2018: The Sleeve Notes

December 12th, 2018

It’s that time of year again. This is the thirtieth year in which I’ve made a best of the year compilation (on cd since 2000) to send out to friends instead of a card, and, for half that time, I’ve also written some online sleeve notes, updating approximately daily from today until New Year’s Eve. I haven’t posted this year’s out yet, so if you’re one of our regular recipients and don’t want spoilers, look away. It’s been a good year. I could have easily filled two cds worth of great stuff (I know somebody who sends out three) but selection and sequencing is all. I’ve broken a couple of my self-imposed rules this year. I’ll explain that and discuss what I couldn’t find space for at the appropriate juncture. But right now, it’s on with the show..

Anna Calvi – Don’t Beat the Girl Out of My Boy I saw Anna Calvi for the fourth time this year, second time I’ve seen her at Green Man and, while I always enjoy her, I didn’t rush, arriving at the front of the main stage (you can do that at GM) halfway through her set, just in time for this song, which is timely and catchy as hell. She was in great form and this number – which Sue insisted I move to the opening track – takes her to a new level.

Rolling Blackouts CF – Talking Straight The CF stands for Coastal Fever. Nearly made a pilgrimage to Leeds to see this Australian jingle-jangle band, whose first full album, Hope Downs, soundtracked many open top journeys in our MG this long hot summer (on cassette, with bonus tracks from their EPs). But then I saw they were on at Green Man, where they filled the tent, and were great fun. Nothing else in their repertoire quite as catchy as this, mind.

Ry Cooder – Straight Street I’ve been a huge Ry Cooder fan for over 40 years, since I first saw him (twice) at the Cambridge Folk Festival. He’s one of the only artists I still collect on vinyl (the others are War on Drugs and Arctic Monkeys). Sadly, I didn’t get to see the only UK show on his recent tour, but I’ve heard recordings and he’s in fine form, as this track from Prodigal Son demonstrates. Cooder’s deep love of Americana of all kinds blends folk, blue and soul to the point where definitions are meaningless. I wasn’t going to put this track after the last one – bit cheesy I know – but what the hell. Some copies of the disc cut this off a few seconds early due to my trying to be clever with fades. If yours does, sorry: hear the ending below.

Robyn – Honey Here’s an interview with Robyn that explains the long gap between Honey and 2010’s brilliant Body Talk. The first act on the CD that I’ve never seen live. We plan to rectify that in Amsterdam next year. Hard to pick between this and opener Missing U. Title track is so seductive, catchy and danceable tho’. Robyn is the best pop singer in the world, period. This is the best pop album of the year (though one artist coming up runs it close).

All Saints & The Human League – Nottingham

December 8th, 2018

Forgot to post for all of November, so here’s a double gig review to make up. I yield to nobody in my love for a good Girl Group and, when I didn’t get the Post review slot (Rachel did a good job here) and couldn’t persuade anyone to go with me, I went to see All Saints at Rock City alone. Not quite sold out, and I got a good spot near the front, as the photo above shows. Their new album’s OK, and I was pleased that they included the best song from their last album, which made it onto our 2016 best of compilation. (which reminds me, this year’s sleeve notes will begin to appear later this week).

More to the point, their band were great and they were having a lot of fun, as was the often ecstatic audience. The singing was fine and they looked a lot better close up than you might have feared. All the songs I wanted to hear were present and correct (No Lady Marmalade, but if you’re from my generation, that’s a Labelle song). I’m not just talking about their first album either: Black Coffee and Pure Shores were particularly sublime. A good time.

The following night I was at the RCH for The Post (sitting next to Shaun Gordon, who has a fine gallery of photos here – my phone ones were rubbish). Unusually, the sold out crowd had packed the hall for tonight’s support act. I shall shift to present tense and unashamedly expand my review.

Everyone’s happy when Midge Ure bangs out hit after bombastic hit with his band, Electronica. Everyone, that is, except Midge, who can see a few people using their phones. Don’t they realise it illuminates their faces to those on stage? He can see exactly who’s checking facebook, he tells us. I leave checking the football scores until the interval. I think I can honestly say that I’ve never liked a single Midge Ure song and even Vienna means nothing to me tonight. At least he doesn’t play his cover of Tom Rush’s wonderful No Regrets.

In their forty-first year, surely the Human League have little new to show us. Their setlists vary little from tour to tour. What distinguishes each of their near Christmas outings is the light show and tonight’s is spectacular, a mass of illuminated cubes that vary throughout, an ever enticing backdrop. Phil comes out wearing his tiny shades, while Susan and Joanne have an Egyptian thing going on. From then on, you know what you’re going to get.

Solid gold hits. Sound of the Crowd goes into Mirror Man. The singles are mixed with nearly all of the songs on their classic album, Dare. The big surprise of the night is that they play three ballads where they normally stick to one – a weedy One Man in My Heart gives way to the lovely Louise,  climaxing with the sublime Human. Used to be that they played either one or the other of the last two, never both. Good to see that change.

