Category Archives: Music

Frank Turner – The Refectory Leeds Uni Friday 19 April 2013

Last night I achieved one of my ambitions.

Ever since I started gigging at the tender age of 14 I have wanted to watch a band on the balcony of the Refectory at Leeds University, (one of my favourite venues along with The Apollo in Manchester and the Rock City in Nottingham).  Yes since I was 14, I have looked up at the people leaning over above my head, and wondered who they were and how they managed to be there.  I always thought they must be with band and lead glamorous and exciting lives.   And last night when we gave our names for the guest list, the girl said “These are for the balcony” almost as if we would be disappointed.  Of course I managed to walk away very nonchalantly as if this happened all the time but inside my 14-year-old self was whooping and cheering and clapping her teenage heart out.

So up to the balcony we went, and it was not a let down, in fact I think I am now spoilt for life.  It was amazing.  Front Row.  Perfect view of the stage.  I love the Refectory at Leeds Uni because it is large enough to create an exciting atmosphere and yet intimate enough to allow you to feel part of the gig.    And Frank Turner and the Stepping Souls put on a show that takes over you entirely until you are dancing, sweat running down your face, arms aloft with pure exhilaration.

I had been lent his album, England Keep My Bones and I must admit it didn’t grab me at first, but it was a true grower.  Somehow though those tunes, and then the words seeped into my head and my heart and drew me in.   Slowly at first but then very surely and entirely.  So by the time an offer of tickets came up I was very excited.

Frank Turner is an artist you need to see live.  The album is wonderful, but he is at his best live.   His music is folky singer-songwriter, a man in a white shirt, jeans and his guitar. There is a similarity to Billy Bragg in sound, but live the power and energy of the band is surprising.  It is raw, intense and infectious.  The bassist player rocked out in a way that could be described as freaking out, such was his passion.   There were quieter songs too, when it was just Frank on his own, just his voice and his guitar and he held the audience in the palm of his hand.

As I was above the crowd I watched the patterns they made.  The way they stood so patiently before the band came on, gave no clue to how much of a moshpit it would become the moment the first chord was played.  It was like watching storm coming, waves of people crashing into each other. But a very good-natured English storm,  a couple of times people were on the floor, but  hands were extended straight away to pick them up. You could imagine the “sorrys” “no no my fault”.  They would make massive circles, and then all run into the middle during a very rousing chorus, like an adult and quite physical version of the oke cokey!  They also all sat down during one song and then jumped up in unison.  Frank commented on the sitting down thing, so it must be a regular occurance at his gigs.

I don’t know all the songs but I recognised Peggy Sings the Blues, I am Disappeared, Recovery (the new single), Wessex Boy, Glory Hallelujah and my favourite If I ever stray.  They were on stage from 9.15 until 10.45 with customary 3 song encore taking it to 11 pm.

The music, it is folk,  but with the power and energy of punk.  The tunes made me think of sea shanties.  When the crowd were singing along with Frank, word-perfect, maybe an English Pogues is the closest description I could find.  There is something spine-tingling isn’t there listening to a crowd that love the artist performing so much and you hear the love and the passion in every syllable.  These treasured songs listened to over and over again, in the car, in their bedrooms, in the headphones.  As Frank says Rock and Roll has saved us, there is a song for every time we win and every time we lose too.  Frank Turner and the Stepping Souls certainly won my heart last night.

This is a version of If I ever stray recorded at Wembley, Frank’s voice does sound a little hoarse but it doesn’t detract from the performance.  Do download England Keep My Bones, you won’t be disappointed in these English folk songs, these lyrical ballards telling tales of our ancient and modern times.

My Top 5 Songs of the Year

So here it is, my 5 favourite songs of the year, I am sure they will not feature on anyone else’s list but then they can do their own list  can’t they- this is really just an excuse to play my favourite songs of this year again.

At Number 5, and my memory is so bad I am not a hundred percent sure this was actually out this year. Ren Harvieu.  I love her, you can keep Adele Skkkkyyfaaaaaaaaaaaallling her way to the top of the charts, for me Ren’s voice is the true voice of pain and heartache, the sound of survival , of gritting your teeth and it making it through the other side. (Well after Amy of course).  Tonight also has the most amazing woozy sounding brass, the sound of a night spiralling out of your control, giddily exciting at first, but with more than a hint that everything could end in tears….

