveiling another noise, beat, lyric. The musical styles within are boundless and I think my mini review above, was just the tip of the iceberg.
  • A year on, it still hurts and Life on Mars still makes me cry…. Mind you, so does Lazarus now.

So Cheers to Blackstar on its first birthday, and Bowie (in whichever wonderful alternative universe you’re in) on your 70th.

Billy (aged 48 at time of album release)

Week 1 : 4th January 2017 : The Doors debut turns 50

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Accompany music : Light My Fire

1967, seems the right place to start. It’s January 4th,  and over the last month, the Vietnam War has continued on, Harold Wilson and the UN are struggling with the crisis in Rhodesia, East German Chancellor Ulbrect is talking about German reunification whilst in California actor Ronald Reagan is being made Governor. Closer to home, my parents have been married for four days, unaware that in 10 months a bundle of creative madness would arrive in their lives. I would put a bet on that they, Wilson or even Reagan were aware of what was happening in West Hollywood, California where the Doors released one of the great debut albums of all time.

Morrison, Manzarek, Keiger and Densmore supposedly recorded this album after nights at local hot-spots in Hollywood California, such as the Whiskey a Go Go and this adds to the mayhem, fun  and subject matter provided. It has the reputation of being one of the influential albums of popular Psychedelia, forming a bridge from other musical styles of that era. It also gives a glimpse into the influence it would give to acts in the future, through their songwriting and delivery.

The album starts the Bossa Nova beat of Break On Through, dives into driving rock and Morissions short punchy lyrics ‘The Day destroys the Night, the Night divides the day” and short verses. The chorus carries on the madness. Cymbals, Keyboards and guitar taking turns at disjointed solos, before returning to the pace to a desperate finish. Love the urgency and almost punk feel to this song.

img_1992Next Soul Kitchen, throws the blues kitchen sink into psychedelia. A slightly sleazy keyboard and percussion, slide guitar and Morrisons copyrighted drawl and shouty chorus. The Crystal Ship, a huge psychedelic ballad that builds during the track. Especially enjoy the combination of piano and organ on this. Morrisions lyrics are delicate, sweet and slightly dubious…. but it’s class. The fantastic Twentieth Century Fox adds some real sixties stomp which feels like it should belong in the forthcoming Glam Rock scene.

Side one finishes with Alabama Song (Whiskey Bar) a cover version of a piece composed by Brect/Weill’s for the Opera ‘Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny’. This seems to be a fun track not at all taken seriously and sums up the almost hedonist atmosphere of this album and recording. Morrison is at his sleazy best and pushing the boundaries of the song into dubious territory. The music does the same, following a musical show structure with anthem like verses/choruses interluded by distorted fanfares and un-nerving funfair sounding organ solo, played by Manzarek on a Marxophone.

Side 2 and Light My Fire, I love this track. The spiralling keyboard start, the breathless Morrison vocals with the lyrics as though being read in a poetry reading . The keyboard solo, kicks in with a chilled wallowing, deliberate sequence that moves and changes as the pace increases and decreases throughout the solo. Slowly builds in crescendo with added drum. finally giving way to relaxed guitar. And then the Keyboard spiralling riff kicks in again taking us from this chilled section to the final reading. Quickly building to the songs end and one more keyboard refrain. Its 7 minutes of perfection that sums up for me, late 60’s music.

img_1994A cover of Willie Dixon’s Back Door Man brings back the blues in a slightly more menacing fashion. Morrison sounds like he’s having a ball. There’s something very clockwork about the start of ‘I looked at You, the chorus and verses are so mid-sixties although their in a slight change of chord at the end of the chorus which throws a darker slant onto this. This darkness is so apparent in End of The Line. Everything paired back, strained and distorted. Whereas Take it as it Comes, travels at a great rolling pace with yet more almost choral keyboard pieces at the end of each chorus.

The preparation of cymbal and keyboard leads in meandering guitar. Single cymbal and tambourine, paired back bass join in setting the slow pace, ready for Morrisons first lyric “This is The End“. The dark, brooding lyrics spaced out over this wide-open music landscape. Every so often a fill from Manzarek,  Kreiger  and Densimore punctuating the journey. Morrisons spoken set section is so dark with an Oedipus like lyrical subject. The final section of spiralling middle eastern influenced music climaxes with the crash of drums, finishing by returning to the gentle meandering refrain of This is the End. Is it about sex, death, religion, or all three? Not sure.

img_1993I do love this album, because of the straddling so many musical styles in the sixties and embracing them into the feel of the Summer of Love. The tracks move from the punk like, to blues standards, sixties pop, dark poetic pieces and of course psychedelia.

