Archive for the ‘Song of the Week’ Category

Two Grey Rooms

Monday, February 11th, 2019

My favourite Joni Mitchell song (though, thankfully, no-one’s forcing me to choose) is from the 80s. ‘Two Grey Rooms’ is about a narrator who rents a flat so that they can watch somebody walking to work, someone who used to be their lover, though he or she looks to be too young.

You look so youthful/time has been untruthful/heaven knows, I loved you thirty years ago. Joni once told the LA Times the song was inspired by a story from the youth of the German film director Rainer Werner Fassbinder. It’s a story of obsession… about this German aristocrat who had a lover in his youth that he never got over. He later finds this man working on a dock and notices the path that the man takes every day to and from work. So the aristocrat gives up his fancy digs and moves to these two shabby grey rooms overlooking this street, just to watch this man walk to and from work. That’s a song that shows my songs aren’t all self-portraits.

Two Grey Rooms has a haunting melody (I once bought a CD box set called The Geffen Years solely in order to hear the song’s original demo, Speechless, which finds the music almost complete, can now be found, with an interesting introduction on YouTube). Mitchell first recorded it in ’82 but didn’t come up with the words for another seven years. I’ve often thought that if anyone commissioned me to contribute to an anthology of short stories based on songs, that’s the one I’d choose (I’m open to offers, but the song works so well on its own, is so economical, that I doubt writers much better than me could add anything worthwhile to it).

This morning, I was working on a story idea, and Two Grey Rooms crept into it. Rather than retrieve the LP or CD from downstairs, I typed the title into YouTube and was startled to discover that, at some point, Joni made a video for the song (it first appeared on a video compilation, only ever available on VHS, called Coming In From The Cold in 1991). I’ve just watched it for the second time. The first striking thing about the video is that it looks like a Fassbinder film, which is apt. The monochrome opening shots of the street and rooftops viewed from the flat also remind me a little of Wim Wenders’ movie Kings of the Road.

Then Mitchell appears. I’ve had a crush on Joni Mitchell since I was 15 (tall, blonde, intelligent, arty women who love pinball in general, but her in particular), so the second thing that strikes me is how beautiful she is in it. She’d be in her early forties when it was made, and has never looked more beautiful (at the time, she was with her second husband, who was my age, which would have riled me more at the time had I not just set up home with my own tall, blonde pinball-player). We don’t see her object of desire, can’t make up our mind whether the guy she’s watching could be the love from her youth or is someone who happens to look like him. Which is as it should be, because the song is set on a Sunday, when he would not be at work.

The weekends drive me mad/Holidays are oh too sad/ ‘Cause you don’t go/ Below my window We see Mitchell write some lyrics, lays on her bed, looks out of the window, looking gorgeous in every shot, a precursor, in her way, of the arty peop,e who endlessly publish pretty pictures of themselves on Instagram or wherever, hoping we’ll confuse their looking good with proof that they must be a good artist. I’m not sure the video entirely works, this tantalisingly beautiful women hiding in a two room flat so that she can glimpse some bloke who doesn’t know she’s there on his way to and from work. Mitchell said that the song isn’t a self-portrait. The video, inevitably, turns it into one. Even so, I enjoy looking at Joni looking lovelorn and the short film doesn’t distort the song (which is gender-neutral).

Masterfully, the lyric unfolds backwards, so we only get the back story in the final verse: No one knows I’m here/ One day I just disappeared/ And I took these two grey rooms up here. The song ends with a wistful, repeated chorus of ‘below my window’s. The camera pans away. We’re unsure what happened and have to go back to the start and listen again, see if we can make more sense of it this time. What makes this song so great is how much it leaves out, leaves to the imagination. Knowing the Fassbinder story distracts, but only briefly. In recent years, Two Grey Rooms has had a few cover versions. Perhaps it’s being belatedly recognised as one of Mitchell’s greatest works, much like Cohen’s Hallelujah which also came out in the mid-80s, but wasn’t widely noticed until much later. This morning I watched Joni take a bow at last night’s Grammy awards. She’s relearning to speak after a brain haemorrhage, which is horrible, but at least she’s still with us, and – I hope – able to fully appreciate all of the tributes she’s been receiving in the year of her 75th birthday. At least many of the people who love her words and music are able to tell her how much we’ve been enthralled and inspired by her – in my case, for forty-five years. Thank you, Joni.

