Every year since 1988, we’ve made a best of year music compilation for our friends, and this year is no exception. In recent years, I’ve put the songs up on here for readers to enjoy. Our cd is intended to promote the artists featured and the songs will only remain on this site for a short time, but if copyright holders are concerned, just email me on the link above and the relevant song will be removed. This post will be updated once a day or thereabouts, until New Year’s Eve. Those of you lucky enough to receive a copy in the post may want to look away until yours arrives. I haven’t actually started burning them yet, but once this big pile of marking subsides, they will go until full production. On with the show.
1. Daft Punk – Get Lucky (full length version) I hardly need to post this song, do I? It’s become ubiquitous, yet it was an instant ear worm and the full length version has to be the one (unfortunately, due to word press file size limits, you’ll have to make do with the radio edit here), with that mesmeric Nile Rodgers guitar riff used to the full. Only problem with putting it first is that it’s an impossible song to follow.
2. The Pet Shop Boys – Love Is A Bourgeois Construct (Penelopes Remix radio edit) The original of this is even longer than Daft Punk and this year’s cd is already two songs lighter than last year, so I went for this shorter, perkier version of the only pop record to date based on a quote from David Lodge (the novel Nice Work, last of his terrific academia trilogy that starts with Changing Places and continues with Small World). The PSBs are clearly having a late career hey-day. For over a decade, you could see them in theatres. Now it’s back to arenas, headlining festivals and – honour of honours – they’ve been on our best of year cd two years running!
Ray Gosling died yesterday. Ray was a Nottingham hero, fighting for the community in St Ann’s in the 60′s, and a wonderful broadcaster on TV and radio. I only got to know him after the death of his partner, Bryn, at the turn of the century. He was a mess then, a shambolic figure who I’d see now and then in the co-op we happened to share, until he went bankrupt and lost his house. After that, he began a slow, partial comeback, with a bunch of TV documentaries about his life falling apart. My colleague John Goodridge, at Nottingham Trent University, saved his huge accumulation of papers from going into skips and established an archive. After I got a job at NTU, running the MA in Creative Writing, we invited him as a regular speaker for years, until the drinking got out of control. The students loved him, even when he was clearly below par, and he always gave of himself with generosity, good humour and insight. He was aware of his own legend, but not that interested in it. He wouldn’t suffer fools and was awkward with academia, but he was fine with naivety and inexperience. He even gave the students pieces for their annual anthology, which they were proud to publish. If you don’t know Ray’s work I urge you to check out his broadcasts and his two terrific 60′s memoirs, Sum Total and, particularly, Personal Copy. The photo above is from a recent Leftlion, where you should read Ray’s final interview with my friend James Walker, who seems to have found him on good days. It includes TV clips.
Ray told me more than once that he ‘ran on alcohol’ and was determined to drink himself to death, which took him – I think – longer than he expected and led to some rotten scrapes, including a deeply embarrassing one that the BBC should never have broadcast, an incident that probably hastened his decline. Unless you were one of his hard-core drinking buddies, he was hard to get hold of and not easy to talk to when you did find him in the last few years. But he still had his moments. In January this year, a friend and I went to see a showing of ‘Two Town Mad’, his fine 60′s documentary about Leicester and Nottingham, at Lakeside. I was surprised to see Ray billed as appearing and not surprised when Djanogly director Neil Walker apologised for the late start and Ray’s absence. Yet, as Neil was speaking, a loud, familiar voice boomed in the foyer. Ray wandered in, sharply dressed and relatively sober. He introduced the film and stayed for a q and a afterwards. He was in good form, but lost his thread after a while. I tried to help by filling in with a question. He turned to me with a stern ‘No!’ then found his conclusion. He did answer my question at the end, though, eloquently explaining why, yes, he still thought that the North of England began in Nottingham, on the city side of the river Trent. Nottingham, his adopted city, which mourns him today.