Morrision of course is the lead man, his unforgettable image embraces and takes over the front of the sleeve, and it takes a while to notice the rest of the band lurking in the background. The album is very much the same, Morrisons performance is for all to hear, whether whispered or shouted his impenetrable dark lyrics scream attention especially in The End. What should be said is how great the band is, Kreiger playing solid heartfelt guitar and Densmore setting complex beats (Bosa-nova start to Break on Through) and his ability to fill at will. My hero of the album and of the Doors career is Ray Manzarek. On this album Ray plays his Vox Continental organ, piano, marxophone and keyboard bass, creating the mood of the album with swaying harmonies and keeps the music moving with distinctive blues based riffs. The sound is what would become copyrighted sixties. I especially enjoy his solos, the atmosphere is set, the changes in timing and the almost disjointed, meandering approach. I loved the times the keyboards spiral almost out of control, like the start of light my fire. That starting piece alone is enough to put this album in late sixties folk law.

Okay the rules were I make a card/artwork in the time of the album (This one was 45 minutes long). The only idea I had was I wanted to capture my favourite elements which are Manzareks keyboard spiralling riffs. So I decided to create a spiral of fire which was cut out of a suitable free photograph. The spiral sits on the from of a brown card, which because of the shape was cut into a circle with a folded edge for the hinge and a slightly flat bottom. behind the spiral a picture of the doors album is placed. This can only be seen once the spiral is extended. To help with this element, I made a ‘handle’ which is a 50 sign. This probably took the longest time to do, as I could not perfect the doors typeface to create a 5. In the end the spiral works and gives a faux psychedelic feel.  Although once standing up, it makes the card a bit wobbly like its had too much too drink…. which is kind of right for this great album.

Billy (aged -10 months at time of album release)

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)

2015 – Music of the future, Music of the past

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A belated review of 2015 music.

Many years ago I joined a tradition set up by my friend Chris of making a compilation album of that years favourite songs. It is great to reflect on the music of that year and share the tracks that inspired us. As much as we have similar tastes there is always difference and this usually ends up with many purchases of albums. So in playlist order here is my eclectic 17 choices that made it onto my album of the year.

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  1. Public Service Broadcasting – Go (from ‘The Race For Space’). An album which details the space race between the US and USSR through the commentary’s and newsreels of the time along with some great accessible progressive tunes. A perfect album sold at the great Cosmonaut exhibitions at the Science Museum.
  1. Steven Wilson – Hand Cannot Erase (from ‘Hand Cannot Erase’). Amazing heart wrenching/uplifting concept album based on a true story of a woman found dead in her flat, years after her last contact with anyone. Stunning LP which incorporates huge prog pieces and accessible classics. Saw Mr Wilson live 3 times in 2015, two of which were at the Albert Hall. At the first a perfect rendition of the whole of the album (complete with videos, performance art and guest singers) and the second a retrospective of his solo career. Stunning memorable evenings.

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  1. Freya Rae & Louis Bingham – Curlicue (from ‘Curlicue’). A gig late on the year at the amazing Mining Institute, a decent crowd sat amongst many stern portraits overseeing a lovely gig by Sams flute teacher. This track captivated me instantly with its twists and turns. Freya and Louis have brought together a great instrumental album, bringing a modern mash up of traditional British and European folk music
  1. Between The Buried and Me – Life in Velvet (from ‘Coma Ecliptic’). BTBAM copyrighted madness that leaps from melody to thrash. Music press reported that they were a little more calmed down…. well a little bit.  Their songs are still mighty long except for this track which as it builds from ballad to epic metal, shows they have lost none of their brilliance.
  1. Amorphis – Under the Red Cloud (from Under the Red Cloud). My favourite start to a track this year, twinkling piano into folk rock territory and then spiraling into progressive metal. Epic, powerful, European and a little bit growly.
  1. King Crimson – One More Red Nightmare (from Elements 2015 Tour Book). Was in my top 5 bands to see and I saw them twice in 2015. Playing in some great arenas; the Manchester Lowry and Edinburgh Usher Hall; KC put on a show that was breathtaking and wonderous. What with 3 excellent drummers, excellent vocals, sax, bass and Fripps guitar work there was some stunning moments including Court of the Crimson King, Red, 21st Century Schizoid Man, Starless and this.