And at number 4, yes it’s that internet sensation, You Tube’s first million hit millionaire, Psy and Gangnam Style.  This is really one for my children.  They adore it, and really sneakly I do too, especially after seeing Damian Lewis “horsing” his way across the Green Room on Jonathan Ross.  I saw Brodie from Homeland in a whole new light.

So just in case you are the one person on the planet who has missed it, here it is… all together now.. “Hey sexy lady, Woop Woop Woop Woop”

Feel the Love by Rudimental is at 3.  I love this tune way more than I should.  Surely this is just a song for 16 year olds, but I can’t get enough of it.  How can anyone resist that soulful old skool vocal soaring over the dubstep?  One to be played very loud, especially out on a run, it makes me feel I never want to stop.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=c9YrfHVB4ic

Jake Bugg is at number 2.  He is amazing.  When I first heard Lightning Bolt I didn’t know if it was a new track or just an unfamiliar old one.  For an 18 year old boy from Nottingham he sounds incredibly like Johnny Cash or Bob Dylan.  Simple, catchy tunes with lyrics that wise beyond their years.   The BBC used Lightning Bolt as the bed on a piece about Usain Bolt during the Olympics which made me ridiculously happy.

So here it is, my number one for the year.  I bet you can hardly care less.  But anyway I will press on regardless of the apathy.  In my best DeeJay Voice, at at Number One, Eugene McGuinness and Harlequinade.  And cut to everyone looking at each other and saying “Who?”  Why isn’t it Rihanna or One Direction or that nice Katy Perry, such a shame about her and Russell Brand.

Anyway it isn’t, it’s Eugene McGuinness.  He is the guitarist for Miles Kane.  He brought at an fantastic and very unrated album in the summer called “An Invitation to the Voyage”. It is jam-packed with infectious pop classics, just waiting to be discovered and played and made into ear worms in your brain.  Oh and the video is a masterclass in creativity on a budget.

So there you, my top 5 songs of the year.  I could have included the entire soundtrack to the Olympic Opening Ceremony, with special mention to Caliban’s Dream but then that would have to have been 6 songs of the year.. and well that is just ridiculous isn’t it?  Who has 6 top songs of the year, except hopelessly indecisive people?  Perhaps that should be another blog, my top 5 moments of the year but that would just been just one long moment; our glorious, wonderous, uplifting, never to be repeated summer of sport wouldn’t it?  So here is Caliban’s Dream.. enjoy… and if you fancy it, do let me know your tunes of the year.

New York, London, Paris, Munich, Everybody’s talkin’ bout Pop Music

except for me.

All lunchtime I see people sharing walkmans, well smart-phones, well they are actually sharing the ear-phones, all happily listening to the latest downloads that have ear-wormed their way into their heads.

And I am jealous.  I have no new music to love.  I am at a loss where to find something new that I like.   I think I should blame my increasing dependence on Radio 4 to get me through the day.  There is irony here, as a teenager I regularly accused my mum of being a Radio 4 addict.  Every morning would start with the sounds of those stalwart Brians of Britain, Messrs Perkins and Redhead, reading and disseminating the day’s news, reconnecting our home with the outside world.   Ablutions, breakfasting, dressing, all preparations for the day ahead were performed to the soundtrack of the Today Programme.   I found it very interesting that even in my 20’s and a confirmed music station listener, at times of difficulty and sadness in my life I always headed back to Radio 4 and it would make me feel safe, and now it seems I can never leave it, and therefore I never hear any new music.

I can almost accept I am creeping into that demographic that listens to speech radio most of the day (and not just because we are so infirm we can’t change the channel).  I am also in an unique position that my husband is a music scheduler for a Radio Group and I listen to his network Real pretending that he is playing all my favourite tracks, just for me, like an enormous ipod shuffle.  Of course this couldn’t be furthest from reality.  Every track played has been heavily researched and approved by the playlist panel.  Plus my husband tells me, quite scornfully, that my tastes are very male, (ie I like boys with guitars not female wailing harpies) and he is scheduling with women in  mind.  So instead of all those songs being played especially for me, it is more like being played despite of me!

All my life I have been music mad, obsessed with discovering new sounds and endlessly repeating much loved ones.  I was a punk, and a raver and many other things in between. As a child I would go to sleep trying to figure out whether it would be better to lose your sight or your hearing.  I always chose sight.  The idea of never hearing a piece of music again was unbearable to my tender mind.