Before Seconds, the women don black evening dress. Behind them, the musicians wear suit and tie. Phil wears his long leather coat for a while, but it’s a bit hot to keep on for long. By the end he’s in all white. Love Action and Open Your Heart get a lot of the circle dancing.

The Sheffield stars finish the main set with Tell Me When and Fascination before coming back for the inevitable, indestructible Don’t You Want Me.  Hearing that song always takes me back to a bedroom in Lenton, about to go out to my first post-uni job, hearing it played as an album track and thinking ‘bloody hell – that has to be a huge hit’. Which it was. The second encore is more intriguing with the brooding,  forty-year-old Being Boiled performed to a brilliant Metropolis-style backdrop. They finish their 85 minute set, as they always do, with Together in Electric Dreams. Great stuff.

Being Boiled

Kacey Musgraves – Oh, What A World, Nottingham Royal Centre, October 26th, 2018

October 27th, 2018

This review was written for the Nottingham Post. Now and then an act plays the Concert Hall you know you’ll never get to see there again. They’re destined for arenas and bigger. Tonight, Kacey Musgraves joins that short list. After some small, self-recorded releases and two mainstream country albums with sassy lyrics, the thirty-year-old broke through to another level with this year’s Golden Hour, as glorious a set of country-pop as you’ll hear. Until today’s release of Robyn’s Honey, it was the pop album of the year, no contest. No wonder the Royal Concert Hall is packed.

Dancing Queen and Staying Alive preface the thirty-year-old star’s arrival. The staging is elaborate, with a large three fan backdrop and raised area where the Texan stands, hidden in darkness, hitting the high notes of a gorgeous Slow Burn. This opener shows off a voice that’s pure but never lacking in character: perfect for country. She descends the stairs for the catchy Wonder Woman and it’s clear that this is going to be slicker than any country show you’ve ever seen. Musgraves, in pink singlet and pantaloons with multiple flairs, is now a pop act. A younger, prettier, more likeable Katy Perry with a better voice.

Better songs, too. Butterflies and Lonely Weekend do the business. She performs every number from Golden Hour and only Family is Family and High Time from its predecessor, Pageant Material. Nothing from her Christmas album, thankfully. The crowd goes a little wild when she sings Merry Go Round from the hit breakthrough Same Trailer, Different Park. Her crack six-piece band, in matching brown suits, play superbly throughout.

‘Country, I Can’t Let It go’ she says, before admitting that the new album is a change of direction. In this, she’s meeting Kylie Minogue somewhere in the middle of the mainstream, but doing it so well that nobody’s complaining. Oh What A World and Golden Hour are lovely. The very mixed audience (aged ten to sixty) takes over to sing the chorus of closer Follow Your Arrow, with its ‘Roll up a joint – I would’ line. Wonder how long that one’ll stay in the set.

The 80 minute show is followed by a three song encore that concludes with the full disco of High Horse. How much longer will the handful of country songs stay in the set? No matter, maybe. Kacey Musgraves is well on her way to becoming a superstar.

Slow Burn
Wonder Woman
Lonely Weekend
Keep It to Yourself
Merry Go ‘Round
High Time
Golden Hour
Oh, What a World
Robin Hood – Whistle Stop (with band intros) / Oo De Lally (Disney cover)
Family Is Family
It Is What It Is
Love Is a Wild Thing
Velvet Elvis
Happy & Sad
Space Cowboy
Follow Your Arrow

Tearin’ Up My Heart (NSYNC cover with singer from support Soccer Moms)
High Horse

Follow Your Arrow


October 21st, 2018


‘We’ll get to all those classics you’ve driven a hundred miles to hear a little later…’

There are two kinds of Richard Thompson fan: those who prefer his electric tours and those who enjoy him most playing solo acoustic. Nottingham used to get his acoustic tours, but his visits this century have been with a band. You’ve had to travel to see him solo, though it’s always worth the journey. The last one I saw was ten months ago, in Sheffield, where he was touring Acoustic Classics.

Yet, while Thompson is one of our greatest songwriters, he’s also one of our greatest, most distinctive guitarists. Band shows allow him to solo and stretch out. He must love playing them, because the prices are the same, so he makes less money. He tends to focus on new and more recent material, too, which sells less seats. Tonight, Thompson’s touring album 13 Rivers, his strongest in some time, and kicks off with Bones of Gilead and Her Love Was Meant For Me. Taras Prodaniuk on  bass and Michael Jerome on drums, both superb are joined from time to time by Bobby Eichorn, seated, on supplemental guitar.

Two songs take us back to 1968.

‘Here’s a song I wrote when I was 19, fifty years ago. Oh God, I’ve given away my age.’

Fairport Convention’s signature song, Meet On The Ledge is done beautifully. Later we’re given a single that Thompson didn’t sing back then, the gorgeous Tale in Hard Time.