South African trumpeter Hugh Masekela left South Africa after the Sharpeville massacre 53 years ago. At the Manhattan School of Music, he met a pianist from Harlem called Larry Willis. They’ve been friends throughout long, successful careers, collaborating often since forming their first band in 1963. Seeing two such stellar performers together in such a small venue is a rare privilege. It sold out instantly and I missed getting tickets (put the onsale date in my diary then forgot…). Luckily, I was able to land the slot reviewing it for The Nottingham Post. This is an extended version of my review for them.
Zena Edwards opened with an impressive, varied forty minutes: the highlight was her poem ‘Settle Down’, with kora accompaniment. She has a rich voice and a cool stage manner, much better than the last support I saw at Lakeside, and went down really well.
Willis and Masekela enter with Herbie Hancock’s Canteloupe Island. Masekela plays tambourine, using every part of his body when not playing flugelhorn. He also played cowbell and another small percussion instrument I don’t know the name of. Both men sing on the second number, credited to Miriam Makeba, who is name-checked often. There’s plenty of African style singing, verging on chant, alongside more conventional crooning throughout.
‘Larry and I… proper English, right? quips Masekela. For several minutes he regales us with stories about meeting Willis, then getting to know giants like Miles Davis and Louis Armstrong in the 60′s, going round the clubs in Greenwich Village, sometimes as many as five in a night. It was Satchmo who told him that he had to sing. ‘If I can sing, anyone can sing.’ The two then go into a terrific Easy Living, followed by a vivid description of Fats Waller and a lovely Until The Real Thing Comes Along.
Masekela had a pop period, and including a song by The Stylistics might risk lowering the tone. However, the slow, elegiac piano on You Make Me Feel Brand New is an absolute treat, as is Masekela’s plaintive horn.
Masekela does a terrific scat impression of Charlie Parker before Billie’s Bounce. Armstrong’s Rockin’ Chair follows. Alternating flugelhorn and trumpet, this humble man is in fine, fluid form throughout, while Willis is as classy a pianist as they come, elegant and eloquent. 1968 number one Grazin In The Grass gets everyone to their feet. An encore of Louis Armstrong’s When It’s Sleepy Time Down South leaves us happy. A sublime 90 minutes.
Every year there seems to be what I think of as a big gig week, with a gig most nights. This year’s started unexpectedly, at a private party in Northumberland, where the rain cleared to allow a late night bonfire. Splendid music was provided by the host’s daughter and a friend, plus two short sets by the great Northumbrian folk singer (and storyteller) Mike Tickell (Yes, father of Kathryn). I posted the second one, with a traditional song and a snatch of Auden, on YouTube with Mike’s permission. A well known Nottingham born poet and playwright can be heard breaking a glass during it. No prizes for guessing who.
Then, on Monday, we saw a terrific gig by Tamikrest, the Tuareg band with strong echoes of Tinariwen (one of whose singers they have poached) at Lakeside Arts: a sold out show in a tiny venue. They were mesmerising, with a varied, intense, uplifting set of desert rock and blues.
Tuesday was a teaching day, but I drove to my brother’s near Wakefield straight from work and we went on to Leeds to see the triumphant opening night return of Graham Parker and The Rumour, over 35 years since I last saw them, at Blackbushe (they broke up in 1980). Got a good spot standing near the front of the big, crowded 02 Academy. GP got a heroes’ welcome. The band looked a lot older, but have never sounded better. They played a handful of songs from the strong reunion album, Three Chords Good, and nearly every one of their classics that you’d want to hear, including a good selection from my favourite, ‘Squeezing Out Sparks’. GP was on fire. Even during one long instrumental passage I could see him off in the shadows on the side, throwing his arms around, jumping up and down, wallowing in the fantastic reception the band were receiving. I don’t often go in for gigs involving long drives on a work night, but boy was this one worth it.
Don’t much like driving to Derby on a Friday night, either. But it had to be done, to see Stan Tracey play ‘Under Milkwood’ in the Darwin Suite (what is it with Derby and Darwen btw?). I’ve seen him play many times over the year, the first being a lunchtime jazz society concert in about 1978. He’s about to turn 87 and there can’t be many more to come. We managed to get a parking place on the top floor of the tiny, crowded Assembly Rooms multi-storey, arriving in plenty of time to get a good seat. Only to find that Stan had been taken ill at 7pm and wouldn’t be appearing. So I paid the full evening rate for 7 minutes of parking and headed home to watch a movie. Get well soon, Stan.