So back to my quest for find new sources.  I have tried listening to 6 Music, and it is good but I never seem to hear the same thing enough times to get to know it.   The last cd I really loved was Mark Ronson and the Business International – Record Collection, a wonderful infectious energetic but also soulful album, fusing his love of the 80’s with his genius for the zeitgeist.

just listen to this the Bike Song.   You can’t tell me this doesn’t make your soul soar.

Other recent loves have been Kasabian, LCD Soundsystem, and  generally I like my music fast, happy and preferably with clever lyrics too.  In the Oasis divorce I have kept Liam’s upbeat Beady Eye, as they have retained more that era defining Definitely Maybe spirit that I fell in love with all those years ago.  I know everyone loves Noel but I guess I have always been a touch defiant.

So please all comments welcome and considered, can someone find me some new music to love.  A lovely friend has recommended Justice, saying they sound like Chemical Brothers meeting Air on an epic scale.  This sounds very good. I shall be investigating further. And please please please help me before I am totally consumed by the aural quicksand of Radio 4. Just no one mention Lana Del Rey… she leaves me cold!

Whoa.. the Christmas spirit has really hit me today…

I have just been hit with a massive wave of Christmas spirit today, maybe it’s from seeing the children’s nativities complete with the armies of tea-towelled Shepherds,  tinselled Angels and Stars and Onlookers and Musicians (yes my son was a musician in his!) telling and singing that familiar story.

Or maybe it is because we have started watching all our favourite family Christmas films.   We always start with Home Alone One and Two, and then proceed the following weekend to The Muppet Christmas Carol and other John Hughes Yuletide classic National Lampoon Christmas Vacation.  Griswold has always been shorthand in our family for those deliciously over-illuminated houses that flash and strobe their way through the festive season.  I am delighted to see that in the 20 odd years since Clark Griswold first drained the Chicago grid that lighting up the sky large has become the norm everywhere.

Anyway whatever the reason I thought I would like to share my current top four Christmas songs….

Of course I love the Pogues, and Jona Lewie and Whizzard and all the classics that blast out of the shops and radio from now until Boxing Day, but for some reason I can’t get these songs below out of my head , I hope you like them.

They are tender and bittersweet and beautiful and really sum up what the holidays are really all about for me.  Being with your family and loved ones and despite the stress and the strains and the upsets, it really is a magical time of year.

Made of Stone

It is with great sadness and a very heavy heart that I announce the reformation of The Stone Roses.

The Stone Roses. The Stone Roses. The STONE ROSES. How am I not overjoyed? how is this not the news I have been waiting for since that acrimonious break up in 1996?

The unmistakable sound of my halcyon days. John Squires’ pure jangling guitar like a clarion call for indie dreamers everywhere. Ian Brown, never the greatest singer, but whose words and delivery broke down the berlin wall dividing ravers and indie kids.  The man who spawned a thousand Liams.  Mani and Reni must not be overlooked either.  Their  funk rhythm and beats were the backbone of the group, never more gloriously displayed than in Fools Gold.

I would go to sleep every night listening to the eponymous first album, the hardest decision being whether to listen to the first or second side.  I know, this was a time of the cassette.  A cassette I might add I bought in a Woolworths.  Another lost feature in our landscape, something else that has disappeared from our modern world.

I must confess my love for the Roses did take some time, I had to fully embrace the culture before I completely fell in love with them.  I was working in London when I first heard them, thinking this is the place where everything happens first.  Everything had always happened first in London.  I had vowed to myself to be at the vanguard of the next music scene after being born just too late for punk.  Of course the delicious irony was that it  was happening 50 odd miles from where I grew up, Manchester.  Madchester was the capital of indie dance and the emerging baggy culture.  I watched from afar, learning about Spike Island and the Hacienda from front covers of The Face magazine.  That bible of indie style and culture.

But catch up I did, and boy did I fall for the Stone Roses hard.  They sang they wanted to be adored.  And they got their wish.   Their music to me was beyond compare, as harmonious as the Byrds or Simon and Garfunkel and as political as the Specials.  Every note was sublime, utterly utterly glorious.   Like all fans I sat through the five long years of the legal dispute with the record company Silvertone, hoping and praying and dreaming and willing the follow-up into existence.

The Second Coming.  Was there ever an album more aptly named?  To sum up the almost religious fervour and anticipation.  And was there ever an album more instantly rejected? Yet when you really listened even though it was heavier and darker and more intense, it was another masterpiece.  Just listen to Love Spreads and tell me it isn’t.