Other highlights include the jokey Guitar Heroes, with impressions of Marvin, Les Paul et al, and glorious solos during Can’t Win, Never Give It Up and Put it There, Pal. Wall of Death and Tearstained Letter also return to the set (I wish the latter would stay retired, but he likes it as a show closer. If he’s going to ignore the 70s and revive the 80s, could we at least have When The Spell is Broken, a stone cold classic?)

In an ideal world, Thompson might play an acoustic set followed by a longer electric one, but you should take any chance to see a legend, especially one who remains at the top of his game. There’s only one solo acoustic number in the main set, his classic Vincent Black Lightning 1952, which was debuted during his first RCH appearance, back in in 1991. But the first encore has the one song that eclipses even that, a  solo, sublime Beeswing, then King of Bohemia. Both were first performed here on his second visit, in 1994.

The best song from the new album, Trying, is also saved for the encore. Surprisingly, he only plays five songs from 13 Rivers, perhaps something to do with the songs being taken from a bleak time in his family. Even more oddly, for a man who keeps careful list, the closing encore is the same as when he was last at the RCH, three years ago, The Sorrows’ obscure, ominous 1966 single Take A Heart. No complaints though. It’s terrific. This was Thompson’s best Nottingham show since the 90s. Don’t miss him next time.


Take A Heart (Sorrows cover)


  1. Bones of Gilead
  2. Her Love Was Meant for Me
  3. Take Care the Road You Choose
  4. Meet on the Ledge
  5. Can’t Win
  6. They Tore The Hippodrome Down
  7. Dry My Tears And Move On
  8. 1952 Vincent Black Lightning
  9. The Rattle Within
  10. Guitar Heroes
  11. Tale in Hard Time
  12. The storm won’t come
  13. I’ll never give it up
  14. Wall of death
  15. Put it there pal
  16. Tear stained letter
  17. Beeswing
  18. King of Bohemia
  19. Trying
  20. Take a heart

Dylan Moran: Nottingham Royal Centre 7.10.18

October 10th, 2018

Extended, more considered (ie less tactful) take on the show at the Royal Centre last weekend, the original of which appeared in yesterday’s Post.

Dylan Moran has lost weight and gained a better haircut since he was last here, four years ago. He’s sharper in other regards, too, and starts with something he never does: audience participation. However, he warns

‘If you join in, I will judge you.’

It’s 22 years since the Irish comic, now 47, won a Perrier award, 14 since the glorious bookshop comedy, Black Books, opened the door for more TV and film. Yet his work in neither area has fully taken off and he remains primarily a stand-up, with a new tour every three or four years. Last time round, he gave the sense that his heart wasn’t entirely in it. Maybe Nottingham got an off night. To get us in the mood for tonight’s show, we rewatched a couple of episodes of Black Books, which remains gloriously funny.

Tonight, he kicks off in fine fettle, in a long piss take of comics’ ingratiating how nice it is to be back in your wonderful city routine, describing a visit to our non-existent standing stones. Riffs about Brexit and his family are broken up by other surreal flights of fancy, along with copious swearing. Half an hour in, we’re given a reason for his new demeanour (though he never explains the show’s title). One which also explains the large red teapot on stage. He gave up drinking wine in January. For a comic whose biggest role has been that of a wine drinking dipsomaniac, this is a big deal

‘Now every day feels like three or four years.’

He doesn’t want to talk about Trump. ‘I don’t want to go round the bin saying “that’s a smelly bin”. Everybody knows it’s a smelly bin.’ Throughout, there’s rather too much my generation’s getting old and people who don’t remember before the internet don’t know they were born. The stuff about his kids also feels lazy, and I suspect that’s not just because I don’t have kids. Most of it goes down well though. The forty minute first set flies by.

The second set, half an hour, mostly on death and marriage, doesn’t really get going. The encore, too, is brief and unmemorable. One can’t help but feel you’ve seen a 55 minute festival set fleshed out to fill the 75 minute minimum required to justify the seat price and interval. Even so, Moran remains an original, with plenty of fine one-liners. Good to see him in better form, but I might sit out his next visit.


PS A big thank-you to everyone who came to my book launch the night before (see below), especially Jim Burns and Gallery 47, both of whom were brilliant. It was a lovely occasion, really special, and great to get such positive reaction to the story. Thanks again to all at Candlestick Press for publishing it and Five Leaves for hosting.

Download Free Stories

This page has free downloads of my writing (and, occasionally, stuff by friends etc) that I am making available to promote my work. Do help yourself!

More info »

Song of the Week

Kacey Musgraves - Oh, What A World, Nottingham Royal Centre, October 26th, 2018
This review was written for the Nottingham Post. Now and then an act plays the Concert Hall you know you’ll never get to see there again. They’re destined...

More songs »

Blog Archive

Subscribe to the blog