So to last night. I first saw Guy Barker play with Clark (son of Stan) Tracey’s quartet in the late 80′s, and have since seen him lead his own band, so when I saw that the Guy Barker orchestra were playing the RCH, I put in to review it for the Post. Odd, I thought, that a jazz artist was playing the Concert Hall. I doubt many tickets were sold before the guest singer was announced, the multi-platinum selling Paloma Faith, who I knew nothing about. I was game for hearing her do a bunch of standards. However, as it turned out, she concentrated on her two albums. Still, it was a real treat to hear a full 42 piece orchestra in the concert hall. I only wish Guy had played some trumpet. Towards the end, Paloma dedicated ‘I’d Rather Be An Old Man’s Sweetheart (than a young man’s fool) to all the guys over 55 in the audience. I’m not quite there yet, though Guy, I notice, recently turned 56. Anyway, here’s my review from tomorrow’s Post.
Guy Barker, who played trumpet for the Clark Tracey quartet in the 80′s, is now a world class arranger and band-leader. The musicians in his 42 piece orchestra, he tells us, grace soundtracks from Potter to Bond and play with every superstar imaginable.
What a treat they are. They open at full pelt with Benny Goodman’s Sing Sing Sing (With A Swing), giving it a distinct Henry Mancini feel. The luscious opening half hour, replete with a medley cum overture, finishes all too quickly.
‘Guest’ singer Paloma Faith enters like a diva, in a long shimmering, silver and white dress with a white feather hat above her strikingly orange hair. She performs like one too, striking poses and complaining when the lights pick out her drinking from an unstylish mug between numbers. But her speech about ‘real’ music and how unusual it is for an artist like her to tour with an orchestra makes a strong point.
When You’re Gone gets the crowd clapping along. Bettye Lavette’s Let You Down Easy goes down a storm. She tells us she’s a blagger, and, good as her voice is, there are more distinctive, stronger singers. Faith can sound brittle and shrill at the higher end but knows how to give a big performance.
The standards set is unexpectedly brief. Love Me Or Leave Me works better than Wild Is The Wind. The 90 minute show’s highlight is an affecting Just Be, at the end of which Faith slumps onto the conductor’s podium.
The encore takes things up another notch. On Candi Staton’s I’d Rather Be An Older Man’s Sweetheart she’s drowned out by the magnificent orchestra. Picking Up The Pieces and Freedom follow. The orchestra play on after she’s left the stage. For me, they were the real stars of the evening.
Glasvegas first headlined Rock City over four years ago, on the NME tour. Their Phil Spector meets The Jesus and Mary Chain sound saw them on the verge of being huge.
But it was third on the bill Florence and the Machine who went on to headline arenas. Glasvegas made an underwhelming second album and had personnel changes. Tonight, promoting a strong third album, When The TV Screen Turns To Static, they have everything to prove.
Lead singer James Allan has lost the shades and is a more relaxed, if still often unintelligible stage presence. New drummer Jonna Löfgren wears the raybans instead and the basement’s brick wall backdrop suits the group. With Löfgren standing to play, they look like the Velvet Underground fronted by Joe Strummer.
The new album’s title track goes down a storm. By the third number, first album favourite It’s My Own Cheating Heart That Makes Me Cry, the crowd are in full singalong mode. It’s fair to say that Glasvegas attract rabid fans. The middle of the set has too much of the second album for my tastes, but things pick up with Geraldine, after which Allan plays a splendid solo version of Flowers and Football Tops.
The new I’d Rather Be Dead (Than Be With You), which you can listen to below, sees Löfgren on keyboards and leads into their anthem, Daddy’s Gone, affecting as ever and ecstatically received. Lots Sometimes closes the 90 minute set. No encore, just some of Finished Sympathy on tape to see us out.