They toured again in 1995-6.  I didn’t go and see them.  For one reason only.  Performing live was not their forte, and  I was, still am, very prone to stop listening to bands if they can’t do it live. The Roses were too precious to me for that to happen, and so I stayed at home,  I preserved their memory, enshrined in those two perfectly recorded albums, to be revered forever. Pristine and in tact, unblemished.

This is why I am not joining the ranks of the adoring fans queuing up to buy tickets tomorrow for their home-coming at Heaton Park next June.  I can not have my cherished memories destroyed at this late stage now by something as prosaic as a poor live performance.  My head says they can’t play any better live now, so reality now would only spoil everything.

But if they were to get it together live, am I ready for the reality of  the voice of a 50 something grey haired man singing hymns to his disaffected youth, and not hitting the notes as he once (well almost) did?   In all honestly I don’t want to remember them in any other way than those four fresh-faced Manc lads, because in my head I don’t feel any different to that girl who listened to their music every night  to fall asleep and I don’t want that to change ever.

How Hip Hop Changed the World

Could there be a bigger irony that whilst David Starkey was on Newsnight accusing “black culture” of causing the recent riots, Channel 4 were showing the most wonderful retrospective of rap.

‘How Hip Hop Changed the World’, headed up very ably by The Wire‘s Stringer Bell himself, Idris Elba, was an entertaining reminder of just how far Hip Hop culture has spread and ingrained itself in all our lives.  From advertising Weetabix, to the 2012 Olympic symbol, we are influenced daily by the power, creativity, imagination and imagery of Hip Hop.

Hip Hop came out of the Bronx, during a time of utter deprivation, (possibly one could argue that the origins of Hip Hop and the riots are the same, not that one was responsible for the other).   It was a totally new and original art form; visceral, exciting and inspirational.

The programme had interviews with many of the great voices, and it was a really positive and wonderful reminder of just how rich Hip Hop culture is, and how far it has influenced the music, the fashion and the art of today.

There were things missing too, there are downsides to Hip Hop. One glaring omission was Hip Hop’s portrayal of women.  Missy Elliot excepted, there are very few talented female artists in Hip Hop.  Women are window dressing – in the background of videos in bikinis or stimulating sex on the floor whilst the rappers throw dollar bills at them.   The message coming out of these promos are that women are secondary, inferior, their function is purely sexual.

Watching music channels used to be fun, but they have become so x-rated these days I will not let my children watch them.   You can see the influence spreading too, Rihanna and Christina Aguilera both performed unnecessarily provocative dances on the X-Factor last year, before the 9.00pm watershed.  I watched with my children and wondered what my daughter would think.  Why were the girls in their underwear, whilst Robbie Williams who was also performing but fully dressed in a suit?

But on the whole it was a very timely reminder that Hip Hop culture has given us much, and there has been some really fantastic music.  I think this one, Sugarhill Gang is still my favourite:

On Monday Channel 4 continued their Street Summer with ‘Concrete Circus’.  This was an incredible programme, following four young men who excelled in urban sports.  Sports that didn’t really exist 30 years ago.  There was an urban trial biker, Danny McAskill, skateboarder Kilian Martin, parkourist “Blue” and BMX flatlander Keelan Philips.  The names of these sports seem so ordinary they belie the almost super-human abilities of the participants.

These athletes rose to prominence because of You Tube.  Short films of their gravity-defying jumps, their jaw-dropping daring and incredible tricks have added up to over 50 million hits.  It was a wonderful twist having another Wire alumnus, Dominic West, describing the urban terms of these activities in his Etonian modulated tones.  A beautiful juxtaposition of cultures.

‘Concrete Circus’ followed the sportsmen as they practiced to make new films to be debuted that night on the programme.  Could they actually better their first films, jump higher, longer, further.  Injuries of course were the biggest concern.  As Blue, the parkourist, said of his first film, there wasn’t a jump on there that didn’t frighten him.  Watching him somersaulting over railings and landing vertically on walls like a real life Spiderman, you could see exactly why.

Danny McAskill, the trial biker could cycle along a length of rope that he was unable to walk down. I still can’t get my head around that.

The Skateboarder and the flatlander BMX-er were like ballet dancers or figure skaters, pirouetting with unbelievable grace and agility.

I taped the programme and let the children watch the next day.  They were in as much awe as I was.  My son has been launching himself at every wall he can find since.  I am fearing the inevitable trip to A&E but I am not surprised at his actions, the programme was so inspiring.

Words of course cannot do just to the skill, bravery and ability so here’s my favourite film from the night, Danny Mcaskill’s ‘Industrial Revolutions’.  Watch and marvel.