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  1. Pat Benatar & Neil Giraldo – So Sincere (from 35th Anniversary Tour). Still in my top 5 to see. 35th anniversary album and still rocking with passion and a voice. Always loved the sneeriness throughout this track and it has not wained. Great to see Mr Giraldo getting equal billing.
  1. Vintage Trouble – Run Like A River (from ‘1 Hopeful Road’). A little lost in support of ACDC at Hampden Park, but in a more confined space at the Sage were outstanding. Great mix of soul, blues, Americana and rock with amazing stage presence. This track was just mad, including pit dive, an audience walk over armrests to a 3rd Floor singalong

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  1. Sweet Billy Pilgrim – Chasing Horses (from Motorcade Amnesiacs). A beautiful little track from a good album. Delicate acoustic guitar work, bass and distant drum with simplistic calming lyrics. About halfway the harmonising and keyboards kick in and it lifts the track to amazing
  1. Spocks Beard – Bennett Built a Time Machine (from The Oblivion Particle). Quirky song of this collection, Mandolin riffs carry the early part of this track with some great storytelling of wanting to change your past. The mood changes when Ryo’s prog keyboards kick in and the journey begins as the portal opens.
  1. Anekdoten – If it All Comes Down To You (from ‘Until All The Ghosts Are Gone’). Will I ever find a more laid back band then Anekdoten? I love their chilled peaceful attitude to songs. Abound with beautiful guitar work, mellotron like keyboards, lots of flute solos and even the singer sounds like he’s lying down.
  1. IMG_0319Leveret – Northern Lass/The Kings Barrow (from ‘New Anything’). A sad year ahead as Bellowhead cease to be. Two stunning gigs in 2015 (including NYE) but offshoot bands help. Here Bellowheads violinist (and John Parr sound-alike) Sam Sweeney & band playing up some trad folk.
  1. Richard Thompson – Beatnik Walking (from ‘Still’). Mr. Thompson continues to drift from folk, to Americana to Rock n Roll. This years album and tour see’s him in good form. This jolly track is a walking travelogue of Amsterdam complete.
  1. Gavin Harrison – Sound of Muzak/So Called Friend (from ‘Cheating the Polygraph’). One of the 3 King Crimson drummers covers tracks from his previous band Porcupine tree in Jazz big band form. The whole excellent album montage is like being stuck in a West Side Story fight scene.
  1. Lanterns of the Lake – Through a Cellar Door (from ‘Beings’). A local band playing stunning atmospheric tracks with clever use of distortion. Clever knack of building up tracks to huge heights and gently bringing you back down.
  1. The Decemberists – Make You Better (from ‘What a Terrible World, What a Beautiful World’). Huge debate as to whether the new album is more commercial, less folky, more indie. The opening track even is an explanation of sorts. Who cares… great album, fantastic live and a gem of a song.
  1. The Lau – Ghosts (from ‘The Bell That Never Rings’). Sitting on 3rd level of Sage 2, I looked down on 3 musicians playing some relaxing, beautiful modern folk and then they played this 2011 EP track. And I couldn’t get it out of my head. Sad, beautiful and full of meaning of belonging and the need to be somewhere

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The links above are to the youtube videos, mostly live, some acoustic, others promos and one or two album tracks. Please I would ask, if you like the music, to support the artists and buy their music in the physical form. There is nothing better than a piece of vinyl (or a CD if required, or download if hell freezes over). Even better see them live.

IMG_4903There were other noteworthy albums which didn’t make it on here because I either forgot or tracks were too long. Amongst these I would recommend Coheed and Cambria ‘The Color Before The Storm’, Ben Folds ‘So There’, Riverside ‘Love, Fear and the Time Machine’ and Iron Maidens ‘Book of Souls’. All of them are great. It was a tremendous year for seeing live music, especially seeing bands of multiple occasions. I have mentioned some of the highlights above but a special mention goes to seeing ACDC at Hampden Park, probably the last time I will see them. Incredibly great for their age although the breaks between songs have got a little longer.

Unfortunately I am also at the age, where many of my musical icons are passing on. I was saddened earlier in the year with the passing of Chris Squire the fab bassist from one of my favourite Progressive rock bands Yes. I was also shocked by the death of Lemmy from Motorhead although it was kind of inevitable. We expect these icons of music  to live forever, but as we will find in January, even the greatest are human.

Lets hope 2016 brings happier times, great tunes, fab albums and some memorable concerts.

The Art project for this one is two fold.

IMG_0401Part 1 the cubes. The three smaller cubes (3cm) have 17 faces covered with small elements of the album covers of each of the above tracks. There is one blank face. The bigger cube (4.2cm) has my six favourite concerts on it (Steven Wilson, King Crimson, Decemberists, Vintage Trouble, Bellowhead and ACDC.

IMG_0591Part 2: the album cover. As part of the process of creating an album of the year, I create a cover in tribute to a one this year. I decided to take the sublime cover of Lantern Of The Lakes Beings with its bright coloured, slightly faded landscape overpowered by a dark geometric shape and create a homage. I looked through the many photos I have taken in 2015 with the inevitably many of the bridges of Berwick. I take a photo every time I pass on a train. I choose a suitable version and drew a silver cube on it. Simple yet effective.