PS. A couple of days after I wrote the above, this was taken: two of my favourite artists. Yorkshire meets Saskatchewan. So I had to finish with it.

2018: The Sleeve Notes

Wednesday, 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).

David Byrne – Everybody’s Coming To My House In a year of great gigs, David Byrne at Nottingham Arena was the most remarkable, for reasons that Sean at the Post describes well. This song, reminiscent of Talking Heads at their most elated, was the get the party started bit of the show and led into a transcendent double shot of my favourite Talking Heads song, This Must Be The Place, followed by Once in a Lifetime. Wonderful.

Arctic Monkeys – Four Out of Five Hard to choose which song to use from this album, which divided some fans, but felt like a step forward to me, packed with great songs and a more cohesive whole that some of their earlier efforts. In the end it came down to this or The Ultracheese. Didn’t get to see this Monkeys tour. You can’t go to everything, as Sue often reminds me.

Kurt Vile – Loading Zones We got the idea for a best of year compilation from our old friend, John Harvey, who began doing an annual cassette sometime in the 80s, continuing well into the 90s. Our first BOY was a side of a cassette for him in 1988, which we broadened out for friends the following year. I organised a bunch of birthday tributes to John on the UNESCO City of Lit site. Here’s mine. And here’s Sue‘s. And here’s Kurt Vile.

Phoebe Bridgers – Motion Sickness Rules are made to be broken. This came out last year, but nobody I know heard it until this year. I first heard Bridgers when we were driving to Green Man. Henry Ward had made a playlist of all the acts & it sent us to the Walled Garden (the smallest stage) to see her band play a terrific set (include a timely Gillian Welch cover). Bought her album at the Rough Trade store straight after, and it’s been my most played album of the year, packed with earworms. This acerbic song is, she says, about a brief fling she had with Ryan Adams, the guy who was playing in a band when she was born and sings in an English accent. Never thought of Ryan’s singing accent as being English, but then I saw a bunch of English acts at the Cosmic American party last week, and all but one (exception: Peter Bruntnell, whose forthcoming album may feature on next year’s compilation) they all sang in US accents. Compared to them, Ryan sounds very English. He jumped the shark some years back, but Bridgers is on the way up. Check out the debut EP from trio boygenius (with her, Julien Baker and Lucy Dacus) as well. Surrender to the sound indeed.

Courtney Barnett – Charity Wasn’t so taken by Barnett’s 2015 debut as many people but loved her duo album with Kurt Vile. Tell Me How You Really Feel raises her game with catchy, grungy tunes and strong lyrics.

Kacey Musgraves – Slow Burn Until Robyn returned from the wilderness, this was the pop album of the year, Musgrave’s pure country voice combined with a fine set of pop songs. She played all of it at the concert hall earlier this year and, while the friend I took missed the country side that is rapidly fading from her act, she was clearly a superstar in the making. This song was, evidently, inspired by microdosing on LSD. Which is like saying a drinking song was inspired by a half of bitter shandy. To each their own.

Paul Simon – How the Heart Approaches What It Yearns You had me at the title, a friend said yesterday. Time to break another rule, as I don’t usually include rerecordings of songs by the original artist, but I’m making an exception for Paul Simon’s final album, of which this is the title song (In the Blue Light) since his music has been such a large part of my life for so long – one of the first 7″ singles I remember buying was ‘Bridge Over Troubled Water’. And this jazzy rerecording of what seemed a minor song on a minor LP (the One Trick Pony OST) reclaims and reinvigorates the song, showing it to be one of his best. It was also, incidentally, the number that proved most efficacious in road testing first a new CD player and amplifier and then the new speakers I then realised we needed. Yes, it sounds fantastic on our new system.

Richard Thompson – Trying Easy to tell which RT figured was the strongest song on his new album, 13 Rivers, because he saved it for the RCH encore (my review). This number has the feel of the 80’s Thompson band, which I saw a lot (who am I kidding, I’ve seen every incarnation an awful lot in the last 41 years, probably 30 times). The break-up of his second marriage seems to have inspired this edgy set. Enough guitar to remind you that he’s one of our greatest players, too.