Horrible Histories

horrible historiesThis morning my family experienced the closest we have ever come to time-travel.  We all gathered round the wireless to listen to the Proms.  It felt like a scene from a war film, the whole family gathered around the radio, except this wasn’t a bakelite set, but a DAB digital radio. And this was no ordinary prom, this was the ‘Horrible Histories’ sing-along.

If you haven’t come across ‘Horrible Histories’ before it is a comedy sketch show based on the wonderful ‘Horrible History’ books by Terry Deary.  Made for the CBBC channel it is funny, entertaining and informative, and loved by children and parents alike.  The show has won every award going, including the Comedy Awards where quite deservingly it won best Sketch Show.  The first children’s show ever to do this.

The show’s appeal is that the standard of writing is so high and there has been no dumbing down for children.  The sketches are extremely funny and often take off other shows.

‘Historical Wife Swap’ illustrates beautifully the divisions in society from Ancient Greece and Sparta to Pre-revolutionary France.  They even get Dave Lamb to narrate their ‘Come Dine With Me’ sketches, just as he does in the real show.  ‘Historical Masterchef’ is a triumph of satire, “John” and “Greg” are so well observed, right down to Greg’s renowned love of puddings.

This is another strength of the show, the actors are all excellent.  They are from grown-up comedy too, you see them in ‘Peep Show’, ‘the Mighty Boosh’, ‘Miranda’ and ‘Gavin & Stacey’ too.

The highlight of every show though is the songs.  I don’t have words to describe just how witty, catchy and clever they are.  Subjects range from the plague, so many monarchs, ancient Egypt, Victorian inventors, and often parody a popular style of music and video too.  For example Cleopatra done in the style of Lady Gaga… “I bath in asses’ milk and spices, I look like the Goddess Isis, I curl my hair niceis“, the Vikings’ shot at a soft rock power ballad “Literally”, or Dick Turpin as Adam Ant.  Every one is a classic.  My absolute favourites are The Four King Georges done as a boy band including a Westlife style key change, and Charles II with a party boy bling rap.

The prom was excellent too.  There were all new sketches, including a wonderful horrible history of the orchestra, visits from Mozart and Beethoven and many of the glorious songs.  We had tried for tickets but sadly the demand was so high they were all gone in five minutes.  I really hope it will be televised later in the year as the Doctor Who Proms have been.

But the very best thing about this award-winning show is just how many historical facts they cram into each show.  Jam packed doesn’t come close.  They have helped me understand The War of the Roses, my son loves the fact that urine was a staple ingredient in everything before the advent of modern chemistry, and my daughter at 3 knew all about Henry VIII and his six wives.

‘Horrible Histories’ is the ultimate example of how to make learning fun, and proves conclusively that history isn’t boring.

“I Cried For You On The Kitchen Floor”

Is it the Chinese who say careful what you wish for? When I was thinking about the media coverage of the desperate events in Norway I had forgotten the oldest news rule of all;  A story being bumped “drop the dead donkey” style by the next big story.  I certainly wasn’t expecting it to come along so quickly or so shockingly.

I was very upset to hear about the death of Amy Winehouse.  A once in a generation voice. A once in a lifetime conveyor of all the pain and agony unrequited love entails. Her music was loved because it rang true, every one of us could identify with those raw emotions.  In my youth I did indeed cry for someone on the kitchen floor and it was those heart-felt words that went round and round my head last night.

But of course she wasn’t just a cultural phenomenon with her trademark beehive and navy tattoos,  she was a daughter too.  I couldn’t stop thinking about her mother.  I had watched Janis Winehouse on the night of Amy’s triumph at the Grammies. They were on a video link from London as the US authorities would not allow Amy to attend due to her battles with drink and drugs.

As Amy won those five Grammies, her mother looked so happy.  It looked as if her daughter had come through her addictions and could look to the future, that there was going to be a future.  She looked like a woman who had been spared her worst nightmare.  Sadly it was not to be.

There are many more people better qualified to speak about the brilliance of Amy Winehouse and how much we will miss her unique talent.  There are many more people talking about this macabre ’27 Club’, the age that so many supremely talented yet troubled rock stars seemed to have passed away, from Janis Joplin to Brian Jones, Jim Morrison to Kurt Cobain.  But I can only think about two parents that have lost a beloved child.

And in the same way I hoped that people of Norway will be left alone to deal with their unimaginable grief, I wish the same for Mitch and Janis Winehouse.