Franz Ferdinand – Lois Lane Another band I reviewed this year, and they were in corking form. Even Sue, who finds Rock City hard to take these days, had a ball. This is the stand-out track from the new album and one of the highlights of the show, saving its middle eight for the conclusion of the song, which is risky, but works when the middle eight is as good as this one.

Dirty Projectors – What is the Time? Wonderful wonky funk. Thanks to Mike A, for pointing out that I labelled this as being by the Hidden Projectors on the cover. Next year I promise to put on a track by the Dirty Cameras, recombining two of my favourite bands. Finally got to see this one at Green Man this year, and they were wonderful. This track was Sue’s earworm from the new CD. The album Lamp Lit Prose is fantastic.

Young Fathers – In My View Sticking with the funk, here’s another band who get better and better. Winning the Mercury with their debut, ‘Dead’, tends to obscure how strong that album’s successors have been and Cocoa Sugar is a tight, tuneful joy on which this is, for us, the stand-out.

The Good, The Bad and The Queen – Merrie Land Damon Albarn with Paul Simenon from The Clash and Tony Allen, the classy drummer whose jazz band we saw the Howard Assembly Room in Leeds earlier this year. ‘If you’re leaving can you please say goodbye’ begins the languorously lovely title track of the band’s second album. Could be a theme emerging…

Elvis Costello & The Impostors – I Let The Sun Go Down The new Elvis, ‘Look Now’ is an absolute corker. This may not be the most obvious track from a pop and soul dominated album, being more reminiscent of early 80s Elvis (quite possibly inspired by a US tour playing Imperial Bedroom songs), but that’s my favourite Elvis period – if pushed – and this song, while ostensibly about the end of Empire, is clearly about something else, too. ‘John Bull got caught with his pants down again’. Outstanding stuff.

Janelle Monae – Americans There are bangers, in current parlance, and then there are absolute bangers. Monae’s Dirty Computer is terrific, one of the year’s very best albums and this is the best track on it. On Friday night, I DJed at a seven by seven singles night at The Bay Horse in Pitsmore. Wish I’d had this track on a 7″. Maybe HMV could have sold me a copy…

Catrin Finch and Seckou Keita – Listen to the Grass Grow This one’s Sue’s choice, but I’m also a big fan of ‘Soar’ and loved the gig we saw them do at new Nottingham venue, Metronome, a few weeks back. A breather before the last track and the point where I usually explain that Sue has a veto over track order and selection. This year, she changed the opener and closer (originally Monae) and vetoed Simon Felice’s The Projector (too depressing, evidently, but it’s a great album – despite or perhaps even because it’s so suffused with sadness). In years gone by, when we had a working CD recorder, so making a CD was more akin to making a mixtape than a Spotify playlist, I used to burn a second best of CD, just for us. 2018’s might have included: Christine & the Queens, Suede, Sleaford Mods, Field Music, Griff Rhys, Ezra Furman, Rosanne Cash, Cat Power, John Hiatt, The Breeders, Rod Picott, Joan as Policewoman, Calexico, Charles Lloyd, Cowboy Junkies, Me’Shell Ndegeocello, boygenuius, Ariana Grande, Lump + (only excluded because, like Paul Simon, they were rerecording old songs) The Jayhawks and Will Oldham/Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy.

Courtney Marie Andrews – May Your Kindness Remain Originally this and Monae were reversed, but this conclusion has a message you can’t argue with and a delivery that’s southern country soul at its belting best. Sorry to miss Andrews’ Cosmic American Music show at the Rescue Rooms but I was on my way back from Green Man, where I’d seen her on the main stage the day before. A great performer, with something of Janis Joplin, and a terrific, timeless album in what has been an excellent year for music, both live and recorded. Here’s hoping that music, at least, keeps delivering in 2019. And, while it’s hard to feel kind towards the liars dragging our civilisation down, may our kindness remain. We’re gonna need it.

All Saints & The Human League – Nottingham

Saturday, 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

Saturday, 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


Sunday, 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